In Wake / The After

I: Schluchtgeist

Rain poured down in torrents, beating against bare and raw skin as lightning coursed across the dark sky in snake-like slashes. Heart beating in absolute panic, the young warrior could not make out a thing between the rain and dark, only able to see the outlines of tall ruins in the flashes of light. He could hear, he could FEEL the presence of something massive, terrible… the breathing was heard all around him as he ran blindly ahead, completely alone. The path abruptly ended, causing Lin to skid to a halt and nearly tumble off the edge. Turning around, he looked up to see massive, blood-red eyes staring down at him. The dark creature let out a shaking wail, and… Lin lost his nerve, letting off a loud scream.

"Lin!" Mono immediately sat up, jolted from her sleep, being forced to pin the young man down by his arms as he broke out into a veritable fear-induced seizure. He babbled incoherently, and she shouted at him loudly, "Lin! LINNEAUS, STOP IT!"

"M-Mono…" He sobbed, slowly calming down. His head pounded violently, almost paralyzing. The sides of his head glimmered faintly in the rising sun's light with blood, right under the black horn tips that protruded from his skull.

"Are you alright?" She grabbed a bit of spare fabric torn from the hem of her dress earlier and wiped up the sides of his head the best she could, carefully.

"Just a nightmare…" He waited a moment before sitting up, looking at her before smiling. "Things are… okay for now."

"That's good… but it's been more and more frequent… we really need to get out of here."

"Yeah." He squinted up at the sunlight, which seemed to rest at the top of a canyon for a long time, "But… I think the only way out is either up, or across the sea… I went everywhere."

"You couldn't have gone EVERYWHERE."

"It sure felt like I did."

"But Lin…" Mono leaned over against him, resting her head on his shoulder, "Somebody built these places. There's things… there's signs that something else, or someone else, is still here. Though we've come full circle, what's always still there?"

"Torches." He nodded a bit. "I never thought about it earlier."

"Even if the going is slow for now, there has to be something. We should keep heading toward the cities you found."

"I just wish the path would be easier for poor Agro…" Lin glanced over at the horse who was sitting nearby, nibbling at a small tuft of grass poking out from the rocks. "My poor old friend…"

"He's doing alright, don't get upset now. Honestly! You're so different these days… you used to be so vibrant about everything!" Mono let off a nervous laugh that faded quickly. Lin sighed, so she snuggled up a little closer in reassuring response. "It's okay. I understand."

A small figure bounded quickly across damp rocks, feet wrapped in leather, hopping across gaps with the agility of a wild gazelle. Covered in a heavy fur cloak, the girl silently leapt over a pool of water, which rippled in her wake. A bone-necklace clacked and clicked against itself as she ran; she came to an abrupt halt over a great lagoon. The dark water sat still and quiet at her approach. Brushing back her black hair, the young lady walked to the torches on either side of the walls and replenished their fuel, the flames illuminating the bright tattoos upon her face. Walking back and overlooking the lagoon, her pale reflection shimmered slightly as something below stirred.

"Are you awake?"

The water stirred almost angrily. Slowly from below rose bubbles, more and more rapidly. The surface suddenly swelled as a massive, dark creature burst through, water pouring down in heavy cascades and licking its way up shore, around the girl's feet. The fur-covered beast let out a resounding wail, before looking down at her carefully. Promptly, the creature let off a happy yip and nuzzled her with its dark nose, getting the small figure sopping wet and nearly knocking her over.

"Hey!" The girl laughed, hugging back. The creature purred deeply, before walking fully out of the water; it bore vestigial, stunted wings, a great rock collar, bird-like claws and a long, black and whip-like tail. It flicked its cat-like ears happily, sitting down and still towering over her. It let off an almost meowing-type noise as the girl smiled back up. "You wanna go out for a walk?"

Without any other word, the creature picked her up and tossed her onto its back, starting out of the cavern with a swaying gait. Breaking into the sunlight, the creature sniffed a bit before perking up its ears, squinting.

