Red is the Color of You
To save on time, Wraith, after using magic to remove the blood from his clothes, lifted Izumi and swiftly traversed through the air. During this trip Izumi tried to discuss what the mayor conveyed in order to formulate a new theory, but Wraith had halted him, only stating: We’ll find out soon enough. Whatever it is, it’s clear he’s after me in specific.
For only a brief instant, the cave was dim and cold, but it was quickly lit by a row of small flames on each side, which led the whole way down. Now, with the cave enveloped by light, the details were able to be seen. It was man made, this was evident. The small flames from before were now noticeably torches which were hung on carved walls. Even the floor and ceiling were paved, creating an eerie atmosphere which filled the empty cave.
Their footsteps echoed as they walked down the long corridor until finally, they reached an open low lit room where there, it awaited. The spirit behind the destruction of Hodaira. Its beady pellet-like silver eyes glowed and pierced the darkness, sending the cave into a quiver as it stood. As though reacting to their arrival, the torches in the room grew brighter and the true form of the spirit became clear.
Its head was that of a skeletal deer with jagged teeth, including the large set boned antlers on its head. What was strange, however, was the fact that the spirit also had a pair of furred ears which looked to be that of a wolf. Its body was similar to an underweight dog with dark blue-black fur and an externally armored spine. Some of its ribs were coated with the same kind of outward armor, but not many. Unlike normal armor, this armor was sewn into its body rather than being detachable plates. The tail, or tails per se, were mechanical and lengthy, the end of each resembling an arrowhead in appearance.
When the spirit had finally risen, the full sight of its four legs were revealed: they were similar to a deer's, only hairless and white, the sturdy smooth texture resembling bone. It stood at a little over a story in height, which was about two meters taller than that of Wraith’s pets.
Despite its unsettling image, Izumi was unphased. He had seen much worse before, such as not too long ago when Wraith had taken care of the swarm of spirits. Wraith, on the other hand, had been scowling since they left Hodaira and continued to scowl even now. Unexpectedly, the first thing the spirit had done upon standing was immediately dropping its head in a bow before rising again. And then, it spoke.
“Specter of Despair.” The voice was deep and fiendish, one that would most definitely never come from a human, or even a shade for that matter, even distinguishing it from other spirits like Neio and Dahlia. “My name is Faelan. It’s an honor to finally meet you.”
A pause indicated the need for introductions on their behalf as well, but Wraith only continued to glare, so Izumi took over.
“I’m Izumi, and-”
“Lord Wraith.” Faelan interrupted. “I’m aware of who he is.”
Teeth bared, Wraith’s patience grew thin. “Tell me what you want. If you staged all of this for some pathetic reason as wanting a fight with me, then not only would I not believe you, since there are much easier ways to do so, but I would call you a blind idiot as well. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, since I doubt that it’s that simple.”
The ghastly deer gave another slight albeit respectful bow and began their story.
“In terms of this village, by a strange stroke of fate, I had entered the city’s church in order to gain shelter from the rain while I slept. The people of Hodaira did not strike me as men and women of faith, so I believed that I could rest without disturbance. However, a woman had flung herself through the large doors amidst the storm and prayed. She pleaded her life, claiming that her livelihood was at risk as she could not save a soul, with each person she touched ultimately losing their life. Then, I had come up with an idea. I wished to make myself known in our world in order to gain your notice.” Faelan’s statement was evidently directed at Wraith. “And I believed that growing in strength was the most likely outcome of you hearing my words. I etched our deal into the stone which laid before her, and she, believing it was an act of a fateful deity, agreed. Yet once she outgrew her usefulness, I moved onto manipulating the shades and spirits. As you may have speculated, the fog was merely a theatrical ploy to lure in those who didn’t know any better.”
Only the story of Hodaira had been elaborated upon, but still, one major question remained. Taking the initiative, Izumi asked what was on both of their minds.
“But why Wraith? What could you want from him?”
“I wished to beseech him.”
Unsure of his meaning, Izumi turned to Wraith to explain.
