A Stone’s Throw — Chapter IV.
Nomadic by nature, Barlow had long felt a sense of unease whenever he remained in one place for too long. He could tolerate some places longer than others, but it was only when he resumed his endless journey that he was able to relax once again. Perhaps it was his enormous proportions and the eyes they drew that made him feel at odds with human environments or perhaps it was his piercing eyes and stoic demeanor that had the opposite effect. He wasn’t sure, and really it didn’t matter; you can’t change your nature and Barlow had no interest in trying. He was a man without a village, without a people, and without a purpose.
It wasn’t unusual for Barlow to take odd jobs when the opportunity presented itself. Most of these took the form of labour or bouncing at the local pub. If, however, he felt like burning off some energy he would collect on bounties. Extravagant wealth was never in the cards for him, but he made enough to pay his way. During his most recent stay he had worked collecting timber for the small village of Aethilbrook, and had even been awarded additional pay for the sheer volume he produced. Now with pockets a little heavier he took his leave.
Taking to the countryside he let the subdued sense of the village fall away and the feeling of freedom wash over him. Perhaps more than the sense of freedom itself it was the feeling of constraints falling away, the release of tension as he stood a little taller and his mind became a little sharper. As he gazed out over the vast green of the rolling hills and the endless skies beyond, he once again felt closer to the Earth, closer to himself.
The days passed as Barlow traversed the ruin speckled landscape, uncertain where he was going but certain a town would eventually rise up from the horizon of some distant day. Until that time he would live off the land, as he had taught himself to. Orphaned from a young age Barlow had not been afforded the opportunity of a teacher. Everything he knew was hard won through unmitigated interaction with life and any mistakes had come at a great cost. Perhaps the most important lesson he had learn, however, one that long ago put his mind at ease was this: For all the agency we believe we have in our lives we are nonetheless at the mercy of the fates, for it is often the most innocuous decisions that lead to profound outcomes. It is impossible to know where any path leads and attempts at control are often the entertainment of illusion. Now, as Barlow came to a fork in the path ahead, he was reminded of this. He had not an inkling nor care about where it may lead, he had no destination. So, gathering a stone from the path he let it make the decision for him, and casually tossed it at a tree growing between the fork in the road. It ricocheted to right, and so, he went right.
Barlow travelled until nightfall, and looked for a place to make camp. Eventually, he settled on a derelict ruin that lay at the edge of a thick forest of redwoods. It would at least offer some shelter from the elements. Getting situated, he pressed his back to a large stone structure and let himself drift off.
Opening his eyes Barlow, finds himself at the edge of a great cliff overlooking a beautiful valley, uncertain how he arrived here. Across from him is a figure he does not recognize. It wears a strange mask that covers a dark and ethereal visage. Its eyes glow with ancient depth and wisdom. Barlow tries to speak but makes no sound. The figure, in response, gestures to the world beneath them.
Slowly, Barlow gets to his feet scanning the horizon, uncertain what the figure wishes him to see. The setting sun casts long shadows across the land, triggering a memory he can’t quite grasp. He has been here before… this place is familiar and there is a sense of something… something long forgotten. His heart is at ease here, like nowhere else in the world this feels like home. He fights back tears; it has been so long since he felt this way. Embracing the beauty before him he tries to ignore a strange sensation creeping in from the peripheries, like ice running up his spine. He tries to focus once again on the vast landscape, reimmerse himself in that gentle sense of wholeness. The feeling, however, persists and as he grasps with futility at the comfort that had long ago been ripped from him, he finds it replaced with deep distress. Intensifying, the hair on the back of his neck stands on end, and Barlow feels as though a thousand insects swarm into his skull. There is a sound now as well, one he had not noticed until it became too loud to ignore. An indescribable sound, like a shrill buzzing that fills his mind, drowning out all else. He tries to move but can’t, he tries to think but is unable. Fear embroils his soul… what…is this?
Barlow, consumed with unfamiliar terror, stares out over the horizon, unable to move. He watches as the long shadows shift and change form, pouring over the fields below. They spread like an obsidian fire, stealing the light of everything they touch. Trees and villages are swallowed up, animals falter and fall, shattering like black glass. Then, as darkness consumes even the place he stands, Barlow watches something impossible emerge from beyond the horizon. An unfathomable horror that blackens the sky and eclipses the stars. Then he watches helplessly as it consumes the very sun.
Silence. Everything has stopped. No wind, no bird songs, even that horrid screeching has stopped. As his consciousness begins to fade, he realizes what he has witnessed… and what he has heard — it was the sounds of the world dying, screaming as it was consumed.
Then from the darkness, a voice:
Barlow sat bolt upright beneath the ruins, drenched in sweat, the fear from the dream still salient. He was breathing heavily, running his hands over the cold stone, making sure he was truly awake. Taking in the cool air he began to relax, but something deep within him knew, that was not a dream. A vision, prophecy, some dark metaphor perhaps… he did not know, but something had spoken to him. As he slowly became grounded his eyes and ears adjusted to his surroundings. Taking in all the usual sounds of the night, he could faintly make out something behind the deafening backdrop of bullfrogs and crickets. Getting to his feet he made his way to the tree line where the sounds emanated from, squinting to see through the darkness. Listening closely, he could hear two sounds: voices and… dogs, not a good sign; they were getting closer. Time to leave. Packing up his things he prepared to move on, but from the corner of his eye something caught his attention, a small figure darting out of the forest. He watched as it frantically made its way into the ruins, seeming to panic as it sought a place to hide, eventually crouching behind a small stone totem. The voices were close now, and they sounded angry. Torches shone through the trees. Barlow quietly made his way to the spot the figure had hidden and peered over the totem. Behind it he found a small boy in tattered clothing, strange runes scrawled upon his arm. The child gazed up at him through teary eyes filled with terror and spoke:
Choices: What does Barlow do?
- “Run Boy…Run” — Barlow, intent on saving the child throws him over his shoulder and takes off for the hillside, intent on keeping him out of harm’s way. He isn’t sure why the child is being hunted, but for now this is the safest bet. Although, in the back of his mind Barlow is concerned that those tracking the boy will continue their pursuit and find them at a less opportune time.
- “Giant’s Wrath” — As his nature dictates, Barlow has never been one to run from a fight. Violence has always been a last resort, but it does have its place… and he has always had a particular distain for those who would harm a child. Wishing to know what their cause is he decides to hold his ground. As far as he’s concerned the child will not come to harm. Reaching down to his pack Barlow slowly unties something from its side, taking it in hand he stands tall. As the men break through the wall of redwoods the light of their torches are cast upon a grim Barlow standing amongst the ruins. In hand is an enormous axe, the imagery of a fearsome three headed wolf carved into its handle.
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