Authors Note: As ever, KHR belongs in all its brilliant entirety to Amano Akira. I am writing this tale because its been nagging at me and as my ever so brutal and wonderful best friend pointed out-supernatural nonsense never goes out of style. SO I am indulging this nagging, haranguing voice inside my head that bothered me so much and demanded that I write out this thing. I hope this first chapter brings some interest. Here's to hoping.
STEALING THE NIGHT
More dark than a dead world's tomb,
More high than the sheer dawn's gate,
More deep than the wide sea's womb,
The scene was something out of the deepest of nightmares. Bodies, parts of which would never be whole ever again strewn all over…severed limbs and appendages cluttering the grounds like so much broken twigs, flesh ripped as if by rabid teeth, torn and gristly, bones broken into dust, fragments of cartilage littering like so much broken, discarded debris…
Blood soaked the earth that fairly drowned in the once-giving elixir…their distinctive hue clinging to everything around it, staining everything within its sphere until all around the once solid ground turned into a fetid cesspit of earth, flesh, bone and blood. Everywhere else grisly remains of what use to be part of living beings dotted the barren wastelands…
Unearthly golden light mocked the scene it illuminated, staining limbs that would no longer work a hue so vividly alive that it seemed to move even as it lie shattered and ruined beyond any hope of repair …drenching shredded clothes with a glow that created the illusion of warmth… a stray passing breeze lifting disheveled locks of hair that no longer flowed from its owners head…
Muffled cries of anguish echoed in the deafening silence that always followed devastation… And in the midst of this sight of slaughter stood seven figures…silhouetted in the dying light of the sun…held frozen in that moment of in between time…
"Where the god's forsaken hell are we..?"
It was a young man's voice-acerbic, whining and impatient—who called him from the depths of unnatural slumber. Anyone else would've reacted, anyone else and they would've yielded to a body's impulse to respond but years of fighting, years of struggle and survival stayed his body's natural responses. He didn't make any outward display of consciousness, his eyes still moving beneath closed lids with hypnotic cadence, his breathing deep and untroubled, and his muscles lax and loose in repose. He was, for all intents and purpose, the very image of a man in the throes of untroubled sleep.
"You, Spartan! Are you awake? Awaken, soldier!"
Another voice…This one demanding and imperious—the sound of a wealthy or powerful man used to being followed immediately. The sound of a leader…no…a demanding spoiled master, a willful king. It was easy to ignore the braying of this spoiled cow…
"Do not order me around, fool! You have no more right than the bats that call this hell-hole its abode."
A rough, hardy voice…a Spartan…calm and steady thought obviously uneasy…the voice of seasoned soldier and leader…decisive but not impetuous…
The sound of an argument ensued, hisses of dissent and ugly exchanges that tinged the echoing chamber with a cacophony of words and ill intent when someone else decided to speak. He listened closely to the flat, careful monotone…devoid of emotions as though whispering came more normally than actual speech…the tell-tale stain of suspicion threaded through his carefully controlled voice.
"What of him? What manner of man is he?"
It was yet another's voice that spoke…this one's voice was calm…uninflected and soothing…like the gentle breeze that flows through delicate leaves and branches in the early morn… A much more dangerous voice than the previous others.
"A dealer of death. I surmise that he has been awake for some time now, my fine companions. He is hardly possessed of a nature that would allow himself to appear vulnerable in the midst of company."
This one sees far more than he can allow. Still, he resisted the urge to simply show them that the last speaker was correct in his assumption. A few more murmurs revealed the presence of others…some older…others seemingly of a much younger age…and one decidedly female…it was finally she that spoke next.
"Shadow man…you need to open your eyes now…he will come back soon enough and he should not see you made vulnerable…"
There it was…her voice… the sound that beckoned and cajoled…warmth and seeming life fairly throbbing from each syllable making him, compelling him to move. The cadence and lilt of her soft speech, unhesitant though unobtrusive spoke with seductive persuasion all the more potent for the beseeching quality threaded like a shard of light in the darkness therein.
