This is a collection of stories that tell of the adventures and history of Jaired Delone, written by the player.
The moon wasn't red here. Instead it stared down like an oppressive eye, shedding the entire landscape in its barely lit glow. Everything was black and wrapped in a blanket of shadow so pure that the eye's light did little to peel away the ever present layers of darkness. Ebon trees reached forth, their branches void of even a single leaf to betray the visage of lifelessness. Yet the branches swayed, and creaked in an unfelt breeze... sounding out like a chorus of the damned, and the unremembered.
A boy skipped through the matching underbrush. He held a stick of shadow in his hands, and gleefully swatted at the undulating grasses to clear a path forward. At the boy's feet, small little seedlings of light attempt to spring forth from the blackened earth, but quickly whither and die to ultimately dissolve into the colorless landscape. He was safe here, this world was his, and nothing could touch him.
Then a howl pierced the night.
The black grasses responded with a sibilant hiss as the boy's merry steps came to a halt. As he turned his faceless expression towards the sound, the whispers of the shadows came to live in stark unison.
Quickly the boy began to run, each step growing more urgent than the last as his hands protectively clutched at his stick of shadow. He wasn't running away from the sound, however. Rather he was heading right towards it. Another howl pierced the night, but it was quickly cut short and ended in a high-pitched yelp.
Hearing the commotion ahead, the boy burst through the tall grasses into a clearing. There on the ground sprawled a jackal, each of its limbs coiled in violent tendrils of shadow. A coil also closed around the creature's throat, reducing it to a pathetic silence as the boy watched and began clapping his hands. The amber eyes of the Jackal focused on the boy as it choked for breath and struggled against its restraints, its lips snarling to display a maw of angry ivory teeth.
Such color, such vibrant color! That was a rarity on this world, and the boy wondered what other colors that he could find. A faceless being of shadow slowly rose from the earth beside the boy, presenting him with a curved blade in a most revered fashion. The boy dropped the stick, which fell to the ground without so much as a clatter before simply dissolving back into nothingness.
Taking hold of his new toy, the boy walked towards the subdued jackal and quickly swung towards its throat. A vibrant spray of red littered the shadows, splattering in sickly wet sounds all around as countless tendrils of shadow erupt where each drop fell. As the amber eyes began to dim the boy took another swing, followed by another, and then another. The shadows rejoiced in the rain, and the faceless boy laughed. So did they.
"Hrm?" he asked in a sleepy daze, waking from his slumber as a blue-eyed black cat padded around upon his lap, "Oh, hey Cat... I guess you want breakfast?"
He fell asleep on the beach chair again, as he usually did. The breaking light of dawn cast the ocean in a golden hue as the waves lazily lurched their way onto the sands of the beach. The cat jumped from his lap and made its way back into the villa, content with its duty. With a labored stretch he rose to his feet, following the ordeal with a slow rub at the back of his head.
Another day, another hangover.
Perfectly black branches creaked and groaned as they swayed upon the unfelt breeze. The boy sat upon a rather precarious perch, having climbed his way nearly to the top of the tallest tree. It stood like a sprawling spire of shadow set against a canvas of gray, a lone sentinel basked in the dimming light of the moon above. The moon was getting closer, that much was certain. The boy raised his pitch black hand and measured the moon's size between his thumb and forefinger, as if the moon's size was a way to gauge how close it had come.
A small figure of shadow rose from the branch behind the boy, breaking his attention from the moon's oppressive light. He pulled his knees into his chest while he turned around to face the little creature, giving it his undivided attention as a writhing appendage of black gestured wildly to the ground below. Something was wrong, that much was certain.
The boy simply stood while lifting his arms in a lazy stretch, yawning voicelessly before taking a careless step forward and right off of the branch. The world sped by in a blur of blacks and greys as he fell. A brief, childish laugh broke the silence as a sudden burst of shadowy tentacles erupted from the underbrush to catch him, slowing his descent and carefully placing him upon the black earth.
Small motes of light appeared beneath each step he took as he ventured forth through the various shrubs and grasses, but inky shadows quickly writhed into existence to consume each glowing footprint in order to hide his trail. The earth shook with an alien tremor, forcing the boy to halt his progress and scan the surroundings. It was quiet. It was too quiet. The shadows themselves seemed still with a sensation that seemed foreign to him. Was it fear? Or was it...
Suddenly the tree in front of the boy exploded into a shower of perfectly black splinters and spiraling branches. The force threw him to the ground where he tumbled backwards into an uncontrolled, helpless roll. His ears rang as he struggled to gain his bearings, clawing his hands into the black earth to push himself back to his feet. The world was a blur before him as his unsteady vision struggled to take in the scene.
Small splinters and shreds of decimated shadow continued to fall from above as the boy stared at what he beheld before him. A monstrous being, its massive shoulders heaving with each ragged breath as it clutched the haft of a colossal black maul. Two impossibly large horns protruded from each side of its head, flanking a pair of brightly glowing red eyes. With a snap of sound a pair of thick tentacles quickly wrapped their way around the hulking form, but their attempts to secure it were quickly thwarted as the monster broke free without so much as a struggle.
The abomination hefted its maul high over its head and brought it down upon the ground with an ear shattering crash. The boy was thrown back again, tumbling helplessly through the underbrush before stopping abruptly against the trunk of a tree which glowed for but a moment before succumbing back to a perfect black. His small body responded with a painful wince, but the monster before him would give him no time to react.
The entire world quaked with each thunderous, hooved step as the monster charged towards him. The boy reached to his side and produced a curved blade from seeming nothingness, only to have it knocked free from his grasp with a devastatingly precise swing of the minotaur's maul. His hand rang with intense pain, and he clutched at it as he fell to his knees in a pathetic slump. The minotaur tilted its head, snorting derisively at the helpless little being beneath him. It arched its shoulders back, drew in a mighty breathe, and then lurched forward in a deafening roar.
The boy desperately clutched his hands around his ears, curling into a ball upon the ground at the monster's mercy. Again, the creature raised its maul over its head as its eyes burned with impossible rage... and again the earth shook, but this time... it was not of the minotaur's doing. A deafening crack followed, forcing the monster to stumble and regain its footing as the entire world began to tilt.
Several tentacles of shadow urged the boy back to his feet, and before he was allowed even a moment to react they threw him forcefully against the trunk of a nearby tree. The minotaur's massive head turned from side to side, looking frantically all about as its footing began to slide backwards. The boy wrapped his arms around the tree as it became impossible for his feet to remain affixed upon the ground. He watched as the minotaur began to slide back through the brush, attempting to grasp and clutch at the trees it fell past.
Painfully the boy climbed his way to the other side of the tree's trunk, laying upon it as the world continued to roll onto it's side. Another deafening roar of unbridled rage cried out through the night, and the boy simply watched as the hulking, flailing form of the minotaur began to fall into the abyss.
"The hell?" Jaired uttered in a start, sitting up swiftly as a curtain of white sand fell from his back.
He issued a visible wince as he brought his right hand to rub at his left shoulder, massaging away the stiffness of an uncomfortable slumber while he glanced around the beach. A blue-eyed black cat lazily stretched nearby before plopping unceremoniously onto the wooden slate of the chair.
"Hm... must have fallen out of the chair again." ReprieveEdit
The boy slowly waved his hand back and forth, his faceless gaze staring intently upon it as sways of shadow drifted lazily from each of his fingertips. The moon was getting bigger, and it dominated most of the sky. Pale light filtered through the branches of the black trees, and the boy sat up upon his precarious perch to take in the landscape. The world itself had saved him from the minotaur, but the memory of the terrible beast continued to plague his thoughts. Such terrible eyes.
