Camille's Way Home - Chapter 1: Awakened
Her breath was rapid and short. Each stride that was taken was one that came from a need for safety. Beads of sweat dripped down her face, occasionally merging with the constant tears pooling from her eyes. Camille was not sure why she was running, nor was she aware that she was doing so in that moment. It was when her vision came back that she realized her movement. In a strange twist, it felt as if she had just woken from traumatizing night terror, but her body had reacted long before the nightmare was over.
Run. I need to keep running. The thought lingered. The commanding whisper grew louder with each pressing step, as if she weren’t fast enough. Despite the burn of the lactic acid in her legs, Camille forced her feet to push harder against the ground. I’m not far enough away yet. Each inhale allowed her another set of steps until a sharp pain darted through her ribs; her body demanded pause. The sprint turned to a jog, which turned into a walk, before reaching the base of a cliff that loomed beyond her sight.
Gasping for air with her hand rested against the cliffside, Camille noticed the strange bloodstained tone of the soil surrounding her. The image of a thousand slayed bodies flashed in Camille’s mind. Children, adults, even elders; some with their throats slit open, others missing appendages, some decapitated; it was just one second, but even that felt too long. Urges to vomit boiled in her stomach, followed by a dizzying lightheadedness.
Regaining her composure, her eyes fixed back to the ground, noticing the red soil was actually a sea of leaves; leaving every tree bare. Had the trees been in full bloom, no light would reach below, with the exception of the only trail that lead Camille to the base. Unlike the rest of the forest, the branches seemed to curve away from the path, leaving a dimly lit path. Where am I? she thought. Nothing about her surroundings seemed familiar, or what should have been familiar.
Try as she might, it was apparent that she could not recollect much. With her eyes closed and a deep sigh, the only memory that surfaced was her awakening while running. While frustration began to rise, the feeling was quickly overshadowed by how complex Camille’s current situation was. There was no one to reach out to, nothing to call her own, thoughts of being chased, but worst was the hopelessness. Like a darkness void of sound, smell, touch, sight, even emotion, it sat, gnawing slowly from within. Wh-what the hell is going on?I... I… this… can’t be real. This has to be a dream… It has to. Looking at the trees, as if something might have changed from when she first saw them, Camille grew more jittery the more she found nothing in her thoughts. Her eyes darted from the woods to the pathway to the cliffside and finally to herself, rather, her arm. Pulling back the sleeve of her sweater she grasped a lump of skin with her nails. Forcing her fingers closer together, a familiar pain began to sooth Camille as blood began to run down her arm. This was no dream, and if it was, the pain was real.
“Help me,” she whispered.
Tears began to well inside her eyes as she took a seat on the floor, resting against the cliffside. Each sniffle, weaker than the last, forced her to use her sweater to wipe her dripping face. Camille retracted and hugged her legs, as she continued to cry in her lap. You need to move, she heard. You need to get out of here. This isn’t where you belong. Wiping her face once more, she said meekly, “I know I need to go, but where?” She waited for an answer but found nothing. Finally, she said to herself, “just go.”
Timid, she rose to her feet in hopes of shedding any fear. The battle against the darkness was no easy task. All it wanted was for her to sit back on the floor and cry, for beyond the path, the unknown and full of terror. Refusing to give in, Camille took her first step, instantly feeling the sensation of needles piecing through every pore. Lie down again. You don’t need to go out there. Refusing to comply, Camille stood tall, her eyes shut, remembering that moments prior realizing all she knew was to run.
With a deep sigh, Camille opened her eyes and ran once more. There was a reason to her running, one that might lead to an answer. The crunching of leaves from below, the howling of wind each passing tree, both seemed louder than her own breathing, both seemed to mask the possibility of another presence. Ahead was a branching path, yet, the closer she was, the more it felt that there was only once choice. Her body arched right, causing her to sprint out of the turn. Glancing behind, All Camille could see was the cloud of red leaves, blocking the rest of the forest from her vision.
Her breath grew shorter, but she could see the end of the forest. The stabbing pain pierced hard, but it wasn’t enough to stop her. Pressing faster against the ground, Camille zoomed past the last trees, noticed the edge, and leapt. Refusing to look below, she let her body carry her toward the opposite side of the ravine. Her feet hit first, but her momentum tossed her body into a forward tumble, skidding across the dusty ground.
Covering her face until the dust settled, Camille panted and said, “What the hell was that?” While the instinctive reaction to jump came as a surprise, succeeding was what amazed her. It was a small victory that Camille wanted to enjoy, but knowing she was no closer to finding an answer stripped her of that pleasure.
A lonely red pedal drifted from across the ravine into her palm. Camille shuddered. Wanting to leave everything behind, she crushed the pedal, threw it into the ravine and walked away from the edge. Before her stood three paths: a forest not nearly as dense nor as dead as where she came from; an open meadow that seemed to widen the further it went; and one that seemed to lead to the ravine below. The ravine seemed as it could supply water, but not much else. She started to take steps toward the meadows, eyeing the golden reeds and its lack of landmarks for as far as she could see. Not wanting to go through another forest, Camille started her way toward the meadows when she heard something rustle in the trees. She began walking faster, all while occasionally looking into the woods.
