It was dark where I’d first woken up into this world. I was lost to the kind of unnerving, hopeless darkness that feels like it’s clawing at your flesh, looking for any way to enter into your body and stamp out the light of your soul. A thick obsidian where even the most frail essence of light is made to seem brighter than the sun.
My eyes opened while I’d laid against the cold, hard ground that chilled me to my core. Yet no matter that I was deeply confusion, I’d somehow felt no fatigue nor fright. It was as if I was in my home that had been waiting for me. One that I hadn’t known. One that I’d be coming to know intimately.
My hands began to fumble against the wall as I’d lifted myself up to my feet. I’d traced myself along every surface, every corner and nook as I’d sought my way around. Yet when I’d come in contact with a strange metal object made of bars and slats, I’d began to piece together the kind of place I’d stumbled through.
Large, unbreakable stone walls. Cold metal pieces netting together and standing tall side by side. There was no mistaking what it was.
A prison cell.
I’d began to pull against the bars, hoping naively that they would give way or shift open just enough to let me free. But they were so sturdy that they stood strong without even the faintest clicking as I’d put all of my weight against it.
I’d been given no other choice but to investigate the room without cease for some time until I’d been so steeped in the darkness that my eyes had eventually adjusted to the inky black. I’d began to duel with the uneasy thought that my body had began to accept the darkness that knocked on the door to my heart.
My chest began to burn as my fear began to intensify. The more that terror seeped into my body, the more it began to ache until the pain had taken control of me. Grasping at my chest, squeezing hard with my bare hands, I’d nearly wished I could reach into my chest to crush my heart just to feel an end to the pain.
I began to wail and cry as the pain never considered mercy. Like a million needles plunged into my heart and rattled about with brute force. I writhed and clamored, attempted to raise to my feet but fell to meet the hard floor to feel even more agony snap my body to pieces.
I could do nothing but cry. Scream to release the pain pressuring my soul from the inside. To scream for rescue.
Time slowed to a death crawl so slow, so agonizing that I’d wondered if time itself struggled at the doorsteps to Death’s own home. The sharp, lethal feelings filling me made the dozen minutes I was in the darkness feel more like an endless time. Or what I could believe was a dozen minutes with my bastardized perceptions of reality.
When I’d begun to fear that a lonely eternity was all that awaited me, when I’d began toying with dark ideas for means to escape the pain, the metal of the cell door scraped open with a shriek.
Even if the room was as darker than a moonless night, as I looked to the opening, I’d begun to see the walls glow with an ethereal shine. A shine that wasn’t like light. It held no hope in its gleam. It’s impossible to explain, but the glow upon the walls didn’t feel like light at all. More like what a blind man may imagine light to be.
With step after uncertain step, I walked forward and the pain I’d felt began to ease itself as even the most pathetic fragment of hope was there for me in the form of an escape from the darkness. Though when I’d left the cell, I’d been met with fearful forms surrounding me.
Creatures. There was no way they could be human. The way their bodies were formed, the colors of their skin, the fact that some betrayed the shape of a man entirely. All I could think was that I’d fallen into a den of monsters.
It took me a moment to understand what they were. The very same creatures I’d heard warnings and tales of since I was but a toddler. The demons I’d never met in my entire life despite how infamous and well talked about they were. Not until now.
Without a word spoken, one creature had taken me by the arm and forcefully pushed me forward into the halls. While it guided me, the others remained left behind and only watched me as I’d left on my way. The way their faces, or whatever they had that could be called to faces, focused on me made me feel an immense unease. But they didn’t look at me as if I was a prey.
They looked at me as if I was a creature.
✩ ✩ ✩
I’d been relinquished at last by my captor as I’d been brought into a large, open room that expanded without border inside of the darkness. A room that was like an ocean of limitless black wafting with the scent of blood. My terror began to rejuvenate itself as I shook in my shoes and stood waiting. The creature didn’t beckon me forward. It stood beside me and waited while looking into the darkness with an unflinching gaze.
My spine tingled and every sense I’d possessed began to be overwhelmed when that darkness was overcome with an even greater feeling of evil. Coming towards me like a mist of unspeakable hopelessness, slowly consuming all in a feeling as if all hope and joy had been abandoned forevermore.
The mist grabbed me mist and dragged me into it. Deeper and deeper. Forward into the endless night where not even a star could twinkle in the void that the room had become. The void that I was slowly joining.
“It pleases me that you come closer. Draw near to me.”
A voice spoke to me yet I hadn’t heard it with my own ears. I couldn’t hear anything as if I’d become deaf. It spoke to me through the wound that pulsed and scraped my soul with the vilest brutality. I could feel it vibrate and quake from the wound and through my body.
I’d began to see a form in the mist as I’d slowly made my way into the heart of the endless sea. Whether it had been hours, seconds or minutes, it made no difference. I could no longer understand the concept. Time too had been abandoned in the heart of the mist and it became less relevant with each step.
I simply was. I simply existed.
“I’ve finally found you.”
