Walking Shadow

 

by Eildon Rhymer        

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Chapter twelve

 

"You have no-one but me"

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Now that they were face to face, Bran suddenly had no idea what to say. He had stormed out full of fury, clutching his gun, wanting nothing more than to inflict punishment and revenge, but now that he was here…

 

He had forgotten what Will Stanton looked like, he realised. He had seen him only twice, for barely a few minutes each time, and one of those times he had been half-asleep. In his mind, Will had grown impossibly tall, with eyes that exuded evil, and a voice as cold and merciless as the men who had attacked him. He had honeyed words, and a false smile, that could seduce Jane into wanting him. And that had been before Jane had said what she had said, back when Bran had thought of him only as a man. Stamping up the hill, Bran had been preparing himself to face someone who looked like an evil wizard in a fairy tale.

 

What he found was a man. Will had been sitting on a rock, looking small and cold and disconsolate. He stood up as Bran approached, but he still looked fragile, as if even that small movement pained him.

 

Irrationally, it made Bran hate him all the more, but it stole his words away from him.

 

Will said his name. "Bran," he said, pronouncing it in the Welsh way, a way no English person normally bothered to attempt.

 

"Don't," Bran choked.

 

"What?" Will said.

 

"Act as if you know me." Bran raised the gun, not meaning to shoot, but just to show Will that had had it.

 

Will ignored it completely. He seemed to be trying to look Bran in the eye. To enchant me, Bran thought, and raised his hand to shield his eyes. He did not wear his dark glasses at night, for the darkness was enough of a shield for him, but in front of Will, he felt stripped and exposed.

 

"Jane has told you, then," Will said. It did not sound like a question.

 

Bran nodded. He tried to gather together all the strands of his fury, but they were so hard to hold on to, in the face of Will's quietness.

 

"You believe her?"

 

"Yes," Bran rasped. "You're some sort of wizard. You did your filthy magic on us as children, and now you're back, doing it again."

 

"Oh no." Will shook his head. He looked stricken, but even then there was a quietness and a weariness to it. "I haven't done anything to hurt you, Bran. Please believe me. I came here just to… to check that you were alright. We were friends once."

 

Bran sneered. "I can't believe that."

 

"We were." Will spread his hands, almost beseechingly. "Then you were made to forget - not by me. You forgot, but I didn't. There was a great battle, Light against Dark. You were there. We fought it together."

 

"I would never fight for the Dark side," Bran declared.

 

Will looked as if Bran had struck him. "We were of the Light, Bran. I am of the Light. Please… You can't think anything else."

 

"Can't I?" Bran sneered. "Is that an order? You'll put it into my brain and make me obey you?"

 

Will looked as if he was about to say something, but then he sighed, and pulled his hands back to his sides. "It's never been like that, Bran," he said quietly. "But I shouldn't have said any of that."

 

Bran glanced back at the distant light that was his home. "Did Jane believe any of that nonsense?"

 

"I didn't tell Jane," Will said. "Only you, Bran."

 

"Don't say my name like that!" Bran screamed.

 

Will ignored him. "It wouldn't have mattered, even if you had believed it," he said. "About the Light, and being comrades, and knowing things… I shouldn't have said it. I shouldn't have let you remember it. You made your choice. You're here, and I… I need to go. I won't come back again."

 

"Good," Bran said.

 

"But…" Will took a step forward, and Bran flinched backwards. "I want you to know one thing, Bran. It wasn't me who hurt you. I know you think it was me, and I see now that my behaviour encouraged you to come to that opinion. But it wasn't me. The people who did it… They won't come back again. They just wanted to get my attention, and now they've got it…"

 

Bran wanted to say something final and triumphant, but he could not. The rain lashed at his face, and felt like someone else's cold tears.

 

"And I know you've dislike me because of Jane," Will said quietly, "but I assure you, I've never been a rival of yours. I did Jane a service, and she was… grateful. She hates me now, though. I don't know if she can love you, but if not, it won't be because of me. I wanted…" He seemed to snatch back something he had been about to say. "I just want you to be happy, Bran."

 

Bran felt sordid, somehow, and naked. Will had seen right into his heart and here he was, speaking so casually, about things that were special. It made Bran sound like a paranoid, jealous schoolboy. "I'm not like that," he choked, and Will's eyes met his, as Will said, "I know you're not."

 

Silence, for a while. Just the wind. Bran wanted so badly to hate, but instead he felt nothing. It was as if this was a dream, and tomorrow it would be sunny again, and no such thing as wizards would exist in the world.

