Heroes Journey || Chapter 3: If Memory Serves

Heroes Journey || Chapter 3: If Memory Serves

Reading Time: 8 minutes read

The barrier stood where Leigh had last seen it: erected over the whole forest. Squirrels, rabbits, and foxes trickled through the hole. Each one scampered off into the forest and vanished among the shadows. The ground corrupted wherever their feet touched—turned black and died. Plants withered as the black crept up the trees on the edge of the forest. Leaves crumbled and fell before Leigh. 

Leigh pressed against a tree—far enough away that it wasn’t affected by the corruption—and watched the hole. He turned back to Sylqen and placed his finger on his lips to indicate that they should be quiet. Sylqen nodded and leaned against a nearby tree. Together, they watched the shadow creatures pour into the forest and disappear into the darkness.

When they didn’t stop coming, Leigh turned to follow where the creatures were headed. He watched his feet and gestured for Sylqen to follow behind him. They followed the shadows. 

Could the creatures sense Leigh? Smell him? He wasn’t sure. None of them turned to look at him, so he figured he was safe. 

The shadows all came to stand in a clearing—the smallest creatures at the center and the larger ones with their backs to the trees. They watched the trees as if something might emerge. Slowly, the eyes turned toward Leigh and Sylqen. A sinister feeling crept up Leigh’s spine and left goosebumps on his neck. What are they looking at? Us? 

A voice echoed in the trees behind Leigh. “Welcome, children.” It was quiet, but commanding. Teeth clicked in its mouth as it spoke. The voice made Leigh’s blood run cold.

Leigh and Sylqen exchanged worried looks that said, What now? They both turned to glance behind them. Leigh heard his heart beat hard in his ears; he knew whatever was behind them was up to no good. Then he saw it and froze in place.

There, only a breath away from Leigh and Sylqen, stood the Duskhound. 

It bowed its head in a respectful greeting, then walked between them into the clearing. They both gave it far more space than it needed to pass. Sylqen’s eyes were wide and his breaths were visibly shallow. He was on the edge of a panic attack if Leigh didn’t get his friend under control.

“Breathe,” Leigh told Sylqen through his teeth. Sylqen nodded and took a deep breath. Then they turned their attention to the giant, shadowy wolf. His red heart beat in his chest, sending red sparks through his black body. White teeth shone brightly, starkly against his black maw. 

All the creatures in the center of the clearing bowed their heads to the ground as the Duskhound approached. They shifted out of the center to make room for their leader. 

The Duskhound sat down in the clearing and stared right at Leigh. There was no hiding from the beast. “Come, children, no need to be afraid. Come out of hiding so I might see your faces.”

Leigh and Sylqen shared another worried look, but Leigh stepped forward. If he was anything, he was brave. The beast terrified him to his core, but he would face it head on. Sylqen followed Leigh, a few steps behind. His breathing had evened out, though Leigh could hear him take the occasional deep breath. Leigh had to be brave, not just for himself but for Sylqen. When they came to stand before the Duskhound, Leigh met its gaze with his own fierce stare. 

“Good. Now tell me, children, which of you is the leader?” the Duskhound asked.

Leigh stepped forward, closer to the Duskhound. “I am,” he said. He didn’t hesitate, and he didn’t chance a glance at Sylqen. Of the two of them, it was Leigh who could withstand whatever it was the Duskhound wanted from him.

A cloud of shadow poured from the Duskhound’s feet and engulfed him and Leigh, so they were the only ones in the world. Leigh touched the edge of the cloud, but it stayed strong to his touch and never wavered. 

He glanced around, but never truly took his eyes off the Duskhound. Sylqen was nowhere to be found, though Leigh supposed he was outside the shadowy cloud. Leigh’s feet hovered above the ground which appeared like an endless void.

He turned back to the Duskhound, breathed deep, and straightened himself. Don’t be afraid, Leigh told himself. You can do this. His heart quickened in his chest, but he did his best to be strong. The Duskhound didn’t need to know the effect he had on Leigh. 

The Duskhound laid down and folded his front legs, one over the other. “Don’t be afraid, child,” the Duskhound said once more. “I do not intend you harm.”

“I’m not afraid,” Leigh said. His heart pounded against his chest. 

The Duskhound chuckled, its voice reverberated around Leigh on all sides. The calm, but commanding voice rocked Leigh to the core, but he never took his eyes off the Duskhound. “You’re brave, little one,” the Duskhound said.

