The Mirror Realms: Preface + Chapter 1
Our apologies for deleting the previous post of this (we're still getting the hang of this forum thing) but here's the re-post of it now that it's not totally horrible and 3 Chapters long! We're coming from a text that wasn't split into chapters. So without further ado- and if you'd like to make a comment, feel free. We haven't had many eyes on it other than our own and the wonderful @Blackbird 's. It needs some more refining we know, but we're hoping the beginning isn't too much. Enjoy!
The War has gone by many names through the centuries since its conclusion. The War of Ages, The Blood War, The Holy End; names given by every culture, civilization and clan that had the misfortune to remember the atrocity. It was always mentioned with the same animosity, and seldom with pride on the side of the victors. This is for the simple fact that The Great War, as it is often called, spanned not continents, nor mountains, nor even a singular realm, but two.
The Mirror Realms; three sister Realms that overlap in large sections, each with unique histories and peoples. In the middle sits the world of humanity, the universe's soft and vulnerable babes, driven by curiosity, innovation, and Mother Nature's kind givings. Their neighbors to the far east are the eldest of the Realms. known as The Dreamlands to the humans. This was the Realm of the mischievous, cunning faerie, filled to the brim with wild magic and magical beings beyond one's wildest fancy, dangerous no matter how beguiling or harmless they seem. The Faerie, although cunning and selfish in their motivations, played surprisingly little role in The Great War, and kept to themselves throughout it, watching quietly from a distance.
The conflict arose not from the east, but to the west of the fertile, green pastures of Earth in the realm of demons, The Kingdom of Haelia, then ruled by the great King Caine Ervalur Leros, placed into power by gods themselves and with every blessing bestowed upon him. He led his people into a war for the glory of the gods. The people of Earth were unprepared for the invasion of demons, a heartier and stronger people than they, and casualties were high. With the involvement of the gods themselves, they stood little chance of victory. Not many beings in any realm could have looked the Goddess of Blood herself, Lilith, in the face and done anything other than cower, let alone slow the slaughter she and her siblings brought down with them.
The human world was falling, barely keeping the spread forces of the King at bay for the first year on local knowledge and sheer luck alone. As the new year began, humankind was on the brink of defeat. Haelian forces had razed many cities and ended more dynasties than even the most dedicated historian would have any hope of counting.
On the darkest day, when the entire world seemed dreary and weeping for its inhabitants, did the remaining humans huddle around their dim campfires and pray to anything, anyone that still looked down on them for their survival.
Morning began with a great thunder of light that split the dark clouds and shook the earth from pole to pole, the demon forces scrambling to attention while their human enemies simply hoped ever more fervently that perhaps their prayers had been answered.
And they had.
From the schism in the sky came the answer to their plight, winged warriors newly born into being by their goddess Estrella, sent to be the protectors Earth never had. And the defenders of humanity did just that, although new and sometimes naive, they were fast to learn, quick to action and each unique with their own talent that drove the demon forces back in the matter of a year. With their troops all but beaten down, shocked by the sudden ferocity their enemies brought against them, their hope lied in their own gods. Lilith and her brother, Belial, still struck unquestionable fear into any poor soul they came across, and very few enemies ever left their sights alive. The immortal Twins of Chaos were a force possibly too much for even the angels sent from above. The bloody volleys continued for months more, the war drawing long and the gods frustrated by their lack of swift and decisive victory.
The angels formed their own plan, holding their enemy back another year before they had found the necessary means of executing it. A select group of the most Elite angels and Archangels ambushed the demon goddess Lilith when she was alone. The immortal was amused by what she percieved as their folly and took their challenge, fighting the ten angels with vigor and enthusiasm. Despite being outnumbered she was far more powerful than them, and she had sent several to their rebirth cycles by the time their plan could be enacted. By rendering the goddess unable to move and splitting her soul and magic into many pieces, they could gain control of the magic enough to contain it. The angels had gathered hundreds of vessels, magical items prepared and primed for holding large amounts of volatile power. They sealed a piece of the goddess away into each vessel, slowly achieving their goal of defeat. Once finished, word spread across the realms that the immortal demon goddess of Victory...had at last been defeated. The angels drove the remaining gods and demons back to their own realm, demoralized by the loss of their Victory. The king saw it as an omen and drew his troops back from the human world, bitter at his loss and humiliated in front of his own people.
The angels, assured in their victory but not complacent, took it upon themselves to perform a great magick, creating a seal that split the three realms and blocked travel between them. This magick, known as the Great Seal, was a strong and sturdy wall between all three worlds, keeping the humans mostly safe while also creating a seemingly irreparable division between the three species that would span centuries.
Chapter 1: After the Falls
" The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
The sun streamed softly through the canopy of the overgrown forest, lighting up the early afternoon as Sabine ducked through the undergrowth and wild foliage. She paused, listening for the sounds of predators, but as far as she could tell it was only small mammals, birds, and her on her search for ingredients for her mother's medicines.
She stopped up short to harvest some roots that she knew her mother was getting low on, tucking them into the pouch attached to the belt. She moved on her way, keeping her eyes open.
