March 24th, Year B-395.
The Edge of the Valley.
At the end of the valley, there is a large, steep cliff. As Max, Sokudo and I climbed the rock upward, red sunlight cast long shadows from our bodies. After a few hours of intense climbing, we found a protruding platform of stone large enough for the three of us to rest on.
As the strongest of the three of us, Max carried a large backpack containing camping materials and the such. Once we set down on the platform, he placed it against the cliff wall and leaned back against it as a cushion. Due to my Darkness Affinity, the climb had exhausted me the most, while Sokudo seemed to be tired, but not overly exhausted.
Our Prince pulled water bottles from out of the sack and handed them to Sokudo and I. Almost in unison, we leaned back and drank from them for a solid second. “Thank you, your Highness.” we said.
Max blinked. “That’s weird,” he remarked, “Stop doing that.”
“Yes sir.” we replied, smirking lightly.
After a moment of silence, the three of us chuckled.
“Sun’s going to go down soon.” Sokudo remarked, “I’d estimate we have about an hour before it’s night time. Should we rest here until dawn?”
I shook my head. “Don’t worry. Whatever creature of Darkness there is up there, we will benefit equally from nightfall. I’ll only need you two to step in if I start to take too long.”
Sokudo nodded. “I’m getting pretty fast now, I should be able to take you out of there quickly if things go astray.”
“I doubt it’ll come to that.” I said, “I’ve dealt with Darkness spirits and users before. They…we all want the same things, generally speaking. Belonging and affirmation. Darkness is tied to emotional connections, after all.”
“This one might be different from what you’re used to. It’s bad enough that Cyria is willing to give the land to us if we get rid of it. ” Max said, “From what Cyria tells me, it’s almost like a fully-developed master of the element. The Construction Site of Colony 1 has become a living, sentient infestation of Darkness, capable of illusion and empathy bordering on mind-reading. It even has a name.”
I raised an eyebrow at that. Only particularly well-developed Darkness spirits thought to name themselves, and typically it was more speech garble than an actual name. “What is its name?” I asked.
“Epsilon.” Max responded. “From-”
“One of the precursor languages, yes.” I muttered, placing a hand under my chin, “Very interesting that it managed to learn that. Epsilon. Why that name?”
“You’ll be able to ask it yourself when we get there” Max replied, then paused, “Are you sure you want to do it tonight?”
“Humanity has waited long enough to leave the valley.” I said firmly, making eye contact with Max, “I can solve this tonight. I promise.”
Max reached into our supply bag again, pulling out a smaller bag of fruits and bread. He turned to face us, pulled an apple from the food bag and held it out to me. “Eat up, then.” he said, “Once we’ve regained our energy, we need to finish our climb.”
Season One: Recursion
Episode Seventeen: Canis Majoris
The Colony 1 Construction Site.
Prior to construction on Colony 1 ceasing, the Construction Site was composed of wood-and-brick skeletons of a large village, the main attraction of which was a large, fully-functional fountain in the town square. Using a mechanism involving different stones harnessing different Elemental energies, the fountain was constantly-flowing and refilling itself when depleted. It was among the first things built, and the first thing completed, since the workers helping build Colony 1 would need fresh water to stay hydrated.
What we saw, looking through the wooden gate that served as the “entrance” to Colony 1, looked absolutely nothing like that.
Large towers of bone stood in the place of the in-construction houses, extending endlessly into the night sky. A dense mist of Darkness congealed and swirled between these towers, forming shapes of beasts before sublimating back into a mist. I couldn’t see far enough into it to see the fountain in the town square, and if I couldn’t see that far into it, I knew my partners couldn’t.
A distant wailing echoed throughout the empty town and ceased abruptly.
We stared ahead for a few seconds.
“Well, that’s fucking ominous,” Sokudo remarked, breaking the silence. “Are you sure you can handle this?”
“It’s probably an illusion.” I observed, pointing at the bone towers, “Especially those. Probably to ward off anyone or anything that stumbles upon this place. Give me two hours. If I’m not back by then, come and get me.”
“Use this if you need our help.” Max said, handing me a flare gun. I accepted it and strapped it around my left thigh.
“It shouldn’t come to that.” I steeled myself, then continued, “See you guys soon.” I said, walking into the Darkness.
Two small children, boys, ran across the street, barely dodging honking cars. The sleeker, brown-haired one did this with grace and ease, but his pale, dark-haired friend lagged behind and needed to be pulled out of the street.
