Chapter 4: Thorns of the Mind
Ash wished he was alone. He wished that everything would disappear. He wished that the dark, ridged land surrounding him would vanish, the screams that echoed over the menacing gray hills would cease and that he himself would die. The land in which he stood on had pain and regret running through its veins and a heart of evil. The monstrous beating of the island's heart made him feel faint and defenseless, but most of all guilty. Even looking to the sky was not an escape. It was as painful to look at as the island itself, gray and lifeless. Ash remembered why this island was called the Island of Evil, although he wished that he would never have to recollect on these memories.
The screams of distress rolled through the hills like a river of anguish. Ash crouched down on the ground and covered his ears, with his eyes squeezed shut. The voices persisted. He could not block the shrieks of his family. A stream of tears flowed from the corners of his eyes and a twisted face of suffering made an appearance on his face. The voices grew louder the tighter his covered his ears. He could hear every agonizing sound from both his parents and Marona. He couldn't take anymore. He wanted to escape this world. With little hope in his heart he opened his eyes anticipating an exit, but instead was faced with the gruesome sight of a demon.
A giant skull like creature with a gaping mouth stood before him. For a body, it only had half a torso of bare bones and some meat. A torn spinal cord dangled with blood oozing down it dripping to the dusty ground. It was supporting itself on nothing but two skeletal hands, no arms, with two jagged bones piercing both the hands. Where the bones were stuck dried blood surrounded the holes. This demon seemed to be in no sort of pain, but anguish seeped into Ash's soul just by looking at the horrible beast.
Behind the demon there were three people, wielding weapons, a young green-haired man wielding a sword, a young blue-haired woman and a young, also green-haired, girl with a tall staff. They looked angrily at the demon that was facing Ash. It quickly turned to face them. Ash knew what was going to happen to them if they fought that monster, he saw it happen once before and he was determined to make sure it never happened again. He yelled at the three to back down, but they didn't seem at all stirred by his words. They didn't even look in his direction. In an instant the demon swiped its enormous hand at the young man. He flew clear across the land and with a loud crack he smacked against a rock and fell down heavily injured. Ash's eyes widened as he saw that horrible display of power.
"Haze!" The blue haired woman shouted as she ran to towards him.
The tall demon balled its fist this time and pounded the running woman. She was struck down and her mid section crushed. A trail of blood ran out of mouth and her lifeless eyes lay open staring at Ash.
"Mom!" he cried out.
He tried to crawl over to her but his legs wear frozen in place. He then tried to shut his eyes, but they, too, were frozen. He was stuck to observe the horrific display before him. He had to watch the death that pained him the most to watch. He had to witness everything again.
"Marona, get away," he yelled, "don't fight it! You'll die!"
The young girl still seemed set on fighting the beast. She stood at a bit of a distance, bracing herself. Her white dress began to twirl and flow as she worked up the power to cast a spell with her staff. Ash continued to yell.
"Marona, stop fighting! I never confined you! You can't fight unless I confine you!" Tears dripped down his cheeks and sadness coated his voice.
A red glow surrounded the young girl as she mustered enough power to fire off her spell. Suddenly, she shouted out.
A blast of flaming magma spewed form the tip of the staff. It was aimed straight for the monster ahead of her. Ash saw the burning ball of flame approach. The monster put up its hands in defense. It struck with a vicious explosion of energy. Now Ash tried to brace himself for the sight he would see next.
The skeletal hands of the demon lowered from its gruesome face. It eyes glowed with hatred for the little girl. She was the only one to convey a decent attack on the demon and yet it seemed to not damage it. It approached her slowly and furiously. The eyes of the girl wear swollen with terror. She tried to run, but fell face first into the gritty dirt. It again balled its fist ready for another smash. This time, though, it did not crush her torso, killing her. Instead it aimed for her legs. A grisly crunching sound crackled in the cold air, shortly followed by the pain-filled scream of a young girl. It picked up its fist and seemed to watch her struggle to crawl away almost as if it was toying with the poor creature for her attempted attack. Marona looked back, horrified at the monster, with a face full of black dirt filled tears. She stared in the red devilish eyes of her death watching her fight a losing battle for her life.