While her mother probably wouldn't be pleased if she knew the adventurous seventeen-year-old had left the safety of the town walls on her own, she'd be more than placated by the bounty of supplies Sabine had procured so far, and fresh as well. The markets sold most of the things they needed, but the fresher the ingredients were the better, and some of the things her mother needed weren't sold in the market.
One thing, in particular, was eluding her so far, a particular flower her mother claimed was great for all sorts of things when around. The Red Lotus-also known as the Blood Lotus-and she had gotten a tip from some travelers that some grew in the pool at the bottom of Cerulean Falls.
It wasn't that far a trip from town, so if the tip was good she might even be able to get there while they were still in bloom. She checked the map she'd roughly drawn on her arm. It was a little smudged, but she could tell she was still on the right track so far.
After a few more stops to pick herbs, she was almost to the spot she'd marked on the map when she heard something approaching.
Unsure what it was, she did her best to dim her presence like her father had taught her to on one of their many trips when she was younger. She pressed low into the brush, hoping whatever or whoever it was it didn't trip over her.
She heard them pass her by, heading in the direction of the falls, and she peeked up over the brush she was hiding in once they had passed.
It was a tall, male figure in a solid black military-like coat with silver trimmings. He wore a saber at his hip and carried some covered thermos as he walked.
Thick, heavy-looking horns protruded from his forehead as he walked. From what she could see he was a demon-although even with what her mother had told her about them she wasn't sure whether he was a commoner or a noble, his horns were sort of a middling size. He passed out of her line of vision, still heading for the falls, and curiosity demanded she follow. He was, after all, walking like a man on a mission, in a military uniform, in the human realm. Demons weren't technically supposed to be in the human realm, even though there was the occasional commoner or halfie that slipped around unnoticed.
She paused before following him. Should she really take the risk? She was a fledgling angel with only her dad's old sword and maybe six years of practice under her belt. He looked like a trained soldier, although something about his coat made her think he wasn't that high up.
She followed anyways. If anything went wrong she could always run.
She followed the lone demon to the falls, where the shiny blue water cascaded, named for its brilliance. The man strode past the pooling water-where she noted there was indeed lotuses, white and red, in full bloom-and walked right up to the cliff face, just to one side of the falls and barely at the edge of the water.
She took in a sharp breath as he said something in a strange language and waved his hand in front of the rocky outcropping, revealing a huge, heavy black metal door with purple glyphs crawling all over it, alive and pulsing with magic. She held her breath until she was sure he hadn't heard her and watched as the iron door receded in on itself, letting him in. She softly tested the words he had said on her lips.
"Okrot day meny, ya povlayu tbe." She tried and frowned. She thought she had mispronounced one of them. She spoke again.
This time the words sounded right, if rough and in the wrong accent, and the air around her tingled a little with magic. She slapped a hand over her mouth. She was lucky the soldier hadn't come out yet, or she might've given herself away by that little bit of magic.
Caine stared at the hole high in the cave's ceiling, light streaming through it to fall against the opposite wall of empty space. Sometimes he could hear the high notes birds chirping through that small hole, but usually, it was only the maddening silence that kept him company. Only during some arbitrary point in the day when the sun was high in the sky did its rare rays come to taunt him in his cell. Only during those fleeting hours did he sit underneath the porthole there and allow it to fall upon his bare shoulders and pallid face, scuffed with dirt and traces of long-dried blood. He no longer tried to look straight up at it, the months swathed in darkness having driven all love for the light from his eyes and replaced it with pain. The only other time he was so much light was when it meant pain, light meant the door was opening and rarely did he enjoy what came through it.
He didn't rouse much from his spot against the far wall as the soldier entered the damp, cold cave he'd been forced to call home. The great door to his prison creaked open as it always did, once a day. At least he thought it was every day, his cycles frequently became muddled from sleep and frequent times where the sense had been knocked out of him. He didn't keep up with days anymore, a series of tally marks had long been abandoned behind the thin padding of cloth he sometimes slept on along with the just barely pointed rock turned tool for a pointless endeavor. Counting the days just made it more degrading, at first, it had seemed like he was counting down to freedom, now it seemed like a countdown to something far less liberating unless one meant in the grim spiritual sense.
"Good afternoon, Makar..." he said hoarsely, coughing into the palms of his hands. He'd never had much success with getting the guard to converse with him, but really at this point, it couldn't hurt. He longed for someone to talk to him, to give him anything to think about that wasn't his own thoughts or how much the slow dripping sound of water in another corner vexed him so.
His wrists jingled as he pulled them to his face, the familiar heavy shackles rubbing his chaffed, burnt skin with the simple movement.
The soldier grunted in response and set the thermos down, picking the empty one up before curtly strutting back out. Caine looked at the vessel rather disdainfully, blinking his dulled blue eyes against the light behind the soldier. For the other hours of the day, his only light was given by a single magic fueled lantern that hung almost forlornly over the thick hoops driven harshly into the walls. The cursed chains that bound him to this place wound through them, linked with a rune he dared not touch and sometimes thought to anyway. How he loathed those shackles, their very presence reminding him with every movement that any retaliation would be met with relative agony. Any struggle against his punishment rewarded with a kind of searing pain that drove him to the brink of delirium caused by the fickle spell that circled the inside.
