Delucion

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Chapter 3

The Council and the Girl


Del!” said Thomas, whose face lit up as he saw his brother. He rushed down the stairs, till he was a bit above eye-level with Del.

Hmm...” he said. He was holding a folded piece of paper in his hand, but didn't fully hand it to Del.

What's up?” said Del. “Why are you up so... what's that?”

Thomas sighed, his smile gone.

You're in trouble...” he said, handing over the note.

Del, curious as to what this was all about, took and opened up the piece of paper.

At the top of the page was an insignia of a clock with its hands painted on at seven. Below that, the letter read, in bold, cursive print:

Delucion

You are hereby summoned to the Council of Elders, where you will await a sentence appropriate to the following crime:


Blatant Disregard for Education and Excessive Truancy


, a punishable offense in the town of Falborough. Your hearing is scheduled on the last day of the Sun, or tomorrow days from the issue of this notice.


With warmest wishes,

The Council

Fergason, Jared, Janet, Yargus, Uther

,Old Man


Hmph. His father, Fergason, the leader of the council, had cornered him a few days ago, and tried to drive home a stern warning that if Del missed school one more time, he'd be in more trouble than he'd ever been in before. So this is what his father had meant.

Thomas was looking expectantly at Del, a worried expression on his face.

Del noticed this and slowly folded up the paper into smaller and smaller shapes, until it was a small triangle.

Yeah... don't worry about it,” he said.

Hm... what do you think they're gonna do?”

Probably lecture me,” said Del, laughing a bit about this. He could stand a lecture. It was just noise, after all. The words of people trying to control him. Of course, they might attempt to make life more difficult for him in other ways, too. He couldn't forget that it was their power that had put such a divide between Cecile and Rylus.

So, in the morning?” said Thomas.

Yeah, I'll just, you know, get it over with,” he said, smiling at his brother. “Don't worry about it – let's just get some rest.”

Thomas still looked concerned, but nodded, and they both climbed the stairs to their room.

As much as Del liked to discount the power of the council, or feel as though he were above it, he knew that they were the authorities here. Or, tried to be. Del wasn't sure why they needed to be so strict, and or condemn those who deviated too significantly from Falborough's norms.

Of course, upholding the norms of the town wasn't the council's only task. They served as masters of ceremony at the yearly festival, could overrule the decisions of the guild leaders, and had various other tasks. The five members, not counting the Old Man, were respected individuals in the town, nominated by five or more “normal” residents. The Old Man, on the other hand, had the duty to approve members, though Del felt like he might've just slept through it.

The Old Man, as everyone called him, was supposed to be the head of the town. This seemed rather amusing, as the only power he really had was the ability to make people scoff wildly at his presence, or to suddenly remind such people of urgent business. No one in town knew his name. All of these things, however, were intriguing to Del. He also felt sorry for the Old Man, although, the few times when he'd show these feelings to the Old Man, even just a little, he’d often find himself, soon after, as the target of the Old Man’s jokes. On one occasion, the Old Man had gone so far as to fake injury just to lead Del into a rope trap. He could still remember the Old Man laughing and clapping his hands as Del was hanging upside down by his leg. But even though it was at Del's expense, at least the Old Man got a little joy out of the deal, so it was alright.

Night Thomas!” said Del quietly, taking care not to be too loud.

Night!” said Thomas in a hush, too, from across the room.

Hey – Thomas,” said Del, as the events of the day began to swim in his mind once again. “Some crazy stuff happened today – I'll tell you about it tomorrow, ok?”

You've got to get up early!” said Thomas. “Tell me now. What happened??”

Del hesitated at first, but then smiled. He couldn't help himself.

Ok, but only the key details, alright?” said Del. Thomas agreed excitedly, and Del proceeded to recount the events from the day. Thomas would reply with words like “wow” and “what?? here and there, but was mostly silent.

When Del finished, there was silence once again, and Del couldn't see Thomas' reaction. He waited.

A... monster, with seven eyes, made of dirt??” said Thomas, who was sitting up in his bed.

I know, I know,” said Del. “Shhh.”

And that man, who was that man?! Someone outside Falborough? You'd be right, then!”

Yeah, I know,” said Del. “But, I mean, he could be from here, like he said.”

Wow...” said Thomas. “And, and the dirt monster too!?”

Maybe – I don't remember ever hearing about something like that.”

...what...”

Well, let's sleep on it,” said Del. “It's been a long day. Goodnight.”

...wow.”

Del smiled to himself as he went to sleep. Telling fun stories that others enjoyed was great, but it was all the more satisfying when those stories were true. Still, it was strange that this one was true.

Del felt his sense of foreboding return.

Well, what are you gonna do?” said Thomas, still sounding wide awake.

I,” said Del “...don't know. Go to the council thing first, then... I guess I'll figure things out from there.”

And don't forget about the festival!”

Yeah,” said Del. “Definitely.” The yearly Gorglemeist festival was something even he looked forward to. Just the thought of the food stands alone set his mouth watering... though he hadn't eaten much today, either.

Hey-” said Thomas. “Where are you gonna be, after the council?”

Well...” said Del. “Here and there, I guess. Why?”

Well I can find you, probably,” said Thomas.

Find me?” said Del, “for what?”

You'll see, maybe,” said Thomas. “Goodnight!”

Del laughed to himself, wondering what Thomas might be planning. All the same, he bid his brother goodnight, and began drifting off to sleep.

After letting the mixture of feelings within him settle down, without knowing when, Del fell asleep. But something else began to happen, another phenomenon that he’d never been able to explain.

