by § Roseille ♥
Three children with hidden pasts must use their skills to do what no one else will.
Where the crystal-blue waters of the lake below her had once lapped at the hills, they now clawed at the shadowed shores without mercy. Hills that jutted from the water seemed only to be dead, lonely rocks in deficient scarlet sunlight. Once upon a time so long ago, the sky had been blue and the sun had shone brightly, but not today. Not now.
In the nook between two rocks, she sat. Even though her fire warmed her from the right, she felt an unexplainable cold flow through her body, banishing the temporary warmth to leave a much more permanent ice inside her. Wind whispered through the mossy rocks and hissed ominous threats in her ear. The pillar glimmered in the very center of everything, its opalescent stone subtly changing color with the light that played over it.
She saw the clear, horrifying image in the crystal ball. Why could they not see what she could? Why? Again and again, she had tried to tell her people, tried to explain to them what was coming, but no one listened. On the pillar, the crystal sphere glimmered hazily. It held the key to the future she now saw, as clear as anything she could see in this barren wasteland.
Screams and bursts of fire from the hills invaded her mind. May the gods help us, she prayed, clasping her hands together over her red velvet robe, and may the demons have mercy on our souls. Their world was no longer free, no longer safe. Fire and death and fear haunted the very air...
Rasila awoke upright, gasping in sobbing breaths. Her curly auburn hair twisted over her face and clung to her neck with sweat. Tears she had no memory of shedding wet her hollowed cheeks. She fell back onto the soft down pillow. Outside of the small cabin, she saw an indigo sky, glinting with millions of breathtaking stars.
The sky was still blue, and the hills were still a flowing emerald green. The sun would rise in only moments and shine with all its might, but her dream still haunted her. Her dreams had never been wrong to this day. Lying in the darkness that preceded the morning, she cried. Silent tears etched trails down her face. Why would no one listen to her? Why did they not believe?
Even as she dreamed it that night, the prophecy was being fulfilled. The sun would rise only briefly, and only then to be obscured by the moon in the first full eclipse since the time they had secured the demons in hell nearly a decade ago. No one feared this phenomenon as much as they should have, for in the full scarlet darkness that would soon follow, the key would no longer be able to seal the door from their world to the underworld where the demons lived, and they would break free.
In the center of the room, blue-purple moonlight flickered over chrome, hurling diamond-like stars at the walls. As trees outside writhed in tune with the gentle wind, the starry white reflections moved. Their source, a chrome key over a foot in length, rested in a locked case in the very center of the room. Craithe had never seen anything so beautiful or so frightening.
He was going to take it. Craithe Marxin stepped forward on the slick glass floor, his robes gently whispering across it. Like all of the other "protectors of the key", his robes were a soft off-white. A large necklace with a glinting stone, familiar to all who worked here as the mark of the most trusted guards, was the only decoration he had. Craithe had gained this post only through years of hard work and a carefully constructed fa'ade of loyalty. After years of building ultimately one-sided friendships, he had gained the highest possible post. Craithe was one of twelve carefully selected men who guarded the key; six by day, six by night.
Now that he had knocked out the other five, he could not turn back. He could not rethink. As soon as any one of them awoke, they would be searching for him. Crathe swore, wondering why it seemed so wrong now, why uncertainties plagued him and tortured his mind and soul. Just hours ago, he would have given his life in the attempt, so strong was his will to resurrect his daughter, but now...the anger he had long felt at her unexplainable death had drained away, and questions he'd never considered started swirling in his mind.
He shook them away and smiled. There was no turning back now. That key could bring back his daughter, damn everything else. Damn the demons this key held back from their world. Craithe imagined his little Phrasia's beautiful face and white baby teeth. Her tiny blond ringlet curls and vivid hazel eyes glinted in his memories, and his mind was made up. He would do this. Craithe took out the knife he carried and pried the key from its place.
Tailor was halfway out of the house's window when the wispy sunlight began to fade. He didn't pay any attention to it, certain that a cloud had passed over the sun, but as the light rapidly continued to leave, he got uneasy. Tailor gripped the window sill and sighed. Great. The couple who owned the home was coming in through the front door, and the back window was a fifteen foot drop.
Those naive honeymooners should still be out!