He hated those eyes.
It was then that he heard a giggle break the din. His head turned towards the sound, only to hear another from a different direction. He clamored to his feet quickly, looking frantically all about as the world about him stilled. What was that? It sounded like a girl.
A few more painfully long moments of silence passed and the shadows themselves seemed to give up their vigil. The branches swayed again in an unfelt breeze, and his thoughts strayed back to the moon above. Did he really just hear that? Or was his head just playing tricks on him? This place did have that tendency, after all.
With a frustrated sigh, the boy laid back upon the branch and draped his arm across his face. He had to do something to shield his unseen eyes from the offensive light. He hated the moon. He hated its light.
Jaired rolled to his side, the rickety wood of the beach chair doing little to support his change in position. The sun was just beginning to crest over the water, and his eyes slowly opened into a squinted stare. Cat wasn't there to greet him as usual. Probably because it was too early. Too damned early, to be more precise. A few more winks of sleep probably wouldn't hurt anyway.
The fire crackled, sending small embers to drift upwards through the desert air. The smell of the yierka's burning dung was prevalent, but something about it always seemed a bit comforting despite the noxious fume. His hands idly rubbed at the hinged brace encasing his right leg. The sand did nothing for it, and the dry air did even less for the pain.
"To seal the Shadow," she spoke slowly to make sure he understood each word, sitting from across the flames, "You must seal them deep within."
His response was unspoken, he merely glanced towards the shaman and gave a subtle nod.
"You will not dream again once the seal is in place."
This gave him a start, and he looked her over curiously for a long moment. His eyes narrowed as he pondered the weight of the proposal. Just where was she going with this, anyway?
"They will be placed in your second mind," she said matter of factly, her voice even and deliberate as she gauged his reaction, "Where they will trouble you no more."
"What is to keep them from breaking free, and leaking into my subconscious?" he replied, his brow arched skeptically as his arms folded across his chest.
"The seal is not perfect, make no mistake... but we can sate them."
"Sate them how?"
"You must leave part of you with them..."
The moon was now as the sky. The boy stared up at it with a sense of wonder while the black branches of the trees continued to sway. His unseen eyes were getting used to the light, just as the rest of his world was. The stronger the light, the darker the shadow.
Each day it seemed as though the moon was growing larger at an increased rate, and the shadows all around him were definitely taking notice. They weren't paying him much attention of late, and he couldn't help but question just what they were up to.
It was then that a small being of shadow slowly emerged from the black surface of the boy's perch. It bowed its head as he regarded it, and a shadowy limb sprouted from its side to point towards the sky. The boy's gaze followed the being's direction and watched where it suggested.
His unseen eyes squinted to make out what he saw. He stood from his perch and took a few slow steps forward, causing motes of light to sprout from the ground beneath his feet. The being of shadow lunged at the light, hungrily devouring it with its writhing maw as if it were scraps dropped from the table.
Two figures. He could barely make them out upon the ridge of a particular crater, but they were there. One large, and one smaller... but there was something about the smaller that caused him alarm. As he stared upon the figure, he couldn't help but feel that it was staring right back.
What a horrible sound. Jaired slowly sat up upon the wooden slats of the chair. Every joint popped and cracked to voice their defiance as he turned towards the cat sitting at his feet.
"Morning, Cat," he droned as he idly scratched at the back of his head. He took in a deep breath of the morning air, only to be respond with a reflexive scowl, "...you smell that? Smells like a freakin' yierka."
The Crimson Moon bathed the white sands of the beach in its ever present sheen, and the lapping waves of the sea were as blood as they gently undulated along the shore. Aside from the change of lighting, the Isle of Four Winds had been spared the violence that had befallen the Landing and its neighbors.
"Hell..." he muttered, glancing at the nearly empty glass of scotch in his hand.
That was the biggest problem as he saw it. The relative proximity of himself on the beach and the kitchen within the villa was much too far. His eyes drearily glanced to his side, where the blue-eyed black cat lazily cleaned one of its paws.
"If you were a dog at least I could train you to fetch the bottle..."
The feline didn't respond, as felines are want to do. He muttered bitterly to himself as his gaze drifted back to the red waves of the ocean. His thoughts were heavy of late, as was were the lids of his eyes. Each morning he felt more and more tired than he did the night before, and he was beginning to wonder how much worse it was going to get.
The nearly empty glass fell to the sands in an unceremonious plunk. His eyes grew even heavier yet, and his jaw clenched as the scene before him began to fade. That damn moon. He was beginning to hate its light.
Blazing fires of pure white light raged all around the forest. The crackling flames mingled with the screams of the world and the boy could only clutch desperately at the side of his head. It felt like it had been days since the battle started, and in truth it very well could have been. The moon above seemed so close that he could touch it.
A pair of small shadowy figures emerged from the ground beside him, and frantically began swatting at his side to gather his attention. Not again. The boy quickly scrambled to his feet and began following after them. The moon shone bright for a moment, and then a horrible ray of light descended into the black ground with a devastating crack. The black trees and underbrush were immediately consumed, and the resulting shock wave sent twigs and branches flying past the boy as he ran.
Why was this happening? The shadowlings pulled him forward through the forest as they chattered back and forth at one another. They seemed as desperate as he was, and he didn't care where they were leading him. Anywhere was better than where he was. His unseen eyes glared at the moon as his anger began to well. The light began to subside in the aftermath of the attack, and the dark craters became visible once more.
He studied the surface as he ran blindly behind his guides, stumbling here and there as a result of his distracted attention. They had to be there. Somewhere. Watching. He could feel their eyes. The shadowlings clicked their annoyance at the boy's detached state, but he couldn't be bothered to pay them much heed.
The pair of figures stood at the edge of a smaller crater. He focused his attention upon them and noticed the smaller one give the larger the briefest of nods. This caused the boy to stop dead in his tracks and swat at the protesting tendrils of the frantic shadowlings. The large figure seemed to gather itself, and then simply lunge forth from the surface of the moon.
The hulking, radiantly glowing figure drew closer and closer. The pair of shadowlings gave off their own version of a terrified shriek before dispersing back into the shadows of the earth. The boy's faceless gaze was transfixed on the invader, and he took a few cautions steps backwards as it raced impossibly fast towards where he stood. Yet he watched steadfast.
No. It couldn't be. A crippling wave of fear coursed through his small form as the figure speeding towards him came into view. It was the minotaur. How could it be? He watched it die. He watched it consumed by the void. In that same moment the moon grew impossibly bright as it prepared another assault of its judgmental light. There was nowhere to run this time.
This was it.
The high-pitched ring was so pure. It violated his every sense as it rippled through his ears and into his mind. The searing pain burned like the indiscriminate lick of a flame across every last inch of his shadowy skin. He was alive, that was about the only silver lining that he could cling onto as he struggled to push himself to his feet.
Everything was still blinding white, but the familiar landscape of the forest was gradually beginning to return as the light receded. He gasped for breath, and his chest retaliated with shocks of agony that forced him back to his knees. His gaze lifted as he felt eyes upon him, and he took in the form of the minotaur as his vision struggled to find its focus.
It looked different than before. So very different. Its eyes had transformed from their glowing red to an almost tranquil blue, and its entire form was illuminated in an unwavering light. The same light as the moon's. The ringing in his ears was just beginning to subside, and the minotaur drew back a deep breath before bellowing a deafening roar.
