A/N: Sorry for the giant gap between chapters, but I had chapter 3 nearly finished when my laptop failed. I have yet to recover the data from the hard drive, and I really don't have the money to get the laptop fixed, so I've been forced to rewrite the entire chapter. Anyway, here it is, so enjoy.
Chapter 3 - Passenger
The tunnel seemed endless, twisting and winding ever deeply into the heart of the planet, the walls oozing the same perpetual darkness the entire way along. On top of the oppressiveness of the cavern walls themselves, the light of the orb, though very bright, seemed to almost retreat from what could only be described as a palpable blackness that invaded from all sides.
"I can barely see anything." Zalbard was about a yard behind Creed, and numerous times he'd reached out a clawed hand to grab his companion's shoulder as the dark enveloped him. "This place is odd, it's like the air is alive somehow…"
Creed looked back over his shoulder, and though he expected Zalbard to be clearly visible, he couldn't see him at all. "I suppose whatever evil is seeping through these walls is suppressing the light." Creed looked back down at the swirling ball of flames in his hands apprehensively. Even though he could barely see the walls of the cavern by now, he felt them bearing down on him.
As the minutes passed slowly by, the tunnel eventually began to widen until Creed could no longer discern how high the ceiling went and he had to outstretch one hand to the wall to guide him onward. The light was so muffled by now that he was sure that they would have been just as well without it.
"There's a light ahead, I think." Zalbard said, sounding somewhat relieved. Surely enough, Creed began to make out a dim purple glow as they proceeded, growing slowly brighter until he was able to lower the orb to his side and let the flame inside it flicker out.
The tunnel turned rather abruptly to the right, leading them into a high walled cavern that seemed to reach up endlessly into darkness. Creed's eyes widened as they entered, and he could hear Zalbard's sharp intake of breath. About twenty yards ahead of them, an enormous column of absolute shadow stood, pulsating like the vein of some great creature. Though the center of the broad cylinder was of an unyielding shadowy black, an aura of dark blue and purple radiated out from it, and small orbs of similar color orbited it slowly. Now and then, a shadowy bolt shot from the column and seemed to absorb the orbs instantly.
"Is that it?" Zalbard had regained himself and stepped to Creed's side, and a clawed hand scratched at his beard absently.
"I suppose so." Creed wasn't amazingly surprised at the appearance of the column. He'd be expecting something along these lines. It was the immense power that he felt radiating upon him that had him taken aback.
"It's completely silent in here, you'd think this thing would produce some sort of sound." Zalbard observed as they both moved a few steps closer to the pulsating column. Creed was ignoring him at this point, examining the column silently from afar. It expanded very slowly, small lightning-like bolts shot this way and that from its surface, engulfed a ball of energy, then retracted again within fractions of a second. The orbs of energy themselves grew slowly from nearly invisible specks to orange sized globes that seemed to writhe and twist from the inside, almost as the flames within Geshp's orb had.
Creed turned to Zalbard after a moment, and noticed he, too, had become silent and was observing the column with an intense fascination. "Let's get a bit closer." Creed nodded in the columns direction and began to walk toward it even before Zalbard could grunt in agreement. Before they got very much closer, though, a deep, growling voice broke the silence of the room.
"Don't get too close." The words came from all around, though the voice was hollow and low. Creed felt instantly that the atmosphere in the room had changed, and an odd presence began to culminate around him. He felt as if something were literally sitting on his shoulders. "Come now, back away a little."
"Who's that?" Zalbard took a step back hesitantly, and Creed could tell by his troubled expression that they were both feeling the same uncomfortable pressure.
"If you get too close, the column will absorb you." The voice spoke harshly, and yet at the same time managed to be exceedingly flippant.
"Who are you?" Creed repeated Zalbard's question calmly, also taking a step back.
"Ah. Odd creatures, devils. You're just as bad as humans, aren't you? Always trying to identify and put names to things." The voice snickered. "I'm the spirit in charge of protecting this spindle. I'm to make sure no one bothers it. That includes devils."
"A spirit?" Zalbard addressed the room uneasily, slightly flustered by the fact that he was talking to something he couldn't see.
"He's not the sharpest tool, is he?" The spirit laughed. Zalbard growled audibly in response.
"Okay, so what do we do now?" Creed could hear the irritability in Zalbard's voice.
"So this is called a spindle?" He ignored Zalbard entirely, "I don't see the point in protecting this thing."
There was silence for a moment before the spirit responded, "You've got me there. This isn't a job, it's a punishment. Trust me, if I had my way I'd have left this place a long time ago. That thing doesn't need to be protected, it can take care of itself."