Del was falling, falling from the sky. He felt himself throttling towards the ground, so far away it seemed invisible. Then he saw the sun, and was now below the forest canopy, on a soft mound of… dirt. He rolled off of it, but a hand emerged and tried to reach out at him. Del ran. Trees seemed to find themselves in his way. He looked back and saw the monster of dirt, stationary in the distance. Suddenly, it appeared right in front of him. It roared… but softly. Del was standing still, watching its three open eyes. A smile opened up on its surface. Then he saw Smith standing next to him. Smith looked over, and then started to tell Del, over and over again, to “just slow down”, “just slow down”. Then the mound of dirt turned into Fara, but as much as Del wanted to smile at her, he couldn’t. She looked at him with an expression much too stern for her young face, and Del suddenly felt that he needed to see the sun. He started climbing a tree, as fast as he could. He needed to see to the sun, he needed to see to the sun.

The sun, instead, found him. Del awoke, slowly at first, trying to see if he could still find the sun through the trees, rather than from his bedroom window. Eventually he sat up in his bed, giving up the chase. He rubbed his eyes, and then fumbled with the drawer of his bedside table. He pulled out a whittling knife. He then got out of bed and began to search for an empty spot on his table. It was full of pictures, though, so he went to the paneled walls.

Cutting into the wood, he tried as best he could to capture what he’d just seen. A line here, a line there. After a few minutes, it was done. A smiling pile of dirt that looked like a triangle, two stick figures, and some trees. Good. Del was happy with the rendering, so he put away his knife and started getting ready.

Whenever Del slept, he had the same experience of strange scenes appearing. On numerous occasions he had tried to find someone who had the same thing happen to them, but he'd never found anyone. People, instead, would look at him with suspicion or concern, or like he was lying. Fara was one person, at least, who would always listen to him about it, and would wonder about it with him, even though nothing like that had happened to her. He would carve the images into whatever he could find once he woke – he forgot too soon, otherwise – and thus had collections all over the place, mostly his bedroom, the willow, on his bow, and on his desk at school. He wasn’t very good at the details, but that didn’t matter. He didn’t want to join the woodcarver’s guild anyway.

He was looking up at the ceiling, conscious now that his jaw was hanging open. The contents of the note, and where he was supposed to be today, came back to his mind. He didn't want to go, no... but ultimately it was his choice, and to avoid going... well that might be more of a pain than if he just endured it for a while. Yes, give them their show – Delucion, the delinquent. Maybe that would satisfy them for a while. He sighed, though, knowing that forcing himself to go to school wouldn't get any easier. Maybe this would be just the first of many such council-summons.

Del, already dressed, went as quietly as he could to wash his face. That finished, he passed down the hallway and towards the stairs.

For breakfast, he pulled out his half-eaten lunch from the previous day. It was a bit gritty and stale, but he forced it down. Walking to the door, he imagined kicking a rock, a game he played often on the streets when he was absent-minded. He looked up when he was in front of the door, and stared it down.

Well,” he thought with trepidation. “To the Council, then...

After a short trip, Del found himself pushing open the doors of the Judication Hall. It was a small building, and, despite its “grand” residents, it had a very meager feel to it. Everything was brown and drab, with a few scattered chairs, which were right now pushed to the side. The smell of dust hung in the air, accentuated by the sight of bits of the stuff floating in the light. Beyond the dust was a table on a raised platform. The five chairs behind them were filled, with a mixture of glaring and curious faces. They had just noticed Del enter, though they had been already been talking intensely amongst themselves.

One of them, Jared, was muttering, “-that odd stuff. Just do nothing, like you said. No need to continue this later.” Del’s father, Fergason, nodded. He was seated in the center.

The five of them turned to give Del their full attention now, each becoming visibly taller in their seats as they straightened up. The Old Man wasn’t at the table, Del noticed, but in the corner... knitting, of all things.

Well?” said Del, taking his chance to speak before the lectures got going.

Fergason had just been about to speak. He closed his mouth, looking outraged, then spoke.

Delucion, you have been summoned to the–”

Yeah, yeah, I know.” said Del, pulling out the note and looking at it instead of them. “Just give me my sentence, and I’ll stop wasting your time.”

He heard a mixture of disgruntled sounds, and looked up. Even Jared, the most laid back of the Council, frowned at Del's words. Fergason’s face was red with rage. He must have waited all morning to devour Del in front of the Council, but Del was impatient. Then Uther, an older man with gray hair and a face set like stone – kindly set, mind – spoke up.

Delucion, you must understand that it is our duty to maintain this community,” he said in a voice like distant thunder. Very distant. “Are you aware of what you’ve done?”

Of course he knows.” Fergason butted in. “That’s not the point.”

Yes, I'm aware.” Del said, already tired of these motions. He had felt hesitant before, but now he was staring straight at the Council. He could feel an impatient intensity burning within him.

I don’t think he quite understands…” said Janet, her voice like a dagger dripping with venom.

I don't?” said Del contentiously.

A sadistic glint sparked in Janet's eye. “You are avoiding school. In fact…” She made a show of pulling out a piece of paper that was right in front of her, “It has occurred 40 times since last year. You're not expecting to just get away with something like that, are you?”

Avoiding school? “That's not entirely true–” started Del, his words spoken through gritted teeth.

Ohho!” said Janet, as if excited to rip Del's argument apart, whatever it happened to be.