Leaning forward and placing his hands on his knees, the dark-haired boy frantically tried to catch his breath. His faster friend patted him on the back.
“Come on, Vincent.” The brown-haired boy said, “We’re going to be late.”
“Shut up, Sokudo.” Vincent hissed.
I was standing in the city of Blusk, near the outskirts, where I was raised. Cars passed by in a blur. The sun shone down on us, overwhelmingly bright, but curiously the only people I could see out in the streets today were…Sokudo and…me.
When we were kids.
I bit my lip and held my eyes shut.
How can I be back here?
Is this a memory? Or something else?
I opened my eyes.
Sokudo and Vincent sat together, legs dangling off of a bridge as they watched shimmering waters below. Near the center of Blusk, humanity had dug out an artificial lake, of sorts, to serve as a rainwater reservoir. Living at the bottom of a valley meant you had to adapt, and if we didn’t find a way to manage our water we’d end up drowning in it one day.
I watched the kids from some distance behind. They were in their preteens now. Vincent had discovered his affinity for black leather jackets, and Sokudo wore little more than a loose, white T shirt with blue lightning bolts scattered across its back and chest. Their palms were pressed flat against the concrete.
I sighed as Vincent turned to his left to look at his best friend. I remembered this day very clearly.
“Sokudo, I have something I need to tell y-”
“I know.” Sokudo replied, turning to face Vincent, “You don’t need to tell me you’ll miss me.”
This was the last day before Sokudo would leave with his parents. Not outside of the valley, but outside of Blusk, to the highest hills. So it would be easier for him to learn to call upon Lightning, like his father before him. The Lane Family were prodigal, incredible masters of the Lightning element, and very poignant reminders of everything I didn’t have back then.
I wasn’t Vincent Lockheart back then. I hadn’t learned my true name yet.
I didn’t have any real family. The only people I had in my life back then were the Lanes, and even then only Sokudo actually liked me. His parents would’ve been content leaving me as an urchin if it weren’t for him.
I could feel the pit rising in Vincent’s chest as he prepared to say what was coming next. I knew what was coming, and a part of me wanted to look away.
“That’s…not what I want to tell you.” Vincent said, placing his left hand on Sokudo’s right. Vincent exhaled roughly and muttered under his breath.
“What is it?” Sokudo asked, leaning forward.
The two were inches apart.
Vincent couldn’t say it. He shut his eyes tight and leaned forward quickly, pressing his closed lips against his best friend’s.
The boys froze like statues.
Vincent pulled away and Sokudo sighed.
“I didn’t know you-” Sokudo started.
“I’m sorry. “ Vincent interrupted. “I didn’t mean to, it was a mistake.”
“You’re my best friend, Vincent, I just don’t feel-”
“I didn’t mean it!” Vincent shouted, his voice cracking as he did so.
“The truth is,” Sokudo said, “I never really cared about you.”
“What?” Vincent whimpered.
Sokudo stared upward and ahead, placing his right hand on Vincent’s back.
“We took you in because we felt sorry for you.” Sokudo said coolly, pressing his hand forward so firmly that Vincent’s knuckles turned white grasping onto the bridge, “But I never cared.”
“Stop!” Vincent and I shouted, “This isn’t how it happened!”
Sokudo pushed, and Vincent plummeted out of sight.
I rushed to the edge of the bridge, pushing the teenager out of the way.
Vincent was gone.
“This isn’t…” I hissed, “This…this isn’t how that happened…”
“Isn’t it?” Teenage Sokudo said, looking up at me with a look of disinterest, “Isn’t this what it felt like? I said ‘I’ll always be your friend’, and you said-”
“ ‘Kill me now’. ” I sighed, then shut my eyes, “This isn’t real.”
Opening them again, adult Sokudo stood in front of me.
“What isn’t real?” he asked.
It’s an illusion, we’re still on the bridge-
“You aren’t real.” I snarled.
I reached into my left-hand jacket pocket, grabbing the handle of Prometheus and pulling the white katana out in one swift, smooth motion. Sokudo frowned and stared at my hand.
“Are you okay, Vincent?” Sokudo asked, “You’ve been in here a really long time…”
I placed my blade against Sokudo’s neck. He raised his palms and spoke in a soothing tone, “Vincent,” he reassured, “It’s me. I promise.”
