* The Sleeping Prince *

"You!" Dairiseki's voice rung out, "What is your business here?"

Dios looked back at her and smiled, stars twinkling in his hair, in his eyes, in his words.  "I'm here to help my brother.  You know as well as I, now, that he is the only link this world has to the city.  However, he is not strong enough to make it to the Relic on his own—that's why I'm here.  To help him."

She glared, and he smiled back, causing her grimace to deepen the lines across her face.  "Where is this?"

"This is the heart of Montèchuzu, the Legendary Holy City of the ancients.  Its matter didn't stabilize into a form tangible enough for us to see until my brother passed through it.  That's why he was set on the quest; that's why he was put in jail.  He is the last link to Montèchuzu.  The last hope this small rock has for salvation."

"That makes no sense!  How can I be standing in a city that doesn't exist?!"

"But it does exist.  It just didn't before; that's why all you could see was the white mist.  That's why you can be here now."

"But the old wizard Dubhlachaun—"

"I know what he did," Dios beamed, "though Dae wasn't listening, I heard your conversation.  But now Dae's dead; how do you think you're still standing here if your only link was through his 'dream'?  Moreover—"

"That's enough!" she bellowed.  "Dionysus!  Seize him and the other boy.  Dubhlachaun, you—"

"No, that'll be quite alright," Dios laughed gaily.  "There'll be no need for that, Lady Dairiseki.  If you do that, who will retrieve the Relic?"

"I will!"

He laughed again, and she was near killing him herself.  "And how do you propose to go through with that, sorcerer?"

"By using my own two hands, and my magic!" she roared.

Dios merely laughed, and laughed, and laughed.  Dairiseki swung out at him, but he dodged quickly and she fell forward onto the floor.  Boiling and bubbling with anger and hatred towards the beautiful seraph, the sorcerer swung again, sparkling magic trailing out behind her hand like water falling from it.  Her blow missed, as she'd presumed, but the magic caught up with her and curled itself around the white boy's wrists, binding him tight.  However, he merely slipped his hands through as if it were only water, and grinned.

"You don't even want the Relic."

"Why say you that?!  I know what I want!"

"Oh, do you?" he chuckled, "Well let's just wait until you see it.  You won't want it."

"How can I not want it?  It's the last great power in the world, the last thing that can bring peace back to Earth!"

"That is true, but you don't want that."

"Yes, I do," she stood tall and dark and fierce, facing Dios.  "This world is in chaos, and the only way to stop it is to use the Relic to bring revolution."

"Of course.  But you don't even know how the Relic will do that.  Will it destroy the government—the pillars of our new, failing civilization—and have your people rule, as you want?  Or will it do something else?"

"You know, don't you," she said it as a statement, not a question.  She stepped forward, and grasped his perfect chin in her claws.  "You planned this.  You know what's going to happen.  You're the spy."

He closed his eyes and smiled, not saying anything.

"I knew it.  It wasn't that boy's treachery I sensed; it was yours—for you were within him, hiding," she postulated.  "You're just a coward!"

"Coward, am I?" he slipped out easily from her grip, and came along side her.  "I'll let you do what you want.  But the government sent you not because of your magic, or your nobility, or your strength, or even your imposing air—for they didn't send you to get the Relic; they sent Dae.  Remember that."

Before she could slash out at him again, he disappeared in a downpour of silvery light, swimming through the open space and diving into Daemian's back.  Almost instantaneously, the black boy started breathing again.  He opened his eyes, and then closed them again.  The bright light around him hurt so much…  When he finally sat up and opened his eyes once more, he saw them: Dairiseki, Dubhlachaun, Dionysus and Dgeorge.  Jumping to his feet, he tired to escape, but there was nowhere to go and he was sore all over.

"Where's Dios?"

Silence.

No one had ever heard him speak, and the sound of his words seemed foreign; not what they'd expected.  The dark boy clenched his hands into fists, and shouted again.

"Where's Dios?!"