With slow, deliberate moves, he tried unfurling long, supple limbs only to encounter the cold, biting feel of chains binding his wrists and arms. Eyes the color of night slid open and his fierce fathomless eyes snapped on to the restraining chains wrapped around every sinew and appendage. A small tug and the barest flicker of talon-tipped nails against the metal links revealed that the chains, though blackened with age were not rotted through. The cold coil of steel easily cradled his weight, suspending him and the others a few feet from the ground, effectively diminishing chances for escape.
He tested the chains once more and felt them give but little leeway for movement. His eyes, seemingly languid and indifferent beneath the fall of dark lashes, moved slowly across the filled room, his vision soon adapting to the faintest of light, noting absently that he was in a cavern, massive in height and breadth… easily dwarfing the captives held at its very heart.
There was nothing in the cavern save chains that seemed to bleed from the very walls itself set in a loose circle around the central chamber. Two braziers burned close to where a raised dais and a throne were located in the epicenter of the lair. An atavistic thrill ran up his spine and something inside him screamed dire warnings in ringing tones but he silenced it with the familiar lash of his control. He has spent far too long in the shadows to fear what death could bring…he has seen far too much of what darkness could and did conceal to fear what a mere cave could bring. The raised dais assured him that what kept him tied was nothing more than a creature of flesh and blood. Such a creature could not cause him to cower.
His eyes swept back towards his fellow captives, noting their varied attires and the variegated coloring of race that marked their origin. His gaze flittered briefly over the slim pale young man with a long braided hair whose serene smile and peaceful eyes never wavered despite the confining bands of steel wrapped securely around him. His entire demeanor seemed relaxed, not resigned, as though inviting those around him to share some cosmic humor only he seemed to understand.
Next to him, suspend thusly, was a young man at his prime, long lean lines showing muscled sinews and strength; golden hair tussled as if by careless hands, eyes the color of a cloudless sky. His face was carefully blank, as if his mind was elsewhere, yet his eyes were all too aware—following every movement by those around him, his eyes calculating as they tried to map out possible areas of escape.
Two youths dangled close by, both raven haired, with dark brooding eyes. One had his eyes and lips stained with purple and coal…lanky and gifted with a curios grace, the chains that held him seemed to cradle more than restrain his body—as if without them he could otherwise not be contained. The other was wrapped in black robes…a forbidding scowl on his face and eyes downcast…lost as if in some inner world that he prefers to be in rather than the one they all happened to share.
The one farthest from him was an imperious looking man with eyes that burned with a manic flame—the eyes of a heretic or an ascetic used to staring at the very heart of the crucible. His gaze was empty, his mind consumed by something else, an inner puzzle that encompasses everything inside of him. His captivity was merely an inconvenience that he in the meantime, has some interest in unraveling.
He debated closing his eyes and conserving his strength when the woman spoke once more, her voice coming closer than before.
"You're bleeding has stopped. I have tried to heal it as much as I could, but like with the others, I cannot do much while we are here."
He took a deep breath and weighed his options—ignoring the woman would yield no benefit and she seemed better informed than the rest, certainly better than him. His body gave no hint of the action that it exploded into mere moments after. Even with the constricting weight of icy chains holding him caged his hand moved like a flicker of lightning, clamping a scarred hand around a fragile wrist. He then opened his eyes and looked at the woman who called to him and felt his world go still.
Rendered captive—perhaps for only the second time in his life—he was held motionless and still by nothing more than a pair of unearthly eyes. Eyes the color of golden sunset… eyes unlike any he has seen before and yet painfully, hauntingly familiar in some indefinable way his very soul could not belie. Fathomless…deep…guileless though knowing…innocent yet wizened…doubt seized his mind as he tried to answer the enigma of the woman he held in his grasp.
"You don't have to be afraid. I mean you no harm."
She felt like a fragile doll…and looked the part just as well. Dark sooty lashes concealed those unearthly golden orbs casting shadows upon her smooth cheeks…a small button nose…pale, thin lips held close as though a smile or a laugh might slip out otherwise. Ebony hair cascading beneath the weight of an odd looking white bonnet that seemed out of place in the dingy confines of an earthen prison.
