Stardom is portrayed as this sort of glamorous lifestyle where nothing is ever wrong and anything you ever dreamed of can be attained ever so easily with money. More often than not, they give a dazzling smile and put off a charisma they seemed to naturally possess. There is also the downside of fame; gossip, rumors, drama, tabloids. Everything you say and do reflects you as a person and those close to you such as your family. Knowing full well the consequences of being caught within any negative chatter, many celebrities are wary of who they trust and remain vigilant of who they associate with. While prestige can provide one of the most amazing life experiences, it can also be one of the most notorious living nightmares.
This is where our story starts.
Summertime was by far one of the most amazing seasons. The sun will shine brightest without a cloud in the sky to block its warming rays accompanied by the sound of cicadas. Hoards of dragonflies zipped about to gorge upon the return of mosquitoes and flies from wherever they slumbered. Summers are even more exceptional in Cuba with beautiful sandy beaches and plenty of open ocean. It is a popular vacation spot for the Fontayne family who rented a beach house three out of the twelve months in said country. The family of six would carefully extract themselves from the United States and from the inner circle of stardom to take time just for them to bond, to take a break and relax without thinking of what they did every second and every minute of the day.
Along the coastline, just as the sun was beginning to set, Sterling wanted to take one last ride before the day ended. His mother, a retired olympian, refused to leave behind their beloved horses each summer so she would pay to have them flown over before they arrived. It was her firm belief that riding their horses on the beach would better them in the long run. Saltwater did wonders for their hooves and running in the sand helped to relax their minds. His own horse, Atlas, was quite fond of beach rides at dusk. The white Thoroughbred carried its master dutifully through the sand, nostrils flared in excitement and ears pin straight.
The two were a match made in heaven, Sterling with his wavy blonde tresses fluttering behind him on an enchanting white horse. If one looked close enough, you would think that he was an angel and the faint outline of wings illuminated by the setting sun.
Atlas pulled on the reins with his head giving a furious shake. It was in his veins to run at full speed, to push himself to the absolute limit. He wanted to run until his lungs burned like a vehement blaze. His rider responded in kind with gentle half halts to slow the hot-headed steed. But such bliss cannot last long. An insistent ringing overtook Sterling’s ears causing him to grimace at the interruption. Any phone calls he received were only one of three options: nosy paparazzi, self established “friends” or his paranoid family. He didn’t really care much for any of those options but a phone call was a phone call so he slowed Atlas to a quick paced walk. The man shifted the reins to on hand and checked the caller ID with the other.
He breathed a sigh of relief that it was just his mother. Atlas began to prance impatiently. He wanted to run. Sterling tugged at the reins to try and settle him. It worked but not without a defiant head toss from the horse in return.
“ Si, mama? ” The words flowed out easily, tone soft.
“Do you plan on coming back to the house at some point? Celesta is trying to cook again and I thought you wouldn’t want to miss that.” Her voice was clearly on the verge of laughter and the muffled sound of arguing in the background was followed by the clatter of pans, further fueling her stifled chuckling.
His elder sister could easily be confused as his twin just by appearance alone but personality wise, they couldn’t be more different. He didn’t know what he wanted as a career while she had already made a name for herself in the modelling world. He could cook wonderful meals for his entire family of five including himself while she could just as easily poison them with her attempt at macaroni and cheese.
“As appealing as that sounds, I think I’ll enjoy my ride with Atlas a little longer.”
The sea wind seemed to become a few degrees cooler and the gentle lapping of waves started to grow in size and sound but Sterling paid them little heed.
Atlas, however, was growing anxious with the very sudden weather changes. His head bobbed restlessly up and down, front hooves side stepping through the wet sand. The blonde gripped his mane tightly but remained calm as to not fuel the animal’s anxiety even further. This was just a hot-blooded horse acting up like he normally did after a hard ride.
“I figured as much. Can’t blame…. zzzvt….. trying.”
“Could you repeat that last bit. You’re cutting out on me”
“I said……. zzzzvt …..okay” click
The phone call abruptly dropped. Sterling looked down at the phone screen and was greeted by a garbled mess of symbols engulfing the screen. His eyebrows furrowed in confusion but he wasn’t given a chance to investigate further because Atlas gave a frightening whinny at the sound of the ocean waves violently crashing onto shore with ferocity akin to an incoming storm.
