March 13th, Year P-132.
The surface of the Grand Diamond Lake.
“That’s good, isn’t it?”
Michael Lockheart’s body crashed to the ice at our feet. His blood was splattered outward from where he fell, onto my robes and still dripping off of the stone-coated forearm that I’d used to impale him. He was uncharacteristically silent now, unmoving, his arms stretched outward, smears of his own blood on the ice following them.
His pendant- a small, stylized heart of pearl on a chain- protruded slightly outward from his body. The Lockheart Family crest was covered in the blood of the family’s youngest member, and looking at the little white heart felt almost like an accusatory glare. Through my Darkness senses, I felt his heart stop. I could do nothing but stare at him, observing my first kill in all of its horrific glory.
“He can still be saved, you know.”
I looked upward.
The man in white robes- the one from the cave- stood across from me, walking casually across the ice and gently clapping his hands. His head and face, sans his mouth, were still covered in scarlet bandages. His skin was as pale as either of our twin moons, the teeth in his sneer a blinding white.
“How?” I demanded.
“Brain death hasn’t happened yet.” The man in white responded, “It won’t for another…five minutes, give or take. If you can get your blood flowing through his veins before that happens, it will regenerate his wounds and he’ll survive good-as-new.”
I allowed the stone coating on my right arm to crumble away as I moved to pick up Michael from the ice. A long, white blade shot out of the stranger’s sleeve and past my cheek in response. He gripped the blade without a handle, and it extended about four meters from his sleeve, covering the meter between us and extending well past me.
I glared up at him.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“Sure about what?”
“Sure you should save him, your Highness!” He chuckled, “This is your first kill! It’s a special occasion!”
“I’m not like you.” I responded calmly, “I took no joy in this. If I can save him, I will.”
The stranger showed his teeth in a malevolent grin. “You’re more like me than you know, Nalia Cynd. So much more.”
He raised his blade straight upward.
“I can finish the job for you, your Highness. Just give the order.” he taunted.
I ignored him and crouched down. I reached beneath Michael’s body and lifted the man over my left shoulder, holding him there with my left arm as I grabbed Murzim off the ground with my right hand. Returning to my full height, I looked upward and the stranger was gone, with no sign of him having ever been there.
Am I losing my mind?
Michael’s body continued pouring blood onto me, and I looked down at the ice where he’d fallen.
The Darkness surrounded me as I began to merge with it. I levitated from the surface of the ice as I willed it to melt with a gesture of my right hand, still holding Murzim.
Moving through the Darkness as fast as I could, I took off in the direction of Colony 1, hoping I could cover the distance between us and a hospital before Michael was dead for good.
Season One: Recursion
Episode Fourteen: 4 AM
March 14th, Year P-132.
Alaunus Hospital, Colony 1.
I came to the next morning in a dimmed hospital room. On my right side was a table holding a tray of food and water, and on my left was a large, beeping machine. Coming from the machine was a plastic tube, circulating my blood from a needle in my left arm. Past the machine was another hospital bed, occupied by Michael Lockheart, who had been stripped down to hospital robes. My blood entered his body through a needle in his right arm, and a heartbeat monitor confirmed that Michael Lockheart was alive again.
I grabbed my water bottle and started to drink, closing my eyes and sighing through my nose as I hydrated myself.
A distant clock on the wall opposite me indicated that it was 4:01 AM. I watched the clock tick absentmindedly, wondering if I should go back to sleep or turn on the TV and make the most of my hospitalization while it lasted. Giving my blood to Michael was a draining process- quite literally- but until he was stable and his wounds were healed, I wasn’t going to leave him.
After all that’s happened, I owed him that much.
I watched as the minute hand on the clock hit 12 again.
“Didn’t take you for such a softie.”
I jolted in my bed.
Leaning against the door on the right wall was the stranger. Again.
He was wearing the same outfit as always, arms crossed over his chest as he relaxed against the only exit to the room and turned to face me, grinning widely in the dark.
