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Awakening Chapter 24: Puzzle

by Otterpop


A sea of darkness surrounded him, but a part of his mind felt so awake. Blake was sure his eyes were open, but this nothingness was very disorienting for some reason. Was he blind? His balance felt a little off too; he wasn't sure if he was sitting down, standing, or even lying down.

Weirder still, he couldn't sense a drop of pain in his body. He couldn't really feel...anything. He stared down with a sunken heart.

"What...where am I?"

Sight, sound, smells...he felt nothing at all. Just an empty loneliness in his chest. Even his own emotions felt all twisted in his own mind. He'd felt this before, though. Whenever he encountered a spirit, he always sensed this emptiness, and now he almost felt that same thing within himself right now. He wasn't dead, was he? No, that didn't feel quite right. Yet this ever-growing despair burned inside. He wanted nothing more than to curl up and drown himself in the dark void. 

......rise.

That was not Blake's own voice, not even his own inner thoughts. It sounded strangely familiar though; he knew he had heard it before. But where, and when? Blake craned his neck and looked around, feeling his own heart racing as he searched for any sign at all that something had changed. There was nothing there, however, only an endless darkness that stretched as far as the eye could see.

He focused harder, noticing something. The faintest glimmer perhaps. Could he see a horizon in the distance, amongst this sea of void?

Your injuries were not nearly as fatal as you may believe, young one.

The voice sounded loud, like it was close. It came from...behind him? Blake spun around and jumped in shock. He didn't know how he saw it, but the shadowy creature standing there was far larger than anything else he'd even encountered. The creature stood at least ten times his own height, and the outline of it was reminiscent of some dragon-like entity. But even that wasn't quite right.

He should be afraid. A talking Shadow, one as massive as this, he should absolutely feel some fear right now. But something about this dark creature was different. It gave off absolutely no malicious aura like the others. And its eyes; they were not silver, but a faded gold that still shimmering calmly in the darkness.

Just what was it?

No, wait, Blake had another question he needed answered first. "So if I'm not dead, am I dreaming?"

This is no dream, young one.

"What else could it be? Are you lying to me?"

A liar I am not. You have never been here, and you do not dream in this moment, not in the way that you would normally see it.

"That...what?"

This Shadow spoke differently than the other ones, as though it grasped far greater intelligence almost like that of a human. Or maybe even something beyond that. Why did it speak and act so differently than any other he'd ever encountered?

"Who, or what, are you?"

That is a difficult question to answer.

How vague. Blake scoffed at the simple and useless response. "Right. You were confident this isn't a dream but you won't tell me who you are? Why?"

You are not ready to understand.

Blake hated that answer, whether this creature was being honest or not.

Your heritage has already begun to emerge.

He paused at hearing such an unexpected comment. "My heritage?" Blake echoed.

You hold great power. And some others fear that power, as Puter learned the hard way.

Blake flinched. "Wait, you know him?!"

I do. And he will not be the only threat.

"He said something similar," said Blake, remembering many of the strange man's threats and remarks. "Who are they, these other people? And what do they want with me?"

They are worse than humans, make no mistake. For what they seek...it is not you, but you may serve as a means to an end in their eyes.

Something was wrong, it seemed harder to hear this Shadow, as if a strong wind had suddenly come in and distorted the air. "But why exactly?" he shouted. "You have to tell me!"

The longer time passed the stronger this strange wind felt. His mind felt fuzzier too, like focus was being sapped right out of him.

Your connection...not yet strong enough. You must be wary of your surroundings and other...be vigilant, hone your skills...

"What skills, what connection?" Blake was losing his grip on his concentration, and for a moment it was as if he couldn't even feel his body. The outline of the creature began to blur as well. He desperately tried once more.

"Tell me what all this means!"

"Next time, you will see better."

Blake froze. A completely different voice coming from elsewhere? He spun around with a jolt, and before all his senses succumbed to nothingness, he caught only the slightest glimpse of a new figure standing there.

A girl in white.

Beep, beep, beep.

The electronic rhythm quickened as Blake open his eyes. It wasn't too bright in this room. Actually, just where was he even? He turned his head, discomforted with having to move, until he caught sight of a machine hooked up next to where he lay. His eyes adjusted before long, and he realized he was in a hospital bed. There was a window to the right of the bed, and to the left a long curtain screen.

