‘Surrender to me, whelp. Open your mind and accept me into your heart, there is no need to suffer.’
Waking once again, he listened to hundreds of voices speaking in unison, trying to sooth him as they whispered sweet promises into his ears, but he’d learned they were empty and without substance. Always along the same lines, the words changing but the message staying constant in each iteration, as if he simply couldn’t understand.
Wheezing with a laugh, he answered aloud. “Fine. I surrender. I capitulate. I acquiescence to your demands. I accept your offer. Help me. Do what you will, I’m all yours. I’ll wait here, no rush.” He paused for several heartbeats, the last tiny vestiges of hope crushed underfoot. “What’s that? Oh nothing’s happening, what a surprise. Same as always, nothing to be gained from your worthless jabbering. Fucking bastards, go find someone else to haunt.” He was beginning to understand why brother always looked at him oddly when he spoke of the ancestors.
Because they were nothing more than figments of his imagination.
How else could it be explained? They spoke to him, the voices real as the sand beneath his face, of this there could be no doubt. Except no matter how he answered, pleading or begging, screaming or cursing at them to aid him, nothing changed. They were ignorant of his words, their ears closed to his voice, always repeating the same message. Over time, he grew numb to their entreaties, their catalogue of meaningless promises growing longer and longer. He would be a king, a conqueror, a lover, a father. They would grant him wealth and fortune to spend, knowledge and power to wield, soldiers and women to command. All he needed to do was surrender, as if he’d not done so countless times already.
They were nothing more than the deluded ravings of a tortured, half-mad mind.
The revelation struck a chord through him and from there, the doubt only grew. Why would the ancestors taunt him so? His people were warriors and soldiers, prideful and noble. What gain was there to be had in teasing him with hope, only to leave him languishing in the dark as he begged for relief? He reflected on the battles he fought, the skills he displayed, his body moving freely as if guided by an unseen hand. Was it truly at the direction of dead ghosts of the past, or was it something else?
Maybe it was the training bearing fruit, his brother’s hard work at hand. Brother had tried to explain the States of Enlightenment and Balance, but it was nothing more than dog farts in his mind. The Mother, the Father, he would piss on them both if they were real. What good ever came from them? What aid did they offer? Playing with the lives of humans as a child plays with ants, if they truly had so much power, then why would they allow him to suffer so? The ancestors were more believable, warriors of the past sharing their knowledge with the present, all to make a better future. It just made sense.
Or at least it did until he lost their backing.
‘Why reject my charity, child? Reach out and take my hand, allow my power to infuse you.’
Perhaps the voices were nothing but his broken mind unable to comprehend the mysteries of Enlightenment, or maybe they were truly his ancestors, taking delight in his torment, dangling hope before him only to laugh and cheer at his despair. Who knows. From now on, he would rely on no one besides himself and his brother, the other voices a mere annoyance in his mind. Brother was the voice of reason, but at the moment, brother needed his help. How else to explain their current situation? Brother must have fought and lost, he would never abandon me. He’d been the one who abandoned his brother, too weak to stay awake, succumbing to his infirmity.
I am weak. Brother is the strong one, stronger than he knows, but if brother can endure, then so can I.
His spirits renewed, he lay still, suffering in silence and cursing his frail mind.
There was no telling how long he’d lain here, but something needed to change. Brother was unresponsive and the ancestors were a detriment with their inane ramblings. Staying still in the darkness would only result in death, from injury, exposure, or starvation. Ignoring the constant calls for submission, he clenched his jaw and slowly wiggled his right index finger. A tiny jab of pain shot through him with every movement, but it was bearable. Moving his other fingers, he continued to test his range of motion and push the limits of his battered body.
Time crawled by as he evaluated his options in the darkness, passing out multiple times from moving particularly injured areas. On his right hand, his fourth and fifth fingers were missing, his elbow bruised and swollen, his shoulder torn or broken. His body ached everywhere, his neck twisted and strained, his legs numb and unresponsive. His face was plastered to the dirt, and any attempt to raise his head set the world to spinning, knocking him out cold. His left arm seemed damaged beyond moving, and if not for the searing pain every time he tried to move it, he’d have thought it torn off. Hopefully that wasn’t the case, regrowing limbs was more painful than he could bear, even though brother was the one who suffered the brunt of it.
No, we are one and the same, and while brother is incapacitated, I cannot allow myself to drag us down. I must persevere, our life depends on it. With enough patience, he succeeded and moved his hand about without passing out, dragging it across the wet sand with his three fingers, keeping the damaged ones curled up. Searching his surroundings, he ran his fingers across slimy, wet strands of what he hoped was seaweed. Dragging them to his mouth, he chewed with difficulty and washed the repugnant meal down with the cool water lapping against his numb body, hoping he could keep it down.
At least he couldn’t smell or see what he was eating. His hunger and thirst somewhat sated, he returned to figuring out how to survive, with only a single hand able to move. For a moment, he wondered if death would be preferable to this living hell, the sweet embrace of finality a soothing relief.