“Wait,” she thought she heard, but walked even faster. “Hey, you, don’t go that way.” Camille was about to run again when she heard, “Stop! It’s not safe out there.”
Her feet skidded, kicking up a bit of dust. Unsure of what she’d find if she turned around, she clenched her first while slowly looking over her should.
“Where are you?” she called out.
All she heard was the fanning of two wings from a raven that perched on the nearest tree.
“Up here, miss.”
Her mouth opened, as if ready to say something, but closed with a confused look upon her face. Despite Camille not remembering any particular event, her memory did work by remembering what wasn’t correct; a talking raven fit that sentiment perfectly.
“My word, it is true,” it said in a posh manner. “Another Sinwalker does roam Genaddon.”
Still in shock, Camille couldn’t believe what her eyes and ears were picking up.
“You don’t look as dangerous as they say, well, rather, you don’t seem quite like… her.”
“There’s a talking crow…” Was all that Camille could say.
“I’m a Raven actually. The name is Charles.” Charles extended his wing, then curved it in, bowing in a way only a raven could.
“Why is there a talking raven?”
“The real question is, why are you here?” Charles asked while tilting his head.
“I… I don’t know. I woke up in… why am I talking to a raven? Oh this is really strange. What the hell is going on here?” Camille bit the knuckle of her thumb while staring off.
“I’m not sure of your current situation, but I can tell you that you being here is quite problematic.”
“The last Sinwalker that came to Genaddon ended up, to put it mildly, creating chaos for all that lived here, and I’m fairly certain that no one wants a repeat of those events.”
“How is chaos even remotely mild?”
“Exactly, and you can see why your existence is a threat.”
“I don’t even know where I am, nor how I got here. Hell, I don’t even know anything about myself past my own name! And what the hell is a ‘Sinwalker’?”
Charles could see that their conversation was making her flustered. Cautiously he began to change his tone. “Young lady, what is your name?”
“Camille,” she said a little less irritated.
“Well Camille, Sinwalker was the name we gave to the bipedal specimen that wreaked havoc here. While she took shape of the Four Deities, that was the extent of their similarities. Seeing as you aren’t one of the Deities…”
A sinking feeling dropped in Camille. “I’m considered a Sinwalker.”
Charles nodded his head. “That is not to say that you are anything like her, but I am rather positive that others will not be so, pacifistic upon meeting you.”
Camille pondered for a moment of what she could do. If Genaddon was as hostile as Charles had deemed it, perhaps the meadows might not be the best solution. Wanting to distance herself as far from the ravine as possible, it seemed the woods was her best option.
“There’s just one problem,” Camille said.
“And what is that?” asked Charles.
“I still don’t know anything.”
Charles ruffled his feathers, looked around, then back at Camille.
With limited choices, Camille scratched the back of her neck and asked, “Think you might be able to lend a hand… er… wing and help me out here?”
Charles ruffled again, only this time from unease. “Why would I do that?”
“You’ve been nice enough to at least give me some info. There’s that. If you help me, then I can get out of Genaddon, and probably learn more about myself and find out how I got here.”
She hoped that she could get through to Charles. If there was a way out, the safest route required his aid.
Charles thought for a moment.
“If I help you,” he said, “how do I know you won’t hurt me?”
“If I’m being honest, I’m freaked out that, for one, you’re a talking raven. You talking probably scare me a whole lot more than I--”
Charles cut her off. “That is highly doubtful.”
Camille bit her lip then looked away. “Look, I really don’t want to be here anymore than you want me here, and if you could help me get out of here, maybe I won’t be murdered by whatever wants me dead.”
Charles looked up into the sky.
“Let’s say I help you,” he said, turning his attention back at Camille. “You will do what I say, when I say.”
“Mind being a bit more specific? I don’t rightly enjoy taking commands. For all I know, you could tell me to jump off a cliff to kill myself.” Camille did not like the way Charles approached his offering.
Charles thought for a moment on how to present his proposal.
“If it comes down to it,” he said, “you will have to kill the other Sinwalker.”
Camille paused. She didn’t like the idea of taking a life, no matter what destruction they might have caused. Thinking of murder felt like a grim that could never be washed off. She was sure she couldn’t commit such a heinous act.
“No,” she said.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I won’t kill. I… I can’t. I’m sorry, but if you need someone to kill, you’re going to have to find someone else.”
Charles gave a nod. “Good.”
His response left Camille in question.
“I am glad that is your choice. I would have been more hesitant to aid you, if at all, had you said yes.
“You will need to keep a low profile. Our best odds would be going through these woods. There is a library that you will be able to hide in. The trouble would be sneaking you in. Once in though, that would give us enough safety while looking for options to get you home.”
“Home?” The word resonated with Camille in a way that she had not thought possible. Home felt warm. Home felt familiar. Like a key turning a deadbolt, ‘home’ felt like it opened the path she was seeking. “Yeah, let’s get me home.” A grin crept up Camille’s face when she spoke those words.