Chapter II: Anguish in Shadow
The sound of rushing air and crashing rock filled her ears.
Lendrig’s power released her mid-flight, allowing Selene’s natural instincts to kick in. Her body rolled into the landing as best it could, cushioning enough that she suffered nothing worse than a dozen scrapes and bruises.
None of that mattered to her. The only thing on her mind, and the only thing that mattered was the fate of her friend, Hamish.
I know those hands, she thought, He saved me, but did he…?
She did not allow the thought to finish.
She rose from the ground on shaky legs and turned back toward the corner.
The air was filled with a thick layer of dust, obscuring her sight as the tremors from the ceiling’s collapse subsided.
“H…Hamish?” she coughed.
I have to know if he’s alright.
Slowly, she approached the corner. The dust stung her eyes as she fought to keep them open.
I have to find him…he could be hurt or…
It was not long before she was met by a mountain of dishevelled stone and debris. The collapsed ceiling had filled the entire corner, leaving not a trace of anything but dust and ruin.
Looking around, Selene’s eyes began to water. She blinked several times, hoping to remove the dust from them. It did nothing to ease the sting, but it did clear her vision.
Hamish was nowhere to be found.
Numbly, she turned back to the collapsed stone and debris. There was no other place he could be.
Lendrig’s laughter echoed in the back of her mind as she stumbled her way toward the pile.
“H—Hamish?” Selene called weakly.
Shaking hands grabbed at the edges of the nearest stone, pulling it out of the way as she called out again.
Frantically, she pawed at the next one, repeating her call as she scrambled to grab the next one.
No response came, save the sound of shifting rock and Lendrig’s vile laughter.
Fear tightened her chest, breathing became difficult and ragged. Tears welled in her eyes as she continued to dig through the rubble.
“Hamish?!? Hamish, if you can hear me, please say something! Hamish?!?”
Tears flowed freely now as she did not wait for a response.
“HAMISH?!” she yelled, her voice cracked as her desperation grew, “HAMISH, PLEASE!!! HAMISH?!? HAMISH?!?”
Stone gave way to more stones as she continued in her struggle against the mountain. The fear in her chest continued to tighten its grip, until she could barely speak.
“H—Hamish,” she wheezed, fingers grasping a loose stone with what little strength remained, “P—please…don’t leave me.”
No answer came, and Rieta realized none ever would again.
Fear gave way to pain as the pressure became too much. Her heart broke.
Strength faded from her as she feebly attempted to pull another piece away from the mountain of rubble.
Tears fell easily as she stopped, falling to her hands and knees.
Why…why can’t I…?
Heaving sobs shook her body as her hands feebly grabbed at dust on the floor.
Why him? He didn’t deserve this…
Pain flowed from her heart like a gaping chest wound. It flooded her body and every part of her being.
I can’t do this. I can’t lose another…
She lifted her head, looking at the pile before her. The final resting place of her last friend.
Tears, stained black, began rolling down her face. The black stained her cheeks, followed by her neck and torso. Soon it spread all over her body.
Yet the pain did not stop, it grew further still.
Like a tear dropped into an endless ocean, her pain was drowned in an alien well of sorrow. Her own pain was consumed as the well expanded, until nothing else remained.
Eventually, a breaking point was reached. Her back arched as she let out a great cry.
It was a cry of endless longing and an eternity of regret. A cry of despair no tongue could utter in a single breath.
A cry swallowed by a bestial rage, bubbling beneath the surface.
Somewhere, buried deep in Rieta’s memory, lurked a strange familiarity to this cry. Memories of a night where she saw the light fade from Arveene’s eyes as blood stained her dress and the cobblestones of a dark alleyway.
She remembered so little of that night, but one thing she always remembered was the scream that had echoed throughout the alleys and city streets that night. A scream that haunted the back streets of her home ever since.
The very scream that now echoed through the halls beneath Lendrigol.
Only now, did she finally realize the origin of that monstrous cry from the dark.
It had come from within, and escaped her own lips.
Then the darkness took her.
Lendrig, Magus and Lord of the Abyss, was lost in the reverie of the Malenai’s torment. Such attachments always lead to the most delicious suffering. It was now properly seasoned for his feast.
Then a sound escaped its lips, a cry inhuman and far beyond the limits of a simple mortal.
Refocusing his senses upon it, he searched for the source of this change. One of the only downsides to his evolved state was the loss of eyesight. Fortunately, he had transcended beyond the need for simple vision long ago. He could sense everything about it down to the most minor detail. It was sight, smell, and sound all rolled into one with the added benefit of reading its mind.
Something had changed in it since the monk had sacrificed himself. It was a change he had failed to notice when he was lost in the moment. Now, it was obvious.
A well of power grew inside the Malenai. It now overwhelmed the simple mind of the mortal.
Physically, the Malenai faced away from him, back arched and arms outstretched as it let out that ghastly wail. Its skin had taken upon the inky blackness of an endless night. This same change extended to its attire, and soon it was impossible to distinguish between flesh and cloth.
Then he heard voices, as if there was something lurking in the shadows around them.
Malenai…wh-what are you planning? Lendrig spoke hesitantly.
The Malenai was unresponsive. Before Lendrig could ask again, the Firstborn’s voice filled his mind.
It is planning nothing, Lendrig.
The Firstborn spoke calmly, but there was a touch of malicious glee.
This is all my doing.
What? Lendrig said, fear touching his words, Explain yourself, now!
