The Chronicles of Jarren the Bone-Dancer
by Christopher Coyle
Title: You Can Never Go Back
Series: The Chronicles of Jarren the Bone-Dancer
Chapter: One Chapter
Date Posted: Oct. 2003
Author: Christopher Coyle
Author Website: http://www.ccoyle.com
I fled. I had no choice. My skin felt too tight for my body, a fire burned in my stomach and my head pounded with a violence threatening to send me spiraling into oblivion at any moment. I turned from the terrible tableau unfolding before me and pushed my way through the teeming mass of bodies, uncaring of who saw my face or who I had to push aside. The stench of their enjoyment mingled with the sickly-sweet scent of viscera and squeezed its way past my clenched fingers to fill my nostrils with its cloying perfume.
The heavy door to the room was only a temporary impediment. A jerk of my wrist, the application of my shoulder against the door, and I was outside. The cold, moist air hit me like a fist, but it was a welcome relief from the oppressive heat in the examination room. I inhaled deeply, my hand falling from my face so that I could breathe in the night air. But, even outside, I could not escape what I had seen. Even as the door slammed shut behind me, I could still hear them talking excitedly about the body they were examining.
The stranger had stumbled into our village shortly after midday. He mumbled something before he collapsed, but his words quickly suffered as all such does from the wagging tongues. He lay there, untouched, for almost an hour after he fell, for my people were too afraid of approaching, mistrusting that the demon had truly fallen. Then they descended upon him like vultures, swiftly carrying his body to my father’s house. Besides being the village’s leader, my father also tended to the physical woes of the villagers. That was when I first caught sight of the demon, when they carried his limp, unresisting body through the door and laid him down upon the table.
My curiosity drew me over after the others had left to find my father. At first glance, the stranger looked dead, except for the occasional, shallow rise and fall of his bare chest. Only a pair of tattered, ripped pants covered his lower body, showing a map of burns and bruises crisscrossing his torso. It looked like he had been struck repeatedly with a burning brand.
It seemed impossible to me that a demon could be burned, much less be as badly wounded as the stranger had been. Once, he must have been truly beautiful, for behind the bruises and scorched flesh of his face, you could still see the ghost of his former grandeur. His hair had escaped the plaits it had been braided in, tangled with twigs and leaves and hanging wildly about his injured features. Immediately, it was apparent that he was one of them. One of the demons from the south.
Hesitantly, I reached out a trembling hand to touch him, to see if he was flesh and blood. Before I could touch him, however, the door burst open and my father stood there.
“Get away from him, Jarren,” he barked in a tone that brooked no disobedience. Pulling my hand back so quickly caused me to stumble backwards, leaving room for my father and the men who had carried the stranger to crowd in around the table.
My back against the wall, I watched with morbid fascination as my father began to work upon the stranger. The stranger’s pants had to be soaked in water before they could be cut off of him, for they become crusted with blood and ichor from wounds that had not been apparent before. The moment that my father had removed the stranger’s pants completely, it became immediately apparent to them that the stranger was truly different when my father stumbled back with a startled exclamation and one of the others yelled out in disgust. Apparently, I had realized far more swiftly what the stranger was before they had.
The demons are built differently than people. Their bodies are different, somehow combining aspects of male and female anatomy to create a set of genitalia that was fascinating, at least to my gaze. It was obvious the others in the room did not share my fascination, except my father.
He took the other three men off to the side, gathering them together as he whispered something urgently in a low voice. I probably could have listened in, and looking back, I wish that I had, but I could not tear my attention away from the fallen demon before me. No, he wasn’t a demon. If anything, I thought of him as an angel who had been through hell.
“Jarren, stay here,” my father’s voice broke the glamour I had been caught in. As I looked over at him, his face was serious, but there burned a strange, curious light in his eyes.
“Watch the demon until we get back,” my father continued as he and the others left, leaving me alone once again.
Bemused by my father’s rather abrupt disappearance, I stood there against the wall, unsure of what to do. I probably would have stayed there until my father returned if the demon hadn’t groaned out loud, his eyes fluttering open as he looked around in confusion.
“Where am I?” he mumbled softly as his pale, pale eyes finally settled upon me. I felt trapped by those eyes. They were a translucent jade and surprisingly sharp for someone who had been unconscious moments before.
“You…you’re in Kreslow,” I stuttered, unable to look away from the stranger’s eyes.
His brow furrowed in confusion, but the stress upon the burns on his face caused him to grimace in pain instead. He tried to push himself up, but even before he raised his torso, he groaned in pain and slumped back against the hard wood of the table he was laying on.
I reached forward, pressing my hands lightly against his chest, trying not to cause any more pain than he must already be in. “Please, rest. My father will be back soon. He can help you.”
The stranger shook his head, “No, he cannot…” Suddenly, the stranger’s voice broke off as he was caught by a fit of choking. The blood flecking his whitened lips frightened me, but I tried to smile reassuringly as I brushed his hair out of his face.
“You’ll be fine,” I tried to reassure him, but I don’t think that he heard me before he slipped back into unconsciousness.