Chapter Four: Amongst Darkness, Gathering Strength

Darkness, dust, cinders swirled around in complex patterns on the gentle breeze. The grass was long and swayed lightly back and forth with the wind. Nature's rhythm seemed to surround him. It was a faint, distant melody that drifted upon the air. Gradually, the moon's light began to draw back the curtain of blackness on the world. He was lying on a hill, overlooking the forest. He didn't know how he got there, he simply enjoyed the peace of the night. Trees swayed softly as the air rushed through their leaves.
Amongst the trees shadows began to form, people began to slowly come out of the night towards him. Their eyes were sunken-in, their mouths gaped wide with thirst and their lips were cracked.
He looked closer, gazing at them and trying to feel who they were, what they were, and what they wanted. He had learned long ago to calm his soul and to gaze upon others to see who they really were inside. After a while his mind's eye would slowly open wide and his soul would be a mirror. He could see them inside himself, he could feel who they were, he could see the reflection of the energies of their soul. As he gazed at these people who seemed weak of thirst, he slowly began to see who they really were.
The world around him began to disintegrate before his eyes. The moisture inside of leaves of the trees and the grass all around him was sucked away, the plants crumbled and blew away like dust in the wind. The trees also were sucked dry, crumbling and collapsing into sand that fell to the ground in swirling clouds.
He leapt to his feet, and began to back away from the people slowly. His eyes grew wide, and tears filled them his face a mask of inexpressible pain and horror. Their souls had been stricken with drought, they were as dry inside as they were on the outside! And there was nothing he could do, he could not help them. He saw those who he loved, or had once known among these people, suffering their plight. He shook his head in disbelief, tear streaming down his cheeks as the people closed in all around him, gnarled hands outstretched and grasping at him. He turned to flee, but they were all around him now, hands clutching at him, pulling him down.
He tried to cry out, but his voice would not answer his mind's calls. They began to suck the water out of him, but were unable to quench their thirst. They turned and slowly began to walk away. He looked down at his hands, they were bony and his skin was as sandstone. He felt his dry mouth, and ran his hands over his cracked lips. He looked into himself in dismay and saw that he was as dry as they were now. He tried to weep, but only shed tears of dust. They had sucked him dry, nothing was better now! Why did they do this to each other, why had they done this to him? It meant nothing, it was only more suffering! Always suffering, everywhere, forever! Forever!

Wraith's body convulsed violently and he sat bolt upright, his body glistening with sweat. Nightmares again. Always he saw his fears during the night, he didn't know why. It only happened every now and then, normally he slept soundly. Sleep was a blessing for him, it meant a release from the daylight and all of the torments contained therein. Only sometimes it wasn't a release, it was just another torment. He hated those nights.
"Everything was so horribly dry, even people's hearts," he murmured. Where was he, what time was it? His head swam as thoughts began to blossom in his mind. Then, slowly, his memories began to return along with an awareness of his surroundings. He sat in the cave with one of the girl's blankets wrapped around him. The moon was higher in the sky then it had been when. When he had fought that foul demon, that Death Crier. So, it had been at least a day since that. He still felt weary, though. Something moved in the corner, he instinctively reached for his sword. His hand brushed the wound the demon had made in his side, and he gasped in pain.
Melan, who had been sleeping in a corner of the cave, was startled awake, seeing that Wraith was sitting up, she rushed over to him and gently grasped his shoulders. Concern in her eyes, she asked, "Are you all right? What's wrong?!"
He groaned slightly, gesturing to the wound in his side.
Melan looked confused for a brief moment, and then understanding shimmered behind her eyes, "Oh dear, we should take care of that."
Shaking his head, Wraith sunk back down to lay down on the cave floor again. He winced, lifted his head, and rubbed the back of it with his hand. He felt a large cut crusted over with dried blood the came off upon his hand. Wincing again, he wiped his hand off on his pants and looked over at the girl.
"How long was I. asleep?" He asked her in a quiet voice.
With a concerned look in her eyes, she answered "Almost an entire day. It's getting dark. I was worried whether or not you were going to wake up."
He reached into one of the many pouches along his belt and pulled out a needle and some thread. Weakly, he gestured for her to come closer. She inched herself up next to him, and listened intently.
"I don't think I would be able to retrieve any firewood even if you helped me walk. Do you think that you would be able to go and gather some?" He spoke as if a deep weariness had been laid across his soul while he slept, and frustration with his inability to move about freely seemed to echo in his voice.
She nodded, slightly nervous. In a quavering voice she asked, "What if one of those. things comes back?"
Giving the girl a grin that was at once both menacing and comforting, "It is not very likely for us to find two such demons so close to each other, and all of those fell animals are long gone. Do you know what that creature was?"
She shook her head.
"It was a demon that had been trapped in a place similar to Hell for hundreds of thousands of years. Once released by unknown forces, such beings wreak utter havoc when they step into the domains of men. This particular breed of demon sings, and when it opens its ghastly mouth, all of the pain and suffering, all of the hatred and malice, all of its horrible and twisted feelings from those many years it was caged are all unleashed in a horrendous song of destruction. Trees are shattered, hillsides swept clean, after such a melody the land would have been bare for miles. Had it actually begun to sing, we would surely have been destroyed. The stronger demons of that type actually have the power to open portals to the places where they suffer and often take their victims back with them. Such beings roam alone, and fortunately are not normally unleashed upon this earth. We are very lucky to be alive."
The girl's eyes had grown very wide and her mouth had fallen open. "How do you know such things?!" She exclaimed after a moment to gather her wits.
"When you have wandered about this world as much as I have, you tend to learn a few things here and there," he said with a grin, "I have heard many stories over the years and many have proved to be, at least partially, true. So, do you think that you are comfortable fetching some firewood? If you are, then perhaps in the morning you could help me find some water," as he resumed speaking of the matters at hand, his face grew calm and grave.
She nodded emphatically, her face stern. "I can go off to get the firewood right now," she said.
"Here, take this with you," he said as he gently removed his sword belt. As he removed the belt and held it for a moment he murmured something to the sword, then fastened it around the girl's waist.
"He is called Thanatos, take care of him and treat him with respect and he will protect and serve you. Just make sure that you don't drop him. If you need to actually fell some trees for wood, cut them down sparingly. I'd prefer it if you tried to gather all the wood you can from the forest floor. If you must, put your hand on Thanatos' hilt and he can guide you to whatever it is you are looking for," Wraith instructed. Melan nodded, her eyes growing wide.
"This must really be some sword!" she remarked with awe.
"He is truly a great blade," Wraith said with a pleased tone to his voice, the sword seemed to give off a slight ringing sound in response.
"Now, you should probably hurry before it gets any darker," he coaxed her gently, leaning back against the cave wall with a sigh.
"Okay," she said and hurried off into the night.
As he watched her disappear into the darkness, a shadow seemed to pass over his eyes and a darkness fell across his soul like a sinister veil. His eyes glowed softly and he drew out a long hunting knife, a whetstone and began to sharpen it. Slowly, methodically, sparks flew off of the blade and the stone as their ringing tone filled the air. The sparks began to float upwards on the air and slowly began to fill the cavern with their eerie light.

End Chapter Four