Delucion-” interrupted his father, fiercely. “I trust you’ll remember all the excuses you’ve given me, year after year. ‘School is boring.', 'School is bland.', 'I wasn’t in town.’” He motioned with his hands at each one, as if these arguments meant nothing to him. “None of these are any excuse. There is no excuse. You’re a member of this community, and more importantly, you are my son. You go.”

Del glared at his father. He certainly didn't feel like a member of this community, nor like he wanted to be.

Yargus, who had been peering at Del through his half moon glasses, spoke then. “Delucion, what is it that you object to so much about school? What’s your real reason?”

It's... boring.” said Del through gritted teeth. It was only one reason, but reason enough.

But, my boy, you must understand that school is an enormous asset.” He raised his eyebrows, quite the sage. “There are many things you don’t understand.”

Yargus, don’t lecture him,” said Jared.

The many mysteries of this world are worth learning,” he continued. “You can’t learn everything on your own.”

That may be true,” said Janet bearing down on Del. “But don’t fool yourself. It’s not your choice, so there’s no point in us proving its worth, either way. Bothers you when I say that, doesn’t it?” She smiled with a sharp smugness.

Really, Del didn't care. No matter how hard they made it for him, he could still do things his own way. Not like he didn't feel the heat of his anger rising, though.

Fergason took the chance to speak. “So there it is. It has always been done, school is right, and you must go. But you choose to disrespect me, time and again. School is not, however, just mine to support. You disrespect the town every time you flit about in those woods, instead of attending to your duties.” Del’s father held his son’s gaze for a long moment. “Now, Uther- the charges.”

But it was Del’s turn to interrupt.

Yesterday – no, I need to say something – yesterday I was hunting with Merik.”

Hunting?” said Jared, bemused. “You're not thinking that'll excuse you?”

We went to the Far Woods,” continued Del, “but we didn’t find what we were looking for, not really. We found a man who called himself... Joe George Smith the Third.”

The effect was immediate. Each of the members displayed their confusion in their unique way. Jared looked genuinely perplexed, Janet’s eyes stared intensely out of slits, Uther crossed his arms and frowned, Yargus blinked profusely, and Del’s father let his frown turn into a scowl.

You expect us to believe such a ridiculous claim?”

-proposterous.”

-just ignore what he says.”

-three name?”

Del continued, calm and in control. “And what if this man isn't from here? ...School is for mysteries, huh... then explain that one.”

There were grunts of discomfort, and the wringing of hands. Maybe he shouldn't have brought up his theory, but it was out there, now.

Jared slumped back in his chair. “Not again...” he said.

Everyone in town seemed to associate Del with his ridiculous question – “What is beyond the mountains?” He'd pose the question to just about everyone, and even mused with the youngsters. He'd become infamous for it. To most everyone, it was a preposterous, unthinkable question to ask.

There’s nothing beyond the mountains,” said Uther.

That’s what a lack of schooling gets you,” said Fergason, leaning back in his chair. “A lack of respect and an uncanny capacity for lies.”

Del glared between the council members. They were the ones lying... to themselves.

Let the boy speak.” It was the Old Man, who was still knitting.

Del looked over at the Old Man, surprised, and then back at the Council, which eyed him warily. Even if they pushed it aside, as the heads of the town, they needed to know.

Like I said,” said Del, looking away from their scowling faces. “Merik was with me, and he can attest to these facts. That man we saw… he wasn't from here, and likely... never once lived in this village.”

Vok Dung!” Uther interjected.

Janet looked furiously at him – he wasn’t always so fiery. Then Jared, scratching his face and leaning forward, spoke.

Hey, uh,” he said to the other council members. “You know old man Gregor? He faked his death at least five times, and never did get sent. Suppose that was him?”

The question was to the other council members, but Del responded.

No, it wasn’t,” he said. “This guy was young – ah, well, at least, not old.” He struggled over his words, keenly aware that a council member might interrupt or snap at him at any moment.

Gregor”, said Janet,,”was an old crackpot.” She seemed far too at ease with writing people off. “But, as for our... student, here, I still think he’s lying.”

Fergason spoke next.

None of this... is important, right now...” he said with restraint, his boiling rage threatening to burst forth. “Uther. Charges. Yes, those. Give them here.”

Del decided to concede for now. Now they at least knew, and it was their choice to deny what he'd told them, and deny reason. Besides, right now he just wanted to get outside, away from these dark corners and the dusty light.

“Fergason, we did ask him to come, you know,” said Uther, “might as well let him speak.”

Del was perplexed for a moment, thinking they meant him, but his father grunted approvingly. Who did they mean?

Fergason then asked the Old Man to open the door next to him, but he refused, bawking at Fergason’s lack of courtesy. So, with a sigh, he ordered Jared to do it, who (after first trying his luck with asking the Old Man, too) got up and opened the door.

Durvy fell backwards into the room, having been napping against the door. He quickly scrambled to his feet, flushed with embarrassment. He looked to the council members, who all, except for Jared, regarded him with a shrouded indifference. Jared was smiling.

I almost took a nap myself,” he said. “Sorry to keep you waiting.”

This was all cordial and funny, but Del wasn’t amused. What, were they turning his teacher against him, now?

Delucion,” said Fergason. “We have summoned your schoolteacher here today to confirm the charges as a witness to your degrading activity.”

He's not going to accuse me of anything.

Durvy, in fact, was the one who alerted us to your… activities.”

Del was about to object, but, maybe it was true after all. Durvy usually didn't mind when Del missed classes, but maybe he'd missed one too many... And his father probably jumped on the information as a chance to stage... all of this.

