Riley's Night

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Written by: Kyle

Prompt/Theme: Man against nature | Years before Caldera Awakening: 10

Tired from a day of picking fruit with her mother, Riley began climbing a sturdy tree in the dark. Mum always forbid her from working in the forge with her father, Riley much preferred the heat of a roaring furnace and the rhythmic drumming of metal being shaped than the blistering sun and droning of beetles. Neither mattered now. A pack of wolves separated her and her mother near sundown, her legs tired from running through the forest. The wolves kept pace, tiring and toying with their prey.

Clambering up the tree further and further, the wolves barking and howling below her. Snap. She had reached near the top, branches barely able to hold her, regaining her senses Riley moved further down the tree, low enough for branches to hold but high enough that the wolves can’t reach. The wolves started pacing around the tree in silence. She counted three but could hear more howling in the distance.

Riley assessing the situation pulls out a small steel knife from her pockets, one that she and her father made together and mother would surely take away if she had known. Slowly sawing at a branch, it breaks free, causing a large crack as it comes free from the tree. The wolves at the sights and sounds pick up their howls and growls again. Riley assuming that they’re upset that their dinner had run away. At that thought, her stomach grumbles too. Shifting in the tree, Riley bringing her left leg closer, as her right stays sturdy, holding her in place. With the knife cuts off the cuff of her burlap pants. She wraps in half a dozen times around one end of the freed branch.

Pulling a necklace out from under her shirt, on the end a small shard of flint that her father gave to keep her safe and a small witch’s ladder, made of twine and feathers given by her mother, also to keep Riley safe but from the spiritual rather than physical. Riley began pulling apart the witch’s ladder, the wolves becoming more aggressive start trying to jump up and climb the tree but failing in their attempts. Successfully broken down the ladder, she wraps the twine around the cloth and branch, securing it together. With no fat she knew the torch wouldn’t last long but hopefully long enough to give herself a chance to get away.

With the torch held between her knees, freeing her hands for the flint and steel knife, Riley strikes. Nothing but a harsh scrapping sound. A few more strikes, a spark. Another few more sparks light up, dazing Riley in the dark and cooling evening, a moment to regain vision and aim. The wolves growing more agitated. Bark. Scrape. Flash. Bark. Scrape. Flash. Bark. Scrape. Bark. Flash. Fire.

Fire! Riley’s vision had gone completely dark except for a small glowing ember, a gentle breath causing it to grow. Knowing she won’t have much time, Riley tucked the flint necklace away, knife back into its leather hold, and into her pocket. The torch was taking hold, only just now noticing the wolves had gone quiet. Looking down, they were pacing around the tree again just on the edge of the growing light; the heat reminding Riley of the forge and her father’s lessons within.

Assessing once more, Riley grips the rough torch tightly while making her way further down the tree, once low enough she felt safe jumping from and seeing the wolves growing bold again she flicks the fiery stick, shouting loudly “Back!”, the wolves seemed to listen, moving out of the torch’s light. A brief whistle of wind rushed her ears, her legs and arm prepared for impact.

Just as swiftly as she had landed, Riley was already running. She could hear the growling and panting from the wolves close behind. Taking a glance over her shoulder, she still had some distance between the wolves, keeping pacing at the edge of the flickering flame. Passing a large boulder, she darts left, then back right, around a thorny thicket. A thorn scratches her arm as she passes, in a moment of pain Riley glances back into the darkness behind her.

In a sudden snap, Riley’s foot felt no ground. Thoughts rush her mind, a pitfall? A hole? A cliff? It was too dark to see what was below. The now rushing wind extinguished the faltering flame. Her thoughts spiralled as she felt herself being thrown around, catching a brief sight of stars framed by a void.

Riley’s thoughts returned, sore and submerged under water. Her back slams into a hard surface, taking the chance she holds on and finds air. The water was moving quickly and would sweep one self away if not careful. Over the course of a few very painful minutes, Riley finds shallower waters in the darkness. The night sky disappeared aside from a few speckles.

Riley could hear the howls of the wolves far above, her eyes slowly adjusting to the darkness but unable to make out the wolves or any notable features. Able to make out ground, she pushes through the waters until her feet are no longer under the surface of water. Her vision still adjusting but attention brought to an unnatural formation. Unlike the rest of the jagged rock walls, a section of flat wall drew Riley’s sight.

Mesmerised, the distant howls and running water faded from her ears as she limped forward to the wall. Drawing closer, she hears a gentle and constant hum, not like that of a flowing river or droning of beetles. She places a hand on the wall, feeling cold metal and a soft vibration matching that of the hum.

Never had she seen nor heard of such craftsmanship, a large sheet of metal, uniformly smooth, no visible seams or edges. Who made it? What is it, and what is it for? Her cold and wet clothes bring her thoughts back. Looking around for an exit revealed none, Riley’s focused moved to finding warmth or at least a spot to wait until the sun rose.

Sunlight awoke Riley. Normally she found the morning sun rude, but today it felt warm and welcoming. The light peered through a distant opening down stream. She took her time getting up, now seeing bruises covering her legs and arms, although unable to see she felt her back feeling worse than anything else.

Painfully stretching, she studied the mysterious wall further. Even in the light she still could not find any clues to what it may be, the gentle hum unchanged. She estimated it was thrice her height and four times wide if she lay down, and that was just the part she could see.

As she followed the river down and out of the cave, her mind kept wandering back to the metal wall. Riley’s town has a river flowing nearby, she set out into the friendly sunlight. The area was unfamiliar but hoped that it lead to home.

The Sun was setting once more when she spied a distant and familiar light, the outskirts of town. Her muscles ached, but now was not the time to stop. The remaining travel was a blur, closing her eyes and opening to find herself closer, but no recollection of in between. Leaning on a post she heard voices calling out, with hazy figures rushing toward she collapsed.

Riley awoke to diffuse sunlight filling the room, her room, trying to sit up she let out a grunt, unable to move without pain. Her mother rushing in shortly after.

“Don’t move sweetie.” Her mother spoke in a soft voice as she readjusted the old pillow. “Rest now, you’re home.”

Riley relaxed her muscles as her mother leant down and kissed her forehead, almost like a spell to send her back to sleep.

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  • Last modified: 3 days ago
  • by kyledot