The form grew more pronounced and I could see its figure which clad itself in a garb of void and waved with illusion. Like flames flickering but giving no light or an ocean’s waves soaking everything into a mirage-like distortion.
Bringing everything into the dark.
“You are my child. I am your parent. You will be mine and mine alone.”
“Parent?” Its words began to play in my mind.
“I’ve waited so long to finally take you to myself.”
“I’m a child. I’m only 10 years old.” Its words began to play with me.
“My precious child. My son. Come to your parent.”
“Are you… my family?” Its words began to stain my thoughts.
“I’ve desired to have you in my arms. Come to me and be with me.”
My feet stopped as I’d heard their calling. Their commands. The illusion began to fall apart and the waves which swept me away evaporated.
I’d remembered my parents holding me close in those times before that day came. I’d remembered my father speaking of his pride in me. I’d began to remember a knight who smiled at me with radiance like the sun.
I’d remembered my life. I’d remembered my death.
“You’re… lying… There’s no way you could be my family. There’s no way I can be your child.”
I felt my anger rising. The wound I’d felt in my chest burned with my wrath and all the pain I’d felt magnified but didn’t consume me. It became a part of me as fire flared forth from its depths and ignited around me. I had no sword to draw, but I had a spirit that was sharper even more desiring to war.
And war it did. I declared war on that illusion.
“You can’t be my family! You’d killed my family! You’d caused their deaths right in front of me!”
The red and blue eyes watching me from the darkness simply stared. They didn’t bat themselves nor flicker with emotion as I screamed in defiance. They’d just watched me, viewed me. I could tell that the illusion had outstretched its arms and was waiting for me. Beckoning me and attempting to draw me into itself like a honeyed trap.
As it beseeched me to become one with its darkness, I’d pivoted on my heel and began to run out from the illusory sea of hopelessness.
✩ ✩ ✩
I’d ran through the twisting and puzzling halls glowing with darkness. I could hear the footfalls of my pursuers echoing through the air. I’d come to a dead end and pitched myself out only to find another imposing wall looking down on me. And then one more stood tall to mock me as I’d moved.
The steps of my assailants grew closer and closer until there was no means of escape left. The exit was blocked by their bodies and they surrounded me with talons and weapons alight, ready to stop me if I’d opposed them. So I shrunk into myself and began to weep while the pain assisted them in forcing my capture. My own body had betrayed me.
I knew they wouldn’t kill me. They needed me alive. But I couldn’t fight; I was too afraid. Too petrified and pained to move. So I hung my head and accepted what was to come. To be thrown back into the cell until I’d broken down enough to accept the darkness as my family.
A creature reached out its hand to grab me and I’d kept my head low while I’d waved the white flag offered myself to it. I was ready to become a prisoner.
Yet I’d heard the sounds of rushing footsteps bouncing off the walls. In a hurry, headed towards my direction unfaltering. As precise as a sniper’s arrow. The creature’s hand flinched before it could touch me.
I’d felt blood spatter against me. I was frightened and shocked so I’d slammed my eyes shut. Yet as moments had passed without arrest, without pain, I’d looked out into the darkness again.
The creature was split in two. Its body slowly slid apart at its shoulder and it fell. A figure was revealed behind its diced remains. I was driven into incredible surprise and relief I never had faith I would know. Their shape was human and I could see them clearly as the flame they’d carried in their hand illuminated both themselves and the entire room.
Shoulder length red hair like a sunny rose with crimson eyes to pair with them perfectly. I could think nothing else to describe their face but as gorgeous and wonderfully womanly. Their red and white uniform was in pristine condition with a cape falling to their lower thigh. The sword they held with a refined and yet dangerous elegance sparkled with a glittering flicker of light.
Their eyes were focused, unwilling to budge even for a moment from their enemies which surrounded them. The many Loveless filling the room were frozen, caught off guard by her interruption that had thwarted their plans. Everyone stared each other down at a complete stalemate, looking for any opening, any false moves.
The very moment a Loveless flinched, it was already beheaded by her blade. That one move set off the chain reaction and the war grew hot. The next Loveless swept its claw at her but that hand had slapped against the wall as it was disconnected from its body. Her blade passed through its ankle and then its jaw. Its blood painted the walls and brought them to an ethereal glow.
One leapt for her in a foolhardy, brash attempt to overcome her and yet its opening made for the perfect space to fit her blade directly into its heart. Before it had even touched down, the rest of her sword passed forcibly through its abdomen and then out of its hip. In the same fluid motion her sword embedded into the skull of the next victim and its limbs went limp.
Two came at her at once but with a snap of a finger their direction had twisted with a waking of wind, forcing them to slam their heads against the walls that were once to their backs. With another snap of her hand carrying the flame, an amazing pyre consumed their bodies until they were a fine, charred finish.
There was only one enemy left standing. Its body was even more imposing than the rest. Built like a brick wall with all of the appearance to match. Stony and strong, a seemingly impossible monster to subdue. But the woman didn’t budge. She simply cracked her fingers one by one while keeping her eyes hooked to its own.
