Gali’s brain may as well have been made of lead. Or maybe he now knew how the sea felt, propping up the continents.
He followed Mia back to Dai, torn between hating her for freaking out and wanting to apologise. At some point he was going to have to return anyway. Best at night, whilst there was no one around. He dearly wished he could talk to her again now that the stress and pressure had died down a bit. Now that he was thinking just a little bit clearer.
It terrified him, caught in moments like this, that he felt as if his personality had broken down. Was he still the man he had been all these years? When moments of clarity hit him it seemed as if he was behaving like another person, and that scared him. What scared him more was the sense that although he knew he was behaving like – well, like a madman – that he was still powerless to stop himself. It was as if his personality had become a tenuous thing changing from one minute to the next. Could this be who he was now?
It was an insidious thing, like being betrayed by your closest friend, but fundamentally different. He was being betrayed by his own mind. The conflict within him served only to make that worse. Maybe it was fundamentally fuelling it. He didn’t know. He had wanted to talk to someone, but when Mia had appeared he could only feel angry and…
The quietness of Dai was not its normal sleeping quietness. All these tilted bungalows of thin wood weren’t as light as they normally would be, with a few lanterns always burning. There were less little sounds – or rather, the faint sound of voices were all concentrated up the hill. Something was happening. Gali’s stomach went cold.
There were people inside the accountancy. Gali moved to the West window and hid under it. Phei Tyrso, a local hunter, was making his self-important and invariably inane opinion heard. ‘The boy is a monster; always has been. We should have kicked him out a long time ago.’
Gali stared off into the night. There was a tree nearby, hunched over a communal shed used by local farmers, and an owl was resting on its branches. He was not sure he had ever seen an owl before. Its eyes flashed disconcerting as the moonlight caught them. He closed his eyes and waited for the inevitable chorus of agreement. Was Phei right this time? Was he a monster?
‘What if he was the one who defiled Heero’s grave?’ That was Heero’s mother. He wanted to tell her, wanted her to understand, that Heero could still be saved. Were they all so stupid and narrow minded that they could not see this? So dead-set on being stupid? Gali was not prepared to let Heero die because of their ignorance. He had only just got these new powers. If he could bring Heero back for a short time, soon he would be able to bring him back fully. Any fool could see that.
‘We need to bring him in,’ said Galus. He was a senior member of the community – code for “important because he is old and loud” – and had never been one of Gali’s biggest fans. Surely there must be someone willing to stand up for him? Did this town even deserve saving?
Everyone talked of Monrath and his crusade against the innocent people of the Kingdom. Were they innocent though, so keen to ostracise an unusually ugly man at the drop of a hat. Did these people deserve saving? He looked again into the night and realised that he couldn’t really see much. Only Dai, and the darkness that swallowed up everything beyond its walls. If he was to leave he would have nowhere to go. This was his world.
‘No,’ said Mia, ‘it’s not like that-’ Someone else talked over her and Mia’s pleas died. In her own way, she made him angrier than the rest. Was he only worth that feeble effort? Even his closest friends, it seemed, would go to no more an effort than a token defence. If even Mia cared so little, what had he hoped to achieve coming back here?
They were going to lynch him. Nobody had mentioned it yet, still talking about casting him out, but there was ugliness to the mood that made his stomach go cold. He was not sure he had ever encountered anything like it. Harsh disapproval, fear; sure. This? This was angry and violent and desperate. He could feel it against his skin, as if the light from the window was generated by the atmosphere inside the accountancy.
What was he to do? He couldn’t just leave now. They’d chase him. And why should he? What had he done? He was the Dark Messenger now, he was their saviour, and all they could do was bay for his blood like hungry wolves. Had this always been inevitable? He felt a fool for putting up with the distrust, the paranoia, all these years, for telling himself he was being the better man. They all, even Mia, didn’t deserve to win, and simply drive him out of town. He would show them what his powers could do.
It took him a while to move. Although his mind was made up – he knew for sure what he needed to do – it was difficult to take that first step. Perhaps he knew he was standing on the edge of a doorway that would lock behind him. These were people that he had grown up with, could he really? Should he? Maybe they wouldn’t-
A familiar voice: ‘I always felt that the boy was something unnatural. Maybe he was really a demon, an evil spirit, in the guise of a young child. The older he grew, more and more this seemed to be the case. Don’t any of you see? This was always inevitable. If not this, something like this. The details are unimportant – this boy, this bad spirit, was always going to bring doom upon us.
‘We need to get rid of him. We need to expunge this crime against nature from our town! I’ve thought long about it – the presence of him has haunted me at night. I wonder, often, about the role I played in this. I’ve been telling you all for years, but now you can all see. There’s only one way to deal with my son.’
Gali looked out into the night, back down the mountain. He knew, too, that there was only one path left open to him.
Mia sat on the stage. It had taken a while, but finally the words had come to her. She knew how to explain what was happening. She knew how to say that Gali was a good person; that he was just confused because something terrible had happened to him, just as it had happened to them all. It had taken a while, but the words had finally come to her.
‘Come on Mia,’ said Opi, ‘you should go home.’ Only Opi, Taltin and herself were left in the hall. Everyone else was gone. They were going to kill him.
‘Should I?’ asked Mia. She felt weirdly angry at Opi for suggesting that, although she was sure that it was not him she should be angry at. Still, didn’t he realise that this was directly involving her friend?
Taltin pulled himself up beside her and buried his head in his hands. She wondered if he was crying. She put her hand on his shoulder. He was probably scared, and she was glad her own hand was not shaking. Would hardly have been comforting him if it was.
‘Where are your parents?’ Opi asked. ‘Weren’t they here tonight?’
