Saturday, March 29, 2008

Dark Side - Chapter I

Dark Side

by Caer’beru

Begun on the last months of 2007.

Last editted March 27, 2008

“This is a world torn in two halves from the attempt to return to Paradise. The worlds are separated by the Endless Fall—what man knows as the edge of the world. One side is a land of abundance. Of this side, it will be enough for you to know that it is marked by a series of wars, and that a greater war far beyond their fears will fall upon them. For now, the story I will tell you, however, is the story of the other side.

The other side is cursed and covered in blight, a wasteland stretching on for thousands of godstrides. The mountains are covered with ashes, the trees that stand are barren. Everything is dead, or dying, or feeding on things long dead.

Who am I?

I am the poet of time.

I stand in the Halls of Existence. Ramune the Recreator, a beast with seven eyes, stands guard on my right, and on my left, Haragatha the Keeper, who watches over the Gates that hold the world intact and keeps back the spread of the curse from Fallen Paradise. They will testify to you that what I say is truth.

I will tell you of the War of the Gods. I will tell you of a city in the skies, called Caanluaran. Of a city that rose from the ashes of a land of eternal damnation. I will tell you of the fruit that heals all sickness. And most importantly, I will tell you of a people known as the harujahs. They have the kind of strength that is unlike any other, for it is in this kind of strength that lies hope to save the world.”

-Introduction to the caer’Nuradar by the The Poet of Time

Chapter 1

Legends are a good way to ease the pain of what has been lost. Across the seas that bordered the world, where sunlight and healthy rain fed the soil, was a land of great abundance. Here, crops flourished, and living things lived and died in their proper time.

A thousand strides above the Plains of Duraldera, a man garbed in majestic crimson silk stood, surveying all the good things that were beneath him. Warmth filled his heart, for he loved the land, and the land, him. He was the Lord of Fire, the god Cael.

But in a moment, his eyes lost their gleam and there was a tightness to them as he remembered the pain of his people. Then he thrust his gaze towards the horizon, far beyond sight. Cael could feel his blade resonate with his anger, pulsing with his heart. Even sheathed, the sword gave out an aura from the strong intent to kill.

The God of Fire gathered his energy, focusing it from his soulsource and into his body. A gust of wind swirled around him. Then the world became still.

The air around him, the trees below, and all living, breathing creatures were still.

But he moved. At that moment in time, only the god, Cael, moved.

He passed birds caught in mid-flight, motionless. He went through clouds, leaving a hole where he went through, a frozen spike of cloud following behind before the cloud was still again. Cael sped above the cloud floors, across the lands, and towards the seas that bordered the world.

Reaching the world’s end, he stopped. The wall of darkness stretched to either side seemingly without end. This was the edge of the world.

There, he did what no mortal could do. He broke through the barriers that divided the world. Where no one would dream of leaving the land of abundance to enter the deadlands, the God of Fire chose to cross into the Dark Side.

Darkness threatened to consume him, but he resisted its massive weight. It threatened to choke him, but with sheer power, he held on. Then the emptiness imploded. The wall of darkness was now behind him.

He flew over the desolate landscape: the gray mountains, toppled tower-cities, remnants of a civilization long gone. The scenes rushed past him in the blink of an eye, yet he took the details all in, for a god’s awareness of time extended farther than a human’s.

He wove his way through the sea of air, sweeping towards a black monolith, massive and looming over the wastelands.

Then in mid-air, he stopped.

Below him lay a human clad in tattered sheets of black. The man was asleep, but only lightly.

The god grimaced, putting a hand on the hilt of the Sunsword. But even as he unsheathed the legendary blade, his image slowly disappeared. He faded. His very existence slowly vanished.

Where he once stood, now there was nothing.

For the God of Fire was only a legend, and the truth of legends are meant to be forgotten. The mirage was only a dream: the land reminiscing a painful memory. Such illusions are real only when the dream lasts.

The man in dark, tattered clothes stirred.

The God of Fire is dead.

