Falling Embers

Chapter I: Rest Calm - Silent Ceremony

Sardonyx let out a sigh of relief as he pulled up his bike in front of his little cottage, before killing the engine. For a while he just sat there atop his monster of a motorcycle, eyes closed and a small smile playing on his lips, just listening to the sounds of nature that surrounded him. He was extremely glad to be home again, feeling all the stress that had built itself up seep out of his body. Spending a week visiting his sister in the chaotic hell that was called London had almost been too much for him. His intolerance for chaos, noise and the general hectic hustle-and-bustle of cities was what had driven him to move to this hamlet. And a hamlet it was. The number of houses could be counted on one hand and there couldn't be more than 17 people living here, tops. It didn't even have a shop, pub, chapel, or anything really. All in all, a very typical English hamlet.

A small breeze caused his hip-length auburn hair to flutter softly behind him. Sard opened his eyes, revealing their striking mercury grey colour. Shaking his head softly he swung one leather-clad leg over the bike and started wheeling the black monstrosity towards the shed. This bike was one of his most treasured possessions, more so since he had built the whole thing from scratch. That's what you get for being a stubborn little genius. Once Sard gets something in his head he won't yield for anything less, not even if it meant spending ridiculous amounts of time building his dream bike.

Closing the shed he finally made his way over to the cottage. For now he just left all his stuff in the bike, he'd unpack later. After a five hour drive, he first of all wanted to get out of his dust covered leathers and then maybe take a nice, calming walk through the forests, before having to kick his brain back into gear. You have no idea how tiring such a trip is, especially after spending a week in hell.

After having a hot shower and a change of clothes, Sard was tying up his hair in a high ponytail as he descended the stairs. The tight, ripped grey jeans, knee-high, black buckle boots and fitted shirt did nothing to hide his tall, scrawny form. A simple choker of black velvet was around his neck, a small piece of silver-framed Sardonyx resting in the pit of his throat as it accentuated his alabaster skin.

The redhead grabbed his long, fur-lined coat as he exited and headed towards the woods. The trees in there were tall, thick and ancient. Sard could almost feel their age as he walked between them. To him it very much felt as if every tree had its own story and attempted to tell it to anyone who passed. Whenever he walked through these woods he couldn't help but feel small and insignificant. To him this place was almost like something sacred, something that should be respected and preserved. Despite having walked between these very trees for years, doing so never failed to amaze Sard. It was like a sanctuary, something he knew would always be there for him.

Sard suddenly stopped, mercurial eyes very much swirling like the metal they derived there name from, as he looked around. Something was different, different from all the other times he had been here. He knew these woods like the back of his hand, if something was different he knew, no matter how small the change may be, and right now something was very wrong.

He looked around intently, searching for whatever it was that alarmed him so much, but everything looked right to him. It wasn't until the soft breeze intensified a little that he realized what was wrong. On the air he could smell the heavy scent of fire, as well as the sweet, thick odour of decay, and if he listened closely he thought he could even hear a soft sobbing.

Auburn brows furrowed as he thought about the possible meaning of this. Coming to the conclusion that mere speculation wouldn't do any good, he stared to move into the direction the scent seemed to originate from. As Sard moved closer the smell intensified and the sobbing could be heard quite clearly now. It was a child's.

He finally reached a clearing and stood frozen by what he saw. On the opposite end of the clearing was the old forester's cabin. It had been abandoned decades ago and had over time changed into nothing more than four ramshackle walls holding up something that could only be called a roof if one used very, very loose standards.

That was what had been left of the cabin last time Sard had seen it, now, however, all that was left were a few burned, stacked stones. Everything else had turned to ash.

But more horrifying was the sight in front of the cottage. Between the piles of ash sat a small boy, he couldn't possibly be any older than six, Sard noticed. On his folded knees rested the head of another boy, body stretched out straight and still.

When he took a good look at the second boy, Sard wanted nothing more than to run away and empty his stomach, yet his body stayed completely still. The boy was clearly dead, Sard couldn't really say how long, but it must have been some time. His skin was a sickly grey, mottled with red blotches due to blood clotting, the eyes were completely gone and his eye sockets were nothing more than bloodied holes. White could be seen and Sard wasn't exactly sure if it were either bones or maggots. He preferred not to dwell on it for too long. Some of the smaller forest animals had clearly recognised a feast in the small corpse, judging from the many pieces of missing flesh, now maggot-ridden and rotting. There was a brief rustle of clothes and a ferret appeared from underneath the boy's shirt, poked its nose in the air for a brief moment before starting to tear flesh from a seemingly tastier spot.