Ash broke out in tears as he saw the last look that Marona had on her face before her death. He would do anything to change the impending outcome, but he was powerless. With one hand the giant beast lifted Marona by her mangled limbs and raised its right hand. It stuck out one long crooked finger with a razor on the end in place of a nail. In one quick jolt back and forth it pierced the body of Marona. All Ash could see was the waterfall of blood and drops tears rush to the ground. Then the body of the girl was carelessly dropped to the earth. All of her blood drained to the ground through the yawning hole left in her in her stomach. Her once beautiful, pure, white dress stained with gore. She hacked up fits of bodily fluids as she tried to pick herself up, but collapsed under the weight of her own death.
"Marona!" Ash shouted in agony as he burst up from his nightmare.
Immediately, he gagged and raised his hand to his mouth to try and stop the vomit inching up his esophagus. His reflexes caused a shooting pain in his injured right shoulder. He didn't know what to do with his hand, hold the shoulder or his mouth. His indecisiveness led him nowhere as spewed out black vomit. He turned to his right side and leaned over to finish ejecting the black ooze onto the floor, which happened to be to be few feet below. It turned out that he was sitting on ledge. The short distance to the ground made him feel lightheaded and nauseated. Despite his sickly state he was in he was more worried for Marona.
"Marona!?" He yelled wearily, turning his head rapidly from side to side, "Where are you?" There was still a bit of vomit hanging in his throat making his voice weak and muffled.
As Ash looked around searching for Marona he noticed that he was no longer outside. It appeared that he was in a cave of some sort. A lone light hung from the ceiling above him only illuminating the immediate area surrounding him. The gentle sound of rushing water echoed off the dull orange cave walls, but the soothing hums didn't calm him. They made him more agitated as he developed an idea of the vastness of the caverns. Marona had to be located in cavern somewhere along with Pepper, Fremont and Ulima.
After his useless attempts at shouting he decided to take a better approach to the situation. Carefully, trying not to use his right arm, he turned his legs to the edge ready to step down from the ledge, but an unusual clanging noise made him pause. He looked down at his ankle and saw the metal chains that bonded him to the cave walls. A deep rage bubbled inside him as he saw the chains restricting him from finding his friends. He gave a quick strong yank to the chains, but not even the strength of his rage could change the durability of the metal shackles. It did nothing but cause more pain in his shoulder which he quickly grabbed in response to the soreness.
There was still blood on his hands from when he grabbed his shoulder earlier, but it was now dry and crusty. His shoulder also had dried blood caked around it, along with his yellow jacket. He felt a bit disappointed, Marona made that jacket for him, now it was stained with a new painful memory. He didn't care much for his long burgundy scarf. He had a spare, as his mother kept buying them for him. He never really started wearing them until after her death. He felt guilty that he never appreciated the things she gave him. He felt that if he the wore the goofy scarves, she bought him so often, he could alleviate some of the guilt. Although, it was a shame to lose one of the seven he already owned.
A sudden urge came over as he thought about his losses. He covered his eyes with his left hand and inhale deeply. He could feel it coming, but he didn't want to let it loose. He sat for a minute trying to hold back his weakness. He couldn't let his tears win another battle. He took more heavy breaths trying to contain his sadness. He knew that letting his grief win over him would not help Marona, it didn't help her in the battle against the demon and it wouldn't help now.
After a few moments he calmed down and began pondering the situation further, not that it helped him in anyway. A sense of shame and uselessness engulfed him as he realized that he was the only hope for his phantom friends. Ash, in a sudden burst of emotion, grabbed his injured shoulder and squeezed it. He moaned slightly, but tried to keep his shouts of pain silent. He felt better mentally after inflicting pain upon himself. It was what he deserved for his lack of action. For all he knew, the assailant could have powers over phantoms. He could be doing unimaginable things to Marona and Ash could do nothing to stop it.