"Oh?" Creed feigned interest.
"You two are the ones that need protecting. Get within a few meters of that thing and you become pure energy."
Zalbard huffed loudly, "You can't expect us to keep talking to you if we can't see you."
"Are you really that simple minded that you're all befuddled if you can't see what you're speaking to?" The voice sighed, if the growling noise that followed could be called that. "Fine."
A few feet in front of the ever pulsing spindle, a large, semi translucent face appeared. It closely resembled the face of a human, though its features seemed oddly distorted and the color of its skin was a strange shade of violet. It's eyes were wide and had an almost crazed look about them, the whites being very large and the iris very small in comparison. The mouth of the creature was twisted into a strange, fang filled grin, and its teeth were grossly yellow.
"What are you called?" Creed asked, now somewhat interested.
"I don't really have a name, names are the creation of humans and devils. They're not necessary here. No one need address me, and a warning to outsiders is all I need to give. Names are irrelevant." It hissed from behind that wide grin.
Creed was becoming somewhat impatient with the extensive explanations. "Listen, I need to get to that 'spindle', or whatever it is you want to call it. I need to harness its energy, and though I value the warning, I'm going to use it whether you like it or not. So we can be diplomatic about this and you can let me do what I need to do, or we can settle it another way." Creed wasn't as much bluffing as he was relying on the hints he was given by the spirit's offhand manner. It didn't seem much interested in protecting anything, and all this useless banter led him to believe that all it wanted really was to talk a little, something he had no time for.
"You want to fight me? You have no power here, I'm not an imbecile, unlike your very ugly friend here." The spirit seemed to widen its grin, if that was even possible. "Besides, I'm not here to fight. I have just as much power as you do here. It's actually more comfortable to remain invisible and save what little energy I have."
"Well, then where do we go from here?" Zalbard asked, ignoring the spirit completely and turning to Creed again.
"Let's make a deal, maybe?" The spirit chuckled.
"We don't need anything from you." Zalbard spat.
"Oh? Well, have it your way. Try harnessing this energy, or whatever you said you needed to do. I've given you fair warning." The spirit's eyes turned back to Creed. "Once you approach this thing, there will be nothing left of you. Not even a finger, not even your clothes."
"I'm listening." Creed sighed.
The spirit clicked his tongue audibly and hissed, "Ahh, good. Now, I'm not looking to be stuck here for another eternity. I'm quite fed up with this hole. You get me out, and I'll help you do what you need to do with the spindle."
"Don't trust him." Zalbard whispered.
"Be quiet." Creed said without looking over at him. "Okay, how do I get you out?"
"Creed, you can't trust this thing. How do you know he won't kill you!"
"You have any better ideas?" Creed answered testily. "The worst it can do is kill me, and what then? We're no better off down here."
"I said be quiet," his tone was final.
"Are you boys quite finished?" The spirit hissed once again in that flippant way. "To release me, I need a vessel. It can be a body, either one of yours will do. You won't have to move out of it, I'll just sort of…well, move in for a bit. I'm not quite powerful enough to control the body if the soul does not belong to me, but I'll still be one with your mind. Unless you have something else?"
Creed scratched at his chin for a moment, and then rather absently raised the orb still clutched in his other hand up to eye level. "Will this do?"
The spirit sniffed, "I'm assuming it has magical properties of some sort? Yes, I think that'll do fine, though I hope you'll find me something more suitable in the future. That thing looks quite stuffy."
"Okay, well, what now?"
"Just repeat after me. 'E'il spiris, neh realis sen fo senis vonds'." Creed repeated this as best he could, and the spirit's grin widened further. With an audible crack, the huge face vanished.
"It worked?" Zalbard looked around. "You're not dead yet, so…"
"I keep my word." The spirit's voice hadn't lost any of its former volume or offhand manner, but its source was now very obviously the orb in Creed's hand.
"I can't see you." Creed spoke to the orb.
"That doesn't matter…that's quite an interesting idea you have there, Creed. You want to create a devil with this energy? Creative, I'll grant you that."
Creed's eyebrow rose. "You can read my thoughts?"
"You catch on quickly. I told you that this would happen. It doesn't really matter if I inhabit you body or not. You released me, I'm in your care. You're my master."
"Doesn't matter. Well, now you know what I want, so that should make everything easier, now shouldn't it?"
The spirit chuckled. "It should. That doesn't mean it will. We'll see what happens, I guess."
"He infuriates me," Zalbard hissed.
