Wormwood by D.H. Nevins
Against a devastated, post-apocalyptic landscape, a legion of one hundred fierce half-angels is hell bent on purging the Earth of all humans. But one of them, the tormented Tiamat, struggles against his mission, and when he rescues a beautiful woman named Kali, he finds the attraction as troubling as it is dangerous. Can Kali trust the one creature who could be responsible for her ultimate demise?
Dappled sunlight danced across the forest floor, as a light breeze cooled my face, making me smile. I always felt so at peace during my morning hike. I fell into my habitual fast stride, nearly lulled by it, as I trekked along Cedar Creek Trail. The bends and dips were so familiar that as I moved, I barely needed to glance down at the network of roots and rocks on the worn, dirt path.
Hiking was a pastime I cherished even as a girl, when my dad would take me on frequent treks through the woods near our home. I always felt whole and in balance when my feet propelled me beneath the trees and I breathed the fresh forest air, and this day was no different. Not at first, anyway.
Everything, however, changed with the wind. Without warning, the pleasant breeze strengthened into a forceful gust, bending the trees and sending flurries of detached green leaves swirling down from above. The forest darkened and I looked up to see ominous grey-black clouds sweeping in to mask the sun. I picked up my pace in alarm. I had no desire to be caught unprepared by a violent storm, and as I rushed along the path, I racked my brain for memories of any appropriate shelters nearby—a small cavern, the gap beneath the root mass of a fallen tree—anything. But I continuously came up empty.
My foot hesitated on the path as I detected another change around me. I stopped, frozen in place, feeling an eerie stillness permeate every inch of the woods. The birds had stopped singing and everything, even the breeze, silenced. Nothing moved. Leaves hung limp on their branches and the entire forest appeared to be momentarily captured in time—like I was suspended in the midst of a still photograph. The very air felt charged and tense. My pulse jumped, my mind screamed to my body to move, but my legs simply weren’t responding.
It was then that I heard it, the sound waves raising the hairs on my arms and neck. Something was dreadfully wrong. I could feel the strangeness of it, vibrating wickedly through my bones, and further rooting my feet to the buzzing ground. It began with a low, far away rumbling, rolling ever forward and growling louder by the second. Just as the tumult ripened sickeningly into a deep, primeval roar, I was bucked by violent spasms deep in the earth under my feet. Stumbling to maintain my balance, I spun to look toward the source, and my blood turned to ice. Something was happening, approaching swift as a torrent, as the trees lurched and
fell wildly in the too-close distance. It seemed like the earth had become an awakening monster,
its body lashing and cresting as it rippled down the hill toward me.
The sounds of my feet pounding down the worn path were quickly drowned out by the
strengthening uproar behind me. I tried to run faster, my lungs screaming in my chest, as the
cacophony suddenly buffeted the air all around me, almost thick in its magnitude. The ground
thrust me up, throwing me forcefully onto the sharp stump of a recently splintered tree, and I felt
the skin of my arm tear along its edge. At the very next moment, it seemed like the stump itself
threw me off and I flew backward. Landing on a soft, rotten log, my fingers sunk into the moist,
vibrating moss. I scrabbled across the ground, clutching at roots for support, pulling myself in a
vague direction toward Lookout Peak and praying that I was close enough to make it there.
I forced myself up and sprinted drunkenly along the path. It seemed to thrash beneath my
feet, as though I was running along the back of a giant, angry snake. Trees reached out and
clawed at my body and my face while terrifying, yawning crevasses began to open up in the
ground on either side of me. As I leaped over a bush, I realized with a start that I was off the
path. Finding it again was useless; the forest was changing all around me. The trees were
twisting and falling, rocks were being thrust up from the ground while the earth tilted violently
from side to side.
With my panicked senses heightened, everything came into a sharp focus. I took in the
violent mess around me as I fled, avoiding all the dangers that I could. I ducked under a
thrashing spruce tree and swerved around a birch while clearing a tumbling rock. Then, jumping
a tangle of thorns near a ravine edge, a heavy pine branch caught me on the shoulder as the tree
crashed down to the ground. It took me with it, but I rolled when I hit the dirt, tumbling down
the steep slope into a frothing stream below.
The shallow creek’s frigid water swirled around my legs as I lay there for a moment,
winded, staring up at the roiling skies above me. I watched as the rain began to fall in large, lazy
drops. With foul irony, it reminded me so much of the beloved summer thunderstorms of my
youth. The sharp smell of ozone had flashed me back to a childhood memory of sitting on the
screened-in porch with my dad, waiting to watch the lightning and counting the seconds before
the thunder came. Sometimes the strikes were much closer than we expected, and the heartstopping
bang! would make us both jump out of our skins. We would look at each other’s reactions, and always burst out laughing, hilarity and relief mingled in our giggles.
A sharp series of numbing flicks on my face quickly brought me back to the chaos of the moment. The rain was pouring down now, mixed with large hailstones that were assailing my body and face as I lay there in my stupor. The ground continued to pitch and lurch, while the stream’s flow shifted direction under my back. That terrifying realization was all I needed.
