2 - Terror
Some few not-so heavy steps made the snow crunch under his boots. The soles were leaving soft traces of his feet across the snow-covered graves on top of the mountain, after a thick bamboo forest. The entrance was framed with a tori gate painted in a crimson red, along with two cherry blossom trees, deprived of any sort of flowers by that extremely freezing time of the year.
However, the bulky figure walking across the graves didn’t waver due to the frost, nor the snow. The male didn’t seem to even mind in the slightest, carrying with one of the heaviest bags anyone could. Truth was, Arthran just had to deal with some stuff back at the dojo’s ruins. Amongst those things, managing to rescue a safe from the basement of the charred building, and kicking out a gang of bandits trying to ransack and make his grandfather’s old legacy their home and base of operations by that time.
The blond man finally fell on his knees before one of the multiple, almost identical graves which were lying in there. That graveyard had been filled with the deaths of all the people who died during the Gariland war against Mikoto. His grandfather amongst them. Even if the location was almost forgotten now, amongst the mountains far from Doma due to the crowded amount of deceased men and women who fell throughout that ill time, Arthran allways managed to find the way back to it. Thankfully, someone allways seemed to take care of the graves… So they hardly needed any maintenance.
Amongst the identical graves, blocks of stone laid on top of the soil where the mortal remains rested, he found one with the name. Yosuke. Arthran left the heavy bag on his side, and looked at it, bowing. A long, exaggerated bow, as if he was requesting for forgiveness for something, a silent sin.
“Forgive me, Sensei. I’ve been way too long without coming to see you.” He spoke to the grave’s name. Even when he was part of the Mikoto gangs, he allways managed to find one day to come speak with him. And he allways apologized for something. ‘Sorry for not saving you’. ‘Sorry for becoming one of them’. ‘Sorry for giving myself an ill name’. ‘Sorry for abandoning them’. ‘Sorry for not coming to see you.’
He wanted this one to be the last one he would ever have to give his grandfather. His hands gripped on his knees, as his nose was touching the frozen snow from the ground, while the snowflakes were falling over him. Arthran wore a heavy winter coat, borrowed from Panaeon’s winter issued equipment. He didn’t have much more clothing for that weather - even if he had grown to make quite a hoard of gil!
“But this time I do have a good explanation about the reason why.” He added, as he rose, to sit on his heels. “I… I have left the gangs. I mean, you know that already, heh. I told you already last time I came, just right before I left.” A shallow laugh came to his lips, though it was loaded with a stinging pain. “I-I mean… I went to Panaeon. To become what you allways wanted me to be. I… Well, I made it! It’s great, you know. I’ve made friends. I have known what is like to love someone so much it did hurt.” Arthran closed his eyes a little, and took a brief sigh. “And now… Now it looks like the world’s fate is amongst the hands of a bunch of students I have happened to come across with. Myself included.” he added, his eyes looking elsewhere for a moment, as if a sudden insecurity had assaulted him.
“Y-you know. Turns out I seem to have a title. Or something. The Blood Knight. It’s crazy, right? I’m a street rat, yet someone decided to call me that. I don’t even know what it is yet.” he muttered. “But I’ve also learnt… Some dark things about me. Things you might have known, old man.” he added, looking at the grave again. “Things I wish you could tell me about. I’ve been trying to avoid questions about me and my past before you took me in for all my life but - Now I cannot help it. Who am I, Yosuke?” he asked, a shake on his voice. “Who am I, who were you? Did you know about this? About the voidsent within me? About the fact I am slowly becoming a monster?” His voice shook again, due to the lack of answers. “You allways told me I would know everything when I would be an adult. And I believed you. But the truth is, now that I am here… I have no clue. I am like a lost lamb.”
A small part of him hoped his grandfather’s soft spoken, deep voice would come over from the grave, to tell him. But everything Arthran got was the frozen whisper of the wind in the mountain, and the shaking of the tree’s branches. It was disappointingly real.
“I’ve won a tournament. A friendly one.” He decided to change the topic. “And I lost another. Heh. I’ve been training like a madman to win the next one, but looks like I am the last fighter standing in the academy for the moment. I guess I’ll have to spar alone once more time, eh? Not that I actually mind, I did it a lot, but… I was starting to like having buddies to train with.” His voice fell silent. Then he sighed. “Who do I want to fool. I’ve went back to the dojo, grandpa. I’ve taken your safe. I want to believe there are… Some answers inside. Forgive me this one last time.”
