Picture a lone star in an empty universe. A single pinprick of white and gold on an endless black canvas.
Now, add a single planet to that canvas, with a supercontinent flanked by endless ocean. The Mainland, and The Sea.
Orbiting the planet, add two moons. Solum, and Serenus. The eyes of the heavens. Think of them as your own, if you like.
Thirteen Years Ago.
“There’s a lot I have to teach you and little time to do it, Michael.”
The sound of chirping crickets and crackling flames filled my ears. My grandfather and I sat on opposite sides of a campfire, the darkness of the forest surrounding us as we stared at the fire.
I nodded slowly.
Stane Lockheart was a man with a large frame, his tanned skin covered in deep scars and his pearly white eyes glinting with intensity. I was eleven years old back then, but I would one day grow to look more like him, albeit with a different skin tone and a mismatched, amber right eye. As it was now, I felt much smaller than him and I looked the part, curled up to stay warm while he sat up straight, his legs crossed.
On my grandfather’s calloused left hand were two identical rings. Rings of pearl, with a black diamond heart on each. My grandfather wore his wedding ring on his ring finger and my grandmother’s wedding ring on his pinky finger.
“Do you still miss her?” I asked.
Stane paused, seeming taken aback- “What?”
“I just noticed you staring at your hand, grandpa.”
He hadn’t said anything in about 30 seconds, and I had about not noticed.
“Her name was Hannah.” Stane said, the lightest smile on his face, “Hannah Rivas, when I met her. She was…so bright, and kind. She saw something in me that no one else saw.”
My grandfather stared down at the fire while I looked up at him.
“What did she see?”
“She saw a man.” Stane replied, “Not a Lockheart. Not a Royal Guard. She saw…me. She was the only one who treated me like a real person, not just…”
Stane trailed off and sighed.
“Not just a blade.” he finished.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“That’s what we are to the people of Trine,” Stane explained, “Blades. Our Ancestor was the right hand of the second King, one of the founders of the Royal Guard. He developed a reputation as a ruthless right hand, a weapon of the throne…a blade. My grandfather, his son, carried that tradition…his son, my father, carried it to me…”
Stane closed his eyes and sighed. “I met her just before I turned eighteen. I was already trained, already being groomed to take my position as Commanding Officer, and she was the first person who ever made me question any of it. If I was a blade, she dulled me, she found a heart in me and loved it with all of hers.”
He stared at the rings on his fingers and whispered, “But I lost her one day. Just like you lost…” He sighed, “You know. If I had been a little less of a person and a little more of a blade, I could have saved Hannah. I don’t ever want you to go through what I did, Michael.”
He growled, “Do you understand?”
“Good.” Stane replied, taking a deep breath, “I know this training hasn’t been easy for you, but it’s necessary. I will make you strong, Michael. I promise.”
I stared at the top of the fire, where the wisps of flame sublimated into smoke and nothingness.
“I know, grandpa.” I muttered.
“Get some sleep.” Stane said, “You have a long day ahead of you tomorrow.”
Season Two: [RE]prisal
Episode One: Eyes of the Heavens
My ears were filled with the sound of soothing jazz and rich vocals.
I felt warm, comfortable, at ease. I breathed easily and the lingering aromas of savory meals and fine wines filled my nostrils, giving me a pang of nostalgia for something I hadn’t once experienced.
A beautiful woman with short-cut brown hair, piercing green eyes and a sweet little grin sat across the table from me. She was in a simple dress, something red that clung to her body. Her left arm was draped on the table between us, her right hand holding aloft an empty wine glass.
“So how did you get here?” she asked.
“I…” I looked around the room. It seemed like we were in…a ballroom, or something. Nothing but fancy tables and fancy people eating fancy meals and drinking fancy wine.
“I don’t know…” I finished, turning to face her again.
Her wineglass, now full of red wine, brushed against her lower lip as she considered me. Confused, but captivated, I watched her close her eyes and sip at it.
“You like watching me that much?” she teased.
“I don’t…” I muttered, “I don’t know what else to look at.”
My head throbbed painfully. I attempted to grasp at it with my left hand, but it didn’t seem to be following my commands. In the moment, I decided to use my right instead, discovering that I was dressed in…a black tuxedo?
Is this a dream?
She set her wineglass down and smiled.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“I…” I shook my head, “I don’t…”
“Michael.” I answered.
She leaned forward. The table was small enough that this put her dangerously close to my personal space, causing me to lean back involuntarily.
“Is that all?” she pressed.