You are the most cunning creature that ever dared enter my notice, Lendrig, but even you have your limits. We learned long ago where secrets might be hidden out of your reach.
But we still needed a pawn to enact our plan.
At this moment, another scream escaped from its lips, silencing them both. Lendrig’s fleshy mass flinched back at the sound. Whatever it was, the well of power seemed to grow with each passing moment.
Bu—but how? Lendrig sputtered, I did not sense this power before!?
Yes, neither did we at first. We found her as you did, but then She approached us with a bargain.
Who?!? Lendrig asked, frantically.
The Firstborn ignored the question.
She promised Her aid in our plans so long as we ensured no real harm would come to the Malenai.
Her aid ensured you would have no one to save you now. Then all we needed was something strong enough to kill you. She provided that as well, but it would require an awakening. She revealed the truth, so that we might finish this, once and for all.
What do you mean?!? Lendrig bellowed, his frustration mingling with his fear, I demand you answer me!
Come now, Lendrig, you should know by now I do not bend to your questioning. Besides you have more important matters that require your focus.
Your death, for instance.
At that, the Malenai’s head swung around, face black as night, its eyes gleamed as though twin moons in the night sky. Its vacant gaze burned a hole through Lendrig.
I hope it is as agonizing as you deserve.
Its body rose up and turned toward Lendrig in his crystalline structure. The fleshy mass that was Lendrig shrunk back from the stare of pale, unblinking eyes. They were the only discernible trait remaining, as all else was consumed by the dark. Everything about it seemed to be merely a shadow of something real. Its clothes still moved and shifted, the cloak shifted with its stance, but there was something lurking beneath it, especially behind the cloak, as if some creature hid beneath its folds and was only waiting for an opportunity to escape.
It took a step without a sound. If it was not observed, it would be impossible to determine a sign of movement. There was no rustle of clothing, nor the sound of bootsteps. It was an image floating before his eyes, a malevolence lurking just beneath the surface.
A walking nightmare.
He went further back as it continued to approach. Then he seemed to calm as a thought occurred to him.
I need not fear this thing, you fool.
He released a pulse of power, enough psionic energy to break a hundred minds. It rippled across the mind, but then was quickly swallowed by the well of power.
Your powers will not be of aid to you, Lendrig. We know our weakness well, as do you. Her mind has been overcome by Heart. In this case, the Heart of her Master.
A cold, gripping fear twisted inside Lendrig’s malformed heart. He shrank back from the approaching Malenai, but he ran out of room eventually. Desperate, he summoned tidal waves and roaring waves to push it back, but each one seemed swallowed by the darkness within it.
As it reached the edge of his enclosure, his only recourse was to sacrifice his own spawn. He threw all the ones still living in his waters against it. They were not designed for combat, but he only needed one to succeed to subsume it into his will.
As they approached, claws, made from shadows manifest, rose from the ground and sliced them to pieces. A few made their way closer, in between assaults by their brothers. Those that managed to reach it seemed to only catch smoke, but their destination was something beyond. Each one that passed through its body let out a panicked cry, only to be silenced by gnashing teeth. None were ever seen again.
The Malenai’s expression never changed, or at least, Lendrig had no means to see it. It was nothing but a shade, a silhouette of a blackness beyond the Realms of Existence save two shining eyes.
Eyes he recognized from an Aeon ago. Eyes from an endless night, much like the being that now stalked toward him.
Impossible…how can…there’s no way that…
Lendrig stopped himself. It was always possible. The powers of the Magus were great, and each had unique advantages the others lacked. No one, however, knew the true power of a Heart save the Magus that wielded it.
If that were truly what now stood before him, he did not have a chance. There were no moves left to make in this game of wits he had played against the world.
He had lost.
For the first time since he found the Heart of Oceans, Lendrig felt true fear.
P…please…don’t. Lendrig whispered meekly, desperately hoping it reached whatever power moved this thing.
I—I’ll…I’ll do anything. I’ll—I’ll serve you and your Mistress! Yes! That’s what I’ll do. I’ll do whatever you want! Just—
Its steps halted mere inches from the walls of crystal encasing him. The crystal was designed to house his body and keep his spawn alive. It was designed to handle small-scale attack, not the full power of a Magus.
No. Nononono! Please, don’t—
Weakly, Lendrig’s mass shrank back as the Malenai’s form rose into the air, its gaze never leaving him. As it rose, Lendrig desperately pressed himself at the back of his crystalline defense.
Although, now it acted more as a prison, stopping any chance for escape.
Finally, it reached its apex, hovering in the center of the room.
Please, listen, I can—
Then it screamed.
Its whole body contorted in the wail. Where once only the silhouette of a young mortal appeared, now only a swirling mass of shadows remained, as if its cry shook the void itself.
PLEASE, LISTEN!! I WILL—
The cry never wavered before it finally cut off. Shadows returned to their original form.
Yes…yes…good. Lendrig said, relief filling him, Perhaps now, we can…
He trailed off as he realized his error. The shadows did not stop once they returned to the form of the Malenai. Small hands grew into wicked claws, its body became bent and jagged. And the face, once formless, now sported fangs meant to rip and tear.
It was a monstrous shade hand plucked from a nightmare, and it was upon him before he could react.
No…NO! Please! PLEASE, NO!! I’LL DO ANYTHING, I—
The attack was swift, destructive, and vicious. Walls of solid crystal did nothing to slow it down as it reached for the soft tissues of Lendrig’s pathetic form.
A psionic scream echoed in the minds of all still inside the city as he was torn apart by a monster in the dark.