A short story
Untouched, it lay behind, hidden from the rest of the world. No mortal had ever beheld its kind, until he came, bearing his sword. The whole world thought him mad, even his lady loved another more.
But Auger couldn’t care less. And with the unique skies above him eternally stuck in that transition from day to night, he snickered in pleasure.
At last, he found it.
Leaning against a rock, he dusted black soil form his arms and laughed out loud. And why wouldn’t he? What even the Great Moors, the Knights of Vicenza and other legends throughout history had been unable to discover, he had.
Neither the strain of the journey here, nor the bleakness of what lay behind had enough foreboding to dampen his spirits. Then, smiling still, he turned, stood up straight and looked beyond the rocks to where his prize lay – Fort Lunak, famed to be the only place in the mortal universe where the forces of light and darkness waged an eternal battle, avidly reflected in the strange state of its skies. Legends, texts, history itself have claimed that just beyond those black walls, protected by Guardians so fierce that no one dared imagine how they looked, lay the Fruit of Life.
A bite was all it took, and one would live. Forever.
For as long as he could remember, Auger had heard tales of fleets, warriors, legends who journeyed away from home, with the mission of discovering the Fruit of Life. But most of them never returned.
Unperturbed even by that thought, Auger took what was probably the last swig of freshwater he would ever take and allowed his eyes to roam towards those strange, fiery skies. They were indeed strange. Despite their shocking brilliance, almost no light at all reflected down below. It was almost as if the Darkness came from beneath and the Light from above. Unconsciously, his head raised a little as he studied the mesmerizing swirls of golden color intricately mixed with blackness. At every point of collision, both harshly spread out, like light refracting through a kaleidoscope, spilling across the sky in different hues of green, red, yellow – especially green, though in very soft touches. The colors, especially the golden lines, reminded Auger of home – or what was once home – of golden hair that seemed to go on forever, of spit-fire eyes he never tired of getting lost in. And yes, of that skin, a skin so soft that he –
Without warning, painful memories surged forth from within the good ones and spread, like an infection. Betrayal, hurt and an anger so strong his veins bulged from its intensity flooded him at once, bringing him physically to his knees. And he broke from the trance. Breathing in ragged, heavy gulps, his chest rising and falling rapidly, he closed his eyes and violently shook the vision away, willing himself to remain focused. Fixed in that crouched position, he shook, fighting to keep himself away from the despair that threatened to swallow him. Then, he cast every memory of her back into the dark, where they belonged.
They were there, waiting beyond the rocks, for him. He knew because he felt their presence, just as they felt his. Their battleground cloaked in almost absolute darkness, neither knew the true nature of the other, both could only guess. Still, as he stood up and unsheathed his sword, Auger knew he wasn’t going to wait for them to come first. Therefore, with as much stealth as he could muster, he crossed over the rocks, putting himself in even greater darkness and moved silently towards the spiky gate to Forth Lunak.
At first, all there was to hear was silence. But trusting his instincts, he closed his eyes, tuned his mind to the wind, and listened carefully. Remembering the years of training given to him by his father, the only one who ever believed in him, he kept his eyes firmly closed, mind firmly opened, and moved carefully on. He sensed obstacles before encountering them, and measured his steps according to how the wind led him, his sword firmly before him.
Therefore, when the first adversary came, he knew long before it did.
With a sharp intake of breath, he gathered his strength and ran towards it, pouncing on it with a swift stroke of his sword. It was quick to dodge, but not fast enough. And this elicited a chilling shriek from it, as the air around him became considerably warmer.
Now, he knew for certain, whatever this thing was, it definitely wasn’t human.
During those long years of training, the hardest skill to learn was the art of seeing through the mind, even in the most palpable darkness. And as he gave strike for strike on a monster he had had absolutely no physical sight of, its image gradually being formed in his head as the wind revealed its every move to him, even before it was delivered, he had no one else but his father to thank.
It had a tail. It had nasty claws. It had a hard body. And it had four eyes. Those were what gave him victory. As the fight continued, the monster shrieked on and on, conveniently giving him a rough guess of where its eyes were. Then, at one point when he cut one of its limbs, he took advantage of its momentary distraction, jumped, and swung, slicing out all four eyes at once.
He left himself no time to revel in the monster’s ensuing gurgles but moved swiftly on, knowing that every other Guardian was already on high alert, looking for him.
