Flickering Lights

Darkness flickered in and out of focus, but he could clearly see that it is winning in this whirling world of nothing but cliché agony. His lips were cracked and his tongue tasted like sand, his eyes and mind competed to become the most unreliable narrator. He tried to summon his voice even though he knew it was out of futile stupidity. Nothing.

Then all the sudden, light cheated and won. Someone entered the room. Someone whom he thought was a light in his life.

How funny, to think she cheated, too, and all he got was the shadows, the flickering shadows the effects of whatever drug they decided to poison him with.

So he closed his eyes to paint prettier pictures on the back of his eyelids.

The light was too bright, too close, he just wanted to throw up.

“Canopus…”

He wondered if he had enough power left in him to snap his own neck.

“I am sorry that it came to this, I truly am.”

Maybe he can break his wrist and bleed out instead. Maybe that would do. That would finally shut up those voices that tell him to trust, forgive, to seek a mere reason to explain that he wasn’t a fool. Even if he is a paralyzed, mangled mess he knows that voice would never leave him.

“…Your power…no one should have such a thing.”

So, she would love me if I was a simple human being? But, his power was the only reason that brought her to him, and it’s only right that it is the same reason that drove her away.

A monster deserves nothing but darkness. And he was apparently less than a monster in her eyes, she deprive him even of his claim of darkness.

Then he woke up again. For the thousandth time he woke up catching himself about to break his own wrist.

Not even sleep was safe. He sighed, retreated to the living room to see if the sun bothered to come up yet and try to test again if working himself to death worked. It didn’t. He clenched his temples, pulled at his hair, tried to count how many times he sighed.

He hardly heard the shuffle of movement gliding down the stairs, but only saw the bird nest of a bed head where an actual bird nestled, “Why are you up so early?”

He scoffed at the notion that the small, childish whine dissipated the storm clouds.

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LXXV.

She woke from a dreamless slumber, refreshed, younger, and as she took in the familiar carved wooden bedsteads, dressing table and patterned arches framing murals she painted over, she could almost pretend that none of her tiresome adventures occurred, that she just woke after a day composed of nothing but music, art, occasionally charged by the excitement of magic or sword training from Horatio. But, she knew it wasn’t all but a long, eventful dream, as she pulled her blanket off the silken fabric brushed against the scars on her gut from a sword wound too many sunsets ago. And as she brushed at her eyes, something on her bedstead moved: a brown feather ball hooting with delight. It all came rushing back to her, the confrontation with darkness, the explosion of light.

“Al…” She got up a little too suddenly, and she attempted to steady herself; once the earth ceased swaying she shot out of bed and dressed in a flurry — her closet had been left untouched during all this time to her pleasant surprise — but before she could run to the door with Jiube perched upon her shoulder Athlem entered with a flask of medicine.

“Oh,” As though seeing a ghost, the Doctor froze, cracked into a smile that shrugged off the anxiety settling gradually deepened over the past days when her beloved niece was unconscious. “My God.” She squeezed her into a tight embrace, and Lyra burst into giggles as the bump of the physician’s motherhood pressed against her.

Once she was released from her aunt’s grasp, she asked, “How long have I been…asleep?”

“A good two weeks, it felt much longer,” Athlem bestowed a kiss upon her brow, cupping the little face to remind her that she was the most precious thing to her.

“So…it’s over,” Lyra muttered, clasping her hands upon the small, delicate ones of the doctor. “The priest…that monster…”

“They are all gone, thanks to you,” The odd-eyes beheld the little Empress, softened. “Your uncle and I are so proud of you.”

“…” She wet her lips, sought for words to capture her jubilee and triumph, but memory caught up to her. “Where’s he? And where’s Alde? Is he –”

“– The latter probably wandered off to the back forests to collect whatever. I suppose you cannot wait to see him, but if you would you should go find the former: I am not sure how much longer I can deal with him moping amongst books like that.”

Lyra thanked her with a peck on her cheek, fighting her every instinct to bolt to her Nokshan as she passed by a few bowing servants and the crumbled remnants of the throne room. She won, and turned to the library instead. And of course she was right in finding her uncle paging through another volume he probably already memorized with nervous disinterest.

