The Man Without: Chapter 6 — When the Clock Strikes Midnight…
The Sixth Chapter of The Man Without by Nathan Marchand
“Okay, let’s do this right.” Skorii said to herself.
The arrow soared through the air, barely arching as it flew towards the target. Fletching rippled graceful as… as… it completely missed and shattered against a rock twenty feet past the tree she had hung the target on.
Rage boiled in her chest. No. No. Remember what you were taught. Be at peace. Be still. Be purposeful. Be calm.
Skorii lowered the bow.
Skorii grabbed an arrow from the quiver.
Skorii notched the arrow.
Skorii raised the bow.
Skorii pulled the string back, her thumb barely touching her cheek.
Skorii breathed in.
“Hey! Where’d ya get the bow?”
She jumped in shock and released the arrow on instinct. With a dull “thunk”, it hit the tree — four feet below the target, halfway into the dirt. Another miss.
“Thaor.” The word came out harsh and guttural. “Is there some… reason you’re here?”
“There was something, yeah,” he said. Skorii lowered the bow and turned to her fellow Lineman.
He didn’t continue. Sighing and pushing down the need to brutally mangle her friend, Skorii retrieved her arrows, one covered in dirt, the other in pieces. Looks like she would be spending another night making Mala more arrow shafts. Maybe she could convince the cook to let her have more chicken feathers for the fletching.
“Weren’t you going to say something?”
“Yeah, I was, wasn’t I.” Thaor looked off into the middle distance. “What was it?”
“If you can’t remember it, then it wasn’t important enough to bother me.” Skorii put the surviving arrow back into the quiver and slung it onto her back. The broken shaft stayed in her hand. If Thaor kept being annoying, she would have something to stab him with.
“No, it was definitely important. Here, I’ll follow you back to the Scout’s camp to give Mala her bow back. Maybe then, I’ll remember it.” Thaor said.
Thaor interrupted Skorii. “Mala’s the only one who would let you borrow hers. Especially after you broke Hani’s bowstring and four of Hilda’s shafts, chipped the heads on Faegrid’s arrows, and-”
“Fine, fine. You don’t need to list them all. You can come with me.” Thaor smiled.
“Good. Cause I really needed to talk to you. By Buuri’s rotten left tooth, I can’t remember why.”
“What’d you do to my bow?” Mala asked Skorii. Mala and the Scouts had their own camp at the head of the army, their fire shone in the fading twilight like the eye of some massive beast. The other Scouts were cooking their dinner around the cookfire, their Skordas Lanterns edging the camp. The dark-gems seemed more black then grey, their power fading as the Days Without grew ever closer.
“Are you saying I’m not responsible with my friend’s things?”
Mala laughed. “Should I ask Hilda, Hani, or Faegrid?”
“Is this pick on Skoii-night?” Skorii asked, feigning offence.
“Is it break Mala’s bow-night?”
Thaor laughed behind her. He stood off at a distance out of respect for the Scouts. They liked their privacy and didn’t care much for intruders or interlopers. Skorii was the obvious exception.
“Fine, fine. I didn’t break the bow. Just one arrow. I still have the head and the fletching so I can make you a new one easy.”
“Uh, uh, uh.” Mala wagged her finger. “That wasn’t the deal. When you asked if you could borrow it, you said if you broke any of them, you’d make me ten for every one you broke.”
Ash and eld, she had said that.
“Sure. I will. Gimme a day or two, and I’ll get them to you.” Skorii said.
“You better, or else you’re never seeing Silmar ever again.” Mala grabbed her bow and quiver from Skorii, holding both tightly to her chest. Was she… talking to it?
“Don’t worry, momma’s here.” Mala whispered to her weapon.
“You named your bow?” Skorii asked incredulously.
“Don’t you have arrows to make me?”
“Actually, she has guard duty.” Thaor chimed in.
“What? Tonight’s my free night. Jomir said he had a keg, the real Selatan stuff. He was gonna break it open.”
“Oh, that? He and the boys drank that two nights ago. Sorry, but that’s what I forgot to tell you. The captain said that you and I had the guard shift for the prison cart from dusk to dawn.”
Skorii groaned, but didn’t protest any more. She and Thaor said their goodbyes to Mala and let the woman get back to her dinner.
The two of them walked off to find what they could by the way of dinner before they spent all night watching a half-dead man sleep.
The Witching Hour.
The blackest time before the dawn.
As it approached, Arko found himself unable to sleep. His mind raced, his heart pounded. Something was terribly wrong, horribly wrong. He felt… short of breath, no that wasn’t it. His muscles felt weak but… that wasn’t the feeling either.
He… felt… thin. Yes, thin was the right word.
Arko felt as though he was being thinned out, like too little jam over too much bread. Like the last lump of mortar being spread across too many bricks. Like his flesh, his soul was being pressed together as though a baker was making flatbread with his essence.
But those metaphors didn’t give it justice. It wasn’t just thinness, but a pulling sensation. Like water being funneled or cloth being pulled through a ring.
Arko’s very being shook as he felt more and more of himself being pulled away, his soul getting thinner and thinner.
Is this what death felt like? He wondered. Had the Lord Under come for his soul, to reap him like a farmer reaps wheat?
No, he would not die like this, unknown, forgotten. So he fought.
He fought against the pull.
Arko tried to tug his very being away from the cold clutches of death. And he failed.
Arko’s soul was pulled away.
And he was gone.
Dawn rose on the first holy day, the first Day Without. The Day of Remembrance it was called. A day to remember the past year and be thankful for what you were given. A day to celebrate the overcoming of hardship, the perseverance of lasting another year, survival itself.
On this day, this day to look to the past, the man without a past looked forward.
A man who had not awoken in years opened his eyes to face the dawn.