Tailor lowered himself to where only his fingers were visible on the open sill. He took a deep, calming breath, mentally making sure that the stolen bag of this new couple's belongings was solidly clasped around his shoulder'and he dropped. His feet stung from the landing, but he shook it off and started jogging away with complete calm. He wasn't far from their house when he heard them scream. He guessed that he would have been surprised, too.
Tailor sighed. Oh, well. This was his job, the only one he knew how to do. It didn't really matter how other people reacted to it. Tailor threw a quick glance to the sky.
He stopped walking. The sun, before so bright, seemed dull and pale as the red moon slid over it. Its right corner was almost completely covered already. No wonder it had gotten dark. Once he was far enough away from the house, he started running. Soon, he was sure, it would be completely dark. He needed to find a place to stay.
In his haste, Tailor ran into someone coming in the opposite direction. He staggered but didn't quite fall, and regained his balance in seconds. In the darkness that was now nearly complete, he drew the slender sword at his waist, holding it ready with practiced agility. When he saw the person in front of him, he sheathed it again. "Wow!"
There was no sympathy and no surprise in the eyes of the girl who stared down on him. Her hands were out in a defensive posture as if she had a weapon in them that only she could see. He guessed she was around his age of seventeen, and she looked like a goddess. Her hair was a perfect mass of white corkscrew curls, her eyes a glinting silver-green. And her body.... Tailor grinned. Almost every inch of it was visible through the sheer white dress she wore, all but her legs, which sadly were encased in tight leather boots all the way up to her thighs. She looked him over, and her small lips formed a frown. "What did you do that for?"
"I'um..." Tailor looked to the ground, and he saw that the stolen contents inside of his leather bag were strewn on the scarlet-tinted walk. He tried to figure what the "that" she referred to was. She could be asking why he bumped into her, but she could also have noticed that the elaborate jewels on the winding road were not something he'd wear. Of course she could be a bit flustered about having a sword drawn on her. Unable to come up with a suitable answer, he just shrugged. "What's a girl like you doing out here, anyway? You should be home with Mommy or something. You know, they say that the demons only roam when darkness is complete."
Her only reaction was a deepening of her frown. "I know that," she said. "I don't have a home, nor a 'mommy', and you are extremely irritating." Her eyes cut to the jewels once again, and then to his sword, sheathed against his right side. "Actually, you can follow me. You seem to know how to use that thing."
Tailor stood up straighter and attempted to walk past the girl. She was certainly pretty, but no one ordered him around like that. Remembering his father left a bitter taste in his mouth. No one ordered Tailor around. Not anymore.
The girl's delicate hand reached out until it gripped the high neck of his leather jacket, and dragged him back over the path until he rested in front of her yet again. "Did you hear what I said?"
Tailor smiled. "Yes."
"And I can't think of any profitable reason to follow you."
Her green eyes narrowed until they were just cold, silvery slits. "How about this? If you come with me, I won't turn you in to the local authorities. You don't look like you'd do too well in prison."
Tailor grinned. Despite her haughty manner, he liked this woman. She dealt in certainties. If nothing else, he wouldn't walk away from her. Curiosity prevented that. "Okay, then. Will you at least tell me why I'm following you?" But she had already started walking forward. Tailor followed. "Hey...you're heading back into the town. I'm going'"
"With me," the girl finished. "By the way, I'm Astia. Address me as such. We're going to meet a seer called Rasila, who has predicted these events." When she looked to Tailor and saw no reaction, she continued. "The key has been taken. In this eclipse, we fear, the demons will surface again. I have heard from some townsfolk that this woman Rasila has been warning others to watch for it, but she was banished from her town because they didn't want to believe her. She's the best hope of stopping this. I intend on doing what I can. The demons are not going to take over this time."
Tailor sighed. It was a very noble idea, but no one could choose whether they did or not. These things...the demons killed people without thought. He knew that. A girl's young face flashed across his memory, bringing with it a burst of pain. He pushed the memory away. If, in fact, the key had really been taken from its place, then in this perfect darkness, it was only a matter of time until the demons escaped into the human world. Tailor slung the bag of goods over his shoulder. Sorting them out could be saved for another time. For now, there were things to do. "Let's get moving."
Hours seemed to slip through every lost moment. The sky was a deepening shade of black, specked with slashes of orange from clouds that seemed to have been ignited by the remaining light. The world was silent. No children played outside. The curtains to every house were drawn, the families huddled in the center with every lamp turned to its brightest.