He sat up and groaned. He didn't feel any excruciating pain, but a few aches were still present. He then noticed parts of his arm had white patches, a couple with needles poking out from underneath. He looked down and saw he wore a hospital gown. Underneath the garments, he saw some bandages wrapped around his chest and abdomen. He groaned again, louder this time.

"Blake?"

He twisted his head, startled by the voice initially. But he needed only a moment before he could relax. The voice...it was coarse and barely audible, but he recognized it without a doubt.

"M-mom?"

He heard some shuffling around that came from the other side of the curtain. Many seconds later, the curtain finally pulled in towards the wall.

Alisha sat on the edge of her bed, hunched over and weary, but still able-bodied a little. Her skin didn't seem as pale as when he last saw her, a sight which filled his heart with joy. The thick tube tapped to one of her nostrils looked unpleasant. But that hardly mattered.

"Mom..." He said her name again, this time with unrestrained relief. He stared up at the ceiling for a moment, grateful beyond belief, before elbowing back at his mother.

"You look better." Blake wished he could say more, but he felt so tired and exhausted to even speak. His throat felt a little rough too when he tried to swallow.

"Don't worry about me, that's not your job." Alisha strained just to stand, but there was nothing stopping her from walking to her son's bedside. The tube in her nose wasn't long enough and she could not sit next to him however. But she could extend an arm and rest her palm on Blake's cheek. "I am so-" She cleared her throat as she had difficult speaking. "-so sorry that you were so worried and scared because of me. And, I'm sorry, that...that you had to deal with so much on your own."

"Mom." Blake grabbed his mother's hand with his own. He did not take her fingers off his face; he relished the warmth they had right now. "I'm just, I'm just glad you're okay."

"You and me both." Alisha was holding back tears, and still she smiled. "When they brought you in unconscious and injured, I couldn't sleep at all. They took you away for operations and I've never been so scared in all my life."

Blake swallowed. He still found it hard to speak normally. "It was...that bad?"

"I think it was. But when you came back, they told me it wasn't serious enough to warrant surgery. You were already beginning to heal fast on your own. They said you had a strong spirit, and a powerful will to survive."

He should be happy, delighted, that he was still alive. He should celebrate for both him and his mother. Something about her words did not sit right with him, however. He knew he wasn't normal, he'd known that for years. But he was sure there was more going on here than he liked to admit.

In a low voice, Blake asked, "Do you think, maybe, that I survived because of my ability?"

Alisha's expression did not really change. Matter of fact she hardly seemed to emote anything at all for just a moment. "Why would you think that?"

"Mom, I-" How could he explain this? "A lot happened, on the roof. I should have been hospitalized way longer. Maybe even dead. But I'm still here, and healing faster than normal. It sounds crazy, but I know my ability has something to do with it."

Now Alisha's face changed. She carried this odd look, like staring off into space but knowing exactly what she was looking at. He also could tell she did not looked surprised in the slightest. Alisha removed her hand from Blake's cheek, and she looked away. "I don't know exactly how or why you would link those two things together. You have been through a lot in the last few weeks, I'm sure, and there's a lot you and I both don't know. But, I do know how smart you are, so maybe I shouldn't wonder how you tied together those threads. I guess I should say for now that you are right; you might be alive because of your ability. Well, in a way."

"In a way?"

"You belong to a very special lineage," she explained. "You have many great abilities, such as seeing the Spirits and the Shadows."

"And you can, too."

"Yes. Not in the same way though. My bloodline is different from yours."

"What exactly do you mean by bloodline...?" Blake trailed off. The question was still an important one he wanted an answer to, but blood just made him think of something else he wanted to know about.

"Mom, where's June?" he suddenly demanded, staring right at her. "Is she okay?"

Alisha stared back at him with the blankest expression. A few seconds later she relaxed and shook her head. "Honey, I'm sorry. I don't know where she is. Is she in the hospital too?"

Blake gave her a half-hearted nod, but simultaneously clenched one of his fists. Fear seeped into his heart. Is she in some kind of recovery? I don't know, but we need to get her in a room. Blake felt his chest beginning to pound. How long had he himself been unconscious? What about the rest of the hospital? What if her condition had worsened while he lay still in the hospital bed?

Was he asleep for so long he couldn't be there for June when she needed him most?

Something tight clasped onto his hand. Blaze froze even after realizing his mother's thin yet soft fingers clutched his own. The small bags under her eyes did not hide the gentle understanding their brown depths held. "I know you're worried. I am too. But I am not afraid. That young lady has a very strong spirit, and I know you know that too.