“What do you want?” I demanded.
He frowned. “I was checking in on you. Are you sure about giving up your blood like this? That’s very dangerous, you know. What if he ends up like the Ancestors?”
The Ancestors- aka the original Royal Guard- had all been given blood by Maximilian Cynd II, my grandfather. It took time, but once his blood flowed through all of their veins, they gained the same regeneration and slowed aging abilities characteristic to the Cynds. Max had made his innermost circle immortal, essentially, which is how they’re still alive in the seal with him today.
I shook my head. “That won’t happen. As long as we stop the transfusion once he’s healed. This machine,” I tapped my left hand against the machine circulating my blood, “Is also diluting my blood with plasma before it enters his body. I want to keep him healthy, not make him immortal.”
The stranger sighed in exasperation. “It’s much less fun to do this when you think so much, Nalia.”
I blinked and he was gone again.
“But maybe!” I snapped my view to my left, just in time to see the stranger sitting on the edge of Michael’s bed, facing me, “You’ll take my offer!”
“Why do you want him dead so much?” I asked.
The stranger bit his lower lip in contemplation, turning to face Michael’s sleeping form. He placed his right hand against Michael’s throat and gave a slight squeeze. “It’s not me who wants it, Nalia. It’s you.”
“I don’t want this!” I hissed.
I tried to get out of bed, to move to cover the distance and get his hand off Michael’s neck, but I couldn’t. It wasn’t just fatigue, it was like I was paralyzed.
Unable to move, all I could do was watch as the stranger straddled Michael’s chest and placed both of his hands on Michael’s neck.
Michael’s heartbeat monitor screeched as Michael starting losing oxygen. I couldn’t just see, through my Darkness senses I could feel him dying again-
“Stop!” I gasped, “Stop it!”
I was having trouble speaking now. My head was pulsing, my heart pumping through my chest, but I couldn’t move, could barely breathe-
The man in white sneered as my vision faded.
Everything- my vision, my control of my body- came back with a jolt.
And I was on top of Michael Lockheart. Strangling him.
I let go of his neck and fell forward, leaning against the wall.
I focused on my Darkness senses in the room around me. I blocked everything else out.
I watched as an outsider as Nalia Cynd’s shoulders shook and he sobbed, whispering hysterical apologies under his breath.
I reached out with my Darkness senses, toward the clock on the wall, still ticking.
And it said…
I opened my eyes to check.
And I was back in my bed as if I hadn’t moved at all. Michael rested, undisturbed, in his bed across from me.
It was 4:01 AM.
I had just woken up.
Later that afternoon, I watched as Michael was checked by a doctor in our room. The lights were on now, sunlight shining through the window on the left wall, the door wide-open on the right. Our doctor was a Water user talented with blood manipulation, shut his eyes as he ran his hands across Michael’s chest and stomach.
“The wounds are healed and blood is flowing normally.” he said, opening his eyes after a few moments, “He’s as good as new.”
“What about his bones? His spine?” I asked.
“We’ll have to run through an X-ray to confirm, but I don’t feel any abnormalities on a surface level.” the doctor replied, “I think it’s safe to take him off of your blood now. His condition is stable. We should at least take him off for a little while to ensure that his body’s functions are capable of running on their own again.”
I nodded. “When will he wake up?”
The doctor’s brow furrowed. “I’m unsure.” he confessed, “I think he’s fully-healed, but it could be a while longer. Days, weeks…maybe even a month. We’d need to do some more thorough diagnostics to be sure.”
“Okay,” I said, “Do whatever you need to. Can you take him out for these tests now?”
The doctor nodded. “Of course, your Highness. I’ll go get a gurney to take him out on.”
Our doctor left Michael’s side and crossed the room quickly, closing the door behind him as he left.
And the stranger was there again.
I hissed and sat up in my bed, pointing my right finger at him and conjuring a surge of Lightning through it. Crackles of electricity danced across my hand and he chuckled.
