On some nights Knox could hear soft whistles and quiet purrs but they drowned out into the mute landscape as soon as the Goyar sniffed out his trail. Knox would then pick his makeshift spear and zigzag through the terrain.
He walked miles cowering in the shadow of misshapen red rocks raised from a perfectly still ground until the growling stopped and he was lost again on the crisscrossing sandstone trail painted by his own legs.
He would then sit long hours watching the stars and the comets and each day they seemed nearer to his face, a cold burn applied to his blistered, paper-thin skin.
In the beginning Knox had spent hours talking to himself recollecting names and faces, events and music, especially music. He hummed Springsteen, the last record available in the space of his rapidly vacant growing mind. The trips down memory lane had him reeling in sadness and fear that he was going to lose touch with his world. He hung to those emotions until they became numb and distant. Because after all Knox wasn’t attached to anything. He was nameless, faceless, worldless and for that he wasn’t allowed ownership of any memories. He abandoned them along with his voice.
Knox grew accustomed to being watched. He was glad when he spotted one of Latobius’s children. They cowered from him during the night, but in daylight he caught glimpses of some of them – the bore glared at him with mars red eyes, almost indistinguishable with its near skinless body behind pale bushes. The raven was a spot in the sky but on occasion it circled low enough for Knox to see it with its featherless wings, a mice dangling from its fractured beak. The arctic fox shivered tailless and blind, its eyes milky white and runny but following him nonetheless. He shivered when it licked its puss oozing snarl and snapped at him before running away like a ghost.
At first Knox had tried to hunt them driven by his primal need to feed. He drove his spear at random, poking deep grass and shallow lakes. Then he had lost their trail altogether and called at them to find him again just so he wouldn’t wander all alone. But they never came to him and if they watched he never saw their eyes. Soon enough the picturesque aspect disappeared, flora giving way to a perpetual milky white mist crawling low and cruel. It drove him deeper where the ground was rough and rocky and the soil was ashen. Knox cackled into the everlasting night at how Freyr had tricked him with the sublime vision. Watching it now through tired eyes he saw what the true skin of the place was – Norricum, a true wasteland of burial sites, crushed skeletons to a fist full of dust, blown by his parched lips. It put him nowhere at all times. Pre-built cairns marked some pre-drawn road seemingly luring him to where he was supposed to go. Obedient, Knox followed it.
But Norricum was also a true labyrinthine land. It had him lost many times, his inner compass spinning like mad. All places were alike, a storm of dust racing at his feet. He walked blindly propping his weight against the spear for support, becoming a nomad, a scavenger. He performed his small ritual of walking, stopping, sleeping, listening, always listening for the Goyar and then running. Until his feet found wet soil and he marveled at the sound the splash his boots made and he exhaled at how they sank into soft sand. Knox found himself at the bank of a much larger lake he hadn’t seen before. It was in sharp contrast to the wind carried white sands that had been his home till now shimmering below a small snow peaked mountain range. Knox allowed himself a toothy smile at the coolness drifting from the clear ice instantly bringing freshness to his dusty face. Then as the cool became a sharp cold he realized the draft was something different, a distant calling.
He gingerly stepped on slippery ice, skidding himself across the transparent surface to that long awaited closure he had been avoiding whilst walking straight towards it. Knox accepted that it was the time when he would know a different providence than the one predetermined for him by entities he now spat at carelessly. He barred his teeth at the lowest of them resurfacing pain and repulsion to the top of his being. His voice snapped like a falling thunder when he bellowed its name. In the furthest section of the lake the Goyar Heddagh, the spirit god of the mountain waited an inhuman smirk painted on his dark face.
Knox steadied himself, his bent back straightening as he stood as tall as any human could against the beast that had tricked him on his path and found the end before him.
“WHY DID YOU RUN FROM ME FEEBLE HUMAN? YOU ARE NO ONE, YOU ARE NOTHING. GIVE YOURSELF TO ME AND BE DONE WITH THIS TORMENT.”
The gentle penetration of the voice inside his skull once again weakened any strength from Knox. It robbed him of any strength Freyr had bestowed upon him to free himself of this imprisonment. The towering spirit inched closer to Knox scenting him full, tasting that defeat, a prelude to many flesh stripping meals he was about to receive with Knox’s downfall. Tasting what his own bones snapping in the mouth of the Heddagh would feel like Knox let his eyes drop. A fragment of something caught his attention and he leaned in.
The Goyar hummed an amused appreciation, drawing Knox by the collar into his embrace. But Knox had seen the secret the Heddagh was hiding, the narrow opening in the rock full of whispers and life. His eyes widened in ludicrous excitement and he pulled back as much as he could oppress the draw of the Goat.
Knox tightened the grasp on his spear. The jagged bone serving as its tip caught the Goyar’s green eyes and he bellowed a laugh, perplexed at the sudden change of mood. Knox stuck his tongue out licking parched lips. Trough breathy gasps Knox relearned how to speak fully in the tongue of his people.
