by F. Charles Murdock
Every child in the small cropping village of Kōstof had heard this whisper, had been ensnared by it while they slept in their humble beds. Dreams were rare in this part of Krytherion -- “central Southron,” the locals called it. This night, though, had brought with it not a single dream to a single child, but an grand dream shared between every child at once, as though not a door had been opened to the Dream Realm, but a flood gate.
“You needn’t awaken to follow...”
This was no mere suggestion, but a powerful command to the bound minds of the children. Thus they followed without hesitation. Each left the comfort of their beds, their eyes clamped shut, their minds no longer theirs. Some slipped out of town unnoticed, others knocked aside their confounded parents with ungodly strength. In fivescore heartbeats (even such as quickened by the strange events unfolding that night), Kōstof was childless, the screams of distraught mothers punctuating the tragedy.
So the senseless children left their hometown, their parents unable to follow as their passage was barred by some unseen magick at the gate. And the terror didn’t cease even when the last child was out of sight for the shadows of the town seemed to take life and fight. See well how man and woman were pitted against their very shades that night, how once gentle houses fell to ruin and how the adjacent boneyard grew three sizes before Solrise.
“To me, children...”
Still the whispers beckoned the children over the twilit plain. They marched without word, all their muddied feet guided by that sinister voice.
“I’ll keep you safe, o sons and daughters...”
The children smiled at this, their teeth like diamonds in the dark. High above, a grand light was unfolding between the constellations of Āxion the Harvester and Xenos the Arcane. Something was plummeting to the Inner World, though a thousand iles away, it seemed. The children didn’t see this, of course, for their eyes were inward and darkened.
“Safe from the doom who fast approaches...”
The children were humming now like a swarm of angry locusts. Their wretched song filled the plain, driving away both avian and beast. The warble rose and fell like a god-killer’s blade until it was the only sound within iles -- even the cool breath of night was silenced by the children’s nonsong.
And so the little feet marched on, converging into a uniform stride like Turin’s terrible armies of old. The children cut through forest and swamp as night whispered its dark secrets. The brilliant light above spiraled like some strange galaxy and then faded. The Inner World shuttered in its wake.
In their shared dream, the children could see eyes, crimson and terrible. To be true, they looked like glass basins filled with fresh blood, a pair of hazy pupils seeming to swim frantically in each. The eyes belonged to the Whisperer, though no lips or wicked tongue could be seen. Perhaps ‘tis the eyes that speak to us, the children would’ve remarked had they been able to think for themselves.
No longer a whisper, but a growl. The blackness within their minds seemed to thicken and curdle like stale blood. They were helpless and scared, all the while their tired bodies marched on.
Hours later, the children had taken pause in the Western Glade, called Fatalfayth by some, the Unseen Door by others. They had been drawn to its heart by a voice that had devolved into hisses and cackling. Now they stood and waited for the Whisperer to show. Each had a vague notion of impending doom, but mesmerism is a potent poison, especially in the hands of such a cunning and able apothecary.
There they stood and waited a few more hours, their eyes open and unblinking as they peered into the mouth of an obscured cavern before them. Their pupils had dilated past the whites of their eyes, the light of innocence having been stolen from them that night.
The shadows of the Western Glade seemed to stir suddenly just as the shades of Kōstof had many hours before. They didn’t take form this time, but instead became a shroud for an approaching figure. None of the children turned to meet the Whisperer for its eyes were already deep within them.
“Into the cave, children...”
The children followed the command like a death-dealer’s drove.
“Aye, into your tomb...”
The youth of Kōstof strode into the darkness of the cavern, their taker behind them. And when they had assembled within, the Whisperer came to the mouth of the cave and bared its jagged teeth in a smile.
“You need not worry, children, for the fool will be along to save you... and then he, too, will be my property.”
The children nodded in unison.
Satisfied with its sinister work, the Whisperer released the children from its spell, the once-silent glade filling immediately with shrieks of bewilderment. They knew not where they were or what had transpired, only that they’d all had a terrible dream about a whisper in the dark.
Some of the children resigned themselves to whimpering and calling out for help, others rallied to look for a way out. Escape was impossible, though, for their master had shut them in. As it had spoken that last word, the Whisperer had scattered the shadows and assembled them into a black gate where the entrance to the cave had been. Then it faded from sight to wait for their savior to come.