This chapter is a work in progress, any feedback would be greatly appreciated.
The Longest Night
When Toyvo opened his eyes he was greeted by the familiar sight of the white ash falling from clouds colored red by the volcanos in the distance. Toyvo stretched and inhaled deeply he realized there was something different about the air. It didn’t taste like sulfur, and it was cold. So cold it almost hurt to take in that much air. He was cold. He watched as a fleck of ash fell on the back of his hand and melted slowly. It wasn’t ash that was falling from the sky. It was something he had only ever read about. This white stuff covering the ground and falling from the sky was snow.
Sitting up straight on the back of the stag Toyvo, rubbed the sleep from his eyes, and took a long look at his surrounding. What at first he thought were mountains turned out to be trees. Tall slender trees with hundreds of branches covered with green needles and topped with a thick layer of the white powdery snow. Turning around he saw a sight that he never expect to see, the clouds were split, and instead of the black spotted with stars it was blue, there was blue sky with wisps of red and orange clouds, with a huge glowing ball of light peeking over the horizon. It was the brightest thing he had ever seen, and it hurt his eyes to look at it.
The sun was going down, and the sky was getting darker now. Toyvo, having lived in an eternal night his whole life up till this point, was not phased by the growing darkness. The way the darkness mingled with the trees though did bring on a twinge of fear. Toyvo has realised he wasn't on the planet he had grown up on. This meant there could be animals, wild animals, could be lurking in those woods.
The hours past as Toyvo and the stag wandered the snow covered fields of this new world. Toyvo's fascination over came any trepidation that may have crept in up his mind. The sun went down and the clouds dispersed revealing a star so full of stars that they could not be counted. The stars seemed to form swirling patterns smattered with brilliant colors against the dark backdrop of space. Toyvo could tell he wasn’t at home anymore. He wasn’t on the same planet anymore. He wasn’t even in the same world anymore.
On a distant hillside Toyvo spotted a light glowing orange with smoke gently wafting away. There was a fire on the hillside, and he could smell it. Never having smelled smoke from wood fire he was surprised by how pleasant the smell was. The smell was beckoning him. He indicated to the stag to head for the light. The stag looked back at the boy, nodded and adjusted the direction he was heading.
As the two of them got closer to the fire the sound of people shouting and singing got louder, and the smells became more distinct. Then the smell of cooked food now filled the are almost drowning the smell of pine wood smoke. That delicious smell pulled Toyvo back to the reality that he had not eaten in at least 24 hours. The whole time that had been walking he had forgotten that he had a satchel filled with rations and other supplies. They got close enough that they could see the silhouettes of the people and tables covered with food.
While they were still hidden at the edge of the clearing the stag knelt down, with the intention of letting Toyvo down. Toyvo felt the powdery snow crunch beneath his feet for the first time. He looked up at the stag who was already gesturing for Toyvo to go on towards the people. Looking back at the people the scent of the food became overwhelmed him. “You don’t want to go,” Toyvo asked looking back at the stag. The stag shook his head and turned away. The stag didn’t walk very far before he stopped by a tree and started chomping away at some of the branches.
Toyvo turned back towards the fire and began walking. When he emerged from the from the branches into the light of the fire nobody seemed to notice him initially. The people around the fire, now illuminated by it instead of silhouettes against it, were dressed in clothes similar to those of the ancients he had seen in his books back at home. Every one of them was dressed in heavy fur coats that draped over their bodies nearly down to their feet.
One of the women dishing out food noticed the small boy approaching the fire. She elbowed the man next to her at the table and motioned for him to give her his coat. He did, and she ran to the boy and put the coat around him.
“Oh, you must be freezing,” She said with a thick accent that seemed strange to Toyvo. “How did you get all the way out here and without a coat?” Toyvo was then escorted to one of the tables closer to the fire. It was nice to be warm again. After Toyvo was seated at the table the woman put together a plate of food and set it before him.
“Thank you,” Toyvo said before he picked up a piece of meat with his fingers and ate it. A group of the people began crowding around Toyvo. Most of the people in the group were children curious about the newcomer.
“You seem to be alright,” the woman said. “How did you get here? I know everyone in town, so I’m guessing you’re not from around here are you?”