Only Astia and Tailor moved outside. Once the trail wore away to nothing, they turned and walked upward into the hills. "She's hiding here, I think." Astia walked with a smooth stick she was using as a staff. Tailor was stupid for not grabbing one, too. The uphill travel would be exhausting. Her eyes darted all around, seeing everything. They adjusted easily to the light here.
Movement caught her eye. Tailor didn't miss it, either. With blurring speed, he drew his sword and swung it forward to protect himself. Astia took a fighting stance. Anyone out right now was either stupid or up to no good. "Who's out there?" Astia demanded.
"Whoa! Hey, don't shoot! I'm...well, I am armed, but I'm...I'm not going to do anything. I'm just trying to find my way home. I don't want to cause any trouble." Despite his awkward tone and childish appearance, the boy who stepped out from behind the huge tree ahead of them held a slim bow ready. He reminded Astia of Tailor. His hair, though several shades lighter brown, was just as unkempt, and his blue eyes held the same awareness that Tailor's grass green ones did. That was where the similarity ended, though. Where Tailor wore a knee-length leather coat, soft-soled moccasins and tan pants, the boy's apparel was of the simplest cloths. An off-white cotton shirt hung around a painfully thin frame, and loose black pants bunched around simple sandals whose thongs were clasped to the soles with nails. The boy's look was intense where Tailor's expression was wryly inviting.
"I like trouble," Tailor replied to the boy's timid words, grinning and shifting his sword to his other hand. "Who are you?"
He shrugged. "I'm Kyte. I live around here. That farm down there is my father's."
Astia looked down the hill absently. "Have you heard of a Rasila? She's an older woman, like thirty or forty."
Kyte blinked, deep in thought, but he kept the bow trained on them. "Yeah. They say she's a strange one. She...she sees things before they happen. She's just off to the left here. A little cottage." He dropped the bow to his side and replaced the arrow in a holder on his back. "Sorry...you never know what's crawling around in these woods, especially in the dark. Follow me."
"So you're looking for the key? That's a very ambitious thing to do, though one that needs to be done. Simply, the restoration of the key to its place, or even the recovery of it into the hands of one who is willing to seal the tear to the other world, will fix everything. I am not sure that children are the best people to go after it though, because of the strong decision you will all have to make."
Tailor watched Rasila as she stood in front of a pot of stew simmering over her fire. The walls of the little cottage took on the golden light of the fire, casting flickering red-orange streaks of light over everything. Rasila stirred every few moments. Tailor sighed and leaned back. "Strong decision? Refresh my memory, okay? The only thing I know about the key," he grinned at Astia, "Is that it's worth a whole lot to a whole lot of people."
"The key will grant the desire of its user, but it serves two purposes. Left alone under the spells placed on it, the key seals the demons from entering our world, but too much use by greedy people longing for its power weakens it, and therefore weakens its power to protect us. When you find it, you musn't wish for anything other than our continued safety. Leaving it alone is not enough. If you all desire our safety, that is what it will fulfill, but any other wish will only widen the gap between the worlds as the power to hold them apart lessens."
Astia nodded. "We can do that, I think. What if the key is destroyed?"
"If you've already sealed the tear, it will be fine, but you must use the utmost caution in your attempts to get it, because if it is damaged before you can seal the tear..."
"Why hasn't someone done this before? The power in the key will probably be enough to permanently fix everything. I think that permanence is a lot better than hope for a continuing peace through its natural abilities." Astia raised her head and looked at Rasila.
"Human greed...as long as the key still has power, the people think that their wish can be fulfilled...if they ever need one. It's stupid, really, but a too-true testament to our weaknesses as human beings."
Kyte sat across from them, listening with undisguised interest. "Hey, would it be too much of a bother if I was to come with you? My mother was killed by the demons when I was a baby, and.... I think I could help you guys. I'm good with my bow."
Rasila smiled, her auburn hair glinting with each movement she made. It looked like red gold in contrast to her scarlet robes. Her face was drawn and bony, but her smile was warm. "It's really wonderful to see that kind of courage, in children no less! It will be very dangerous, and you will have to be on your watch...the man who holds the key has been possessed by a demon, offering him the greatest strength, but I trust in your abilities." She laughed and tossed her hair back. "All I ask is that you stay for some stew."