So much for that idea.
The light of the moon faded further, and the black landscape once again took precedence... at least what was left of it. The perfectly black brush and forest that surrounded him was replaced by a barren crater, but the shadows rushed back within to begin their counter attack on the invader.
Terrible screeches and howls pierced the night as thick tendrils of shadows burst forth from the ground to entangle the glowing hulk of minotaur. The boy could only watch as the light radiating from the minotaur's frame simply melted the shadows away. Its hooved feet crushed into the black earth as it walked forward, light emanating from each heavy step.
The boy clenched his fist and glared defiantly at the monster. Shadows arose from behind him that caused the minotaur to take pause. Anger permeated the area and the twisting tendrils of pitch black responded in turn. The boy turned towards towards the column of shadow and away from the minotaur. He had never seen them act like this before, but he was beginning to understand.
The shadows formed into a horrible visage. One of sharp claws, horned teeth, and demon's wings. It opened its maw towards the boy and he simply walked towards it. He lifted his small, shadowy hand and touched one of the glistening black fangs. The minotaur roared in defiance and lunged forth, but not before the demon of shadow could swallow the boy whole.
The pain was coming back. It was subtle, minute, and barely a whisper of what it once was... but he couldn't doubt it anymore. He slowly traced a fingertip across the place just above his knee, where he knew the scar still remained. It was already starting to slow him down. At first he just blamed the restless nights, and the crimson moon, but now the cause was becoming more apparent.
"Mrrrrow..." the cat uttered, sounding rather annoyed as it arched its back towards his draping hand.
"Whats the matter with you, Cat?" he responded, scratching at the soft, black fur for a moment before his attention went back to the growing numbness of his leg.
Of course, the feline didn't respond. It merely tilted its head and gave out a content purr at the attention it was now properly receiving. Somehow the seal was weakening. He knew that it was only a matter of time until he would have to risk replacing it again, but, he didn't think that it would be quite so soon... and not now.
"Well, they sure have a knack for timing..." he muttered in a bitter hush, reaching for the glass of scotch resting upon the arm rest of the beach chair.
He lifted the glass and brought it to his lips for a brief, yet satisfying sip. A ring of moisture remained on the painted surface where the glass previously perched, and in an almost idle gesture he swapped the drink to his other hand and began tracing the tip of his finger through the beading moisture.
"Mrrrroooooowwww..." the cat voiced in disapproval, and he quickly juggled the glass of scotch back to his free hand.
"Yeah yeah..." he droned, reaching down to resume scratching his fingers along the cat's arching back, "More scratching..."
He took a slower, longer sip of the amber spirit and lifted his eyes toward the red moon above. He'd have to deal with that in time as well, but, it would seem there were more pressing matters at hand. In an abrupt gesture he plopped the glass of scotch back onto the arm of the chair, all but erasing the intersected spiral he had just traced.
He could feel the wind. He wasn't sure how, and he really wasn't entirely sure where he was, but the fact that he could feel it told the boy that he was still alive. His unseen eyes opened to see the minotaur before him, slowly pacing to its right as if to circle aside to his flank. It didn't make any sense, the last thing he remembered was the demon of shadow, and the terrifying sight of its jagged maw before it descended around him.
The minotaur gave out a deafening roar, the massive, glowing horns on either side of its head trembling in suite with its rage. Yet it didn't approach, for some reason it was still keeping its distance. Something was different. The boy noticed his perspective seemed different. He seemed... taller. He seemed larger.
He lifted his hands to look at them, and instead of his small, perfectly black fingers he bore witness to a set of wickedly curved talons. They dripped with shadows that fell like blood towards the earth, and he began to tremble with delight as he realized what had just happened. He reared back his awful, demonic head and let loose a maniacal laugh. The sound was that of a piercing shriek, one that forced the minotaur before him to recoil as if it was pushed back by an overwhelming wave of force.
Tiny bits of shadow began lifting from the black earth at the boy's clawed feet, rising like forlorn ash wrought from its place of rest. He stared at the moon that dimmed noticeably as if in reaction... which only served to bolster his renewed spirit. He hissed a deep breath and set his glare back upon the minotaur before him, which reached above its head and formed a grip in the air. A blinding beam of light appeared between its hands and formed into an impossibly huge hammer of pure radiance. Neat trick.
The boy responded with a terrible, defiant roar that forced the minotaur back as it instinctively braced the hammer before itself to ward off the onslaught. Enough of this, he thought, and in an almost unseen blur of movement he sped towards the minotaur.
This was going to end now.
The entire world shuddered as the massive hammer descended upon it, easily cracking the surface as splinters of blinding light forked forth between the resulting fractures of rubble. Too slow. The boy merely leaped into the air and gave a single flap of his new inky black wings. The minotaur pulled its hammer back and waited in a readied stance as it watched the demonic visage descending towards it.
In a powerful swing the minotaur bought the hammer around its shoulder and towards the demon just as it approached, but the dripping black claws of its talons simply wrapped their way around the haft and halted the attempt with the barest of efforts. The demon's other hand forcefully clenched its claws right into the minotaur's face as the momentum of the rapid descent threw the minotaur from its feet and onto its back.
The minotaur roared in pain as each perfectly black claw began to inch into its glowing flesh. Writhing pools of shadow began to form and spread around each puncture, withering away and feeding off of the light they squelched. The faceless expression of the demon cracked into a maw of jagged teeth as the boy howled, the laughter almost ecstatic while the minotaur's hand took purchase once again upon its hammer.
With a quick swing the radiantly glowing head of the hammer crushed into the boy's skull, sending him aside in an uncontrolled tumble as the minotaur fought to regain its bearings. The inky black scars from the demon's claws burned away from the minotaur's skin, leaving nothing but a perfectly serene glow in their wake.
It didn't hurt as much as it probably should have... but this was getting tiresome. The boy leaped back to his feet and splayed his new claws, staring with murderous intent at the minotaur before him. He could feel it. He could feel the entire world around him. He could feel its power. It was intoxicating. The minotaur glanced up towards the moon, and the boy couldn't help but follow the monster's gaze. There it was again, that other figure.
The minotaur's shoulders slouched as it gave an almost imperceptible nod. An opening. The boy immediately lunged towards the minotaur, but it was ready. In a spiraling macabre of flailing claws and swinging hammer, the two exchanged a series of blows upon one another that threatened to tear the very fabric of the blackened world apart. The searing light of the hammer burned at the boy's shadowy form with each strike, and the raking of his claws left the minotaur's flesh blacked and tainted.
In an instance the entire surface upon which they fought shuddered in an unimaginable quake. Four tremendous columns of pure shadow erupted forth from the earth and plunged directly into the moon above. The minotaur gazed up in horror as shadowy black pools began to spread from the points of impact, and the boy was not about to let the distraction go unpunished.
In one devastating pounce the boy crashed into the minotaur and forced it onto its back, sending the hammer to clatter onto the black earth where its light was quickly consumed by the waiting shadows and dissolved into withering black mass. Having learned from past mistakes, the boy chose not to revel in the moment and quickly thrust his entire clawed hand through the prone minotaur's chest.
Black blood was spat from the minotaurs mouth as it coughed pathetically, and the boy's faceless maw split into a shattered grin of jagged teeth as he stared down at his victim. The fading blue eyes of the minotaur simply stared back at him. Black pools of corruption were already beginning to spread from the mortal wound through the monster's chest, easily squelching the dimming light of its skin.
