The Space of a Question — Chapter VI.
Whether through fortune or fate, Isaac survived that harrowing night, venturing beyond the mysterious ruins into a life he could have never imagined from his quaint village. As the treeline broke into an expansive meadow of novel sights and sounds, so did his world. For better or for worse…only time would tell.
It seemed to Isaac that his village had changed subtly over the last few years, growing darker somehow. And though it existed in relative isolation from the rest of the world, he found that the strange drear and paranoia were not confined within the borders of the redwood forest. As Barlow informed him, the land seemed to be changing. In this new era, Isaac would find no reprieve from leering eyes and ill intent. Had it not been for Barlow’s guardianship, Isaac would likely have met a grim end soon after leaving those ruins. Instead, Isaac’s path would be one of hardship, self-sufficiency, of survival. As they traveled together, Barlow taught the young boy how to live off the land, track animals, and process what he had hunted. He learned bits of medical knowledge necessary for treating wounds and a vast repertoire of eclectic skills, but most importantly, he learned to fight, to be clever when the odds were stacked against him, and to trust his instincts.
He followed Barlow through his aimless wanderings, moving from town to town, and though the giant man was a reluctant caregiver, secretly, he felt something he hadn’t before: purpose. From the outside, it may have seemed like he cared little, his disposition was stern, and his nature was not gentle. But he was kind, having seen the worst of humanity, Barlow knew what the boy would have to survive through, gentleness would only foster naivety. From dusk to dawn Isaac was constantly learning, when he wasn’t working alongside Barlow in one town or another, he was training. It was ensured that nothing would come easily, even tasks that could have been simply explained, Isaac was required to figure out. Although, at first, this process was slow and grueling, by the time Isaac came of age, he was as sharp as a razor’s edge, highly attuned to his environment, and adept at picking up new skills.
Though countless seasons came and went, Isaac had had little time to reflect, but all the while, something gnawed at the back of his mind. As he mastered the many things that Barlow had set out for him, the space they once occupied in his mind grew and was quickly filled by the echo of a question endlessly reverberating in a canyon of uncertainty:
“What happened to me?”.
Daily tasks gradually became mindless. His thoughts wandered back to the ancient stone tunnel he found in the forest, the cavern at its end. He wondered at the strange masked entity who spoke a wordless language, shaping an understanding within him that had not yet ripened. He grasped at it like smoke, its shape changing and slipping through his fingers each time he reached for it. It was a task of frustration and futility that became all-encompassing, a question unbound by an answer, expanding without limits. And in the turbulent ascent towards adulthood, he feared if he did not seek resolution, he may go mad.
Barlow watched the changes in Isaac, knowing the day fast approached when he would set out on his own. Having done all he could for the child, he was neither forlorn nor eager to part ways, his closeness with nature had taught him that everything has its season. This was not to say that he felt nothing, beneath the callouses worn from hardship, there was the familiar twinge of sadness accompanying a pending loss. In a strange way, it made each day a little brighter. Knowing the end was in sight brought the present into sharp relief.
When the day finally came, it passed almost without notice, an unspoken understanding had grown between the two, and on a morning like any other, Isaac said his goodbyes, and they parted ways. An unusual sensation came over Isaac as he left, for the first time in many months, he felt something that had faded so slowly he hadn’t realized it had gone, a sense of direction. Unwrapping his left arm, he ran his fingers over the smooth surface of the runes fused with his flesh. Although a strange sight, it was not gruesome, it looked organic, as if they had always been there. If it weren’t for the slight texture and an almost imperceptible radiance, one might have mistaken them for tattoos. Thinking back to the night of his rescue, he mulled over what had transpired. How the symbols came alive, how he seemed to connect with something inside the ancient ruins, the way his sense of separation between himself and others evaporated. When his ego faded, something deeper awakened, powerful, visceral… a force of nature. If there were answers to be found, they would lay in the ruins strewn across this land. Sourceless structures, whose origins predated both oral and written tradition. If human hands had built these cyclopean megaliths, their technology had died with them.
Of these strange ruins, only rumors and rumblings of strange happenings and bizarre encounters remained. In pursuit of answers, Isaac found his way to a nearby village and inquires about the structures. From the locals, he heard two stories that piqued his interest:
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