Illustration – Roar by Kaleighia Engman
Drexel by Amira Gerges
Quiet, fluttery music danced throughout Druidia as Drexel preformed on his pan flute atop the wooden roof of his hut. The sparrows perched along his crossed legs were all charmed to sleep by the Druidian lullaby he played; the one his father would sing to him every night. Although Drexel was now 16, he still was very fond of lullabies. He always thought of them as a welcoming song to enter into the land of dreams, and he just seemed to sleep better when they were sung. Ever since he took up playing the pan flute, he would join his father by playing in harmony with his voice. The song seemed to hold more value now that he started this tradition, and it had brought them closer together. Drexel wondered if he and his mother shared fond moments like that, but he had never met her. Drexel’s father had said that he will have to wait when the time is right to tell him more about her.
Most likely when I’m a bit older, Drexel thought.
Drexel seemed to be following suit with the sparrows, for even he was nodding off to his own tune. His playing got quieter and quieter. He started to fold his hand on his stomach and drift off into sleep.
“Hey Drex! Did you fall asleep again?” his father’s voice rung from below.
Drexel shot up awake, nearly dropping his flute. The sparrows, spooked by the outburst, flew away, annoyed for having their sleep disturbed. Drexel looked down off the edge of the roof to find his father, Actaeon, waving at him with a smug look on his face.
His long brown dreadlocks bounced and swayed with every motion, his brown eyes and studded leather armor shown in the evening light. His midnight cape draped along his broad shoulders and met at his ankles. He put his waving hand on his hip.
“Don’t tell me you forgot what’s happening this evening.” Actaeon tapped his foot.
Drexel cocked his head to the side and brushed a hand through his curly, moss-green hair. Surly he couldn’t have forgotten.
“U-um…” Drexel dug through his mind. “Initiation ceremony, right? For the Nocturnal Watch?”
“Right, and it starts in half an hour! Are you ready yet?”
Drexel suddenly panicked. He hadn’t even bathed!
“N-No!?” Drexel worriedly replied, “I thought it was later tonight!”
Actaeon’s expression gleeful expression changed to disapproval as he put a hand to his forehead. “Better get to it then! Don’t want to keep the Chief waiting! Bad reputation, you know!”
Drexel slid off the roof and rushed inside his hut. How could he forget? This was the biggest day of his life! Drexel had been his dad’s apprentice, hoping one day he would have the chance to be in the Nocturnal Guard like him. In The Nocturnal Guard, Druidians were able to keep watch and protect Druidia from any predators or other threats. Drexel had never done this before, and now was his chance. He had completed his training and was going to get initiated and go on his first watch. The excitement overflowed in his heart. Drexel finished bathing and donned his studded leather armor and his favorite mahogany-red cloak. He slipped on his moccasins and trotted outside to the Chief’s hut. Through all the excitement racing through his mind, he couldn’t help sense a feeling of dread in the abnormally rough winds.
Drexel reached the Chief’s hut, and just in time as his father’s friend, Alden, came to greet him.
“Ah, Drexel, my boy! You’ve grown into a fine young lad within these past four years. Soon, maybe, you’ll even be a captain of the guard just like your father.” Alden congratulated with a jolly voice. He gave a firm pat on Drexel’s back that shook him to his core.
“Hehe.. Thanks Alden.” Drexel put on the best smile he could muster to hide his back pain from Alden’s hearty blow.
“Now, don’t be gettn’ the jitterbugs, lad. The ceremony’s about to begin. Get in there, you’ll do great.”
Drexel was shown to the preparation room where the first part of his initiation began. He was sat down on a rug of bear skin as the women there tattooed the Druidian spiral on his upper right arm. Drexel was thrilled when it was finished. Outlined in red ink, it matched exactly like his father’s and the rest of the guards. He felt so grown up. Drexel was then spritzed with ceremonial perfumes and spices that made his nose tickle. The women left and Drexel was left alone in the room with his thoughts. He could hear a loud, booming voice coming from within the main chamber where the initiation introduction was taking place. The Chief’s voice was strong and powerful with gentleness weaved into it. Drexel felt butterflies rise within him. He told himself he wouldn’t get nervous, but he couldn’t help it. It would only be a matter of seconds until the Chief announced to call Drexel in.
I Hope I don’t mess up. Drexel prayed.
Soon, it was time for Drexel’s entry. One of the guards peeked into the room and gave him a short and serious nod. Drexel nodded back, and slowly followed him out to the main chamber. Once he was in view, everyone was dead quiet. He kept his eyes and head angled at the floor to avoid their gaze, and instead fixed his eyes on the rows of guards standing at attention at the altar. They were all so much taller, older, and more experienced than him, yet they bowed their heads in respect. Drexel bowed his head in return. He couldn’t help but smile ear to ear. He then walked up the aisle and stood before the Chief. He rose his eyes to meet her.