He grimaced at his own thought. Somehow he knew that it was true, but he could not remember why, or what had happened to Cael, or how he knew. He stepped out of last demesnes of sleep and into consciousness.

He opened his eyes to sunlight filtered through the canopy.

A stream trickled nearby.

Somewhere, a tiny creature scurried away at the sound of his voice, as he pushed himself weakly, grunting, to a sit.

His sight gained focus.

A gray sky.

Leafless canopies.

Light streaming down from tall oerani floodlights taller than the withered trees. Oerani light, not sunlight. There was no sunlight in this world of perpetual shade.

Thirsty, he followed his ears.

The stream was dark, almost black. Farther upstream, a large black monolith loomed over the dismal lands. It was a monument that once cradled a proud race, but now it was desolate and dead.

Like everything else in this world.

From the monolith, a wail erupted. The sound was sad and longing, but it was only the sound of a machine not knowing its masters were already long gone.

The man took off his shirt, plunged it into the black stream as if to catch something alive, then pulled it out to let the filtered black water drip into his mouth.

The water was bitter and—something he couldn’t put words to. What might be close to describing it was a sick kind of sweetness.

He drank until full, spread the blackened shirt by the stream. Then, feeling the sweetness of sleep crawl in, he lay beside the black stream.

His vision darkened.

The next thing he knew, a slight drizzle had begun. Every drop felt prickly to the skin, and he was beginning to itch from the poison rain.

Quickly, he gathered his shirt in his arms and broke into a run downstream, away from the black monolith, thinking that someday, perhaps, he will return. For now, he had to go anywhere other than that place.

He did not know how much time had passed. The man ran. When his breath did not hold, he walked. Then he ran again.

Thirsty, he would drink black water sifted through the fabric of his shirt. He never felt hunger. He had a memory of such a feeling, once, but even the memory was distant, dull, and fading.

Dead trees gave way to an ocean of barren wasteland. The soil was dry, and rocky, and hard. The few stumps there were, were all of dead things—bones, trees, shards of a dead civilization.

All things in this world are either dead, or dying, or living off on things long dead. He stopped. Where was this voice that spoke to him? Then he decided it did not matter. The poison was working in him.

He could not remember where the stream of black water ended, or when it did. But the man kept running.

He ran, despite the thirst in a throat that felt sticky from tainted liquid. He ran. He treaded over hills and climbed the foot of steep mountains. Something compelled the man to go beyond these mountains. Perhaps, it was a flicker of hope that beyond them lay a different world. A world that was somehow alive.

On the base of these mountains, dead trees stood in clumps, clawing at the sky like withered hands. But higher up, the clumps of gnarled trees dispersed gradually, until halfway up almost nothing stood.

The ground where he stood was dark, like charcoal mixed in clay, but higher, it became lighter and approached the gray of ash as if from near the middle of the slope to its peak everything was burned.

The man did not know how many days had passed since he woke up to the sound of the stream. He did not know for how long he could continue. He did not know a lot of things. What he did know, he doubted. With the poison in his body, he could not trust his senses.

The peak, to him, seemed as far as it had been when he began. But looking on the slope down, he knew he had traveled far.

Numbness coursing through his body, he lay down, leaned against a rock black and slick as if with moisture. It felt pleasingly cool, but surprisingly, it was as dry as the ground.

He woke again, back at the stream.

He could hear it, or thought he did.

Did he dream the mountain?

Sweeping a look around, he found that he did not just imagine the journey. He was where he had slept, and the sound of the stream was the sound of a small stream of rocks and dust and ash rolling down from higher ground.

He began to feel a strong gust of wind swirl around him, as if urging him to stand, to walk, to continue climbing to what lay beyond. It promised him sweet things. Water. Even black water was welcome. But in a moment, it was gone. The air was still again, as dead things were still.

I will die before I reach the top, he thought to himself. But somehow, that thought did not bother him. For the moment, he knew that if he died, the world would go on. That if he died, it did not matter.

