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       Eldnium, p.36

           Enoch Pyle, Jr

  It was a long walk to the village. They crossed the valley in a straight line, avoiding hot spots that were still sizzling with coals. Along the way, Landon told Jackson everything he knew about the Oracle, the prophecies, and the purpose of all heroes.

  Jackson was understandably taken aback by the information, but he accepted it well enough. Like all heroes, he had to. There wasn’t a better explanation for how he could travel through time. There wasn’t a better explanation for how Landon could absorb the qualities of the matter around him just by touching it with his fingers.

  As they approached the village, the details of its demise went from grisly to gruesome. Charred bodies littered the streets, smoke still rising from their burned flesh. The smell was acrid, and caused both Landon and Jackson to gag and cover their mouths with their shirts.

  “They didn’t have time to get away,” Landon noticed aloud.

  “That’s strange,” Jackson agreed. “You’d think they might have seen it coming.”

  “Unless this wasn’t done by a wildfire,” Landon said. “What if…” his voice broke off.

  “What if what?”

  “What if the Seeker did this? Looking for me?”

  “You think? It seems like it should have known what you were after…”

  Just then, from beside the smoldering pile of rubble that Landon recognized as what once was the blacksmith’s shop, a cracked and whispered voice struggled through the air.

  “…help me…”

  “Did you hear that?” Jackson asked.

  “Yeah…shhhhh…” Landon cocked his head, listening intently.

  “…please…” it came again.

  “Over here,” Jackson said, and Landon followed him to the black and devastated body of a young girl lying on the ground, her clothes burned away, her flesh melted and black as ash. She was barely recognizable as human.

  “…help…” she whispered again, trying to reach out with her fingers, but her skin was too burned to allow any movement. Landon and Jackson could see the muscles on her bones working to mobilize her hand, but she was too badly injured.

  “What can I do?” Landon asked.

  Her eyes were white and scarred, shriveled within their sockets, but Landon could still see a life within them. She was sad. Hopeless.

  “…kill me…” she begged. One eye blinked, the lids of the other were burned away.

  Landon fell backward, his body plopping into the ash on the ground and sending a cloud of it into the air with a puff. “I can’t…” he said in a whisper.

  The girl let out a gurgling sound, and Landon knew she was moaning…crying…pleading…

  “We have to,” Jackson said.

  “What?” Landon protested. “I can’t. We can’t. We can’t kill her!”

  Jackson said, “I can do it. If it’ll put her out of her misery, I can do it.”

  “No, you can’t!” Landon continued to argue.

  But the girl whispered, “…please…please…please…” and Landon thought he saw a tear forming in the corner of one of her eyes, though how such a thing was possible, he didn’t know.

  “I’ll do it,” Jackson said. “It’s fine. Give me the bow. I’ll do it.”

  “I can’t watch this,” Landon said, and he threw down the bow and arrow and turned, running to the other side of what once was the village’s main courtyard, burying his head in his hands.

  And then he heard a thwump, and he knew. She was dead.

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