When they had all eaten a big bowl of her meat and vegetable stew, they stood up. Rasila stood with them. "I have seen where this man is staying. He may not be there for long, so it's best that you hurry. Remember...this may be your one and only chance. This man is going to be stronger and faster with the demon inside of him, but he may be at odds with the possession. He will be a little bit uncertain, and you need to use that to your advantage. Kill him now, children, or he will never be stopped."
They all nodded. Rasila told them where to find the keeper of the key, and Kyte hugged Rasila before they said goodbye.
As the three teens left the house, Rasila followed their departing backs. She was worried about that slippery fellow...the boy Tailor. He seemed so...strange. He seemed to hurt, but he hid it. His was the kind of explosive temperament that prompted rash and dangerous things. Something told her that there was more to the boy than what she saw, though. Call it a gut feeling. She shook her head.
What a misfit bunch. May the gods guide their swords and lead them to safety.
"No! Don't.... Please."
Craithe Marxin was sure that his head would explode for all the pain he felt. His skull felt as if knives had been plunged into it, sawing at the bone. Voices echoed...deep and hard and pounding, ordering him so lightly to do something that his mind pleaded that he not do.
Kill her. She'll only hinder you.
"No!" Craithe clasped his hands to his skull, trying to dispel the voices and the pain, but even his daughter who sat in front of him could see that something was wrong.
"Daddy?" Phrasia moved forward, tiny porcelain hand reaching toward his face. She was just like he remembered her...tiny blond curls and huge golden eyes. When he'd talked to her, he had not been able to tell her that she died. He wondered if it was natural, what he'd done. It didn't matter, though. She was back. Craithe backed away from her imminent touch, lashing at her. His arm slammed into her face and threw her backward onto the floor.
He hadn't meant to hit her so hard. He just didn't want to hurt her, as crazy as it sounded. "Get out of here," he screamed.
Phrasia just sat on the ground, violet dress spread out over her knobby little knees. Her blond ringlets fell over cheeks where tears burned trails. Tiny arms clasped at her chest. "What's wrong, Daddy? I'm afraid."
Kill her, now! You don't need this volatile thing. Kill her!
Craithe could not dampen the voices that screamed in his head. He tried to drown them, to hold them off, but silence was something too distant to remember. His own hands took hold of the dagger he held, and even as he plunged it into the daughter he'd risked everything to save, he mumbled, "I'm so sorry, Phrasia. I'm sorry...it's not me." When he finally stopped, he could see through his own eyes again. He could feel his only daughter's blood warming his robes, see her golden hazel eyes flickering closed for the final time. It hurt too much to see it. He let the voices win.
Kyte did not speak as they walked along. The light shone down through the trees, a still and angry red, and it was hard to figure out where they were going. Despite that, Kyte led the group, because he was the most familiar with the land. Astia had forced Tailor into the middle, and watched him as if fearing that he would run away.
If Kyte was correct, they could not be more than ten minutes away from where Rasila had said that the key holder would be. "So...what brings you guys out here? I mean...this really isn't the best way to pass your time, right? It's dangerous."
"Yeah, well I think it'll be great fun. Who else is going to do it, like the weird lady said? Everyone else is too afraid, and if the guy's all weirded out right now, then now's the best time to attack. We can get rid of these demons for good! They won't..." Tailor's light demeanor cracked for a single moment. His smile faltered and his voice choked. At the close of that moment, his facade was in place again. "They won't hurt anyone ever again. A'And anyway," Tailor pointed offhandedly to Astia, "She's making me do it. She's kinda got me at odds."
Astia smiled tightly, sweeping a whitish corkscrew of hair away from her face. "I don't want to see the past repeated. I know I can help and that's what I'm doing. I have the...resources...to take care of myself. I made that idiot come with me because I think he can help."
Kyte nodded, glancing back at Astia and Tailor. He saw Tailor's slim blade sheathed against his side, but as he looked over Astia, he realized that she had no weapons at all. He was certain that with her skin-tight boots and nearly sheer dress that flowed to her ankles, she could not possibly house any weapons out of sight. "What about you? How will you protect yourself?"