Nowadays he moved slower, half from exhaustion and a half from the terror that he would upset the delicate balance the spell held. At first, his jailer had found it amusing, how his formerly pristine, snowy skin became marred by burns so deep the joints no longer bent correctly. He grew bored of it eventually, but Caine knew firsthand that that had been no problem for him, pain was something he knew many recipes for.
Sabine stayed put, a little impatiently, to be honest, but not even a few minutes later her waiting was rewarded with the demon from before emerging, then saying something else in the direction of the door to close it. She tried that one out in her head, going over the pronunciation and ducking down as he strolled away, passing dangerously close to her hiding spot. There had to be something or someone in there-a living creature if the now-dirty thermos was any indication. On closer inspection, the one he held now had to be different-it was scraped up and had a dent in one part. Couldn't be the same one, unless whatever was in there had done a number on it in that short time. She doubted it, but still shivered some.
The question was, what-or who?-was in there? Why were they being kept there? Why was a demon going there, to a place in the human world?
She waited until she was sure he was gone and then stood, pacing over to the rock face. She paused to consider the lotuses, at their peak bloom and looking lovely in the water. Some nagging voice in her head that reminded her of her mother told her that if she didn't get any before she tried out that door, she likely wouldn't.
She'd harvest some first, that way if there was some great, dangerous beast in the cave and she had to run she'd have something to show for her trip, and her mother wouldn't be as angry she'd left the safety of town again.
She gathered a decent amount of both shades, a little quickly and in a rush to sate her curiosity and tucked them carefully into the pouch before returning to the cliff face. It almost called to her, now. She could almost feel the magic pulling her in-which was ironic, considering she'd felt absolutely nothing before she saw the gate with the demon revealing it, and even now she knew the spell that had hidden it had to still be in effect.
She reached out, feeling the wall. Whatever spell was on it to hide the presence flickered when her hand came into contact with the door, and suddenly the feel of coarse rock under her hand was changed to cold iron, with the warm pulse of magic under it like some living thing. It seemed to seep from the metal into the skin of her palm, running up her arm like a current.
She felt a rush of magic that made her a bit dizzy upon contact with the door, and there were tingles up and down her spine. She took her hand back.
Deep breaths, calm yourself... She thought. She steadied herself.
The door flickered back into the rock face, but this time she could still feel it there for real-and she could almost see it if she squinted hard enough.
She tried speaking the first set of words aloud. Nothing happened. She tried once, twice more. The door stayed as still as it had been before the demon had come.
She blew out a frustrated breath. The demon hadn't been touching it when he'd opened it, but perhaps she'd have to-if it would even work for her. Something had resounded inside her when she touched it. Maybe that was the key to opening it. Or perhaps, it was a spell that only recognized demonic magic-if so, she had no way to get inside.
She resigned herself to trying only once more before giving up for the day, and spread her palm flat on the surface, bracing herself for the dizzying rush of magic. She took it better this time, and after a pause to be sure of the pronunciation, she spoke the words aloud again.
For a moment, she was certain nothing would happen, and the silence seemed to mock her in the small clearing, but seconds later there was a groaning as the door opened for her. It slid to the side, and she silently congratulated herself for not failing-at least, not yet. She was wary as she approached the dark hole that was the entrance.
She took a step in, blinking against the sudden darkness. There was a spot of light against one wall that was empty, but the rest was close to pitch-black as you got further from that point.
She froze as she heard a voice, in that same rough language, and looked in the direction of it. She couldn't make anything out, as it was in the darkest part of the cave, and her heart jumped. She didn't however, hear anything coming in her direction, nor could she detect any movement, so she figured whoever it was, she was safe for the moment. She closed her eyes for just a second, calling on her magic to help her see the aura of whoever had spoken aloud.
She opened her eyes, and they glowed pale and colorless from their usual light blue in the dark.
"-Back so soon?" Caine had asked, now sitting in the middle of the damp cave, the new thermos clutched in his pale fingers but unopened. It had taken him a moment to gather the motivation towards getting the thermos, it wasn't like the contents were going to get any colder if he waited but the empty hole that was his stomach begged him to just give it something.
He paused, watching the door swing open again and his eyes tried hard to adjust to the sudden, blinding light of the outside world that blinded him The figure in front of it, shadowed by the daylight was much smaller than the guard who had just left. Smaller and feminine with brilliant glowing, almost white eyes. He furrowed his eyebrows as confusion set in, his mind sluggish to wrap itself around the possibilities. He set the container down and drew back, shielding his eyes against the light whilst he retreated into the darkest corner.
Maybe this was it-maybe this was finally the nod that he'd lost his mind,
Or maybe they'd run out of patience with him, maybe they had had enough of his stubborn silence. Maybe they'd finally decided to execute him.