I am part of the world, as much as the world was part of me. I am not separate from it, everything is one with me, and I am one with everything.

Somehow, in his madness, it made the most perfect sense.

”Nana! Do not go near that man!”

The man in tattered clothes could feel someone tugging at him as he struggled against the weight of his eyelids.

”Are you all right?” A young girl’s sweet voice sounded beside him.

”Nana!” The much younger male voice, perhaps belonging to small child, was now hysterical.

”This man needs our help, Jesur, and we shall help him.”

”He has drunk from the Waters of Death! Can’t you see there is no way to save him? He is dead! Cursed! Better we leave him to die here than get cursed ourselves. It was never a good idea that we go past the forbidden mountains. We should hurry back, NOW!” He could hear the fear and pleading in the lad’s voice, but at the same time, there was a sense of awe in it.

”Jesur, be still of heart!” the girl demanded. ”No, we can save this man. Remember the words of our tribe.”

For a moment, Jesur paused, hesitating.

The dying man opened his eyes. ”Who are you?” he managed to ask in a weak voice.

”Water, Jesur!”

The girl’s face was shadowed under her cowl, and what little he could see was covered with cloth the same color as her garb—a well-worn brown, like that of dust and healthy earth in the old days. The other person was hooded as well, wearing the same garment.

The boy named Jesur approached slowly, wary of the cursed man. He handed Nana a small container wrapped in a bundle of cloth, then hastily backed away.

Nana carefully tilted the lid of the container and allowed a few trickles of water on the man’s mouth. He coughed, to which Nana immediately pressed her hand on his mouth.

“To not waste water.” She hushed when he attempted to resist. The water was sweet, and pure. Her hand was delicate.

She covered the water container and opened another. An unpleasant aroma wafted in the air. Nana swabbed a hand from inside, then started applying whatever it was on the man’s face. He let her work on his neck, on his arms and hands, and whatever was exposed of his skin.

“This is to ease your pain until we get to safety. You have not gone to shelter in time to avoid the rain. May I check behind your garments?” But the question was more to tell him what she was going to do rather than to ask for his permission, for her hands immediately worked to take off his outer clothes.

Nana shrieked.

For a while, Nana just stared blankly. Then from her child features, she appeared to gather the will to compose herself. The terrified look on her eyes changed into one of pity, of sharing the man’s pain. Jesur managed to peek from behind the girl and then shivered.

“W—Why—” the boy stammered in a voice close to tears. “How are you still alive?”

Nana shut her eyes tight in thought. When she opened them, there was an air of finality about her.

“Jesur, we will save him.”

She instructed Jesur to go and untether the sebur. Nana had to repeat the instruction in a stern voice before Jesur started to move. When she was sure the younger child had walked away, Nana turned her attention to the man.

“What I will do you will keep as a secret. Pray that it is not too late. But if you live, no one must know of this.” She reached into her garb and pulled out a pendant tied on a leather cord over her head. She twisted the necklace, which appeared to be a vial, and carefully opened it so as not to spill the contents.

She instructed him to open his mouth. “Be steady.” Nana said as let the liquid fall in drops into his mouth. Then quickly, as if afraid someone would see, she closed the lid and hid back the vial to hang on her neck.

Only a few moments had passed when Jesur came back, towing a massive four-footed animal behind. The sebur looked docile. It’s tufted ears were long and slender. It’s skin was the color of granite. A wooden plank was tied on its front, against its shoulders, and from either side of the plank, two sturdy ropes crossed over the back of the animal’s neck and led down again on either side that connected to a wide, flat, wooden sled.

Nana and Jesur wrapped the man in a cocoon of the thick blanket that Nana took from one of their packs. With the help of Nana and Jesur, the latter only after, again, being reminded of the words of the tribe, the man finally got on the wooden sled towed by the animal. They strapped his figure in place against the sled with ropes.

With Jesur leading the animal, they began moving. Nana rode on the sled beside the man. She winced every time the man grunted in pain, which was whenever the sled bumped strongly against the uneven ground.