There wasn't a day without the storms. Thunder rolled and clouds formed into dense clusters, mixing into a concoction of light, sound, and furious rain, pelting the earth below without hesitation. Joining it were the winds, unbounded by the weather and sent spiraling through the air with no set destination, causing an overhanging roar amongst the din of the storm's booming.
Streams formed below where the ground allowed it, new passages of water appearing overnight, slithering through the trees. Most of them, mainly pines, stood tall as solitary towers amongst small lakes, and although most were well fed with their watery food, some were paling with death. Day had become night, as it had for months, blotting out the source of heat and light they required. Already some had fallen victim to the cruel torture.
Within the landscape, the storm boiling endlessly, sat the meager remains of an attempted fire. A ring of stones lay beneath as much cover as the forest could give, but yet water still would leak down or blow in, forcing its entrance. Instead, the maker of the hopeful source of warmth sat against the broad base of a tree trunk, his body having retreated as far into his cloak as possible.
The material was soaked through, as it'd been for days now. The same went for the pack by his side, once filled with supplies that had dwindled over the weeks, but now was nearly empty with almost useless drenched materials and objects. His face was hidden within the folds of the cloak's hood, water dripping from its stooped brim.
Another clash of light and sound occurred above, and the Cloaked Man gave a shiver, not only from the cold and wetness, but of the looming forces above… and the ones that lay ahead. The storm was not natural, not at all. What was typically seen as a source of life for the forest now would be its executioner, flooding its lands and bringing a vast darkness across its rolling hills and mountains. An eager blotch of sunlight would burst through at times, but it would only be quickly extinguished, engulfed by the black-gray clouds above.
The Cloaked Man closed his eyes for a moment, the change in lighting between seeing and unseeing not too notable. Thoughts of despair crept into his darkened mind, whispering tempting words into his ears, wishing for him to turn back, to leave the wretched storms and land behind him. However, like all the times before, he whisked them away, determination overpowering weakness as he focused on his goal. The butte. The one who dwelled there. That was what mattered.
He could not tell if it was either night or day in these lands, but having rested as much as he deemed necessary, the Cloaked Man crawled from his pathetic source of cover and left the tree and ring of stones behind him. His leather boots sloshed through puddles as he walked across dampened grass and undergrowth, heading on his way deeper into the forest.
How he wished for warmth, to be dry for the first time in weeks. How his body had not given in to the cold of the storm was beyond his own belief, his limbs now stiff, his fingers inflexible. The shivering had stopped only a few days ago, and he feared it to be a sign of the end. He'd only found limited food, mostly greens, the animals of the forest having fled ages ago. His journey required an end before the cold hand of death caught him.
Time began to pass endlessly once more, instinct and vague direction guiding him through the trees and hills. All the while, his mind fell into a series of images, and though he wished to remain in a blissful stupor, they returned anyway. The flashes of lightning, the smoking remains of structures, burnt corpses and a subtle laughter prodding at the back of his mind. There were the fields, wrapped in the hot embrace of fire and smoke. A home collapsing in and then forcibly blasting outward from an unknown force. Laughter. Cold. Dark.
The crash of lightning was simultaneous in the sky above him and the one within his visions, and he felt he was traversing two different worlds, one of confusion and fire and the other of darkness and water. Present events and memories were being meshed together as he walked, torturing his mind and body.
What could have been days passed by as he walked and remembered, barely noting the viciousness of the weather, nor the waist high rivers he marched through. It was all so numbing that his body did not bother registering the pain of cold or discomfort. There was only endless night and the feeling of his goal never coming any closer.
But then, one day, he was upon it. At last, he had arrived, and within the lashing rain and darkened skies, he was amazed he had not missed it. The trees ended where the cliff face began, a wall of rugged rock lying as a barrier in the forest, stretching up to the heavens. No living thing, animal or plant, resided on its harsh stone, it as dead as the rest of the forest would soon be. With its presence came an ominous feeling, one that was felt deep in the soul, instinct flaring to flee it, but also a slight calling, echoing down its face.
Without second thought, the Cloaked Man reached to the craggy rock, numb and darkened fingers grasping onto a handhold, and with a slight pain, he pulled himself up. Sluggishly, he began to climb, hands and feet slipping away at the face of the cliff, the wind threatening to pull him away and force him to his death down below. Yet new strength flowed through his hands and limbs, his gradual climb leading him higher and higher.