That prospect was almost exciting, to be put out of this misery almost sounded like a blessing now. His hope fell as another thought took hold. Perhaps they'd just brought someone else to "persuade" him. Someone new and terrible to try and beat the truth out of him for the millionth time, he shuddered, shrinking further into his shadows as if it was going to help him hide from the end of a blade or a whip all the same. It didn't matter anymore, whether they killed him or beat him it was all in retribution for a single, terrible decision.
Sabine paused as she noted the deep, dark aura swirling in the shadows of the corner of the cave. She could see whoever it was was scared, and uncertain...and almost hopeful? She frowned as the hope disappeared from his dark, decidedly demonic aura and was replaced by more fear. Should she risk trying to talk? They weren't approaching her...she'd retreat if they tried anything, but for now, her curiosity demanded she sate it.
"Hello? I...I heard what you said, but I couldn't understand it. Can you speak English? Do you understand what I'm saying?"
She let her other sight recede, and instead called a small ball of light into her hands-a relatively simple spell, otherwise, she'd probably not have had the talent to do it. It illuminated her hands and face as she floated it up in the air, sending it in the direction of the corner at a lazy drift-she didn't want to frighten the person. It was decidedly sentient by the complex emotions roiling in its aura. Probably a demon...but why here, of all places?
"I'm not here to hurt you-" she said in the softest, most soothing voice she could manage, hoping to ease whatever fear they were feeling.
"-so please, if you understand me, could you answer?"
His heart leapt to his throat as she spoke and he blinked hard against the floating ball of light. What was this, some cruel joke? He didn't answer for a moment, almost pressing himself to the corner as he tried to find the words, the chains clinked as he moved and only called more attention to himself.
He'd studied English at one point when he was still a student learning the tools of his eventual trade. He searched for the words, he'd once been so natural with. He spoke in his home's language so seldom his voice sounded foreign sometimes, let alone in English. He just had to hope they still meant what they thought he did and he doubted his accent was anything as clean as it had once been.
"Yes..." he started hesitantly, a pause breaking between words as he thought about them.
"I can speak some English...I.." Came his hoarse voice through the shadows.
What did she want from him? Why didn't she speak Venetic if she was a demon? She had to be if she opened that door and a demon that didn't know Venetic was practically a contradiction. He shivered, not letting his imagination wander far as the orb grew closer and his pulse made his head throb.
"Am I going to die today?" he thought, his breath freezing in his lungs.
Sabine felt her heart leap a little as a hoarse, deep voice answered her. The English was heavily accented, but she could make out the basic words. Her thoughts were racing. What now? She hadn't thought that far ahead.
The light was almost to him-she assumed it was a man from the voice-as she spoke again.
"Who are you? Why are you in here?"
The young man flinched away from the orb, shielding his eyes with one of his scarred arms as it drew near. He couldn't tell her who he really was, could he? He feared her reaction. If she actually was a demon she probably hated him for who he was regardless of his reasons for it.
His breathing picked up slightly as his anxiety heightened, feeling cornered by her question. He had to answer her, worst case scenario the guards laughed at him or beat him more when they eventually showed their grubby faces for trying to lie.
"My name is Kostya..." he lied, the light now coming to rest perhaps a foot above him and to the right.
"...It's so bright.." he muttered quietly, still shading his eyes away from the brilliant ball of light that illuminated his dark corner. Damp straw scattered the ground under his feet, most of having been pushed to the edges and the frigid stone beneath it now casting light back onto the walls.
Under it, his arm still protecting his eyes from the makeshift torch sat a cowering young man in nothing but the tattered remnants of trousers and a set of shackles as thick as her thumb. The chains were the first thing to gleam back at her, somehow still pristine in the grimy conditions and locked snugly around the man's wrists and ankles. Another sat around the demon's neck, a hoop of metal hanging from the very front of it, perhaps the size of a coin, but no chain followed it.
He had horns, like all demons did, although scuffed and dirtied they curled intact from the sides of his head starting just above his pointed ears in an almost downwards fish hook shape. They were long and large for a demon, each one having five stripes in alternating sections of black and white. Tangled black hair hung in haphazardly cut locks around his ears, forehead, and neck while others curled around his horns and stuck into the air at strange angles.
His skin was deathly pale, showing an almost translucent, blue tone to it as the light bared down on him and he did everything to avoid it. A long blue tinged scar showed on his forearm, just beyond where the shackle's cuff ended. A brilliant red line of something circled his arm, although his fidgeting and harsh light made it impossible to tell what.
She startled and dimmed the light to the best of her abilities, it flickering somewhat as she steadied it to a softer tone. She could tell he probably wasn't in the best shape. The red lines caught her eye-in the dimmer light she thought it might be ink. A tattoo? It was incredibly bright against his near deathly-pale skin.
She took a hesitant step forward, testing out his name in her head.
"Kostya, you said...? I'm sorry about the light...why are you in here? You look a mess..."
He would have moved away but he quickly realized that he'd stupidly trapped himself in a corner when she'd first entered. He lamented his lack of foresight and finally looked up, the chains attached to his wrists clinking against the barely covered stone floor.
"I...It's a long story." He started, then halted as another thought came to mind.