But why now? Del looked into his teacher's mild-mannered face, which stared, blinking, at Fergason, who in turn stared intensely at Del. Durvy lowered his eyes.

Well, er, Fergason, you're, uh, right, of course.” said Durvy. “Del, you missed... quite a lot of my classes… Yesterday I thought to, well, er. I never did mean for it to come to this, really. Just, a... little notification, that's all.

And it is good you did so,” said Fergason. His approving tone of voice made Del sick. What, was his father trying to put Durvy under some spell?

Del felt some allegiance to his teacher, mainly because Durvy had always listened to Del's theories, and entertained notions of unknown and mysterious, even if he'd never been ready to fully believe Del, either. That, and also Durvy was quite a gentle person.

Fergason was attempting to get Durvy to recount some of the lessons Del had missed. Durvy couldn’t remember most of them himself, and a lot of time was spent with him hemming and hawing, and Janet incessantly tapping her nails on the wood. Among the other members of the Council, Jared and Yargus looked increasingly uncomfortable.

Del felt like he'd played along long enough. There was always at least one thing he could do to force this kind of situation forward.

He turned and began to walk out the door. When he heard his father’s voice next, Del stopped and smiled.

And where are you going?”

Del craned his neck towards the ceiling, as if in deep thought, and then said, “This is boring to me. I'm going to... the Far Wood. For, you know, a stroll.”

Come on, we're almost done,” said Jared, “just stay, will you?”

He’ll stay.” said the Old Man, sounding quite sure of himself.

Way to ruin the effect, thought Del.

Delucion,” said Yargus. “Fergason, really, let us get on to punishment. He obviously will not stay for these... theatrics.”

Fergason shot Yargus a dangerous look.

O-one moment, please,” said Durvy. “Del, there's, something I want to ask you, here... if it's alright.”

Del glanced over at his teacher. Sure, why not.

I think... it is important,” said Durvy. “It's just... Why? Why for you, really? Why do you not show up?”

Why? So many reasons, really. Of course sitting next to Fara hadn't made things much easier. Yes... most of the days he'd missed had been since then... But, as Del well knew, that was only one reason. It was an extra push out the door, really. Hah, and not like he was about to blame her.

You think... I like... being confined in that place?” said Del, shaking his head. “Sure, I learn plenty... But what am I really doing? Sitting in a room... listening. That's... supposed to be my life, according to all of you.”

Whatever else he could've said at that moment, he didn't. He saw Durvy look down at the floor, as if some great weight or sadness hung over him.

Ah- you ok?”

It's nothing,” said Durvy. “Please, continue.”

No...” said Del with a sigh, looking at the council. “That's enough, for now.”

Though the Council said nothing for a while, they looked uncomfortable.

Hmm…” said Yargus, first to break the silence. “But you’re seeing this all wrong. Completely opposite… Education is for the mind, for... understanding. For...”

Janet rolled her eyes, tapping her long fingernails against her folded arms.

Again...” she said, “this is all beside the point. We're here to reinforce something, not debate it.”

Del's father grunted, and, without asking Uther, reached over and grabbed the charges from under his heavy hands. Uther looked shocked, but noticed he had a paper cut, and tended to that instead.

Delucion,” Fergason began again in his official tone, though quite a bit louder than before, “You are hereby ordered to-”

If you please, sir, I-I’d like to say something,” said Durvy, suddenly. All eyes turned to him.

Please, er,” he began, “there’s, no... reason for all of this. I can just give out whatever punishment is necessary. You can... let me, right?”

Fergason regarded him incredulously.

Well, of course, that was part of it.”

I don’t think you, sorry,” Durvy said, cowering a little, “I... don’t think you understand. There’s no reason for punishment... of any sort.”

He averted his eyes from Fergason, whose face was scrunched in disbelief.

You want me to drop... all of this?” he started.

Fergason,” said Jared, “Look, it is his teacher after all. Why not just let him handle it?”

I am his father...”

I just,” said Durvy, “think there's... been a great misunderstanding. What Del has done is wrong, yes, but these punishments will not account for the problem’s change.”

Fergason grunted, his eyes narrow.

I really should get home, you know,” said Jared. “Why don't we wrap this up? My wife’s counting on me to help with the raspberry pie.”

Fergason shot him a nasty look. “I was about to say, that we…” he was looking over Del’s head now, not at him, with an expression of distaste, “We could very well reduce the sentence, if that is the recommendation of his teacher.”

This seemed to Del more like a diplomatic move than anything. He could tell his father was seething with anger.

Glancing around and seeing no complaints, his father continued.

Delucion,” he said, leaning forward and staring Del down. “You are hereby banned from this year’s Gorglemeist festival, as well as subject to any… additional punishment your schoolteacher deems appropriate for your transgressions… and utter lack of respect. You may go wherever you please during the course of the festival, except, of course, to the lake front.”

This was a lighter sentence? He hadn’t even expected to be banned in the heavy version, but that must’ve been what his had father planned all along, why the hearing was today. Gorglemeist was the highlight of the year- no one missed it.

Fine.” said Del, glaring at his father.

The council started to leave, each member gathering the few papers they brought with them and hurrying past Del to the door. Uther, Janet, and Yargus all left without looking at Del, but Jared gave him a quick smile. His father plodded towards the door after that, and stopped next to Del, not looking at him.

Don’t even think about coming tonight,” he said to his son. And then, too, plodded right on out the door.

Durvy was last to leave (not counting the Old Man, who was still knitting), and came right up to Del afterward. He was smiling faintly, as if he’d walked a great distance.