“What do you want with me?” Leigh asked. His hand rested on the hilt of his sword, prepared to draw it should he need to defend himself. 

“How much has Caomhnóir told you, I wonder?” the Duskhound said. “I do think he’s left out quite a bit when spinning his tales for you.” The Duskhound laid its monstrous head on its front legs and let out a big yawn before clamping its powerful jaws shut. 

“Like what?” Leigh asked in a snappier tone than he had intended. His mistrust of the Duskhound had gotten the better of him.

“He may be the guardian of the Crann Wood, but I was its king before he interfered.” The Duskhound looked bored as he lay in front of Leigh, as if he had no stake in the words he spoke. 

Leigh let the words sink in. King? Of the forest? Why would Caomhnóir want to keep the king out of his own forest? 

Then another thought occurred to him. “Wait, was?”

The Duskhound raised its head and nodded. “Before Caomhnóir disposed of most of my subjects and scared the rest out of the forest.”

“How can I trust you?” Leigh asked.

“Ah, a good question, little one.” The Duskhound snorted and  between the two of them appeared a swirling vortex of white clouds. Inside the clouds, images appeared, foggy like an old memory. 

The memory showed a vision to the side, up and to the left. At the center, below it, was the Duskhound. Except he looked different: an enormous wolf with antlers. His fur was a beautiful silver, his nose a sharp jet black. His eyes were amber and soft as he peered down at the creatures who stood before him.

Creatures of all kinds: squirrels, foxes, wolves, rabbits, deer. Four squirrels scurried up to the Duskhound, carrying between them a leaf which held goodies. They laid the leaf down in front of the Duskhound and revealed fruits and berries. The Duskhound grinned at them with his sharp mouth. 

The squirrels bowed and stepped back into the crowd of creatures which all bowed in turn. 

A rabbit and a fox stepped forward. The fox chittered and the rabbit twitched its nose.

“You will stay out of the rabbit’s hole,” the Duskhound said to the fox. “You will leave offerings to the fox,” he said to the rabbit. The fox and rabbit bowed their heads, both silent as they returned to the crowd of forest dwellers.

Then the crowd parted and Caomhnóir came down the line towards the Duskhound. He bowed his head to the Duskhound, then took his place beside the king.

“We were once friends,” the physical Duskhound explained to Leigh from the other side of the cloud vortex. “But when I was offered the chance for real power, he turned up his nose. The shadows came, and Caomhnóir made up his mind.”

The vortex changed, shifting to a new memory. 

The Duskhound sat in his current form: shadows, red heart, and all. Caomhnóir stood directly in front of the Duskhound. “The shadows will rot everything,” Caomhnóir said. He was taller than the Duskhound, and had to look down to meet the Duskhound’s black eyes. 

“The shadows give us power,” the Duskhound said. Shadows whirled around him like a small storm.

Caomhnóir shook his head. Light grew from him. “If you won’t see reason, I will protect this forest myself.” 

The shadow creatures ducked into the trees as the light dispersed from Caomhnóir. The Duskhound slinked away, leaving Caomhnóir at the center of the memory.

The vortex shifted again. This time Caomhnóir stood at the edge of the forest. The Duskhound beside him as he erected the barrier. Light grew off him and upward over the forest. A pack of shadow creatures sat on the other side of the barrier, watching as they were shut out of their home. 

“I won’t let you corrupt the forest,” Caomhnóir said.

The Duskhound bowed and disappeared in the forest. The memory faded. The cloud vortex dispersed and left Leigh to stare at the Duskhound.

“I need your help, little one,” the Duskhound said. “Caomhnóir has overstepped his place, and I intend to take back my throne.”

Leigh thought for a moment. With the evidence presented to him, could he deny the Duskhound? He took a deep breath and dropped his hand from the hilt of his sword to his side. It made sense: the king simply wanted his subjects back. “How can I help you?” he asked. 

The Duskhound chuckled. “Thank you, little one. I will call upon you when you can assist me. For now, return to your friends. Convince them of what I’ve shown you.”

“I will,” Leigh said.

The Duskhound rose to his feet and stepped back. The shadows went with him. Leigh felt his feet hit the forest floor. A hand landed on his shoulder as he collapsed to the ground. 

He returned to the forest just in time to hear Lance call out to him.