Looking up, he snickered as he saw that the gate was not as far away as it was before – the fight with that thing had apparently taken him halfway there already. He heard a caw from above and knew it was another Guardian. Then, wiping the gore off his face with the back of his hand, he took a deep breath, rolled his shoulders and began to run, fast.
Although legends were generally unclear when it came to details about Fourth Lunak, a particular one, told in the land of the Spaniras, had specified that there were nine Guardians, to symbolize the nine forces of nature. It claimed that the Guardians never rested nor slumbered, their entire immortality dedicated to protecting the Fruit from anyone who ever tried to get to it.
If he had things his way, he would sneak in and out of Fourth Lunak having no encounter at all with them. But of course, he had never had anything go the way he wanted. He sensed the other Guardian swooping down at him from above. With its presence becoming considerably stronger, he swerved to the right just before it could descend on him and probably have him for dinner.
Not willing to waste more time, he stood up quickly, staggering a little. Keeping his connection to the wind firm, he turned his back to it, with the intention of continuing his race towards the gate. However, the presence which was at first behind him suddenly materialized before him, staggering him again with its intensity.
He couldn’t help but laugh at his luck.
Of all the creatures creation had ever brought up, of the thousands of possibly deadly monsters he could have had the favor of meeting at that point, of all the bad things that the universe could have chosen to confront him with at that time, he, Auger, just had to get the worst – pure darkness itself in the form of a Djaron.
These creatures were supposed to be mythical; nothing could help him understand why history chose to reveal the truth of their existence at that moment – and why he had to be the one to discover it. Now he most probably wouldn’t live to tell the tale.
Still, he wasn’t one to give up so easily. So he arose, brandished his sword, even though it had never been more useless before than at that time, and searched his mind vigorously for any memory of the weaknesses of this deadly thing. As he circled the Djaron, careful to keep his steps light, he ignored its piercing assessment and searched on.
As nothing useful came up and the Djaron’s pulsing assessment obviously came to an end, Auger began to panic. But just before he gave up hope, a tiny memory, so fleeting he almost lost it, came up. It was of his childhood, when his mother still lived. He recalled a song she often sang, about forbidden creatures. So clear in his mind the melody rang, exactly how he remembered her soft voice. And at its end, it said:
No Creature is so so forbidden that it is not humbled by Light.
At this, he almost hit himself. Of course the Light is its weakness! Djaron are essentially creatures of darkness – that was most probably why this particular Guardian stayed here, in the darkness. It could not even fly too high because it must not experience the light of the skies. It cannot endure light.
He kept his expression carefully neutral as he continued to face the creature. He imagined that the only reason it hadn’t consumed him yet was because it was… fascinated? Even he couldn’t imagine a Djaron being fascinated. He couldn’t imagine it doing anything but snuffing out his life.
As the creature came closer to where he was, its darkness so palpable he could feel it like another skin, he took his chance – and acted.
Swiftly casting his right hand into his armor, his left hand taking immediate charge of the sword, he brought out a vial and, jumping up, threw it to the ground with all his might. Instantly, three halos of white light, each greater than the one before it, burst forth from the broken vial in waves so powerful that even Auger couldn’t stand his ground. He fell at the second wave. He chanced to look up and saw that the waves reached so high that they seemed to touch the skies, lighting up everything that was previously in darkness.
And he clearly saw, even if for only two seconds at most that just about ten steps away, situated around the gate, was a very deep chasm.
Silence had never been so deafening. From the onset, he knew that sorceress made no joke when she said the vial was very powerful – he just never expected it to be this powerful.
Dragging himself to his feet, he looked at the gate to Fourth Lunak, and wondered whether he would ever breach it. With the burdening presence of the Djaron gone and his connection to the wind broken, he knew it was time he relied on his physical senses. Still brandishing his sword, he walked slowly forward, towards the chasm. He imagined even that was a Guardian on its own. If it were, it would be the easiest one yet.
Using his right foot to test the solidness of the ground, he continued his slow walk until the solid ground disappeared from under it and up came a gust of wind so cold he could feel it right through his shoes.
Taking a sharp step backward, he sighed. He knew what he had to do. But he didn’t relish the idea –jumping over possibly bottomless chasms wasn’t exactly his favorite pastime.
STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT CHAPTER
- By Esther Uwadione.