Don’t worry,” he said quietly, “I won’t give you... additional punishment.” His smile turned to concern. “Sorry, though... about the festival.”

It's fine,” said Del, even though he felt disappointed. “But thanks.”

Just… don’t, well, you know...”

Del figured Durvy meant missing class. But even so, it sounded like Durvy, now, wasn't even going to explicitly demand that he attend.

Del nodded, as if knowing what his teacher was trying to say. Durvy continued on toward the door.

Wait,” said Del.

Yes?”

Just, uhh,” said Del. He still wasn't entirely sure he wanted to ask for this, but... “Do you think you could… switch the seats around, at least?”

An empathetic smile lit up Durvy’s face.

Certainly,” he said. “Well... see you.” And that was that, apparently, since he turned back and went out the door.

Del was about to head out, too, back into the fresh air, when a certain click-clicking made him think twice. Perhaps...

So, Old Man,” he said, walking towards the Old Man. “Gonna tell me your real name?”

None of your business, if you must know,” he replied to Del’s usual greeting. “What is it, boy?”

Did you believe any of that, about the man in the woods?”

I have believed many things in my time, and disbelieved them as well.”

Well,” Del went on, ignoring the evasion, “that wasn’t all that happened. Merik and I were attacked. It was something I'd never even heard about before. A monster, made of... dirt. It was about ten feet tall, and... had hands.”

The Old Man put down his knitting and peered at Del.

Ohh?”

Something like that isn't supposed to exist, right?”

One can never tell. Hmm... I have never heard of it, but, that does not mean that it could not exist...”

Then, you believe me?”

Well now, I'd say that all these things seem very unlikely, except for you to lie about them. Hmm... as to what they mean... I am as... clueless as you.”

With this, he went back to knitting.

And?” said Del. “Do you think these things are from beyond the mountains, somehow?”

The Old Man set down his knitting. He gazed into his lap, a smile visible beneath his white whiskers.

Hmm... it may be,” he said with a slight chuckle. “It... very well may be.”


Outside, Del was on his own again, though without the faintest idea of where to go. He stared around the town. He saw people with carts of freshly picked vegetables, the smoke of Rylus’ forge billowing. He heard the sounds of friendly haggling in the guild shops, angry and happy shouts of greeting alike as people ran down the streets and occasionally collided with unnoticed others. And in the air was the aroma of cooking of every sort: racks of grilled worfulp, fresh raspberry pies, roasted acorn squash (probably filled with spiced rutash), and smoked honey marmalade. He wished strongly to taste them all first hand.

But none of it involved him, and wouldn’t. Yeah, he could sneak into the festival, but he really didn't care. He'd get to spend time in Falborough while it was empty – that was new, at least.

But for now... What would he do? Where would he go? The day was an empty space with no ideas to fill it. He felt a little impatient with his own boredom, and began to walk around, no aim or purpose in mind.

First, he went to his house. He went inside the doorway and stood there for a while, eventually losing interest. There was nothing to do in there. Oh well.

Leaving his house, he started off towards Rylus’ forge instead, but... there wasn't a point to that, either. Rylus was probably making objects for tonight’s display. No need getting involved there. Yeah, Del could've just talked to him, or seen what he was making, but... No...

A while later, Del found himself standing on the bridge, which overlooked the Falturn River, and connected the two sides of the town. Standing there, he felt aware of each passing moment, coming and going, unused. He looked out over the rushing currents, and saw the trees rising up beyond the edge of the town. But he had no interest in going there, either.

He turned around, elbows resting on the edge of the bridge, and tried, again, to think of something to do. His mind was painfully blank. A few of the people walking by smiled at him or said hello. Some noticed him and looked away immediately. He looked up and noticed the clock tower still reading 7:42, which put him in an even sourer mood.

Though he had nothing to do, he found all this thinking and waiting bothersome. So instead, he started walking again.

Then... a thought slowly crept into him. It had been knocking at the back of his mind the entire day. It was that orb. Why did it exist? Indeed, why wasn’t anyone willing to explain it? Why did it float in the air? Nothing else did that. The “why”’s began flooding his mind, threatening to burst out. These thoughts were enough of a reason as any. He set off toward the main hall.

He hadn’t thought about it before, but perhaps all these unexplained things were inter-connected. The events of yesterday were no different, really than all the things that hadn’t been explained around him, the things he'd grown up with.

The lost history of Falborough, something only he seemed to think about... what was it? How did things end up this way?

He wondered this, as his feet fell a little heavier on the steps leading up to the main hall's wooden doors. He looked around. People were still hurrying this way and that, loading their goods onto carts and heading south out of town towards the lake. Good. He edged open the door slowly and peered inside. The hall, which had been littered with goods and catches the previous night, was empty, and no one was inside. The stentch of animal bodies still lingered. Someone would probably take care of that soon.

Thought of smell, however, were put out of Del's mind as he spied the orb, floating there at the far end of the hall, emanating a light brighter than that pouring in through the high windows.

He gave a quick glance around again, to make sure no one was paying him any notice, and slipped inside.

His eyes slowly adjusted to the light of the room, which was dimmer than it was outside. He became more aware of the shape of the room, with its wooden columns running along either side of it. His thoughts on the orb, he looked to it where it was floating, as it always had, above a simple marble pedestal. Its light was gentle, yet entrancing.

Del walked slowly across the room, even though there was no one around. His footsteps echoed off the walls – he heard this, and instinctively looked behind him. Realizing his mistake, but keenly aware that someone could appear at any moment, he slowed his step and crept closer.