Ash could fell his jacket dampening from the newly released blood flow he caused. He didn't care to stop the rapid flow from his body. Instead he just laid down on the stone ledge, beside him a growing pool of redness. Staring into the ceiling the sounds of faint sounds of water seemed to grow louder and more soothing. His eyelids were beginning to flutter. He wanted to close his eyes to rest, but he knew that if he did he would have failed Marona again, but then a sudden thought sparked in his mind. Maybe if he just closed his eyes slowly, everything would be fine. He would drift off into a deep sleep and wake up to the melodic chirping of Marona's voice. It would be just like earlier today when he wasn't in this mess. Ash's eyes slowly closed without his awareness and he drifted off into a sleep brought on by fear and anxiety.
What felt like mere moments later, Ash jolted up from his sleep. He didn't know how long he was out, but he was fairly sure it wasn't long. He could tell because his shoulder was still wet, but the bleeding had slowed down. He saw the pool of blood next to him and scooted away.
After sitting silently for a bit, Ash's ears perked up to an unusual sound echoing in the cavern. It was a clacking sound and it was closing in. Ash knew it was someone heading his way, the way the sound clacked with a steady pace, getting louder with each sound off. It was the sound of footsteps, but footsteps with some sort of footwear to make such a sound. It wasn't a sound he heard often, but it was somewhat familiar. It was the sound of high heels. He wondered why someone with high heels would be in a cavern, he knew it would be crazy to think that someone with those types of shoes would be in the in the same area, but the was positive that high heels were the cause of the clacking even though it was possible for it to many other things.
Ash looked in the direct the sound was approaching from anxious to see who would appear and why they were here. He wanted to get some answers from someone and he didn't care if the person approaching was there to cause him pain, he just wanted to hear some news on his friends. He wanted to know Marona was not hurt.
Seconds later, from the direction of the sound, arose a figure. It was shadowy and vague as it neared. The light from the tiny lantern above him was practically useless in uncovering his surroundings. Ash stared trying to make out whom or what was coming his way, but it was near impossible. He would just have to wait and see. More steps sounded and the closer it came until it stopped in the bare edges of the illumination. Ash could make out now who was there. He saw a woman barely lit up. She was wearing her hair up in a bun. It seemed to be either black or dark brown. She wore a long red dress that buttoned up in the middle and a bow was tied around her waist. It was quite large, but still subtle. What most stood out, though, was her face. She didn't look old, in fact she looked young, but she looked worn and stressed. Obviously, she was not in good health.
Ash was ready to burst out the one the one question that tortured him. He wanted to grab the woman by her weak shoulders and shake her until she told him everything he wanted to hear. Ash quickly realized, as he began to open his mouth, that the answer might not be what he wanted to hear. He immediately stopped his words before they were let out. Only a small gasp was let loose.
The woman silently stepped in front of Ash and looked him in the eyes. He gazed back. Her eyes, although meek, they were very calming. A slight smile jumped across her face as she lifted up one hand and placed it on Ash's wound. Ash jumped back a little, but he didn't feel threatened for some reason. His gash started to feel warm. He could do nothing at stare at the woman's hand placed on his shoulder. In his mind he was having second thoughts about letting her touch him, but he didn't feel the need to listen to those thoughts. After a minute his shoulder became numb along with his whole right arm lost feeling. The woman gently lifted her hand up with his blood blotched on it. Then she spoke.
"Your shoulder…It's better now."
Her voice was raspy and weak. She softly wheezed between words.
"Uh…" Ash wanted to respond with gratitude, but his mind was blank, he couldn't fit words together.
She calmly shook her head from side to side with a slight smile. She then knelt forward placing her head next to Ash's ear and again spoke.