For today’s Flash Fiction Friday, the focus is on Rith. Featured as the dark god or god of shadows in the Alcardian novels, he’s seen facing off with his sister in Rith’s Disciple, a short story set before the events of Pathway of the Moon. In this piece, the event leading to his parents’ and fiancee’s deaths is revealed.
The smell of smoke blasted him in the face as he approached the long gravel drive leading to his ancestral home. Rith frowned. Was father burning brush again? He glanced up at the darkening sky. Too late in the day. His heart squeezed, and his stomach ached. Something wasn’t right.
He broke into a run, trying to Step in the shadows. They didn’t answer. He tried again, reaching out with his mind. But still the shadows remained out of reach, refusing his request to portal to the house. His head ached with the effort, and he stopped in his tracks, grasping for his magic once more.
Why wasn’t it responding? Had the drinks he’d had with Sedra and Albrith addled him that much? He tried to reach out to his sisters, but only cold silence greeted him. He couldn’t touch their minds like he normally could either. Could he touch anyone’s? He reached for Raewen and his father. Nothing.
It didn’t matter. He forced himself to keep sprinting down the drive, ignoring the burn in his lungs. The smell of smoke strengthened, and his throat ached as it filled his nose and lungs. The heat in the air grew the closer he came to home.
Then he rounded the corner and saw it.
The entire mansion blazed, the fire angrily licking at the wood and anything else consumable. It raged through everything, flickering and leaping from the windows.
Rith froze for a minute and stared. How? How had this happened?
Where were his parents? And what about Raewen? His heart lurched. Raewen! She’d been planning to visit so they could announce their engagement. He’d been out celebrating the news with his sisters upon their insistence, but she should’ve arrived shortly before he did.
He broke into a run, rationality fleeing. Their motorized coach sat in the driveway where it should be, and he cursed, pushing himself to go faster. The heat seared his skin, but he ignored it, listening for any sign that anyone had survived.
He couldn’t call anyone for help. If they were in there, he was their only chance.
A scream lifted faintly from somewhere at the back of the house. Raewen. Were his parents with her? Why hadn’t they been able to get out? He sprinted around the side of the mansion, searching for any entrance point that wasn’t consumed with flame. The only part of the house untouched so far was the section without windows or outside doors. They must’ve been unable to break past the fire and had been forced to hide in the laundry room. But it wouldn’t be long before the flames reached them.
There wasn’t time to wait for help to come.
He called to the shadows again. They flickered in response but didn’t let him through. Sinking to his knees, he released a guttural scream and wrenched at the magic with all his might. Something inside snapped, and pain seared down every nerve in his body. He stiffened, screaming out of pain now instead of frustration. It shouldn’t feel like this. Why did it hurt so badly?
The screams inside the house grew louder before choking off. He stretched trembling fingers toward the house, his vision blurring. If he could just endure the pain, he could make the magic respond. He could save them all.
The shadows swirled around him, caressing his burning skin and whispering in agitated murmurs. They didn’t like what he was doing. The pain flared higher, and he dug his fingers into the cool grass beneath him. He would not lose them. He couldn’t.
With an agonized groan, he reached out to the magic again and screamed at it with his mind. Let me through! The shadows screamed alongside him, and then the world went dark as they sucked him in.
He was spit back out in the laundry room. Tumbling to a stop, he took in the situation, every nerve in his body still alight. Was this what it would feel like to have the fire rage inside of him? He sucked in a breath, the smoke and heat searing into his lungs. His gaze flew around the room before landing on three still forms in the back of the room. He’d found them.
Stumbling to his feet, he hurried to them. Each step cut into him as if he was walking barefoot across glass. His fingers trembled at his side, and the magic inside of him bucked against his restraint. Why was it acting like this? Why? He hadn’t been out of control like this since he was five.
He’d almost reached them when it happened.
The magic slammed into his walls of restraint and crashed through. Like a river blowing through a dam, it raged through him. The shadows in the room writhed in response, and his head felt like it was being split open. He dropped to his knees, clutching his head between his hands. Tears slid down his cheeks and evaporated as soon as they fell. Make it stop. Anyone, please, make it stop.
His vision blurred again, and he curled up in a ball on the floor, his own screams distant in his ears. Somewhere, he heard a muffled explosion. The ground trembled, and chunks of plaster from the ceiling hit him in the side. He couldn’t stay here. They couldn’t stare here.
He forced himself to his hands and knees, crawling toward his parents and fiancee. Maybe if he could reach them, he could portal them all away from here.
The wall behind them was webbed with cracks. He frowned, blinking. Was he hallucinating now too?
A groan vibrated through the floor and the walls. More chunks of plaster rained down on his back. Then the wall exploded backward, as though ripped out by an invisible hand. Rith collapsed, unable to hold his own weight. What was happening? His dazed mind couldn’t process any of it anymore. He stared at the ruined, jagged edges of the wall. Stared at the void beyond. The gloaming of dusk and his mother’s flower garden were no longer visible. Only blackness greeted him, deeper than any shadow he’d Stepped through.
Was this the end then? He lifted a trembling hand, wondering if the void could act as a portal. It was his last hope. He pushed himself back onto his hands and knees. Inch by inch, he crawled toward his parents and Raewen.
His head throbbed, and each movement was sheer torture. The magic rioting inside of him didn’t ease up. The darkness in the room deepened, swallowing up the forms of his loved ones. His limbs gave out again, and he slammed face first into the stone floor. A sob clawed from his sore throat, and he lay there, staring at the darkness. Then it swallowed him too, and the pain ceased as he gave in, letting it carry him away from the anguish in his soul.
That’s it for this week, everyone! I hope you enjoyed the piece. I’ll have a few more pieces on Flash Fiction Fridays showing more of Rith’s story if you liked this one. In the meantime, if you enjoyed this, you can learn more about his story in my novel Bane of Ashkarith, which releases at the end of July 2019.