Rest Is for the Weary
Golden orbs disappear behind a cold pair of eyelids.
Death comes swiftly and peacefully to those who await it with open arms. Most demons believe this to be true so many do no fight the icy grip when it takes hold. The demon queen knew this too and over yells and shakes she cried. How could she not? To have hope dangled in front of her and pulled away as soon she reached was harsh and unusual torture.
Her hands push and pull the shoulders of the petite boy but the body only moves as it is told to. Forward with a pull, backward with a push.
The minstrel looks peaceful amongst the dead village. He's a pure spot—untainted by the evil that destroyed his home. His harp too is still pristine, elegant and sturdy. It's like a painting, only that the pain is not evoked by the beautiful strokes or the painter's touch. It is real. It is unbearable.
Smack. Her palm connects with his cheek but only her hand retains the rosy blood within her skin. Again and again with varying force. Each blow hits like the last but less accurately until she's harming herself.
Her arm swings back once more but there it has to stop. The holy knight's grip proves to be stronger. He shakes his head as if to say, “No more, Ewa.” But still her eyes do not yet dry.
“Please, Kyo.” Her lips only motion but the words they speak are ever so clear.
“We must move,” says the holy knight. “Before whatever did this returns.”
Although certain he can handle the might of any demon he encounters, he uses term handle with care. Keeping himself alive, no problem. Keeping the queen alive, check. Fending the demon off, a possibility. Exacting her revenge, not so simple. With the way her tears fell, he is sure that if blows came to blow, one side would end up dead.
And ancient demons live longer than any other for a reason.
“I... I... I can save him, Kyo! I know I can!”
The words the holy knight spoke next were cruel, even by his own standards. Had he a choice, they would have never left his mouth. “He's DEAD, Ewa. Do you understand that concept? The flame of his life has been extinguished. He will not come back and no amount of crying, begging or wishing will reverse that.”
She snaps back at him like an angry snake, canines like fangs reared and eyes the color of the endless night. She was a demon. A royal demon. A Raizen demon. How dare this lowly human familiar command her when her position was that of master?
“Shut up,” she barks.
Kyo flinches at the sight. Demon. That's right. No matter how she makes herself appear, her blood boils in the holy light. He feels slight disgust, but that is quickly squeezed out by a much stronger emotion. Fear. It was a feeling a demon had only ever evoked once from him.
“Help me with this,” she says, calmly, like the sweet natured queen had never left.
His hesitation is brief, noticeable only by his subconscious. “What are you going to do?” he asks indifferently.
“His essence still remains in this cloud of aura. I'm going to bring him back before he dissipates.”
“Even I know resurrection is impossible. No art, however unholy, can revive the dead.” Not as they were in life anyway.
She stares back, eyes still blackened and enraged. “Come here. Now.”
Kyo's eyebrows furrow. He wants to be angry at her, but the fear of her impedes it and he follows her instructions unwillingly.
“Place your hands on the harp.” He places them. “What do you feel?”
At first, Kyo is perplexed by the question. What does he feel? He feels the smooth ebony wood. It is a warm almost friendly feeling. The care that was given in the construction as well as preservation of this object was almost emotional.
But it was still just wood.
“What am I supposed to be feeling?” he asks.
“Mune, you dolt. Mune. For a Jenuevan minstrel, his instrument may as well be a part of his body. As a Jen, he refused the dark arts, but he is still a demon. Prolonged exposure to him must have left some sort of mark on the harp. I need you to find it and after you find it I need you to locate the rest of his aura in the cloud.”
Dolt? Even if what she said was remotely plausible there was no way he would be able to lock onto it and search for it in the demonic energy cloud above him. Mune's demonic energy was unsigned, like every other demon's in the village. It was like asking to distinguish a specific molecule of water within a bucket.
“No,” Kyo replies. “This is ridiculous. Why don't you do it?”
Ewa cocks her head to one side, almost slightly rolling it. Her right hand jerks erratically. All of it is eerie. Her mannerisms, her voice, “the way she stares at me,” thinks Kyo.
“Are you a species of brain dead human by any chance? Think for a moment. His energy is unsigned. I CANNOT search for it, otherwise I would not be requesting your meager services.”
Tch. “What makes you think I'll have any success?”