"So, how do I-"
"CREED!" An enormous bellow shook the walls of the cavern, and Creed spun around almost on his heel. He knew his master's voice when he heard it, not that anyone else here could have made such an ear shattering bellow.
"Seems someone has been a bad boy." The spirit chuckled.
"Can I turn you off?"
"Is this a little better?" The voice was now lower, but had an odd quality to it. It wasn't echoing at all, though they were in quite a large cavern and it had been resonating the entire time. "I'm speaking to you telepathically."
"CREED! Return at once!" Zeon's bellow resonated throughout the cavern once again, leaving a sinking feeling in the pit of Creed's stomach.
"I guess it's time to go back. Do you think Geshp squealed about you stealing the orb?" Zalbard was visibly shaken by Zeon's bellows. Of all the greater devils, Zalbard was perhaps the most afraid of Zeon's reprimands.
"Probably not the orb, but the fact that I broke his nose." Creed grinned remembering the incident. "Let's go back, he won't stop calling me until we do."
The spirit contained within Geshp's orb was already proving useful. Without Creed even trying, the orb caught flame from within, thrice as bright as it has when he'd used it earlier. As they trekked back through the tunnel, Creed noticed that the palpable darkness that had essentially made the orb useless was at least somewhat driven back by the light now, perhaps because it was so much brighter. Zeon's calls had stopped, but Creed knew that if he didn't return soon, Zeon's temper would flare even more. The Devil King was not to be kept waiting.
"Who might that have been? He sounds very put off." Creed heard the spirit's voice in his mind.
"Zeon, my master, the King of Devils." Creed's thought responded.
The evil spirit scoffed. "Devil king, human king. You fleshlings are all the same. Why is there a need for such a chain of power? Be your own devil, Creed."
"Don't speak of things your don't understand." He replied aloud without realizing it.
"Sorry?" Zalbard asked from behind. Creed ignored him.
"Whatever you say." The thought came to Creed, and that was the last he heard from evil spirit for the rest of the walk.
The two greater devils emerged from the cavern, both of them sweating heavily in the hot, stagnant air of the cavern. Creed sent out a quick thought, and evil spirit obeyed, muffling the light of the orb until the fire disappeared.
"Creed." Zeon said from the opposite end of the hall as he and Zalbard approached. "Did you find what you were looking for?" His voice had a slight edge to it, though Zeon actually seemed interested in whether Creed had made any headway, which was a good sign.
"My king, I've located a vein of dark energy. It's exactly what I was looking for. I'm surprised I discovered it with very little trouble." He responded.
"I assume by 'trouble', you mean the fact that you had to beat in Geshp's face." Zeon didn't sound too angry, but that subtle hint of aggravation somewhere within his voice was there. Usually, Zeon was very open about how he felt. It wasn't in him to keep anything pent up, and why should he? There were none above him, but when it came to Creed, the way he handled things was very different.
"Ah, my lord," Creed looked directly into Zeon's face as he spoke, "would he have given me the orb otherwise?"
"It was unnecessary. You could have come to me." Zeon sighed. "You're my right hand, Creed. I cannot have dissension in my ranks, regardless of our situation. You may be the superior devil, and I do not question your judgment, but we're not on the battlefield anymore. You don't need to make snap decisions and take matters into your own hands. The war is over." Creed considered this and realized his master was indeed quite correct. Though he never questioned Zeon's methods or his logic, Creed was always of the assumption that his very reason for being was to be Zeon's brain when Zeon reached the limit of his own imagination, but this was clearly not the case. Zeon was more intelligent than Creed gave him credit for, and maybe that was why he was the master, and Creed was his minion.
"My king, I apologize." Creed said sincerely.
"What did you need it for anyway?" Zeon's one eyebrow raised as he bellowed. "A catalyst?"
"A torch." Creed grinned slightly.
"You break a nose for a torch?" Zeon hissed another sigh. "Geshp!"
The little imp came trudging from his alcove, blood still crusted underneath his now slightly crooked green nose. His face was quite obviously swollen, making him look even more grotesque.
"Yes?" Geshp avoided eye contact with Creed at all costs, and stood with his bent nose turned up as he spoke.
"You will NOT speak to your superior as you have. You've received just punishment for that grave error, it would seem." Zeon's eyes tightened as he bellowed. "I'd have done very much worse."
Geshp winced visibly, "Yes…yes, it won't happen again, my king."
"Good. Since that's settled, please return the orb, Creed."
Creed held out the orb to Geshp, who grabbed at it quickly, but not before Creed could snatch it back.