"You're not a demon...are you? You really shouldn't be here. He'll kill you if he shows up..." He never knew when Ravian would make an appearance but he wasn't sure he could live with himself if she ended up dead for having seen him. He glanced up at her, still a ways off, his own eyes a dulled shade of something almost unnaturally blue, verging on cyan. Yellow-gold rings circled his irises, the dimmed light still making him squint some but his dirtied face was actually in view now.
"I committed treason against the king...and this was their answer." he sunk against the back wall, the cold stone against his bare skin making him shiver. Three sets of fangs showed when he spoke, a long pair where his incisors were, a smaller set over from the two of those and an even shorter pair on the bottom, despite that he didn't seem too incised at her entrance, part of him still feared her, the other part feared for her. Some dark part of his mind hoped that since she didn't seem to be here to kill him, perhaps she'd do it anyway, just to put him out of his misery. It would take the satisfaction away from Ravian getting to do it.
"-me? A demon? If that's the case, I'm suffering from a terrible case of misplaced soul in the wrong body. No, I'm not. But..." She considered his ominous warning. She wasn't sure she wanted to know just who "he" was. Was he talking about the guard from before? She wasn't sure.
"-treason against the king? What kind? What did you do to end up like....this?" She asked, unsure. She knew what treason was, but there were so many things that could fall under that word she wanted to know more before she got any closer to him. Her hand had silently and smoothly rested on the hilt of her father's old sword, one she'd been using in her practice bouts with him. She had enough experience with it to defend herself with at least moderate proficiency. From what she could tell he seemed...too thin. malnourished and weak. Still a possible threat, but a minor one for now. She'd hear more, but she kept her hand on the hilt just in case.
Caine couldn't have reached her if he'd tried, the chains around his ankles would have tripped him before he got within swinging distance of the door. He already knew that, as he had tried and regretted it some time previous.
"I had notes on the seal he wanted, he wanted to start a war. A new one....and I just...I couldn't." He wasn't lying this time, his voice growing more cracked by the end and he stared at the floor where his abused feet were. Like she'd believe him, like she'd be able to do anything. She didn't look like she could be much older than 18, perhaps a year or two on either side but not much more. Sure, she had a sword but she was much too small to break them and watching the way her light struggled to even adjust itself made him doubt her magic ability to get him out of this even if she had a reason to.
The young woman before him was petite, perhaps a head shorter than himself, with an athletic, curvy physique that told of leisurely adventuring and the occasional skirmish or two. She was dressed in simple clothing, a pair of warm gray leggings, a dark green canvas cloak, and some plain color shirt the same color as her well-worn leather boots below. Beyond that, she was pale, not as pale as himself -but that was a hard criterion to beat-, with long, dark hair she wore in a ponytail and a simple ribbon to hold it there.
She was pretty, he had to give her that, if hers would be the last face he saw then it would be one he could deal with, anything was better than the only two he'd seen in months.
His words, at first, didn't register in her brain. A new war-oh!-A war?
"-you-wait, what? But we're at peace right now, even with the seal! I would know-my mother was an ambassador before she had me. She was the one who ended talks with the king on peaceful terms. Why would he change his mind now? I don't understand-" Her pulse, before quite steady, now raced as a bit of fear crept up on her.
A war? But that was ridiculous. Any grudges from the past war were two-thousand plus years old. Who even held a grudge that long-faeries?
She considered that he might be lying to her, but her othersight still had a clear focus on his aura and nothing in it showed any sign of nerves. It wasn't a sure thing, but if he was lying, he was damn good at it. It was one thing to school your breathing and heart rate, and to keep tics in check, but it was an entire other level to keep your aura from changing. She somehow doubted he was that good at lying. He didn't look much older than her-then again, from his horn size and what she knew about demons, he had to be a noble. Nobles aged differently, as far as she knew.
Now that he'd adjusted to the light, he stood, slowly.
"I have seen the injustices the commoners struggled with and I too found the idea of a war preposterous. If I hadn't heard it with my own two ears I'd have doubted it as well...I was to present some research at a meeting and instead, I burned the journals to ash. Since I was the only one who knew what I'd found they decided that instead of sentencing me to death for embarrassing them all, instead, they'd just torture the truth from me. " He leaned against the wall for support, coughing hard into one of his hands and almost had to sit back down from lightheadedness.
"I haven't told them anything...when you came in just now I thought that perhaps they'd grown bored of my stubbornness." He was standing on his own now, his hands at his side and weighed down by the chains that connected his wrists.
His body was covered in small scars here and there, another blue-tinged, ragged scar dominated his left shoulder almost like claw marks. The red tattoos she'd seen earlier now showed as well, one on each bicep, each with a thick red line and hastily written Venetic characters. His collarbones, ribs, and hip bones cast shallow shadows in the dim light, speaking for something close to malnourishment but perhaps not to a life-threatening amount. He looked defeated and tired. He'd stand there and talk to her for as long as she pleased, it'd at the very least give him something to think about until they decided to kill him off. Like a mirage or a dream, he could remember since the sun came so rarely.