And again, no one answered.  Daemian pursed his lips and felt frustrated tears begin to form in his colorless eyes.  He wiped them away, and continued addressing the companions.

"Where is he?!"

When they disregarded his cries for the third time, he fled, ignoring his aching body.  They tried to follow him, but they could no longer see him.  Through the windows, the Dark crept in, filling the room like smoke.  Dae… Dae I'm here, just like before.  Stop being irrational, Dae.  He stopped, letting himself be submerged with the darkness.  Dae, stop dawdling.  Go find it.  When at first the boy didn't budge, Dios continued: That was only a decoy you saw before.  That wasn't the Relic.  Someone doesn't want it to be found, Dae.  That's why.  That's why you've had these dreams putting you in places you cannot escape from.  It doesn't want to be found.

Dae…

Dae!

Pay attention!

Cities crumbled, plants overtaking the once-thriving civilizations of the ancient world.  What we do not know is just hidden behind the plants.  So is this city.  That's what it appears like; one of the monuments.

Dae, you need to listen to me, I'm telling you something important.  Dae!

He was drawn blindly forward, towards something glowing inside the Dark's fake womb.  Nothing, not even the sun, could shine through something so dark…  Daemian reached out a hand, and stroked the illuminated spot, but he found his hand suddenly touching water, and when he looked again, it was he who was in the water, with his hand reaching out into the air for something to grab on.  He was thrown downwards into the thick liquid.

Struggling for breath, he swam up and up and up, towards that same light, gleaming faintly through the dark, dark water.  But as soon as he did so, the world turned and he was swimming downwards, down, down into the deep, dark abyss.  Daemian spun around, and reached towards the light—but yet again he was only facing away from it.

Dios emerged from his brother's back, and once more became the wings, allowing Daemian to fly through the murky depths, and with a splash come out of the sea and into the air.  Now he could see it, what the shining thing was.  He flew towards it, but it only moved away from him.

Suddenly, it shoved another illusion in his face; this time he was back in the cave.  Images of the mother and her child flashed through his mind, and he found himself keeled over on the ground, clutching his head and screaming in fright.  When he'd touched the pure light, it had died and withered away.  When he dropped it, it had shattered like glass.  Would that happen with the real Relic?  Daemian fell onto his side and continued screaming.  He felt it, though it wasn't happening.  He felt the Dark swallowing him up, enabling him to breathe.  He felt, again, what it was like to die, reliving that horrible memory.  Even though he knew it wasn't happening now, it didn't matter to him.  He could feel it, and that's all that mattered.

Dae, get up!  Dios' harsh order sounded through his mind, but he disobeyed.  Stop screaming, and get up.  You know this isn't real.  Don't let yourself fall for the same trick over and over again.  It didn't matter… it didn't matter… he was dying!  Dae!  Conquer this dream and the Relic is yours… just wake up; reach out your hand and grab it!  It's right there!

But Daemian couldn't see it.  Everything was dark.  It was all so dark!  His hands grasped the lantern, and he held it up to his face, seeing his tearstained reflection in its glass sides.  He opened it up, thinking maybe more light could escape, but instead, it only grew darker.

Reach out your hand and take it.  The Relic is right in front of you, it can't do anything.  Just take it…

Dae…

He tore at the illusion.  It was as if he was peeling away layers and layers of skin from the world, little tiny bits breaking off and falling into his mouth, causing him to sputter and cough.  His hands hurt from it brushing past, from it hitting into them, guarding his face from it.  He tore away the mother, her child, the cave, the Dark, and found himself back in the city, in the room at the top of the staircase.  He coughed up the pieces of it he'd inhaled, and looked around himself.

That's a good boy.  You're finally opening your eyes.  Now…

In front of him was what looked like another child of light.  This one huddled up holding its small legs to its small chest with its small hands.  It was bare, naked, and vulnerable to the evils outside of its fake womb; the Dark.  Daemian hesitantly stepped forward, and reached out a hand, just as Dios told him.  It winced, and its light flickered as if it were cringing.  Daemian stood frozen, unable to move.  It didn't want him to take it.  It didn't think he was worthy enough to take it.