Frantic, I clawed my way up the steep, jerking hillside. Grabbing roots, crumbling ledges and quivering branches, I was once more on level ground and sprinting flat-out without fully being aware of how I even got to the top of the ravine.
Lightning flashed again and again, though I could hear no thunder; not over the roar and groan of the earth that seemed to fill every possible space in my head. The flashing light and tilting ground sent me staggering headlong into a wall of jagged rock. I smashed my knee against the crag, while a piece of crumbling rock fell and hit my shoulder with blinding pain, leaving my arm numb.
As I reeled away from the rock face, however, I finally saw that I made it. Relief flooded through me as I gazed up to see the massive bulk of Lookout Peak leaning protectively overhead. I tripped into a clumsy charge, trying to find the path that would lead me up. It didn’t take me long. Amazingly, not only was the path there, but it appeared almost undisturbed by the surrounding disaster.
The shaking ground seemed to calm as I began my ascent. The rocks stilled and the trees merely quivered. Yet I did not slow. One foot in front of the other, up and up I went mechanically, not allowing myself to think about what had happened; not giving myself the chance to fall apart until I was sure it was over.
As I walked, I took a cursory inventory. I prodded with my fingers and bent and rotated my arm and shoulder cautiously. I was relieved to find that neither seemed to be broken. Bad bruising was likely all that would come of it. I had a number of gashes and scrapes, though I knew they should heal well enough. Thankfully, there didn’t appear to be anything serious or that needed immediate attention.
The deafening sounds from the ordeal, however, were still with me, ringing in my ears. Terrific, I thought absently, hearing loss would be a great reminder of this fun. With the ground still vibrating mildly, I felt an almost frantic need to survey the damage and, with any luck, get
an idea of how widespread it was. I veered to a lookout point that was about halfway up the climb. But I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. I simply couldn’t take it in—couldn’t believe what my eyes were telling me and what my ears had already registered.
It was still happening. Though the cliff was comparatively still, it was hellish below. For as far as I could see, the forest was a turbulent tempest of angry green as the trees twisted grotesquely and fell. Swirls of shredded emerald leaves eddied in the air under billowing inky clouds that flashed with ready electricity. Though despite this, it was the ground far below that chilled my blood and had me stumbling backward against the rock-cut behind me. No, it couldn’t be. It’s impossible, I told myself, absolutely impossible. This area isn’t active… Yet even as I formed the thoughts, I could see the lava bubbling and spewing up through great gashes in the earth. Smoke and hot ash rose and twisted with the leaves before ascending to further blacken the fermented clouds.
With my head spinning, I turned and dashed away in blind fear. Up and up I went madly, a pinball bashing into nearly every obstacle as I fought my way up the trail to the leveled rock of the Lookout. Then, as I crashed into the huge blind of rock in front of me, I nearly collapsed with gratitude at having finally reached the main section of The Peak. It would bring me no comfort, but provided safer ground and a vantage point, at least.
I followed the path that wound closely around the edge of the rock blind. As the trail curved to the west side of the towering rocky outcrop, it opened up into a wide swath of fairly level earth, which appeared remarkably unchanged. Surrounding the site were the usual giant-sized boulders—all of which were perfect for sitting on while taking in the once beautiful expanse of lake-speckled forest below. However, that particular view was now so terribly different that I couldn’t bring myself to even look at it. Instead, I forced my eyes to the fire pit, flanked by two large logs, worn smooth over the years by use. Many times I sat there, enjoying the warm flames; often by myself, occasionally with friends or routinely with paying groups that I began guiding through these forests just over ten years ago. It was usually a calming sight.
Catching my eye, a spark flew up from the fire pit, which had embers glowing in it from recent use. My heart jumped. Someone is here. I raked my gaze quickly around the site, noticing with a start a lone figure standing stark still on the edge of the cliff. He faced the destruction, his arms stretched out before him as though he were giving a benediction over the raving land below.
The recognition hit me like a physical blow. I stared dumbly at him, unable to deal with any more shocks today. Incapable of touching on anything more substantial, his name rose hazily from my memory.
“Tiamat,” I whispered to myself.
He spun around, though I have no idea how he could have heard me whisper his name. At that very moment, I heard a horrifying series of sharp cracks coming from the rocky outcrop high above me. As terror shot through my veins, I noticed his face, looking shocked and surprised, with his eyes locked on mine.
I knew I had to get out the way before the crushing rocks fell, even though the effort would likely be futile. I wouldn’t be fast enough. As though in slow motion, my muscles bunched to leap out of the way as I set my sights on landing near the worn fire pit logs. Just as I began my desperate jump, something crashed into my side, hard, and I could feel myself being thrown a startling distance from the impact. Though I tried to roll when I smashed into the ground, my head smacked onto the hard-packed dirt, and everything finally went peacefully black.
D.H. Nevins was born in Toronto and currently lives in a relatively remote area of Ontario, surrounded by forests and lakes. By day, she is a personable, friendly school teacher. By night, she silently chuckles as she writes about angels destroying the world. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, camping, traveling the world, flying around on her motorcycle or dabbling in live theatre.
Author website: http://www.dhnevins.com
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