"And whatever else worries you about the Shadows, or th-the other thing we'll talk about soon...you have to trust me when I say that it'll be okay. Can you do that? Will you trust me when I say that it will all be okay?"

She had so much confidence in her voice; that and her words did sooth his tension a little. Some calmness washed over his chest, and he took in a deep breath of air. "Yeah, I think I can do that. Sorry, Mom."

With that, a smile on Alisha's face appeared and grew. Both of them squeezed their grip on the other's hand. "You don't have to apologize."

"Miss Douglas!"

Blake's chin jerked upright while Alisha turned around. A woman stood at the doorway of the hospital room, staring at the both of them with wide eyes. She was clearly some kind of nurse or attendant given her garbs.

She walked towards Alisha's bed. "Miss Douglas, you shouldn't be out of bed right now," she reprimanded. She helped Alisha back onto her bed. "We only just removed those tubes earlier this afternoon and I don't want you overexerting yourself."

As the nurse pulled the blankets over Alisha's legs, Blake's mother actually scoffed at the attendants insistence. "My son was waking up and I wanted a moment of peace with him."

Blake quietly chuckled. He so rarely heard his mother speak with such annoyance. Even the nurse looked a little taken aback by the stronger response.

"If you must put those tubes back in because I walked a few feet, the so be it."

"I-I understand, ma'am." The nurse cleared her throat. "We're only keeping an eye on you both while you are still in our care."

Her attention then shifted to Blake and she reached his bedside in moments. She paused, as if lost in thought, and Blake noticed the bags under her eyes, heavier than his mother's. Then the nurse recollected herself and checked the machine next to his bed, and wrote some things on a clipboard she left on Alisha's bed earlier.

She then checked Blake's eyes woth a flashlight she pulled from one of her pockets. "Any discomfort at all? Dizziness, nausea?" she asked while strobing the light in his eyes a little.

"No, not really. My shoulder aches a lot, so does my stomach."

"Amything besides pains or aches for your injuries?"

"No."

"Well, um...if you do have any unusual reactions or sensations, just use the button on the bed to call a nurse over." With that she turned to leave, almost forgetting her clipboard. "Sorry to leave so soon. There are a lot of other patients on this floor I have to che-"

"Wait!"

He stopped the nurse before she could get out of earshot. She eyed him with a curiosity that quickly turned to concern. Blake knew he had to be quick.

"June, June Cordon, do you know her?" he asked rapidly. "She's about my age. I-I wanted to know if maybe she was on this floor, or if you know if she's doing alright?"

The nurse stared at him a few more seconds so he added, "Please, she's my best friend. I have to know if she's okay or not."

"June..."

The way the nurse trailed off left Blake's heart racing. He expected the next words out of her words to echo his worst nightmare.

"Oh, the miracle child!"

What'd she just say? Blake had a mental double take, and he exchanged confused glances with his mother. "What?" was all he could say.

The nurse looked over her clipboard, initially not responding. But then she spoke. "Of course, Blake Douglas. That makes more sense now."

Confused, Blake replied, "It does?"

"Young Miss June was very unstable for some of her stay here. But after those tremors two days ago, we found her in the hallways, and she had miraculously stabilized. We weren't sure how, but somehow she developed antibodies to whatever contagion had spread throughout town.

"She woke up some hours later. And she was asking for someone named Blake."

"Wait, so she's okay? And awake? Can I see her?!"

"W-well, you are still recovering from your injuries and you probably should remain in bed-"

"Please," he begged before she could finish her sentence. "I'll take all the precautions, wait at her bedside as long as it takes. But I have to see her. I want to be there for her."

"I-I don't..."

Blake did not want to wait. As much as his body ached and his wounds still bothered him, he pulled off the bed sheets and swung his legs around, prepping to stand.

"Wait, wait!" The nurse took a few steps forward and held out her hands. Her voice was raised initially, but it lowered after her pause. "Alright, I will see what I can do to let you visit her. But please, stay in bed for now. We don't want any of your stitches ripping and you could still be dehydrated and undernourished."

He wanted nothing more than to ignore her words and leave the room anyways. The worry and the sincerity of her voice, however, made him remain seated for now. The nurse held up open palms for a few seconds longer, until she was certain Blake would not move, and then she left the room. Blake merely sat on the bed, waiting in tense silence.