That was when Sterling’s green eyes noticed something odd. The unmistakable glint of eyes from under the water sent a chill down his spine. It wasn’t the eyes itself that had him trembling in fear; it was the abyssal depths of keen fixation he recognized in them. There had been fans of his who had the same look. Fans who would become emboldened when he showed fear. Atlas gave a bellowing neigh of fear, beginning to rear up from the same thing that had Sterling gripping his mane with white knuckles. Those bright violet irises didn’t even blink as it began to rise out of the water, approaching the shore with it’s large shadowy body still hidden by the waters.
Atlas violently twisted his large frame around to avoid facing the creature. “Easy, boy, easy!” Sterling tried to soothe the horse but to no avail.
Shrouded in foaming seawater, the creature was smaller than Atlas and stood on four gangly legs. It was darker than any shade of black, as if it could suck you in from staring into them too long. The sky had darkened significantly as if it were suddenly becoming midnight. Atlas reared up in terror, Sterling giving a cry of fear. He barely managed to stay on, thighs squeezing the broad beast and hands entangled so tightly they had begun to turn purple.
Wind viciously ripped through the air and only increased the panic-stricken feeling Sterling had. His heart beat so hard the sound of it filled his ears. The elastic holding his tresses back snapped, sending the platinum waves whipping around his neck and face. In those few moments he was blinded, the creature had risen entirely out of the water as if it was standing on the surface of the water. It had the appearance of a greying stag of unholy suffering. Skin and muscle was peeling off of it in various places to reveal bone and sinew. Old wounds riddled it’s body in multiple stages of healing. One of the horns was broken from what otherwise may have been a proud twelve point rack.
Green fog was starting to flow out of the water and was beginning to trail under the flighty hooves of Atlas. Sterling knew deep in his gut that they should be galloping away from the diabolical deer but those vacant purple eyes seemed to root them in place. The stag did not draw any closer to them and as if on cue, the wind stopped howling and the ocean tentatively held still. Everything was still; not a single sound could be heard other than the blood pumping through his ears. No more than a minute went by but it felt like an eternity. The stag opened its maw and from it, the sound of a dozen whispers began to pool out. They blended together, speaking a language he couldn’t understand and began to grow in volume, talking more rapidly.
Sterling was no longer trembling but had fully broken out into a cold sweat with goosebumps covering his entire body. Atlas seemed to be held in place by invisible chains, his panic only visible by the whites of his eyes. The voices finally all came together into a single weak, raspy one that uttered out a phrase.
The crack of thunder was the only warning he received before the ground opened up and swallowed the both of them into the unknown. Atlas tumbled to the ground roughly, tossing the man from his back to roll across the cold stone. Only when his body was stopped by a large rock colliding with his back did his eyes fly open, a wail of pain forced out of him. Sterling gave several wheezes, panic began to overtake his mind. Reality was quite literally being ripped apart for him. The sky was no longer the vivid shade of azure it had been on the beach but instead it glowed an ominous blackish-brown with green wisps that were resembled clouds but seemed more like patches of hazy mist. Deathly cliffs of unnatural stone seemed to stretch on for miles and miles, some splitting off into pitch black valleys and others snaking up unknown hills.
Sterling made no effort to stand, desperately trying to slow the hyperventilating he was experiencing. This place, if it was even real, was straight out of purgatory. He needed to know if this was all just the conjuring of his imagination, whether the fall had given him a concussion that was causing hallucinations. Sterling rubbed at his eyes with scraped hands, blood smearing where he touched. The desolate land did not revert back to the familiar beach like he had hoped. He gazed up into the dreary sky to see if there was some evidence of a hole that they fell from and maybe even get back through. Any evidence of it was long gone and replaced by a particularly nasty patch of green wisps. What could he do now?
Atlas had recovered himself from the rough tumble and had stood up, giving a full body shake. The equine observed its surroundings warily but seemed more concerned about his fallen rider. He took each step gingerly, a limp very evident in his right hind leg. Sterling startled out of his panic attack when Atlas nickered lowly, nudging him gently as if to ask whether he was okay or not. Horses tended to be more sensitive to emotions than other animals and Atlas was no different. His trembling hands came up to grasp the beast’s face, putting their foreheads together so he could ground himself and take some deep breaths. The feeling of closeness and protection eased his mind enough to get himself together. They had to focus on a way out.
“It’s-I’m alright, boy. We’re both gonna be okay once we get out of here.” The words lacked confidence and had a slight tremor of fear but it was all he could manage in the moment.