The orb itself shone with a radiance unlike anything he had ever seen, except for maybe the sun. If it was man-made, he had no idea how it could’ve been done. Even Rylus’ most stunning works of metal couldn’t compare. But nothing he found in the natural world came close, either. No, Del had no idea how or where the orb had been created.

Wherever it was forged, it must have been a... beautiful place.

He stepped up to the dais surrounding the orb and its pedestal. For a moment he felt a fear come over him, as if what he was doing was wrong, and then a feeling of assurance swept it away.

The orb itself seemed to dance with unending color. The sight of it awoke something inside Del. Peace. Inescapable, sweet. He seemed to drift with the colors. If only he could join them, swirling around the perfect, golden sphere. If only he could dance.

Del?” came a sharp, angry voice. “Is that you!?”

He pulled his hand away from the orb at once. He turned around and saw Stephanie, Fara’s friend, standing, one hand on the door, the other at her hip. Del hadn’t heard the door creak. He stumbled off the dais, walking towards her.

I've been looking everywhere for you,” she said. Then her gaze turned inquisitive. “What were you doing...?”

Nothing, just, looking at it,” he said. “What's up? Uh, did you want something?”

What do I want?” she repeated with a scoff.

But then, her face became very grave. She stared at the ground, crossing her arms. She made little sounds to herself, as if she was thinking.

Uh... yeah?” said Del.

Her eyes snapped back to his, a sharp annoyance in her glare. Del instinctively pulled backwards, wincing a bit.

I... do something wrong?” he said.

Stephanie sighed and put her hand to her face, as though she had a headache. “No... not, it's just. Look – you don't know. You don't know about any of it.”

Del didn't understand what she meant, but was beginning to feel concerned.

Fara told me to not to talk to you about it...” she said, looking away.

About what?” said Del.

Her father...”

What about him?” said Del.

He's ill, Del.”

Ill?”

It's not good,” she said, looking up but glancing away again. “You ought to go see him.”

This was the first Del had heard of it, and news sank into him. It felt like something heavy, damp, and unwelcome.

...Okay, but, why didn't she want you to tell me?” said Del.

That's obvious,” said Stephanie. “Look, just go.” She shook her head, still looking at the ground. “It's not right.”

Del felt like he understood her message. In a way, this argument between he and Fara... it was superficial.

I think I understand,” said Del.

Do you?” said Stephanie, a mixture of sadness and annoyance on her face.

Well... I'll go,” said Del, carefully. “Where is she... they?”

Stephanie let out an impatient huff. “...at home.”

Okay,” said Del, not wanting to make her angry, on top of everything else she was feeling.

And don't tell her I sent you, alright? Or spoke with you...” she said, shooting Del a glare. “You can go or not, after all.”

I said I'd go!” said Del. “And I won't tell her.”

Alright, then,” said Stephanie. She seemed about to leave, when she nodded instead towards the orb. “What was that about, anyway?”

Nothing, nothing,” said Del, waving it off. He felt himself shaking a little bit. “I was... bored, that's all.”

Stephanie looked out of one of the windows. “What about the festival?” she said.

Well, I'm banned from that.”

At this, a little smile curled up on Stephanie's face. “All those missed-” but then her smile faded, and she looked sad again, and rushed to the door.

I have to go,” she said, looking away, hand covering her mouth. “See you later.”

Del stood there, a grave, empty sort of feeling in him as he watched her leave, giving her what felt like a pathetic sort of goodbye in return. He looked back at the orb, at its radiance and beauty.

He forced himself to look away.


Fara’s house was a faded black, a mansion, standing apart from the smaller houses on the outskirts of town. It was only this size because of the large family who, well... had lived in it. Only Fara and her father lived there now, with the rest of the family having moved out or passed on.

He entered through the front door. He had to force himself not to open it slowly, thinking that Fara might be on the other side. Instead, he saw an older man named Todd sitting on the wooden bench across from the stairs.

Del felt a bit a surprised. Todd was the head of a family that had been rivals with Fara’s for generations. It made no sense for the man to be there. But, amiably enough, Todd looked up and smiled.

Why, hello there Del,” he said in a friendly voice. The last time Del had seen him, it had been on the other side of a scowl. That was Del’s usual experience with the townspeople.

Are you...” said Del, “here to see Harold?”

Ah yes. As best I can. Can’t see the blighter ruined by somethin' else besides me.” He gave Del a hearty wink, which made him feel even more uncomfortable.

Oh. Do you know where Fara is?”

Fara! Here to see her – I see I see. Take a look around the kitchen, she’s bound to be there, fretting or... preparing or such.”

Del nodded in thanks. He hurried to the kitchen, trying not to think about what he’d say, only knowing he had to say something.

He burst through the door and looked around, but no one was inside. He let out his breath in relief and found Todd again.

Not there,” said Del, shaking his head.

No? Hm, I must’ve been wrong. Hasn’t shown herself all day.”

Have you seen Harold yet?”

Well, figuring I couldn’t just show myself in…”

Thanks,” said Del quickly, and hurried up the stairs.

Of course Fara wouldn’t be in the kitchen, or in her room, or anywhere else but next to her father. If it was as bad as Stephanie said it was, he was surprised that she still went to school. Fara was the most resilient girl he knew.

But what would he say to her? They hadn’t talked in over a month. He wasn’t invited. They weren’t friends, as far as she was concerned. Yet, he knew her. He knew her very well.