 

At length Will spoke. "I have spoken about things that you're not supposed to know. I should take your memory of them, but…" He let out a breath. "You didn't believe them, so I don't suppose it matters. You know who I am, but you won't see me ever again. Neither of you will."

 

He turned to go. "Good," Bran managed to shout after him. "Good!"

 

He waited until Will had gone. The walk back to the farmhouse seemed incredibly long, and impossibly lonely.

 

******

 

"What happened?" Jane leapt to her feet.

 

Bran slumped down on the couch, next to where she had been sitting. The expression on his face was strange. "He says he's going."

 

"Going?" she echoed.

 

Bran nodded. "He says he's never coming back." His hand clenched into a fist. "I told him good riddance."

 

"Oh." Jane sat down again. After that, nothing Bran said made sense to her. She heard only words. Sometimes she nodded, or shook her head, or replied, but her mind was elsewhere, with Will in the darkness.

 

Sometimes she saw ghosts at the window, and then the wind started screaming.

 

******

 

It was not even fully dark yet, but the rain made the darkness seem interminable. Will had lived days since the evening had started. Into his mind came the words that had started it all, so long ago: "This night will be bad, and tomorrow will be beyond imagining." He shivered. It felt true again today.

 

First Jane, then Bran. Both had learned the truth, both had come to him, both had rejected him. It was the final tomb of his hopes. Not that he had ever truly believed that they would one day remember everything, would come rushing to his side in friendship. Not that he had ever dreamed that Bran would come to him, smiling. "I remember, Will," he would say, "and from now on…"

 

No. He shook his head fiercely. He had never truly expected such things to happen, had he? No. He had always known that it was impossible, but it seemed that, deep down, a tiny part of him had hoped, even so.

 

The right thing to do would be to make them forget even that little that they knew. Let them be strangers again. Strangers who knew nothing about him, rather than old friends who hated him. That was best, but…

 

"No," he said out loud. "None of it really matters." The enemy mattered, and finding out what it was. The things that had taken his blood mattered. The echoes of the past, walking on the hills. The world mattered. It was always like that for an Old One.

 

"What's wrong?" A voice said. Will was unsurprised to see Mark at his side, wrapped in a winter coat. "Haven't you got a home to go to?"

 

"No," Will said.

 

"Oh." Mark walked a few steps. "I heard shouting…"

 

"That was my… friends," Will told him.

 

"The boy you like? Or was it the girl?" Mark said. "Not friends any longer, I gather?"

 

Will shook his head. "They found something out about me. It was too much. They hate me."

 

"So you have no-one," Mark said. "No-one but me."

 

It felt completely normal to be walking through the rain, talking like this to a stranger. It felt like a dream, when incredible things happened, but never seemed incredible at all.

 

"That seems to be true," Will said.

 

Mark put his arm around Will's shoulder. "You know who I am?"

 

And Will did know. Perhaps he had known right from the start, though, distracted by emotion, he had been wilfully blind. "You are my enemy."

 

"Never that," Mark laughed. "Well, maybe, a bit. I cannot be entirely victorious as long as you exist, but every day you exist, I grow stronger."

 

"Who are you?" Will asked.

 

Mark tightened his grip on Will's body. Despite everything, there was a comfort and a warmth in having someone else so close. It was like Light and Dark. They were the opposites of each other, but at least they understood the same things. This man was not of the Darkness, though. Will knew that.

 

"Who am I?" Mark said. "Not what you see me as. This was a body that someone had… discarded. Some young man. He was dying at the bottom of a cliff. I took it for my own. I kept a lot of what was him, of course - the things he knew, the words he used, the way he laughed. His name was Mark, but I have no name."

 

"And you are…?"

 

"Impatient," Mark chided. He released Will, and the rain lashed against his body, cold and harsh. "I am not entirely sure what I am, to be honest. I… exist. For long ages, I did not have words. I did not know what "I" meant. I did not need such things, of course, but taking this body gave them to me."

 

"You're not of the Dark, though," Will said. "And not of the Wild Magic, either, I think."

 

"Younger than those," Mark said, "but stronger. I have come from humans. I am bound up with them. But I am stronger that they are now, and now their child turns on them, and users them."

 

A new power? Something that had arisen since the Light had departed? Mark seemed to guess his thoughts, because he laughed. "I have existed as long as mankind has existed. The lords of Light and Darkness were too busy fighting each other to notice me, except for once, but they thought they defeated me. I survived, though, hiding, growing. Sometimes they fed me; sometimes they kept me dormant. Now they have all gone, I can come into my own. Man created me, but soon I will create man in my image."