‘Taltin’s parents wanted him to come,’ said Mia.
‘They left thinking I was following them,’ said Taltin quietly, ‘sorry, I’m being such a coward.’ Hollo had left too, to observe her evening prayer session. It was just like her to put that strange faith, that no one else had ever heard of, above the well-being of one of her friends. Mia felt like a terrible person for thinking like this, but today she just really didn’t like Hollo.
‘You need to go home Mia,’ said Opi. He looked a bit shell-shocked. Whatever he was hoping to get out of the town meeting, it obviously had not been that. She felt sorry for the old outsider who did not know what he was doing. He probably felt that he had caused all this.
‘I need to help Gali,’ she said, ‘I – I don’t think they will kill him, but it…This is all just so wrong. Everyone’s just scared, no one has to die.’ It felt as if there had been a window for her to stop all this happening, just one chance. No way was she going to let the feeling powerlessness that threatened to smother her win.
‘Nothing else you can do Mia,’ said Opi, ‘just wait until the morning. It’ll be fine, I promise.’
‘No,’ said Mia, ‘there is one thing we can do. We have to find Gali before they do.’
Crowds have minds, or at very least they have moods. This one was not an angry, or even necessarily violent crowd, but it was scared and it was volatile. It did not really know what it was doing or hoped to accomplish. Most of those in it did not know what was going on, and those who did thought they did didn’t.
They moved nervously, cagily. Herald’s Point, the girl had said she had found him. So they climbed the steep and too-narrow trail towards the overhang. There was a sign, by the road side, regularly repainted by an anonymous person from the town, which read: WATCH FOR THE HERALD’S GHOST.
Herald’s Point it was called, because the Third King’s Herald had killed himself. Just before the peak of King Thiamat’s reign there had been a great crisis, and the schisms that spread through the country had threatened to tear it in two. During this time King Thiamat toured the whole country. A day before he arrived, the story went, his herald, Misa, had appeared a day early to announce and prepare for his arrival she had seemed haggard and distracted. Despairing, almost. She spoke of the imminent death of the country of the illness of the king. None of the preparations were made – whenever the locals asked what they should do, she threw angry and dismissive tantrums, or sulked. She came only to sell doom, it seemed. During the night she disappeared one of the villagers, a hunter hunting by night, claimed they saw a woman dressed in white fall from Herald’s Point. It was rationalised that she had killed herself. There were tweaks and slightly different versions of the stories, and a couple of theories that were very much conspiratorial. These details were the ones, however, that were generally agreed on.
In the dark the trail seemed like an appropriate walk, for someone living in a doomed world, walking towards their death. Twisted branches and dense shrubbery, only barely touched by the sickly silver moonlight.
Gali was waiting for them up there. The moon was behind his head, and the light from the smattering of torches the mob had found made him seems almost red, with white light tracing his silhouette. ‘Why are you doing this? I am your saviour! I’m the Dark Messenger now!’
‘No,’ said that familiar voice, ‘you’re a freak and a monster.’
‘How dare you!’ said Gali. ‘You have no idea what it feels like, this weight I’m carrying!’
Gali’s father stepped forward. He was not a remarkably ugly man, not like Gali, but he was certainly an ugly man. ‘You may have convinced the poor little ghost girl of that, but not me. I’ve always known you’re not my son. Whether or not your mother knew she had been touched by evil before you killed her, with your first moments in this world, I don’t know, but you’ve been nothing but evil since the start. Cast yourself off the edge demon, rid us, rid the world of your presence.’
‘No! This isn’t fair! You’re wrong, you’re wrong about everything!’
‘You think I don’t know that I should have had a son before you replaced him within my wife? You’ve always been a murder, always been evil, and finally we can all see it.’ Gali’s father was walking towards him. ‘It is time you left this world, one way or another.’
‘All of you stay back,’ said Gali, ‘protect.’ From out of the forests emerged the dead warriors of the First King. More armour than bone, glinting like slimy silver scales under the moon despite having been buried. Gali had never seen metal like the metal that the armour was made from. How had it remained so polished for so long?
The dead warriors moved with a deadly slowness. There were not as many of them as there was villagers, but the villagers nonetheless withdrew slowly towards each other, hunching into a tighter group. Gali did not feel any safer with the long dead soldiers standing either side of him, but at least it looked like the villagers were retreating.
‘See, I told you so! The boy is evil!’ Gali’s father ran at him and grabbed him, knocking him over. Gali found himself suddenly nose to nose with the man, whose wide, mad eyes bore into him. ‘I’m so tired of being guilty, so tired of feeling weak. It is time I finally exorcised you from my life, demon!’ Hands grasped him around the throat.
He did not realise that a sword had plunged through his father’s back until his father died on top of him. ‘What, no, I didn’t-’ But had that been what he had wanted all along. When he had said those words had he wanted his soldiers to kill his father? Maybe he had. Maybe that was exactly what he had wanted of them.
Either way, he was a murderer. He looked at his father’s body, lolling to the side as he turned it over. He could feel things whirly, swirling inside him. This was no longer the world he knew, this was no longer the life he lived: things were so different. He was living somewhere else. This felt real but differently real. Not like real real.
The villagers were shouting, backing away as his warriors advanced, blades ready. They had come here to kill him, hadn’t they? Why shouldn’t they, themselves, be ready to fight? Cowards, only willing to kill him if they thought he would not fight back. He had felt it back at the Accountancy too; they were killing him because they were scared, because he was different. None of them were better than his father. He wasn’t a monster, or even a murderer. He was just defending himself.
His hand was covered in blood, and he was not sure where it had come from. Soon, both hands would be.