“I…” My head throbbed again, harder this time, and I winced as I grabbed it, hoping to find some peace, “That’s all I remember…”
She placed her left hand on the knot of my tie, pulling me closer to her.
“It’s okay…” she whispered, lips half an inch from my own, “Sometimes it’s better to forget…”
Her lips met mine softly.
I closed my eyes and leaned into it, lifting my right hand to cradle the side of her face and exhaling through my nose as we did so.
We parted for a moment, gasping for air, before I pulled back in for more.
Why…why isn’t my other arm working?
I opened my eyes and broke from the kiss to look downward, to my left.
My heart skipped several beats.
All I saw was an empty sleeve.
“Is this some kind of joke?” I gasped.
The woman’s face changed. “Michael,” she said firmly, placing her hands on my chest, “You need to calm dow-”
“What happened to my arm!?” I hissed.
I stood from the table, pushing her away and knocking my chair to the floor as I did so.
“WHAT HAPPENED TO MY ARM!?” I screamed, “WHAT DID YOU PEOPLE DO WITH IT!?”
In the back of my mind, I saw images of a crackling fire in the middle of the woods, and a pair of cold, pearly white eyes staring into mine.
The people in attendance turned quiet, solemn. Dancers went still and turned to face me. Diners froze in place entirely, but those facing me stared directly into my eyes as I heaved, my heart beating a thousand times too fast as my legs trembled.
The woman I’d been eating with sighed. “He’s not ready yet.” she whispered under her breath, to no one in particular.
“I swear…” I panted, “I SWEAR, I’LL-”
All the motion, all the energy left my body in a single instant.
I gasped for air as I sank to my knees, darkness clouding my senses as my eyelids fell.
My name…is Michael.
Thirteen Years Ago.
Late the following afternoon, my grandfather and I sat around the fireplace, except with company. A large boar lay slain on the table to the left of the fireplace, the thick bristle-like hair covering its body still standing on end. My stomach growled as I stared at the dead creature, the product of the day’s hunt.
My grandfather sat across from me, taking gulps from a large water bottle before sighing. “You know what we have to do, Michael.” he said.
“I don’t want to.” I muttered, “All that…blood…”
“If you want to eat tonight,” Stane said, “You’re going to have to. We don’t have food for tonight. It’s going to be at least another two days before the Guard comes to pick us up. I can survive that wait without food. Can you?”
I shook my head softly.
Stane stood, walking around the fire to join me and squatting down to my height. “You know what you have to do, Michael.” he said insistently, holding out the handle of a skinning knife to me, “This is survival 101.”
I sighed, grabbed the knife with my right hand and stood up. We moved to the dead pig and leaned down together. I stared into its eyes as my grandfather opened a box behind me, pulling on a pair of gloves and holding out a pair to me.
“This is wild meat,” Stane explained as I handed him the knife and started putting on the gloves, “You don’t want to get any of its blood on you while we’re skinning or butchering it. As long as we keep it clean and cook it to a high enough temperature, we’ll be fine.”
My gloves secured, I took the knife back from my grandfather and looked back at the creature we were about to butcher. Its eyes were vacant, its expression empty, but guilt still ate away at me.
“It’s already dead, Michael.” Stane explained, “We already killed it. One way or another, this pig is going to be eaten. If not by us, then by flies and rot as it returns to the earth. Everything dies, Michael. What matters is that nothing goes to waste. I already removed the bladder for you. All you need to do is skin it.”
“Where do I start, grandpa?” I asked.
“Brace yourself with your left hand around where you want to cut,” Stane explained, grabbing my left wrist as he did so and pushing my left palm against the belly of the beast, “Then make your first incision here…”
Hours into the night, my grandfather and I sat beside each other, watching our meat cook in a cast iron pan on a makeshift stove above the fire. After a hard day’s work, it smelled incredible and a wilder part of me was tempted to snatch it right out of the pan and start eating it right away.
Perhaps reading this expression, my grandfather chuckled and pat my back with his left hand. “Don’t worry,” he said, “It’ll be over soon. We get to enjoy the fruits of our labor.”
“I’m so hungry…” I groaned.
Stane pushed a water bottle into my hands.
“Don’t fill your stomach with water, but drink,” he said, “It’s important to stay hydrated out here, and it’ll calm your stomach down a little bit.”
I nodded as I leaned back, taking a few gulps of water before sighing and placing the bottle down on the ground to our left.
As I watched our pork chops sear in the pan, I sighed with relief.
“So how much longer are we going to be out here?” I asked.