Astia glanced up briefly, silver-green eyes glinting reflected amber light. "I have my ways. In my travels, I've learned many things. I'm worrying more about you two boys." Her confident smile, displaying small, white teeth, disarmed his doubt, but Kyte's fear still remained. Hazy recollections of his mother's photographed face flashed through his mind, and rather than strengthening his will they depleted it. She had died... How many more innocent people would die in useless and unfair battles? It would be his fault if they did not destroy this horrible demon, and many like his mother would be killed.
No one believed in the gods anymore. Too many said that they abandoned the little planet after humans broke the laws and tore the barrier between the underworld and the surface world, but Kyte prayed to them anyway. He begged for strength to do what his mother could not. After several moments of silent pleas, he stopped, berating himself. What did he think he was doing? It was his strength that would get him through this. His, and no one else's.
He looked ahead into the clearing and saw the golden light of a lamp shining from a distant window. "There it is," he whispered. "That's the place."
The man who held the key was no longer Craithe Marxin. His appearance was gaunt, the skin on his cheeks stretched with lingering pain. His eyes glinted with the light of the demon inside him, and the amulet at his neck, whose stone had once been a neutral gray, now glowed red-gold.
A man no longer, the demon in control of Craithe's body stepped over the still form of little Phrasia. He felt no emotion. As he watched, the darkness of the eclipse began to recede, sending tell-tale bursts of yellow through the gray sky. In his natural form, the light would have been dangerous, but the human acted as a shield to the demon's fragile core. He stepped into the sunlight. A small brook bubbled beside him with a cheerfulness that was alien to him. Frothy white water raced between the rocks, heading to a creek that led to a river.
Craithe's face twisted in a smile colder than the spring water. It felt good to be out in the human world again. There were so many possibilities...so much prey. The demon gripped the key. Shadows filled the woods around him, the spirits of demons who had not yet found bodies to carry them.
"As soon as he's looking away..." Tailor hissed, glancing around. He stood on the edge of the woods, lithe body moving back and forth in rhythm with the brook. He ached to run on that guy. The dude was ugly. Tailor sneered.
Astia grabbed Tailor's arm. "Don't you dare. Not yet..." Shadows raced into the clearing before the light hit it, and they seemed to disappear into the man's body. "Gods, they're demons! They're entering him. More than one.... He's only getting stronger." Astia ran forward, silent on the ground. She clapped her hands together above her head. A huge white orb formed between them, growing brighter with each second. The shadows dissipated in the white light. Astia propelled the orb up in the air, and it lingered in the trees, casting its blinding glow down on the ground. The man spun around, unaffected, key in his hand. He shoved it into his robes and withdrew a dagger.
"There aren't any more demons coming. We can fight him now!" Astia cried.
For a moment, Kyte was frozen. He had never seen anyone do what Astia had done. He'd heard that there was ancient magic that could be used against the demons, but he'd never seen it in use. He hadn't actually believed the rumors to be true. Gaining his composure, Kyte drew his bow and sent an arrow toward the demon. The demon blocked it with what looked like a black shield formed from the air. It rippled with yellow electricity. The demon dropped the shield, and the arrow clattered onto the rocks.
And the demon slumped just slightly. Kyte smiled. If he could send enough arrows at him, the demon would be weakened. Kyte figured that though the demon had many powers, the human body was ill-equipped to house them. If he tired the human host enough, he might just be able to draw the demon out into the light to be killed. Staying behind the trees, darting to avoid hurled bursts of lighting, he shot arrows. Two hit their target, though they seemed to have no effect. The demon raised his shield again, and again, and again, and so much running and dodging took a toll on Kyte. He was one second too slow, and a blast caught his arm, searing the skin and sending waves of crippling agony through his body. Unable to move, he fell against a tree. His bow slammed to the ground. Kyte felt warm blood stain his arm. Rivulets branched off, some heading down and some moving across and around the back of his arm in a descending spiral.
Tailor, wherever he had been before, saw Kyte and rocketed from the woods, sword drawn. "Gods, do you freaks ever stop killing people who deserve to live? This ends now!"
The demon was concentrating on Astia, who was standing with a bluish-white ball forming in her hands. What seemed to be a shield of water deflected his bursts. Like Kyte, though, she did not dare do anything offensive. The longer they were on the defensive, the more this demon would back him into a corner. Images of a beautiful face flashed in his mind. His twin sister Teila had been raped and beaten by a demon-possessed man twelve years ago, the last time a small amount of demons had breached the other dimension. Tailor had attacked her assailant, until finally the demon left the man. He got to Teila too late, and she had died while he tried to carry her to the cottage of the town doctor.