So, being the angel that she was, she decided to sneak up upon him and startle him with a roar. The book slid off his lap, his shoulders tensed; he clicked his tongue and turned around with an expression she know to be his indecisions between adoration, consternation and sheer happiness seeing that she is well before the last sentiment was all he knew and he lulled her into a tight embrace.

“You scared me,” she knew he was not referring to her childish entrance, and his admittance of his vulnerability only made her smile.

“Don’t be so eager to get rid of me, now,” He chuckled, and she noted without so much joy the lines by the corner of his eyes deeper than she remembered.

He fussed over her and hinted at the mountain of responsibilities that they now have to sort through in the near future before releasing her to her heart’s desired destination. She trusted her senses, finding herself in the direction of the lesser courts. But she wasn’t resentful of the cooing doves amongst the messy overgrowth anymore. She didn’t even hear them, deafened by the shuffle of her own steps in the fresh grass and her pounding heart.

But, she never remembered the lesser court’s gardens being so lively, each branch seemed to have to have their own song, humming in tune to a greater symphony. The little owl flew off to explore some dry branch of interest, and she followed the little one’s flight that led to him. He was amongst the spiraling, waltzing spirits, bent over a delicate flower that he plucked after a whispered apology and placed into a satchel.

“Alde.”

He didn’t seem startled; he merely turned to her and his face bloomed into a brilliant smile.

She threw herself into his outstretched arms, and he spun her, laughed, set her down and rested his forehead against hers and they just shared a breath, her presence, his intoxicating being, “I’ve been waiting.”

“Sorry to worry you,” She wounded her arms tightly around him, remembrances of an unspoken tragedy struggled to leave her tongue. “I am sorry.”

First his father, then his sister, and now…she could not help but find herself to be the string connecting each agony in his life.

His whole family, he was alone, “Her…time came, and her death was not in vain.”

She heard the crack of his whispered pretense, and she could only cradle his tender soul with sympathy, gentle kisses and promises as he sighed, crumbled.

He retained his composure for the past two weeks as he occupied his mind with concerns for his future, her, and now as she stood before him with that sunshine of a smile he lost his reason to maintain his mask, but he wanted to just smile for her and not tax her already exhausted frame. He couldn’t, he loved her too much to lie and act, and he just lost himself in her protective arms.

She was content, then, with his chin resting upon her shoulders.

She whispered, “I will always be here,” and his wings tugged her closer.

LXXIII.

He came about with a pang in his chest: a cry, he knew before he saw from his blurred vision. “Ma…,” She was armed with nothing but her profound remorse as she beheld the shadow that towered over her. Eri was still in there, trapped in the infinite abyss of eternal suffering, and as the Nokshan Lord raised her bloodied hand, Aldebaran knew.

“I am sorry,” He stood witness to every calamity the Creator pulverize their family with. “Eri, ma is here now.”

“No…” After all those years, he thought that time made him stronger, but he was pinned to his place, his shoulder and gut pierced by twisted shadows into the wall.

He grabbed one blade like a fool and barely registered his palms burning as he saw the demon froze in its place by the voices of a wronged sprite. Alvenia walked to it, drawing runes on her way, “I will see you again,” it sounded so casual, like one of those utterances before she bend down to kiss him on the head before leaving for a long mission when he was a boy. One last smile, he wrenched one spike free but he was too late. The floating runes glowed, the beast suppressed its threads of consciousness, roared and it was over.

He knew what he had to do, dust settled though his vision swam and threatened to drown in tears as he ripped the other spike free. The ancient rite where a soul was the price, and the empty shell bowed forward to be swallowed by the darkness. He never envisioned his coming-to-power to be so violent and sudden, but what did he expect? Waiting out his mother’s death before he receives the title? He closed his eyes, embracing the warmth that calmed the burning, numbing sensations of his broken frame, finally able to breathe in his lifetime. They were there, the rulers past, and he could only thank them for their blessings as he knelt before them.

At last, he could do more than witness.