Then again, for all he knew, this was death.
Sprinting across the uneven, blank landscape, the only sensation of movement came from the stale air pushing back against him, as if the world moved around him as he ran in place, but still he persisted in keeping away from the ghastly specters who chased him relentlessly from behind. His lungs burned and muscles ached as he mustered every speck of strength in his body, but still it wasn’t enough, his pursuers hounding him unto eternity with their incessant howling. Glancing over his shoulder, he watched the creatures of rotten meat and tattered skin reach out to tear at his legs slowly, taking strips of flesh into their cavernous jaws, breaking him apart piece by piece, a pinch at a time until he could run no longer and collapsed in place, where the bestial creatures devoured him from the feet up, leaving his head for last, delighting in his screams as he lay there, powerless and unable to resist.
‘Surrender, and be provided with relief. Strength is at your fingertips, you only need accept it.’
Rudely waking, his body shivered in agony as he blinked in confusion, groaning in fear and relief. Not that he could hear it, he’d noted some time ago that he’d gone deaf, a constant ringing in his ears drowning out all sound. That didn’t stop the ancestors from speaking, their oft-repeated tirade of surrender beginning once again, echoing through his skull. Controlling his breathing, he shuddered with tears as he lay prone, drinking a mouthful of water to calm his nerves. It was only a nightmare, and nightmares cannot hurt you.
They continued to haunt him, growing more vivid with each occurrence. It was always the same, he ran and ran, but each time they caught him in the end, devouring his flesh and bones in a terrifying, leisurely feast. Growing more corporeal each time, from ethereal spooks to skulls growing rotted flesh and tattered skin, eyes growing in their empty sockets, it was almost as if each meal gave them strength, feeding upon his essence and eating away at his mind and spirit to empower themselves.
The worst part was he could never remember it was a dream until it was all over, the experience so life-like it haunted him in his waking moments. Helpless and afraid, he closed his eyes and concentrated, struggling to return to the safe manor which brother built, where his hare sat waiting for him in the comfortable bed, where delicious foods sat ready for him to indulge in along with anything he could ever want, free from pain or suffering. He could listen to memories of music and run about in an endless field of grass, bathe in steaming hot-springs and spar with any enemy his brother could imagine, a utopia created just for him.
That must be where brother is now, but ever since waking, he could not make his way back. He’d never had to try before, returning was a simple as breathing, but now, paradise had been denied to him. Opening his mouth, he screamed and shouted, his throat still capable of making noise, or so he thought. Even through he was deaf, there was still a buzzing, like his skull vibrating while he shouted, and so he continued to yell for as long as he could, hoping someone would hear him. When his throat grew dry, he lapped up the cool water to ease his pain, sating his hunger with more seaweed. It wouldn’t last long, of this he was sure. With all his injuries, he’d likely lost a lot of blood, and who knows how many days it’d been since his last meal.
The ancestors continued to spout inane passages at him as he yelled and screamed, unable to cover up their babbling. Desperation gnawed away at him like a spectre from his nightmares, his wretched ordeals chipping away at his resolution, this trial splintering his already fragile sanity. Why won’t the voices stop? I know they aren’t real anymore…
I don’t know how long I can keep doing this, brother.
I will keep trying.
The cycle continued as he alternated between living nightmare and fevered hallucinations, his twinned worlds of darkness blending together. He laid in the emptiness, unable to see his body, unable to hear his screams, unable to feel his surroundings. All he knew was the void and the specters who lay within, pursuing him from behind, waiting for him to stumble so that they could devour him whole, all while the ancestors continued their ceaseless oration.
‘Surrender child, stop fighting. It does you no good. Little lost lamb, return to my side and be empowered once again.’
Roaring in rage, his mind snapped. Throwing his right arm in front of him, he dragged himself forward, with all his might. The wet sand scraped away at his face like glass shards, his left arm exploding in agony as his throat opened in a scream, and the void rushed up to embrace him once more. He ran ineffectively from the specters and they consumed him once again as he shouted and screamed obscenities at them, spitting in the eye of one grotesque feeder before he woke once more. Taking a deep breath, he screamed once more and dragged himself forward again, and again he ran from his spectres.
‘Capitulate and receive my gift, little warrior. Your struggle is meaningless, seize your birthright.’
‘You need not be prey, with my power, you will become the predator. Accept my guidance, and together we will devour the world.’
‘Abandon your hopes and yield, do not play the victim. Your potential will be realized with but a thought.’
Looking back, he saw his specters chasing him once more but the fear was gone, only a weariness of dealing with this tiresome routine. His horrid, disfigured pursuers lopped at his heels and he clicked his tongue in annoyance, watching them strip away at his calves. These fuckers were only slowing his progress away from the water and towards salvation.
Why am I running from them? I am a Warrior, I flee from no one.
Stopping in place, he turned to face them as the ancestors spoke once more.