“No... I’m not...” Toyvo managed to get out between bites of food. “I’m not even sure where here is. I’m running away from... some people. They took my grandmother captive and tied me up.” Toyvo wanted to ask hundreds of questions about where he was and who these people were, but none of them came to him in the moment. He knew that even if she told him where he was it would not make any difference. This was not the same world he lived on with his grandmother, so no matter what they said it would have no relation to any place he knew.
“What’s your name?” the woman asked.
“Toyvo,” the boy responded.
“Well Toyvo, whatever happened you’re safe now. My name is Astrid,” She said exuding an air of peace that Toyvo felt.
Just then a man's deep voice interrupted them, “What do we have here?” Two very large round bearded men emerged from the crowd surrounding Toyvo. Their clothes seemed much richer than those the others were wearing.
“Where’d we find a this little one at, eh?” said the shorter of the two men in response to the the others question.
Astrid stood and approached the two men. “Great Brothers, this is Toyvo. It appears that his home was attacked by bandits and he ran away and made it to our little gathering.”
The taller of the two men walked over to Toyvo and knelt down to look him in the eyes. “Good evening little one, my name is Balder and this here is my brother Bard. We’re the leaders of this small community. We’ll make certain that we keep you safe.”
“If there are bandits out there we really should be more cautious,” Said bard, the shorter of the two brothers. “There is no one back at the village to protect it. We’re all...”
“Don’t worry my brother,” interrupted Balder. “We will be fine for one night of frivolity and celebration. Our little friend here needs our help.” He turned back to Toyvo. “Now, Toyvo was it, I want to welcome you to our Winter Solstice Festival.”
Toyvo had stopped eating and was listening intently to the brothers intently. He responded to Balders statement, “I don’t think they’ll be showing up here.”
“Now that’s welcome news,” Balder said as he stood up. He spread his arms wide and yelled jovially, “Everyone, Let’s get back to celebrating.” Everyone in the crowed cheered cheered loudly, and the dancing recommenced.
Chloe had been following the tracks left behind by the boy and the stag for at least an hour before the falling ash began to obscure them. This was bad, not only had the boy gotten away, but he had also taken the stag. If she couldn’t find them all of them would be stuck on this uninhabited rock forever. That white stag was what brought the pirates to this planet, and they needed it to help them get away. When Chloe first witnessed what the stag was capable of she couldn’t understand it. She thought it was magic, and for all she knew it probably was. Captain Tarn always called the phenomenon, reality commutation. It could replace it’s reality with whatever it wished. That was how Captain Tarn and his pirates got here, and if Chloe didn’t find it soon they would be stuck in a dying reality.
The ash was falling heavier, and the tracks were nearly invisible. Suddenly the air became much colder and the hair on the back of her neck began to stand on end. She was experiencing something that had become normal to her over the years since she been following Captain Tarn. She had crossed over; reality had been commuted, changed. She felt it. If you’ve ever been so inthralled by something, like a book, that you lost all connection with your surrounding and were completely absorbed by it, you know what she felt at that moment. The white flakes falling from the sky was no longer ash, it was snow, and the mountains had become trees. The distant clouds glowing from light of the volcanoes went dark, and the sky visible between the clouds became filled with stars.
“Wonderful,” she exclaimed to herself. She took off her mask. She could feel the air was different, cleaner, and breathable. The boy and the stag had gotten away, and accidentally taken her with them. Her only option now was to find the them.
After a couple of hours of trudging through the snow trying to follow nearly invisible tracks, the cold was finally getting to her. Her jumpsuit, having been designed for a wide variety of environments, was not extended exposure to extreme temperatures. Chloe needed to get herself warmed up and fast. At the risk of losing the trail of the stag, she began wandering around the wood looking for anything that might help her stay get warm. As she searched she heard voices a short way off. Approaching the voices revealed that they belonged to two men dressed in what looked like, really warm, fur coats.
“Hey,” Chloe shouted at the men, waving her hands in the air.
“Who goes there?” the men responded as they turned around. “Who are you?”
The two men reached for their belts and drew their swords. They each had a straight bladed sword reminiscent of a gladius. This gave Chloe the feeling that she had made an error in judgment addressing them so casually. These people seemed a more than a touch hostile. Chloe was familiar with swordplay and had the short blade provided by Captain Tarn. Firearms and energy weapons had a tendency to vary in potency depending on how the present reality worked. Still combat is something she really wanted to avoid being as cold and tired as she was.