Come one, Dae.  It's right there…

He stepped forward once more, again with his hand stretched out, and again, the Relic winced.  A cackle of laughter filled the room, and Dairiseki stepped out into view.  "Fool!  Can't you see that you're not the one to hold the Relic?  Your dear brother has been filling your head with lies!"  She barred his way, tall and imposing and dark, "It is mine, and you may not take it."

Daemian attempted to push past her, but she was an impenetrable wall.

"I cannot let someone such as yourself be in control of the fate of the world!" she shouted.  "The future will not be yours to create, as this city was.  I will not allow it!"

Don't listen to her, Dae.  Just reach past and take the Relic.  It is calling you… it wants you to take it.  It's been waiting for you for so many centuries.  It's right there…  Right there…

"What are you doing just standing there?!" the sorcerer shrieked.  "Aren't you listening to me?  Aren't you alive?!  Leave now!  Run away, little boy, leave this scary place for those who understand it!"

"You're scared of me, aren't you?" he didn't look her in the face—he couldn't bear it.  He stared at his feet upon the ground.

"How dare you bring me lower than your level, you scum!  I told you to leave, not mock me!"

"You're scared because I have Dios here.  You're scared because I can take the Relic."

"Never!  He is filling your head with lies; escape from his orders now and leave this city!"

"No, it is you who should leave," still not looking at her, he began walking towards the brightness in the corner.  Dairiseki tried to pull him back, but she was unable to do so.  He was right there… he was so close.  She couldn't stop him.

The Relic looked up.  It took its arms from in front of its face, and its knees down, and raised its head.

The sun set and the Dark enshrouded the world.  Great waves of it hurled themselves at Daemian.  Every last drop, every last shadow stuck behind every last crack, and every last pillar… as if he were a black hole, or a mouth craving food.  Streaks of it were torn from the sky, all zooming towards him.  He shrieked, but he could not run.  He put the lantern up to his face, and trudged on forward, one hand outstretched, trying to touch the Relic.

The closer he got, the more darkness came at him, enveloping him, wrapping him up like a package.  It came from everywhere, every corner of the planet, all to deter him from reaching his goal.  Come on, just a little bit more.  The Dark is an illusion; it's not real!  If you don't believe in it, it won't show itself, just like the illusion of the mother and her child—once you stopped believing in it, it just disappeared.

Daemian was knocked away by an incoming wave of blackness, and fell, the lantern skidding across the floor and hitting into something.  Its door opened, and suddenly, as if it were the hole in a sink, the ocean of dark he was drowning in began to drain away.

He could move, he could walk, and he could almost, almost touch the Relic.  His hand quivered, pale and chalky yet drenched with sweat.  What if it cracked?  What if the prince of light suddenly withered into a rotted corpse of sickness, becoming one with the Dark?  What if Dairiseki was right; what if he wasn't supposed to have the Relic?

"What the hell do you think you're doing, you selfish bastard?!"

He didn't even turn to look at the sorcerer.  She didn't matter anymore.  She was still stuck, still caught in the whirlpool of darkness while he rode the waves to salvation.  Though Dios said nothing, Daemian was sure he was pleased.  I'm almost there, Dioscury.  It had to be Daemian.  He had to be the one.  It had to be him.  The only other person even close to it was Dios. 

Hey, Dioscury.  Look…

His hand touched something soft, something so bright, something so pure, something so different than anything else he'd ever felt before.  A white light flashed, temporarily blinding them all, and when he could see again, everything was bare.

The Dark was gone.

It was all gone.

The lantern Dios had given him had closed, with the thick, black substance cached within its glass walls, begging to be let out.