The minotar lifted its heavy hand and painfully inched it towards the boy, whom remained transfixed by the gesture as the minotaur's extended finger reached closer and closer towards him. The moon suddenly grew impossibly bright, and the boy instantly looked up towards it with a sensation of pure dread. What was this? The light singed at his unseen eyes and he recoiled only find himself staring at the minotaur's approaching hand, which simply gave his brow the briefest, and simplest of taps.
It was in that moment that the ray of light descended upon them both, obliterating everything in its indiscriminate wake.
Ashes descended from the night sky in a slow, dreary calm. The boy sat up painfully, clutching at the sides of his head as he tried to clear it from its fogged state. Smoke still rose from his perfectly black skin, and he couldn't help but sigh in disappointment as he realized he had reverted back to his small, unimposing form. The searing light of the moon had certainly done its number upon him, and in being honest with himself, he thought it was going to be the end of him.
With a pained groan he pushed himself fully to his feet and took a cautious look around his surroundings. The black landscape in which he stood was bleak, having been transformed into nothing more than a lifeless crater. The falling ash made it hard to see, but he lifted his eyes towards the sky and struggled to make out the moon. It was further away. In fact, it was the furthest away that he could remember. Cowards. It was running away.
He took a few steps forward and the small motes of light that marked his footprints didn't fade as they always had before. This worried him for a moment. The shadows were always so fast to consume the light he left wherever he touched, he just sort of assumed that was why they were so nice to him and looked after him. Were they all dead?
The thought that he could be all alone now weighed heavily upon his mind as he sought to find the end of the crater. Perhaps the moon wasn't retreating. Perhaps it finished exactly what it had intended to do. Annoyed by the the ashes accumulating upon him, he swatted at his arms and shoulders to shake the blackened flakes loose as he neared the jagged ridge. All he saw before him was even more disappointment.
He flailed his small arms in sheer frustration as he took in the impossible climb before him. Just what the hell was he supposed to do now!? He clutched his fingers against the unseen ridge of his unseen nose and simply glowered. With an unceremonious plop he sat upon the ground, tightly folding his arms across his chest as he uttered all manner of curses and profanities.
Time mattered little for he had nothing but time at the moment. He didn't know how long he sat there, or how long ago the ash stopped falling from the sky... be he was starting to know all too well what a terrible conversationalist time had turned out to be. Small tufts of light were beginning to form around him where he sat, unfurling and reaching upward like fledgeling blades of grass. He gave off another huff of disapproval as he studied the sheer, jagged ridge that loomed before him just as he had done countless times before.
Wait. What was that? He stood suddenly and stared intently at one spot in particular. The shadows moved. He gave a desperate wave to call attention to himself, but nothing happened. The shadows of the jagged rock fell still and they gave no response. His small shoulders slouched and his gaze dropped to glowing ground beneath him. Well didn't that just figure.
Then he heard a familiar click, followed by another. In a blur he twisted about towards the sound to spy a pair of shadowlings standing a few paces away. Little, swaying appendages sprouted from their sides and gave enthusiastic waves. He bounced towards them with gleeful steps and they summarily danced about him with matching zeal. He glanced behind him to see the light left by his steps being quickly eaten away by the perfectly black earth. An ecstatic, childish laugh ringed through the air as he knelt to embrace the small creatures. They were back.
Of course they were back. They were never really gone.
He held his hand up towards the moon, gazing at it from its position between his thumb and forefinger. The gesture in particular was not something he had ever done before, but in some odd way it felt like he had been doing it his whole life, as if it was some kind of childhood habit from days gone.
It seemed so small this way. So insignificant. Yet there was no doubting the oppressive crimson glow. It bathed everything in its light, casting the whole world in red. But for the moment, that was just fine... it made the blood blend in with the shadows, and dulled the line between each.
His perch was an odd one. He lounged back upon the shattered remains of a construct, wedged comfortably between the joint that once made up the creature's shoulder. The screech of griffins and the moans of sirens had been drowned out long ago. Darkstone was a place he hunted and trained in his earlier years, and he knew the old castle well, but this night the courtyard and the gate house were reduced to killing fields.
Blood soaked the ground with Sheruvian blood. It rolled down the walls in thick rivulets like a masochistic tapestry. He carved a masterpiece of violence into the flesh of victim after victim, and as such for now they were giving him all of the room he needed. The blood-stained edge of an eonake broadsword clanked against the stone of the construct's former arm in a lazy, broken rhythm. He clutched the weapon halfheartedly. It meant nothing to him, it was just something he had liberated from one of the Sheruvians outside of the castle. It didn't need it anymore.
He had done this. What he couldn't figure out is why he didn't feel any better for it? He thought he would be prepared for it when the time came. It was not something he had shied away from as inevitable, yet when the Seer came to the Park with the news of Pip's passing, it tore a hole through him. It wasn't one anyone could see, and it wasn't one he was about to show.
Maybe if he killed a few more he could fill it. He gave a rickety stretch before pushing himself back to his feet, and swung the broadsword about a few times in a lazy, non-committed effort to limber up. With a few steps he leaped from the rubble of the fallen construct to the crimson, blood-soaked ground.
There would be no tears from the Marshal. He couldn't remember how.
The sun was finally beginning to rise. The waves of the sea gently crept their way up the crystal white sands of the beach, only to recede once again in an uninterrupted rhythm. Even Cat was avoiding him this time. The stench of death had to linger about him like a noxious cloud, and there was no way the blood was going to wipe clean of the chair's painted white slats.
He was wrong. He couldn't kill enough to fill the hole... but it wasn't without trying. The crimson glow from the moon was beginning to recede as the warm rays of the sun began to creep their way over the horizon. For what good that did, for he didn't feel it nor did he take notice. He was numb... unbearably so... or perhaps comfortably so... it really didn't matter. Mularos would be disappointed.
Something the Seer said stuck with him. It was not so much of a comfort, as it was a moment of clarity of sorts... he just couldn't completely wrap his head around it yet. It was like a word at the tip of the tongue, an idea or a memory that simply vanished before conscious thought could properly take hold of it.
"She said to tell you that she found her strength in the place she least expected it."
"She said she will see you in the sands, where light springs from each step."
He knew this place, and somehow he knew it well... he just didn't know where he knew it from, and he couldn't properly bring the image of it to his mind. For the moment it eluded him, but, he was beginning to piece it together. The memories were like those of a dream... only he hadn't dreamed in years. He knew why, and it was this knowledge that began to trouble him.
"Clever girl..." he uttered to himself again, as they were the words he used to respond to the Seer the night before.
He leaned forward in the chair and reached his hands back to tighten the ahmdir wrap concealing his face. If he was right, and he was to see Pip again in the place he was beginning to believe she described... it was going to be dangerous. For a lot of people. His eyes narrowed as he squinted towards the sun, the thought and the very idea growing heavier and heavier on his mind.
Just a little further. One more reach of his hands, one more pull of his arms, and one more push of his legs and he'd finally be atop the perfectly black ridge. At least this is what he kept telling himself. A stone of shadow crumbled beneath one of his feet and clattered down the steep grade, audibly providing for him a stark reminder just how far down a fall would be. The pair of shadowlings coached him upwards, clicking with encouragement and occasionally offering what little help they could to ease the seemingly endless climb.
