I don’t believe you, Galen's mind screamed. He looked into Nena’s face, searching with every hope on earth that this news just wasn't possible. His mind ran through any memory, any single thought his brain could muster, to find some kind of recollection—of her, of a sister, of a family—but there was nothing, not even a glimmer. He had been lied to by countless charlatans, con men and crooks looking to rook him—people like the Gypsy who would mislead their own mothers if it meant getting what they wanted. He'd ducked their oily advances time and again based upon his intuition. However, it was impossible for Galen to admit that there wasn’t a part of him hidden deep down inside his soul that believed her.
“It's true,” Nena told him. “You are my brother—and you left us.” She held the petrified eye of William Lawton up to Galen's face. “You have witnessed that which our father saw: death; destruction for many; the most devastating war this world has ever seen. It is coming. And your arrival can only mean a great many wheels are in motion.”
“If I am your departed brother, then why imprison me? Why do you whip me as if I am your mortal enemy?”
“Because, dear Thomas, in whatever form you currently inhabit, you represent much less my brother than something else. You may have been precisely him at one time, but now you are much more dangerous.
“How am I a danger?” Galen croaked.
“Because there is absolutely no chance that brother Miles does not know that you are alive and here. He likely intends to use you for something that I, and the rest of the Magus, should fear because your sudden arrival here means it has started again.”
“He doesn’t know,” the pockmarked man said. Galen’s rage flared; if there was any way out of this, he promised himself he would kill the bastard.
“Ah, I sense rage,” Nena said holding out her hand, palm toward Galen. “That is a good thing, but I fear the part of you that is any use to me is too deeply buried inside a man who has become nothing but a killer.”
Momentarily, she lowered the whip, her hand relaxing.
“I know where you are headed. It's calling to you. What do you know about the town of Shadow Falls?” she asked.
“Shadow Falls?” he responded, his mind drifting. That had to be it, he thought. Galen realized Nena's utterance had been the first time he had heard the name of the place he'd seen so clearly in his mind all these weeks. “What can you tell me?” he finally inquired.
He had been walking for close to an hour, carrying Alyson in his arms. Miles cursed the souls of those who made this happen.
Following several feet behind him was Elsibeth, the seven-year-old daughter from another family aboard the Majestyk. Along with himself and Alyson, she was the only other survivor of the attack.
“Why?” Elsibeth cried out as she sobbed. She was inconsolable. Her parents had been eviscerated in front of her—torn apart before her very eyes. It had taken Miles hours of begging to get Elsibeth to leave the scene of the massacre. She had refused, clutching hopelessly to her mother's severed torso, clinging to her bosom as if she were just an infant.
He finally convinced Elsibeth to leave when he told her he was going without her and that she would be forced to stay here all night, all alone. Finally she agreed and, almost immediately, he regretted choosing to save her life.
And now, with the non-stop crying, Miles had begun to wish the predators had taken her as well, for he was afraid she would upset baby Alyson.
“How much farther?” whined Elsibeth as Miles trudged west into the setting sun.
“I don't know,” he grumbled.
“Speak up,” mewed Elsibeth “I can't hear—”
“I said I don't bloody well know!” he turned and screamed. The sudden shriek of his voice caused Alyson to wail, scaring Elsibeth enough to make her once again burst into tears.
“Now look what you've done!” shouted Miles, putting Alyson down and trying to stop her bawling.
“Shhhh, shhhh. There, there,” he whispered into his sister's face. “Don't cry.”
“I'm sorry. I'm sorry,” Elsibeth sobbed.
Miles looked up at her; her eyes were red and puffy from crying all day. He thought of how terrified she must have been while the attacking beasts circled her parents' wagon before dragging them out with their fangs.
And as he gazed at Elsibeth's face, he realized there had been a terrible mistake.
She should not have survived the attack, the voice in his head told him. It’s wrong. She had no part in what was to come and would only get in the way. Alyson began to bawl louder, and Miles started to wonder how he was going to feed her.
“I want to go home!” Elsibeth cried out. “I don’t want to go any further.” She plopped down on the ground cried.
It’s wrong, the voice told him. She doesn’t belong here: in our house. In our name.
“It’s going to be okay,” Miles told Elsibeth, approaching her. “I promise.”
The reach of his hands across her neck surprised Elsibeth, but he had caught her between sobs, so there was no air in her lungs for her to cry out. He pushed her onto the ground, squeezing tighter. Elsibeth’s mouth gaped like that of a dying fish. Her arms flailed wildly as her brain was running out of oxygen.