Held in his hand, she called to his mind a creature more wisp than substance…her eyes more dream than reality. Eyes that bore into him like flaming embers…burning straight into him, borrowing into the very depths of his being…Eyes the color of the sky dying into twilight stared straight at him, emotions—all and none of them—flickered like a flowering kaleidoscope in their depths—the barest flash of pain marring the shadowless, startling gaze.
"You walk freely while I hang like so much meat from the rafters. Whether you mean to cause me harm or you did it already is immaterial to me."
She smiled and he felt time slow down to a complete stop. This strange, unknown, familiar woman-child kept him trapped as effectively as the cruel frigid coils of steel that pinned him against unyielding stone…as securely as he held her wrist in his hand…Minutes ticked by slow, inching increments, intolerable in its sluggishness…reassuring in its resoluteness. Time and silence broken only by the breathing of those around them echoed like the drugged heartbeat of a person hovering just at the edge of unconsciousness…
"I am as much a captive as you. But there are some things even someone like you and I cannot fight against. Fate plays with us all, and at times, calls upon us even when we desire it the least."
"I am no plaything for fate to seize and do with as it pleases."
Her melancholy gaze focused on his face, looking...searching…alternately hopeful and resigned, as if she expected something inside of him…something to break the tenuous link in this sudden, tension filled tête-à-tête. She placed her hand on top of his, not forcing his heavy grip away or easing the mangled flesh clutched within. Her cloth-covered head was tilted to the side, as if while she stood close enough touch, her ears, her mind, her entire being was tuned to something else…some other voice that just might all of a sudden speak.
"You are wrong..."
Anger, searing and red-hot, struck his body like a sudden bolt of lightning, wiping away the doubt that assailed him, silencing the warnings of control and deafening him to caution. Vulnerability and the uncertainty of the moment infuriated him, leaving a bitter taste in his tongue and making him snap back caustically.
"What did you say? You dare to gainsay me wench? I am master of my course, my path. I bow to no woman, no man, no fate."
Silence descended in the cavern, all the more telling for the breathe held still as the others watched and listened… reminding him once more that he and the unusually woman-child was not alone. He cursed savagely in his mind, swearing at his lack of control, perturbed at how easily he had allowed a slip of a child to lull him to a deceitful sense of peace.
"You have chosen this fate, this path, though you may not know that you did. All that you have done, all that you have gained and lost…all of it led you here."
And yet to he didn't miss the unusual stillness of the woman in front of him. Her head was turned away but he could tell that she listened intently to the sound of his voice before looking up straight into his eyes. For the first time in his dark sinister existence he was shown a vision that would haunt him all his life.
"Look around you, man of shadows, you are as much a player in this charade of destiny as any of the others. We, all of us here, were chosen to be bit parts in this dark tableau, brought here because of the gifts we own."
"Whoever or whatever it was that took me would rue the day they dared to chain me like some rabid beast. I will not submit to this."
"It is not a question of submission…it is merely a question of finding what little good there is to be gained in yielding."
"I yield to nothing—in this world or the next. Nothing in heaven above or in hell below commands me to be anything I dare not desire. Who are you to speak to me thus?"
Those golden sunset eyes were shimmering with tears, darkening them somewhat, as if the very tears that they held at bay were poisoned by a darker pain, a far more bitter truth than he was cognizant of. He saw the scars of despair and acceptance reflected back by eyes more haunted than any he had ever seen or would ever again.
"They call her Oracle. The last true Oracle left."
It was the braided man that answered him, his gaze, he realized, were as serene as hers. His eyes were clear, acquiescent.
"You accept this—whatever it is that awaits you—us all—without question or doubt? Do you take me for a fool? Do you yield because this Oracle has consented to her fate and so should we?"
"No…but I wish only that you and the others could see…there is more here at stake than merely you or I. Our lives have been forfeit because we each, have something to offer. One life—yes, we only have this life and we should have the right to do as we desire. But there are moments when ones desires should not could not win over the whims and dictates of fate."
"Tell me, what is it that you know…what it is that you have seen that makes you wish for us to simply acquiesce? Tell me now! "
Silence, overwhelming and final descended upon them all. He realized that his vaunted control and self-possession evaporated like mist as his very being was consumed by the certainty that there was no escaping whatever it was that would come soon to claim him. But it was not in his nature to simply yield.