“My name is Chloe,” She responded. “I’m cold, tired and lost. Do you think you could help me find a place to get warmed up.” She approach the men slowly with her hands raised. The two men were much larger than her. There was no way she could have fought them.
“What is your purpose out here?” one of the men asked.
“I was following a small boy and a large white deer?” She replied.
“You are one of those bandits,” the other man said as his posture became more aggressive. “You must be here to find the boy.”
“I am looking for the boy,” Chloe replied. “I don’t want to hurt him. You’ve found him?”
“Yes, he is back at the festival,” the first man replied. “But we won’t let you take him, and we won’t let you and your bandits raid our village.”
“I’m alone,” she said. “I’m stuck here. You would happen to have seen a white stag with the boy, have you?”
“We have seen no such thing,” he said. “And of course you are stuck here. You are now our prisoner.” Chloe still had her hands in the air, when one of them men approached her and tied her hands behind her back. “You will come with us now. The great brothers wish to speak with you.” The other man removed her sword from her scabbard. “Now, walk.”
Chloe started walking in the direction that he gestured. She figured it would be her best bet to play along if she wanted to get warm and hopefully get some food. Sure enough, after a few minutes of walking she saw the glow of a fire in the distance and heard the sounds of revelry. The two men pushed her into the clearing ahead. She was grateful for the warmth of the fire, and the sight of the food laid out on the table made her feel her hunger more intensely. Toyvo was nowhere to be seen.
“We’ve found us one of the bandits the boy was talking about,” one of the men said to someone in the crowed. “Go, let the great brothers know.”
“You, have a seat over there,” the other man said, as he gestured for Chloe to have a seat at one of the benches further away from the fire. She followed his instructions, and sat down. The heat from the fire did not quite reach far enough, but the smells of the food did.
It was only a few minutes before Two large men emerged from the crowed with Toyvo, and the three of them approached Chloe.
“Is she one of those bandits that attacked your home?” Balder asked Toyvo.
“Yes, she’s the one that tied me up,” Toyvo said looking up at Balder.
“You there,” Bard gestured to the man that was guarding Chloe. “Take her back to the village and put her in the stocks.” The guard forced Chloe to her feet and began pushing her away.
“Wait,” Shouted Chloe. She remembered the small trinket that Toyvo’s grandmother had given her. “I’m not here to hurt you. Your grandmother wanted me to make sure you got this.”
“Stop,” Toyvo yelled. The guard stopped, and Balder motioned for Chloe to approach.
“What is it that you bring?” asked balder. The guard brought her back and when he released her arm she fell to her knees.
“I’m not certain what it is exactly,” she said lifting her head to look at Balder. “But if you could have this brute free my hands I could bring it out. You have my word, I won’t hurt anybody.”
“Guard, search her things,” said Bard to the guard.
“Yes, sir,” said the guard, as he knelt down and began emptying chloe’s pocket. She didn’t have much a few rations, a canteen, a multitool, and a broach. The guard tossed it all on the ground before Toyvo and the great brothers.
“That’s it, that’s it,” she said when the broach landed on the ground. “Take it. Your grandmother wanted me to give that to your mother, but if I couldn’t find her she wanted you to have it.” Toyvo reached down and picked up the small object.
“What is it?” Balder asked, as Toyvo lifted the broach from the ground.
“I told you, I don’t know,” replied Chloe.
Toyvo gazed at the broach setting in his hands. He knew what it was. It was something his mother had worn all the time before his parents disappeared. It wasn’t a particularly pretty thing. A simple piece of greenish rectangular glass set in a gold wire setting. It wasn’t anything he had paid much attention to, but he did remember his mother wearing it on the day she disappeared. How did his grandmother have it?
“This is a piece of jewelry that my mother used to wear when I was little,” Toyvo answered. He looked up from the broach and into the eyes of Chloe, who was still tied and kneeling on the ground. “Why did my grandmother give this to you?”
