Long ago, it fell into the water.
The baby's hands, stained with sins, shriveled and turned into gnarled branches.
Cities crumbled, plants overtaking the once-thriving civilizations.
The sun set and the Dark enshrouded the world.
What had been common knowledge turned into story,
And story into legend,
Legend into myth,
And myth into fantasy…
T H E W H I T E P R I N C E
* The Twilight Cycle *
Daemian wrung his hand through his oily black hair and stared out across the sky. It was dark… so dark. One dark entity, something solid it seemed, fallen on top of their pitiful excuse for an empire. He sighed and picked at a loose string on his ragged shorts. He knew that if he pulled it out he'd undo the lacing and only cause more strings to loosen, but it was bothering him and he didn't really care about the future.
The cart bumped and jostled as it drove across the uneven mud pathway across the farmlands. The steed carrying it brayed, its coarse voice bellowing out like a foghorn. Daemian turned his head slowly towards the front of the cart to stare at the animal. Don't do that. I'm not lost yet.
He could barely hear the out-of-tune twangs coming from Dgeorge's mandolin. Daemian liked to block out all unnecessary noise, but the steed's voice was too loud. He tried again to concentrate on something else, and watched the dark ground underneath his feet fall away into mystery as they passed. He saw little things on the ground, pitiful sad things, all so dark. It was all so dark. But again the creature bawled, and the silent world he was watching shattered and was swept away behind the cart, left on top of the hill they had just burst over.
Dubhlachaun preached at them, holding his tangled staff high into the air. Daemian didn't watch him. None of them did. None of them cared. They were a bunch of raggle-taggle wanderers, individuals, cast away from society to partake on the last quest of each of their lives.
There was the knight, Dionysus of Deucalion. He could fight off anything that dared attack them; strong, bold and stupid.
There was the sorcerer, Dairiseki, and she would protect them with magic. She was tall and imposing, and had an important air about her. She was the leader, more or less, which she had decided herself.
And there was the old wizard Dubhlachaun, also a priest of some religion none of them had formerly heard of.
Then Dgeorge, the minstrel, who's music was almost as horrendous as the singing that accompanied it, had been found at a bar and decided to travel with the rest of them, ignoring their unwary remarks.
And lastly, there was Daemian himself. A wanderer, a vagabond, an outcast. He was thin and dark as the world itself, like a plant stuck in the shadows, growing tall and lank, reaching for the sun that was just a little higher… always a little higher out of reach of the Dark.
When Daemian awoke, the sky was a lighter shade, crystal-white around the horizon but indigo at the center, where a dark, fiery ball slowly burned its life away. The cart still tottered as it bumped along the Mourning Valley. Dairiseki, who was perched upon the front of the vehicle, looked out upon the vast scenery; rolling hills covered with tall, windswept grasses and leaning trees with curled limbs and hanging fruit, their roots protruding precariously from out the ground occasionally intruding upon the path, jostling the cart and banging Daemian's head against the wooden-board sides.
He sat up, rubbing his temples and messing up his hair, and looked backwards at the group. They lounged about on random storage sacks, all daydreaming and no one speaking. Such a dour group… Daemian looked back at the land they had passed, watching it fall behind a hill that looked like a hand reaching out to grab him. He shuddered and looked away, turning back towards the front of the cart. Dionysus was staring at him with a cocky half-smile upon his battle-scared face. Daemian winced and quickly avoided eye-contact, trying to appear preoccupied with something else. No, don't… please no!
"You look a bit down, boy," he said with a barking laugh, setting his gloved hands on his armored thighs. "Getting sick from all this unsteady moving around?"
Daemian said nothing. Small-talk is alright, I guess. But…
"We'll be gettin' out of this cursed valley soon enough," he said. "Then up the mountains and into the Holy City Montèchuzu."
After finding that the boy had no interest at all in talking, Dionysus sighed and continued polishing his sword. Daemian was relieved, and he looked back behind them once more. We'll be getting' out of this cursed valley soon enough… Daemian didn't want to leave the Mourning Valley. It was safe. It wasn't the nicest place, but at least it was safe. And it hadn't been taken over by the Dark, not yet. Not entirely. Not like Montèchuzu. But, Dae, Montèchuzu doesn't exist.
He fingered his own knife in its sheath at his side, running his bare, scrawny fingers down the rusted metalwork on the hilt. It would break, it would definitely break. He continued holding it, feeling how nice it was, resting in the palm of his hand. Dae, your sword will break. He didn't care. It didn't matter. But it's going to break. It's going to break!