“This is our fifth night,” Stane explained, “We have two more to go. You’ve finished your survival training. Tomorrow, we’re going to start the final phase of your combat training. And if you manage to come out on top…”
I looked into his eyes. “If I manage to come out on top…?” I asked.
He smiled lightly. “I’ll finally pass on Murzim to you. I’m getting a little old for such a heavy weapon, anyways.”
My heart skipped a beat in excitement. “Really!?” I asked.
Stane nodded. “Yes. I look into your eyes and I see that you’re almost ready. Your white eye signifies your Lockheart lineage, just like mine do, and I’m starting to see a warrior in it. Your amber eye speaks of something radiant, and new, and I don’t know what we’ll see but I’m sure it’ll be spectacular.”
For a moment, I didn’t feel tired or hungry at all.
All I could do was smile at the praise I was being given.
“Thank you, Grandpa.” I said.
“Don’t thank me yet.” Stane replied, turning back to look at our cooking food, “Just because you’re ready doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.”
“You should tell me about yourself, Michael.”
I jumped in my seat and blinked rapidly as I came to.
“You okay there?” asked an unfamiliar man, seated across a table from me, “You look out of it…”
“Sorry…” I muttered, shaking my head lightly, “I must have dozed off.”
My name is…Michael?
“It is nice out here tonight, isn’t it?” the stranger replied, looking upward.
The night sky was almost overwhelmingly dark, illuminated only by the glowing of two moons. That’s Solum and Serenus, I remembered, The eyes of the heavens.
“Where are the clouds?” I asked, a hint of alarm creeping into my voice.
“Skies are clear tonight,” the stranger responded, “But they’ll be back.”
I sighed with relief. I’d forgotten clouds worked like that.
“Right…” I muttered, looking down at the steaming bowl in front of me, “That’s…right…”
“Are you hungry?” the man asked.
I made eye contact with him. His skin was brown and his eyes were bluer than the sea. His features were refined and angular, and his upper body was covered in a jacket of crocodile scales.
“What’s your name?” I asked the man.
He smiled and his teeth almost seemed to glint. Through the mist of my delirium, I was getting an excess of mixed signals…his smile seemed simultaneously welcoming and ominous, his form had physicality and grace that said “youth” but eyes that seemed ancient, and a little something deep down that was familiar about all of it…
“Sobekai” the man responded, after a few moments of silence, “Think of me as a…family friend. What’s your name?”
“I…” What felt like a firecracker went off inside my head and I groaned, grasping at the pain with my right hand as I felt the head spread through my skull, “I…shouldn’t you know that?”
“I do, Michael.” He replied, “I just want to make sure you do.”
“Michael!” I exclaimed proudly, through the pain.
Sobekai chuckled. “I mean your full name, Michael. Have you forgotten your own name?”
“I don’t know…” I groaned, the pain not dissipating, “It’s like it’s been locked away…”
“That’s an ironic choice of words.” Sobekai chuckled, then continued, “Do me a favor and take a deep breath, okay?”
I shut my eyes, nodded, and obeyed.
“Okay.” I replied, “What now?”
“I want you to keep breathing…slowly…and look at your left side.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Sure thing, weirdo…” I muttered, turning my head down, “I don’t see the big dea-”
My heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest.
My left arm was just…
“Gone…” I heaved, “Gone, gone…”
“Deep!” Sobekai exclaimed, “Breaths!”
Shuddering all over, I inhaled and exhaled.
“How long have I been here?” I whispered, “What the hell happened to me?”
“Stay calm.” Sobekai instructed, “Eat some of that soup, and try to remember.”
I looked down at the soup in front of me and inhaled. The lighting wasn’t ideal, but I could smell tomato, basil, and just a little bit of meat.
Using my…single hand, I grabbed a spoon, scooped up some broth and a chunk of meat, and took it into my mouth. It felt like the first time I had experienced taste in my entire life, and I groaned at the intensity of it.
“Thank you.” I said, after a few…more than a few…bites of my food.
Sobekai leaned back in his seat calmly, an amused look on his face as he watched me.
“I thought that might help.” Sobekai said, “But now…I need you to remember. Can you do that for me?”
I took a deep breath and shut my eyes, trying to visualize what I was missing.
In my mind’s eye, all I could see were a pair of two familiar pearl-colored eyes.
“Did…” I muttered, my eyes still closed, “Did a man with white eyes do this to me?”
“Yes.” Sobekai replied, “He’s someone you should know very well.”
