A gurgling sound, like of rushing water. Footsteps, running. Laughter.
A voice, dimly calling. To whom?
His own pulse, pounding in the space between his ears.
He was smiling. At whom?
The ground shook beneath his feet, enough to upset him, except it didn’t. The wind ripped at his hair as a thin scream penetrated the air. Then, all was still.
A gurgling sound, like of rushing water.
A maroon river.
。 。 。 。 。
It was morning. As the first rays of sunlight peered cautiously through the binds, Tabs, the Fayer family’s cat, was busying herself with the cleaning of her charge. Right at this moment, she was licking his forehead, mewing all the while of the horrifying state of his bedclothes.
“Mhm? Oww, gerroff me Tabs!”
Brandishing an arm haphazardly about, the boy turned to his side and sunk his face into his bed.
Of course that wasn’t going to work.
“Okay okay, I’ll get up. Don’t look at me like that.”
With a yawn, the boy sat up, and surveyed his kingdom. Poised on his knees, with a haughty and rather offended expression, was the tabby cat. Around them, the spoils of war. His pillow had made a daring jump to freedom, and was at this moment frozen in panic halfway across the room. The sheets were completely in disarray, and the only thing preventing his blanket from staging its own escape was the fact that he had somehow, during the course of the night, managed to get on top of it.
No, you shush.
As he straightened his bed and made a half-hearted attempt at doing the same to his hair, Scott’s mind wandered back to the strange dream he had the night before. Most people in the Settlement dreamt very little, if at all. And although dreams weren’t necessarily forbidden by the Temple, it was common for those who did to request for the Memory Mender. For Scott especially, dreams were a cause of alarm. As a child, The Incident had left an imprint on him, leading to night after night of vivid, and often terrifying, dreams, so he had learnt to call for the Mender whenever his dreams showed signs of escalating. Last night’s, however, was very different, and although it had been much more vivid than normal, it didn’t leave him uncomfortable or afraid, like the others.
And for some reason, it left him wanting more.
Maybe I should tell the priest, just to be safe.
A purring sound floated up from around his ankles, and he reached down absentmindedly to scratch its source.
“You’re right. It’s the right thing to do.”
As he descended the wooden steps leading to the downstairs cafe, he chewed at the one little thought nagging at him. Why did he dream last night, when the effects of the Mending should still be fresh?
。 。 。 。 。
His parents were already hard at work in the kitchen. Mr. Fayer was a rough, yet gentle man, with a rumbling laugh and a stomach to match. He was shorter than his wife, but had strong arms from years of dough kneading. When Scott entered the kitchen, He had just moved a dozen walnut breads into the stone kin, and was gently coaxing the coals below.
“Awake? Sit tight, breakfast will be ready in just a moment.”
After filling up with a fresh loaf and a cup of hot milk, Scott shouldered his leather bag and left the cafe through a back door. It was his job to make deliveries in the morning, as many customers order breakfast but are too busy with their jobs to come in for them. The large bag, which was carefully packed with breads and thermoses of coffees and teas, would be his companion for the next hour or so. In a separate compartment were wedged a pencil and his sketchbook, wrapped in a large napkin to protect against spillage.
Settling into a comfortable trot, the boy made his way through the Settlement. Although he didn’t look it, Scott was, surprisingly, a fairly good runner, a fact that was greatly appreciated by those who relied on him for their warm morning meal. People waved from the windows, or shouted greetings from their doorsteps as he passed, and he nodded at each in return without breaking the rhythm of his breathing.
First up was Mr. Philipovna, a furniture maker. The burly man was already covered in wood shavings when he arrived. With a grin, the craftsman waved at the delivery boy and floated the half-carved table he was making as he quickly swept his work station clean. Then, flying a pair of newly made chairs to the center of the room, he sat down with a great big oomph and mentioned for Scott to do the same.
Mr. Philipovna was nearly always Scott’s first customer, on account of his living closest to the cafe. As a wood-force user, his primal abilities made it easy for him to manipulate his medium, and his furniture enjoyed popularity throughout the Settlement for both their durability and intricately-carved designs. As the boy sat down and opened his pack, he noticed the unfinished table legs, which were shaped like claws.
“Aye, a griffikhine. Special order from the Chief of Defenses. Effective against both enemies and children alike, it is. But here we are, sitting by it like a pair of fleas.”
The two laughed. The khine was a bear-headed, bird-bodied creature, with sharp talons and a body covered in scales. Said to reach nearly the width of the Settlement when full grown, it breathed fire and lived deep in the primal wilderness. Or, at least, that was what the stories claimed. Designed to warn the community from wandering past the protective walls, the khine turned out to have quite the opposite effect. Eventually the general interest to seek out and find this monster reached such a peak that the Temple was forced to reveal the truth; that such a creature never existed. Nowadays, the khine remained only as a laughable legend, to scare young children with during hot summer nights.
Bidding goodbye to the man who was now busying himself with chunks of rye and a deep mug of black tea, the boy continued on his way. As then sun climbed slowly higher, his leather bag quickly emptied into the stomachs of his customers. Most of them, like Scott’s own parents, were not primal force users, and founded their business on other abilities. Others, including Mr. Philipovna, were able to offer goods or services to the community by combining their force abilities with additional skills and talents. Only a select few had enough raw power to rely on exclusively, and most of these worked for the Temple as Shamans or Priests. The how and why of force-wielding was mostly unknown, popping up in children around the Settlement in a sporadic and random fashion, instead of being passed down from parents to children. As such, all children of the Settlement were tested for primal abilities at the age of six, and if discovered, were honed by Shaman-led training in the hopes of one day maturing into something the whole Settlement could benefit from. Of course, since everyone played an equal role in the safety and comfort of the community, the extent – or lack thereof – of one’s primal forces mattered not in the grand scheme of things, and everyone was treated equally regardless of ability.
。 。 。 。 。
That afternoon, with an empty bag and a new page of moving scenery in his sketchpad, Scott wandered home. As he hung the delivery bag on its hook in the kitchen, his mother peeked in from her station behind the counter.
“Scott? The priest came in earlier. He said he’ll be too busy to come back today, but wanted to know if you’re feeling better after the Mending. Did you dream at all last night?”
The large tabby, sitting motionless by her feet, was staring severely up at him.
Stop it, you cat.
Her ears twitched in response.
The boy looked up from the cat and smiled.
“No mum. No dreams.”
And although he couldn’t explain why, somehow, it had felt like the right thing to do.
word count: 1382