He slammed his head against the side of the cart, feeling the impact of hard wood against his skull. He felt the gaze of someone else fall upon him, and closed his eyes to pretend he was sleeping. He didn't want to talk.
"Oh, come, my boy," said the old, cracked—but friendly—voice of Dubhlachaun, the wizard. "Don't be so down. It'll only be another day until we reach the Twisting Mountains."
This only made Daemian worse. The old wizard smiled wryly, and reached out to pat him on the shoulder; but the boy moved away, scrunching himself up against the cart's side. Dubhlachaun laughed and sat down beside him.
"Now, now," he chuckled softly—not like the knight's harsh, loud one. "Come, tell me what's wrong. Pray to the Goddess Apísta for redemption."
But Daemian did not tell, nor did he pray.
Dgeorge protested greatly when they decided to leave the cart behind at the foot of the mountains. Dairiseki admonished them, saying that it would only be harder for them if they had to find easy paths wide enough for it to go on, but Dgeorge thought that taking the journey on foot would be even more treacherous. Dubhlachaun said that the Goddess Apísta would protect them either way, and Dionysus proclaimed that there was no need to worry; he'd fight off anything that dared attack them. Daemian sat at the back of the wagon, watching them all argue, playing with the loose strings on his shorts.
"Why doesn't he do anything?!" Dairiseki shouted, pointing an accusing finger at the boy, who pretended he didn't notice. "There's got to be some reason they let him free to go with us, but so far, he's just sat around!"
"We've all sat around," Dubhlachaun proclaimed. "There's been nothing else to do."
"But he doesn't even talk!"
Daemian didn't look at them. He picked at a scab on his hand, watching the blood rise in shining little beads at the surface, then smearing it away. Why had they set him free? Why had they sent him with them on the quest? What good was he?
"There's got to be some reason," the old wizard announced, "the Goddess Apísta—"
"You!" Dairiseki ordered, pointing now at the knight, as if momentarily forgetting her other conversation. "Fetch me the maps from the cart."
He did as was ordered, and ignored the boy shrinking out of sight as he leaned over him. You can't hide forever, Dae. "Here, milady."
She snatched up the bundle of aged, yellow papers, curled and tied with thick cord. Taking one out and leaving the rest to fall onto the rocky ground, she unfurled it and scanned it, her deep, dark eyes darting every which-way. At last, she marked their position and mumbled to herself and the wizard, plotting the quickest rout through the mountains. Daemian watched them. The maps lie. They don't know what's been covered by plants… what's been covered by Dark.
Dairiseki glanced up, and her black eyes met Daemian's light blue ones. She shuddered, and looked away. He did the same. She hadn't known his eyes were that color. Last time she looked… last time they had been blood red as the sunset. Now they were like the cloudless sky around the white of the horizon-line that embraced the world, trying so hard to keep out the creeping Dark.
She knew she hadn't mistaken the color either time.
"That's preposterous!" Dairiseki suddenly shouted, awakening the travelers from their silent trodding on the mountain path, stamping her booted foot and fuming with anger. "There's no way to get through! It's blocked!"
Daemian, who rode on the animal formerly carrying their cart, held back a smirk. I told you so. The maps are wrong. Aren't they, Dae? Dgeorge turned towards the boy, face hidden by a large, old hat tied by a scarf with feathers poking out of it. The minstrel said nothing. Daemian knew that he had let a little smile come across his dour face, and he wiped off the smug expression. At least it wasn't anyone threatening who saw, Dae.
They walked for hours that day, taking the longer way around the pass, to get across the cascade of rocks blocking their path. No one complained about being tired, but when they camped, even Dairiseki seemed glad to rest. Somehow, even Dgeorge's mandolin-playing was soothing. Days went by like that. Always walking, always tired.
When the sun set and the dark came, they lit a campfire to remind them of what light was. The ruddy glow highlighted their bodies, faces hidden by cloth or hair. Daemian sat away from them, huddled alone, hugging his knees to his chest with his hands closed tightly around the hilt of his knife, just in case. His eyes were black, black like the sky, black like the world, black like the Dark.
"Do you think we really should finish the journey?" Dairiseki's voice inquired. "They're only going to execute us when we're done."
There was a long pause. Daemian wondered if she was just thinking aloud, but then another voice sounded: "Yes, well… that is true. But they would have killed us if we refused. And I pray to the Goddess Apísta every day that—"
"But they're only using us!" the sorcerer argued, her temper flaring as usual. "They want us to retrieve the Relic from the Holy City Montèchuzu—what should we care if it will bring order to the world? We'll be dead!"
