Hawk and Fox Chapter One

Welcome to my new “free words” institution. Every Sunday, I will post another chapter of Hawk and Fox.

Hawk and Fox is probably the first novel I completed. It is a high fantasy, admittedly with the occasional dose of my usual humor. The film Ladyhawke served as an inspiration, although the concept grew out of hand, as my stories often do. If you like mystery, magic, and shape-shifting, please do give it a read. And if you enjoy it, keep coming back. After all, it’s entertainment for free!

A couple notes: first, Hawk and Fox has only been edited by your truly. That means you may find a few more grammatical and formatting errors than my work usually sports. Not many, I hope, but I apologize in advance. Let’s all bow our heads and give thanks for professional editors.

Secondly, Hawk and Fox contains profanity. Not a lot, but if you are seriously bothered by four-letter words, you may want to give this a pass. There will also be occasional acts of violence, although nothing above what I would consider PG-13 level. I will give advance warnings for chapter that may contain triggering material. Also, this work is my own material. Please do note quote or copy it without permission.

So much for the warnings. Now on with the fun! Enjoy!

                           HAWK AND FOX

Chapter 1: Hawk and Fox Awaken
 
It's cold, was his first thought. 
    How can I be cold when I don’t have a body? was his second.
    Nevertheless, he found himself adrift, rotating slowly through a vast, empty...nothingness. Either his eyes were closed or he had gone blind or there wasn't anything to see. That makes sense. If I’m surrounded by nothing there must be nothing to see, right? He almost chuckled at the whimsy.
     A gust of wind ruffled the hair he couldn’t possess. Come to think of it, he couldn’t have eyes either.
     Where am I? he wondered, perhaps suddenly, possibly eons later. Time had ceased to have any coherence. Of course it has. I’m out of time. I died, didn’t I?
     Yes, most definitely. Without effort, he recalled the dreadful, internal crack of the length of forged steel breaking his spine and emerging through his back. Looking down, he’d seen a sword hilt planted in his chest; shiny brass, like some absurd doorknob. Rage. Disbelief. The struggle to shout it out, blood gurgling in his lungs. Without warning, his legs buckled. As he slid to the floor, a cry reached his ears, seeming to come from many miles off. Time to think one final thought: sorry.
Then, he’d--
     Died.
     Sorrow thrummed through his intangible body. He'd died. He’d failed. And that meant his beloved Highland was lost, fallen, gone forever. As dead as I am, he thought, clenching his teeth as another spasm of guilt raked him. If I'd tried harder, if I hadn't betrayed Killian--
     No. Killian was a crazed beast that needed to be put down. No regrets there. And perhaps, just perhaps, his last stand had bought enough time for the young king, Jaemy, to flee. If Jaemy survived the war, perhaps Highland still had a chance--albeit a slim one--to be reborn. If the sacrifice of his life bought that much grace, he was satisfied. If not, better to perish with my country.
     He rolled onto his side. At least that was his intent. With no up or down or left or right to orient him, he couldn't be certain of his position. I wonder what happens next? Do I still have a body or not? I used to have one, didn't I? The entire situation was beginning to seem absurd. Then a question jumped into his mind, one that froze him in utter panic: What's my name?
     He couldn't remember. And not only could he not remember, but the fear of not remembering trickled away as quickly as it had come. Even the name “Jaemy,” of such significance only a moment ago, dwindled in importance. And he could simply not connect a face with the name.
     What did faces look like? He'd had one--hadn’t he?--and fingers too. How many?
     Seven, he thought wearily. Seven seemed a good number. He let his head loll back. So easy to just go to sleep and not worry about anything.
     No! The vertebrae in his neck snapped into a straight line. If you sleep, you’ll cease to be. Or at least cease to be yourself, and that--well, I’m not happy with that, dammit. Concentrate! You've come too far to gently slip into oblivion.
     So, what did I look like? Ignoring the fact that he had no eyes or limbs and was floating in a vast emptiness that might as well have been a boundless prison, he forced his mind to focus, cast it back to when he still drew breath, searching for a picture.
And one came to him. A tall man whose straight hair--dark, save for a few pale streaks at the front--was tied in a neat queue. Gray eyes, high cheekbones, and an aquiline nose. The image hung in his mind, clear as a reflection in a mirror. But it was not his face, although he knew it as well as his own.
     Better than his own, apparently, but it occurred to him that in life he hadn't been the sort to spend hours admiring his own reflection. So he would have seen his best friend's face more often than his own.
     Best friend--fellow Knight Adept--Cashyl of Highland.
     Cashyl. That was his shriek I heard, after the sword pierced my chest. Well, if he's my best friend Cashyl, I'm--
     Jerem. This time the name came easily. Sure, everyone knows we're always together, he thought dizzily. Cashyl and Jerem, two of Highland's top commanders, thank you very much. Opposites and inseparable, knights and patriots. They'd died together.
     At least I’m certain I died, thought Jerem. It seemed he had his body back now; without looking he could feel feathery hair brush his shoulders. But perhaps--
     Another vision rose, unbidden, of Cashyl laying only an arm's length away. Blood pooled beneath him, leaking from a wound in his right side, just under his rib cage. His torso had been cut nearly in two.
     No, he must have perished with a wound like that, thought Jerem, shuddering. He fell, as I did when I was stabbed. We spoke, then, lying on the floor, but I don’t remember what we said. Too busy dying. Still, you’d think I’d remember our last conversation. I should remember it.
     You are not dead.
     The words weren't spoken. Nor did they come from anyone he'd known in life. He might have just randomly drifted into them, except they seemed directed personally at him.
     “No?” Jerem demanded. His voice sounded tiny and petulant. “Did some kindly Fennmere soldier rescue me in the nick of time? Where am I, then? In some dungeon awaiting execution for serving Highland?”
     Not so much as a ripple in the void. Darkness shriveled his words as effectively as if he’d thrown them in a fire. But he felt they had been heard; encouragement enough to continue.
     “So I survived that stab through my chest? Bollocks. I felt my lungs collapse--tried to breathe with them.”
     You are gone from the world of your birth, replied the presence with an emotion he took for patience. But, you are not gone for all time. Nor are you prepared to be created anew. So you are here.
     “And where is here?” asked Jerem, trying to move his body through nothing towards nothing. “And can you explain the difference between 'gone from my world' and 'dead'?” Oh, hell. Perhaps I’ve gone mad. Laughing, he dug the heels of his hands into his eyes. At least he had hands and eyes now.
     For now, you are between. You have been salvaged.
     “Salvaged? I'm not a ship.”
     There's a world that needs your presence.
     He laughed again. “Sod off. Highland needed me. Look what wonders I did for her.”
     This is your chance to make amends.
     “What?”

