9-2 Shadows Going Forward
As the rest of the team bickered over the few scraps of furniture in their temporary jail, Erik stood in the corner and stared at his feet. He was too busy worrying about his own life to worry about sleep.
The previous night… it had been eventful. So eventful that any single event was overshadowed by the whole. In spite of that, one thing still weighed heavily on his mind. Right before they started their operation, he’d been distracted and almost ruined everything. Ruined everything even worse.
That alone was enough to drive him into a dark hole of self-loathing, but there was something deeper that dragged at him.
Erik was still young. Old enough to be an adult by most standards, but young enough to have a life ahead of him… And yet, he was already losing it.
He remembered, barely, the time when his mother wasn’t consumed by her ravings. How had it started? It was probably the dreams, but how much of a difference was there between what he felt and a dream. Just like a dream, he couldn’t remember the remember the sensation at all, even though it’d pulled his attention so hard.
Memories of his mother shouting her insanity at the elders ran through his mind and sent shivers down his spine. He tried not to imagine his own face transposed over hers and failed as he bit, hard, into his lip.
“Something eating at you?” A gruff, yet strangely reassuring, voice called from Erik’s side.
Sparing a momentary glance towards the wide body of Knot, which somehow managed to sneak up on him, Erik returned his gaze to his boots and frowned. ‘nothing’ was the only answer that came to his mind, but he knew it was the worst thing he could say right now, so he remained silent.
Knot barely bent his waist to catch sight of Erik’s hidden face. Then he reached up with one of his broad hands and clasped it around Erik’s shoulder.
“If things really go south, we can always flee through the woods,” Knot attempted to whisper reassuring words into Erik’s ear. “If we can stay ahead of them for two days, they’ll have to call off any pursuit in favor of their actual mission. We should be fine.”
Knot’s attempt at comfort had the opposite effect. Erik had completely forgotten about the real and immediate threat of death in favor of the threats to his sanity. The sudden reminder made his heartbeat stutter into a renewed life as images of, for some reason, hunting dogs and cavalry crashed through his mind.
This only lasted a moment, however, and again the worries of today’s trouble were replaced with a general dread for the future.
Catching sight of Erik’s changing expressions, Knot shifted his weight between his two feet and removed the hand from Erik’s shoulder. “What’s got you?”
Erik again wanted to say nothing, but he knew that repeating that would get him nothing, so he, hesitantly, asked, “What do you think it feels like to go crazy?”
Taken aback by the question, Knot glowered at it for a hwile before slowly giving an answer. “I think it’s a lot like feeling normal, but every once in a while, you’re reminded that you aren’t.”
Erik again bit his lip. How could he know if he wasn’t already crazy, then? How could anyone? Was it just based on the looks other people gave you when you spoke?
Uncomfortable going down that rabbit hole, Erik grasped at a thread that presented itself when he caught Cauliflower’s figure out the corner of his eye. “Some people feel weird things, right? From their abilities… or whatever. How do they know what they’re feeling is real?”
Knot followed Erik’s gaze, then he shrugged. “I guess because their feelings come true?”
By that standard… his bad feeling had been right. Things did go wrong. Though, if you applied it broadly, then every prophecy was correct. Everything happened eventually. You just had to wait long enough.
He tried not to dwell on his skepticism. Instead, he turned his thoughts towards the strange abilities his comrades had all exhibited at various points. Then, his heart was quickly clouded over once again. It’d been a few months since he’d joined the team and still nothing. He couldn’t even remember when they’d last cajoled him into trying a new and exotic weapon. Was it a spear? Glaive? Whatever it was, it felt no different from the rest.
Not even attempting to hide the shadow from his face, he weakly asked, “Am I ever going to get one of my own?”
For a moment, Knot was surprised by the sudden change of subject. Then he quickly asked, “An affinity? Of course.”
“What if I don’t have one?” Erik growled his question as his anxiety fought its way to the surface.
“Everyone has an affinity,” Knot answered with a confident shake of his head. “You just have to find it.”
“What if I don’t? Weirder things have happened.”
For a moment, Knot looked as if he was about to agree with the statement. It seemed to be a pre-programmed response for him. In his mind, stranger things had always happened.
Knot swallowed those words at the last minute, however, and again placed his broad, reassuring hand on Erik’s shoulder. “I’m an old man. Trust me when I say, sometimes the only answer is patience. It’ll happen for you eventually.”
“How can you know that?” Erik rebutted petulantly.
“I’m old,” Knot answered with a broad grin. “It’s one of the privileges that comes with that. Your body starts to break down on you, but you get to know things.”
Erik frowned back into that grinning face. In the end, the only reassurance he was given was, ‘because I know,’ But somehow, he felt better. At least a little bit.
Watching the light of the sunrise filtering through the thinned trees around the camp, he let out a groan which sounded more like a growl. He’d hoped the knights would meet the mercenaries and there’d be deaths on all sides. After all the trouble he went to riling them up, it was useless.
At least the mercenaries had a distinctly un-mercenary attitude. Thanks to that strange altruism, they were contained. For now. He just needed to come up with another plan to set the humans at each other’s throats.
For perhaps the first time since his spawning, a flicker of insecurity spasmed itself across his mind. He’d been at war since he was created. Centuries. However, there was no use for spies against the frozen bunch. He had so little experience here. Maybe he was bad at it?
How he wanted to take this into his own hands. San Ranto and Aurorias were supposed to be two of the great shields that protected humanity from assault, but that was Millenia ago. From what he saw now, all this care in taking them down was a waste. Why should he bother using subterfuge against a bunch of rotted fools with no understanding of true war? Who’d never once seen a battle that questioned the survival of their very species?
He could feel his right hand slowly slipping and he quickly clenched it back into a very human fist. He felt a gentle breeze passing over his surface and let it calm his mind. He had his orders. It wasn’t his duty to question them. He couldn’t expose his existence. That was the first priority.
He would find another way. He’d lived for centuries and he’d live for centuries more. He wouldn’t have any trouble out thinking a collection of mayflies.