Ugh, he couldn't think of that right now – of how she had pushed him away. He had to think about before that. How they'd spent time together, day after day, talking about every manner of thing. He remembered their visits to the forest, and how Del had shared with her all his thoughts about the world beyond the mountains, about the tower, about all the mysteries that compelled him and brought him pain.

Nevermind his impulsive decision to go into the mountains, nevermind how he and four others nearly died... couldn't she see how important it was to him, if he was willing to go so far? No – not that he wanted anyone to die, no! Still, it was over, now – done. It was... poor planning, it was-

He found himself, all too soon, in front of the door to her father’s room. There was a ringing in his ears, distant and annoying. A bead of sweat ran down his cheek. It... must've been the heat. He heard talking inside. Fara’s voice. There was no turning back. There was no need to.

He burst through the door.

Del, Fara, and her father, all stopped. Her father, in a bed perpendicular to the door, peered at Del through his one visible eye. Fara stared with blank surprise. Del looked back and forth between them, frantically trying to remember anything of what he was going to say. It was silent.

As Fara adjusted to what she was seeing, her face drained of color, and she regarded Del with cold indifference.

What?” she said.

Short. To the point. Del couldn’t find anything to say in response.

Fara!” her father said, “Invite the boy in. Delucion, yes, how are you?”

None of that, father,” she said with a harsh sort of gentleness, turning to him briefly before her piercing gaze turned back to Del. “And why are you here?”

To- to see...”

To see me?” she said, raising her eyebrows. “My father? Oh, how splendid! If you hadn't noticed, neither of us can see anyone at the moment.” Her voice dropped to a mutter. “Least of all you.”

Her father smiled roughly at her.

Fara, dear,” he said.

No no, none of that.” she said again to him. “Here, drink this.” She passed him a mug of hot tea from a tray sitting on the bedside table. “Go on.” She turned back to Del, her gentleness disappearing in an instant. Del glanced over and saw her father as he took the mug, sniffed it, and made a face.

Del.” she said. He looked back at her, and saw that her expression had changed, and she looked more stressed now, than annoyed. “Please go.” she urged, quietly.

Ah Fara,” said her father. “He came to see me, and you. He's our guest! And don't sound so dire now! I'll be fit and-” he then fell into a brutal spell of coughs. Fara looked in pain as this happened, though only Del could see this. “...and ready to go, in no time. Don't you worry. Thing's not that bad at all!”

Please,” said Fara to Del, still quietly, and with great sincerity. “I have nothing to say to you. Not right now.”

I just wanted to see if you – both of you – if you were alright.”

Fara paused, looking down in thought.

...Stephanie told you, didn't she?” she said, sighing, looking as though she were in distress.

Come now,” piped in Fara's father. “What's with that grim tone? Cheer up, come on, that's my girl.”

Fara looked towards her father and smiled sympathetically.

Del was unsure what to do. He was frozen there, as though on some mission he didn't know how to complete, but unsure of what completing it even meant. He could feel something was wrong, something he wanted to change, but his mouth was dry. He couldn't find a single word to say.

Well what are you doing?” said Fara, looking distressed again. “Are you just going to stand there, staring at me? Say something!”

I...” trailed off Del. His gaze drifted to Fara's father, who was drinking some more of his tea. His mind snapped back to reality. “Is there any way I can help?”

Fara sighed.

You can help by going. Please.”

What's wrong, though?” said Del. “Maybe I can help.”

At this, Fara stared angrily at him, without explaining why. She looked away, turning up her nose. It felt to Del as if she was trying to cover something up.

Just go away, will you?”

Del had half a mind to do so, but he wasn't about to give up just yet.

Look,” said Del, “two people working on this is better than one, isn't it? Or... well, one more, in addition to however many...”

For goodness' sakes Del,” said Fara, her distress returning. “Don't you think I'm already doing everything I can, and getting the help of everyone who might know how to help?”

At this, Fara's father placed his hand on top of hers.

And yeh are helping, you'll see,” said Fara's father.

Del, then, turned directly to him instead.

Excuse me sir, but,” said Del, “do you think there is any way I can help? Can you tell me what's wrong?”

Fara shot Del an angry look, but he ignored it.

Trying to bypass my daughter, just to help an old man like me?” he said.

You are not old,” said Fara.

He smiled at this.

All the same, I swear, I don't know what's been in the water 'round here, but somethin' got to me.”

But,” said Del, looking confused, “if it's just a common sickness, then it should pass soon enough.”

Fara's face seemed to suddenly drain of energy and any vestige of joy or strength, and she buried her face in her hands, as if to hide it from Del.

I don't mean t'disturb you, Del,” said her father, “But if you really want to know what's gotten to me, come on over here and see – it's my face, you see. The other side, hah, and more of my body besides. You can't see it over there. Come on, don't be shy – fairly certain I'm not contagious.”

Del cautiously stepped closer. Watching the face of Fara's father, Del, crossing the room, slowly saw it. All across the left side of his face, jagged lines had formed , wide and deep, with blood oozing out from underneath. The skin, too, had begun to darken, dry, and flake away. But as sickening as that was, Del became transfixed by what had happened to the left eye. The white of the eye had turned black, with a bright red iris. It didn't fit the mild-mannered face to which in belonged.

Del felt somewhat sick, and was once again lost for words.

Ah, no need to look so grim!” said Fara's father, with a smile. His face then turned to concerned. “You asked, so I showed you – nothin' more. And I don't expect you to find a cure, either. Fara's already contacted every healer and herbalist in town. This right here is a little concoction they mixed up.” He held up the tea. “But yeh probably haven't heard of this till now because the council wanted to keep things hushed up, till I got better, yeh see? They have their ways, you know – and I suppose there's no good in getting everyone riled up.”