With a heavy breath he plopped down onto an outcropping with a rather artful plop, turning about once and throwing up his arms in frustration. The pair of shadowlings chittered in a sound that he could only interpret as laughter as he pulled his knees up into his chest and hugged his arms around them. What'd they know, anyway? He exhaled a tired huff as he lifted his head to stare at the moon again. It definitely wasn't getting any closer, which was good... but it was certainly getting darker. Four scars of black were spreading slowly across the glowing surface, dimming its damning light and bringing a shred of hope to the boy as he sat and gathered his strength.
The shadowlings played and tussled beside him, swatting and kicking at one another in a playful little brawl as he watched with a barely audible snicker. Obviously, shadows never got tired... but what did that make him? He gazed at his hand and slowly waved it back and forth, examining each of the perfectly black wisps of shadow that drifted in his gesture's wake. Curiously he lowered his hand and poked a finger to the equally black stone of his perch. His unseen brow no doubt curled as he stared contemplatively at the light that began to slowly spread from the point where he touched. A feeling of unease washed over him as the shadowlings tackled his hand in unison and banished the light away. As one of them pried his hand up from the perch, the other clicked and hissed at him in a rather scolding tone. No translation was needed.
He didn't care, he just looked away from the little creature and buried his face into his quickly refolded arms. How much further up was he going to have to go, anyway? As he lifted his head to gaze at the steep wall before him, a glint of light caught his attention in the corner of his eye. His gaze snapped towards the moon and watched as a small mote of light leaped its surface and began to slowly streak through the endless night sky. The trail of light behind it began to grow as it fell closer and closer, hateful screams of rage erupting over the landscape suddenly as he lost sight of it over the edge of the ridge. A soundless rumble trembled at his perch, and the pair of shadowlings desperately pushed at him to get moving. What was going on now?
Something startled him from his slumber. His eyes squinted tightly in mild annoyance before they cracked open to take in the night. It was sometime between midnight and morning, and the waves of the surf crept lazily over the sands of the beach. It was a foggy night, and the Crimson Moon's glow was thick upon the mist. He felt something wet on his cheek, which was no doubt the root of his current dilemma, and instinctively brushed at it with one of his fingertips. He lowered his eyes as his thumb and forefinger slowly felt at the foreign liquid they retrieved. Whatever it was, it was as black as ink and seemed to absorb the very light around it.
"...the hell are you?" he asked, troubling thoughts immediately running through his mind as he brought the substance but mere inches from his eyes.
It didn't move, it didn't waver, and the lack of those particular details brought him a bit of relieved doubt. With his other hand, he tugged down at the ahmdir blue wraps of his cowl to give the liquid a testing sniff. A slow chuckle shook at his chest as he shook his head from side to side.
"Its just Oculoth blood..." he assured himself, sinking into the slats of the beach chair in a comfortable sprawl as the recollection of the earlier battle eases him back to sleep.
A good thing, too. Abyran'ra blood is hell on the complexion.
The wind raked at his back as it howled across the landscape, the tall grasses of shadow undulating and bending at the whim of the unnatural gale. His legs still ached, and each step was a painful reminder of the climb as the shadowlings continued to urge him forward. He had no idea where they were going, all he could determine is that they were going towards the same place as the wind... and it was in a hurry. Every once in a while a halo of light erupted over the horizon, followed but moments later by an unheard rumble that shook at his feet. The closer they got, the time between light and tremble grew closer as well. It was almost deafening, the way the wind roared at his back... and though he could tell that the shadowlings were clicking and chittering away, he could only rely on the gestures of their jagged appendages.
They slowed, and so did he in response as the trio crouched down in the tall black grasses. As they crept forward, he could finally hear the sounds of battle. Horrible roars and howls were cut pitifully short, and columns of flaming light erupted towards the sky followed by pathetic shrieks of despair. One of the shadowlings grasped a tendril around his hand and pulled him forward while the other scrambled up his back to ride on his shoulders as the slowly moved to lessen the gap even further. It was him. It was the one he observed standing beside the Minotaur so many days before. It seemed so long ago, but, the memory was still clear in his mind. The glowing figure was far from imposing as it was, but its movements told another story all together. Shadow after shadow manifested itself into a terrible visage of violence. Curved claws of black and impossibly large maws of jagged teeth threw themselves at the attacker, but one after the other was unceremoniously cut down by a broken blade of light. All the boy could do was watch.
Each step the figure took left a blaze of white fire upon the earth, and the shadows that would normally gnaw such a thing into extinction seemed to scramble from it unless they be consumed themselves. One by one they flung themselves at him for a time, but each step he took moved him just enough to evade their attack, leaning back and side to side to avoid the raking of murderous claws by no more than an inch. Each failed attack was rewarded with an effortless cut from his blade, only he didn't miss, and each precise attack took something the shadows would miss dearly. What the boy found the most unsettling was the manner in which the figure fought. It bore no expression, harbored no emotion, and revealed nothing with its gaze. Its blue eyes simply seemed to stare through whatever it was before it, and its body and blade moved of its own accord. He sensed nothing from it. Nothing at all. It killed and brought destruction to his world simply because it could.
The wind continued to howl, and it was clear now that even it was being thrown from all sides at the attacker. Several winged creatures rode in on it, their shrieks heralding their arrival from high above as they charged down. The figure simply lifted his hand before itself and performed a simple gesture as its blue eyes drifted to a calm close. Motes of light appeared in the air around the figure's form, and the flames rising from its feet slowed until they were so perfectly still that the entire scene seemed as if it were trapped in time. The winged shadows shrieked in enraged determination as they closed in for the kill, but in an instant a single column of light simply appeared into existence. At first it was little more than a single ray no thicker than a thread, but in a blinding flash it expanded to obliterate every last thing caught within it. This time, they didn't even have time to scream.
The boy fell back as he brought his forearm up to shield his eyes. All he could see was the painful white splotch that the flash left in its wake, burned into his unseen eyes and blinding him as he struggled to clear his vision. He could feel the shadowling perched on his shoulder frantically swatting at the top of his head as the other grasped at his hand again to lead him away. He clamored back to his feet and followed as best as he could, but the high-pitched ring in his ears and the sightless way ahead proved most disorienting. The wind grew stronger and more desperate as he felt himself fall. He could only cringe as he struggled to regain his footing while the flash of white offending his eyes began to dull and fade.
He kind of wished that he couldn't see what he saw.
They were so blue. He had never seen such a stark contrast before. This was different than the red from the Jackal's blood, from the red and blue of the Minotaur's eyes, and from the usual white against black, light against dark that he had grown accustomed to. It wasn't so much a matter of color, but a matter of intent. The eyes of the Figure seemed so hallow, so empty... yet each step it took foretold only destruction and death. The shadowling perched on the Boy's shoulder gave out a shrill shriek as his unseen eyes widened. Stride after stride the figure drew closer, and the trio were the only shadows in sight. The entire landscape was burning in a searing white light in the wake of the column, and they were running out of time.
The Boy stared at the Figure as it approached, and quickly tried to shuffle his way backwards atop the fading white light upon the ground. The Figure stopped for but a moment, and as the Boy squinted his eyes to try and get a read on what was happening... it vanished. Just like that it was gone from his sight. In almost the very same moment the shadowling on his shoulder gave out a frantic shriek as a jagged appendage sprouted upwards from its nondescript frame. It was already behind him! He turned and rolled back just as the broken blade of light swung down and struck at empty earth. It missed? No. The Boy glanced down at his hand that was held by the other shadowling... and found it bare. As he glanced down at the blade he saw the wisps of black already dissipating back into nothingness. The remaining shadowling hesitated for a moment, and then resumed clicking directly into his ear in a desperate plea.
