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First Submission: Dun
To Alan McCollum: Don’t put your foot down.
I stopped mid step. Looking down, noticed a green thumbtack lurking in the plush carpet of my home. Now, that would have been a bad beginning to my ninth birthday. I the next line of the letter..
Go to your room.
The stairs creaked a bit as I followed the instructions. when I tiptoed past my parents’ bedroom, I considered waking them. No, it’s Saturday morning. Let them sleep a little. Going to my room wouldn’t hurt anyone..
There is something on your bed. Pick it up.
So there was. I turned it over in my hands and examined the object, running my fingers over small grooves.
Happy birthday. This is yours. Touch the center ring and concentrate on a name: Dún.
That was the end of the letter. I shrugged, and put three small fingers on the circle carved into the center of the object and concentrated, wondering what would happen.
At first, nothing. Then, a tingling ran up my arm, making my whole body shudder. Energy pumped into my veins, though it was impossible to move, and a wild, piping melody filled my mind. Stunned, I watched with wide eyes as mesmerising strands of blue and gold light spilled out of the depressions in the object and streams of color washed over me. A flash, a sensation like being a Mento in a bottle of soda, and I was gone.
That was seven years ago.
Have you ever noticed a kid? A kid who sits in the back of the class, never speaks, is only there to learn, has no friends, and the moment your eyes slip away from him or her, you totally forget about it? It doesn’t matter what color their hair or skin is, whether Hispanic and black-haired or pale and strawberry-blond like me. It’s as if those kids aren’t important enough for you to even file them away in the back of your mind, and if someone asks about them ten seconds later, you’d say, “Who?”
There’s a reason they’re inconspicuous. Those kids are the protectors. Apprentices, or Siún. An example would be me.
A flash of confusion crossed Mr. Whitley’s face. “McCollum?”
“Here,” I confirmed.
He stared at me for a second without a hint of recognition, then looked back at the role list, like he did every day.
I liked history, but the way Mr. Whitley taught it, it never seemed to end. He’d throw in stupid facts and leave out most of the main lesson, like which of Shakespeare’s sisters married whom when we were supposed to be learning about the effects the Bard had on history. Therefore, I was totally justified in paying attention to other things. Like a bird outside the window, strutting across the Hardy Middle School parking lot. But then... It felt like a change in the air, and the hairs on the back of my neck slowly stood up... I jolted upright in my seat. The people next to me flinched, but didn’t do anything else. Gazing alertly now, trying to find what I knew was there, my eyes finally landed on a small, dark shape scurrying around outside. At first, my mind told me it was a squirrel, which could have been true from a different point of view, but I knew what it was.
The enemy of Dún. The point of having all the eyes slide from you, so no one will realize you’re gone, called to a battle. The Scáth are creatures of darkness, beings that inhabit the skulls of long-dead animals, creating bodies of black mist. A warrior of Dún keeps order in the world, whereas Scáth bring chaos, destruction, and death.
To be sure, I pulled out the present that had been left on my bed so long ago. It was a wooden rectangle, just bigger than my hand, with an intricate knot design burned in fine lines onto it. A triangle pointing down with a ring in the middle, and three loops, one going around each corner, connected in the middle. The most valuable tool to a warrior beside a weapon. The Knot is able to teleport him or her to Dún, a great castle and fortress in the other realm, or other close by Knots. Other uses are conveying messages and sensing Scáth. And now, the Knot was glowing purple. No doubt about it now, there was one out there.
I raised my hand.
“Alan. Can I use the restroom, sir?”
“Oh. Of course. Pass, please.”
Mr. Whitley signed my hall pass, looking a little befuddled, and handed it back to me before continuing on with the lesson.
I strode quietly to the closest exit. The Scáth out there didn’t look very dangerous; It was, definitely, an imitation of a squirrel. A small, white skull and a black body made of dark mist. Just sitting there in the middle of the lot with it’s back to me. It had to be a trap.
No, I’d fought the Scáth before. They can form clans and find lairs, just like animals, but have they ever had brains enough to set up an ambush? Definitely not.
Kneeling down, I reached into my backpack and brought out a stick shaped like a boomerang folded in half and a strong cord. After a second of assembly I had a short bow in my hands, another reason to not be noticed. I cracked the door open wide enough to squeeze through, and, half crouching, ran behind a close garbage can as silently as I could. I nocked an arrow, aimed, and drew back my arm.
Thunk! The arrow came out right between the skull’s eyes, and as the Scáth’s physical connection shattered, the misty body dissipated. I held my breath, expecting a rhino-sized shadow to come barreling from behind a tree across the street. Nothing!
I relaxed as I went to retrieve my arrow. As I passed the fragments of bone, I saw something strange, though. There, on the piece that used to be a forehead, was a disc the size of a penny, glowing with an unnaturally green light. I bent to look at it, but a feral growling made me freeze.
While the disc had distracted me, seven wolf shapes had sprouted out of nowhere. Well, what do you know. A trap. Slowly, I reached for another arrow, and the growling grew. I noticed something else: all of the wolf Scáth had a glowing disc right above their eyes. Did someone put them there?
While I was thinking, one got impatient and lunged. I dodged it, but the others followed. I managed to break out of the circle and started running while the animals nipped at my heels. Still sprinting at full speed, I snatched the Knot from my pocket and pushed on the center, concentrating on a message. I couldn’t just go to Dún, that would be shirking my duty, but I could get out a cry for help! The center ring flashed gold for a second, getting my call out to others.
I kept going. I took several turns and tried to shake the monsters off. It didn’t work. They were right behind me the whole time, baying the echoes of howls. Trying to shoot at moving targets backward while running probably wasn’t going to work. I cried out as I felt claws that were surprisingly solid rake my leg, but loped on. Why weren’t they here yet? I made it to Dumbarton Park, when another set of claws clawed my shoe and I fell. The moment I hit the ground I flipped over and used the momentum of the lunging wolf to throw it over my head. The other Scáths were just a second behind, but that gave me enough time to right myself.
No more running. Another arrow fit onto the string, but then I saw the Knot was glowing in my pocket. There we go. Light stretched from the mark in three directions, and resolved into three friends. “Hey,” I panted, “Nice of you to come.”
David grinned back. “Couldn’t let you have all the fun, could we? Other Siún never get jobs like this. Woah!” He whipped out a hunting knife that sank into a pouncing wolf.
Christie and Glenn were there, too. I’d known these guys since my first year of training, and no one could ask for better comrades.
Six wolves now. Two charged for me, teeth clattering. An arrow whistled, but just grazed the Scáth on the left. Ducking and rolling as they lunged simultaneously, I swung my bow and knocked one off to my right, and it smacked into the wolf attacking Christie. The one now behind me started circling, then darted forward, but was dropped by the arrow in it’s skull.
Things went wrong then. A shout made me turn. One of the creatures was dragging away Glenn by his ankle. Christie and David were battling the other two. My arrow didn’t miss the Scáth, but didn’t hit the skull, either. With the arrow lodged in its side, the wolf pulled Glenn behind a patch of trees faster than I could loose another arrow, and one of the remaining wolves hit the small of my back. When I fell, the wolf leaped onto my shoulders, but the weight crumbled as David stuck his knife through the bony head.
“That the last of them?” he asked.
One more Scáth dissolved under Christie’s sword. “Yeah.”
“Wait. Guys. Did anyone catch the one that got Glenn?”
They looked at each other, and we ran over to the clump of trees.
No Scáth. No Glenn. Just a patch of smoldering grass.