As she popped the joint of her thumb, a spark became a flame seated on her palm. Its glow began to intensify as her body was like a torch with the fire embracing all that she was. I was bewildered to see that the fire she had been consumed with at once drew into her body through her hand and its flame collected in her eyes.
That mightiest Loveless began in a sprint for her and she twisted gracefully on her heel. The flat of her palm slammed into its body. Despite the difference in size, she showed no signs of recoil as the monster was sent flying back through the hall from whence it came and the roar of wind chased it the entire way down.
Before it could raise to its feet, she thrust her palm out one final time and an immense flame with all of the might and rage of a lion charged towards it. The concussion of the explosion was fantastically loud when it rattled the entire fortress while the light of the blast remained long after the monster was nothing but ashes.
I remember the moment I’d looked up to her so clearly. It may be one of the most luid memories I hold onto in my life. I saw her beautiful face aglow by the fire of her own wrath. It had been the first time she’d ever looked to me. The smile she wore calmed my heart and all of the pain I’d endured. She offered my hand to rise and she’d held fast to me as we’d left together.
✩ ✩ ✩
“I’m grateful you’re safe. When I’d seen you running through the halls, I’d started running after you as fast as I could. But the halls were confusing, so my apologies that I may have come a bit late.”
During our travels she’d spoken with me as if I was an old friend. Her gentle and caring voice was comforting and made the entire labyrinth seem like nothing more than a walk through gentle nature. She’d continued to hold my hand as she’d guided me back towards the place she’d spoken of so fondly.
“When we get to Stelaris, everyone will want to meet you. It’s not every day they get to meet someone new. At least that’s what they’d told me when I’d arrived. Everyone will take good care of you, so don’t worry. You’ll be safe.”
Even if she’d talked so much, I was too shy to be a good conversation partner. I was always shy and even now I still struggle with that habit of mine. It’s what made it difficult for me to make friends in the world I’d come from. Yet she didn’t mind. She’d just wanted to talk with me and I could tell she understood well that it was keeping me relaxed and calm. It was making the pain I’d felt melt away.
“I have a niece back home. When I’d last seen her, it was a very difficult time and there was so much danger. I want to see her again soon so I’m going to make sure that I get everyone out of here with me when I’ve discovered an escape. That way we can all see the surface together. If there’s anyone who had lost their families, they’ll be reunited with them.”
“A niece?” I’d at last spoken back to her as my curiosity was piqued.
“That’s correct. She’s about your age. She’s such a shy and adorable girl, but she has so much life inside of her. She’d told me that she wishes to be a knight someday just like myself. When I leave this place, I’m going to train her even more than I had before. I know she’ll become one of the greatest knights to have ever lived. That’s just the kind of girl she is and I’m so proud of her. I would be no matter what.”
She took here eyes from the path we’d walked and captured mine as she’d asked me a single question.
“What about your family? Did you get separated from them as well?”
Her intentions were clear that she’d wanted to know me better and to care for me but her question struck a painful place for me. An opened wound I had yet to resolve. It tangled inside of my body and caused the pain I’d felt to raise once again.
“My family… Mom and dad… they’re dead…”
I could feel the tears coming and they couldn’t be stopped. She’d paused in her tracks and faced me. With the kindest and most gentle care, she knelt down and took me into her arms. While stroking my head, she spoke to me a promise.
“I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine what you’ve been through. But I promise we’ll make things even better and we’ll all make it. If you’d lost your family then you’ll be mine and I’ll be yours. We’ll be a family together.”
The tears began to flow unrestrained and I’d held onto her. I’d let myself weep, but dried them up and restrained them quickly. The time to cry would come later. Right now there was no time and all I’d need to be strong.
“You’re holding yourself back, aren’t you? You’re a strong boy. You might be the strongest boy in the whole world. You can let your feelings go when we reach safety, but please don’t throw them away. It’s important to feel those feelings and face them. You’ll only become stronger by doing that as well.”
So the two of us returned to walking hand in hand.
“I haven’t introduced myself yet. For being so strong, I’ll let you in on a little secret.” She turned and looked at me with another touching smile. “My name is Libera. That’s my true name from when I was in the kingdom where the sun touches the world. But until I return to my niece and my family, I won’t be going by that name. Instead, my name I’ve chosen to be called while I’m here is Tori. But when we’re alone together, you’re allowed to call me Libera. That’s special just for you.”
We’d eventually reached Stelaris and I was welcomed with open arms just as Libera had promised. But even if the many who’d come to meet me desired to give me a greater welcoming, Libera had made the choice to excuse us to her own home. There as she and I were alone together I’d given into my sensitive, broken heart and finally fell apart. As I wept with the throws of grief for the home I’d lost, she’d held me close until I’d felt every bit of that pain. I’d cried for my family for all that I could manage before I’d caught hold of myself and found my resolve. She’d wiped away my tears with all of the delicate care I’d desired in my heard.
Connecting myself to her sensitive heart, I’d sworn to her that I’d grow up to be a knight just like her. I’d promised her that we would rescue everyone and escape from this world together.