“We didn’t come to hurt you,” Chloe said. “We were looking for your parents, or something your parents were working on. I went back to your bunker to help search and Captain Tarn asked me to watch your grandmother for a moment. I think she realized we were searching for your parents and knew we’d keep you on hand as a bargaining chip. She gave that to me to make sure your mother received it and if I couldn’t give it to her she wanted you to have it. I don’t know what it is, but it seemed important to her.”
“That’s enough talk. Take her to the village,” shouted Bard. After gathering her things, the guards lifted her to her feet, and began to drag Chloe away.
“Toyvo,” Chloe shouted. “I can help you find your parents. Where is the stag? Tell them to let me go. I need...” One of the guards covered her mouth, silencing her as they disappeared into the forest.
“You are safe now,” Said Balder as he placed a hand on Toyvo’s shoulder. “Let us return to the festivities.”
Toyvo turned towards the tables of food and refreshments, but his mind was still on the small broach that he held in his hand. The people he was now with had been treating him well, but they weren’t his family. This was not his home. Maybe she was right. Maybe he needed to work with her to get home, or maybe even find his parents. In the meantime though he was warm and well fed. In the morning he would return to the village with his new friends and hopefully have a chance to speak with Chloe. He put the broach in one of his pocket, and sat down at one of the tables next to Astrid.
“You’re not just going to sit here when there is all this celebration are ya?” Astrid asked as she was dishing up a plate for another person.
“No, I need to sit for a bit,” Toyvo replied.
“Well tat’s fine din,” Astrid said.
The sound of a horn blaring in the distance broke the din of the party. The dancing ceased and it was nearly silent. A shout came up from the distance.
“We have spotted a white stag,” the voice rang. At this Toyvo immediately stood and ran towards the voice. “This is a good omen for spring.” The person shouting was none other than Bard with his brother next to him. “We must form a hunting party as we must take this opportunity to kill the white stag and accept this fortune.” He looked at Toyvo.
“You young one look old enough to join the hunt would you be the first to join us?” Balder said as he reached a hand out to the boy.
“You can’t hurt the stag,” Toyvo said. “He’s the one that rescued me from those bandits.”
“Silly boy, it’s just an animal,” Balder responded, and knelt down beside Toyvo. “We hunt deer all the time, and letting a white stag go, we would forsake this good fortune.”
“No,” Toyvo shouted. “He’s my friend. I won’t let you hurt him.”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Balder said as he approached Toyvo. “Our people are hunters and we have revered the white stag for generations. The hunt for the white stag lead our people to our lands. We do honour to the stag by the hunt.” While Balder spoke to Toyvo, several men emerged from the crowed and formed a group by the edge of the woods. Bard was with them. “Will you honor us on this longest night by joining us on the hunt for the White Stag?” The rest of the party was watching Toyvo and Balder closely.
“I’ll join you,” Toyvo replied. He needed to find the stag, and was sure that if the stag was being hunted he would never find him.
“Aye,” Balder shouted as he stood and faced the others. “He will join us, and this will be a great hunt.” Balder looked at Toyvo. “After this hunt you’ll be one of us.” He slapped Toyvo’s back, and they walk towards the party.
“Let us go and suply ourselves for the hunt,” Bard said. “To the village.” He lead the party into the woods.
Their village wasn’t far from the clearing where the fire, as well as the festivities, were still roaring. It was just on the other side of the hill Toyvo had seen the fire glowing on. The village was empty, everyone must have been at the solstice celebration, the only light in sight was on a very sturdy looking stone building. Toyvo realised that it must be where they were holding Chloe. The things she had said rolled around in his brain during the walk to the village. From what he could tell Chloe wasn’t interested in killing the stag. He didn’t quite understand why she needed him, but maybe he would work with her to rescue the stag before the hunting party killed him.
When the hunting party entered the village everyone scattered each to their own home to collect their hunting weapon. Only a couple of the buildings were stone, the rest were constructed of huge timbers, almost whole trees, laid one on top of another. Most of the men had dispersed leaving Toyvo and the great brothers were alone in the center of the village.
“Ah, here we are,” Balder said. “This is our village. As you can see this is a very small village, but we are prosperous.”
“It’s a very beautiful,” Toyvo replied. “I’ve never been anywhere that looks this beautiful.” The silhouette of the buildings and trees against the night sky, bright with stars, was more beautiful than the barren world where he grew up. Toyvo walked over to the building where he assumed Chloe was being kept and began looking at the stone work. “This is a great building. Would you mind if I stepped inside to warm up and take a look around?”