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Tue Jul 19, 2022 8:24 am
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MailicedeNamedy wrote a review...



Hi Otterpop,

Mailice back again with a short review! :D

It took me a while to get back again, but now I'm here to review the end of your story as well.

At first glance, it was an interesting and well-developed chapter with three different parts. What stood out to me the most was how the transitions between the different parts happened, which I liked, and is also a mix that works well to connect this "spiritual" and "real" section. It seemed mysterious and yet uplifting, just when Blake was able to see his mother again.

There were a few points where I was pleased to have some facts confirmed without it being overdone or textbook like in any way, but there was also a bit where I thought you could expand a bit, like here for example:

Where? When? Blake craned his neck and looked around, sensing something different now. Could he see a horizon in the distance, amongst this sea of void?


Somehow you realise that you are moving towards the end of the story and so it also seems that some things, seem a bit rushed, like here. I think the transition here is a bit too rushed, especially after we've spent the first few sections accompanying a certain calm and slower narrative. I think here you could word it a little differently, or at least write it in such a way that you can follow the direction of Blake's view based on the sentences.

As I mentioned earlier, you can tell that the end is coming and I kind of noticed that when I read the chapter. Here are two more examples:

He didn't know he he saw it, but the shadowy creature standing there was far larger than anything else he'd even encountered.


"Right. You you were confident I wouldn't die easily? Why do you say that? What exactly am I, tell me that!"


Both have a word duplicated and the more you read in the chapter, you also find some spelling mistakes scattered around, where I assume this was done more out of haste because we are reaching the end. This is not a specific criticism of the story, but just a small fact that I noticed.

Still, I think for the most part you've managed to create a very calm and thoughtful transition to where we are, and especially in terms of pacing, I like that it's a bit lighter going now. It's also very noticeable in the characters that it feels like an aftermath now.

Have fun writing!

Mailice




Otterpop says...


Heya Mailice!

I definitely may have moved a bit hastily towards the end there, you might be right on that! But there was a lot to cover and I didn't want to drag it out too much; luckily it seems I had some decent transitioning despite that so it's helpful to know.

Thanks a ton for the review!



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Wed Jun 22, 2022 1:28 am
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SalisRuinen wrote a review...



Hey!! Salis here with another (although quite a late one) review!

I'll admit, you had me going at the beginning. Given all the wounds he suffered, I actually believed that Blake might be dead or at least in a coma-like state. There have been cases of heroes dying right after they've saved the day, after all, so it wouldn't have surprised me if that happened here as well.

The dragon's emergence was the thing that really surprised me. I never imagined to see something like that in the story, much less so associated with Blake, though considering it has features reminiscent of a Shadow, it makes it more believable. It was just a big step-up from the creatures we've seen so far and I wasn't quite ready for that. This is my theory about what the dragon is: a version of the soul of one of Blake's ancestors (or of his whole heritage), having been awakened after he came in contact with Puter and exhausted every ounce of his strength, thus breaking whatever barrier was preventing the dragon to show itself up until now.

I think you also did a great job with the revelations the dragon made by keeping them to a minimum as I myself wasn't expecting Blake's conversation with it to be too long given that it was their first meeting and whatever bond they have is not that strong yet. Showing the protagonist's frustration with the creature's elusive answers was another great tactic because it added a slight comical feel to the earlier part of the conversation - something I really needed after all the traumatic experiences the boy has gone through recently.

Another relief was to see Blake's mother is feeling much better now. Her regaining the ability to move enough to reach her son, so they could actually feel the other is alright instead of just seeing it was great and you've described their experience of this reunion masterfully. With Alisha feeling well enough to answer his questions, my hopes for getting more revelations soon are definitely up!

Lastly, you played nicely with the reader's expectations about June's condition as well. What Blake did with her was unprecedented and it was not clear what the long-term effects of the treatment he administered would be, after all. Anything could've happened to her after he last saw her and there was definitely a lot of tension before the nurse's revelation that she is well. After his reunion with his mother in this chapter, I'm more than ready for Blake to reunite with his friend in the next one as well as for the conversation they're going to have!

Thank you for yet another great chapter! Keep at it!!




Otterpop says...


Not late at all! I appreciate the review however late or early it might seem.

It's great to hear that even in the final chapters, I am still keeping some readers on their toes and able to put in some good character moments. That's very reassuring to know. You also gave some great feedback and theories and I look forward to hearing from you again on the remaining two chapters! Thanks again!