"Trixie." The girl made a faint hand gesture that was visible out of the creature's eye, commanding it to attention. With a faint push of the hands on the back of Trixie's head, the girl spurred her into running. Trixie's fur gleamed wetly as she took up a great staircase, parts of it being smashed under the weight. They passed by crumbling buildings to a fairly well-maintained one, the girl leaping off and heading inside a moment.

"You sit!" She peered out, and Trixie followed the command. Dipping her head back in, the girl picked up a leather bag with the symbols of her name painted across it in red – 'Loka' – and began to stuff in a few supplies and weapons. Carefully she reached at a piece of dark, jagged metal on a string, giving it a short tap. It sparked a little with a gleam, but quickly went still. Loka tied it around her neck against the bone-necklace. Walking to a small basin of water, she took a small cup and filled it, before moving to her fire-ring and mixing in some ash. She added enough to make a paste, drawing lines with it under her eyes, then in swirling smoke-like patterns up her arms and legs. Loka took a moment to let it dry before heading back out to Trixie. Climbing back up, the girl raised up the small piece of metal.

"Come on…" She moved it around, as if trying to get it into position… At a precise angle it caught the sunlight and suddenly focused off into a beam. Trixie blinked, looking that way in surprise. "Got him. Let's get going."

Trixie let out a faint 'maou', and took off in a dash. She kicked up the dust of the bare earth, until they came to the edge of the canyon. Trixie came to a sharp halt, looking down. Below, Loka could see the two figures sitting beside the horse, and she carefully held aloft the piece of dark metal once more. It caught the sunlight and immediately focused right on the center of Lin's forehead.

"…. What…?" He blinked, looking up at it for a second, not realizing what it was. Mono glanced over, just as realization flooded the man's mind. With a start, he leapt to his feet, just as Trixie let out a loud wail. "Oh my GOD."

"What in…!!" Mono leapt to her feet, and Agro instantly rose to his own with a loud, nervous whinny. Lin fumbled and drew his bow from his shoulder, notching an arrow and pointing it up at the creature.

"Down." With the single word, Trixie leapt off the edge, landing against the opposite wall of the canyon and sliding down on her claws, raising huge clouds of dust. In the confusion, Loka leapt from Trixie's head, sprinting through the dust. She jerked back as an arrow imbedded itself into her shoulder, but continued forward, drawing a knife and slashing violently at Lin's face.

The young man fell back, pulling Mono along harshly with him, before shouting for Agro. The wounded horse faithfully came as fast as he could, Lin grabbing the saddle and swinging himself and Mono up onto it. Agro galloped as fast as possible, as Loka cursed sharply, getting back up.

"Trixie!" She shouted, and the great creature tore past, Loka catching onto her fur and leaping up. Trixie let off another wail as she pursued the trio, bounding awkwardly on land. Soon as she grew close, the poor creature found an arrow between her eyes, letting off a sharp yelp and tripping over herself. Loka was thrown a distance into the dirt, skidding to a halt on her face with a groan, as Trixie pawed at her face. When Loka was able to get up, her prey were now too far away in the twists of the canyon to find again. "Well shit. But I guess I never thought it would be easy… Trixie…!"

She hurried back as the colossus whined. Between the claws, Loka was faced with the dangerous task of grabbing and yanking the arrow out, managing to get her arm raked in the process. Though she bled a tiny bit, Trixie was much relieved, whining and licking at Loka.

"Tch… we'll have to try that later…"

Meanwhile, exiting the canyon area and getting as far away as possible, Agro was forced to a limping halt. Lin hopped off as soon as possible with Mono, looking back over his shoulder and quaking. "That… that was a colossus… I know it was…"

"It was so big…!"

"I thought… there was only…" Gathering his thoughts, he tenderly patted at the cut on his face, before pausing. "… That was another human."

"…It was."

"That was… There's… someone else! But… why…?" He took a minute to watch, half hoping she would appear, half dreading that she might… but they didn't follow. "…revenge?"