The trip back to Panaeon turned out to be surprisingly smooth. There were no monsters, no turbulences, nothing. Everything seemed to go as speedy and smooth as it could get, and henceforth, Arthran hardly had to just wait.
Well, in all honesty, waiting was his biggest weak point. He wanted to get back to his room, open the safe, and know what in the heavens was going on. Every day he was feeling more and more restless, the hunger for aether was increasing within his chest. And while he was managing to soothe it by extracting aether from the air, water, surroundings and even the food itself, he was noticing it was becoming more, and more demanding.
Especially ever since he started to train again harder. He supposed it was because his aetherpool was shallow, and hence he had to feed it, along with the monster’s feeding needs. But then yet again, he did have no idea about why that was happening, or more like, how. What was the process, and what was the logic behind it? And why would anyone lock a monster of such dimensions and power, within a little kid?
The question was haunting him more and more, and it wasn’t the first time he was deflecting it from his mind. Was he just a tool? Did he got sent to a master martial artist, just to keep the monster at bay? Or maybe that was just raw luck, and Yosuke only wished to raise a competent fighter? Maybe he was just a disposed child, someone thrown away from all sorts of civilization or hope, due to that circumstance?
But what did have to do with the voidsent?
Why did all that, have to have anything to do with him?
“I liked it more when I was just a street rat.” he admitted to himself in a quiet tone while he was leaning on the airship’s railing. At least that way he wasn’t a danger for everyone around him. Right? Only… A thug. A thug, yes, but with control over his own actions.
He looked at his tattooed arm peeking out from the coat’s sleeve, just to hear a doman kid speak near him.
“Mom, look! That stranger has tattoos!”
“Hush! If he has them, probably is a criminal. You don’t want them too, do you?” The woman was a little older than he was, which made Arthran perk an eyebrow up, but he instinctively hid his arm under the coat again.
“But they looked so colorful! Hey mister! Can I- Mom!” The woman tugged from the little young boy, pulling him away from the railing and anywhere he could keep speaking with Arthran. He clicked his tongue, sighing, and placed another of his multiple toothpicks on his mouth, before he looked to the horizon.
“Better ‘tis way, kiddo.” He muttered again with an abnormally apathetic voice. “Don’t tangle yerself with the gangs. Wish I had someone who would’ve told me.” The phoenix at his back was the proof he had nothing to do with them anymore, anyway. Reborn, from ashes to greatness. Even if the greatness got tainted with dark, once again.
Back at home, he spent a few days lingering around. A sudden fear had arisen from within, and that paralyzed him from opening the safe. That frustrated him, a lot. He spent several days in the foulest of moods, dodging any of his friends and trying to not look like he was troubled. Everyone were working so hard! He should not disturb their efforts. But that only led him to exert himself twice as hard during Malkuth’s physical training sessions, spending extra time away from free time where his mind would otherwise linger back to the safe and the questions he had about his past.
He slammed his fists against the dummy. Harder. Faster. So strong, he felt the powerful stings of his fists crushing against the wood and the protections. He didn’t care, he just wanted to break that bloody dummy, and go on to the next one. Even his classmates were heading away from him, seeing him in such a raging trance. Frustrated, obnubilated, tired, exhausted. Pained. He felt his fists too hot.
He looked at them, again. He had drawn blood from them due to the fact he was slamming a dummy and the hand’s bandages had given up due to the pressure. The pieces of white bandage were now stained in crimson. And finally, he was dismissed, to the infirmary.
“Stupid.” he groaned to himself, knowing he had lost his temper and his balance, even if it was just for a few brief minutes. But from his frustration, a fiery determination had arisen, particularly after he got his hands healed back. Not without a scolding, of course, but he did come back to his House, and to his dorm. And finally, to his room.
He opened the door, and walked to the safe. Long, heavy steps headed to his desk, where the safe remained unopened. A not-so-big, but heavy metallic box with a simple lock, of which he did not have the key. However, he did have lockpicks, and more importantly, a good pair of skilled hands.