The one thing he knew to be thankful for is having his best friend with him. You would think it silly for having a horse as a friend, not a pet or companion but being a Fontayne had cursed him. It was not some curse set by a witch or that required the kiss of some noble to fix; it was a curse anyone with just enough fame had to carry for as long as they remained in the spotlight. People were greedy or as his father liked to say, they were depredador and akin to animals grasping at a means to survive in a harsh sort of world separate from “normals”. His parents never failed to remind him that he was an easy target for these sorts of people. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant way of living, having to constantly look over his shoulder and never allowing anyone, humans at least, into his life.
Though he wanted to stay in place and wait for the pain to go away, the sounds of creatures unlike anything he had heard before, urged him to wrap his arms around the strong gelding’s neck and be dragged up into a painful stand. Sterling gripped the mane weakly and couldn’t find the will to mount his horse from the ground so they set off together, both on foot. Walking down what passed as a pathway allowed him a moment to just look around in distress, nothing around him even remotely resembled a destination of Earth. The terror he was experiencing was now at a stagnant and the depraved sounds did little to increase the laboring pace the two had set.
The earth gave a violent shake like that of an earthquake causing Atlas to stumble forward, knees hitting the ground harshly. Sterling almost went down with him but a part of him knew that if they fell down now, they would never get back up. The blonde barely held on and groaned in pain from the movement. The sound of shattering thunder followed the earthquake and a few miles off, he could see a tear being ripped through the sky on top a rather steep incline. Chartreuse tendrils weaved in and around the tear with the darker patch of blackened emerald pulsating like some heartbeat.
The rip in the sky seemed the only logical way out of this illogical place so Sterling made the quick decision to head towards the mass. It seemed plausible since they had fallen through a similarly green misty hole. He used what little strength he had to pull at Atlas to get the exhausted animal to stand, clicking his tongue to urge him to a faster walk if that was even possible. What had been a dull ache in his ribs was now becoming increasingly more sharp and punctuated stabs of pain. Pained gasps and whines escaped his chapped lips with every step he took but they had to keep going, no matter how much discomfort they were in. It wasn’t until they were about thirty feet away from the hill leading up to the sky tear that he noticed a mass lying prone on the ground and if he was seeing things correctly, giant spiders were closing in on said mass.
As fearful as he was of spiders, he was much more curious about finding out whatever the thing on the ground was but if the obnoxious arachnids ate it first, he would never find out. Sterling stumbled his way forward, waving his arms up and doing his best to yell at the bugs to go away. He scooped up a few sharp rocks as he got closer, hurling them at the spiders which seemed to successfully send them cowering back into the gloom. The spindly creatures shrieked when Atlas seemed to understand what they were and charged towards them; a few weren’t quick enough to scramble away from the thousand pound creature and were thoroughly trampled into a mess of green ichor and twitching limbs. While Atlas kept the hoard at bay, Sterling made his way over to the heap which got increasingly bigger the closer he got and seemed to be moving up and down ever so slightly.
The man almost fell on his behind once reaching the mound turned person. It didn’t resemble anything human except for it’s bipedal frame and sharp facial features. Where Sterling was willowy in frame standing at average height, the other thing was built like a tank with broad shoulders and height that could easily stand above Atlas. Sterling had lightly tanned skin, paler in places where the sun couldn’t kiss. The other party wasn’t even a possible skin tone unless it was painted on; without sunlight, it came off as a pale shade of lavender with warm undertones. If that wasn’t puzzling enough, a set of horns nestled in short black hair that curved towards small triangular ears like that of a ram. Metal covered the tips to make them seem menacing and also peaked Sterling’s curiosity to reach out and touch them.
He cried out mostly in shock when one large hand grabbed his outstretched wrist, dragging him forward to come face to face with the titan of a creature. If his adrenaline wasn’t pumping so high, Sterling would have remarked on how handsome the thing (man?) seemed to be. His face was nicely heart shaped with a sharp jawline, a five o’clock shadow gracing the lower half of his face. Steel gray eyes met his jade green, first observing him with an open hostility before they seemed to actually notice Sterling and softening to something like peculiarity.
Sterling opened and closed his mouth, trying to pick his words without being openly rude but the other male spoke first.
“Who are you?” The deep bass tone came out stern and had Sterling hesitating to answer the question given to him.