Truth be told, she almost backed up again when he started to stand, but the sound of the chains clinking and rattling made her look a little closer at them. He couldn't reach her if he tried. She tried to relax, but her thoughts were racing.
He'd said he'd had information on the seal.
"-that research you had that they wanted,-" she started, gears whirring in her brain, "-it was on the seal. If they wanted a war, it'd have had to be-" Her heart leapt into her throat as she finally connected the facts to her conclusion.
"-the biggest hindrance to a war between our worlds is the seal...so your research..." her voice went hoarse.
"-don't tell me you actually found a way to destroy it, or damage it? After all these years?"
He looked so broken, before her, that even in the horror of her realization, pity followed. He wasn't dead, but perhaps death would have been preferable to the state he was in. Her eyes followed the lines of the pallid blue scars on his exposed skin. The hollows under his eyes showed just how bad his health was right now. He wasn't dying, not anytime soon, but his body wasn't working anywhere near top capacity, either. It seemed like he'd been given just enough nutrients and such to keep him alive. Her heart throbbed. All of this, because he wouldn't give a king the information needed to start a war? The unfairness of it hit her like a ton of bricks.
Briefly, she registered that he had said something about the commoners, and a tiny voice told her he'd not done it to save her world, but to protect his own. She ignored it. Whatever his reasoning, he'd taken torture and imprisonment rather than give up information that surely would have threatened the safety of her world.
Caine coughed again, his shoulders shaking hard enough he was forced to his knees.
"I'd never wish something upon your world either...I wasn't researching the seal for ways to tear it down, I have no reason for that, I was researching it just to do it. It's one of the mysteries of magic and as someone with an interest in it, it just...made sense to. I didn't come up with some groundbreaking information...but it was somewhere to start. And they wanted it badly...I thought that if maybe I could tell the nobility what he wanted then they'd back me up." he looked slightly angry then and his hands curled into fists, looking half lost in a memory that transfixed him.
"They all just stood there and gaped... like I hadn't just told them millions of innocent people were going to die for the sake of glory." He answered grimly. They all had just stood there while the king crushed his skull into the floor with his boot.
He snapped himself out of it and turned his attention back to the girl, going quiet for a moment.
"Wherever you go after this...tell someone for me what's coming. He already has a head start. A sizable one..." His voice grew quieter and he moved his pained ankles out from under himself so that he was sitting fully again. Now he remembered why he didn't go walking around much anymore.
"Perhaps if you start now you may have a chance..."
Her heart throbbed again, and she almost went to him when he fell to his knees with that cough. He was so, so weak. His words, combined with the look in his eyes as he seemed to be remembering something painful and hard to stomach.
She didn't know how to answer him. She stared. Of course, she had to tell someone. But would anyone believe her, or take her seriously? She'd try to convince them. She just wasn't sure how much of it they'd chalk up to fancy and how much to brazen lying.
She was still young, a fledgling. Anything she said that was too far-fetched could be brushed off without much thought.
And still, watching him like this was painful. The idea of leaving him to more of whatever they had in store for him made her legs lock up. She couldn't leave him here. Demon or no, if everything he was saying was true-and she believed it was-he may have given their world more time. Time to prepare, save themselves, issue warning. Something.
She was still more than a little nervous, though. She took her hand off her sword hilt.
"-sit down again. With your hands under you, if you can."
He gave her a strange look but complied after a moment of hesitation, putting his hands under his thighs as far as was comfortable given the shackles that kept his wrists trapped. What was she doing? He almost looked worried past the lingering curiosity.
Her light orb was still flickering above him. She thought about dismissing it, but, then again, she'd need it. She moved over slowly but steadily, picking her way around the rocks and puddles on the cave floor.
She made it over to him and knelt, ignoring the way the cold and damp soaked through her pants.
"-I'm going to take a look at the shackles on your ankles, okay? Don't move and don't freak out if I touch you."
He nodded slowly, watching her with growing bewilderment. No one had been this close to him in months and her presence demanded his attention. She smelled like something exotic, almost citrusy and soap. Her proposition almost made him want to sob. This all seemed to be too true if she was doing what he thought she was.
She was trying to free him.
He wondered to himself if this was actually happening and thought of pinching himself to check. The moment she moved one of his feet though it was enough to make him wince, the enchanted metal rubbing part of the burnt skin below it.
"They're enchanted...they burn me if I try to escape," he said matter-of-factly, still watching her with some disbelief as she explored the runes on the one closest to her.
She paused at what he said.
"-what counts as escaping? If I try to get them off, are you going to get burnt?" Her conscience troubled her on that idea. What little bit of burnt skin she could see under the shackles now that she was closer made her worry about the rest. There could possibly be permanent damage.
He shrugged, knowing that was unhelpful.
"Pulling on them does it, I have no magic while in them so I can't say otherwise..." He knew the skin was bad there, he could sometimes feel it as it healed, the way it itched and chafed against the cold metal surface.
She studied them, trying to be as gentle as possible with him as she turned one foot to either side in her hand, noting the cuts and scrapes on the bottoms of his bare feet. If she managed to get him out of these shackles, some healing was in order for him to be able to walk at all...but she was getting ahead of herself.