*******

Claud was flanked by his guards and certainty that he would die the pathetic death that perhaps, he deserved. The steady ooze of blood made him reflective, and each time he had to stop to pant, the nauseating sight of his stub of hand in blood-soaked bandages and his subordinates regarding him with increasing intent of abandonment threatened to make him retch. A carriage was waiting for him in the west wing’s exit, and with each screech of the palace’s marble bones under his demon’s abuse, he wandered what good galloping horses could do.

The beast was his shadow, and just a sprinkle of light would bring it out of him.

Right as he thought that came a ray of light outshining the setting sun. He was blinded, pained, and at last the two guards sought after their own life upon seeing the shadow against angry fiery red.

“You are not worthy to be a vessel of the Creator,” The voice was devoid of personal vendettas, a crystal sound delivering a divine message.

He could only see a world of pure white, and the Creator’s Messenger was before him. He was humbled, bowed his head to pray for the first and last time.

*******

She knew, that it was a foolish idea, attacking a demon without a plan like that, and she reaped the reward of her foolishness as she pried at the obsidian spike protruding through her chest. She fell to her knees, her adversary was towering over her, mocking her. Something within her called, Let us help you. And as darkness took over it dwindled to a voice, a warmth buried within a rare glimmer from her childhood, Lyra, let me help you.

It was him, Lyra closed her eyes to meet him.

You don’t frighten me anymore, she muttered as she walked to him.

He looked so foreign without a sinister sneer, almost just like his brothers, almost kin, almost kind. Forgive me.

I am no priest, I cannot pardon, she took his hand anyway, her eyes never leaving his though she almost thought she was looking into a mirror. Your time here is finished.

He blinked, bit his lips, very well. When she released his hand it was as though the world’s will to keep him on its surface disappeared, his will to haunt and remain disappeared, faded, off to the eternal abyss he knew he needed to face one day. Then power, the warmth in the dream under the rebels’ tents returned: freed, it finally manifested as the last of his shadows lifted.

She woke to herself in a pool of her own blood, though her wound was gone; the beast was writhing, the commandments that held it in place suddenly went silent and its hold on itself threatened to shatter. It looked up from the ravages it wrecked, screamed infinite blades of darkness at her. She brushed it aside with a wave of her hand, the loosened sprites recognized her, was confused.

Then the confusion led to wrath and another rumble of pure energy: she raised a hand, and the wave parted, thinned into air. The beast didn’t understand the sudden change, didn’t understand the overwhelming aura. The full power of the Fallen was contained in that woman who merely approached with uncanny calm as she gathered the wisps of tortured sprites stripped from its form, its body, its very core.

It screeched, writhed under the pull of this woman’s power.

“Give up,” A simple command. “This world is under my jurisdiction.”

The power burnt her, but she couldn’t care. As she fought each agonizing step towards the monster, the world about her eclipsed into anguish; but she could see through it, her sights was illuminated by her will and memories guiding her to the core of the storm.

A reach, a leap, she gripped the form, a dagger of bone, and dashed it into the hell until it shattered and light remembered its name.

The Fall

Vega was only equipped with the knowledge that she was here before, an irrational optimism and the desire to undo the seal that doomed her to oblivious uselessness. Now the time called for unthinkable measures, and she didn’t want to think about what mother would do…or even worse, the expression of sheer disappointment and worry upon her father’s face, if she ever see her parents again. They only ever wanted to protect her, love her, and she appreciated it, but she couldn’t bear to see them shoulder everything.

It was her turn to help, they cannot carry the world with their sheer power for so long. So she snuck out in the dead of the night, went to where she knew her mother store the seal. She really should be more careful, her assumptions about her own child’s limited powers allowed her to get so far. The moment she seized the green jewelry and it immediately answered her will, she realized she was so confident that she assumed she was going to return on time, that she didn’t even kiss pa and ma goodbye, didn’t notice the little fluff that hooted and leapt after her right after the bright light engulfed her.

All she felt was the tug of gravity, and she was falling.

LXXII.

“You have come, I am honored,” Claud hid his sputtering under courtesy as he snapped himself out of the daze imposed by the heavenly aura that humbled even the grandeur of the imperial palace deigned to regard him; Eridani was nothing in comparison.