By this point Del had gotten over the initial shock of it, and was looking over the wound.

What did this to you?” said Del.

Fara sighed painfully, but said nothing, her face still in her hands.

Ah it's a disease of some kind, I figure,” he started.

Stop looking at it!” screamed Fara suddenly. In a swift motion she got up and started pulling Del away.

Fara. Wait,” said her father.

She stopped, not looking at Del.

It was river-water,” said her father. “I was in the forest, and, being thirsty, I thought I'd have myself a drink. It was foolish and no one would've probably been for it. It's my fault I'm like this, that's for certain.”

Del, still astonished by all this, found himself wandering backwards as Fara pulled him the rest of the way out of the room, and shut the door.

She was quiet for a moment, her hand paused on the knob of the door she'd just closed.

Uh -” started Del.

No,” said Fara in an urgent hush, still not looking at him. “You saw it now.”

Yes, I-”

Can you go now? No one has seen or heard of anything like it. I think you could understand.”

I-” started Del, anticipating a backlash. But Fara was silent. Del grew serious. “Merik and I were out hunting yesterday, and ran across two very very strange things.”

At this, Fara eased her grip on the doorknob, and turned to look at Del, her eyes peering at him through her hair.

There was a man, going by the name of-” He paused, knowing the absurdity of what he was about to say didn't match the seriousness of the situation. “Joe George Smith the Third.”

Fara looked at him quizzically, but let him continue.

He said he'd always lived in the forest, but, he didn't seem like it. He spoke very well for someone so isolated, and was wearing normal, woven clothes, rather than animal skins.”

She narrowed her eyes.

And the other thing?” she said.

Well, the other thing was... well, we heard something, then Merik was – in any case, there was a creature, made of dirt... that attacked us.”

Dirt?”

Del took a short breath. “It was also something that hadn't been seen or heard of, not ever, at least not by either of us.”

She paused, still watching Del's face. Del wondered if she'd even believe him. She looked away again.

I don't see how that would help, here,” she said. She seemed calm, though. Thoughtful.

That was good, at least, thought Del.

As if sensing these thoughts, she shot an angry glance at Del.

Could you go? You've said what you know, now, leave me be, ok? I appreciate you trying to help, but let me take care of things from here, please. Yes, I appreciate your concern. Now please, go.”

And, sensing no other alternative, Del awkwardly shuffled away, glancing repeatedly back at Fara. But even as she went from view, it didn't appear that she looked up, even once, from her thoughts. Eventually, losing sight of her, he turned away completely, and left. It was not without a certain heaviness that he did so.


About an hour later, he found himself on the Falturn bridge, staring into the water once again. The minutes seemed to pass more easily as he watched the flow of the water. But after a while, he realized the insignificance of what he was doing, and the pain of his thoughts seemed to press themselves upon him more urgently.

It seemed like the weight of so many things was upon him. Not only the council now, which was more of an annoyance, really, but... No, the council didn't matter really, not at all. But then there was the forest – what had happened – and now... Fara's father. He wanted to change that most of all, but, he felt as though he didn't even know where to start. And the man in the forest... it was only chance, it seemed, that let them find him. He could go looking for him, but... it was getting dark, and what would be the point of wandering through the forest, aimlessly, at night? And no one knew anything about the sickness. In Del's feelings, it was as though his whole body was constricted – he felt restless, wanting to act, but like he was unable to do a thing about... any of the things he'd like to do something about, or even just understand.

And that was when he suddenly felt something grab both his legs. He scrambled to get out of his thoughts and back to the ground as whatever was there started to toss him over the side of the bridge. He grabbed wildly on to the railing, trying to push himself back down onto solid footing.

Taking much less effort than he expected, he found himself back on the ground. He looked around to see what had grabbed his legs, and saw Thomas and Roger, both grinning up at him. Willard, too, was standing nearby behind them, smiling.

Del felt a sense of warmth wash over him, as he smiled back, shaking his head.

Wow you guys really got me that time,” he said. “What are you all up to?”

We were gonna ask you the same thing!” said Thomas, still grinning. “We saw you out here.”

Well, I, mm... I was just, enjoying the view.” said Del, looking out over the river again. This time, he really did feel like he was enjoying the view.

So, the festival's gonna start soon,” said Thomas.

Hmm...” said Del, folding his arms on the railing. “About that - Dad banned me.”

Thomas jumped up to grab hold of the railing, and put his nose over the edge of it, tossing into the river a single stone he'd been holding in his hand.

So...” said Thomas, “you're not goin'?”

You don't sound very outraged,” said Del with a laugh. “Nah, not this time. You guys have-”

He heard murmuring behind him, and looked. The trio were exchanging glances, muttering things under their breath, and pointing towards Del.

...What are you guys up to...?” said Del. Whatever it was, he wanted to find out.

But we're not ready!” said Thomas.

Just tell him!” said Roger.

Tell me what?” said Del, smiling in anticipation.

You know how every year there's a hunting competition, and the best hunter gets the prize?” said Thomas.

Yeah, of course,” said Del.

We're not gonna let the hunters win it,” Thomas continued.

Del slowly realized the trio's plan, before it had even been said.

The Arrow – the Golden Arrow,” said Thomas. “We're gonna steal it.”

Del felt a large smile growing on his face. He eyed them, enjoying what he was hearing, while still a little wary of it.

Thomas smiled too.

Are you in?” he said.

Well, thought Del, it wasn't as though he had any other plans...






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