“Why?” I asked.
“He’s family,” Sobekai replied, “On your mother’s side.”
The most radiant woman I could imagine materialized around the eyes I was envisioning. She had dark hair and a kind smile that made me smile, too.
I blinked tears out of my eyes.
“I can see her.” I muttered.
“Do you remember what happened to her?” Sobekai asked.
I shook my head softly and kept my eyes closed.
“Then why are you crying?”
I opened my eyes and wiped away the tears with my right forearm. I sighed as the only reasonable answer came to me, and felt a familiar-but-unfamiliar weight in my chest as I said, “She’s dead, isn’t she?”
Sobekai nodded sadly. “Yes. She passed when you were young. I apologize for…for making you remember that loss. You must be feeling it right now.”
I nodded slowly.
“I’ve really lost myself, haven’t I?” I asked.
“Yes.” Sobekai replied, “You…you’ve undergone some very severe trauma. The loss of your arm is the most recent, but…it goes deeper than that. It seems that your mind is attempting to block out the experience to save you the pain, but is blocking out everything that’s even related to the incident…because the man who hurt you is family.”
“Can you tell me his name?” I asked.
“I don’t think you’re ready for that yet.” Sobekai replied, “But I can tell you yours, if you like.”
“Your name,” Sobekai said, “Is Michael Lockheart.”
That name…means something…
Thirteen Years Ago.
The Sixth Day.
“Do you know what our name means, Michael?” Stane asked me.
It was a few hours past noon. The forest surrounding us was alive with the sound of thriving wildlife, and I was following my grandfather from behind, through the trees. On his back was a great, white claymore in its scabbard- Murzim, the blade I was set to inherit. I watched the sword as I replied, “You mean aside from the obvious?”
My grandfather chuckled. “When our Ancestor first came into this world, he did not carry the name Lockheart. He didn’t receive the name from his adoptive family in the Lanes, either…it was a being from another world who gave him the name Lockheart.”
“Why?” I asked.
“She said it was his true name.” Stane replied, “The truest expression of who he was as a person. He took this name- Lockheart– and added it to his given name, Vincent. That is how the Lockheart Family came to be. But sharing that name so freely…had some consequences.”
“The true name isn’t just what is used to identify you,” Stane replied, “It is you. For that reason, we still carry his eyes, his weapons, pieces of his soul…it’s why our family is the way it is. We all carry parts of him in ourselves.”
“That’s…” I muttered, “A little scary to think about, don’t you think?”
We stopped in front of a stream and my grandfather turned to face me.
“It is.” Stane replied, “But it means that you’ll always carry a piece of your mother, too. Remember that whenever you miss her. And whenever you…”
“Grandpa?” I asked.
“Forget it.” Stane said, “It’s time to finish your combat training, remember?”
“How am I going to do that?”
Stane grabbed the handle of Murzim over his left shoulder and stared down at me with an uncharacteristically cold expression.
“You’re going to have to beat me, Michael.” he declared, “And if you don’t, you might die here.”
I stumbled backward and laughed uneasily, “I don’t think I heard you correctly.”
“You did, Michael,” my grandfather said, unsheathing the blade in full with his left hand and tilting his head downward, “And I wasn’t joking. You better start running or start fighting, because standing still is going to get you killed.”
A surge of adrenaline and energy filled my body as my grandfather took a step forward and prepared to swing. He was moving in slow motion. As a golden aura exploded from my body, I was faster than ever.
He’s bluffing. He’s bluffing!
He raised the heavy blade in the air behind him, telegraphing a swing in my direction. If he swung the way it looked like he was going to, he’d cleave me in half…
Oh shit he isn’t bluffing is he
My grandfather slashed his claymore at me and I ducked under the blade as it came, the world returning to its normal speed as I raised my right fist and leaped upward, slamming my fist into my grandfather’s jaw.
He didn’t move. In fact, he seemed completely still. But it wasn’t quite like hitting a wall, the energy I had put into the punch had gone somewhere…but where?
Stane retaliated with a hard kick to my gut, sending me crashing backwards into the dirt, heaving and nearly vomiting.
“What the fuck is wrong with you!?” I spat.
My grandfather’s face betrayed no emotion. He stood in front of me stoically, wielding his massive claymore with his left hand, near-effortlessly.
“Do you want to die here?” he asked.
“Grandpa, you’re scaring-”
“DO YOU WANT TO DIE!?” he screamed.
I glared up into his eyes.
“No.” I replied, adrenaline taking over.