                               #

“What,” asked the man who, if he had a body, would be tall, with pale streaks mottling his dark hair, "do I need to make amends for?”
In life, Cashyl had taken quiet pride in his ability to stay calm under the most trying of circumstances. He saw no reason to change this habit after death. “I lived my life with honor. Make amends? I regret nothing.”
     Not entirely true, that. But best proceed with caution.
     Lives were lost, chimed the voice in his head. Faith was broken, ideals tarnished.
     “The only person I betrayed was Killian Bane,” Cashyl returned with icy heat.
     To this there was no reply. Only that sense of waiting, a silence that threatened to stretch the whole of eternity.
Cashyl broke at last. “You cannot hold me responsible for the whole damned war. I was but one person among hundreds, and I would not alter the choices I made.”
     Would you not? inquired the presence with a chill to equal his own.
     There was the air of patronization in the tone, the sense of an adult speaking to a cranky child. Cashyl's temper, slow to rise, nevertheless wore thin. “The things I would alter were beyond my control. And Jerem's.” Where was Jerem now? Had he been sent to a different afterlife? Wincing, Cashyl recalled the horrible sight of three inches of crimson-stained steel protruding from his friend's back. In that instant, he had seen Jerem’s death. Where could he have been sent? But this was not the time to worry about Jerem’s fate. “I cannot make amends for that which I did not do.”
      If you did not wish to make amends, said the presence with certainty, you would not be here now.
     Could that be true? It was possible that the presence knew more about the situation than he did. Frankly, he had expected to simply cease to exist once he passed out from blood loss, and he was annoyed to discover that he’d been wrong. Cashyl hated being wrong, and on the chance that he erred now, he considered the question carefully.
    Everything he had done, he had done to protect Highland. And the people he cared for as well, although they had been of secondary importance compared to the needs of his country. He had given everything, including his own young life for the sake of Highland, had even tarnished his honor--very slightly in his opinion--by the betrayal of the mad crown prince Killian. And I gave it all willingly. Would give it all again. What is there to regret?
     And asking came the answer: that it hadn't been enough.
     “By the Great Wolf Sigil,” he swore softly. "You're correct. I failed Highland. I couldn't do enough for her.” Overcome with guilt, he covered his face with his hands. "I shall suffer eternal regret for that failure."
     Not if you make amends.
     Cashyl’s head jerked up. There was still nothing to see, but it seemed the darkness had faded to a more translucent shade of black. "How?"
     Save what can be saved. Succeed where you failed.
     "What will that do for Highland?" he asked.
     No reply. Cashyl searched for an easy answer, an idea that would make everything well again . . .but there were none. He had known there was none. If the presence's offering could ease the sorrow in his heart by even a feather's weight—
     "Very well," he said, "I'll make amends."
     Prepare yourself.

