A grey mist stretched endlessly in every direction. Echo shivered uncontrollably. His teeth chattered in the bitter cold. Around him the world was cast in an unnatural darkness. Empty and void.
He wandered, naked save for the crucifix around his neck, through the darkness. He felt eyes as old as time watch him from a distance. From his lips fell ancient prayers invoking the names of saints and angels to guide his words to God’s ear.
Every footfall sent arcs of shooting pain through his body. He marched onward driven by instinct. Though he didn’t know where he found himself, he knew he was not lost.
He came upon a tree. It was diseased and bare. Charred black as if scorched by fire. Its branches weaved sharp and profane through the grey mists, stretching and winding until lost in the fog.
A sicking odor wafted from the tree. Smoke, brimstone, and human waste churned his stomach. Upon the lowest branch sat a great white owl. The creature, majestic and wicked, sat upon its perch in regal lordship over the mists.
“My child,” the raspy voice of an old woman emanated from the owl though its beak never moved, “your prayers are in vain. God has long since abandoned you.”
“T-the Lord does not abandon his children.” Echo said defiantly.
“And yet you wander my mists alone, hunted by ancient and terrible beasts, with only the weight of a dead god around your neck.”
“W-who are you?”
Echo trembled. Whether by cold or fear, he did not know.
“Mother. Giver of life and power. She whose lineage courses through your veins. Who guarded your ancestors in times of persecution. Whose gifts manifest in you, the last of your line. It is I who have given you eyes to see. Whose gifts you waste in the service of a God who doesn’t care.”
“Lie? How dare you! Mind to whom you speak, boy!”
The thunderous voice shook the ground beneath Echo’s feet, throwing him off balance.
“Pitiful mortal,” the owl crooned. “I forgive your insolence. I am gracious and kind to my children. Tear that fetter from your neck, and I shall guide you.”
Echo rose weakly to his feet. He could feel the icy hatred of the creature despite its words. It was devoid of any grace or kindness. He stared at the owl for a moment before speaking.
“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”
“What did you say?” Every word from the raspy voice was sharp and carried an unspoken warning.
“I will fear no evil.”
“Foolish little man!”
The creature spread out its grand wings which spanned a breadth longer than a man was tall. With a powerful push it soared upward, disappearing into the mists. Echo searched the sky waiting for the owl to descend. His body trembled uncontrollably.
In the distance, far above him, beyond his vision, he could hear the cawing of crows. Thousands of black birds descended through the mists striking against his body. The vast murder scratching and pecking at his flesh.
He was thrown against the gnarled tree. Branches whipped through the air wrapping around him, binding him to the trunk. The crows relentlessly continued their assault.
“Will you let me save you?” The raspy voice spoke over the deafening caws of the frenzied black birds.
The murder of crows vanished in a black smoke. The branches coiled around Echo tightened splintering bones and cracking ribs. He let out a painful cry.
Before him stood a girl in a floor length black dress. A leather mask accented with white feathers and forming the shape of an owl hid her face. She clasped her hands behind her.
“But you will be destroyed.” The girl said.
“But…” Echo panted and gasped for breath. “my soul will be delivered to God.”
The girl let out a long shriek like that of bird of prey. She brought a talon adorned hand across Echo’s face.
“God is dead. Let me save you!”
The girl stepped back. The branches binding Echo gave up their grip allowing him to fall to the ground once more. Cuts and scrapes covered his body.
“You will let me save you.”
“No. No. No.” Echo panted.
“Enough!” The girl pulled Echo to his feet. With a free hand she drove her talons into his eye sockets. Echo screamed in agony. “I will open your eyes. You will see the horror around you. You will beg me for protection. You will call upon me to save you, and I shall come. And you will be mine.”
In a single motion she ripped her talons from his eyes throwing him through the air as if he were weightless. He crashed into the ground and rolled a few feet before coming to sudden stop.
The cold gave way to a blistering heat. The smell of smoke burned his is nostrils. He gasped feeling his windpipe closing off.
Echo bolt upright. He was in the kitchen of his childhood home. A fire raged all around him. Black smoked billowed throughout the house. He remembered Chris and the attack. He looked around and found his satchel was gone.
He scrambled to his feet. His body still aching from taser and Chris’s boot to the groin. Grabbing a kitchen chair he swung it desperately against the sliding glass door. The glass fractured sending a spiderweb of cracks out from the point of impact. He swung the chair once more shattering the glass.
Clearing away the large pieces of glass remaining in the door’s seized frame with the chair he stumbled into the backyard. Sweat beaded along his bald head and rolled down his face. He watched in horror as his home was consumed in fire.