She nodded to the runes that showed on the metal, flashing some when she touched it.
"-what do these say? I don't speak or read Venetic, but if they might have any hint to unlocking the shackles or breaking the spell...well, I'd be able to break the shackles physically if we can get rid of the spell." She knew for a fact she could make a fire hot enough to cut the shackles off. She might accidentally make his burns a little worse, but there wasn't much room to make them worse anyways, and being free would surely be worth the effort.
"They're in Ancient Venetic...I'm afraid I don't know the spell, no one's taken them off of me since I've been here." this was beginning to sound more hopeless by the moment. He'd looked at the shackles before but his Ancient Venetic wasn't perfect and throwing around spells willy-nilly sounded like a horrid way to lose a foot. It wasn't like they commonly went around imprisoning nobles either. He doubted many of these shackles existed at all given their age.
"I know, I'm not much help, am I?" he said quietly, his aura slipping away from fear and closer to a dip in hopelessness.
She shrugged. He wasn't, at the moment, but then, it wasn't exactly his fault, and she wasn't the brightest when it came to magic so she'd leave off assigning blame for the time being.
She tested the shackles with a gentle probe of magic-nothing aggressive or strong yet, but a test prod to see if they'd hurt him for it. They swallowed the magic, but she saw no signs of pain from him. She tried it once more, on the other ankle, and it once more sucked up her tiny bit of magic like a drowning man with oxygen.
From what she could tell with her othersight, it was doing the same with his, but at a slower, steadier pace, and leaving him just enough to live. Some kind of spell to leech energy. Great. She searched her memory for what little she knew of spellworking. Maybe she should just go back to town and find someone who knew what they were doing...
But what if they moved him before she returned? What if no one believed her? Worse yet, what if they somehow discovered he'd had a visitor and both moved him and punished him worse for it?
She couldn't leave him. She'd have to think of something...
Her eyes strayed back to the cold iron-or at least, that's what it looked like. Known to sap magic and yet, if properly prepared, it could be enchanted with it too. She remembered something in temple Glenn had gone over about enchanting iron. About how much more fragile it became when you worked magic into it, due to the preparation required to enchant it.
"-if you overdo the magic used in the enchanting process, you can destroy the item entirely. In fact, some of the greatest enchanted iron ever created that can't be crushed by brawn alone will shatter if you pour enough magic into it."
She thanked her slightly preachy youth group leader mentally with a fervency for tending to drawl on about seemingly unimportant topics during a lesson.
She'd have to try overloading the metal with magic power. It might hurt him, but she had to try.
"-will you be alright if I try to overload the shackles? I'm going to try to put enough magic into them that they shatter-you know what that means, don't you? Power brings heat."
He tried to smile, the first hint of one she had seen so far. A sort of melancholy but toothy affair that tilted the corners of his mouth.
"I'm sure I'll be fine..." He replied, almost a bit amused. If anything had come of this he supposed that at least now he had one hell of a pain tolerance.
"Do what you can, I'll stay as still as I can manage.."
She wasn't sure what to make of the smile. It was a mix of sadness and dark humor and even something different she couldn't place.
She offered him a reassuring one back-or, at least, as reassuring a smile as she could. She was nervous about hurting him. She'd helped her mother on several occasions healing people where they'd had to re-break a bone that healed wrong or reopen a wound that had been infected-and yet, this was so different. She may potentially hurt him and make his wounds worse, and there was no guarantee she'd be able to break the metal.
Still, she could think of no other options besides leaving him, and she wouldn't do that. So she placed her hands very gently on both shackles-each ankle one-and watched curiously as the runes fluttered and glowed under her touch, just like the ones on the gate had. They hummed faintly, as she fed them her magic slow at first, and then as she increased her output speed they started thrumming. She could feel them warming up steadily in her hands, and moved her own away some, projecting the magic instead in a stream of heat that made the runes glow incredibly bright. The warmth from her magic made his face visibly tighten, the demon under her hands staying remarkably still considering the heat put off by her solution.
Even if she had so little control over it, she'd always had an abundance of magic. What good it did her to have so much and not know how to control it beyond the basics, she wasn't sure, but if she'd had any interest in magic or the patience for scholarly pursuits she might have made a powerful mage. As it was, she couldn't be bothered sitting still long enough to read anymore. She much preferred sparring or healing. Those things seemed to come to her naturally.
She felt her alarm rising as she could smell burning flesh and they still weren't broken. They were starting to glow from the heat, but they had yet to shatter. The young angel poured her energy in, to the point she knew it wasn't going to replenish fast enough to keep going much longer. She was ready to ease off and give up when they finally fractured, falling from his ankles to the floor, and their spell giving way.
Her eyes rejected the red ruin his ankles were. It was horrible to see. The pain must've started out unbearable-then again, there might be less pain now, with how bad they were.