 

There were so many things Will ought to be asking, but he asked the thing he needed to know first. "How did you know Bran? Why did you hurt him?"

 

"To find you, of course," Mark said, with a smile. "I knew you lived, of course. I tasted you. But to speak to you in the flesh… To stand here face to face, and plant such sweet despair in your mind…"

 

"Bran," Will forced out. "How…?"

 

"I knew his father once," Mark said. "I whispered in his ear, too - a whisper that had no words. I recognised the taste of his blood, and the scent of you and him together, in a place beneath the sea. So I found him. Hurting him…" He smiled. "All the better to hurt you wish, my dear, as I believe the story says."

 

Will remembered his mother's voice; big bad wolves in the darkness, but a smile to end it, and a warm bedtime. He could have cried. "Then why me?" he asked. "Why did you…?"

 

"Because, Will Stanton, you are human, yet not human." Did Mark know that his voice held echoes of that first time Will had met Bran, so long ago? "As such, you are the sweetest food to me, and the thing I most hate. Your despair is a banquet to me, but one day, soon, you will have to go. One day I will have to say that I have drunk enough, and it is time to be free."

 

"I don't understand." Will had no false pride to stop him from admitting it. Answers were paramount, however he got them.

 

"No," Mark smiled. "I don't suppose you do. I am born from humankind, and you Old Ones have always denied your human sides, you most of all. You will never understand me. You will never defeat me."

 

"I will try," Will promised him, because this thing had hurt Bran, and that was enough for him.

 

Mark laughed. "But you don't even know what I can do. I am chaos. I am wild emotion given flesh. Wars and riots, murders and hate… That is me, whispering in their ears. 'Do this,' I say, and they do, and by their deeds, I am stronger."

 

The fight by the seafront in town, Will thought. The attack on Jane. The way the world of man was tumbling into disorder and misery and violence. There was a reason for it. There was a cause.

 

"And my powers are not confined to this moment in time," Mark gloated. "I was there in the past. Past murders live again where I walk. Scenes of great emotion are seen again. Feelings cling to a place and come forth again. The spirits of the betrayed dead are walking again."

 

Fuelled by my blood. Will felt cold. This thing in Mark's body might have given them life, but Will had given them strength. He had made them into something that they would not have been otherwise.

 

"So do you see now?" Mark raised his hand caressingly to Will's cheek. "You feed me. You fuel me. A tiny murder done by a petty man is like a drop of water to me. But when a great lord of Light did evil in the cause of Light… Ah, it was so much greater."

 

Merriman, Will thought. He thought of the thing Merriman had done to Hawkin, that was cold and merciless, but done for the cause of Light. He thought of Jane, crying because her memory had been taken from her. He thought of John Rowlands, who had always believed the Light to be as cold and hard as the Dark. Did we create this? he thought. Did we cause something tiny to become a thing of power?

 

"The tears of a wizard," Mark whispered, touching Will's eyes, "are like honey to me."

 

"No…" Will wrenched himself away. "I will fight you. I will defeat you, I swear it."

 

"Really?"

 

Mark took a step back, smiling. Will raised his hand, ready to smash him with his power, but Mark's body was already slumping to the ground. Even before Will reached it, he knew it was empty, vacated. It was just the body of an innocent young man, several days dead.

 

The thing that had inhabited it was gone. It could be anywhere in the world, or everywhere, and Will had no idea how to find it.

 

******

 

The wind wailed like a thing in torment. Thunder sounded far away. It had been thundering when everything had started, Jane remembered, the day she had first met Will.

 

"We can't leave it like this," she burst out.

 

Bran had been talking about something else, something she had no memory of whatsoever. She had always believed in committing every moment to memory, but now it seemed that she had found something so important that it meant that the little things could be forgotten.

 

"Like what?" Bran asked.

 

Jane winced from the fury of the weather. "Will's out there," she said.

 

"Perfectly capable of taking care of himself," Bran said. "He is a wizard, after all." He sneered the word, as if it was distasteful.

 

She remembered how he had looked, the expression in his eyes, the things he had said. "I'm not sure he is," she murmured. "But, besides, that's not what I meant. I mean... We can't just let him walk away."

 

"You won't find me going after him." Bran sounded surly, but she wondered suddenly if he was trying to convince himself, as much as her.