The sleeping prince opened his eyes, and stood, facing Daemian; he reached out one hand, and interlaced his little fingers with the dark-haired boy's.  However, instead of feeling another great rush of power, Daemian began to grow weaker.  It was as if the Relic was leeching out his life.  He felt the wings on his back disappear, and his tunic fell limp against his bare, bony back.  He saw the back of his brother's head, right in front of him, emerge from his body.  Everything began to grow dim as the light within him came out.  He watched as Dios became one with the formerly-sleeping prince.

No… Dioscury, don't leave me.

Don't leave me…!

Brother!!

Daemian fell limp to the ground once more, dead as he was supposed to be.  Without Dios within him, he was an empty shell devoid of life.  Without Dios, he was powerless to do anything.  Dairiseki looked up from her own shell, where she had hidden from the hurricane of blackness.  Her eyes saw first the boy, sprawled out upon the floor, hollow and frozen; but then they moved up to the luminous glow of the Relic standing behind it.

A white prince.

She couldn't take her eyes off of him, even when tears began tricking down her hard, cold cheeks.  The Earth was not allowed such a divine being!  The white prince looked about the city with new eyes—stormy blue ones like Dios'—and he cried as well.  The Earth was not allowed to live in such ruin!  He lifted both of his hands up to the cavity in the sky where the sun should have been.

Dubhlachaun, Dionysus and Dgeorge all watched from their caverns, alongside the sorcerer.  They watched as the world began to crumble, as everything blew apart in a furious storm of destruction.  They watched as everything slowly, slowly turned into angelic light, so bright… so bight they had to close their eyes.

***

Daemian awoke and found himself in a cradle of new grass and flowers.  He cautiously stood up, and surveyed the world around him.  He was in a small valley, bordered by rolling hills with the phantom of taller mountains projected on the sky behind them.  A large tree with innumerable branches basked in the daylight above him, and up high, high in the sky, was a white light the same shape as the sun.  But when he held his fist up, he could not see it peering around, like the large, red star had.  It was something new, yet old.  Different yet the same.

Daemian began to walk down off the little hill he'd been sitting on, and found his way to a winding path, full of little, skittering creatures.  One of his hands nervously tugged at the strings on his shorts, and the other combed itself through his oily hair.  He knew where he was; he was in the Mourning Valley.  Those were the Twisting Mountains he saw winking in and out of sight on the horizon line.  But… where were the monuments; the buildings of the ancients?  He could see no signs of civilization, prehistoric or recent.  It was as if the world had started over anew, as if it had been dashed to pieces and then glued together again—but it was better than before.  Even though it looked almost the same at first glance, there were a myriad differences.  But it was not those small changes that transfixed him—nor was it the lack of the monuments and the new, smaller sun.

The Dark was gone.

He'd never before seen the world completely devoid of it—for when the Relic had awoken, all that had been visible to him was that one chamber of Montèchuzu.  Everything looked so clean, so fresh, so… so alive.

Daemian closed his eyes and took in one deep breath of the crisp air before setting off further down the trail.  Dios' lantern bumped against his leg, and he could already feel a bruise forming where it hit him.  The threads of his shorts tickled his knees, and a sudden breeze reminded him that his tunic was still untied in the back.  Stopping, he fixed each problem: holding the lantern, knotting the strings, tucking his tunic into his shorts—for, now he cared about the future, and he knew that those small things would all lead up to larger problems soon if they weren't done away with.

Smiling, he rolled a stone with his foot, watching as the white prince in the sky, curled into a radiant ball, highlighted the shining veins of crystal within it.  He wondered if in future generations, people would remember the story of how the Relic recreated the world.  Then he laughed—for, he formerly knew of no creation tale himself; what had been common knowledge turned into story, and story into legend, legend into myth, and myth into fantasy… and that fantasy had been forgotten.  But now the people would have a new tale to cling to. 

Thank you, Dioscury.

You're welcome, Dae.

Note: And thus ends the story.  I hope you all liked it!  Any comments welcome!  To see illustrations, go to my bio and visit my Elfwood gallery.