"Be calm, milady," a third voice joined in. "We're doin' this because it's fun. We get to go on one last journey before we die—at least we won't have wasted our lives."
"I'd rather die than help the world that condemned me," Dairiseki argued. "What say you we don't return with the Relic—keep if for ourselves?"
"But milady, I'm sure they would've thought about that," the knight said calmly. "We're criminals; they can't possibly think we wouldn't have betrayed them, eh?"
Dairiseki was quiet. Dubhlachaun answered for her, "so you think there's something like a spy among us, to make sure we bring it back?"
Now she had something to say: "Yes! That makes perfect sense!"
"Sounds reasonable," Dionysus agreed, nodding his head. "And to keep it, we'd need to get rid of 'im."
"I pray to the Goddess Apísta for salvation in the afterlife…"
"Shhh!" Dairiseki put her fingers to her lips, and looked around the campsite. She saw the minstrel, sleeping curled up in a pile of rags, and Daemian—the only two in the group not joined in the conversation. She rested her cold gaze upon him for a moment longer, making sure he wasn't listening. "That boy…"
The sorcerer pointed one long, gloved finger towards the black-haired boy, curled up under an outcropping of rocks. Her voice was hushed, as if she was wary that her words would awaken him.
"That boy," she repeated. "He's the spy. He must be."
"Now, now, lets not jump to conclusions—"
"It's him; I know it!" she snapped at the old wizard. "We know nothing about him. He doesn't talk, he doesn't help, he doesn't do anything. He never stands out; he's totally inconspicuous. It must be him."
"Agreed, milady," the knight raised his sword—which he'd been polishing—to her in a half-hearted salute.
Dubhlachaun said nothing. Whether he was contemplating the accusation, or keeping his differing opinion away from the others, Daemian did not know. The boy slowed his breathing down, as to make his heart beat slower. They were going to kill him.
"Wait!" finally, it was Dubhlachaun. He seemed to have made up his mind. "What about the minstrel? I asked the Goddess Apísta, and she seemed unsure. We did pick the person up at a bar; Dgeorge's not a criminal released from jail like the rest of us."
"But that would be too obvious!" Dairiseki shrieked, forgetting to keep her voice down, as Dubhlachaun knew and feared she would. "The minstrel followed us and pleaded to be part of our fellowship. The boy on the other hand…"
She heard a rustling of fabric, and shot a glance at the bard, who had shifted position. Fearing Dgeorge awake, she said nothing more, and silently disbanded the conversation for the time being, the three of them putting out the fire and falling asleep.
You're lucky. She wouldn't kill you now, not now that the others suspect the minstrel. You're so lucky, Dae…
Daemian recognized it; the rocks, the black skeletons of dead trees and bushes, the way the path was bent. He knew that just ahead lay the house built into the side of the mountain, small and unremarkable, blending right in with the surrounding scenery. The rest of the party didn't even notice it as they walked on by. Nor did they notice him walking towards it. That's a good boy; you've found treasure.
He didn't bother to knock on the wall. Daemian slithered in through the door-flap, and found himself in a familiar, dark room. Cracked pots containing large trees with their branches bent from the heavy, ripe fruit sat along one wall, near the door. A wooden table lay in the middle of the room, with two stools for sitting placed on either side of it. The floor was dirty rock, like outside, and a frayed, moth-bitten rug sat by a rickety old bed covered with patched-up blankets. Herbs and baskets full of dried food hung from the stone ceiling. The only light came from a lantern, slowly bobbing up and down… up and down… in time with Daemian's own breathing.
Hello, Dae. You've found me at last.
He looked around, and, spotting no one else there, found himself staring back at the lantern. Yes, here I am. He could see it now, the faint outline of someone wearing a dark cloak holding the light with gloves. I see you.
The person slowly advanced on him, and set one dark hand on the boy's dark shoulder. He pulled back his hood to reveal a kind face framed by wavy light hair, like the wisps of a cloud. It looked so soft and shiny, so unlike his own, that Daemian almost reached out to stroke it. But he held back. The person smiled gently. They're waiting for you, Dae.
He said nothing in return, but merely stood there, staring.
Here, take it. He held out the lantern for Daemian, but the boy did not move. Come on, Dae. Take it. Still, no response. The light-haired boy smiled wider, and pushed it into the dark-haired boy's hand, closing his fingers around it. There's a good boy. Now leave and join your friends outside. They're waiting for you.
Before he could do anything more, the person grabbed his free hand and dragged him out of the house. The sky seemed so bright… so bright in contrast with the dark. It hurt his eyes, so Daemian shaded them with his free hand.