The Chief’s eyes met Drexel’s in return. They seemed to be radiating with pride as she looked down at him. Drexel blushed in gratitude. Her white robes complemented her olive skin, but were nothing compared to her sky blue eyes; her Druidian red face paint gave them a magnificent frame. She looked like a bird ready to fly into the new night sky. She looked back to the crowd and continued.
“Here is the young, courageous Drexel, who has diligently persevered to exceed even some of the greatest guardsmen and women to become a member of the Nocturnal Guard after four years of training under Actaeon’s apprenticeship. He has shown himself to wield great strength, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom, and a noble and kind heart. These are the essential traits that create a member of the Nocturnal Guard.”
She returned her gaze to Drexel as he knelt down on one knee. She signaled two guards, Alden and his father, to drape the Druidian flag over his shoulders. The magic in his veins seemed to leap. The Chief was then given her staff and she held it with her firm hand. Drexel respectfully gazed up at her with his emerald green eyes and his golden pupils.
“Do you, Drexel, spirit creature who controls the balance of Life and Death, blessed by the magic of the Hearth, pledge with all your heart to protect Druidia and the creatures who dwell within Waywich?”
Drexel took a deep breath, “I Promise.”
“And do you, Drexel, promise to forge head on, even in the face of danger?”
The Chief smiled a beaming smile, “I, Ailani, Chief of the Druidians, with the magic of the Hearth flowing through my veins, I dub Drexel, spirit creature who controls the balance of Life and Death and blessed by the magic of the Hearth, an official Nocturnal Guard!”
She tapped her staff once on each of his shoulders. Drexel stood up and faced the crowd, his eyes glimmering.
The chief shifted into a barn owl, a creature of the air, and flew through the opening of the roof. The Druidians all stood up and cheered. They laughed with joy and raised their fists in the air, chanting his name. Drexel stared out into the crowd, savoring the moment; their faces all filled with pride as they gazed upon a new, young guardsmen. Drexel tore his eyes from the crowd and found his father and Alden. Actaeon’s eyes were wet with happy tears, and Alden’s hand sported a thumbs up. Drexel’s heart danced with delight. The day he had been waiting for since he was young was finally a reality
Drexel was officially a part of the Nocturnal Guard.
After the reception, with their bellies full of good food and received congratulations from the Chief, Drexel and the rest of the Nocturnal Guard gathered at the edge of the village to gather their weapons. Drexel wielded his self-crafted spear, along with his sling and dagger attached to his belt; He carefully hand-picked the smoothest, strongest stones that would deliver fatal blows if shot precisely between the eyes, and stored them in his back pouch. His dad beside him, carried a quarter staff and a long bow slung across his back. Beside him, the black crow that took off into the sky, Alden, had grabbed his javelin and discuses. Because of how burly he was, his discuses felt lighter than air to him. Drexel wondered if he would ever get to be as strong as him. Actaeon put a gentle hand on Drexel’s shoulder as if to bring him back to reality.
“You ready, Drex?”
Drexel brought his eyes down from the sky and onto his father. He must have been staring at the sky for a while, because most of the guards have took off into the wood, and Alden had disappeared into the night.
“Yeah,” Drexel replied, “I just.. have this feeling.”
Drexel’s father looked confused. “What kind of feeling?”
Drexel looked deeply into his eyes. “This feeling like… something’s coming.”
There was a thick silence. Drexel’s heart flickered on and off with adrenaline. He wasn’t sure why he was feeling so uneasy. Actaeon was the one to cut the silence.
“Well, it’s probably first day jitters. I had a feeling similar to yours when it was my first watch. Once you get into the swing of things, it’ll go away.” He reassured.
“I don’t think that’s it, dad.” Drexel insisted. “Something’s off.”
Another silence, only to be broken be Actaeon again.
“If you find something out there that seems out of ordinary, howl for me, alright? You promise you’re alright?”
Actaeon shifted into his wolf form. He let out a worrying whine and laid his head on Drexel’s chest. Drexel smiled and embraced his father with a hug as to say: “I promise.”
And they separated into the night.
The night grew darker as Drexel stalked around in the thick brush. Drexel’s ears moved left and right, flicking at the smallest of sounds, the hair on the back of his neck prickling. He couldn’t help but notice the strange, foreboding feeling in his chest. His adrenaline grew stronger, his mind kept telling him to flee and go back home, safe in his hut, but he wouldn’t. He promised himself, the chief, and the entirely of Waywich that he would forge head on, even in the face of danger.
