This short story was written by me and originally published on Reader’s Corner.
Escape from the Dark Isle
Zain summoned me to the council hall on the Dark Isle. I waited as patiently as possible outside of the tall weathered wooden doors. What was so important that it was necessary to pull me away from the front lines when we were so close to winning the war against the Galvadi Empire? The Foramar would not tell me what he needed to talk to me about, but he was very insistent that the shadow world was not a safe place to discuss it. We would need to meet face to face.
With this kind of urgency, I would have expected that Zain would see me as soon as I returned. Instead a friend greeted me and informed me that the Foramar was in a meeting with the Council of Elders. I was anxious to return to the front. I didn’t want to leave the Coalition forces for long. They needed the help of every available shadow stalker to continue pushing the Galvadi to the south. We needed to take back as much of the Serpent Isle as possible and isolate the Galvadi.
“Kado,” a familiar voice called. It belonged to the only person who could distract me from my purpose on the Dark Isle, and my desire to return to a bloody war.
My wife, Raven, ran toward me, and I caught her in an embrace as our lips locked together. It had been almost a year since we had seen each other. If the war didn’t end soon, it would be even more time before we saw each other again. While we often spoke to one another within the shadow world, it was not the same as holding her in my arms and inhaling in her flowery scent.
“I’ve missed you so much,” I said, breathing hard when we managed to pry ourselves apart.
“How long until you need to leave?” she asked. Her probing gray eyes told me she would find a way to delay me.
I gazed over my shoulder toward the doors to the council hall. The Foramar and the Council of Elders often spent hours arguing before they would reach an agreement. While Zain had the ultimate authority to make any final decisions, he always made sure he listened to every side first. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt if Raven and I spent some time reacquainting ourselves. My wife pulled me toward our hut before I answered, but I was certain that she understood that there wasn’t much time.
Our reunion didn’t last as long as we would have liked. Less than an hour had passed when Zain’s voice rang in my mind.
Meet me at my hut.
“I need to go,” I said, sighing.
“Yes, I know.” Raven held me tighter.
I laughed and kissed her again. “There’s no reason we can’t spend this one night together. I will try to return for a time once I’ve met with Zain.”
This seemed to satisfy her because she released me. I dressed as fast as possible and headed out the door.
“Hurry back!” Raven called after me.
Zain’s hut was on the other side of the village, but it took a mere ten minutes to walk there. It was late afternoon, so I caught the scents of different meats and vegetables cooking as I passed dozens of other homes on my way. It made my stomach rumble, and I hoped Raven would have something waiting when I returned to her.
I let myself into the Foramar’s hut and found him sitting at the table that stood in the center of the two-room home. He and Frai shared a bed in the bedroom toward the back. The bunks that Cathnor and I used to sleep in still occupied the main living area even though neither of us had lived there since the war started two years prior.
“Frai is pregnant and is due to give birth in a month,” Zain said, he held out his arm inviting me to join him.
I took a seat across from him, attempting to hide my surprise. I hadn’t heard anything about it before now. The fact that the Foramar would be a father soon was a reason for gossip, but no one was talking about it at all. It made sense that he would not want this information shared in the shadow world, however. There would be no way of knowing if the enemy was listening.
“You are young, but I have taught you everything I can. You are a skilled shadow stalker, Kado, and you’ve surpassed my expectations for you. I believe you are more than capable of filling my shoes as Foramar.”
“Thank you,” I said watching Zain carefully. I was grateful for his praise, but under the circumstances it concerned me that he felt it necessary to call me home just to tell me that. “Although, I do hope that won’t be necessary for years to come.”
My mentor gave me a forlorn smile. “My child will come into the world soon and she will need someone to foster her, but more than that she will require protection.”
I nodded. When I was fifteen years old, a fallen shadow stalker named Drevin dreamed that the Foramar’s first child would be corrupted by power and enslave the people of the Serpent Isles. He whole-heartedly believed that he’d had a prophetic vision sent by the shadow people, and demanded that their child be killed at birth to prevent it from happening. For his audacity, the council exiled him. He spent the last seven years in the Serpent Isle where he formed a cult called the Way of the Galvadi. They became the Galvadi Empire when he infiltrated and took control of their government.
When a group of rebels established the Coalition against the Galvadi Empire, many shadow stalkers volunteered to help them fight against the empire. They could not allow Drevin to continue ruling the Serpent Isles. Whether he knew it or not, he was manifesting his own prophecy by doing what he feared Zain’s child would do. The fallen one was no longer rational, however, and if he learned of the child’s birth he would not stop until he killed the infant.
“I need you to promise me that if something happens to me, you will take my child from the Dark Isle and train her in secret. We cannot allow Drevin to find her. Swear to me that you will do as I say.”
“I would be honored to foster and protect your child, Zain. Of course, but what did you see that makes you feel this will be necessary? We’re on the verge of winning the war.”
Zain patted my shoulder. “He is letting us win. It’s a distraction.”
I started to ask him what he meant, but he cut me off with a slow shake of his head.
“Unfortunately that is all I can tell you for now. You will need to remain on the Dark Isle for the time being. Don’t stray far from Frai.”
Zain stood and opened the door, which was his subtle way of telling me that our meeting was over and he wanted time alone. I hugged him on the way out and he held me for a moment. When he released me, his gaze seemed distant, and I had the eerie feeling it would be the last time I saw the man who raised me.
“Kado,” Zain said, gripping my arm as I passed through the doorway. “Do not tell anyone we’ve spoken about this. Not even your wife. No one can see you leave the Dark Isle with my child.”