“Then get up,” Stane commanded, “And win.”
I stood to my full height and raised my fists above my chest, keeping my eyes focused on my grandfather all the while. Surging throughout my body was a wild combination of adrenaline, fear, and pleasure that I couldn’t control or comprehend.
“Wh-what is this feeling?” I asked.
“Your instinct.” Stane replied, beginning to grin, “To be a Lockheart is to be born with an innate desire for battle. Hold onto this feeling. Remember what I’ve taught you.”
I lowered my stance, preparing to leap forward and cover the distance between us. I could feel the air against my teeth and I realized I was smiling- grinning, even, in an almost predatory manner. Throughout all our sparring sessions, I’d never felt like this before…
“What did I tell you?” Stane said, “Standing still is going to get you killed!”
I leaped backward, dodging another swing from my grandfather’s claymore. Golden Light energy- inherited from my father- surrounded me in an aura as time slowed once more, but I continued to move at normal speeds.
I’ve done this before, I realized, But I’ve never had this much control.
I locked eyes with my grandfather as I stepped forward. He was still locked in a swinging motion, the weight of the blade and its momentum opening his body to attack. The golden aura around me began to fade as Stane’s speed increased, and I realized I needed to make this quick.
Lunging forward as quickly as I could, I slammed my fist into my grandfather’s stomach, the force of the clash jolting me out of my state of speed and sending Stane stumbling backward. Reflexively, he made a retaliatory swing, but I anticipated this and ducked it before leaping forward for another punch-
My grandfather was completely still. I barely stopped my fist from making contact.
He smirked. “Are you starting to realize what to do?” he asked.
“The last time you were completely still…and I hit you…” I muttered, “You absorbed the blow like it was nothing. But just then, it worked…so when you’re still, you…”
I leaped backward, just barely dodging another swing of the claymore. The tip of the white blade caught my shirt and split it open across my stomach, but I was miraculously unwounded. “Good dodge.” My grandfather complimented, between deep breaths, “And good analysis. You’re very observant, Michael. That’s a good trait to have in a battle.”
“So why move at all?” I asked, “If you can just absorb everything by doing nothing, why put yourself at risk?”
My grandfather stepped forward, the feral smile on his face matching mine. I wasn’t scared anymore- we were both wired on the same combat high, and with it came a kind of mutual understanding.
“That’s for you to find out.” Stane replied, “I’m not going to give you all the answers!”
“I’ll beat it out of you if I have to, old man.” I taunted.
“That’s the idea,” Stane retorted, “Now come at me!”
I charged again. As I entered my grandfather’s range and he swung Murzim in my direction, I made a conscious effort to tap into my father’s Light and leap upward.
The aura returned, but weaker than before. I was using too much too frequently, and I realized that I didn’t have many more times I could tap into his power before it ran dry.
As I rose through the air in what seemed like slow motion, I pressed my left foot down on the flat side of Murzim’s blade and pulled back my right. As the blade started to give in to my weight, I pushed my right foot upward as fast as possible, breaking out of the speed aura once more and slamming my foot into my grandfather’s jaw.
The blow landed with a sickening crunch, with Stane sent reeling and stumbling backwards at the force of it as I landed.
My grandfather sneered at me through bloody teeth. “You’re getting better, Michael,” he complimented, “But…”
He licked the blood off his teeth and swallowed, “Don’t think this is enough to beat me. You’re just learning to tap into your Affinity- I’ve had decades of experience with mine.”
Darkness energy coated my grandfather’s body in a shroud, sans a heart-shaped gap on his chest. The Lockheart Family, since our Ancestor, had been known for its mastery over the Darkness element…while I inherited Light from my father, my upbringing and my white eye still reflected the side of my heritage I embraced most.
Okay, I thought to myself, He has a cloak now…what does it do?
Be smart. Think.
Stane took a single step forward.
There’s no way it’s just for show. It has to make some kind of difference.
He took two more. It would be a second, maybe two, before he re-engaged.
Light and Darkness are opposite elements of creation. Combined equally, they create Earth. Light is fast, but fragile. Darkness is slow, but powerful. Yet even with Light-backed blows, he can absorb the energy when he remains still…
“Michael…” Stane growled threateningly, “Don’t make me repeat myself…”
He stepped into range.
Standing still is going to get you killed.
Focusing the Light aura in my right hand, I slammed my fist into my grandfather’s stomach. The cloak of Darkness absorbed the blow and retracted from the point of contact while his body continued moving forward, and he raised his claymore in the air-
Before the Darkness could cover where I had punched, I repeated the process with my left fist, harder this time, causing him to stumble backward.