A vigorous shake to his still captured wrist made him blink back to reality, using his free hand to tug a stray lock of hair behind his ear.
The behemoth of a man furrowed his eyebrows quizzically as if the name was one he had never heard before but he seemed satisfied with the answer and released the grip he had on Sterling. He was quick to scramble away once let go and standing on shaky legs, warily observing him. An unmistakable squish made him turn his head around to look at Atlas offing another spider.
“Nice horse ya got. Never seen one like that in Ferelden though.”
Ferelden? Sterling couldn’t recall any country by that name from his high school history classes. His thoughts were interrupted by the groans of the man getting on his feet, dusting off what dirt he could from his strange clothing. Saying the man was tall was an understatement; he was a giant standing a foot or two above Sterling and being so muscular gave his hulking frame even more to be frightened about.
“Getting off topic, sorry bout that. Folks call me Tamri, Tamri Adaar.”
They didn’t have much time left for introductions, more spiders were incoming and all of them looked vexed at their possible meal being taken away. The sense of urgency had Tamri shutting up, once again grabbing Sterling and tugging him away from the creatures.
“Looks like we’re outta time! Run!”
Sterling wanted to yell at the man to stop running, to let him go but staying alive seemed more important than whatever dignity he had. Atlas gave one final kick at the spiders before giving chase after his rider and the stranger. It pained his every step to be running alongside the two but the sounds of hissing fueled him to continue on.
Just a little further. The hill was growing steeper and more difficult for all parties. Sterling looked back to see where the spiders were at, startling when one was within reach of his ankles. He firmly gripped onto the man-beast to pull himself further up and away from the creatures. Atlas was digging his hooves into the incline as much as possible but even his pace had slowed significantly, slipping every so often on the crumbling rock.
Sterling’s eyes widened in confusion, twisting his head around to find where the voice was coming from. It sounded like that of the stag, frail and hoarse.
Who was Gaelathe? Tamri seemed to be focused on something else but whatever it was, it had stopped their movement. He attempted to look over the massive shoulders to glimpse whatever the other saw but just as he thought he saw a slight glow, electricity shot through his left arm and jolted his senses into overdrive. His vision swam to the point of being nauseating and the scent of burning flesh invaded his olfactory sense. Sterling let out a scream of excruciating pain, the shock continuously coursing through his body and forcing him to release his grip. Tamri unconsciously did the same and soon he felt himself falling straight towards the pursuers. Everything around him seemed to slow down significantly as gravity forced him down towards his death.
Was he to die like this? Falling to his death amongst radioactive spiders in a godforsaken death quarry?
His mind flashed back to his family, how warm and loving everyday was with them from the time he was a small child. He remembered when his father started to teach him how to work with silver like he did and form it into something beautiful. He remembered when his mother put him on her own horse for the very first time and how deeply in love he became with the sport. He wanted to see Tahki’s gentle smile towards him when he did something to cheer her up after a long day. He wanted to hear Justa fill up the riding arena with her bubbly laughter when he made an obvious mistake. He even craved tasting Celesta’s poison cooking one more time, just like he was supposed to before this whole shit storm.
He wasn’t even twenty-five; he wanted to live.
Do you want to live, Gaelathe?
Sterling had squeezed his eyes shut tightly only for them to fly open and be met by rich purple irises. A frighteningly thin man with long pointed ears and wispy blonde hair seemed to merely be floating above him, staring into his eyes so deeply he felt that his soul was bared naked. Shivering hands landed on either side of Sterling’s face, shocking him by how cold they were. Nails dug into his cheeks ever so slightly in desperation of something.
“Let me help you, Gaelathe.”
Sterling couldn’t respond even though so many words were hammering at the front of his mind.
“ Mala suledin nadas ”
The long-eared man leaned forward to place his forehead on Sterling’s forehead, whispering words too fast and garbled to understand then pulling away with a somber face and just like that, he was gone in a cloud of white.
He thought the pain was bad before. Nothing could prepare him for the excruciating agony he was suddenly feeling in his head. Hands flailed to cover his left eye which felt like someone pushed a heated brand through it and straight to his brain. He didn’t notice Atlas leaping after him from the hill or how his mane and tail shifted into that of flowing green tendrils or how the crack of thunder erupted below him. He could only feel himself hitting cold ground, head bouncing up once before settling down. Spots erupted across his vision, fading slowly into unconsciousness.
The world went dark, leaving his mind in a blaze of inferno.