“You will not win over me. I will not be yours to sacrifice you fucking demon!”
Knox probed with the spear shifting his weight into it and jamming it at the Goyar. The jagged tip grazed the Goyar’s left nipple and he stumbled back releasing Knox to cradle the loose skin seeping black blood. The second the distraction gave Knox enough space to slip past the Goyar’s grabbing hands he took it and slipped inside the cavern. Green light exploded behind him accompanied by the monstrous roar devoid of anything human now.
Knox slid down the steep throat scraping his palms on sharp rocks and wet moss. His foot caught and he flipped over tumbling down head over heels. In the spinning fall he caught glimpses of the Goyar ramming his shoulder into the opening creating tremors along the roof of the cave until it caved in and he too tumbled down the slope in a heap of rolling rocks. Cold water embraced Knox’s body when it hit the base of the cave. His mouth wiped at the shallow pool before he picked himself up, hand reaching for the prostrate spear by his side. Clutching it tightly to his chest Knox rushed away searching with trembling fingers against the wet rock of the cave. The Goyar stampeded behind him, the angry roar deafening.
Knox led the way into the dark, arms wide open to measure the wall, left hand tapping the rock with the bone spear, the right searching, hoping for an opening he could craw through. Instead his feet slipped, his ankle twisting sharply and he banged his body shoulder first into the rock. Groaning he shuffled forward his hands involuntarily retreating from the wide stretch of the cave to a much narrower one, where his shoulders braced against both walls of the sleeve. Knox panicked, thinking himself wedged in the tight space with the Goyar at his back. Ahead he could see a tight gap greying against the black, but it proved unreachable. When he could walk no further, his body caught in the tight embrace of the corridor, Knox began banging the spear between top and bottom, the slow motions of his wrist hoping to disrupt the ceiling. Knox caught on the idea of being buried by a mass of stone, him and the Goyar together.
“WHERE TO NOW, CHILD OF MEN? WILL YOU PRAY TO BE SAVED?”
Knox cranked his head around as much as his entrapment allowed him. His mouth hung agape. The Goyar’s horned skeleton head floated unattached beside him, his muscular body abandoned somewhere behind. His green eye, huge and lacking the sliced pupil, jumped from Knox to the spear. Like two flames they illuminated the tunnel. A low, deep throated hum of understanding passed through the Goyar to Knox.
“YOU WISH TO BE BURRIED HERE. I WILL GRANT YOU THAT.”
The Heddagh inched his head and rammed his horns at the back of Knox. He emitted a shriek that died in his mouth when the Goyar repeated the motion, golden tipped horns piercing through meat and bone. The scream died in his mouth as soon as his spine snapped inwards. Warmth spilled inside him filling his cavities with the foul taste of metal. His body went lax, shoulders dropping. The Goyar went wild at the scent of sacrificial blood and banged his head against walls and ceiling.
Knox bounced off the wall when Goyar rammed him again in his triumph. The harsh bump unleashed by the goat sent Knox through the gap in a storm of shattering rocks. He tumbled down an incline, a ragdoll devoid of motion. Above the sound of blood pumping out loud and terrifying in his ears Knox could hear something else. He urged his eyes to find the source. A waterfall of nebulas and planets cascaded peacefully into an abyss streaming below the map of the world. Knox found his voice again to emanate a throaty whimper. The lulling of the cosmic concerto brought tears to his eyes.
The Goyar slipped a skeleton body thin and tall through the crack. His beautiful horns were chipped from the hammering.
“SAVAGE, YOU ARE FINALLY MINE.”
Knox stared into the abyss as smooth as water and as welcoming as silk. He reached a hand to touch it but the Goyar jerked him back and held him high above the whirlpool.
“IS THIS WHAT YOU WANT?” Knox felt his body dangled like a toy. His head hung low, lolling back and forth as the Goat shook him. Home was so close, this nightmare done. Knox struggled for his release still alive by the twisted mercy of the Heddagh. The beast laughed as he pulled back taking Knox with him. He spun the man around, his large hand encircling Knox’s waist where his guts were already mashed. He fought more vibrantly wriggling in the tight grasp. He could hear Home. He could recognize voices and noises seeping into Norricum casting him a rope to grab and hold on to.
“LOOK UPON YOUR FAILURE. HEDONIST, HERETIC, THIEF, YOU DIE ALONE TODAY.”
Knox allowed a crooked grin to play on his smashed lips. He mouthed the words back returning them to the Heddagh. He would not be a clay man, molded to destruction by gods, nor will he be the Goyar’s to gnaw on for eternity. His lax arm shot aiming for the Goyar’s right eye. His fingers dug at its core and the Goyar reeled back shaking his head. His free hand snapped at Knox scraping at his face and torso but Knox just shifted his palm, digging thumb and forefinger under the glimmering neon eyeball. He pressed as hard as he could, pulling it out, spooning it of its socket. The Goyar howled, his grip on Knox loosening.
Knox hit the black universal chasm dipping head first into it.