All around him, the sounds of the woods faded away into silence. Using his thumbs, Miles applied pressure on her windpipe, crushing it under his fingers. Her small body bucked once, then again, and afterwards Miles could feel Elsibeth fading away. Even as her movement stopped and her gaze glassed over into a frozen stare, he held onto her neck for several more minutes, ensuring she was dead.
Very good, the voice in his head told him. Very good indeed.
And with a whoosh the sound all around him rushed back in like a crashing tide, and Alyson’s braying tears cut through the air like a blade.
Miles turned to her—a small bundle of life, helpless in this world. She would be his responsibility and he resented it. There was already too much to do without the burden of a baby to deal with.
He looked down at his hands—the same ones he had just used to kill the only other person left from the Majestyk other than himself and his sister.
His hands were rock steady. He was prepared to use them for whatever was needed to accomplish his intended goals.
And with these hands he picked up baby Alyson and cradled her against his chest.
“There, there. There, there.” Slowly, he rocked her back into a slumber.
Once he was sure she was sleeping, Miles gently put her on the ground. He dragged Elsibeth away and covered her body up with sticks and leaves before going back for his sleeping sister.
When he picked up Alyson and stroked her sleeping face, he heard footfalls. They were coming toward him in the woods from the direction he’d just come from—from where he’d taken Elsibeth’s body.
He turned. A young man holding hands with a young woman, their clothes simple and plain, emerged from the woods and were walking towards him. To Miles, they looked like farmers. As they looked up, they seemed as surprised as he; they both exclaimed in a language he didn’t understand.
French, Miles thought.
“Comment allez-vous?” the young woman asked, her voice sounding full of concern.
Miles shook his head and, as if on cue, began bawling. His crying startled baby Alyson, who began crying as well. “I don't understand you,” Miles sobbed through his very convincing crocodile tears.
“Anglais,” the young French man said to the girl, motioning toward miles.
“Oui,” she responded before whispered something to him. He nodded before swiftly heading back into the thick woods.
The French girl then held out her hand to Miles. “Allez,” she invited him.
The settlement had been no more than an hour's walk, and when baby Alyson had grown heavy, the French girl took her and carried her in her arms, all the while singing softly to her in a hushed and soothing voice.
Once they arrived, the French girl gave Alyson back to Miles. “Arretez-vous,” she told him, motioning with her palm out for him to wait. They stood outside what was obviously some kind of a church.
Moments after going inside, she came back out with a man. The familiar collar around his neck immediately identified him as a man of the cloth.
“I am Father Henri,” he said to Miles in reasonably clear English.
Miles had already anticipated his next move. He wrapped his arms around Father Henri's neck and burst into tears.
“They came out from the woods and killed everybody!” he shrieked. Judging from Father Henri's horror-stricken face, the priest perfectly understood the significance of this statement.
The French priest took the children inside the humble wooden church, and as Miles entered he saw over his shoulder the French boy, who seemed to pretend to not notice the French girl.
You two have a secret, Miles thought. Within minutes other women from the settlement arrived at the church, bringing food and blankets for the children, hovering over Miles and Alyson with bowls of warm soup, fresh bread, and milk. Chattering away incessantly in French, they stroked his hair and, due to the language barrier, Miles was gratefully spared from having to repeat the lie. Father Henri was the only one Miles could find who was conversant in English.
It was much later, while in the church’s one-windowed back room, that the good priest explained this fluency as he tucked Miles into a fresh straw bed.
“I attended seminary in England,” he said. “I have been lucky in my lifetime to see many beautiful places—Africa; the Far East. I came here to this new world because I was called by a higher purpose. Maybe you and your sister were, too.”
He nodded toward Alyson, who slept soundly in a wooden box that had been fashioned into a crib. Father Henri patted Miles’ head and gave the kind of smile—one full of solace—that only a priest could give. He rose, taking the room’s one candle with him, but paused before leaving to look back at Miles.
“Although it may not seem so now, maybe fate has big plans for you.”
After Father Henri shut the door, Miles got up and tiptoed across the darkened room to the makeshift crib where Alyson slept. He reached down with both hands and pulled the blanket up to her neck when his touch, a familiar one for a change, woke her up. Her eyes opened to see Miles; she cooed softly as he stroked her cheek with his finger.
From his own pocket came a kerchief, monogrammed with his father’s initials. He unfolded the small bundle to reveal the eyeballs that had, until recently, belonged to his father—the ones that he personally removed.
Delicately, he picked up one of the still sticky orbs between and held it up to his weary sister.
“What do you see? Alyson? What do you see?” he quietly asked. “Because if the visions within are the same things that Father saw, I’m afraid the world will soon be coming to a most difficult and violent end—and I believe you and I will play some kind of part in allowing it to happen.”