Forge on, have courage. Forge on, have courage, forge on, have courage. This is what he repeated over and over in his head.
Drexel continued to forge on, repeating his mantra. He would not let fear overtake him. He couldn’t let anyone down. Suddenly, everything went still. Everything went quiet. Quieter than normal. Drexel paused and lifted his head. He too, copied his surroundings, and held still, his eyes scanning the area. He drew his ears back and sniffed the air. He couldn’t smell anything. Not even the trees. Something felt abnormal, unnatural.
Out of balance.
Drexel’s heart raced. What was this? There was definitely some kind of danger lurking in the shadows. But what? Who? Drexel then heard wind rustling through the trees. He spun around, baring his teeth slightly. He watched as purple, dead leaves blew together across the trees of green. Drexel creeped towards the leaves as they formed a gust of spiraling wind on the ground. It seemed, to Drexel’s inspection, that the leaves began to form something. Something alive. Something almost human..?
Drexel took a few steps back as a man, or so it seemed, appeared before him. He was rather tall, skinny too. His white skin shamed even the pale moon. His robes were long and black, accented with silver trimmings, followed by a trailing black cloak that shadowed his long, thin, angular face. Drexel had never seen anyone who wasn’t a Druidian before, and the feeling this strange man gave him felt wrong. The magic in his veins felts like it was replaced with hot coals. Drexel pointed his spear to cloud his fear and bravery.
“Oh stop, there will be none of that.” The man spoke in such a chilling voice; Drexel stopped and froze in place.
The man removed his hood slowly. The man had very strong face, his cheekbones looking like triangles, but it also looked emaciated. His eyes seemed sunken and his irises and his pupils were merged into one, dark window. His ears, long and pointed upward; his long black hair draped thinly around them. Drexel remained silent as he felt the fear rise in him. Who was he?
“You’re wondering who I am?” The man assumed.
How does he know what I’m thinking? Drexel thought.
“Yes, of course I know what you’re thinking. I also know that you’re afraid, and that’s good. You should be.” He spoke strikingly calm.
Drexel’s fear showed more outwardly, but he kept his spear pointed dead at him. How was this possible?
“I doesn’t really matter who I am. You won’t be alive long enough to even remember it, but just for the sake of it, I’ll introduce myself. My name is Lix, and I dwell from the Dark Covert.
The Dark Covert? How was he able to escape from there? I’ve been told it’s been sealed off to conserve the balance.
“Yes, it is quite baffling, isn’t it? Ever since you decided on making that little blessing of yours on those forest dwellers, what were they called? Druidian? The Dark Covert’s seal has been growing weaker, and I thought you couldn’t get any stupider. But then, then when you made that second blessing with that Druidian man? Ha! That was it! Over the next 16 years, my Lord has been waiting for the seal to grow weak enough so that he may send one on his massagers to cross through. I have crossed over in search of one thing and one thing only: you.”
B-blessing? I didn’t bless anyone. That was the Hearth Tree. It was the one who blessed the Druidians. I’m not the one you’re searching for.
“Oh I see.. you must not remember. And I guess no one’s bothered to tell you as well.” He sighed. “If I must, I will explain: The Hearth Tree had been home to a goddess, a Dryad, to be more precise. Every Dryad has been created by the Goddess of the Earth to protect a certain portion of her realm, and your goddess happened to be tasked with the most important task of all: protect the balance of Light and Dark, by keeping the Light sealed in this world, and the Dark sealed in theirs. But her love for the people that live within her woods, has become more of a death sentence than a blessing. Now that she has left her tree vacant, the magic keeping this wood together is fading. Once that magic fades, the Tree will wither and die. But I’ll put an end to this place before any of that ever happens. You see, my Lord doesn’t really care about all this balance nonsense. If he can rule one world, why not both? All of it.”
I don’t understand. The Hearth Tree is dying?! Where did she go? Why did she leave?!
“YOU STUPID BOY! WHY SHOULD I WASTE MY TIME EXPLAINING TO A DRUIDIAN LIKE YOU?! Yes, I know who you are, and I know that you chose the form of a Druidian. You shared a form with that man. That wolf.
Drexel had never been so confused in his entire life. None of this information seemed to be processing.
W-what are you talking about?…
“You are the blessing. The Goddess of Waywich, and I have come to kill you!”
