An introduction to yet another child in the bloodline of House Whoticore. Remember, these teasers are not in order of the eBook I plan to publish. They are merely glimpses into their world.
This scene was inspired by Between Interval’s haunting rendition of the classic Greek myth of the Minotaur. It’s urgency and mystical tones set the mood perfectly for The Flight to Westwind. Enjoy.
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.
Will the last born Whoticore survive to reach the sanctuary of Westwind? Pledge NOW to our $1.00 tier on Patreon to receive future chapters and learn his fate.
For the YouTube reading, go here.
The woman watched the crescent moon above from the vantage point of the little bridge. Below, the waters of Westwind River ran swiftly, swollen with the gift of the spring runoff, running (impossibly) uphill from Whocate’s Valley. With a chill still in the air this early in the season, the straw white blonde gathered her spring green cloak around her.
She also shivered with anticipation. Her mentors, chosen by her from among the adepts of the Dragonfly Temple, had warned her she would have to pass a test of fealty and she was nervous.
“What if I don’t pass?” she whispered to the dragonfly that had alighted on her bracelet, attracted, she thought, by the shiny silver metal. “I love him. This is his life now. I can’t be without him, but is that the right decision, for me to stay because of him?” She looked around, taking in the landscape, the soft lights glittering off her insect friend’s red wings. “I know that’s not a reason to be here. A rational one, anyway.” She laughed. “Oh Goddess, where is my head? Here, talking to a dragonfly on the banks of the most beautiful river I’ve ever seen, in the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, about the – “
” – most wonderful man you’ve ever known,” came a woman’s voice behind her.
She turned, startled. The dragonfly held fast to her elaborate bracelet, a gift from the man she loved, the man she wanted to be with forever. The man she had lost in a diner in a little town at the bottom of the mountain.
*You are Misery Chastain, child,* the woman seemed not to ask, but to confirm her identity.
Misery lowered her head in respect, her cloak’s hood falling over her face, swallowing her vision. *Yes, yes ma’am,* she replied, trying to pull the cloak hood back, failing utterly to keep her hair in check and out of her face.
The newcomer laughed. *You will get the hang of wearing one of these in time,* she advised. *You do not have the advantage I have of having worn one ever since I could walk.*
*No, I guess not, I. What is your – oh, wow,* Misery stopped short, seeing the color of her cloak. *I – um – well, what does black mean – * she asked, uncertain.
*Sarlayna, Miss Chastain,* the older woman replied.
*Sar…it means – ?* poor Misery was even more confused now than ever.
*My name is Sarlayna, dear,* she was corrected. *and you will not see many cloaks of black here, and only two others with blue highlights.* Sari gazed out over the bridge railing, enjoying the view, taking her time in the conversation.
*I wasn’t told about black…what it means, I mean,* Chastain pursued. *I know green are acolytes, the lighter blue ones are intermediate, the orange moreso and the red adepts – *
* – and we are the Whoticores,* Sari interrupted. *Well, black are, and those who are their Seeresses, bonded into the bloodline, have the bejewelment added – * she paused, seeing Misery back up slightly, knowing it was partly in fear, partly in awe at Sari’s black eyes.
She smiled. *You have nothing to fear from me, dear. I am not mad. That is the exclusive territory of the males.*
Misery tried to relax, succeeding only partly. *Oh, I guess it would be wrong to assume an entire family’s mental stability based on one individual.*
*And normally you would be right, but in this case, 81 generations of direct male descendants have fallen prey to the Burning – the madness,* she corrected herself.
Misery couldn’t help but gape. *Excuse me, but did you say ‘81’?*
*Yes, I did. Eighty-one. Only my husband, Erik, has thus been spared, but there will be an end to it – soon,* Sari confirmed.
*How do you know?* Misery breathed.
*I am not sure I should tell you. You are, after all, a reporter,* Sari said measuredly.
*I’m not here for a story, ma’am,* she said a little too quickly. *Originally I just came to see Zach. To tell him I’m sorry. It wasn’t my fault! Pippi followed me to the diner – *
The black-cloaked woman straightened. *You do not need to convince an old woman of what you already know to be true, dear.* She held out a hand and the red dragonfly flew from Misery’s bracelet to her finger, perching there, studying it. *He knows and you both have your own reality.*
Misery leaned back against the railing. *But does he believe me? He didn’t at the diner.*
*He was scared,* Sari told her. *And rightly so. We have been burned in the past and there is too much at stake now to risk getting caught. The women you live with are dangerous. They will never rest until they have hunted us, never stop until they kill us.*
Misery’s eyes went wide. *Pippi would never – *
*That is not why you are here, though, I think.* Sari interrupted. *You are wise enough to let people work things out in their own time. I see that about you. This is more about you and your motives.*
The reporter’s shoulders slumped slightly. *I’m not sure I am even thinking straight,* the MWHO reporter admitted. *Zach is just – dazzling! I don’t know how else to explain it. His energy is so – vibrant, yet he’s so quiet. Though sometimes he drags into work half-asleep,* she laughed.
*There are – reasons for that,* Sari said cryptically.
*I know, and that’s what Zach’s said. I haven’t pushed him. I know he’ll tell me when he’s ready.*
*More like when you are ready, dear,* the Seeress counseled her.
*Am I?* Misery sniffed. *Or is my head so confused by love? Is that why I am here? He says I am a Child of Whocate. I don’t even know what that means.*
Sari placed a hand below the distraught woman’s collarbone, indicating her heart. *You do. In here. And because this is so new to you, the safest place for you is here, with us.*
*But how do I know for sure?* Misery asked, tears running down her cheeks. *How do I know I don’t just love what he’s become, not what he is inside? Or, or how do I know he really loves me?*
*It is times like this that test us, dear,* Sarlayna counseled. *And he IS inside what he is becoming. They are one and the same. And if you were not a Child of Whocate, then how could you even understand me as we speak?*
The reporter looked up, realizing she had been speaking the Sacred Language the entire time. *I guess you’re right about that,* she admitted to the Seeress. She gazed over the water where dragonflies were hunting for their evening meals, catching mosquitoes, diving with them under the water to drown them. *But Zach – *
She looked back up. The Seeress was gone.
The red dragonfly danced before her with a black one who had joined it from the river. The new companion darted off, back over the waters to hunt. Reflexively Misery put out her hand and the red one came to her, landing on the same fingertip as before. She gazed into its faceted eyes, light reflected off the torches that lined the little river bridge. Tears filled her eyes. *Tell him for me,* she pleaded it. *Tell him I’m sorry. Tell him I love him, no matter what happens, even if he never wants to see me again. I’ll never stop loving him!* She broke down at the thought. The dragonfly took off, zipping back and forth over the waters below, diving underneath, disappearing.
Misery pulled her cowl off, longing to feel the cool air dry her tear-stained face. The dragonfly broke the surface, zipped up towards her and landed quickly and neatly next to her on the railing. She ignored it in her pain.
*I’m sorry too.*
“Zach?!” Misery looked wildly around at the sound of Zach’s voice, but there was no one else on the bridge, only the red dragonfly. A peculiar light below caught her eye, reflecting off of a stalled eddy of water trapped between rocks that spun only slowly, draining slower into the rest of the babbling river.
Her eyes flew wide. Zach’s image leaned casually on the railing next to her in its reflection. She jerked up. He was next to her, golden eyes regarding her quietly…
Like this vignette? You can receive future expansions on the beautiful story of Dawn Everbright and Zach Frack by pledging to our $1.00 tier on Patreon.