She was flanked by two equally dignified lords, and their procession paused ten paces away from the stolen throne.

“I am here to honor my words only,” Her voice was crystalline, tainted by a slight accent and disgust. “And as out of your habit as it is, I expect you to honor yours.”

At that Alvenia’s clansman presented a bundle of silk to the Grand Priest, and as he peel the silks away to reveal the clear sphere. He grasped it like a greedy child after candy, and marveled at the antiquated power he was promised now pulsing between his fingers.

“Now, my daughter,” The feathers upon the Nokshan Lord’s back bristled subtly while her lips pursed. “Where is she?”

“Oh, she is right here,” Claud smiled.

The earth shook, the ancient walls of the palace shivered for its inhabitants, the air was enslaved by an oppressive aura that was strong enough to manifest into a physical force extinguishing all the torches and hopes within the throne room.

“Your daughter is dead, Lady Alvenia,” The beast appeared by his side, a blank facade of pure shadows screeching as a horde of tortured souls were forced to take physical form.

“What…have you done to this world?” Alevenia placed herself between the Priest and her clansmen, betraying no emotion beyond a deep frown.

“It is hardly in its full form even with a whole mountain worth of spirits,” Claud saw that his demon retreated slightly at the artifact in his hand, smiled. “Now with this, and you and your clansmen’s spirits, I can restore it to its proper glory.”

The figure of pure shadow regarded the Nokshans in animalistic hunger, morphing nightmares launched themselves to prey.

Alvenia found an unmistakable aura within the tumult and gasped, “My child.”

“Relieve the Lord of her duty,” Claud savored every syllable, though as he raised the sphere to draw its powers pain overcame him instead.

Previously concealed by Horatio’s illusion, Alde dove off of a vantage point into the throne room, a flap of his wings, and he was behind the priest. Claud saw, yelled incomprehensibly, but the momentum of his fall carried him to his target through a clean slice following the curve of his flight, singing through blood and flesh and bone.

Lyra leap off, too, breaking her fall with a spell before deflecting a thrusted spear, fell guards with a wave of her hand. She spared the priest a glance, his pathetic face twisted in the pain he deserved as he clutched at where his arm had been, those deceptive eyes fixed upon the blade about to crash into his skull.

Then the shadow came upon them.

“Alde!” He felt it, too, evaded with a twist of his heel and slashed across the beast.

He returned to her side, observed the scattered spirits reassembling into its cursed form now enraged, extending its grasp at them. Before it could touch them, Alvenia had retrieved the artifact from the dead clutches of the priest’s severed hand and bound the demon with ropes of light. It cried out, wriggled once, twice, seemed to have shrunk under the bindings of pure spirits but they were naive: it burst through twice as powerfully, a sheer explosion of shadows solidifying into obsidian shards.

Alde tugged her behind him as though he knew the shield they raised would still crack and crumble. A poor wing caught a few stray shards, Lyra winced at the wet crunch though he remained expressionless, eyes fixated upon the scattering dust where his mother stood as he pulled the blades free.

The Nokshan Lord was unscathed, but her face betrayed a deep fear and they understood as they followed her eyes to the glass powder in her hand where the artifact had been.

The monster, invigorated by blood and absorbed spirits, leapt at her, and her sword clashed against claws before tendrils sprouted to tangle with the blade, reached with its spiked edges her sword arm. She was wise enough to let go, ducked low to evade a swing that snapped the two central pillars behind her like dried sticks.

The form split, shot across the hall in a blur; an incomprehensible weight crashed down, her legs and the wall behind her gave away. She scrambled upon her feet as Aldebaran forced back the monster with sheer will.

The previous strike left him a gaping gash he tried to ignore; but, she was fine, and that was all that mattered. The world swirled, and when the demon pounced back he barely sidestepped. Then it spouted more tendrils from the earth, infinite daggers piercing his leg. He fell on one knee, and it was as though it knew exactly where its last blow landed. He pretended he was deaf to the wet crunch of his poor ribs and numb to the taste of iron.