Lix shot a blast of what seemed to be fire directly at Drexel, before swiftly dodging out of the way. Drexel’s heart was pounding. It felt like it was going to jump out of his chest and run away. Drexel had never been so mortified. He shifted into his falcon form, shot into the air, and let out a loud panicked screech, hoping that his father, anyone, would help him. Drexel weaved out of the way from another fire ball and flew up a tree, his wings flapping as hard as they could. He shifted back, took out his sling, loaded it with a stone, and swung it at Lix, but the moment it touched his forehead, it disintegrated into ash. Drexel felt his hand tremble as he gripped his sling. It did nothing? He tried again and again, yet to no avail. Lix wasn’t even dodging them. It was like he knew he couldn’t win. Lix started chanting something under his breath as he conjured bullet-like attacks at Drexel. Drexel he felt like his energy would soon be exhausted. Lix’s needle-like bullets grazed Drexel’s knee. He yelped in pain but continued to duck for cover. Drexel had to do something. He had to kill him. Drexel leaped out of the tree, shifted into his falcon form, and lunged with talons outstretched for Lix’s throat. Lix yelled a strange form of words that Drexel did not understand, and cast whatever spell forming in his hand directly into Drexel’s heart.
The knockback flew Drexel back, causing him to hit the ground hard, shifting into his Druidian form. Blood came up from his mouth. The pain from the strike was unbearable. Unimaginable. He felt like his heart was going to explode. The magic within him seemed to be attacking his whole being. His eyes clouded with purple vessels trying to take over his vision. His head felt like a metal rod was slowly being impaled into his brain. He tried to remain from screaming, but the fear and pain were too much. Fear boiled over to the max as he clutched his chest and began hyperventilating. His heart was under attack. It beat faster and faster. Drexel tried to stop it, but it was no use. His right hand clawed at his chest as has left gripped the ground. His screams were long and curdled, screams that no one would wish to hear, but Lix just stood there and smiled as Drexel writhed on the charred grass.
“I see you’re enjoying my little curse I put on you.” Lix teased, “The thing about that curse is that it cannot be stopped. It will eat away the very culmination of you’re being to where not even you’re soul exists. Not even your remaining divinity. It’ll eat you away until you’re no more. So I’ll be enjoying this, watching you, until your very last breath.”
‘Until your very last breath.’ That’s all Drexel could think of. That bone chilling sentence. Was this really how he was going to die? Drexel was losing his strength fast. He could no longer scream. His mouth just laid open with the expression of a silent, contorted scream. His body twitching, his muscles contracting. He could no longer keep his head up. It slammed on the floor beneath him. He stared up at the deep sky above. Drexel was beginning to feel cold, and the pain seeming to subside. Everything seemed more still than it was before. He felt as if the world was put on pause, he was finally able to sort through his thoughts.
T-t-this. . . cant. b-be the end.. N- not yet… there. . must .. be. . a way.. There.. must…
Drexel then felt something in his heart that felt like nothing before. He wondered what this new feeling was. Was it a new type of pain? Death? Drexel struggled to stay awake. He wondered if Lix was still gazing down at him. There was no way for him to tell. It was impossible, but suddenly, like a current of electricity, his chest jolted up as if he was brought back to life. A divine light shone from within his chest from where he had been struck, seemed to pull together all the negative energy that filled his body, out. The pain was still there, and his fatigue lingered, but Drexel did have the strength to lift his head and pierce Lix’s baffled expression with a menacing glare.
“Im-possible!” Lix stuttered. “Then.. if that won’t work, I’LL JUST PIERCE YOUR HEART MYSELF!”
Lix conjured a jagged, tooth-like spear and lifted it up to Drexel to finish him once and for all. Although Drexel had overcome the curse, Drexel was too weak to save himself, he couldn’t even focus his vision. Lix and the world around him just seemed like soup to him. He braced himself and drew his last breath, but that last breath never came.
Actaeon lunged at the spear and ripped it away with his teeth. The rest of The Nocturnal Guard came out from the brush, called from Drexel’s cry, and went straight for Lix, giving it all they had. Actaeon opened his mouth and snarled as he guarded the weak and injured Drexel. Within the bundle of gnashing teeth and swiping claws, Lix vanished as quickly as he came. The fighting Guardsmen and Women became confused and shifted into their Druidian forms. Some went out to scout for any traces of the mysterious man, while other’s tended the wounded.
Actaeon clutched his nearly lifeless son in his worn and shaky hands, tears dripping furiously onto his bloody face. His voice trembled,
“Drex, you’re alright. Stay with me. You’re going to be okay. You’re going to be okay.”
All Drexel could do was take in every last detail on his father’s face and have his words seep deep into his mind as his head drooped back and his consciousness faded.