An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

The Wooden Disk Carvesh

For what seemed like the hundredth time over the past several days, Carvesh broke into a dead run, closing the distance between himself and Dane in the span of several tense heartbeats. He bent low and, scooping the boy in one arm, carried him away from the fierce battle that was raging only a few yards away. He could not easily return to where he had left Jadoc knelt beside the wounded Quelana—at least not without slowing and turning. Instead, he pressed on, coming to rest behind a large maple that had grown up along the edge of the Kingsway.

“What are you doing?” Carvesh asked, once he was certain that the boy was safe.

“I heard the loud noises,” replied Dane. “I came back to see. I thought maybe someone was going to kill the monster. But it’s going to kill that man too, isn’t it, Carvesh?”

“Not if we have our way. But why weren’t you hiding? If that thing caught you…”

“It can’t see me.” The boy spoke plainly, as though he were doing nothing more than telling someone his name.

“I beg your pardon?”

“The monsters can’t see me. They don’t know I’m here.”

“I can see you as plain as day.”

“But you’re not a monster are you, Carvesh?”

“Of course not, but…” he trailed off as something Jadoc had said earlier returned suddenly to his mind. Not much of anything’s making sense lately, the farmhand had said, least of all how that boy’s alive in the first place. Everyone who had seen the bloody carnage at the Rasmas farm had asked that same question. How was it that a single, six year old boy could survive such a slaughter? How could he have escaped?

“Dane,” Carvesh whispered, “is that what happened with your family? Were you invisible to the shadowbeasts too?”

“The big black bear things?” Carvesh nodded. “No. Well, I mean yes. They didn’t bother me after he left. But it was him.” The boy was pointing, with shaking hands, towards where the demon was attacking Lord Carwell with its long, black blades. “He’s the one that killed mamma and papa. He looked different. All dark and shadowy. But I know it was him. He killed them. Kip, Ellie and Minnie too. But he didn’t see me. He didn’t know I was there.”

It sounded impossible, like something from a child’s story. And yet, in its own way, it also fit perfectly with everything else that had happened over the past two days. How else could Dane have survived? How else could he have been overlooked by the shadowbeasts? Or by the demon? It was that second thought—that the demon had somehow been responsible for the death of Henderick and his family—which Carvesh found the most troubling.

The shadowbeasts were big, strong and incredibly dangerous, but by all evidence, they were little more animals, driven by some brute instinct. The demon appeared to be an altogether different sort of threat. It had already demonstrated an intelligence keen enough to match Lord Carwell stroke for stroke. The thought of the creature roaming across the countryside was terrifying. It would leave a wake of death and slaughter.

Carvesh gritted his teeth in anger and frustration. He glanced back again and saw that Carwell was slowing. His motions were become noticeably more defensive. He could not have much strength left. If he fell, the rest of them would surely follow. Except for Dane. Somehow, the demon can’t see Dane… 

“Why can’t it see you?” he asked abruptly, turning back to the boy.

“I… I’m protected.”

“How?”

“I promised not to say,” the boy said quietly.

“Dane, this is important. If I don’t do something we’re all going to die. Me. Quelana. Jadoc. Madik. Even Winter. That thing will kill us all.”

“I… I just… Promise you won’t hurt him?”

“Hurt who?”

“Heylar. He’s the one who gave me this.” All of a sudden, the boy was holding a small, flat disc in his hand. Hewn from some dark wood and carved with intricate leafwork, it was only slightly larger than a standard issue gold falcon. A single piece of teardrop-shaped amber was set in its centre. “He told me it would keep me safe from the shadows. And it did. Just like he promised.”

A dozen questions filled Carvesh’s mind. He desperately wanted to ask them all, but he knew there was no time. So he settled on only one.

“Will it work for me too?”

“I don’t know,” the boy admitted. “Heylar said it’s been around for a long time though. So maybe it would.”

Carvesh extended his hand. “May I?”

Dane hesitated for a moment, closing his small fingers protectively around the disc. But then he looked towards the demon and something changed in him. In just a single moment, he seemed to mature by a span of years. A new resolve filled his big, green eyes and, with a simple nod, he reached out and let the wooden disk fall from his hand.