Stane gasped in pain, but still made the swing he had committed to, which I narrowly dodged before flattening my right palm and making another Light-backed strike.
Yet again, he remained still, and this time the Darkness cloak was nowhere to be seen.
“That’s not going to work, Michael!” he shouted.
“Yeah, it is.” I muttered.
Channeling Light as efficiently as I could, into just my eyes and my feet, I dodged around my grandfather’s retaliatory swings. The tip of his white claymore grazed against my chest and my stomach as this happened, but the adrenaline flowing through me blocked out the pain as I focused on his movements.
One swing…two swings…
My grandfather took a deep breath in the motion of his second swing, and exhaled just as it finished, making his body still in the process.
And then invulnerability, until…
I watched the muscles flex in my grandfather’s left arm and I lashed out quickly, slamming my left fist as hard as I could into his bicep, causing him to wince in pain and stall his movement.
He swung again, but slower this time.
He smirked and lunged his blade forward.
The claymore cut through my side and I hissed in pain.
“I see what you’re doing, Michael, and it’s smart,” My grandfather complimented, “But that’s the problem. If I can read you reading me, it becomes easier to trick you into a false sense of security.”
He pulled the blade back and took a step back while I clutched at my wound, swearing under my breath. He had left a rather nasty cut on my side that was bleeding profusely, but hadn’t penetrated my ribs or lungs.
“In a real battle,” Stane explained, “That could’ve cost you your life. It doesn’t matter if you know what I’m thinking if I know that you know it, you understand? You’ve found one weakness in my fighting style, but you haven’t found the one you need to win. Try again.”
I nodded and took a deep breath, focusing on the pain I was feeling to kick my adrenaline back into high gear and focusing my entire body. I was still new to consciously tapping into my Affinity, but the adrenaline seemed to help, giving me a fuller understanding of my body’s capabilities.
I don’t have much left, I realized, I need to finish this before I exhaust myself.
A cloak of Darkness energy covered Stane once more as he advanced on me, but I remained still.
Standing still is going to get you kill-
Keeping Light active in my feet to speed up my footwork and Light through my eyes to amp up my reaction time, I dodged out of range of each of my grandfather’s swings. His pattern wasn’t a pattern anymore- three swings, pause, one swing, pause, five swings, pause– and because of that, I was barely able to catch my own breath. I couldn’t find a consistent pattern anymore.
I leaped backward to create more distance between us, allowing the Light aura to cover my entire body again. Stane raised an eyebrow at this and I charged at him, slamming my fist as hard as I could into the stomach, against the cloak of Darkness.
I ducked under his raised arm and circled behind him, fast enough that I could see what was happening to the cloak.
While it retracted from the point of contact, it also grew, significantly, coalescing into something denser and stronger as it returned to its cloak form.
That’s it! It’s converting my attacks into more Darkness energy! The cloak is just a mobile version of what he does when he stands still!
My grandfather turned and slashed, but my amplified senses telegraphed this to the point where dodging it was trivial.
“Standing still is going to get you killed.” I realized.
Stane smirked. “Is that so?” he asked.
“Your body can only store so much of this energy.” I continued, “You gather it by remaining still on impact, you spend it through attacking, or activating that cloak of yours…”
“So what’re you going to do with that information?” Stane asked.
I charged forward, no Light amplification required.
The problem with Stane using such a heavy weapon- especially one-handed- was that it was very easy to predict the way he would be swinging. Some of this could be explained by old age, or the fact that he was probably going easier on me than he was admitting, but my smaller size and higher agility still meant that I could dodge this blow without depleting the Light in me.
With his swinging motion completed, he had two main options- swinging the blade again as he returned to his neutral position, or raising it to defend. I channeled golden Light into my arms and began punching, as hard and fast as I could, into his chest.
The tendrils of Darkness on his back expanded in size with every punch, looming behind him and blocking out the sunlight as he hissed and made a return swing, which I ducked under.
Time slowed to a crawl as I enveloped my body in my last reserves of Light energy. I started pounding my fists into my grandfather’s stomach and torso as hard and as rapidly as I could. With every blow, the Darkness grew and grew and grew, until it dwarfed the size of us both.
With a feral howl, I made one last punch before time fast-forwarded to normal.
Stane plummeted backward through the air, through his own shroud of Darkness, which exploded into a black mist as he passed through. I took a shuddering gasp as he slammed into a thick tree on the other side of the clearing by the river, dropping his blade as he did so.