"Speak, Oracle. Tell me why I must resign myself to whatever whim your vision has shown you?"
All those dark emotions, battled by acquiescence, laid bare and unvarnished became all the more poignant because she seemed so resigned to it. Startled he loosened his grip and allowed her freedom once more, belatedly realizing that while has pinned and chained to the walls, suspended like caught game, she was not as free as she seemed. Her hands and her body could move yes, but her legs were shackled by the same heavy chain, her motion held at bay by the length of metal that protruded from the very base of the throne on the dais.
"Nothing I can tell you can change our fate."
"That is not what I asked of you."
She only shook her head sadly, stretched out and brushed a cool hand across his jaw. Her eyes burned with warmth that reached deep inside of him before she turned away; bringing the last sense of peace he would feel for the longest time with her…her words, the final benediction he would have before darkness stole him for good.
"If I could but offer you a moment of solace, my shadow knight, know this and be content—you are my one hope…my one gamble in this game of fate and destiny…you are the strongest among us— so I beg you to be my strength… …do not lose yourself…deliver us from the chains we so willing cast upon ourselves…bring us light… bring our hope."
END OF FLASHBACK
There they stood, staring at nothing…yet aware of each other. Each unknown and yet no longer completely known…eyes staring unseeing at each face, committing to memory all that they could yet wiping away all but that faintest taint of remembrance. One by one they melted into the quickly dying light…as if the very sun itself wanted to conceal their birth…one after another they disappeared into the cold, unforgiving twilight, wrapped in the obscuring embrace of shadow and darkness until all but one of them remained.
He stood still…unaware or uncaring for scene of carnage that surrounded him…unaware or uncaring of the absence of those that stood next to him…standing unmoved…untouched…immobile and remote…
What little remained of his clothes fluttered on his frame…tattered and soaked with congealed blood of thousands, their old form no longer recognizable, barely clinging to a body rippled with scars and abrasions…exposed flesh scrapped raw, some already festering …others bleeding anew…his skin was stained with grime and the gristly remains of slain foes… his long tangled locks matted with dirt and the entrails of the recently deceased…and the distinctive, cloying perfume of death clinging to every inch of his body…
His hands were chaffed and bruised, long elegant fingers still clutching the worn hilt of a broken sword…staining the already blood-soaked razor edge with new blood that dripped into the eager earth…his feet buried beneath the flesh of the damned as his eyes stared unseeing into the distance…their onyx depths robbed of its light…the luminescence within dulled beyond recourse…darkening even more until not even the sun dared to reach into its lightless depth…
Slowly, he bent his head and brought his hands up, staring, first at his bloodied, wounded palm and then, at the broken blade he still clutched, the blade shining despite the tarnish of blood that remained…A flick of the same hand and the broken sword flew, sinking what remained of the blade deep into the ground, its hilt stabbed deep into the unyielding heart of a solid slab of rock
Pale, trembling hands reached back…past fragile shoulders that were hunched in defeat…tracing…touching…caressing the cool downy softness beyond the cold clammy feel of his own flesh. Eyes widened in disbelief before slowly drifted shut…his breathing became even, hypnotic in their slow, drugging cadence. With swiftness that took even the gods by surprise, wrists tensed and fingers clenched…a harsh ripping sound resonated followed by screams as haunting as the bleak landscape that greeted the dawning skies. A soft, strangled moan escaped pale thin lips…all the more haunting for all its powerlessness and desolation…impotent fury lingering like the muffled cries of a child at night…
Sometime later…just as the sun was about to bid the land its usual fond farewell a figure emerged from the desolate landscape… short, spiky mane bouncing jauntily in the crisp winds that snapped around him…shimmering eyes the color of black opals staring with wide-eyed innocence at the world around him as bare feet covered the ground with a light step devoid of weariness or lethargy…he stopped for a moment to face the setting sun illuminating his small naked form…bathing it in golden lights that seemed to seep right through his skin. With an impish smile, he turned back and continued walking…straight into the welcoming embrace of the all-encompassing night.