                               #

"Wait--wait! Just what am I supposed to do?" Jerem squawked. No sooner had he said 'yes' than he found himself moving along at a great speed, hurling through the grayness towards a distant light. Now that he had a stomach, it was turning. Squinting into the light, Jerem beheld an awesome sight. A giant sphere, like a moon, only blue and green and brown and white, turned in the vastness of the void. It was to this sphere he was being drawn.
      "Oh—oh—oh--bugger!" he moaned, covering his eyes. His heart thumped loudly in his chest and a wind screamed past his ears, setting his hair to whipping and stinging his face and neck.
     His velocity slowed. Now he moved at more of a gentle flight, almost floating. Emboldened, he first peered through his fingers, then openly gaped. He drifted high over the surface of a land he had never before beheld, sailing above a large island that shone a glorious bright green even in the dim light. A lush and fertile country, he judged, as he floated nearer and nearer the surface. As he came closer, he could make out deep forests and rich fields, silent, mysterious marshes and flower-filled meadows. Like a mere spirit, his body passed through trees and rocks as he came ever closer and closer to the land.
     "This is most strange," he said, the biggest understatement he’d ever uttered in his life. 
     It is beautiful--beautiful and alive, whispered the presence. Jerem started, for he had thought it gone.
     "It's a fair country," he agreed after a moment's pause.
     It is in danger. The presence sounded both more solid and weaker than it had when he was floating in the ether. Its voice could have been speaking from his own heart and it made his head buzz in a way it hadn’t out in the nothingness. You must save it.
     "From what?” The new world seemed peaceful to him.
     From hatred. Misunderstanding. The voice radiated sorrow. A lust for power and a desire to manipulate.
     "Those are all natural conditions that happen in any country," said Jerem. "They can even help change it for the better."
     Was your Highland changed for ‘the better’?
     Jerem ground his teeth.
     Those forces will change this land of Eru for the worse unless you prevent it.
     "Myself alone?"
     No. You will be accompanied. And we-- The presence paused, then resumed, choosing its words with care. We will give you aid.
     "How am I--?"
     Forgive me. I haven’t the strength left to say. If a mere voice could feel exhaustion, the presence was close to collapsing. I fear it will not be easy and you cannot linger too long at your task, although we gave you as much time as we could.
     "I’m brimming with gratitude."
     Be warned, said the voice, now a mere weak murmur as the light shone bright as a new day dawning, you will change.
     “What do you--”
     Farewell.
     The presence vanished, winked out like a candle flame in a brisk wind. Jerem called after it, frustrated, knowing it was futile, "Change? What do you mean? Oww!"
Jerem, suddenly very much present and solid, crash-landed in a heap at the base of a large gray rock in a green meadow dotted with sweet-smelling yellow flowers. 

                                 #

"Change?" repeated Cashyl, brows lowering in a frown. "What do you mean?” He was set gently down by the side of a cliff, a waterfall, crystal drops catching rainbows in the fresh morning sun. 
     He received an answer. But not in words. As he gazed about, wondering, a hideous sensation took him. A feeling that he was being crushed, compacted. A burning as of a thousand fiery needles forcing their way out from under his skin made him scream. What emerged from his throat was a high, shrill shriek, like nothing human. His face pulled forward, bone and tissue twisting, merging anew. His arms flattened, his shoulders pulled back as he rose up on abruptly powerful toes—
     And then there was nothing human in the grotto by the waterfall; just a large silver hawk, the morning sunlight flowing like liquid metal over its wings.

Chapter two next Sunday. Hope to see you then!