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Caldera 1 – Loss

March 6, 2007

Caden was tired. He was unshaven and his clothes had long since lost their original color, now little more than a patchwork of dirt and bloodstains. His appearance did not bother him, however, the campaign was finally over and the only thought in his mind was that of returning home to his wife, Tara. It was only a matter of hours before he would be on the ridge overlooking the town, and shortly after that, he would be home.

The other men in the company were silent, all of them afflicted by a communal sense of anxiety. Occasionally, one of the greener soldiers would try to start a conversation, only to be immediately silenced by the gazes of the surrounding veterans.

Although it wasn’t until well after nightfall that his company reached the ridge that looked down on Helena, Caden knew immediately that he was home. The saltwater smell that had been gradually building over the last few miles reached a critical mass and made itself known, and with every breath he felt as though life itself were slowly seeping back into his body. With it came the pounding of the waves, and when he looked around, it was as though the the smells and sounds of home were gradually leaching out the anxiety that had been consuming the men.

Caden paused for a moment, letting the rest of the company go ahead before descending towards the town. For some reason that he had never been able to untangle, he always hesitated before this final leg of the journey. It didn’t last long though, and with a smile on his face, he followed the rest of the men towards home.

The windows of his house were dark. This came as no surprise to him, Tara usually went to sleep early, and Caden had on several occasions returned from a campaign only to find her asleep. He was careful to be quiet as he dismounted, he didn’t want to wake her until he had gotten a chance to clean himself up.

He was several paces from the door of the stable when he heard footsteps coming down the path that cut across his property to the main square. They were running, from the sound of it. Maybe she wasn’t asleep, after all. He turned around, ready to embrace her, but it was not his wife running down the path, but rather it was his wife’s sister, Andrea, carrying a lantern that was threatening to sputter out.

“What is it?” he asked, confused. Where is Tara?

She hugged him, and he could see that there were tears streaking her face. “Tara is dead.”

Caden pushed her back, almost instantly regretting it. “What . . . That can’t be.”

“She had a fever. At the end of the summer,” she said, her voice halting, as though she were experiencing it for the first time.

“But that was months ago.” She didn’t say anything, just stood there, tears flowing down he cheeks. How could I not know?

He didn’t know how long the two of them stood there, the awkward and painful silence stretching out. Caden knew that he should break down and cry, or fly into a rage, something- anything. All he felt, however was a coldness settling onto his shoulders, heavy as any armor he had ever worn.

“I- I don’t know. Thank you for telling me yourself. I’m sure that you’d rather be home with your husband.” She nodded, turned, and started to head back up the path.

Somehow, he managed to stable his horse, Akati, and put away his tack and saddle. He didn’t remember any of it, but he found himself standing in the main room, waiting for something that would never happen again. Is this even home anymore? He had never realized it, but at that moment felt it acutely, a house is nothing but a pile of wood and nails, but a home is something else entirely.

* * *

Caden had gotten used to seeing the temple empty since he had gotten home a few weeks ago. It was the largest building in Helena, big enough to contain the entire town during holidays, the walls on the sides gradually tapering in towards the altars at the front of the room. The sensation of emptiness was only increased by the sound of his boots clicking against the polished wooden floor. He knelt in front of the marble sculpture of Arkos.

Arkos, protector, Caden began his silent prayer, as he had done each day for the past month, please grant me this, my one request. Tara has been taken from me. I know that all things have their time, and that I will see her again, but I cannot accept that I was denied my chance to say goodbye. Name your price and I will pay it. All things shall be as they once were.

After finishing his prayer, Caden got up and started to leave the temple, refusing to think of what he would do if the god did not answer his request.

* * *

Caden was sitting in his chair in front of the fire. It had been several months since his return now, and he had started to build a life again, with all that it entailed: going out with the fishing fleet, attending social events, and all the thousand-and-one things that occupied life but were rarely noticed.

“Caden.” The voice came from no direction, but filled the room anyway, making Caden’s hairs stand on end. It was not unusual in any way that he could pick out, but it said his name exactly as he heard it inside his head, somehow. The voice was not talking to someone named Caden, it was talking to him and only him.

He looked around the room, and found that the room was bright, missing the dancing shadows usually produced by the fireplace. Standing in the doorway was a man, or at least something that had a man’s shape. Whatever it was, it clearly was not human, it’s face was white, but with a blue tint, and it’s androgenous features were too perfect, as though they had been carved from marble. It was cloaked in an inky blackness that suggested but did not confirm human form, and it seemed to stand perfectly still.

The thing spoke again, and again there was that resonance, as though it were speaking directly into his mind. “I am Arkos, and I have come to grant what you asked, provided you pay the price.”

“Anything.” A spark of hope flared inside of Caden as he said this, over the past few months, he had given up hope.

“Good,” Arkos said, sounding somehow pleased. “I will grant you one day to say goodbye to your loved one, but first you must do something for me.”

Arkos moved, seeming to glide, stopping at the table in the center of the room, between Caden and the fireplace. The god placed an envelope on the table, seemingly produced out of the nothingness that covered its body.

“You will travel by land to Land’s End, and from there to Crest Island, where you will deliver this letter to the head priest at the temple there. You will stop at all of the temples that you come to along the way. Tell them of your quest, they will be expecting you, and will have instructions for you. Do not open the letter, or your life is forfeit and my offer will be revoked. All things shall be as they once were”

* * *

The light of the morning sun coming through the windows awoke Caden. He was cramped and uncomfortable from having slept in the chair, but felt well rested nonetheless. He started to question the events of the previous night but stopped when he saw the letter sitting on the table. He got up and walked to the kitchen, making a mental list of the things that he would have to do that day in order to prepare for his journey.

Chapter 2 can be found here.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Maat permalink
    March 8, 2007 6:38 am

    I like it… When will there be more?

    -Maat

  2. Tom permalink
    March 9, 2007 7:14 pm

    Yep, all three of these storylines are planned to be ongoing.

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  1. Caldera 3 - Arren « Pawnstorm

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