Ewa snickers. “Do not take me for a fool. I was witness to your actions in the Darkwoods. You yourself have bragged of your knowledge in Demonology. Go ahead. Impress me.”
The fear subsides for a fraction of a second, replaced by the incessant need in his head that tells him to subdue the child and take her in unconscious. But those are idle thoughts.
His hand has already begun to glow, like a hot red stone—except that the light is pure white. The light burns more intensely, burning and burning until his hand is no longer a hand but a ball of pure light. That light then solidifies slowly into a gunky substance while pieces break off from the once perfect circle, dropping to the ground like radioactive waste. The burning ball soon begins to clear, the viscosity of the liquid lessens until finally what's left is a sphere of pristine clear water, wrapped around his hand like an orb.
The orb is a beacon of sorts. It sends and receives signals—demonic energy signals in this case—making the job of locating a known demon a simple affair. However, even with the water beacon, locating specific unsigned aura was ludicrous.
Kyo had reached into a cloud of demonic aura before so he was not surprised now but his first time was a less than pleasurable experience. Reaching into any energy cloud is like dipping your hand into a vat of transparent plasma. Depending on the type of energy, holy, water, ember, nature, gale or any other, the feeling changes but you can almost always associate it with its specific energy type. Dipping your hand into a demonic aura cloud... well, for a holy knight of Ekaros, it is a painful experience.
Holy and Demonic energies are opposite by nature. Forcing their pure forms into direct contact causes painful energy recoil. The feeling of energy recoil is most closely likened to electricity coursing throughout your body. There is also the fact that demonic energy preserves the personality—the signature—of its user and that is an entirely different feeling in and of itself. As Kyo searches through the demonic aura around Jenueva, he begins to notice subtle difference throughout the cloud. Yes, it is all unsigned, but even then it feels as if there is a hint of individual life within each. He also notices that even though the demonic aura is painful, the subtle personalities of the Jenuevans are almost pleasant—healing.
One specifically is overpowering the others. Not in a sense that it is trying to take over the cloud. It's a different feeling. One that's screaming, “I am here.”
“Got it,” Kyo says and winces. A prideful grin is vaguely present on his face. This is something new to add to his knowledge of Demonology. Something he discovered.
“Good.” Ewa is also grinning, but her smile is not warm. Her face is not pleasant. Before Kyo can process her actions, she clenches onto both of his arms, one holding the wood of the harp and the other outstretched to the sky. She's strong. Stronger than Kyo remembers and he cannot shake her off. She squeezes tighter and her
nails dig into his skin, drawing blood. Her blackened eyes follow the blood trail with a curious gaze.
And in a bloodcurdling moment she arcs her back, her eyes focus on the great sky above her. Minstel, minstrel, minstrel. Her lips simply mouth the words. If you can manage the sight of her face, those contorted lips, the beast like teeth, those eyes that pull you into the abyss... If you can focus long enough on her eyes, you'd see that it is not all one black. There is a darker shade, darting back and forth like a pupil gone out of concentration. In a sickening a halt, the darker spot contracts and expands as if focusing on a specific point out in the space above her.
“Minstrel, Mune, descend. Your queen commands it.”
Not altogether material or immaterial, the cloud begins to swirl. Different energies collide and connect, reject and accept. From that place where Kyo felt Mune's presence, the cloud becomes the densest, so dense that if a swipe could be made at it, the cloud would surely be squeezed. And then the first fingers emerged; long and flimsy, black and skeletal. As the full hand followed suit, it grabbed at the air like it was searching for a grip.
When the fist was finally clenched, the cloud it emerged from cloaked it and as the cloud left once more a hazy afterimage of a hand stood in place of the skeletal one. A black skull also burst from the cloud, still connected to the body by its vertebrae, chattering like a night's chill. The cloud cloaked it too and as soon as it left, the handsome face of the minstrel remained. The rest of his body emerged from the cloud fully formed.
But Kyo knew better. Under the false skin was a dark and skeletal nightmare.
The specter descended as if it had been called by name. Ewa's eyes followed its very descent. Once its feet touch the ground, her grip on Kyo laxes enough for him to rip away and entertain the thought of exorcising the spirit and flash binding the queen.