Rage filled the Boy to his very core. His entire body trembled with it. Fed off of it. He glared at the Figure as he rose to his feet again, the shadowling on his shoulder urging him to do otherwise all the while. The Boy tried to meet the Figure's gaze, but those eyes still did nothing but stare right through him. The shadowling on his shoulder suddenly flung itself into the air and stretched out its limbs. The entire world seemed to respond as the very shadows themselves and the very essence of their surroundings collided at once into the little creature. The Boy's unseen eyes went wide as he watched the shadowling disappear into the earth with a deafening shriek. The Figure simply planted the jagged point of its blade into the ground and attended to its visage, as if it was preparing for what was about to come next. It wouldn't have to wait long, and neither would the Boy.
Large cracks of perfect black began to splinter across the dull white that surrounded the Figure, and the wind fell to such a perfect still that it almost went unnoticed amidst the shattering quake. The Boy's stomach turned as a sudden surge of motion tested his perception. With a stumble he glanced down towards his feet and came to the immediate conclusion that he was much higher than he was but a moment ago. A devastating roar rang out and he fell to his side as if the very world had tilted from beneath him... because it did. Massive spines flanked him at each side, and enormous wings splayed out above him to block out the entirety of the moon's light.
The Figure simply lowered its hand to grasp the pommel of its glowing blade to gave it a testing twist. The Boy fell back again as the earth trembled beneath him in an immediate response. So this was what it was like to be the passenger for a change. The Figure lazily pulled its blade from the ground and approached the him once again. Both of them glanced up as a colossal hand of splayed claws reached widely to block out the very heavens above. The claw descended towards the Figure with impossible speed, yet the Figure somehow moved once again only as much as it had to in order to evade harm. It took on a casual lean against one of the massive knuckles that it found itself standing between. It was going to be a long night, and it was going to need to get its rest wherever it could.
He didn't tell anyone he was leaving. It would have only caused more trouble than it was worth, and he was certain that everything would be just fine without him for a little while. In his current state he was more of a liability anyway, and explaining 'that' would have made even more needless melodrama and questions that he couldn't really answer. The seal on the Shadowdeath was weakening, and nothing he had tried seemed to work. He wanted to blame the Crimson Moon and its influence, but, that would just be a weak excuse. He couldn't focus. He couldn't find balance. He needed help.
So there he sat, idly swirling the amber liquid within his flask about as he waited. The wind was calm today, but it carried with it a stifling heat that threatened to steal one's life from their lungs. Ahh... to be home again. He'd be lying if he said his time away hadn't made him a bit soft when it came to the rigors of desert life, and the Sea of Fire was no ordinary desert. He missed his island. He missed cool drinks. He didn't miss Cat so much. The troublesome feline announced its disapproval of his decision by shredding all of the bed linens. A dog would have been so much easier to deal with. At least you can eat a dog. Cat tastes terrible.
"You sure stirred up quite a bit of trouble, Spirit Walker," came a voice, one he immediately recognized, especially the sarcastic tone that was put on the last part.
"If they don't want me here, they should just come tell me themselves," he responded coolly, lifting his flask to his lips for a slow pull.
"They don't want you here," she scolded, flipping aside the tent flap as she crouched down and made herself inside, "And they don't tell you because they fear you."
"Fear? Me?" he droned, knowing full well the reasons why as his brow knit questionably.
He settled his gaze upon her. She was dressed simply, wearing only a bleached tunic and a pair of sandals. That was the only simple thing about her appearance. She wore no head scarf as she had not yet been wed, but her hair was a dizzying array of braids and hand-carved natural beads ranging from sandstone, snakestone, and malachite with a 'tasteful' spattering of bone thrown in for good measure. Almost every inch of her skin had been kissed by ink and needle, and at times it was hard to determine if what he was looking at was in fact her natural tone. There was little doubt that she was a shaman, a bit overboard perhaps with the presentation, but one nonetheless. He preferred to think of her as a damn witch. But she was the only real family he had left.
"You are here because the seal is failing," she seethed as her eyes narrowed scathingly towards him, "And I told you that it would, we rushed your training and the ritual to seal them. The rest was supposed to be up to you."
"It is failing, yes," he freely admitted, gesturing nonchalantly before continuing, "And if my welcome here was any indication, we'll have to rush whatever we do next as well."
He wasn't bitter towards the tribe, he just wished they would come straight out and say that he was no longer welcome there, and that he should stop returning on his yearly visits. They were not his family, and what was left of any blood relation he had was with the woman in front of him. The curse of the Half Elf. They have the troublesome tenancy to outlive those that you grew up with. The tribe regarded him in the same light as the Shakat, as he was one who had left, and on top of that he carried with him demons of shadow that he still struggled to control. As a recipe for exile went, it would do.
"Your words suggest I will help you," she responded, leaning back as her marked arms crossed over her chest.
"I want them gone."
This brought her pause, and she watched him for a long moment in silence. Even she was beginning to sense it. He was in pain but he was too stubborn and too proud to admit it, and whatever pain it was must have been unbearable...
"You know the price you will have to pay," she spoke cautiously and slowly, watching his expression that still failed to meet her eyes.
"Yeah yeah, I brought this along," he still tried to sound so damn sure of himself, it was starting to grate on her. He rapped his fingers along the edge of a steel-hinged brace that was set out amongst his things.
"You will pay much more than that..."
The Boy was flung aside again. His hands scrambled quickly to find some kind of purchase. Some kind of hold. The Shadowling had somehow turned itself into an unimaginable colossus. From what he could tell at the moment, he was falling past its shoulder and down its back as he reached for one of the many horrible spikes protruding from its back. He finally caught the side of one with his chest, and he laid there for a moment as his body draped over it like a wet towel. This was insane. He had to get down and get as far away from all of this as possible. Yeah. Easy. He painfully peered down as his arms wrapped around the spike in a desperate bear bug to stay attached. The base of the monster was nothing more than a writhing collection of black tentacles, each one easily the width of a castle's tower. The black landscape below seemed to be simply absorbed into them, or rather they were growing forth from it, or... it didn't matter.
Another glowing white thread extended upwards into the endless sky, quickly expanding into another devastating column of of searing light as the entire colossal creature reeled in agony. He managed to keep hold on the perch that time, but he was starting to lose faith in his ability to keep doing so. The last time he saw the white Figure, it seemed to be playing with the monster. Just toying with it. Every once in a while it would cleave off an entire clawed limb, but each time a new one simply manifested back in its place. It was just too fast. It seemed to be able to simply shift from one place to the other as it needed. He hated it. For a moment the behemoth went nearly still, turning from side to side as if searching for something. The Boy took the opportunity and began quickly scrambling downwards from spike to spike. Everything seemed to dim the lower he got, and a curious glance was sent upwards towards the moon. Strange, it was getting closer again... and he could make out the black scars spreading across its surface clearer than ever. They were growing as well. Excellent.
Carefully gauging the distance to the next horn, the boy leaped down and prepared to catch it just as he did the others. It was just a flash, it was almost imperceptible as it flew past. Damn, it was him. The white Figure appeared standing atop the Boy's next destination, and with a lazy swing of its arm it cut the massive spike free. The boy's unseen eyes widened as he flailed about helplessly, falling past the figure and into a hopeless free fall. The wind whipped past as he turned himself about to glare at the figure. Those eyes, those damn blue eyes. They still showed nothing. No expression. No care. Just hallow and empty. All he could hear was the howl of the descent, his perfectly black limbs extended at his sides as he once again found himself succumbing to his fate. This was starting to get old.
