Wolf Ascending

Forgive me…this is short, took a stupidly long time to write, and I feel like I wrote some of it badly.

(The 'Brendan has a phobia of spiders' idea goes to GorimJr.)

Secret of Kells © Cartoon Saloon

(realization)

The snow turned to freezing rain just after sunset.

The survivors were huddled in the center of the tower. Sleep refused to come; the reek of smoke and charred…things lingered, and the sound of the remaining scaffolding cracking and falling boomed across the village at unpredictable intervals. Mourning softly, their whispers and cries floated through the air as the nightmarish day began to fully register.

In the uppermost room of the tower, Cellach wasn't sure how he was still standing. His wounds were still throbbing, and they bled even with the thin bandages covering them. Every breath he took seemed more painful than the last, but he refused to lie down. He couldn't.

Leaning against the window frame, clinging to the shutters to keep from falling, he kept his eyes fixed on where the gate had once stood. Aidan had left several hours before. With every passing second, fear wormed its way further into the Abbot's heart.

Please be alive. Please, God, let my nephew be alive. The hand that wasn't holding Brendan's drawing clutched at the front of his robes. Even if these wounds must take me to do it.

Please.

Cellach flinched as light flashed in the sky. A deafening roar of thunder shook the village. The rain pelted the stone harder. The piles of ashes seemed to melt into themselves. The filthy liquid spread across all he could see, lapping at the base of the wall and tower. The scent that resulted permeated the tower and churned his stomach.

Where was Aidan?

There were so many things that could have gone wrong. The Vikings may not have left; they could have stayed in the trees, watching Brendan die and Aidan try to help for their own sick amusement.

The snow had been falling rather hard; if he couldn't have followed his own tracks, he could have been wandering in circles, unable to find his way to Brendan or back to Kells.

Thunder roared. The Abbot felt the very foundations of the tower tremble beneath his feet.

Brendan was alone out there in the melting snow and driving rain.His mind supplied him with horrible images of his bruised and bleeding nephew struggling to stand as water rose around him, suffocating—

Or maybe Aidan simply wasn't coming back.

Cellach paled, considering. Maybe he returned to Brendan and simply kept going, to finish his precious Book somewhere else, leaving Brendan's dead (or even not quite dead) body to rot in the mud.

A heavy chill settled in his chest. Aidan had enough time to run there and back for supplies, and yet…

The wind blew needle sharp raindrops through the window, slapping every inch of exposed skin. He stumbled back, nearly falling, gasping as a fresh stab of pain radiated from his wounds.

His back struck the wall. He cringed as he slid down, hissing in agony as he hit the floor. Shivering, helpless, he gazed at the stairs; they were only a few strides away, but it could have been miles for the pain that wracked his body.

I can't do anything, the haggard Abbot thought hopelessly. Even without suffering from his various afflictions, he had no way to know where Brendan was, no way to know what was safe and what was unsafe (he had once, but it had been so long since he did anything beyond of the wall…he wasn't certain of anything from the outside, anymore…), no way to even navigate through the trees.

You aren't coming back, are you? Whether he was thinking of Brendan or Aidan, he didn't truly know.

He prayed that he was wrong, but the doubts refused to stop. He wrapped his arms around himself, shaking.

Several minutes of terrified speculation later, gentle footsteps sounded on the stairs below. Brother Tang rose into view, a basket clutched in his arms. "There are few left, but I think—" He abruptly caught sight of the man huddled on the floor, a stain spreading around him the same shade as his robes. "Abbot!"

Cellach's eyes briefly flickered to the smaller man before glancing down again.

Tang rushed over and gently tugged on the taller man's hand. "Come now. You need to rest… get your strength back up." He shot a worried look at his chest. "You've loosened your bandages." Tang began to pull sheets and robes from the basket, torn into strips that would wrap around the Abbot's torso. "We had to dig through the ashes to get these, but we've cleaned them. They won't be as temporary as the last."

At Tang's prompting, he slid his robes down to around his waist, letting the loose bandages fall away.

The old monk was the only person he came close to trusting; he cooperated the most, complained the least, and every action he took since the attack had been logical. ("You are the Abbot of Kells. You must get up.")

Cellach flinched as the last of the bandages, stuck to his chest from the blood, were pulled away. Tang handed him a damp cloth. He wiped the blood away, though the stain would keep. "Almost done," Tang muttered.

The brother was old, but far from senile—and was likely the only person left that Cellach could voice his doubts to.

"Is Aidan…?" Deep breath. "Aidan isn't coming back, is he?" The small piece of pride that hadn't drowned by horror and grief hated how weak he was being. His voice held the quality of a child's, desperately seeking reassurance from a parent. (there are no spiders under the bed, Brendan)

Tang blinked. After a long pause he asked, "Why wouldn't he?"

Cellach couldn't look at him. "It—I—why would he? There is nothing for him here."