“He wants a favor.”
“But don’t you do that normally?”
“Not for spirits. Specters only make deals with humans, since they’d only benefit from a deal with a human. Spirits don’t have the same pay off. In that sense, it makes more sense for him to go through those lengths to get my attention, especially with me being the least of all specters who would even care in the slightest to grant a spirit that hasn’t garnered my respect a favor. And in terms of whatever you want, I’m sure I’m the only one who can grant it then, am I right?”
“Correct.” Faelan’s inhumane voice echoed through the cave. “I was a lost spirit, unsure of my purpose and disgusted with my being. I deplored the survivalistic nature of our world. For one to finally gain peace, they had to claw their way to the top, and in some cases, not even that was enough, such as in your case, Lord of Despair. You have been and are challenged by many, thus it was not a life I wished to live. As such, defeated, I waited to pass in an alley, and there, I had seen my answer. Humans. They were enjoying themselves without the fear of their life being snatched away at any moment. That they could live their entire life without ever killing or battling. I longed for this peace that humans had so freely. At the time, I had been serving under Ianthe, the specter of guilt.”
The familiarity of the name caught the ears of both Izumi and Wraith. She was the same specter who had manipulated Fuhiro, challenged Wraith, and later died by his hands. And from this, Wraith only seemed to grow more and more disquieted.
“I had asked her of this, whether it would be possible for a spirit to change forms, just as specters can. Even if I was merely human in appearance, I would be able to detach myself from this cruel world. It was then that she informed me that it was possible, but only one man was known to have the ability to shift another. You. The Specter of Despair.”
An uneasiness filled Izumi’s heart as the air grew dark and heavy, making it difficult to breathe. Something was off, particularly about Wraith. The last lines of Faelan’s speech had disturbed Izumi because of this. It almost seemed as though the room twisted and turned in distortion just by the tension alone. A pause. Silence. Raspy and hoarse breathing produced by the undead hybrid which stood before them. Until after what felt like centuries, Wraith spoke, but the sound of which was unfamiliar to Izumi, seeming like a different person entirely. It was more otherworldly than that of Faelan’s, and he could hardly believe that Wraith was the individual who produced it.
“And What Gave Her The Impression That I Could?” The callous cloak began to seep into Wraith’s arms, forming a color which was unperceivable, akin to that of the darkness of a void. Creaking and forking, the almost parasitic cavity began to spread into his chest, then his neck, and then his face, overcoming and tainting the whites of his eyes.
There was a reasonable dread in both the hearts of Faelan and Izumi for what lie after the answer to the specter’s question, but the end result had already been set in stone.
“Ianthe had claimed that you had changed your guise, as you were once-”
Before the phrase could be finished, the static of Wraith’s arms leaked and formed a mass of tendrils, bursting outward and bringing the towering beast to the floor in the duration of a blink. Fissures in the pavement emerged with the more pressure added, jolting the cave which began to threaten to collapse.
“If You Had Any Care For Your Life, You Would Refrain From Speaking Any Further. Otherwise, I Will Tear Your Chest Open And Remove Your Insides One By One.”
Faelan struggled to even breathe or cough from the position it was in, unable to even show understanding of Wraith’s threat. Pebbles began to rain and scatter from the cracked ceiling the tighter the tendrils squeezed on the soon to be lifeless spirit and through this, Izumi knew he had to act. Not just to save Faelan from asphyxiation, but to prevent the cave from sealing them inside. Even though Izumi feared that Wraith could possibly harm him as well in a fit of fury, it was a risk he had to take.
His shaking heart forced his legs to move and reach out in desperation, holding his arm and calling out in a tearful voice, “Wraith, stop!”