As he fell into the gigantic mass of writhing tentacles, his descent simply slowed. Strange. Preferable to a sudden stop, but strange nonetheless. He couldn't see a thing, nor could he hear or feel. He was cradled in shadow, and in a way he felt as though he was suspended under water, except that he could breathe. Rather, he didn't need to. It was not a sensation he was going to be able to enjoy, however, as a surge of currently quickly pushed at him and sent him reeling through the perfect black void. With a sickly plop he was ejected and hurled once again through the air. He didn't have far to go and he landed upon the ground in a practiced roll. He shook his head rapidly to regain his senses and pushed himself to his feet. Horror crept in as he watched the nearby tentacle erode back into the black earth. It was cut free. More accurately. He was cut free.
Everything was so still. So silent. He watched in awe as the enormous monstrosity flailed its massive clawed limbs and teetered backwards. The better part of what made up its base was severed, and it fell back in a deafening quake. Yet he couldn't hear it. He couldn't hear the terrible roar, or the sounds of a thousand trees buckling and snapping beneath it. A wall of splintered shadows and debris erupted upwards. It was the most incredible display of destruction he had ever witnessed, and as the remnants of the fall began filtering back down to the ground he felt a disturbing sensation. He began to turn about slowly until he glimpsed the first sliver of light in the corner of his eye. In a whirl he spun the rest of the way, and before him stood the white Figure. No, not good. It was too close. He tried to turn and run, but it was too fast. Before the Boy's next thought could even take shape the Figure tapped a single, searing white finger to his forehead.
He could hear again. It was his own scream.
"A regular anchor will not do," she explained with uncertainty, "This is not like placing a seal. We are going to rip what remains of them free of your spirit."
"We need a prison," he replied with a nod of understanding, "And then a seal."
"It is not that easy. If they do not have somewhere to go, they will be free once again," she was looking exasperated. This was a discussion they had had once a long time ago, and it was decided then that it was simply easier to seal what remained of the Shadowdeath behind layers of his subconscious, buried somewhere within his spirit and away from his physical and mental state, "We have no priso-"
"I've thought of that," he interrupted, reaching amongst his things and procuring a small, nondescript box. He cracked the lid open a small amount and held it out towards her, "This is one of the Shadowstones."
She leaned in curiously and studied it through the opening. It seemed little more than a doomstone, but the longer she stared at it she began to feel a tug. A pull. Many years ago during the war with the Shadow Death, the rest of the Shadowstones, and the Keystone were destroyed. It was a different time back then, and the lines of conflict were increasingly blurred. When they had found this one, they tricked the Order of Voln and the Warders by giving them a fake. Only he and She Who Shall Not Be Named knew of the swap, and they figured that it could come in handy as leverage later on. As the war escalated, however, the importance of the Stones became null it had eroded ever since in the bottom of his personal storage on Teras Isle. Occasionally he would come across it when organizing his things, but, he never gave it much thought until recent events.
"What is a Shadowstone?" she questioned, raising her hand to touch it through the lid of the box.
"Don't ask," he replied, nearly snapping the lid closed on her fingertips before stuffing it back away amongst his belongings on the floor, "It'll work. Trust me."
"Very well," she bit her lower lip, a nervous habit from her childhood that betrayed her otherwise calm and confident demeanor, "It won't be a clean removal. Part of your spirit is going to be ripped asunder, and your body will return to a state as it was before the corruption, plus the time between."
"Can't be helped," he responded in a confident drawl, finally looking up to meet her eyes. She looked so much like her at times, and it brought an odd smirk to his hidden lips, "When do we start?"
"I worry that you take this far too lightly," she said in a shaky tone, her fingertips combing backwards through her array of braids, "There will be more than just pain. Your very spirit will be left in tatters. Your mind. Your thoughts. The shadows will latch and tear at the very last thread."
"Mm-hm..." he nodded, leaning back on his elbows while he watched her. She let out a long, frustrated sigh. He was unbearably unflinching for a man who just had to lay there while she did all of the work. Finally he broke the gnawing silence, "Tomorrow, then?
"When the sun is at its highest."
Pain. Agony. Despair. At the end of the day they were just trite little words. The Boy howled as he clutched his forehead. The light was already slowly spreading from that little, insignificant spot. His very skin was cracking into a spiderweb of fractures while he slumped to his knees. The entire world shrieked in a way that mingled with his cries, and the white Figure simply stood there and watched as everything beneath them trembled and shook. Tendrils of shadows erupted from the Boy's feet, snarling around his legs and rushing to consume the light that was now consuming his face. He clawed feverishly at it as an awful crack ripped the ground in two, separating the Boy from the Figure by a writhing abyss that flailed from within the widening gap. Countless winged abominations flew forth, blocking out the failing light of the moon as the black scars seeping across it nearly consumed it all.
The Figure simply took one step back and watched as the swarm curled in the air in a sinister loop, gathering itself and its momentum before the horde of winged claws and teeth dived upon him. His curved blade of light was a blur of death. One after another the abominations were cut down and dispersed back into harmless darkness. Each step he took, each lean, each careful, crouch evaded claw and wing alike. Even in the devastating chaos, the Figure fought on and made example of each and every shadow that came close enough for him to reach. The Boy continued to cry out, his breath catching in his throat in a helpless splutter. What was this light? The writhing tendrils were even ignited and withered away in the presence of it. The Boy's black hands curled and clawed into the ground as he watched the Figure from across the widening chasm.
Then finally it happened. One of the winged horrors clipped the Figure and knocked him off balance, and then another, and then another. It happened so fast. Before he knew it a handful of the demons had him pinned to the ground as the rest of the swarm flew high into the sky to form a tempest of gnashing teeth and anxious claws. The Boy wished that he could see those eyes now... that thought was easy to formulate through the agony wracking his small body as his eyes dropped down to his hands. He imagined those damned eyes wide, and full of fear... full of regret. Cracks of light shot around each of his fingers, and the black that he knew oh so well quickly shattered and was obliterated away. Motes of light were growing from the very ground all around him. Reaching up and unfurling like a field of blooming wildflowers. The spiraling swarm finally plunged down on the pinned figure, ripping into it and summarily tearing it away to miniscule shreds of light that were hungrily and inevitably consumed by the frothing maws of the demons.
The Boy wanted to laugh, but the pain was too much. The Figure was finally destroyed, but it had left its mark. The shadows couldn't reach him any longer, he was surrounded by light, and the last of the black that made up his form was gone. A sound suddenly ripped across the entire world. It was so loud his ears rang and the force of it threw him back upon ground. He looked around frantically. Slowly tendrils of shadow were lifting towards the sky around the perimeter that the light had made around him. They wavered about slowly, caught in a sibilant, unseen breeze as they seemed to be waiting for something. They were oddly expectant, and everything seemed to be holding its very breath. His eyes were blue now, but he'd never know it. He'd never had eyes before. He'd probably think that was pretty neat. Those damned blue eyes gazed up towards the moon, and they watched it as it crumbled inward upon itself. Each massive piece of the cratered surface simply cracked and fell away, leaving behind a perfect void of utter blackness that began to pull at everything. The wind itself rushed upwards, as did everything else around him.