It took him one long hour on working on the lock, but finally, the ‘click’ from it made sure his efforts were rewarded. Arthran felt how his heart jumped out from his chest for a moment, looking at the safe’s lock having snapped, and now it was free to be open. Delicately, he slipped the lockpicks away from the keyhole, swallowing a little as his hand reached the fortified blade, and finally he pulled it up. He didn’t know why he was so afraid, or why he did close his eyes in that instant, as if he was sort of hoping a gun would shoot at him from the bottom of the safe.
Taking a few seconds to compose himself back, he breathed in, and breathed out. And opened his eyes. Inside the safe, he saw a series of documents within. The dojo’s deeds, a few out-of-date training contracts from the paid pupils of the dojo, bills here and there… And finally, a smaller package. It wasn’t much bigger than his hand, but he opened it nonetheless. It was wrapped in a cloth, square and solid. Looked like a box. As he unwrapped it, he managed to see an oddly dark wood box, with strange carvings on its borders, making them frame the box in a surprisingly skilled way, even if not really elegant - it looked almost like a ceremony box, but… It wasn’t doman, not in the slightest. Hells, doman trees were usually fair colored in their wood, this one… This one was dark. Very, dark.
Arthran opened the box as well. Inside, he found a leather bracelet, with the same carvings across a central metallic plate, along with a series of beads and trinkets across the leather framing. It looked… Oddly familiar. A sting of pain crossed through his head as he looked at the bracelet. He remembered something.
A snowfield. A village… No, a town. A bit primitive, or maybe antiquated? He wasn’t sure, but… He remembered… Kids screaming and laughing. They were playing. A woman calling, her accent was like nothing he ever heard. She was calling for him. His legs wavered, he had the need of stabilizing himself over the table. His heart was racing, his head pulsating. He felt a tear falling down from his eye, straight down to the desk. It was a tear of pain, or fright? Or maybe excitement? He still did not know much. But he remembered more.
Looking at the bracelet again, he held it amongst his hands for a moment, then he sat on the chair, examining it more closely. It smelled familiar, as well. It were the trinkets. He managed to find one with a series of herbs inside. After all those years, they were still giving it a scent. It was nice. Refreshing. Flowers he never smelled before - no, he actually had smelled them. A soft, but sweet scent, fresh like the snowy plains’ breeze. And then another sting of pain crossed his brain again.
A field of snow, again, but in a eerie night. Green, huge lakes of radioactive mako illuminating the mountains and the snow. Screeches in the night, huge winged monsters coming and going across the skies. Warriors screaming, bullets being fired, spells cast. Swords being swung. Arthran dropped the bracelet from his hands, as it fell on the carpet.
“Fuck.” he damned himself, and got down to get it. As he started to stand up, his head hit the table. “AW!” he complained, feeling the bump on his head, while a few of the documents fell down the table. He didn’t pay much mind to most of them, but one. It was an envelop with his name. “Huh?”
Sitting down once again, Arthran was still processing what he just remembered -or was that imagination? It did not matter. There was more. He had to go through that ordeal, even if alone.
Opening the letter, Arthran recognized instantly Yosuke’s handwriting.
“To my grandson, and my most advantaged pupil so far,
If you are reading this note, that would mean I could not live before telling all these things on my own. If that is the case, I am sorry, child. I wish I could be there to accompany you for a few more years. You’ve allways been a handful and hot-headed, but resourceful. Light be damned, I’ve even struggled to find you when you skipped lessons sometimes, the Gods know I did. And if you somehow managed to open my safebox and you’re reading this while I am still alive, I’m going to smack you with a bokken!
I hope you’re faring well, Arthran. Life’s not been easy on you, and I do know it better than anyone else. I’ve seen you reaching the dojo brought by your mother in a plea for me to take you to safety, even after the fate you were bestowed into. But she knew if you continued to be close to home, you would never be safe, let alone happy. Your father and her, asked me to train you. To make you a warrior, someone able to fulfill his destiny, even with the cards you have been given, with all the pain that came on with it.
They were sorry, kid. They really did. And I know that, because I was there when they had to make such a terrible choice. I am not one to tell you everything, of course, but you have been tasked since childhood with one of the greatest quests a man should ever do throughout their lives. You have been appointed as the warden of dark itself… And thus, you must learn how to control it. What they asked me to do, in the end. I would want to say I have succeeded, you have improved a lot as to this day, and you are only twelve as I write this!