Ewa pays no mind.
“I have called you here from your passage across the Styx for a single reason.”
The ghost, briefly entertained by the form of its body lying on the ground, turns to the speaker. The look in its eye is absent-minded. It is strange, almost ironic, that the soul would appear so soulless. “Name it.”
“Embrace my darkness and I shall grant you rebirth on the seventh year.”
The specter's eyes do not give any indication that they have understood the queen's request. In fact, the specter does not immediately seem interested in the queen at all. “As a Jen, I have cast out the darkness within me and embraced tranquility. I was a simple minstrel in life, gifted only with an eternal passion. Do you understand what you ask of me?”
The demon queen's sudden state of terror softens. Her eyes lighten, and although still saturated with the dark energy, they are no longer acting on impulse. She nods her reply. “And my heart grieves.”
“Very well. Even though I have rejected the demon, I will never deny my queen. Take my harp as proof.”
Ewa looks at the instrument, firmly in the hands of its owner even after death. She feels the wood with a closing fist rather than a gentle caress. She licks her lips. Is it hunger? Or is that raw emotion she exudes ecstasy?
She shakes her head violently and in a rush takes a hold of a single string, pulling it with such a force that it snaps cleanly off. Only those present could describe what the noise it made was like but none can argue that the harp had released a pained cry.
“With this sacrifice, the contract has been forged.” The string falls under the strong gaze of Ewa's eyes, as if all that existed for her in that moment was the singular strand. A breeze that comes from above stirs up her hair, whipping it at her face, stirring the lifeless thread into action. The specter reaches for the string and when the immaterial makes contact with the material, the contract is finalized.
What has been cast unto the fire can never be returned.
The words are spoken by both Jen and demon queen as the eerie ritual comes to a close.
“Welcome back, Mune the minstrel.”
The demon queen's voice is coated with a hint of lusciousness while the minstrel's reply is more lively than his previous statements.
“Well, I suppose Mune the darkling would be the more appropriate term now, correct?”
There are many terms one can use to refer themselves to the souls that persist after death. Some use the words interchangeably, without really understanding the connotations of each. They are ignorant, mostly, and the lack of knowledge would never really harm them, but one must never assume that all the dead that walk the earth are the same. There are differences, yes. Some may even say that there are different degrees of the dead, ranging from good to neutral to completely evil.
Among the kinder ones are spirits and benign souls. Ghosts, apparitions, phantoms, shades and wandering souls border the neutral section of the spectrum. The last group is comprised of specters, poltergeists and wraiths which are never to be trifled with.
However, disregarding all the classic categorizations, there is one type of ethereal being that is not evil, neutral nor good. That is a darkling.
Although the first impression one might have of a darkling is of utter malice, there is no way to assume or guess a darkling's alignment with minimal information. Darklings are, in the purest of definitions, indentured servants created through the dark arts. As such, their actions can only be held accountable to their masters. One might see their position as that of a neutral ethereal being, but their ability to act on their own is questionable at most.
The conditions for a darkling to be created are extreme and highly unlikely so even the mention of one in any era is a rare occurrence. Darklings are born from tragedy, summoned by the raw power of a noble demon or higher and, by order of the ritual, expected to sign over their very will. A darkling can only be called over if the soul in question is crossing the river styx, never before or after and there must always be a witness to the event.
The last condition is of utter importance to both summoner and summoned. Darklings are summoned in terms of contracts, years which may be added or subtracted dependent on the skill of the summoner but the base contract is of a seven year period. Over the course of the seven years, the darkling is allowed a measure of the summoners dark energy which will ultimately lead to its rebirth—a repossession of its former body.
However, should the summoner party become unable to complete the contract, by loss of power or death, the darkling is given the soul of the summoner as payment for services rendered, regardless of the summoned time.
“Which is why I will never allow you to perish, my queen,” says the young minstrel with a hearty tone.
“Should my death come to pass, I am aware of the consequences of my actions,” replied the demon queen.
But she was no longer the “demon” queen that had assaulted Kyo earlier. The darkness she pulled from within her body made her aggressive, violent to a point of being dangerous. She is fully aware of how she behaved as well so the only face she can make when her eyes cross paths with the holy knight is one of shame.