The farther he went, the more it became apparent that this was not, in fact, a cliff, but a protruding piece of earth from the ground, the face he resided on curving off in each direction, vanishing from view. The butte was wide and tall, yet not immense enough to not be capable of seeing its end. Its top, however, was lost in the whirling rain above, and the Cloaked Man wished to see it, to bring an end to his miserable journey.
Hours passed, and yet the climb never seemed to end. There were moments of rest as the Cloaked Man clung to the wall, his face against the rough rock, attempting to shield it from the rain. The wind rushed right through him, tugging at his clothing, roaring beneath and above him.
Emotion and pain were lost as he continued onward, and the pull of the butte became stronger, urging him on. Something within his mind shrieked of fear though, but he silenced it without hesitation. He had come too far. He had gone for too long. This was where it must end.
The opening was near invisible against the sheer vastness of the butte's face, but he, either from fate or luck, had stumbled right across it. It was wide enough for one man to enter, but beyond the initial few feet, it held a pitch black interior. The crack pulsed of temptation, and the Cloaked Man was sure he could hear the call of his own name coming from within, inviting him into its dark corners. Any sane man would have turn from such a place then, but he was far from sane. He almost grinned at such a thought, realizing his own situation, but his face remained stoic.
Without much of a rush, he pushed himself into the crevice, pausing as he took a few steps in. He scanned the darkness, hoping he would see something beyond its black veil, but nothing appeared. His observation proving useless, he stepped forward into its mysterious entrance.
Sand, like powder, was beneath his feet. The tunnel had widened into a room of unknowable proportions. Blackness surrounded him, engulfed him, ensnared him. The room breathed, exhaling and inhaling around him, the storm now muted beyond stone walls. He stood firmly, his direction lost now.
It was silent at first… but then came the presence.
It was rushing in, having sensed him, and with it came an ear splitting roar. It shook the ground beneath him and grinded against the rock that surrounded him. His hands darted up, clawing at his scalp as the noise penetrated his skull, thrashing inside his mind like an angered parasite. It secured itself there as the roar became utter screams, and the man fell to his knees, sobbing silently.
And, abruptly, the noise vanished as quickly as it had appeared.
The Cloaked Man looked up into the darkness.
He sensed the Demon.
Welcome, strange traveller, to my dwelling.
Its presence was just as he remembered it. It encircled him, its voice not coming from any direction but from inside his own mind. It latched there hungrily, not bothering to move.
"…do not greet me as a stranger, evil one," said the Cloaked Man, his voice echoing off nearby walls. "We are already acquainted."
Do not treat me as though I were a fool. I recognize you, strange one, and I am astonished by your determination to arrive here.
"And such a determination has led me, day and night, to this place…"
So you may confront me? You may be bold, but you are not wise. Do you not know what has occurred to the others who have stepped into this sacred place?
"I have no intention of leaving this place, Demon," growled the man.
Then you are at least capable of admitting your own fate. Or did you come here willing to step into the freedom of death?
"Perhaps… but only to free myself from the nightmares you have infected me with."
Laughter erupted around him then, cackling cruelly in his ears.
You have brought this upon yourself, mortal. You had the choice to die amongst the others, but you insisted on being strong, to resist my call. But, things have come in full circle, and you stand before me once more. You will face death just as the numerous others have. All these tribulations you have thrown yourself into could have been prevented eons ago.
"You took them all… my wife… my children… and you expect me to just give in, to hand over the breath of life? I have sought your presence once more and have travelled hundreds of miles, guided by unsure directions, all for the sake so I could face my family's killer."
And here you have found me… but what is there that you could do? I am immortal. I hold the greater power. No force of nature or human creation could harm me, and no statements of vengeance will ever change this.
"Perhaps you are the fool now, Demon. Nothing is truly immortal, as have many of your kind have come to realize, having been vanquished in the past…"
The force of the word made the Cloaked Man flinch, grasping his head once more.