A drop of Sokudo’s blood ran down Prometheus’ edge. My best friend’s eyes, widened in sadness and alarm, stared back at me.
He’s bleeding. He’s…he’s real, he’s…
“I’m sorry.” I heaved, “I thought you were another illusion-”
His left palm still raised, Sokudo grabbed Prometheus’ blade with his right hand and held it firmly.
“Wouldn’t be the first time we saw things differently.” he said cooly, his panic fading to that dull, disinterested look his younger counterpart showed earlier, “I thought you were smarter than that, Vincent.”
I glanced at the cut on his neck.
The fluid oozing out was thick and black, like oil.
Moving quickly, the fake Sokudo pushed me with his left hand, hard, sending me falling backward. The handle of Prometheus slipped out of my hand as I plummeted to the water below.
In deepest Darkness, I opened my eyes.
I was suspended in it. The blood rushing to my head told me I was upside down, but the Darkness held me in this position perfectly fine.
I started falling, deeper and deeper…
Before I came to my senses.
Moving quickly, kicked my feet and arms and pushed myself upright. I struggled and thrashed upward until I broke out, gasping in a lungful of oxygen as I escaped the Darkness-corrupted fountain in the middle of the Colony 1 Construction Site.
I pushed myself out of the fountain and fell into the grass.
The world around was still dark, overwhelmingly so. The illusory towers of bone extended endlessly past my sight, and the flare gun I’d had on my thigh was nowhere to be seen.
Still panting and on my knees, I looked ahead and saw it.
The Darkness morphed in front of me, coalescing into a rough, humanoid shape with a white mask of bone. Spikes of Darkness burst through where its eyes would be, before turning to liquid and running down its mask like tears. In its left hand, it grasped my katana.
“You’re Epsilon?” I wheezed.
The creature shook its head.
I’m you. It responded, Pathetic and lonely.
“That isn’t how it happened.” I groaned, pushing my hands against the grass to get to my feet, “You’re just screwing with me.”
A screaming mouth of Darkness opened in the mask.
This is you on that day. The day you realized how lonely you were.
Still crying and screaming, a white heart of bone formed on the creature’s chest.
This is when you learned your name.
A keyhole of Darkness formed in the heart and the creature stopped screaming and calmed.
“That was a long time ago.” I muttered.
You found a family, Lockheart. You formed one.
Your name will carry on for generations.
“Yes,” I declared, “It will. How is that loneliness?”
You tell me.
The creature fell to its knees in a bowing position.
Becoming a royal guard. A swordmaster. A father.
A crown of bone appeared on its head and it brandished my katana in my direction.
Nothing you have done has filled that hole in your chest.
The masked creature looked up at me.
You think getting rid of me will?
“I will be the hero who frees humanity from its chains,” I declared, “Who leads the way out of the valley. Your tricks won’t work on me, Epsilon.”
It won’t help you. Epsilon said, standing to its feet, I feel you, inside and out, and I know it won’t be enough. No matter how much they love you, you will always feel empty.
Your heart has been locked away. Just like mine.
You knew that from the day you learned your name.
Epsilon began walking toward me, my own sword held at its side.
“You going to give that back?” I asked, pointing at Prometheus in its hand.
Epsilon didn’t respond, but twirled the blade in its hand before speeding up its approach.
I’m not used to fighting without my weapons, but I guess…
I’m going to have to.
About two meters away from me, Epsilon quickly covered the distance between us and slashed Prometheus for my midsection. I rolled out of the way of the attack, only to realize Epsilon had successfully cut open a rift in spacetime, with the other side revealing my back.
I pounced at Epsilon before it could swing the katana through the portal it had created, landing with my knees on its skeletal chest and slamming my left fist into its bone-mask.
The mask and my knuckles shattered on impact, sending liquefied Darkness energy and my own blood splattering across the creature’s face and my hand. Snarling through the pain, I raised my fist for another punch, only for Epsilon to stab Prometheus through my right side, impaling me on the blade completely and stabbing through my lungs.
So easily defeated.
I fell on my back and grasped the handle of my katana with my right hand.
This is going to hurt.
As Epsilon stood to its feet and looked down at me, I pulled on Prometheus’ handle…
Leaving the blade inside me as I pushed myself to my feet, my own blade shredding my lungs as I stared at Epsilon’s near-shattered mask.
I sneered through the blood pouring out of my mouth and pulled Prometheus’ handle back, returning the blade to its proper place on its handle through its spacetime-cleaving and re-opening my wounds.