I leaned down and grasped at my knees, panting excitedly. With a weary grin, I turned up to look at my grandfather and asked, “How did I do?”
He wasn’t moving. His head hung downward, and I couldn’t see any rise or fall in his chest or shoulders.
The Seventh Day.
“The man who did this to me…” I asked, “Was his name St-?”
“No.” Sobekai replied quickly, shaking his head, “From what I can tell, though, the man who took your arm from you used the same blade that you and Stane did…does the name Murzim mean anything to you?”
That’s my- where’s my sword?
“It’s time to wake up, Epsilon.” Vincent Lockheart said, staring at me.
His eyes were that same pearly white. Like Stane’s. Like one of mine. We were standing on a giant shard of ice, with pillars of water falling from the sky around us in the aftermath of some great disaster. He was wearing ornate, hooded, white-and-gold robes, and many hooded people in similar outfits were standing in the distance behind him.
His were stained with his own blood, and my siblings- Richter and Michelle Lockheart- had stabbed their own blades into him on either side.
He was immobile. A perfect opening, unless…
I ignored him, choosing instead to blast at him at my full speed across the ice-
“Or should I say…Murzim?”
Before I reached Vincent, Darkness energy burst from my claymore and covered my body, instantly absorbing my energy and momentum as what felt like bone spawned in the Darkness, covering my body in a shell of it.
Unless something went very, very wrong.
Before I could process what was happening, my body lunged at my siblings, slicing open my sister’s stomach and impaling my brother through his as Vincent turned intangible, allowing their weapons to fall out of him before he picked up his sword, Pandora, from the ground.
A mask of bone obscured my sight as I struggled against everything constricting me, but I couldn’t move. All I could do was breathe and panic as I watched the blood of my siblings spread at Vincent’s feet.
He stared through the mask, into my eyes, and smiled.
“It’s been a long time, Murzim.” he said, “I was worried you wouldn’t respond to my call.”
I’ve always been waiting, said a voice I didn’t recognize from all around me, I know my purpose.
Vincent held out his arm and grabbed the handle of Murzim, the shell of Darkness energy and bone disappearing as he did so. Sucked dry of my energy and my resolve, I collapsed to my knees as Murzim returned to its rightful owner.
“Richter…Michelle…” I wheezed.
“Will be fine.” Vincent said, dismissively, “You’ve all healed from worse, I’m sure. But you…”
Vincent kicked me in the chest, sending me crashing to my back on the ice.
“You…” Vincent muttered, “Need something a little more permanent.”
I tried to move, but Murzim’s Darkness surged outward, constricting my limbs as Vincent pressed his foot against my chest and looked down at me coldly.
“Please…” I whimpered.
“I’m not going to kill you.” Vincent said, “If I wanted you dead, I would’ve let His Majesty do it. But I can’t have you coming back for revenge, either. I need to do something…irreversible.”
In Vincent’s eyes, I saw the same cold ruthlessness that I’d once seen in my grandfather’s, and I knew what he was going to do. I struggled against the Darkness as Vincent lifted his right-hand weapon, Murzim, into the air.
I heard Aiko and Nalia scream “Michael!” from behind me, but a white blur passed by me with a crackle of thunder- Sokudo Lane- and with a sickening thunk, they both fell silent.
“This is mercy.” Vincent Lockheart lectured, “Because the alternative was killing you. You should be thanking me.”
“You don’t have to do this.” I wheezed.
Vincent sighed. “Yes, I do. Now stay still. It’ll be worse if you struggle.”
He slashed Murzim downward, and in a single, horrible motion, I felt the blade rip through my left arm before removing it entirely.
I grabbed for my left arm as I remembered the feeling of losing it. The feeling of the moonshard-reinforced blade ripping through the bone and muscle in a moment that felt like a white-hot eternity.
What I felt now was a dull ache, and a phantom pain where a part of me used to be before it was taken from me.
And now I was out here, in the middle of fucking nowhere, wasting my time talking to some weirdo instead of helping my loved ones.
“You need to take me back.” I whispered hoarsely, “I need to make sure they’re okay.”
“I don’t think you understand why you’re here, Michael Lockheart.” he replied, his blue eyes glinting, “This isn’t a getaway cruise.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” I hissed.
I felt my stomach drop.
It wasn’t fear or anxiety.
Something was wrong.
“…in the soup?” I muttered.
My vision dimmed as I pushed myself to my feet, trying to step away from the table.
My food crashed to the…floor?