‘Good, good, submit to me. Sovereignty and salvation are within your grasp.’
“SHUT THE FUCK UP!” Screaming into the void, he launched himself at the specters, his sword and shield appearing in his hands, his armour encasing him with a single thought. The dual blades punched into a specter’s gut with a wet slurp, the creature wailing in despair. Smiling into its gaping maw, he ripped his weapons out to the side as he performed Sweeping the Fields. Spinning on his heel with his arms extended, he slashed out around him in a reckless manner, clearing the space around him of trash.
The specters seemed shocked at their reversal of roles, and he laughed at their plight. “I am NOT prey!” Pouncing on another specter, he smashed into it with his sword while his shield held off the others, striking it again and again, mashing it into a paste. “I am NOT a victim!” Shouldering his way out of the mass, he held his shield forward once more, his sword raised to strike. “I will suffer your presence no longer! Begone.”
Their claws found no purchase on his armour, their wails muted by his helmet. The specters died one by one in the most gruesome manner he could imagine, smashing them into an unrecognizable mess or pulp and blood. The sword was aptly named, giving him peace by taking the lives of his enemies, but it was the shield that made it all possible to do slowly. Unable to move past its guard, the specters stood trapped within his power, allowing him to kill without disturbance, taking pleasure as he vented his frustrations. A calmness overtook him, a quiet composure in the silence of the void as he slashed and hacked at his enemies.
The sword gave him Peace, but the shield gave him Tranquility. Brother didn’t like naming things anymore, calling it childish, but it was better for weapons to have a name. Attacks too, telling your opponents how you will kill them was too satisfying to pass up. That combination from before, adding a spin to Sweeping the Fields, I’ll call that… Clearing the Heavens. Fucking trash all around me, it’ll be nice to be free of it.
Smiling cheerily, he slaughtered his pursuers without pause, taking pleasure in their plight. The ancestors finally changed their tune as he killed, pleading for him to stop, begging him, and he ignored them as they’d ignored him. See how they like being rejected. See how these specters like being consumed. Opening his mouth, he inhaled deeply and the battered corpses liquefied before his eyes, collecting in a stream to pour down his throat, settling comfortably into his belly, his strength and courage returning to him. The remaining specters turned to run, but this was his mind, his dreams, and they would not escape, no matter how hard they tried. The void held them close, and he laughed while killing them with ease, devouring their delicious remains.
Satisfied by his revenge, he stood in the empty void, enjoying the silence and serenity, wrapped in warmth and comfort. No more ancestors, no more specters, only him, free and alone. His breathing steadied as he studied his weapons, more a part of him than ever before, as if he’d been born with them in hand. The shield felt more real, more solid, while the sword seemed insubstantial, as if not wholly present. Still, with Peace and Tranquility in his hands, it felt as though he could do anything.
Exhaling deeply, he extended the shield’s blade and pierced the void, cutting a slit large enough to walk through. Stepping out into the light, he laughed and smiled in relief as he took in the sights of his familiar courtyard. Almost collapsing in exhaustion, he shook his head and marched to his bedroom in the corner, determined to sleep in his own bed with his blanket and pillow, snuggling with his fluffy hare.
Opening the door, he froze in shock as he stared into the void once again. Where his room should be, his brother floated, suspended in the air with eyes closed and body rigid, naked as the day he was born. His body was battered and bruised, the injuries from their body mirrored on his spiritual self, looking like death warmed over as countless ethereal specters gathered around him. Pushing against an unseen force, he tried to go to his brother’s side and aid him, but the barrier kept him back, not even Peace or Tranquility able to pierce through. He moved around the manor to peer in through the window, banging and shouting for his brother’s attention.
Closer now, he could see the malnourished specters were unable to touch his brother, and the injuries on his body glowed with light. Somehow, he knew brother was holding the enemy at bay and fixing their injuries from within his impenetrable fortification, the strain of keeping them alive all he could manage. Shaking his head, he chuckled in delight, his face stretched into a grin. He was right, his brother was the only person he could rely on.
With brother hard at work, how could I bear to slack? Sleep can wait. It was his duty to sustain their body.
Opening his eyes, he once again lay in the darkness, cataloguing his pains and injuries, free from the constant jabbering of the ‘ancestors’. Taking only a moment to appreciate the silence, he grit his teeth once more and dragged his body forward, a wordless scream ripping from his throat. This time, he didn’t black out, and with a wild laugh, he gathered himself to move again, screaming all the while before he passed out, only to wake and try again. And again, and again.
A strong pair of hands pushed against him and he recoiled at the contact, instinctively trying to fight as he screamed in challenge. The number of hands multiplied as they restrained him gently, one warm hand patting him reassuringly on the cheek. Relaxing in their grasp and closing his eyes, he sighed in relief as his strength faded away.
I did it brother, I managed to find help.
…er, I think…
Please be friendly.
It’s out of my hands now brother, I tried my best. You’d be proud of me.
|Previous Chapter||Table of Contents||Next Chapter|