Tailor plunged the blade into the demon man's stomach with a strength that only molten anger brought. He stepped back. The blade lingered there, and the demon man convulsed standing upright. Hazy images of the faces of other men the demons had possessed flickered across the air in front of him as if reflecting on a mirror, and the shadow demons left his body. As Tailor watched, one more face flickered across the mirror.
It was the face of the man who had killed his sister.
"I remember you," hissed the man who was neither the man Tailor remembered nor the actual man who stood there now, but only an empty host to demons.
Tailor coughed and tried to come up with words, but he couldn't. His twin sister's lively face flickered across the mirror. He felt sick, like the world had just turned upside down without his approval.
In that moment, the demon acted. The blade he held was raised and plunged, then pulled out and plunged again as Tailor fell. Pain pulsed through him, blood flowed over him, and he didn't care one bit. He deserved it. He deserved all this for not getting to Teila in time. She was the one who deserved to live, the one whose heart was always pure. The world had gotten darker when she'd died.
It got dark for him now. The light faded until it was no more, and the demon slumped down beside him. Chaotic rain clattered to the ground, blanketing everything.
Kyte heard Tailor's involuntary moan, and he turned, scrambling to his feet just as the rain started pouring. He went off-balance because of the slick leaves and his limply hanging arm, but he ended up beside Tailor. It was so ironic. The tiny little brook, the only thing beautiful about this dark place, carried Tailor's lifeblood away from him.
Kyte wrapped his fingers around the dagger, wiping at the blood that came from Tailor's wounds. Astia staggered forward, anger and sadness she could not contain etched into her soft features. "Why did he hesitate? Why didn't he run? What an idiot..." But a tear fell from her eyes.
Kyte saw the key that had fallen from the demon's robes, and scrambled for it. He looked at Tailor's body, how his dark brown hair, short in the back but insanely long on the front and sides, draped over closed eyes, wet and slick with the rain. He clenched the key with bloodless, cold fingers. "You know, we could..."
"No. We have to get rid of the demons. We cannot heal him with this. I'm afraid that sealing the tear will take too much power. You see the color? It used to be white. Gray means that its power has been sapped. There wouldn't be enough."
Kyte clenched his teeth, and wished with all his will that the tear between the worlds would be forever sealed. He wished that the demons were all back where they came from. The shadows all around them began to fade, but there was no other sign of change.
Astia took the now black key from Kyte. "It is done," she said. She looked at Tailor, whose slender body shuddered.
"Shouldn't we get rid of it, so no one else will take it?"
"The ancient power that made this key has been sapped. Our people do not possess the knowledge of how to use it."
Kyte frowned. "Then why do you do...I mean how can you'? Those things you did..."
"I was possessed by a demon and I survived, unlike most. I did...terrible things. I was only a small child, but his powers lingered with me. I don't know how I do these things I can do, but I have no secrets. The magic that created the key cannot be replicated. Our ignorance and rejection of special knowledge...like Rasila's, for instance, has lost us the ability. Leave the key. It's just a key now."
Kyte dropped the heavy, black metal onto the ground.
Astia cupped some water into her hands, and she closed her eyes. The water began to glow. "I don't know...but I think I can heal him a little until we can get him help."
She ladled the water over him, and the the cuts seemed gradually less severe with each washing, until they were only long, coagulated scrapes. Astia leaned back, exhausted, but then she looked to the sky. The moon was far away from the sun now, and it shone with a beautiful and welcome brightness. The heavy clouds rained down on the three children, but they left a fleeting rainbow. Astia smiled.
"We did it. Now...let's go back to Rasila. I'm pretty sure she'll be able to help. I don't want to be near him when he wakes up, though, so let's hurry!" Astia laughed, and Kyte did, too. It had worked. They lifted Tailor up and both carried him.
The day was bright and beautiful. The lingering traces of rain and death were washed away.
It was perfect.
I have chosen to disable reviews. While feedback is amazing and always appreciated, I recognize the many flaws in these and am keeping them as an archive of my early work rather than a piece I am actively trying to rewrite and improve.