"Wait." Creed looked into the orb for a moment.
"What is this! Master Zeon has given you an order!" Geshp looked at Zeon pleadingly. "He defies you!"
"Shut up, Geshp." Zeon roared, causing Geshp to flinch slightly.
"I need to give this back. You have to come out." Creed sent out his thought to the evil spirit.
"Good, I was beginning to wish I'd stayed in the cavern. I'm feeling claustrophobic." The spirit said in it's usual offhand way. "I can't just come out, I need another vessel. I have permission to inhabit your body?"
Creed sighed heavily, once again considering how this might effect him. It could curse him, cause permanent damage, or possibly kill him.
"Yes." Creed's mind answered, and before he could think twice, he felt a strange surge from the orb, almost like a jolt of electricity. It was done. He could feel the evil spirit within him, a foreign logic invading his own. Creed didn't quite grasp the wisdom that this spirit held when he'd met him. In fact, he was mostly just an obstacle. He now realized just what he was dealing with as their minds became one, but their identities still remained separate. The addition of an entity with such years was a dramatic shock to his system, and, unbeknownst to him, the shock of this enormous change to his body was plainly visible on his face. Without realizing, Creed dropped the blood red orb to the cavern floor, where it fell with an audible thump, rather than the clatter any other glass orb might make.
"What just happened?" Zeon asked with undisguised curiosity. "Creed? Are you alright?"
"Y-yes." Creed muttered, his eyes still wide and somewhat glassy.
Geshp grabbed up the orb and bowed to Zeon in the same motion, "I'll withdraw now with your consent, my king."
"Go." Zeon responded without looking at Geshp, and the little imp skittered back into his alcove.
Zalbard watched him go, and then turned back to Creed. "Creed? You let that thing take over your body, didn't you?" Zalbard eyes grew as wide as Creed's had.
"Explain this." Zeon said impatiently.
"Guarding the vein…" Creed managed to say, still adjusting to this drastic mental change. "There was an ancient spirit guarding the main energy spindle…" As soon as he spoke those words, information flowed to him from the other awareness within him. He was incorrect.
"Not the main spindle, just one of many." Evil Spirit's thought came to him much faster than it had from the orb, and though they were one mind, somehow Creed was able to differentiate his own thoughts from that of the other awareness. "Many, there are many. Many spirits, also. Many punished, never released, except me. Thank you, Creed. I am in your debt. Your debt."
"I placed the spirit into Geshp's orb. I need it to help me test some theories." Creed hurried along, trying his best to hide how very disoriented he was just now. "I am its master, so I had to let it occupy my body for now, since I have nothing else to hold it in."
"I told him it wasn't wise, my king." Zalbard interjected.
"Creed, those spirits are not the same as the ones you see floating about here." Zeon bellowed. "As far as I can tell, Arc Valley is also filled with these guardians, though I've only heard of them. I never knew exactly what they were said to guard, though. Be careful, Creed. Be ready to expel that thing from your body if you sense anything odd about its intentions. Those spirits have no conscience, no sense of loyalty."
"Who put them here?" Zalbard asked.
"The Light. Light, the Creator. It's a punishment." Evil spirit whispered somewhere in Creed's mind.
"I'm not sure." Zeon admitted.
"I'll be fine. I understand the risks and accept them gladly if it will help us get out of here quicker." Creed said, still trying to keep his composure.
"Just remember, Creed," Zeon bellowed as he turned his good eye to look at the devil, "I need you. You're worth too much to die in some experiment down here."
"I understand." Creed bowed.
"I'll return to sleep now. Be careful." Zeon's eyes had already begun to roll up into his head as he spoke, his eyes closing slowly.
"My king." Creed and Zalbard said in unison, before returning to their separate alcoves.
"I didn't know it would be like this." Creed held his head in frustration, his back against the wall of his 'room' as he considered the ramifications of what he had just done to himself.
"Not a treat for me either. Consider the fact that I haven't had a body in eons before you complain. How do you think this feels for me?"
"Shouldn't that make this a plus for you?" Creed's thought responded.
"Should it? I'm not the one in control."
"Just shut up for a while, please."
"You really should have considered this better if all you're going to do is complain. You'll hear my thoughts whether I want you to or not, and I'll hear yours." Evil Spirit spoke in a very serious tone, and had since the merge. Creed took this as an indication that this wasn't a simple matter for either of them.
"I need to try and get some sleep. I feel terrible…" Creed groaned aloud as he thought this.
"So be it." Evil Spirit's thought came, and was the last one Creed heard before he fell uneasily into an all too short sleep.