 

"Bran," she said, and wondered why he flinched when she said his name. "Bran, if all this is true...  No, I know this is true. Will knows things. He holds secrets, secrets about our lives. We won't be complete until we at least try to find out what they are."

 

"He won't tell you," Bran said bitterly. "Or he'll tell you, then make you forget it all afterwards."

 

Jane leant forward, clasping her hands between her knees. "But surely we have to try. If we don't do anything... If we just let him go.... He won't come back, Bran. He'll never let us find him again. We'll have lost our last chance."

 

"I don't care," Bran said.

 

Jane decided to take a chance. She turned slowly, so she was looking him right in those incredible eyes of his. "I think you do."

 

He said nothing. Thunder sounded, closer than ever, and the wind screamed, as if something was dying out on the mountain.

 

"And I think," she said, with a shiver, "that if we let him go now, then he'll have lost his last chance, too. I think he needs us."

 

Bran snorted. But, when she rose and went towards the door, he came too, only a step behind her.

 

******

 

They were crowding around him on the mountain. Will saw them all, and there was no escape. The echoes of past murders, past betrayals, of people dying alone, unable to find their way home. Ancient grief and pain and sorrow, playing themselves out for mortal eyes to see. And, beyond them, the walking dead, fuelled by his own blood, readying themselves to spread terror and horror and death, to reclaim the land that once was theirs.

 

All because of me, Will thought. He sank to his knees. All because of me.

 

The thing that had inhabited Mark's body was gone, or it was everywhere. Will had sworn to fight it, but he had no idea how to do so. He had only a limited idea of what it was. Something born from the fiercest emotions of mankind, that had developed a kind of consciousness of its own. Something that the presence of the Old Ones had kept in check, that had now emerged in full force.

 

And something that had, in part, been fed and strengthened by the Old Ones. Something that was fed and strengthened by Will even now.

 

"It isn't fair!" he wanted to wail. The lords of Light had departed, leaving the world to mankind to manage on their own, but they had never been free to make their own choices. This thing had always been there, warping them, influencing them. Man had a tendency to disorder and selfishness, but this thing had strengthened such urges, and suppressed the good and positive side of man. Perhaps it only had a tiny part to play in the present state of the world, or perhaps it was entirely responsible. He did not know, but he knew that the world was not in the state that the Old Ones had expected it to be, when they had gone.

 

"You have to come back now," he found himself saying. He threw back his head and cried it. "You have to come back!"

 

Even as the echo of his words still sounded in his ears, he knew how vain it was. They had gone out of time. There was no power in the universe that would allow him to reach them. Only in the far distant future, when his own time came, would he ever see them again, and by then it would be far too late for him to do anything about the world.

 

He was alone with this, alone as ever. And I don't know what to do!

 

His wound throbbed with a deep ache, and his heart hurt worse. The tears of a wizard, Mark had said, were like honey. Will had not wept any physical tears since he was a child, but he wept so many inside that it felt as if the whole storm was a manifestation of his grief.

 

You do no good, the storm whispered to him. Jane and Bran seemed to think that he had ruined their lives. He had fed the spirits of the dead with his blood, and fed the thing in Mark's body by his deeds and his feelings. The longer he lived, the stronger it would become. He had sworn to fight it, but he had no idea how to do so.

 

Maybe it would be better if you did not exist.

 

The wind stilled for a moment, breathless, as if horrified by the thought. Will's hand rose slowly to his mouth. Had he really thought that?

 

He let out a slow breath, and tried to be reasonable. Old Ones could not die, not in the way that mortal men could die. At the end of things, they passed beyond time, but even that was not death, just another form of life. However, he had heard distant whispers and rumours that it was possible for an Old One to will himself out of existence, if he wanted it badly enough. Only two or three, in all the four thousands years of their existence, had done so, and their names were not spoken. Not that that part of it mattered, he thought with a bitter laugh. There were no Old Ones left to speak his name anyway.

 

He tried to stand up, tried to set his shoulders, to face the future and forget this insane train of thought. But it could not be forgotten. Life was endless loneliness. He had no family, no friends, and no hope of any. There would never be anyone who knew who he was, and could share the burden. Everything he touched got hurt.

 

If he ceased to exist, the walking dead, who had been invigorated by his blood, would return to what they had been before. There was no power in the blood of a wizard who was no longer alive.

 

Maybe, he thought. Maybe I should...

 

He stood up, raised his hands...

 

And someone called his name.

 

******

 

end of chapter twelve

 

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