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Fri Jun 10, 2022 12:17 pm
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Liminality wrote a review...



Hi Otterpopǃ Lim here with a header-less review this time.

The mysterious vision/ dream Blake had was very intriguing. I’d suppose the Shadow was the voice that was speaking to Blake at intervals during the story. The girl in white was an appearance I didn’t expect, though. I noticed when she spoke, it was in the regular dialogue format, with speech marks and without italics, almost as if it wasn’t entirely in Blake’s head like the shadow? I wonder if that means something. The interaction with Alisha does raise some questions, but I think it’s too soon for me to formulate any of my usual speculations. And it might be material for the next book, anyway cː

I like the continuity in the concept and design of the otherworldly elements in this story. The ‘void’ that Blake finds himself in very much reminds me of the scene back in the middle of the book when Blake is praying at church and suddenly finds himself surrounded in darkness.

And its eyes; they were not silver, but a faded gold that still shimmering calmly in the darkness.

It may be a bit weird to talk about visual character design in a written work, but this is some nice visual character design. I like that the descriptions highlight how this Shadow is special by both telling and showing. I think ‘silver’ is associated with the cold, and cold is often depicted as being part of the antagonist’s ‘side’ in this story, while I associate gold with warmth. So seeing a Shadow with gold eyes really makes them seem different from all the others and makes me think there’s more to these Shadows than we’ve found out so far.

Something I thought was puzzling about the dream/vision sequence was – why does Blake believe so much that he is dead? My first thought was that maybe it’s because of his powers, which have let him experience the deaths of the Spirits before. I’m guessing that this is why he’s so sure that he’s dead at the beginning of the chapter, but it’s still a guess because it’s not mentioned, even though we’re in Blake’s head. I think it would have had a better flow for me if Blake has a thought like ‘he’d felt this from the spectres before’. If it’s not because of his powers, but rather just the pure qualities of the place, I’m still not sure why he’d think he’s dead? It might just be me, but I’d imagine even in a place that feels like the void, it’s hard to rule out dreams or hallucinations.

The chapter ending felt just a bit abrupt. Like I expected to have the scene play out such that we see the nurse’s response to his request, maybe even see him get out of bed somehow to go and see June. It’s no big deal, since that scene is kind of a ‘mundane’ transitional one. I just find it odd that there is a ‘hanging’ bit of dialogue there left unanswered, and it isn’t a super tense scene where it’s meant to be a big cliffhanger.

Here are some nitpicks from me:
He looked down amd saw he wore a hospyial gown.

Probably meant ‘and’ and ‘hospital’ there.
He stared up at the ceiling for a moment, grateful beyond belief, before elbowing back at his mother.

Did you mean to type ‘looking back’?
"What exactly do you men by bloodline...?"

That was probably supposed to be ‘mean’.

I thought this chapter showed an interesting twist on the ‘prophetic vision that informs protagonist of his destiny/ future’ trope.
They are worse than humans, make no mistake about that. As for what they seek...it is not you, but you may serve as a means to an end, to them.

For one thing, it’s not really giving him a vision of ‘his’ destiny per say, but rather an ominous warning about what will happen in the future. The appearance of the girl was also interesting. I wonder if she’s actually someone that he knows personally . . . hmm.

Alisha’s reaction to Blake’s questions suggests she doesn’t really want to talk about the powers (and perhaps about his father, since she mentioned it’s not her bloodline?). It’s kind of noteworthy, but at this point I feel like I don’t know enough about Alisha and what she’s like to really contextualise her reaction or fit it in to her broader character arc.

Overall, I thought the dream/vision was a good way to ‘wrap up’ Blake’s encounters with the supernatural so far and tease further developments. I’m also curious to see what will happen when Blake gets to see June again.

Hope some of this was helpful, and feel free to ask for more feedback!
-Lim

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Otterpop says...


Hey Lim, thanks for the review! You make an excellent point about the sort of dark dream sequence; I suppose I hadn't thought all of the elements through when writing it but for him to immediately assume he's dead may be a little overexaggerated and I could probably rewrite it without causing too many issues.

And of course thanks for the rest of the feedback! You're almost done with the story and I hope you are still hooked a little by the end of it!




Almost all absurdity of conduct rises from the imitation of those whom we cannot resemble.
— Samuel Johnson