Carvesh did not know what to expect when it landed softly on his open palm. He was not certain that he really believed what Dane had told him. The rational part of his mind kept repeating that it was impossible, little more than the fancy of a frightened child. But there was another part of him that struggled against such logic, a part that desperately needed the boy’s story to true. It was that part that expected to feel something—perhaps a tingling along his skin or a fresh heat rushing through his body—and which was disappointed when there was nothing but the weight of the disc in his hand.

Of course, he chided himself. Just a fine piece of woodcarving.

But then the demon shrieked.

It cast its gaze toward the place where Carvesh stood. The creature, which moments earlier had seemed so invincible, now looked lost and confused. It hissed and clicked again, but the strange vocalizations sounded more uncertain than aggressive. An instant later, Aurin Carwell was upon it, driving the demon back with a thunderous blow. Though the stroke was not enough to penetrate the bony armour, it was delivered with such force that it caused the demon stumble. Carwell pressed the assault, striking again and again as the creature struggled to regain its footing.

Seeing his chance—and knowing that it might not come again—Carvesh turned to Dane. “Stay hidden,” he said quietly. The boy nodded in silent understanding. Carvesh patted him once on the shoulder then stood, stepping back out onto the Kingsway. He cast a quick glance to where Jadoc and Quelana had been. Somehow, the farmhand had helped her reach a place of relative safety along the edge of the road. Meanwhile, Madik had perched himself upon a rock, holding what appeared to be his last arrow at the ready. Winter crouched nearby, teeth bared and ready to pounce at any opportunity.

Taking one deep breath, Carvesh began inching towards the battle. He moved tentatively at first. What if I’m wrong? What if it really can see me? If the creature was aware of his approach, however, it gave no indication.

The same could not be said of Lord Carwell. “Stay back!” he shouted. Carvesh froze. Instantly, the demon’s eyes were upon him, following the path of Carwell’s gaze.

“Don’t look at me!” Carvesh responded, leaping to one side. The demon’s eyes did not follow. “It can’t see me.”

“What are you talking about?” Carwell turned his attention back on his foe, hammering at it with yet another powerful stroke.

“I think I can kill it.”

“Then what are you waiting for? I can’t keep this up much longer!”

“Can you hold it fast?”

“Hold it?” Carwell growled in exasperation. “Sounds like the same sort of madness your father would have asked of me.” He hammered at his foe once more, then spun to his left and dropped into a roll. Before the stunned demon could react, he was behind it. Dropping his sword, he thrust his hands around the demon’s arms, locking his fingers together at the base its skull. The creature thrashed, beating its wings. It lashed out with its spines and tried to strike with its black blades. Lord Carwell held firm, however, rendering its arms virtually immobile. His eyes blazed. Veins bulged like living cords around his powerful, bloodied arms.

“Do it!” he shouted.

Carvesh rushed forward, throwing all hesitation to the wind and trusting fully in the power of Dane’s wooden charm. Knowing that his strike would need to be precise to hit either of the small, black eyes, he kept his vision locked on his target. But the demon continued to struggle, throwing its head from side to side as it thrashed. Carvesh could not afford to miss. One wrong move and he could wind up accidentally driving his sword into Aurin’s face.

Somehow, he needed to draw the demon’s attention. Just for an instant.

Before he even had time to think about it, he felt his fingers opening. The wooden disc fell from his hand. The demon’s head snapped forward. Its eyes fixed on Carvesh, like shimmering globes of pure, black hatred. He raised his weapon, holding the blade even with the ground as he prepared to strike.

Then, at the last moment, the demon broke free of Aurin’s grip and surged forward. Acting on pure instinct, Carvesh twisted his wrist, caught the base of the hilt with his free hand and shifted the path of his sword. His stabbing thrust became a violent slash. The edge of his blade seemed to sing as it cut through the air and caught the side of the demon’s head. Carvesh expected the strike to bounce off the hard bone, just as all of Aurin’s had.

Instead, it clove the skull cleanly in two.

As all the life fled from the demon’s body, it buckled at the knees, collapsing on itself. Aurin stepped back in shock as the bony armour seemed to burn before their eyes, turning as dull and black as coal. Its wings began to wither first, with the rest of its body following soon after. Then, it simply imploded, dissolving into a pile of the same black ash that had been the only remains of the shadowbeasts.

A stillness descended on the Kingsway, a deep hush that was ripe with horrible wonder.

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