He relaxed again as he watched the damned shackles shatter to pieces, Caine staring at the shards on the floor and not paying any mind to the ruined skin of his ankles, he didn't care about that right now, he was too far in disbelief. He stared at her for a long moment, a shard of metal sitting in his still shackled hands. He wasn't attached to the cave anymore, he was free to move beyond the short radius he'd been confined to for these long months.
"Why...why are you doing this for me...?" He asked after a moment, his almost teal eyes seeming brighter and beginning to well with moisture.
He held them back, the joy of seeing his ankles free from their metal holds sending waves of heavy emotions over him as more of it sunk in. He thought the only way these shackles would come off of him was when they came off of his corpse eventually. His aura was beginning to creep out of the dark hole it'd slipped down, the tendrils of hope underneath beginning to rise to the surface.
"Dear gods..." he half prayed in Venetic, dropping the shard to wipe at his face. "...I don't believe this." half a laugh escaped his lips, amazement still evident, even if he had nowhere truly to go and no one sans this one mysterious girl, this small victory was enough for him.
His reaction nearly brought her to tears. How long had he been trapped in here? How long had he been forced to endure this torture?
She didn't ask because she didn't want to ruin the look in his eyes. The poor man needed to cherish it.
She paused, uncertain of the right way to answer him. An honest answer.
"-because you held back even though it meant pain. Because you may have saved my world, even if it's only for a little while. Because I felt like what happened to you was unfair..." She thought about the last one for a second before she continued.
"-and because no one deserves to suffer like this, no matter their crimes. No one deserves this kind of pain."
She took one of his battered feet up in her hand, careful not to touch the ruin that was his ankles.
"-let me try to make it easier for you to walk. There isn't much I can do for your ankles, myself-my mother is a far better healer than I-but I can at least get rid of these scrapes and cuts. It will make it easier. You can lean on me if it gets too painful."
Her palms started glowing with a soft white light, and she let them trace over his feet gently, cuts closing and scrapes disappearing as she went, working to make sure even if his ankles would bother him, he wouldn't be hurt by his feet.
She considered his other wounds but deemed them unimportant in the face of getting him out of there safely. Plus, she was starting to get tired and she needed enough energy to get the both of them back to the town safely.
Once she finished healing his feet she stood, dusting her knees off some and offering him a hand up.
"-come on. My village isn't too far from here and I know a sneaky way in so we don't have to bother with the guards. Mom's really nice, she'll help you. She's a healer, too, so..."
He took her hand up gratefully, the chain that connected his wrists clinking again as she helped pull him to his feet. He wavered slightly, bending at the waist from the discomfort in his ankles and the fact his head spun from moving too quickly.
He took a somewhat shaky step forward, his feet feeling foreign and so much lighter without the heavy, metal bindings. He wasn't sure what village she was speaking of but anything certainly sounded better than here. Somewhere else meant actual food and probably a bath, the thought of real food made him want to cry again. He gathered the couple of feet of chain in his hands, keeping it from hitting against him and turned to the glowing white exit she'd come through.
He apparently must have trusted her, for his back was to her, or perhaps it was he was too lost in the thought of finally having a way out. Long stripes showed on his back, extending from the base of his neck, down his shoulder blades and further down in something that looked horrifyingly like whip marks. Most had healed over into raised, pale lines.of But others looked soft and pink and fresh enough to still be tender, it apparently hadn't been long since the last time whoever he feared so badly had made a visit.
"Alright..." He looked back to her, the hope in his aura finally beginning to show.
She'd only managed to barely mute and cover the horror on her face when he turned back, stunned by the patchwork of scars and marks. He'd been savaged by some cruel monster, to the point she wasn't sure he'd be sleeping on his back for a while.
She kept her smile reassuring, hoping he couldn't see the mortification and pity in her eyes. It hurt just looking at half of his scars, the other half made her wish she'd shown up and found him sooner.
She offered him her arm and shoulder, as a support.
"-we're gonna have to sneak you in, at first, but Mom won't let anything happen to you once she has a look at you. She'll heal you up real nice, I promise. She's the best healer for miles around."
He half turned to look at her, a half adoring smile across his lips. He nodded in understanding despite the nagging paranoia in the back of his mind. He'd just have to trust her, he didn't have a choice and why would she go through all the trouble just to hurt him? He didn't consider it long and drifted to the mouth of the cave, blinking hard against the blinding light of the mid-day sun.
Caine froze, his back going straighter and his pointed ears perking up noticeably, more so than any human could. The crystal blue body of water before him apparently had struck a different kind of fear into him and he stood that way for a solid half a minute before Sabine gained his attention.
"Pardon? Oh, my apologies...I..." he said quietly, shaking off the stupor he'd drifted into, still warily looking at the sizable pool.
Their reflections stared back at them, his own foreign and distorted, What an odd pair they would have seemed.
I will definitely look at this again. Gladly. When I have a bit of time. :P
@blackbird haha thanks! It's just a chopped and slightly edited section, but we appreciate the enthusiasm. :3
We're working on editing the rest to release it, then we'll continue past the part the first post left off at...when the parents come home early! dun dun dun
@obsidi0nangel Yes, please. The suspense is killing me. o.O
Chapter 2 is up.