The nearly unrecognizable specter shifted his blank gaze to Izumi, and then...he felt his heart shatter. Izumi was crying. Streams of sorrow glistening and flowing down his cheeks. And it was because of him. He told himself he didn’t want Izumi to be afraid of him, to hold disdain or distrust in his heart for him. And he…
Instantly the tendrils released their hold on Faelan, who hacked up a storm, its lungs burning in pain from the sudden influx of air. The colorless void detached itself from Wraith’s body, reforming into the sleeves of his mantle, restoring him to his natural image. Forgetting that Faelan was even in the room with them, Wraith devoted all his attention to Izumi, frantically wiping his tears with his sleeve and apologetically kissing the corner of his eye.
Wraith, his voice now its usual tone, shakenly cupped Izumi’s cheeks in his hands. “I’m sorry I-...” His words came to a halt. He didn’t have a justifiable reason for his actions. He was livid, and he acted on his ferocity in the worst form possible in front of the worst person possible. Izumi, on the other hand, was having none of his antics. Now unbelievably upset, he pushed Wraith away, swatting his hands from his cheeks and nearly slapping him in the process.
“Don’t-! Apologize to me! You nearly killed him! You’re older than I am so act like it! Use your words instead of always relying on your brute strength to solve things!”
It wasn’t the first time that Izumi scolded Wraith, but it stung much more now. Taking a deep inhale with a slow exhale, Wraith repeated Izumi’s wrathful sentiment in mind.
Words. Words. Words.
“Faelan.” The spirit jolted at the call of its name, hoping that it wasn’t the last thing it would hear. “The only living souls that know that this isn’t my original appearance are myself, my generals, and Lavina, The Librarian and specter of knowledge.” Although Izumi was muddled at the sentence, he knew this wasn’t the time to ask for elaboration. “So, if you could...tell me anything else about how Ianthe knew that, and if anyone else knows, I would...appreciate it.” It was out of Wraith’s element to try and discuss things when he was irritated, but for Izumi, he’d do anything.
Faelan was still fearful of speaking, but he was steadily calming down as Wraith seemed to be doing the same. “I...don’t know how she came to learn of such, but I don’t believe she shared the information without care.”
With a feeling that each solved problem only generates a thousand more, Wraith sighed and stressfully ran his fingers through his dark hair. “Ugh...forget about it then…” He crossed his arms. “Regarding your request, I decline. Hating the lifestyle of spirits and specters is justifiable, but no matter what outward form you hold, you’ll never be able to escape it. The only way you could is if you were either dead or a specter that lived by their own rules...like myself. What I’m trying to say is, I’ll take you under my wing. Whether you feed or fight I don’t care, but no one will bother you. If you want to live a peaceful life holed up in your bedroom, I won’t stop you, which means no one else will.”
Faelan could hardly believe what was being proposed to him. Specter’s factions usually operate under whatever set of rules the specter imposes, but no rules? How could order ever be maintained?
As if reading his mind, Wraith responded to this very question. “Everyone knows better than to do something that’ll either piss me off or put me in a position that’ll piss me off, which is the only established standard. If you think I’m lying, then you can leave. The one thing I won’t let you do though is die. You...partially remind me of myself, a long time ago but still. If I was able to find purpose through all my self-hatred, you can too. Could take you years, or centuries like it did for me, could take you months, or even days. Who knows, but I’m giving you a chance to take the time you need.”
“My word is bond.”
At a loss for words, the silver beady eyes quivered, a single drop flowing down. “Please...I would be...eternally grateful…”
“You have to apologize to the people of Hodaira first though!” Izumi interjected. “Although an apology won’t fix the damage you did, it’s still better than doing nothing.”
Faelan desperately shook its head up and down, not wanting this unforeseen opportunity to slip past, even though Wraith groaned at having to revisit the town, and just as expected, they hissed and roared at the spirit in hatred, and at Izumi and Wraith even more so for not killing it. Remembering Izumi’s words, Wraith contained himself and they left Hodaira for good. However, with Faelan gone, which it also confirmed since it was the one luring them, there would no longer be swarms of spirits invading Hodaira or the neighboring city, so they would be safe regardless of their everlasting resentment.
When all was said and done, it was time for them to make their return, but not to the inn from before. This time, Izumi’s long held curiosity of Wraith’s home was soon to be fulfilled.
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