She was yelling something, and he pushed against the earth to leapt backward for a belated retreat but the figure followed. An iron grasp locked about his neck and slammed him into what was left of the marble walls. He stabbed, kicked, dug at the claws before he was out of breath and blinded by flashes of white agony.

Lyra summoned powers she knew she didn’t possess, temporarily stunning the tendrils that bounded her. She tore herself free, not caring about the scarlet trickling down her arms, dying her armor. Instead, she hurled insults and another spell at the creature. As though it relished the art of the dramatics it was content to drop the Nokshan after bashing him against the wall one more time. She winced as he crumbled to the floor, lifeless.

But she had very little time to frown: the beast was upon her.

The Keeper

She took after her father, though the graceful portrait of her mother in her necklace locket disagreed. No matter, she was a mistress of disguise, and she was supposed to keep her thoughts locked away as her mind scrambled for a palatable way to present her fruitless findings. She left the destroyed sites, nimbly melting from one crowd to another. Drawing her coat’s collar close and boiling resentment closer, she darted a look to the store windows to ensure there were no ashes on her as she attempted to ignore the foreign face glancing back at her.

No, this was no special mission. She just needed to go home. Oh, and get groceries. She almost forgot the latter: ‘tis a strange task to befall her as Gabriel more or less took care of it, occasional substituted by a surprise visit from his brother and later on with…yeah, never mind that. The point was, she cannot remember the last time she had to pick up groceries. And as she arranged this and that, meandered through the mundane, she discovered that even the brain numbing jingles of overplayed Christmas songs on the radio cannot fill the air with a false sense of cheer.

“I’m home!” She shed her disguise, knew he would have heard the clatter of keys and it scraping against the lock had he missed the sound of the garage door in the first place.

He looked conscious enough when she went to their bedroom and planted a kiss upon his brow.

“Hey,” His voice was a deep rasp she could almost find attractive, but thought the circumstances inappropriate for that comment.

“How are you feeling?” She chimed, he smiled; ah, he saw through the lines she rehearsed in the car, alright.

“You didn’t find him, huh?” The usually gentle eyes was glazed with fatigue and deep disappointment.

You ought to be happy that it meant he didn’t die,” She ventured, he sighed.

“I suppose you are right,” He fell back into the pillows as his only strength derived from anticipation for good news left him in a heavy sigh replaced by a hiss as she threw the windows and blinds open.

“I can’t help it, your moping permeated the room,” She was hoping that her act of nonchalance would relax his nerves. “Your brother’s indestructible. He’s safe from even himself.”

“…” Only they could find a statement so morbid comforting, and she knew that was how he thinks or else she would not have dared the utterance.

“I’m going to try to figure something out for dinner –”

“– I can help –”

“– No, mister, you stay here and do what you do best: mope sexily.”

It was relieving to hear him laugh, though as the melodious bubble hollowed and pulverized into thin air, his gaze fell longingly out the window.

“What’s wrong,” She wasn’t planning on allotting him enough time for self-blame or concocting some crazy plans of leaping out the window to look for his brother.

“Nothing, love,” She pecked him on the cheek, made to make use of her groceries.

When she was at the door, he called, “Hey, Saph.”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks.”

She smiled, finding such a small gesture silly at this stage of their relationship, “Sleep, Gabe. He will be fine.” Then she closed the door and left those useless doubts and sentiments behind her to look ahead for the two of them.

LXIII.

Once one relinquish their hold onto their senses, they deem themselves puppets, rats after a piper. They laid down their lives for their masters, for reasons forgotten and dubbed duty.He was once like that, so fixated by visions the golden stretches of time promised before him that he knew exactly what vision they would fall for. 

He cut down another of Claude’s goon entrapped in his spells, a shadow of his blinded past. The illusion of despair had a good number of them: they break and bend, the slightly stronger weaklings lose themselves under a wave of his hand. He hated the scars he paints upon the spirit, for the flesh is much more adept at healing than the soul.

A blur flitted across the corner of his eyes, the king of rats, “Claude, you traitorous, cowering lecher!”

Here the smart ones among the soldiers paused, they are not disagreeing with their supposed enemy; the named bastard did not pause, but hastened his pace as he dashed for escape and supported Horatio’s claim.