None of my kind, none of the other immortals has ever been ridden of from this Earth. They only are pushed away by mortals' methods of banishment, but we are here. We are always here. We are the brief phantoms at the corner of your eye, the shadows that lurk within the dark corners of humanity, the nightmares that cause the bawling of children and the visions of doom. We are the screams heard in the dark hours of the night, and the disease that plagues the Earth. You know nothing mortal. Whatever flimsy illusions you have of our existence is mere fantasy, created by centuries of false lore.
The man closed his eyes, his concentration starting to rise.
"Or maybe you are the one with false knowledge. Maybe you are overdone with confidence of your existence."
How dare you say such things!
The voice was roaring now.
You are unwise to speak to me in such a way, to think your wisdom is greater than mine! You have seen the power I possess. I have slayed thousands, all for sacrifice. Your village remains in ruins, what you perceived as your loved ones now stiff under the ground. I am the all-knowing one! I control the fate of life just as I control nature itself!
"Then prove your words, Demon!" screamed the Cloaked Man.
A shriek of rage erupted in his skull, and suddenly, the presence that'd been resting firmly on his consciousness delved deeper into his mind, taking hold. The pain was instantaneous as the Demon took greater control over the Cloaked Man, it feeling like knives piercing through his temples.
You will regret your words, mortal!
The Cloaked Man screamed into the darkness, but it was no longer black. He could see as the Demon saw. Everything was lit, no corner painted black, bones scattered across the ground around him. He could see past the walls of the cavern, sense every droplet of rain that fell from the sky, take in every blast of wind, watch as nature collided above and brought fiery light to the sky. His vision took in miles, stretched out beyond the horizon, noting every object and knowing all that surrounded him.
He was nearly overwhelmed, but he knew death was near.
"You may wish to escape now, Demon, before it is too late!" he yelled boldly, clutching his head as the presence dug deeper.
Meaningless words from a dying man.
The Demon's voice was strained though, and its progress into the Cloaked Man's strengthened mind was slowing. The man's eyes were clenched shut, although he could still see all around him, and gradually, he stood on quivering legs. He let the new expansion of vision guide him as he took a shaking step forward.
You… you are ever so resilient, mortal. What do you believe you can accomplish?
The voice almost sounded worried.
Make this simpler, not only for me, but for yourself. Give in.
The Cloaked Man staggered forward, back to the crevice, to the dim light of the outside. His feet pushed greatly against the powdered ground, nearing the opening. All the while, the Demon continued to desperately push deeper.
Cease your struggling. GIVE IN.
He succeeded in reentering the opening, forcing his way through the few feet that separated him from open air. Meanwhile, the Demon could reach no further, and he could not stop the vessel he was attempting to take. The Cloaked Man's mind was heavily guarded, more than any other. Already, the man could feel the presence beginning to pull away, perhaps to try again in a moment.
The Demon remained, unable to escape. An invisible force was tethering him to the Cloaked Man, gripping tight.
What is this?
The Cloaked Man, his face strained with concentration, took a few more desperate steps forward. No answer left his lips, and the Demon thrashed around within him, trying to escape the new clutch that held it there.
"You believe yourself immortal, Demon," whispered the Cloaked Man as he felt the first blast of cold wind from outside the crevice. "But this is not the truth."
The Demon screamed out of frustration, pulling at the man's mind like an animal trying to break free from the chains that ensnared it, but the Cloaked Man held true.
"You have made your first and final mistake."
His body emerged from the butte, teetering over the edge and the hundreds of feet of air that lay below him.
"Yet, if trapped within a mortal body…"
He glanced down at the drop, rain pelting his face, and for the first time in a long time, he smiled.
"You shall die with his own death, IMMORTAL OR NOT!"
The Cloaked Man leaped.
Screams filled the air, that of the Demon and the high pitched laughter of the man. The body fell along with its two beings, limbs tumbling, and all the while, the Cloaked Man kept his steel hold on the presence that infected him. The drop was immense, and the Demon continued to struggle, screaming in fury as he soon realized the hopelessness of it all.
The ground approached faster, drew nearer… and soon, it was upon them.
The rain ceased, the clouds cleared, and light fell on the forest for the first time in ages. The water eventually washed off, either into the earth or flowed away. Life resumed, and the flooded land returned to its previous state.
The butte at its center would become the marker of a dark tale, one told through the ages, and soon lost in time.