The young man ran through the forest at the base of the mountain. Against those he was fleeing, he had the advantage…it was the deepest part of midnight and his night vision was perfect. If his pursuers thought the young man would find the long, arduous trip more painful than his present life, they had not watched him grow up beneath the cruel thumb of his wicked father.
No, it was the daylight and the things that refused to hide any longer in his bloodline that were more painful to him than climbing the impossible heights to Westwind – and blessed Sanctuary.
“I think he went this way,” a voice said from a distance, but close enough his sensitive ears picked it up instantly. He darted off the path and dove into a patch of ferns and hostas, ground-hugging, large-leaved plants that would hide his presence well. He settled into place as fast as possible, reaching up from the inside shelter to calm the leaves still bobbing heavily from his abrupt entrance.
Heart pounding wildly, he was surprised the two large, meaty thugs running past didn’t hear it. ‘Please, please, please,’ he mouthed silently to himself, praying to his Goddess to keep him safe and his whereabouts hidden.
Not daring to breathe for a full minute even after he no longer heard them, he finally peeked out. A black dragonfly who had kept up with his flight, bobbed in front of him. He reached a hand out and it landed in the palm of his hand. “Midnight, is it safe?” he asked, scanning the darkness with equally dark eyes.
The creature buzzed, lifting off his hand and darting quickly into the sky. After a moment, it came back and landed on his hand in the same spot, buzzing with its report on the young goth’s pursuers.
He nodded. “Good, they ran off like the big, dumb idiots they are. Like the ones my father always hires.” Looking down, he thought a moment. Raising his head, he asked, “Will you show me the safe path to Westwind?”
Taking up the flight again, Artemas ran through the night. Under the tall, leaning trees that blotted out the stars above, past startled swarms of night insects, past an even more startled mountain cat. The goth mumbled an apology to the big cat, but bit back the urge to stop and coax it to him. He hoped the creature’s territory included Westwind, which was still a long ways away, at the top of the mountain. When he got there, when his father’s men came for him – as come they would – he could use allies with the strength equal to or greater than that of a mere man’s. He smiled at the thought of seeing their shocked expressions and terror when faced with an angry cat their own size.
Adjusting his path, Artemas Whoticore always kept the rising crescent moon to his left. Biting his lip at one point, he winced in pain. The deepness of the cut would need stitches, he knew, but more than his lip would need stitches if his pursuers caught up with him. It reminded him to keep on the lookout for any tea trees while fleeing. If Westwind had no doctor, he wanted to be prepared, grab leaves of the local melaleucas, transferring them to his pouch, saving them for a time when he could treat the vicious wound his father had given him as a last, parting gift before his flight.
‘Don’t think about it!’ he reminded himself sharply. There was no time to get caught up in a flashback of the terror and brutality of his dad’s reign over his and his mother’s lives. They were so bad and so often now, sometimes he could barely tell them from reality, though he always became aware during them, realizing they were happening only in his mind.
They also reminded him of why he had to find his cousin at all costs, give her the book grandmother Sarlayna had told him existed. It was the reason he was now hotly pursued, having stolen it from his father’s den at her urging. She had been right about its import to Artemas, telling of a branch of their family living in Moonville, and though it be too far away to get there on foot, it also said they resided at the top of the Cantoo mountains, in Westwind Meadows, just above Whocate’s Valley. The latest, most recent entries spun by his great grandfather, Loki Whoticore, told how his female cousins – the Solares – had a burning hatred of his side of the family, something that would be an advantage in the war against his evil, sadistic father. It was also possible they were the powerful herbalists descended from Lethe herself – Whocate’s daughter. If so, he prayed Lethe’s daughters were still taught the ancient art of leaf, root and flower and could banish his now near-constant, traumatic hallucinations and give him the strength to save his mother…
…”You have to come with me!” Artemas hissed urgently, trying to keep his voice down.
His mother looked at him with infinite sadness. “I can’t honey. I would only slow you down. If you think it is better out there, you should go.”
“‘I think’?” he mouthed, incredulous. “Mom, he BEATS YOU. He beats ME. He’s a bastard – “
“He’s not that bad, dear,” she said in a placid voice. “He just gets – frustrated when things go badly at work.”
“That’s like, every day, mother!” the young man reminded her. She turned away, not wanting to hear the same old argument that had become his mantra every day, every hour practically, for the past six months. “One day, he’s going to kill you!”
“Stop it!” she yelled, instantly cringing, regretting the outburst. They both looked towards the study where the man they called husband and father had passed out in front of the fireplace – a bottle on the table and an expensive, crystal goblet dangling from his hand.
“I don’t know why, Artemas, honey, but he’s been much worse since you turned 16,” she began.
“Yeah, well, I’ve been feeling more – rebellious since I turned as well,” he said sourly. “I feel like I’m wasting my life here. He hates me, but he keeps trying to teach me the damn business. He drags me to work and other days he swears I’ll never touch his assets. He’s a psycho, mom!”
She shook her head. “I don’t understand either, dear. Maybe he just needs a rest.”
“Yeah, a permanent rest – in Mountainville Psychiatric Hospital,” Artemas mumbled, picking up his flute. It was the only thing in his life that wasn’t filled with pain, but allowed him to channel that pain into something constructive. Maybe it was this and the feel of it in his hand that always calmed him.
She sat in a chair closer to him, to listen as he played. “He’s terrified of that place,” she reminded him. “His grandfather Loki and his father and father’s father’s father died in there. “Only your grandfather Erik didn’t end up in there and no one remembers why.”
Artemas paused at the end of a stanza, then lowered the instrument. “Even if dad knew, he probably wouldn’t tell us. And he tried to tear that place down. He always hated Uncle Narik for putting his half of the family fortune towards blocking its demolition…”
“NO!” Artemas gasped, wrenching himself back to reality, unable to bear the memory of what came next. He came back to his senses and to the peaceful darkness of the forest around him. He listened and looked around. There was no sign of pursuit.
“Thank you Goddess,” he whispered to the liquid black river flowing past nearby. “Maybe you haven’t abandoned our wretched family yet like dad said you did.”
After a minute of rest and getting his orientation back, he took off again, back towards the mountain ahead, towards freedom.
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