He took that chance and gave chase. There was the fact that Claude knows the region better, but that was counterbalanced by the fact that the priest was not prone to exercise or the sword. Still, the man’s capabilities in the dark arts was not one to be slighted.

Claude almost thought himself free, assumptious that the cries of his men meant at least the preoccupation of the stubborn Etzian-prince-general-advisor. So he allowed himself rest when those sounds of death became muted by distance, catching his breath and scouting the bushes and attempted to hear over the loud screams of nature. 

Then a swish of air, a silent shadow and a low growl, “You vermin,” The rat addressed flinched at the cold of a blade that found its rest against his neck, scoffed. “Release that young Nokshan now.”

“You haven’t lost your touch, my good Horatio,” 

“Save your words to save your life. Release that girl, Claude.”

“It’s too late for her salvation,” The priest shifted against the blade upon his neck. “She’s lost her purpose.”

“As though you stayed true to your own.”

“Oh, don’t be so harsh now,” Claude chuckled, winced as the blade cut just enough into his throat. “Perhaps this was my purpose all along, and it was you who merely misjudged my character.”

“Misjudged or not, I am sure I did not misjudge the fact that you are human and I could very much behead you. Must I repeat myself?”

“If you intend to kill me regardless, what’s the incentive?”

Horatio scoffed, “A significantly quicker death, perhaps.”

“Ah, aren’t you generous. I can only wish the same upon you.”

He sensed impending doom and evaded, the mountains where he stood sustained a gaping scar. Even the film of dust could not mask the bright blue nor the glint of a bloodied blade. 

“Ah, so you plan on hiding behind your puppet,” Well, he should have killed the Priest right there: but that act may very well kill the Nokshan by contract and…why did he care for Eridani’s fate again? 

Still, his first question was only answered by another strike, and he saw it, evaded it, measured the fledgling. Funny, that her puppets should be more skillful than she: she relied upon the pure, superhuman strengths the Creator gifted her. Besides, The Nokshan sword was no longer foreign to him, he spectated too many brutal trainings Lyra begged her contractee to give. The experienced general stepped through a crack in her offenses, twisted the brute weight and wrenched it free from its unworthy wielder. The sword was grounded by Horatio’s feet, and he saw the hilt, recognized the simple handle, flinched, “Did you steal something from your brother?”

The young Nokshan was furious, but the human’s reminder lighted her features, “How can he claim possession over anything if he is dead?”

If Alde is dead, then what of the contract? What of Lyra? Horatio didn’t know he could hate Claude more, “What have you done? Was overthrowing any semblance of order in our own world not enough that you must also ruin the Nokshans?”

“Are they not our keepers of peace?” Claude mused. “Clearly, they are just failing miserably.”

From the corner of his eyes he spotted the graceful landing of those animated corpses, he winced a little at the idea and the gaping flaw of Claude’s logic, “Does the existence of guards justify an assassination?”

Claude had little mind or verse to respond, a puppet swept him off to safety. Horatio thought about a route of escape, looked for a crack in the poised forms that now enclosed him, “Why did you kill him, Eridani?”

“Your words cannot influence me.”

“I credit myself more well-versed than your master-rat, so I wouldn’t be so dismissive about the effects of my words.”

At this Eridani armed herself again, took a wild swing, he parried, side stepped; the other Nokshans leapt forward, a rapid enclosure of sharp blades. Then he saw it, a sealed ceramic container on the gravitational path to crash into a puppet’s head. It brought its blade into an upward arc and shattered it, he took the crack in the defenses and broke through, before the broken glass landed he landed a blow to the puppet’s sword arm, leapt back. A cover of dense smoke erupted from where the container was. A few more shatters sounded amongst the screen of smoke, and he was on the edge of it, the choking effects only so slight though the Nokshans and their superhuman senses suffered. He looked up to the facade of a rider backed by the sun on the hills above. The stallion reared, gave in to its rider’s insane demand gallop full speed down the hill. A madwoman, Horatio grinned, yet the most rational. 

She swept by, he lept on, and together they galloped away in the screen of smoke. 

“My little prince always needs rescuing,” She teased, he scoffed.