“Sorry,” she whispers from time to time.
Was that really enough? The question rattles Kyo. She called on the dark energy willingly and the queen was no fool. She knew what would happen if she dug into it too deep, which she did. It would posses her like nothing else could. However, Kyo cannot erase another image from his mind. Not the one of her maddened face, but the one that preceded it the instant before. Her heart had been shattered and Kyo would not judge her for that.
“Give me a warning next time,” he finally replies, arriving to the conclusion that she acted on her feelings as a queen rather than selfish desire.
That brightened her face.
“And what are we supposed to do with this?” Kyo asks wryly, his eyes lying softly on the corpse of the darkling. “In seven years you're supposed to reposses it, a concept which I'm finding difficult to understand at the moment, given the fact that it will have rotted by then. That's of course if the wild beasts of Nefarium don't get to it first. Which they will.”
“Demon bodies are different than a human's...” Ewa says timidly.
“Yes, but even that has its limits,” the holy knight retorts.
“This fellow is correct,” says Mune. “Although demon, my body is almost pure Jen. That in itself weakens its constitution.”
“This ritual is ridiculous,” says Kyo slightly irritated. “Who in their right minds decided on a seven year period?”
“Seven is a powerful number,” the minstrel replies, “but years are a bit of an exaggeration...”
“Quiet you two, I'm trying to think,” Ewa spouts. Both her thumbs are rubbing into her temple as though the action would stimulate her thinking. The thumb rubbing was followed by mumbling and, promptly after that, pacing.
Mune stood by quietly watching her pace back and forth but Kyo's attention was dedicated to the surroundings. The valley of the noir rocks was an easy place to defend, strategically. If guard towers had been placed high up on the hills and mountains that surrounded it, they would have seen the terror coming before it knew it had been spotted but of course... their civilization was one that coveted peace throughout their art. Guard towers were counterproductive to that cause.
But still... a little worry wouldn't have hurt.
“I've got it!” Ewa yells.
“I've got the perfect idea,” she reiterates.
“Well, out with it,” says Kyo.
“What a brilliant idea!” Kyo replies.
“You agree?!” the demon queen asks altogether too fast.
“No, obviously not. I haven't the faintest clue what you're talking about.”
Watching Ewa pout in reply was all the amusement Kyo required from the exchange.
“If I may,” Mune interrupts. “Chronostasis is a delicate type of time magic in which the target in question is, for all purposes, frozen in time. Time itself is unaffected but the body enters a state of unalterability, frozen in a specific instance of time. The object's shape, pose and composition is completely unchangeable. In a sense, the object becomes indestructible.”
“How perfectly convenient for this situation,” replies Kyo.
“Convenient?” replies Mune. “Perhaps not. The branch of time magic is an elusive one. Those who have been said to perfect it never spend much time in a single era. They jump back and forth, never really stopping. If you want to study the art, you must dedicate your life to self-study.”
“And there's the catch,” sighed the holy knight.
“But we needn't look so far for time magic,” Ewa says, still excited by her idea. “Among my court there was a quiet old demon who kept mostly to himself and only spoke when absolutely necessary. When I inquired Sebastian about him, he told me that he didn't know much of the old demon except that my father had found his peculiar talents useful. He's a rare specimen collector and he would prepare these elaborate crystal domes where he would trap and preserve rare insects and small mammals.”
“And you happen to have one of these crystal domes at hand, large enough to fit the boy's body inside?” Kyo asks, sparing her none of his sarcasm.
Ewa stops chattering. “Not exactly...”
“So we're back to square one,” he states.
“Again... not exactly...” Ewa replies.
“Would you mind being a bit more clear with your explanation then?”
“We can make a chronostasis chamber,” she said outright. “Where else to but here? Time magic requires constant energy feed and the valley of the noir rocks is nothing but random spouts of it. We can feed it to the chamber.”
“You're forgetting the core of the issue. We are one time magician short.”
“I was getting to that,” she replies. “I've spent more time in the royal library than is considered healthy. I've picked up on a few interesting things. Time magic being one of them.”
A few questions and answers later, their plan finally takes on plausible form. The darkling manages to carry his own body and although strange, he does not seem bothered by the out of body experience. Because darklings have a stronger presence than other ethereal beings, physical interaction like so is possible.
