Her face was seared into Owenn’s mind. The curve of her chin, the crook of her nose, the way her eyelids beat like wings then rested quarter-way down. She was more of a mother than he had ever had, and the cadence of her voice, like a soft breeze, brought back to mind the songs of his sister Jun.
He had met Zephyr a year before the gods demanded he etch their words into his skin. Six months before he began to burn. Three days before he first heard Their voices. She was sweeping the front of the chapel in Fordel. Jun had stowed Owenn and herself away on a caravan of musicians and peddlers, but they had had a delayed stop due to some incident with one of their own going off with someone’s daughter and taking a hefty sum of gold and jewelry. Jun had taken Owenn on a hand-by-hand tour of the town. Jun stopped them by the doors.
“I will light two candles,” she told him. “One for mama, and one for papa. You wait here.” And with that, she ascended the stairs and was devoured by the light of the hall. She never spoke about their parents, but Jun had a locket with a picture of their mother, who Owenn had learned died having him. His papa…had disappeared.
“Don’t look so down on yourself.” Sang a voice from above him. Owenn looked up and came face to face with kindness. The wrinkles of age had just started to show on her face, but they only made her smile wider and truer. Well-used skin.
“Jun said to not talk to strangers,” Owenn huffed. The woman laughed.
“Rightly so!” she cried. “You never know what strangers are capable of. Why, I could be a dragon in a woman’s skin! Or perhaps a hobgoblin…just waiting to devour your flesh!” She mimed fangs with her fingers, and Owenn couldn’t help but crack a smile.
“Don’t you worry,” she winked. “I like my prey plumper, anyhow! You look like you haven’t eaten in weeks!”
“Jun says we can’t stop. Many want us dead. We eat as we move.” Owenn recited. The woman’s eyes narrowed ever so slightly.
“Jun does not know everything, I think.” The woman said with a serious face. Even with its purpose, Owenn felt calmed. “You two, come have dinner tonight at the town inn. I shall see that you two eat tonight.” And with that proposition, she swept herself away.
Jun said no. At the mere suggestion her beautiful face contorted like the shell of peanut. The camped underneath a wagon as the soft patter of rain turned their dirt bed into soft mud.
They were awoken not long after midnight by a great thump and a whinny. The wagon pulled away, and Jun sprung up from beneath it.
“Move,” she jostled him from his slumber. The broke away into the night. There was a cry from behind them but they reached an outlying farm and hid in the barn. There was a wonderful hour of silence then: thud. thud. thud.
Jun glowed. Owenn could see in her face she did not want to, but even as she closed her eyes tight as they could go, her skin did not return to her normal colour.
“Notnownotnownotnow…” she stammered. The barn door swung open with a crash and admitted three strange and burly men in black cloaks. There was a tussle, and Owenn made himself small and dark in the corner of the room. When he looked up next, Jun was gone. The only trace that remained was her locket and two spots of blood.
Owenn crept out of the barn with trepidation. He rounded the door and- a hand wrapped around his chest and his mouth and he tried to scream.
Zephyr shushed him until he calmed. “They know she had a brother. Stay quiet and follow me,” she commanded with alarming gravity. She took his hand and he let her lead him to a small abode in the corner of the town. She fed him a carrot stew and made him a bed.
This would be the only feather bed Owenn would sleep in, and it remains with him as a soft memory. Zephyr offered to let him stay longer, but at the crack of midday, as she left with her broom, Owenn snuck away, the words of his sister as fresh as her mortal wounds were, on display in the courtyard: Don’t stop. Move.
The wizard had taken in a number of the children of the village into the lighthouse. What was one more? Owenn crept up to the door and knocked. There was a great silence, then distinctly, ten footsteps. The door opened, the backlit silhouette of a large man filled the way. Owenn looked past him into the light of the room. No one else was there. Perhaps the children were in another room...
"Why have you come to my door, child?" The wizard asked with a voice like a mallet.
"You took the others, sir." Owenn said, grasping his arm in his hand to keep himself from trembling. The wizard studied him, then sighed and admitted him. Owenn entered into the lighthouse and shivered. It was cold as ice inside. The wizard closed the door behind him and Owenn saw the man in whole for the first time. He was a wide man, with a large mangled beard of grey and black. His unibrow did not quite stretch all the way across his forehead.
"Where are they?" Owenn asked.
"Follow me," the wizard said. The wizard led the boy towards a small door at the back, barely tall enough for Owenn to squeeze through. Certainly the wizard would be unable to fit through it. But as the wizard reached for the knob, there was another knock at the door. He answered it, and a bedraggled lady rushed in.
"Kelstaf! The High Circle has demanded your presence. They need your help to fight the darkness." she said, before anyone else could get a word out.
"I built this place so I would not need to go anywhere near the Circle. Tell them to shove their request up their ass." Kelstaf the wizard replied.
The lady gave a strange look and explained that they needed his power. While they bickered back and forth, Owenn grabbed the knob to the door and peered in. The children he had seen going in the lighthouse were all there. Some even still had all their limbs attached, though they all stared back with dead eyes.
Kelstaf slammed the door. The woman had left. He turned to find Owenn gone, the small door ajar. The wizard cursed, and after searching around the room for a moment, exited up a staircase to the top.
Owenn emerged from the shadows. He was good at not being seen. He snuck out the front door, and seeing the woman from before pacing around he approached her with a shy nod. "You said we could fight the darkness?"