This final request confused me, but I nodded. I had learned long before that the Foramar had a reason for everything he did, and over time I came to trust him implicitly.
Raven and I spent the next couple of hours together. It surprised her when I mentioned that I wouldn’t be returning to the front. I could see the curiosity as she gazed into my eyes as we laid entwined in the grass near the Black Lake. She wanted to know what Zain and I had spoken about, but I knew she’d never ask, which made it easier for me. We shared everything, keeping a secret from her would not be easy.
The sun started to set and the first of the two moons began rising behind the lone mountain that laid beyond the lake. Many thoughts about my talk with the Foramar tried to work their way into my mind, but I forced myself to remain focused on my wife.
“What’s that?” Raven asked.
I heard it too. There were screams coming from the village.
I didn’t expect their attack to come so soon. You have to get Frai to safety, Zain said. Tell your wife to evacuate the island.
“The Galvadi are attacking. You need to leave the Dark Isle. Go to Appolia,” I said, helping my wife to her feet.
“Where are you going?” she asked, reluctant to leave my side.
“I have a task I must complete for Zain. Go!” I told her and headed for the Foramar’s hut. I didn’t have to look behind me to know that Raven had already gone through the veil into the shadow world.
Frai ambled toward the door of the hut. One hand held her belly, as used the other to lean on the wall for support. “My water has broken, Kado. Something is wrong.”
I wasn’t sure if it would be safe to take her through the shadow world while in labor. No one had ever tried anything like that before, so I lifted Frai into my arms and carried her through the village toward the Black Lake. I kept to the shadows as much as possible and avoided areas where the shadow people were fighting the Galvadi.
When we did pass close to the battle, it startled me to see that the Galvadi were winning. They used unfamiliar technology that seemed to be rendering the shadow stalkers’ power useless. I felt helpless as I watched a young shadow stalker’s throat being slit by one of the Galvadi. The soldier dropped her in a pool of her own blood and left her to die as he moved on to his next victim. Frai, who must have witnessed the girl’s brutal death, sobbed into my shoulder, careful not to make a sound.
It was quiet when we arrived at the lake, where an eerie fog had formed over the water. All I could do was hope that the majority of the shadow stalkers had made it to safety. I had just reached the other side of the lake near the base of the mountain when Frai had to cover her mouth to stifle a scream. Sweat plastered her curly brown locks to her face, and it was obvious that she was in tremendous pain.
“Not…a…lot of…time,” she said between gasps.
I scanned the area for a safe place for her to give birth. There was a small grotto nearby that many shadow stalkers used as a quiet space for meditation. It would be a tight squeeze, but there was enough room for two of us as long as I didn’t try to stand up. It was also a good distance from any of the venomous plant life that grew wild in the surrounding forests.
When I laid Frai down I noticed that blood soaked my arm. I tried to keep my expression neutral even though I knew then that she was going to die. I didn’t want to startle her, but she rested her hand on the side of my face. She must have already known what I feared in my heart.
“You have been a good student, a good son, and you will be a great Foramar.” She was remarkably serene for someone who was near death and in pain. “My daughter is dying, Kado. She has no oxygen. You will need to cut the baby out of me.”
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath to calm myself. It would not do to lose my head now. I could help heal a wounded soldier who fell in battle, including doing minor surgery, without a worry. Now I would have to use those skills on the woman who raised me so that I could save her unborn child, knowing that she would not survive the process. Worse, she would have to suffer through it with no anesthetic.
Frai patted my hand, and I opened my eyes. She lifted her shirt and drew a line across the lower part of her belly, showing me where I needed to make the incision. I pulled out my knife and took another deep breath. It didn’t matter that the blade was not clean. My foster mother was not in danger from infection.
I ignored the sweat that dripped down into my face as I worked, but it was harder to disregard the scraping of Frai’s nails as she attempted to dig her fingers into the cold, hard rock beneath her. She did not move any other part of her body, and I admired her ability to remain still through this torture. I had to be careful that the blade didn’t cut the infant, however, so I did my best to block out everything else and focused on saving my new charge.
Frai was motionless, but she opened her eyes when she heard her baby’s cry for the first time. She opened her mouth to speak and nothing came out, so she closed her eyes and swallowed, then she took a deep breath and tried again. “Lets…see…”
Her words came out as a whisper, but I could see that it took a lot of effort to say them. I knew her life held on by a thin and delicate thread, and that she likely wanted to see her daughter one time before she died, so I tied and cut the umbilical cord as fast as I could.
“It’s a girl,” I said as I laid the infant across her chest and lifted her head so that they were face to face, holding her hand in mine.
“Auren,” she said softly. Then she closed her eyes and let out her final breath.
I kissed my foster mother’s forehead as one of my tears dripped onto her face. “Goodbye, Frai, until we meet in the shadow world.”
It bothered me that I couldn’t take the time to give her a proper burial, but Auren had to be my first priority. I took her to the lake to clean her, but I would have to be quick. Her cries echoed off the mountain and across the lake, and I didn’t have much time before the Galvadi came looking for the source of the sound.
Her wails grew louder as I lowered her into the cold water. I washed the blood from her as best as I could, then I laid her on the grass while I finished cleaning myself. My shirt was somewhat clean, so I took it off to swaddle the infant and held her too me. She calmed down instantly and fell asleep while suckling on her thumb.
“Time to keep my promise, little one,” I whispered. I pulled the veil of the shadow world around us, and we disappeared together into the mist.