Looks like he was going for a ride.
The entire world was rushing towards the spiraling black void left in the Moon's wake. The pain wasn't so bad now, but the Boy was still greatly disturbed by his current condition. The shadows seemed entirely uninterested in the light that was emanating from him and growing outward upon the ground where he stood. Massive chunks of black earth snapped itself free, causing everything to tilt to compensate at the lack of mass as one perfectly jagged piece of the world went through after the other. On some he saw trees, on others he made out little lakes of spilling black water. He placed a hand on his chest, where his heart was doing its very best to beat out of it.
So this was it. Really this time. He liked to think that he was getting used to dealing with the idea that he was about to die and face oblivion. He had done so so many times already. It wasn't fair, if he thought about it. He never did a damn thing. All he did was wake up and found himself on this world that he called home. It embraced him and the shadows always made him feel safe and that he was not alone. He slumped to the ground and sat, pulling his knees to his chest and burying his face into his crossed arms. He wasn't one of them anymore... and they were all going away. The world continued to crack and shake, but he was unmoved by it. None of that mattered anymore. This was the end. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad, he pondered to himself. Oblivion, eh? Bring it on.
A giggle sang out amongst the chaotic din. He knew that giggle. He had heard it once before and he jumped to his feet and spun around. His blue eyes went wide as he realized entire white trees had begun to take shape around him. Behind them he saw massive boulders and chunks of black earth breaking free and speeding towards the void above, but his gaze was transfixed upon the grove of light that had sprung up around him. The giggle rang out again and he turned towards the source of the sound. A little girl stood beside one of the many trees. She wasn't black, she wasn't white. Rather she was a veritable smattering of patchwork color. Colors he had never seen before, and combinations that he no doubt wished that he could unsee. A strange doll dangled from her hand, and he could swear that he saw some kind of strange little brace around its leg as her other hand beckoned him closer.
He didn't think, he simply walked towards her. She held her sickly little hand out towards him and he didn't hesitate in taking it. She giggled again. It was a sound so foreign to him and he simply tilted his head curiously. Finally cracks began to form beneath their feet, and the newly grown trees of light uprooted and lifted towards the void above. The Boy suddenly grew worried and tried to withdraw his hand, but the girl held it firm in her grasp as she simply shook her head at him. She gave him an assuring smile and pulled his hand closer towards her.
"You need to stay here. It'll be okay."
He nodded at her in understanding as everything continued to crumble all around them. He felt strangely at peace. A misplaced feeling of resolve, perhaps... but he was right. This really wasn't so bad. He smiled back at her with his unseen face, but she didn't need to see it for herself.
He uttered a name. It sounded short, and only a single syllable as she watched his prostrate form laying in the middle of the circle she had traced out in the sand. A tiny mote of perfect black hovered above him, and her breath was ragged in her chest as she clutched the bone staff in her hands. She watched the little mote with unbridled anticipation as it seemed to lash out and form tiny little shapes with itself in the air. It could make no form, and found itself naked under the glaring heat of the sun. The Shadowstone was clearly displayed in the unassuming box upon the sand, and her eyes narrowed in spite at the mote as it hesitated. Everything hinged on what would happen next, and she had done as much as she could, and as much as she was expected to do. The mote eventually descended slowly towards the Stone and she gave a long sigh of relief as she watched. It hovered about the box for but a moment longer before it simply disappeared into the doomstone. She gave a quick flip of her hand and the box flipped closed even at the present distance. She formed a seal with her fingers and the entire circle she had traced out in the sands glowed intensely for a moment before they collapsed until a single sigil upon the box.
A wisp of smoke rose from the box as the sigil simply disappeared. It was done. She pushed her weight against the staff and exhaustively strode to where he was still laying. She knelt and carefully brushed the sweat matted hair from his forehead. He was much easier to deal with this way. When he couldn't talk he was damn near bearable. He stirred for a moment and winced in his slumber, but before too long she gave him a sharp jab in his shoulder to wake him. She'd had enough of watching him just lay there all peaceful like. His eyes opened slowly and they quickly squinted back to a painful close as the sun above wasted no time in assaulting them. Damn witch.
"Who's Pip?" she asked slowly, moving herself so that her body shielded his face from the sun in its shade.
"...Pip?" he responded groggily, digging his elbows into the sands beneath him to try and push himself to sit upright. It didn't work.
"You said Pip," she said matter-of-factly as her maternal instincts kicked in once again despite herself while she dabbed away at the beads of sweat that had collected on his brow.
"Oh..." he followed with a painful knit of his brows. He barely knew where he was, yet he was being quizzed on some name that he was supposed to know, "I don't kno-"
Then it hit him like a flood all at once. He curled into a ball onto the sands as he clutched one hand at his leg and the other against his eyes. Memory after memory flooded in, emotion after emotion, and pain after pain. He wasn't about to cry out, however. He simply gritted his teeth and took it. There was no lack of profanity, however. She leaned back and simply watched as he writhed and rolled about on the ground. She knew this was going to happen, and she simply shook her head as she closed her eyes and lifted her face to take in the heat of the sun. What happened next would depend on him.
He tightened the buckles on the brace surrounding his leg. He gave a few testing stomps to make sure the steel hinge was still holding despite its years of being unused. It was hard to knock quality gnomish craftsmanship. The sun was just beginning to rise, and the horizon danced as if it was aflame to once again prove that the Sea of Fire was deserving of its namesake. Part of him felt like this was going to be one of the last times that he would ever see it. He jerked his shoulders forward and balanced the load of his pack upon them as his eyes settled west.
"The Elders have decided that you're never to return," came the familiar voice from behind him, "The rest of the tribe was unanimous."
"Can't be helped..." he offered, trying as always to sound unflinching as he continued to gather all of his things for the journey ahead. He regarded a broken veil iron katana and pondered how he had come across such a thing, and why he insisted on using it. Oh well, it'd come back to him.
A ball formed in her throat as she stared at him. Even after everything that occurred he still seemed so damn confident. He was an idiot. A goddamn idiot. She was sure of it. A few steps brought her to his side and she set a tattooed hand upon his shoulder. She didn't really know what to say, and as he stared at her questionably he lifted her hand from his shoulder and cupped it between his own.
"You're the only family I got, whatever they decide is beside the point... but I'll abide by their wishes."
She noticed the nearly imperceptive slouch in his shoulders. Since the ritual he was unarguably easier to read, and she knew full well that he was far from unaffected by the verdict. This was his last link to his childhood, to his family, and to many unanswered questions. She walked to stand in front of him and withdrew her hand from his, staring at him evenly so that she knew he was paying attention.
"Jaired. You know as well as I that when you leave..." He cut her off, waving a hand between them as he shook his head.
"I left a long time ago," he said with such such concrete resolve that she gulped back any argument that she had formulated ahead of time, "But don't look so freakin' serious, we'll see each other again..."
She nodded and took to looking him over and fussing over his appearance and his state of well being. After she was content that he was ready to venture off, she smoothed her fingertips across the ahmdir blue fabric that veiled his face. It was his Father's. She knew this because she was the one that had held onto it for as long as she could remember... and because she was the one that had given it to him. He gave her a wink and began to walk by. A wink? Really? That was it? She turned to stare him down but found that she could only watch for a moment as he distanced himself from her. He seemed so burdened, yet his shoulders held it all up with a practiced ease.
"Where will you go?" she asked suddenly. It stopped him for a moment as he mulled over an appropriate answer before his gait took him forward once more.