Another pause, not quite as long. "And leave Brendan?" He busily wrapped the new bandages around his Abbot's torso, warily avoiding eye contact.

"He might—he wouldn't…" his thoughts were scattered and disjointed. "Not if he was alive. But he…if he isn't…then why would he come back?"

"Abbot—"

"He has no reason to. This—this place is in ruins—"

Tang interrupted. "He would not leave Brendan in the forest."

"…he still has no reason to return here." He could simply bury— he cut the thought off.

Tang gave him a look of disbelief. "Brother Aidan would not leave us to fret over his fate. He is not cruel."

'Us'? he thought despairingly."I ignored him, Tang." His voice was desperate. "I locked him away." (you'll be safe in here with your precious Book) "I nearly caused his death. I-I've ruined his life's work." Had he? Cellach shut his eyes tightly. He didn't know, but it was probable. Likely, even, with all that had been happening due to his touch.

"He wouldn't do that to you, Abbot. He is not vengeful," Tang gently chided. He finished wrapping the bandages and gestured to the bed.

Cellach fixed his robes and shakily managed to stand. "I can't. I need…I must keep a lookout."

Tang frowned slightly but did not otherwise object, which Cellach was pathetically grateful for.

He stumbled to the window, bracing against it, ignoring the shaking in his arms.

He noticed vaguely that Brother Tang still stood there, quietly observing.

no use telling him to leave.

He focused intently on the shattered remnants of the gate, barely visible through the haze of rain.

The haze seemed to thicken as the minutes trickled by. His arms were stiff and heavy. Everything seemed to waver slightly.

Perhaps I should rest, he admitted in the back of his mind.

That was all. Because he couldn't. He had to wait. For Aidan.

For Brendan. (It's about time we've saw you today—)

The rain hasn't stopped, but he's outside. But there is fire everywhere, dancing along the walls and the tower.

He runs to the tower, but the stairs are scattered.

The fire is odd, a shade of blue like nothing he had never seen. He hears the people screaming inside, their fists hammer at the door, but it's locked.

The key is cold in his hand, but he refuses to let go even as it cuts into his hand like a knife

He claws at the stone, tries to climb—the fire is at the top, where he stands is completely untouched. It gets taller as he watches, the door is far beyond even his reach— yet he can hear the screaming louder

Shadows spike out from the walls, weaving, rotting all it touches

Far away, a voice whispers "Uncle?"

Deep inside the black, Brendan perches on cracking scaffolding, apparently unaware of what's happening.

Cellach tries to scream but his voice is gone

Brendan's eyes are glazed and crusty. He's shivering and pale, sick he's sick

and the back curls around

it's smothering him

all of the voices are falling silent, one by one—the fire is crawling down, getting closer

"Uncle, where—?" and then screaming

silence.

no

nothing left

I'll save you

but he was falling

I will catch you

but he didn't. he couldn't.

Brendan's body shatters like glass

the pieces are far beyond his reach and when he strains his arm out red rushing blood spreads

envelops

Curled up on the floor beneath the window, the blankets from his bed covered him, staving off some of the cold. He didn't remember pulling the blankets over himself.

Tang, most likely. He struggled to sit up.

The old monk was gone. Unsurprising; he probably went to encourage the survivors.

The sky was still dark, though the rain was gone; replaced with complete and utter silence.

Falling back with a quiet thump, he realized that he was too exhausted to stand. Too drained to feel. He doubted anything could prompt him to move. (and of what use is a weak Abbot? I will build I will protect you)

And then he heard footsteps on the stairs. Brother Tang's voice was hushed and worried. "He's sleeping now, though not for long." And—

"Brother, how—how can I…I can't. I can't." Aidan! Cellach jolted.

"You must!" Tang's voice insisted quietly.

Their footsteps stopped. Cellach shifted himself closer to the stairs.

"I…" a step creaked as Aidan's weight shifted. "I don't know. I'm sorry." His voice lowered. Cellach strained to hear. "Is—is he any better?"

"…Physically, his wounds are survivable, but it will take a long time for them to heal completely," Tang replied heavily. "Emotionally…I have never seen him in such a state. I fear he may get worse with the news you bear."

Cellach's breath hitched. So Brendan…Brendan is…

"Then—why do you want me to tell him now?" Aidan's voice trembled. "Why-why not wait until he is stronger?"

"He will not take it any better if we wait," Tang replied with an air of pointing out an obvious fact.

A shaky sigh. "I…I know. I know. But how do I…" his voice seemed to fail.

"We can wait here for a while. He's likely still asleep." A creak of Tang sitting. A second creak sounded a hesitant few moments later.

Aidan's next words were wild, terrified, and struck Cellach like a hammer. "Tang, what I saw…I…how do I say that? 'Your child perished and the wolves left nothing of his body behind'?"