You will die.
I coughed up the blood clogging my airway as my wounds began to heal and I smirked at Epsilon.
“After my fight with Cyria,” I panted, “Max gave me a blood transfusion. The blood in these veins isn’t just mine…it’s his, too.”
So that means-
“Yes,” I interrupted, feeling the energy surge through me as the Cynd blood did its work, “You can’t kill me that easy.”
I twirled Prometheus in my right hand, looking at the white katana as I did so. “It’s going to take a little bit longer for my knuckles to heal up,” I muttered, “But I’m ambidextrous, so my right hand will work.”
Realizing what I was about to do, Epsilon raised its arms in an X-shape and coated them with dense, white bone in hopes of stopping my next strike.
I cut through them effortlessly, bisecting the creature of Darkness with a slash to my left, before reversing the blade in hand and slashing right, destroying its mask.
Epsilon’s body reformed between my sword strikes, but behind its mask was something resembling my face.
I hesitated before swinging again, and this gave Epsilon just enough time to lash out, releasing an incredibly strong pulse of Darkness energy that blasted me off of my feet.
“Why do you look like me!?” I shouted.
After Cyria defeated you, Epsilon said, walking forward slowly and forming a bone-claymore in its right hand, Max dragged your broken body back here to give you urgent care. I imagine he didn’t give you the transfusion until you arrived back in Blusk.
Epsilon glared down at me, his- its face uncannily similar to mine, but pale as death and lacking any eyes to speak of.
Even unconscious, your pain and rage were enough to create my heart. When combined with the sorrow and frustration of the men and women who worked to build this colony, I was born and I made my place of birth my home.
I leaped to my feet and charged at Epsilon, rapidly slashing my katana in hopes of breaking his guard. The spirit’s claymore was much denser than its mask or makeshift armor, and he moved quickly enough to block each and every one of my strikes.
Just as I was ready to take a breather, a pulse of Darkness energy released from Epsilon’s claymore.
I remained perfectly still, allowing myself to become intangible as the Darkness passed through me.
He can store the force of enemy attacks as Darkness energy and release at will, I realized, The more I hit him, the stronger he gets. He must have some weakness…
Just as I moved, breaking my intangibility, Epsilon lunged forward, impaling me through the chest with its bone claymore.
I dropped Prometheus to the ground and leaned forward, grabbing the sides of Epsilon’s face.
“Yes, you do.” I gasped, trying desperately to ignore the pain, tears building up in my eyes, “You just told me what that is.”
Epsilon gazed back at me dispassionately and twisted his claymore in my wound.
I howled in pain but pulled myself closer, the clarity overriding everything else as I realized what needed to be done.
“You’re just like me,” I whispered harshly, “Just as angry and lonely. Just as scared.”
I’m not weak like you! Epsilon screamed.
“You’re right,” I admitted, “It’s not enough. I don’t know if it ever will be. I was born with…with a hole in me, just like you.”
When I pull my blade out of you, Epsilon snarled, leaning close to me, There’ll be another.
“It’s okay.” I whimpered, “You don’t need to be alone anymore.”
Epsilon harshly pulled his claymore out of me, the bone mask reforming on its face as I fell to my knees and the spirit raised its claymore above its head.
I caught the blade with my palms as it was swung downward, stopping it from splitting my skull and looking up at Epsilon with a weary grin.
“We want the same things,” I declared, “We can fill the holes in each other’s chests.”
The blade cracked and shattered in my hands as Epsilon stumbled backward, shaking its head and grasping it.
As my wound regenerated, I pushed myself to my feet as Epsilon fell to its knees and started screaming again.
I held out my left hand.
“I know how you feel,” I said, “And you know I do. Come with me, and together we can defeat Cyria. We can free humanity from its chains, you can feel the love and relief of the people we save!”
You’re lying to me! Epsilon screamed.
“I’m not,” I insisted, “You know I’m not. I don’t want to destroy you, Epsilon. You belong with me.”
The Darkness in the Construction Site around us began to dissipate, the bone tower illusions fading as Epsilon’s shoulders drooped and it stared at the ground.
“What do I need to do?” The creature asked, speaking with my voice.
“Take my hand.” I declared, “And we’ll find a new purpose for you. A new name. Your true name.”
Epsilon looked up at me. I couldn’t see the face behind the mask, but I knew I’d won the spirit over.
Finally, Epsilon reached out to me.