“No, not at all. Go on in,” Answered Balder. “Just be careful that is where we are keeping that bandit we caught.”
The light from the candles and the lamps wasn’t enough to hurt his eyes but it took a bit for his eyes to adjust. One of the guards was sound asleep near the fire in the far corner of the room. Toyvo made his way across the room to a door on the other side, taking care not to wake the guard. The next room was a dark narrow hallway with four heavy wooden doors along the other side. The second guard was nowhere to be seen. Only one of the doors appeared to completely closed and locked. Toyvo removed the latch and lifted the bar holding the door shut. The door swung out and revealed a small cell with Chloe sitting on the floor.
“Hi,” Toyvo said.
“Hi?” Chloe responded. “I see you’ve changed your mind.”
“We need to hurry,” Toyvo said. “They’re going to hunt down the white stag and kill it. I want to get home. I’m trusting you here.”
“Alright,” Chloe stood up and looked down the hallway. “Follow me.” She moved down the hall towards the door.
“Wait,” Toyvo said as loud as he thought he could without waking the guard. “They think I’m joining them on the hunt, and there are about thirty of em’ waiting for me outside. We can’t just walk out there.”
“Well then, what do you propose,” said Chloe.
“I don’t know,” said Toyvo. “I have to go back out there otherwise they’ll come in here looking for me.”
“I tell you what, you go back out there and join them on the hunt,” Chloe suggested. “I’ll wait here.” She went back and locked the cell she had been in. “I’ll wait in one of the unlocked cells. Once the hunting party is gone I’ll track the stag. I’ve worked with him and know how to track him. I’ll find the stag before they even know I’m gone...” The sounds of dogs barking and baying came outside. “Now go before they lockup both of us.” She entered one of the other cells and closed the door.
“How will I find you?” Toyvo asked.
“Trust me,” Chloe said. “Now, go.”
Toyvo went back outside. The guard was now awake and outside, Bard was explaining to him the purpose of the hunting party. About a quarter of the men were now leading hunting dogs. Balder looked over at Toyvo.
“Now that we are all present, let us begin the hunt,” Announced Balder.
Chloe waited in the quiet and dark of the cell while the commotion of the hunting party dissipated into the distance. The two guards were talking to each other, obviously upset that they couldn’t go hunting with the rest of the party. She only saw one of the men in the small portion of the other room she could see through the small hole in the door. She didn’t have much time left to track the stag and find it before the hunting party did. She needed to get out of there, soon. She decided probably too quickly on what seemed to her next action. Chloe bolted through the cell door, past two guards, and outside before the guards knew what had happened.
“Good bye,” she shouted as she ran past the two men.
“Hey, stop her,” said the other guard said as he stood up from his seat next to the fire. The first guard chased after, but was greed by darkness when he stepped outside. She had disappeared into the night.
“We have lost her,” the first guard said as he was joined by his partner.
“The great brothers will not going to be pleased,” Said his partner.
Chloe had learned a bit about hiding through her years with Captain Tarn and his pirates. Snow isn’t the easiest surface to try and blend into. Even so, she found a large pile of firewood where she was able to hide. The guards had split up to search for her. She could hear the snow crunching under the feet of one of them as he walked passed her.
“Where is that girl?” the guard closest to her said.
“Have you spotted her?” Shouted the other guard.
“No not yet,” he replied as he turned around and walked past her again. The two guards met again in front of the building where she had been held. “What are we going to do?” As the guards started discussing their next actions, and who was at fault, Chloe took the opportunity to slink off into the dark wood.
Although, Chloe had worked closely with the stag during her time with the pirates, she had never tracked him before. She had never had to hunt or track anything before, and from what the others said about what they went through to capture the white stag, it wasn’t going to be an easy task. Yet, it was her only option if she wanted to escape this world, and have any possibility of finding her way home.
Chloe’s thoughts drift back to her home, the smell of the fire in the center of the one room hovel that she shared with her mother, and father. She always looked forward to the time when her father would come home, covered in black soot from working the forge as the local blacksmith, he would let her draw in the soot on his back before he would wash up. Now, she was responsible for stealing Toyvo away from his only family. She needed to help him find his parents.
