11/20/367 Cinder

Abantey Date: ??/??/??

He was nothing but a specter… a shadow… adrift in the mist. His thoughts barely scrabbling to cling to existence.

Visions flickered in the fog before him… A glamorous ballroom… A sneering man with cruel eyes.

The smell of something burning.

The screams of a woman reverberated through the mist.

The sneering man spoke to him but the words were garbled, warped and lost. He looked around – those that had restrained him were nothing but shadows.

How much time had past? Days? Months? Years?… He had no reference point.

She was nearby with him… but just as lost as he was… just as dead as he was…

The mist swirled around him and solidified into a familiar memory.

He was now in the middle of a howling storm. Through the darkness, he could make the outlines of a dirt road beneath him and scoured rock formations on either side. The outline of a ghastly city could be made out in the distance. Strange shapes and unearthly lights grasping above the perimeter of a pitted and battle-torn wall. Just then, a group of cloaked individuals scurried past him, their footsteps squelching in the deep mud below.

An estate, battered by wind and water, could just be made out at the end of the road – it’s windows pinpricks of lantern light. He glided along with the group up to the front of the fence that formed a perimeter around the manor. The cloaked individuals hesitated, unsure, but before they could move, the door was forced open against the power of the wind. A woman walked out holding a lantern aloft. A pang of recognition crossed the specter as he saw her approach… her eyes… I’ve forgotten what they looked like… before they were blue… before they were gold…

After some discussion, she beckoned the strangers to follow her into the main hall. The interior of the structure was dry but the storm still shook the walls. Mismatching, water-stained, and clearly salvaged pieces of furniture formed a ‘living room’. The strangers gingerly handed Nexus the arsenal of weapons they carried and sat down in this waiting area.

For several minutes, only the crooning of the storm on the roof filled the room.

Then another door creaked open and there Ash stood. Evaluating. Calculating. His face betraying not a single emotion, yet the aura of carefully caged anger was always palpable. The strangers tensed but remain seated. Behind him, another one of his helpers carried a large trunk that he placed with a gentle yet firm thud upon the table in the midst of all the strangers.

Ash waved his hand over the chest and it opened with an ominous snap. The strangers peered within, a mixture of anticipation, fear, and eagerness in their eyes.

The contents themselves were silent, yet he could hear them thrum with their own giddy anticipation. Their pale white and delicate forms twisted macabrely to vaguely resemble the familiar – a ring, a sword, a cloak, and many more.

Ash’s voice slithered through the mist, poised to strike: “Each of these will give you abilities beyond your imagination… abilities that could turn the tide of this war against the Overfiend. All you must do is take them.”

The strangers cautiously reached their hands forward…

Beside Ash, Nexus stood gazing blankly, emotionlessly, forward as the rain continued to pitter on the roof above.

How much time had past? Days? Months? Years?… She had no reference point.

She was trapped.. stuck in the ebb between what was and what could be. Memories crept through mist.

She had been here before… the mist was now black and billowing. Her nose was full of the acrid smell of smoke, as well as another odor; one that was sharp and acidic. Nexus pushed herself up – she had been knocked down by the force of the explosion. She looked around. The plains surrounding the Tower were in flames. Draajen-fire engulfed the inn and stables that had once stood in front of the Tower. Through the plumes of smoke she could just make out the huge, batlike shapes flying overhead. She could see the Ashlings as they fought in vain against the Draajen’s breath. The battle was lost. Retreat was the only option. She had to save them.

Oblivious to her injuries, she ran toward them. Emerald was filled with a voice that shook with an overpowering roar of hatred and grief: “YOUR CHILDREN MEAN NOTHING TO ME ASH… NOTHING. I WILL TAKE THEM FROM YOU AS YOU TOOK HIM FROM ME.

She focused on Ashlaya and Colme in front of her and pulled them into Amethyst with her – but the Draajen Matriarch was waiting on the other side. The Draajen’s maw opened and a mournful tone rippled forth. Nexus tried to pull the two of them away but they were gone – the Draajen’s deadly song had evaporated them into nothingness.

Now she ran. She could sense the Draajen right behind her, destructive chords of Amethyst in tow. She saw her lock within the Tower. There it was. Only moments away from safety.

Then the Draajen Matriarch caught her. In one moment she felt her existence buckle and twist – and she was lost, a specter hanging in the limbo of Amethyst.

And now she was here again. But this time, she was not alone.

How much time had past? Days? Months? Years?… They had no reference point.

He sensed something – someone was there who could finally hear them. He spoke. He shouted. But even in these newcomers’ dreams he was only garbled whispers in an unknown language. He continued like this until his voice was hoarse and his lungs burned.

Then newcomers appeared in Amethyst: the Teleporter, the Scout, the Researcher, the Guard, the Con Man, the Ranger, the Taushung, and the Red Hand.

They offer to help, but they lack knowledge. The Red Hand attempts to interfere and is silenced.

The newcomers deal with the Red Hand, and then return with Iraya’s box – salvaged from the ruins of the Tower. Yes, this may have a small chance of working. She may know how to free them from this never-ending imprisonment.

Iraya speaks through these newcomers, and she says that freedom comes at a cost. There is only enough of them left for one to return to reality.

The newcomers ponder their decision. They reach a conclusion. They begin the process.

Time passes.

I open my eyes and gaze at my hands. No longer a specter. No longer dwelling on the edge of a question. I am real. But who am I? The man who would spend his life, his ethics, his own sanity  for the vengeance of his lost love? Or the woman who would dare to love him? Dare to believe he could do good in the world?

After a few moments, the newcomers whisper in shock “What should we call you?”

“Cinder.”

 

– J. Albers

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