They climb up a hill that seemed to be the most inhabited by the noir rocks. On that hill they enter a cave, hidden away by a thin sheet of grass that grew like a flap over the entrance. This cave was to be the chronostasis chamber.
The demonic aura spread throughout the hill is undoubtedly strong, stronger than the air around Jenueva. One might have thought that another tragedy had occurred on that mountain but there is no need to believe that. The high saturation is due to the presence of the black rocks spread out through the hill.
“This is good,” Ewa states, examining the cave in its entirety.
“I'm glad to be of service, my queen,” Mune says humbly, “although the service is conversely for my own benefit.”
“I'll have none of that,” the demon queen reprimands.
“Sorry to disturb your lovers' quarrel, but although this doesn't look it, it is quite heavy,” Kyo says as he places the ebony harp down.
“There was no need to bring it along,” the minstrel says although he does not sound angry at Kyo for the gesture. He looks longingly at his instrument like it had been years since he'd last seen it.
“A certain queen said this is some sort of extension of your own body. Thinking it about it like that, leaving it out in the open to rot seems rather morbid,” the holy knight replies.
The minstrels smiles and bows his head.
“The process for this is very simple,” Ewa says and her voice rebounds throughout the cave. “But at the same time it's very delicate. We could potentially trap ourselves in here for eternity.”
“On that note, I shall be waiting outside,” says Kyo as he quietly sets the harp down and makes his way to the exit.
“Wait...” the queen yells. It's a cautious yell, timid in some ways. “You have to stay... wait no, what I mean is, I need you to stay.”
He shoots an interested glance at her and although his instincts do not agree with the possibility of being time-trapped, Ewa's plea has gotten to him. Eyes closed, she bows her head with a thank you, falling softly on her knees beside the minstrel's corpse. “I'll concentrate the spell around the body. As soon as I've finished the chant, we'll have a minute delay before the spell takes effect. If we're not out by then... we could emerge to a very different Nefarium.”
As soon as she places her hands together, the area beneath her and the body ignite with a silver like radiance. Her lips begin to move faster than either minstrel or holy knight can read them. Kyo felt the energy building up around the room but seemingly none of it was demonic. He had never before experienced anything quite like it. The radiance beneath her expands beyond her body, growing thinner the farther it spreads out. When it looks like it'll disappear, a blast of energy comes from its core—Ewa—and with renewed vigor continues to travel beneath their feet, unto the walls and even the ceiling.
What remains inside the cave is truly a sight to behold. The pure silver light casts a monotone aura all throughout the cave, robbing everything of its color as if turning everything within its domain to stone. A stone that could last forever.
So absorbed by the strange beauty of it all, both males almost missed Ewa's short gasp. The chant was over.
“We must move out.” He asks the queen no questions as he carries her limp body out through the grass flap. The darkling casts one last forlorn glance into the chronostasis chamber, but he is not admiring the beauty of it all or stealing one last glance of his body. It was the ebony harp, so beautifully constructed that even the silver light could not steal its shine. In the end, it was the last piece of his identity. The last the demon world would see of the minstrel.
“For a demon, seven years should go by like a step through an open door,” says Kyo, witnessing the lost hope of the minstrel.
“Time is different for a Jenuevan. Though our bodies will age the same as other demons, our souls feel every moment of the passage of time. In instant, three weeks... seven. I will feel every moment.”
“Do you regret your decision?” asks Kyo.
Mune's soulful eyes rest on the queen. Her breaths are slow and easy. Her arms relaxed around the holy knight'ss neck. Her eyes which have not opened since they had closed inside the cave shiver ever so slightly.
“No. She answered when I called. I will not regret answering hers.”
“Seven years of servitude is hardly an equal exchange for a chance opportunity.”
The village of Jenueva lies in ruins at the foot of the hills. The entirety of where it once stood had been painted a charcoal black and only a single spot remained untouched. That was Mune.
“Chance had no play in it,” Mune replies gently, “but you may see it as you wish.” Waking up from the trance the desolate village cast upon him, he finally asks the question which he should of asked before he agreed to the contract. “Where are we headed?”
Kyo simply points to the large gates in the distance which are impending as ever.
“To marry off the queen.”