“You aren’t happy to see me.”
“I don’t know what you are,” I hissed, “But if you come any closer, I’ll-”
“Kill me?” The man taunted, “I think you’ve demonstrated repeatedly that you aren’t capable of it. Look at you. Giving up your blood to save an enemy.”
I ignored that. “Who are you?” I demanded.
“No one of importance.” The stranger replied, “But if you need to call me something, call me…Ruin.”
“What kind of name is that?”
Ruin shrugged, that slasher smile of his not leaving his face, “My real name would be a little difficult for you to grasp. The closest I can come up with is ‘The End’, but that’s a mouthful. Ruin is much shorter and gets across the same meaning.”
“What do you want?”
“I want what you want, Nalia Cynd.” Ruin replied, leaning against the back wall and glancing up at the clock (can he see through those bandages?), “I thought I made that clear.”
I stopped the flow of Lightning through my body. “You aren’t real.” I sighed.
“Neither are you.” Ruin retorted, “All of this…all of this mercy. Your father, your grandfather…this world is built on cruelty. I thought Stane taught you that.”
Ruin waved an arm to indicate the room around us, “Even this place, a place of healing, has a bloody history. Its name is taken from a creature your grandfather killed on this very land. Don’t you know that?”
“Of course I know that.”
“Then why are you trying to rewrite your history, Nalia?” Ruin sighed, placing his right hand against his face as he shook his head, “It doesn’t make any sense. This benevolence is insincere. Look at Michael. After all he did, how can you want anything but his blood on your hands?”
“I already had that.” I shut my eyes and sighed, “I didn’t want it. And you aren’t real. I can’t feel you with my Darkness senses, you’re just some kind of bad drea-”
The door opened, obscuring Ruin from my sight as the doctor re-entered the room, pulling a gurney behind him. He looked over at me, an inquisitive look on his face. “Were you talking to someone?” he asked.
Ruin was sitting on the gurney, now, facing me. He gave a short, cheery little wave and I stared at him as I responded.
“No,” I replied, “Just me.”
March 20th, P-132.
Colony 1’s Maximum Security Prison, Bedauern.
“Of course not,” Michael Lockheart said, nodding slowly, “I’d never dream of breaking out of here.”
I considered him.
His white-amber mismatched eyes stared into mine with what almost seemed like sincerity. His arms were crossed on the table in front of him, and as I stared back at Michael in that dull gray prison jumpsuit, I knew he wasn’t being honest with me. The idiot was absolutely going to try something stupid.
I’ll make sure they keep a closer eye on you.
“Do you know why I’m doing all of this?” I asked.
Michael raised an eyebrow. “You’re the prince. You’re acting in your capacity to protect your people. I appreciate that, even if it did translate to you killing me.”
I winced. He paused, then amended, “Well, I guess I got better.”
“But do you understand what I’m protecting our people from?” I emphasized.
“The Ancestors in the seal. Vincent and Sokudo and the rest. And Max, right?”
“Yes.” I continued, “But I don’t think you understand the level of what we’re dealing with.”
“They’re the strongest dudes in the world. What more is there to understand?”
“Do you know who the strongest of the Great Beasts is?”
Michael shook his head. “No. I assumed they were all about equal.”
“Your father and my mother are. Light and Darkness are twins, born at the same time.” I leaned forward and gestured in his direction, “But they aren’t the strongest. The strongest are the firstborns- Meiro and Skell. Gravity and Earth. Meiro was born of the gravity that holds our universe together, and Skell was born of the raw material left over from whatever there was before time as we know it.”
Michael nodded slowly.
“Meiro is the strongest, because as the Gravity that holds our universe together, she is also able to access the rest of the Nine Elements. Her ability to channel and manipulate those Elements border are very comparable to their respective Great Beasts. As chimeras, we possess comparable powers to our parents, and in theory should be able to reach them.” I paused, then asked, “Do you see where this is going?”
