“Ughhhh,” Vance groaned, feeling an unexpected softness caressing his body as his eyes fluttered open. “W-Where am I?”
“Violet, go fetch your Mother and Father, Vance is waking up.” Small footsteps raced across a wooden floor and a door was flung open with a crash. Vance struggled to push himself up, but found no strength in his limbs as he flopped immediately back onto the bed. Turning his head to the side Vance met a concerned gaze.
“Lyn…” Vance murmured in a daze. Tears immediately began welling up as a wave of emotion crashed violently over him.
“Shhhhh, rest easy Vance. You’re safe now dear.” Vance felt Lyn’s long, bony fingers wrap around his hand as she continued to whisper comforting words. Her soft yellow eyes were bloodshot and her frizzy gray hair stuck out erratically, evidence of her recent lack of sleep.
Vance turned his head back up towards the ceiling. Closing his eyes in a failed attempt to suppress his tears, Vance tried to quell the raging torrent of fear that had begun rising as scattered memories of the forest and the strange crystal flashed dangerously through his mind. He had finally managed to calm his heaving chest when he heard his family rush into the room.
Vivian and Violet stood pensively in the doorway as Auron and Victoria rushed to the bedside.
“M-Mother… What happened? H-how did you f-find me?” Vance sniffled as he glanced up at Victoria’s equally teary expression.
Victoria and Auron exchanged a knowing look before Auron responded.
“You had been missing all day. Your Mother was frantically searching around outside the house when I returned from seeing Eldrin off at Baron Balor’s estate. Vivian told us that you had gone outside to play after you finished up the lesson with her. Everyone soon went out and began searching around the edge of the forest. We looked around all day and night with no luck. We were about to return and head into town to post a request for a search party when Vivian stumbled across your unconscious body on the western edge of the forest, near the mine.”
Vance was confused. ‘Edge of the forest…’ but he had been deep in that cave. He briefly remembered that feeling of intense pain after he had been impaled through the chest by the purple crystal. Moving after that… he definitely couldn’t have, so how did he make it all the way to the edge of the forest? Vance removed his hand from Lyn’s grip and touched his chest where the crystal had struck him. There was nothing but the same soft pink flesh that covered the rest of his body.
“Vance honey, what’s wrong?” Victoria inquired worriedly.
Vance finally managed to sit up in bed with some assistance from Lyn. He looked over towards Vivian.
“Vivian was there… Was there anything in my chest when you found me?”
“No Vance, you were uninjured. It appeared you had just passed out from exhaustion, but when we brought you home we were unable to wake you up and you suddenly broke out into a fever,” Victoria responded solemnly.
Vance ran his hand over his chest once again in bewilderment as his parents looked on at him, worry etched deeply into their expressions.
“Vance.” Auron reached out and gripped his shoulder. “Can you tell us what happened? We’ve had every healer in Greyhallow in to see you over the last seven days, but none of their healing magic worked, we were worried you ate something poisonous after getting lost, but after seeing your reaction that doesn’t seem to be what you remember occurring.”
“I… I did get lost,” Vance trembled out. “B-But… I didn’t eat anything. Pip has warned me before that the mushrooms in the forest are unsafe.” Vance recounted his story for his family, trying not to leave out any details from the memories he could piece together. When he finished his tale Vivian and his parents stared at him strangely while Violet fidgeted nervously, unsure what to make of the situation. Vance couldn’t read the exact expression on their faces but it made him feel uncomfortable. He had been hoping for answers and reassurance, instead he was left even more confused.
Lyn broke the silence, “I think Vance needs some more rest, it’s clear he’s been through a lot.” Victoria nodded stiffly while Auron maintained his conflicted stare as he rose from his kneeling position. Vance shrank into his bed, somehow embarrassed and frustrated by his family’s reactions. Eventually they all shuffled out of his room, Lyn closed the door slowly behind her.
Oddly, Vance could make out his parent’s frantic whispers outside his door.
“A black stone mountain, floating crystals and giant Alder trees… No such things exist in this world Victoria, let alone in the Silent Forest.”
“I know that Auron, but Vance has never been one to spin tales and his story was strangely detailed. Do you think he could have met a Grim in the forest and been manipulated by mind magic?”
“It’s certainly a possibility… but it doesn’t explain his illness, and I don’t know why such a powerful Grim would be out in the forest, or feel the need to attack Vance for that matter. A grim would normally need to have completed at least fifty cycles in order to have magic strong enough to permanently alter memories.”
“Maybe Vance somehow saw something he wasn’t supposed to. We should alert the Baron that there may be a powerful rogue Grim in the area.”
“Aye, I can think of no other explanation. I’ll ride out first thing tomorrow to meet him. Hopefully he can hire some Contractors to scour the area.”
Vance’s thoughts threatened to overwhelm him after hearing his parent’s revelations. ‘Could it have been fake…? No. Everything had felt so real.’ Then again, he had never experienced a Grim’s magic before so who was he to say what was real or fake during his time in the woods. Vance sighed, it appeared that he would not be getting answers to his questions any time soon.
Despite having slept for the past week in his coma, Vance still felt himself promptly growing tired, and soon fell asleep.
The next few days passed eventfully in the Voss household and the town of Greyhallow. Baron Balor had come personally to see Vance in order to hear him recount his story. His reaction had been uncannily similar to Auron’s. Not long after, Contractors and military personnel flooded the area searching for signs of the elusive rogue Grim.
“Father, what exactly are Contractors? I keep hearing you and Mother talk about them.” Auron flinched at Vance’s question. It appeared that he had wanted to keep Vance in the dark about the situation in Greyhallow but not much went said in the house that made it past Vance’s ears recently.
“Well Vance, Contractors are a division of Seed bearers that work for the Mercenary Guild. They typically form groups of two to three, and the groups usually consist of some combination of an Earth Prime, Grim, or Wind Prime. These groups specialize in tracking down and hunting criminals.” Auron explained. “But don’t worry about what’s happening in Greyhallow Vance, keep focusing on your recovery. We leave tomorrow for the capital.”
The last two weeks had thrown Vance’s perceptions of the world into chaos. He still wasn’t totally convinced that his experience in the forest had been the result of a Grim’s manipulation, but it was the preferable explanation. On one hand Vance now desperately wanted to receive a Seed. He never wanted to be helpless against magic again. Alternatively, he knew that having a Seed would likely place him in more dangerous situations in the future and that was just as frightening a prospect. Weighing all the possibilities, Vance found himself surprisingly eager for the coming Bloom ceremony.