I guess it comes with your genes, I wonder. Your father was such a fearsome warrior. A true fighter, one like few there was. You must have inherited his innate sense for fighting. And your mother… I swear sometimes I consider you got the best and the worst from her, gods damn it. How can someone be so smart and at the same time so bull headed. But she’s resilient. So are you. You have not yet known an obstacle able to stop you from chasing forward your destiny, whichever it may be.
If they saw you up to this day, they would be proud. I’m pretty sure they will be once you’re a man through and through. As for now, I only have one wish more to you, my boy. Go to Panaeon. Be trained there. They will give you all the tools you will need to become even better.
All the great warriors of our age came from there. Same for the martial artists, and magi. Learn from them, take care, and make bonds. In bonds there’s power. Even if you believe you may be a danger, even if you may think you are a nobody… Even if you think you are not worth such a kindness, as I know you usually think, do not stray afar from others.
I hope you will never need to read this. And I surely hope I will be able to tell you myself, who are you truly. But if that is not the case, here it goes: Go to the Lost Lands. Your parents are holding up there, defending their people, their domain, along with their warriors. Become strong at Panaeon, and go fight for your people, and for yourself. Learn to control the dark, and stay on balance.
I bid you my last farewell, my pride,
Arthran just headed to the shower. He needed a cold, long shower to cool down. It was just too much at once, way too many things to process. He allways knew he wasn’t native from Mikoto, but now he was being told where he hailed from. So the Lost Lands, huh.
Turning the knob again to close the water, he stepped out of the shower, walking up to the mirror. He felt a surge of emotions, all at once. It was chaotic. He felt conflicted, completely. He felt happy for having been able to open the safe. He felt hopeful. He felt angry. He felt remorseful, tired, exhausted, extremely sad, for that letter was the last thing he would ever have from his grandfather. As much as the wound was old, it was bleeding again.
Arthran looked at himself in the mirror, then to the horrendous scar on his chest. Then back to his eyes, while his hands were gripped on the border of the wash basin, while he looked at the mirror. He felt his muscles tensing up, his neck’s tendons like strings of a guitar. He didn’t know how to process all that.
Something happened back in the days, which made him bear with that dark entity within. His parents gave him up to Yosuke, so he could train him. And he was never safe back at home. How was he supposed to feel after that? How was he supposed to be like allways, knowing all that? Would he have to lie and fake he was alright again?
He couldn’t stand it anymore. He screamed. A long, powerful scream, similar to the ones he did when using the Thunderous Scream spell, but this one didn’t reverberate. It was raw anger, to the point he even slammed his fists against the wall near the mirror. The surge of violence had diminished in that moment, out of a sudden, but then he felt… Something odd. He felt his entire body wincing for a moment, as if something had detached from him. He felt lighter, as if something extremely pernicious had abandoned him for a moment… He felt like when he didn’t know anything about all that yet… And that couldn’t be good. At first he thought it was just the fact he just vent on his solitude, letting his feelings come out in a violent turrent of confusion, but then… Then he heard something. A click. A rattling. A familiar rattling of whispers of noises that could never be even pronounced by a human, or a mortal being for that instance.
He wasn’t alone now, in the bathroom. The dropplets from the shower started to fall, while the rattling was becoming more, and more obvious, more noisy…
Arthran knew many feelings. Love, affection, sadness, rage, excitement, disappointment, peace, annoyance, troubling… But he never actually knew what terror was, or what despair actually was. And then, his eyes turned to the right, just to find with himself… A shadow version of himself. It was just… Him. Red eyes. Shadow-black skin. Looking at him with a mocking smirk, while the rattling was coming from the mouth with impossibly large fangs.
“WhAt’S Up kIdDo.” The broken speech from the unnaturally deep voice. It was like a thousand voices speaking at the same time, before returning to the extremely annoying rattling. “SeT FrEeEeEeE…”
Arthran’s first impulse was going to blast the monster with positive energy. But then, he remembered Zilvai’s words… Until the creature just faded, and he felt his body wincing again. The monster had slammed itself into his body again, and he fell on the ground on his knees… While the wound on his chest was dripping blood once more.
He never knew what terror was.
Now he did. He really, really did.