“I might.” Michael replied, “But tell me anyways. I want to be sure.”
“My grandfather, Maximilian Cynd II…is the son of Meiro. Melinda Cynd and Meiro are one and the same. But the world doesn’t know this.”
Michael’s eyes widened. “So that means he can-”
“And not just that,” I interrupted, “But he’s also the son of Maximilian Cynd. The first human. The first Sage, whose mastery of the Nine Elements may not have been quite on Meiro’s level but was something very comparable. The Cynd blood coursing in my grandfather, combined with his inherited strength as a chimera of Meiro, the strongest Great Beast, make him the most powerful being in existence. Bar none.”
Michael looked down, comprehension of what could have been unleashed finally dawning on him.
“And it gets worse.” I continued, “Prior to their sealing, Max shared his Cynd blood with all nine of the Ancestors to grant them immortality. This is why they’re still alive after so many years, and will still be a very real threat if unsealed. Cynd blood…heals wounds and regenerates itself, among other traits. Each of the Ancestors can regenerate rapidly. Aside from Vincent, chances are they can do so faster than me.”
“Why can’t Vincent?”
“Darkness inhibits regeneration.” I explained, “So I actually regenerate slower than the rest of my family, but can accelerate it by unleashing my full power and letting the Darkness out of me. That’s what the wings and aura in my released form are for.”
“And they’ve had countless years down there to hone their techniques,” he realized, “To grow stronger than they were before they were sealed. They’ve had over a century to train and fight upon their escape.”
“And to make plans for what they will do if that happens.” I added. “If they do get out, it’s no question. The world as we know it will be destroyed, and I don’t want to know what they’ll do next.”
Michael sighed. His usual enthusiasm, even the subdued version he’d been presenting here in prison, was completely gone now. It became clear to me that he had never really thought about what could happen if the seal broke, and now that he knew, the realization seemed to suck the life out of him.
Sorry. I thought it would be better if you knew.
“Do you understand now?” I asked, “Why I need you to stay here?”
Michael sighed. “I understand why you want me to stay here, but you should let me hel-”
“No.” I replied, firmly. “You had your chance to help me find your siblings. If you had worked with me from the start, or simply minded your own business and let the grown-ups handle it, I would have captured Michelle Lockheart that day and found a way to help her free herself of Vincent’s possession. Perhaps then Richter would have come back as well.”
Michael growled at me. In unison, we stood from our seats and glared at each other through the glass, our grips tightening on our respective phones.
That rage I’d seen in Michael Lockheart in our second battle was back.
For a moment.
He sighed and relaxed himself. A little bit. He was still angry, it seemed, but he seemed to know now that wasn’t the best state for him to be in.
“I messed up,” Michael said, “I own that. But they’re my siblings, my family, they’re all I have.”
I stared back at him. “I don’t think you’re a bad person, Michael. But I do think you’re dangerous. I’ve made up my mind, and you won’t change that.”
“Fine, your Highness.” He said through gritted teeth, “I understand.”
“I’ll still get you your pendant. Maybe a few more things for your cell.” I said, hoping the sympathy might calm him down a little, “But this is as much leniency as you’re getting. Until the Lockheart Family is reunited, this is where you will stay. I can’t risk you throwing another wrench into all this.”
Michael Lockheart didn’t reply. He hung up his phone, but continued staring at me through the glass. We watched each other carefully.
I hung up the phone my end as well, then nodded in his direction and turned my back to him.
Standing against the exit to the visitor’s side of the visitation room was Ruin, again. He smiled widely at me, then leaned to the right to look behind me. “He’s leaving,” Ruin remarked, “And as angry as ever. You should’ve killed him when you had the chance.”
“Get out of the way.” I hissed.
Ruin smirked. “Sorry, your highness,” he said, raising his left hand and observing his fingernails, “I’m just a concerned citizen. I just want what’s best for you.”
And he was gone again.
With an exasperated sigh, I opened the door and exited the room.