I thought we were outdoors. I can see the moons in the sky.
I took another look around at my surroundings, closer to the ground.
We were outdoors, in a sense, but I wasn’t standing on grass or dirt. I was standing on wood. A few meters away there was a railing, and past that, an endless expanse of…
I turned backward to Sobekai, who hadn’t moved from his seat at our table. Those blue eyes seemed cold, now, as my balance started to leave me.
“Where the hell did you take me?” I demanded.
I tried to rush toward him, but even a single step forward required a herculean effort to stay on my feet. It felt like I was trying to pilot my own body with inverted controls and horse tranquilizers.
“Your father told me to keep you safe, by any means necessary,” Sobekai explained, placing a fist under his chin as he watched me with a vaguely amused expression, “Even if that means you don’t get to leave.”
My eyes stung.
“You can’t…” I begged, “You have to let me save them.”
He laughed. “You? You couldn’t even protect yourself.”
I crashed to the deck. My eyelids and my limbs and my everything felt heavy, unbearably heavy, but I wasn’t going to give in. I couldn’t.
I glared up at him and hissed, “I’ll escape.”
Sobekai raised an amused eyebrow. “Not in this condition, you won’t. We’re seven days out from The Mainland, and by the time you’ve recovered, we’ll be even farther.”
The smile faded from his face, replaced by pity.
“Just close your eyes.” he said, “You’re making this harder on yourself than it has to be.”
My arm gave out from under me. I rolled as I fell, crashing onto my back.
I couldn’t move anymore. It felt less like my body was weighed down and more like I was disconnected from it, now. I tried to squeeze my right hand into a fist, but my fingers didn’t respond to my commands.
I looked into the night sky, into the moons.
My name is Michael.
Thirteen Years Ago.
The Seventh Day.
My grandfather opened his eyes.
It was still dark outside, but it was morning. Very early morning. My grandfather was wrapped in bandages and blankets, resting by our active campfire. I hadn’t slept yet, and my eyelids were almost too heavy to keep open, but I still breathed a sigh of relief when Stane finally came to.
“Michael-” he started.
“The sword’s mine.” I said, cutting him off, indicating Murzim sheathed and resting on the ground to my right, “I earned it.”
He chuckled. “Did you really think I was going to argue that?”
“No.” I replied, “But it still felt good to say it. I’m not used to being…”
“Assertive, yeah.” I said, “But I can definitely get used to it. Are you okay?”
Stane pushed himself upward off the ground, tossing away the blanket and gingerly touching the wounds on his bare upper body. Through a wince, he replied, “Yeah. You hit harder than I thought you would.”
“Faster.” I corrected, “I think I hit you about…twenty or so times in the span of a tenth or two of a second. Sorry about that, I…I wanted to make sure I overloaded that defense of yours.”
He laughed. “You certainly did a good job of it, Mikey!”
I rolled my eyes. “First Michelle and now you…getting real tired of that nickname, Grandpa.”
He shrugged. “I think it’s nice. Better than what I was called growing up.”
I raised an eyebrow. “What did they call you?”
He sighed. “I don’t want to talk about it. Trust me, though- Mikey is an upgrade.”
We shared a laugh around the fire, which turned into a yawn on my end.
“You should get some sleep, Michael.” he said.
“Yeah, yeah…” I muttered, “Just had to make sure you were okay, first.”
I paused and stared at the flickering flames. Stane was sitting across from me, the light of the fire glinting off his white eyes through the darkness.
“Are you going to be okay?” I asked.
Stane sighed. “I…I’m getting old, Michael. I don’t…I don’t know how much time I have left with you, but…”
I looked up at him. “But what?”
We locked eyes.
“I love you,” he said, “More than anything. And before I’m gone, I’m going to make sure you have the tools to succeed, to be better than me.”
“Better how?” I asked.
“The how is up to you, Michael.” he replied, “But I know you can figure it out. I just wish I could be there to see it…”
I sighed, blinking away tears. “I hate it when you talk like this…” I muttered.
“I’m sorry.” Stane said, “If it helps, just…just look at the night sky.”
I stared upward. Into the moons. The white eyes of the heavens.
“What am I supposed to see here?” I muttered.
“Just imagine…” Stane said, “Whenever you’re lonely…whenever you miss me, or your mother, look at the moons and pretend we’re looking down on you.”
A tear slid down my cheek.
“That’s so stupid.” I whispered, still staring at the moons.
“Maybe it is, but…”
“At least this way…I’ll always be with you.”