Chloe had been walking for over half an hour through the dark woods, just trying to get some distance between herself and the village. The sky was getting brighter, and the songs of small birds could be heard all around. The baying of the hounds could be heard in the far distance, the hunt was still going. Chloe must have been close to where the fire had been as she could hear the singing of the others welcoming the sun back after the longest night. There was no way she was going to be able to track the stag, and even if she could it would have been scared off by the cacophony of noise this morning.
Slumping down at the base of a large tree Chloe put her head in her hands. “What am I going to do,” she thought. “I’m stuck in a strange world with people that think I’m here to rob them, I’ve stolen a child from his home, and I can’t even help myself let alone Toyvo. I need to find that stag before he goes where I can’t follow. He’s probably already gone...” Just then Chloe felt something cold and wet rub against the back of her neck.
Chloe lifter her head to see the stag standing there beside her. It looked different than she remembered, he had healed himself. The broken and cut antlers were back, the missing fur had returned, and the cuts were healed. She had never approved of the way Captain Tarn and the others had treated the creature, trying to find the source of its abilities. They never did anything too drastic for fear of killing him, but they would take tissue samples to experiment on. None of it ever worked but they kept right on trying. That’s why they were after Toivo's parents, they had discovered a way to travel between worlds. Captain Tarn wanted a way to travel without relying on a creature that had caused him so much trouble.
Now the white stag was pristine, beautiful snowy white fur and a full set of amazing white antlers. The stag peered deep into Chloe with his purple eyes. The guilt she felt for having let the others treat the stag how the did overcame her, but the stags eyes changed, they were less accusing, almost forgiving. She bowed her head in apology to the stag.
“I’m sorry,” She said.
The stag snorted and began walking away. Chloe watched for a moment before he turned his head back to her and gestured with his nose for her to follow. Jumping to her feet she ran up beside the stag.
“We need to find Toyvo,” She said to the stag. “The boy that set you free?” The stag nodded in acknowledgement. “He with a hunting party. They are out hunting for you.” She looked at the stag with a worried frown and paused for a moment. “Finding him is going to be easy. Getting you him away without the hunters noticing you is going to be a bit trickier.” The stag just kept walking towards the sound of the bay hounds and shouting men, she had a hard time keeping up with him at her walking pace. “You don’t even look worried?” The stag nodded.
The sun was peaking over the horizon as the hunters were beginning to weary of the chase. Ahead of the hunt Balder and Bard turned around to face the company.
“The white stag has eluded us this night, but the fortune that it has bestowed upon us by its mere presence will bring us a great harvest this spring and many successful hunts to come,” Announced Balder with his javelin raised to the sky. All of the men cheered raising their weapons in the same manner.
Toyvo was glad it was finally over, and that they hadn’t found the stag. His worry was that he hadn’t seen a sign of Chloe anywhere. At this point he had given up on ever seeing her or the stag again. She was one of those pirates after all, and now she had her freedom. She wouldn’t both coming back for him.
The hounds had quieted down and the whole party had calmed down quite a bit. Toyvo finally had a chance to take in his first sunrise. What actually struck him more than the colors in the sky was the sound of the birds. He had always read about birds singing in the morning, and it was the most wonderful sound he had ever heard. As he took in his surroundings, he noticed that at the edge of the clearing the party now stood in, there was the stag. Why hadn’t anyone else noticed him standing there.
Toyvo looked around at all the men that surrounded him. None of the men seemed to notice the stag. He looked over at the great brothers and back at the stag. The deers white fur blended well with the snow. It was incredible that he could make out the shape of the stag. Looking back at the two giant men he said, “Excuse me, Balder, I think I hear my grandmother calling for me. I need to go. Goodbye and thank you for everything.” Toyvo ran off towards the stag.
“Fare thee well,” Balder replied. Toyvo looked back while he ran. “May the good fortune of the white stag be upon you,” he shouted.
The three of them, Chloe, Toyvo, and the stag, were together at last. Now that they had found each other they still didn’t have time to wait and talk. They needed to get away from the Great Brothers and their village. They all walked off towards the rising sun.
“Chloe, why is it warm all of sudden?” Asked Toyvo.