He saw them, waiting for him, Dgeorge holding the reins of the steed, Dionysus leaning against it, Dairiseki pouring over another map and Dubhlachaun silently praying. Daemian tripped over a rock in the path, hitting into the boy in front of him, causing him to let out a surprised shriek. Dairiseki looked up, and her eyebrows pulled tightly together, forming a crease in the center of her forehead.
"And who might you be?" At first she didn't notice Daemian, but then she saw; something black behind something white. Her frown deepened.
"Dioscury; call me Dios."
"I did not ask your name, I asked who you are."
"I am Daemian's brother," he announced. "And who might you be?"
"Dairiseki, a sorcerer from—"
"Interesting. And you?" He looked expectantly at Dubhlachaun, who seemed hesitant to talk when Dairiseki was obviously fuming at her being interrupted.
"Dubhlachaun. I'm a wizard," he said. "But due to an unfortunate turn of events…" He trailed off and Dios moved on, eyeing Dionysus this time.
"How about you?"
But before the knight could answer, Dairiseki jumped in. "Just who do you think you are? This is a special party formed by the government, on an important quest to find the Legendary Holy City, Montèchuzu and—"
"I think that I am Dioscury. I was last time I checked."
Dairiseki's eyes flared. "Why are you intruding upon our quest?!"
"I'm not intruding upon anything," he answered curtly. "I wasn't going to journey with you; I only wished to give my dear brother a parting gift."
She was silent, but the irritation in her eyes was still evident. "A 'parting gift' you say?"
Daemian looked down sullenly at the lantern clutched in his hands, at its metal handle, at the glow coming from inside. Dairiseki rolled her eyes in disapproval. Dios smiled warmly, and turned. Daemian looked back, not to see his brother leave into the house, but to see his expression. Dios wrapped his hands around his brother's shoulders, his face resting softly in the crook between his shoulder blades. Then he disappeared.
"What? Where did that scoundrel go?!" Dairiseki shouted out to the world, "you! Where are you hiding him?"
Daemian brought his eyes up to hers, and she winced; they were white as the overcast sky with the sun shrieking its last words hidden behind them. Even so, she did not stop her accusing glare or unclench her fists.
He still said nothing, wringing his hands together on the lantern's rusted handle. He could feel the metal-smell rubbing into his flesh, and it sickened him. He did not want to smell like that. He didn't want to smell like what Dark had hidden with plants.
"Where is he?!"
Daemian retied the leather sash around his tunic, shivering from the cold. They hadn't found Dios. Not yet. He could still feel the welts from Dairiseki's fingernails as she'd scratched them down his bare back, as if thinking that would open him up, letting the white boy free. They hadn't found him.
He then lay down, staring straight up at the sky.
He tried to see the stars, tried to see the moon, tried to see past the vibrant dark that hung overhead. He reached up one hand, and clawed away at it, ripping it as if it were paper. It felt like soft, rotted flesh. It wedged its way underneath his finger nails, and fell on his face. He sputtered and gasped for a breath, but…
He opened his eyes and the dream faded. The searing pain from his back had awoken him, and he turned over onto his side. At first it looked like he was alone; the barren rocky shadows looming around him cast by the moon seemed all that was there. But as his eyes adjusted to the dark, he noticed that there weren't only rocks; his companions were there, too.
Again, as with the night before, they weren't asleep. They were talking.
"I don't trust him," came Dairiseki's voice, unsteady as if she were afraid of something. "Not before, either. But now… now that that happened, I can't trust him at all. I can't even bear the thought!"
Her words were answered with silence, but Daemian knew this time that Dubhlachaun and Dionysus were there, awake and listening. She seemed to tear at her hair in disapproval and irritation and fury. She shrieked and howled, raking her hands through the air as Daemian had done in his dream; but for her, the dark was so far, so far away she couldn't even come close to ripping it apart.
"This whole thing is so ludicrous!" she wailed. "I wish only for it to be over! It is torture, this quest!"
"What, milady, is troubling you about it?" Dionysus asked warily.
"Everything!" she growled, like a fierce tiger about to rip its pray to smithereens. "There's no one to turn to; we're all alone, the three of us."
"What about Dgeorge?"
"Who knows—that bard's just some scum we picked up at a bar, ain't that so, milady?"
"Exactly," she said, "And that skinny boy's no better. After all, he is the spy among us, correct?"
Dionysus nodded, and Dubhlachaun looked hesitant to give an answer. Dairiseki glared, and he finally nodded as well, fearful of her punishment. "Yes."