The boy didn't seem to notice him. Personally Sard wanted nothing more than to go back home and forget this gruesome sight but he knew he couldn't just leave the boy here. In a desperate attempt to keep the stench from his mouth and nose he flipped up his coat collar and zipped it closed. He kept his eyes focused on the boy instead of the corpse. Having reached the boy he tried to keep his back to the corpse as much as possible before crouching and placing a hand on a little shoulder.

It took the boy a while before he seemed to notice the weight on his shoulder. For the first time in days he tore his gaze from the dead boy, staring blankly at the stranger. Not really seeing him.

"Come," Said Sard softly. "There's nothing more you can do." Acting much as if on auto-pilot the boy stood up and let the redhead lead him to the edge of the clearing before stopping. When he noticed the boy wasn't following anymore, Sard turned around and crouched in front of him, placing his hands on both shoulders. He could feel the bones poking out from underneath his clothes. How long had it been since he had last eaten something. "Is something wrong?" The boy was silent for a few moments, turning his head to look back at the corpse for a moment, before answering. " My brother, we can't just leave him." His voice was no more than a whisper, hoarse from lack of use. "A fire, to re-join him with the old gods." He added after a few moments of silence.

Sard nodded. For a few moments he just gazed at the boy. His skin was extremely pale and maybe even slightly translucent, just like porcelain, he couldn't be completely sure in the dimming light. And then there were those eyes, big and innocent yet dark and endless like eternity. A feeling from inside told Sard that there was something not quite right about this boy, but what it was, good or bad, he didn't knew.

Finally he lifted his hands from the boy's shoulders, took one more good look at him and turned around. The child followed him to his cottage. No words were spoken. It felt almost as if the eerie silence that hung over the forest was something sacred and that disturbing it would result in a horrible fate.

It wasn't until they reached the little cottage that the boy lifted his head and for the first time actually looked at Sard. "Dusk." He said. "My name, it's Dusk, and Dark is what my brother was called." Sard was startled by the sudden sound. For a few moments he just looked at the boy, suppressing the urge to shiver at the eerie, ghastly sound. "Mine's Sardonyx. You can call me Sard, everyone does." Sard responded before hurrying inside. Something was definitely not right about that boy, Dusk.

The first thing the redhead did after taking off his coat was to run a bath. Dusk reeked of death and decay and it certainly wasn't helping the strange air that hung around him.

With Dusk now soaking in the bath Sard took out his old duster, which he only wore when doing some of the dirtier jobs around the house, like gardening or chopping wood. Seeing as he had been thinking about throwing the old thing away he decided he could just burn it afterwards.

So, dressed in his old duster and a pair of wellingtons he set about the woods in search for wood for a funeral pyre for the poor dead boy. A ghastly job for sure, one he would rather not be performing but it had to be done. Dusk had been right, they couldn't just leave the body there. Not only was it disrespectful, it was exceptionally creepy as well, the thought of a decaying body so close to his house. For a moment he had to make sure not to drop the wood as a violent shiver travelled down his spine.

Every time when he had his arms were filled with wood he would drop it off at the clearing before going back to gather more. By the time he had enough wood for a decent pyre, the sky had changed into glittering dark blue velvet, luckily for him, tonight was a full moon so there was no need for extra light.

A fox was circling around the body, probably lured here by the promise of a free meal. Seeing Sard the animal lowered its front and growled softly, not about to lose his meal to another. Not wanting another animal to feed on Dark's remains, Sard grabbed one of the remaining, charred pieces of stone from the cottage and lunged it at the fox. Hitting the canid's side the fox let out a pained whine before disappearing into the woods.

A little reluctant at first, Sard started placing the wood on the small body. As he did so he realized that Dusk and Dark must have been twins. They had the same build, the same dark hair and looked, for as far as he could determine, about the same height. It became slightly easier to stack the wood as the boy got covered by a first layer. How hard this must be for Dusk, to lose not only a brother but a twin as well. Sard himself couldn't even begin to fathom what it would be like to lose his sister. Shaking his head in an attempt to dismiss such depressing thoughts, he placed the last pieces of wood on the small pyre. But how could he not think about it, with a corpse right in front of him?

At long last he straightened up and took a few steps back. Somehow he felt as if he couldn't just light the pyre and be done with it. As he thought about what was missing he rubbed his dirtied hands on his duster. A soft jingling caught his attention. Lifting both his hands he noticed the several small silver chains around his right wrist. A sad smile appeared on his lips as he unclasped one of them, the most beautiful of them all. It had pieces of butterfly wings and crow feathers cast in glass embedded in it. Somehow Sard just knew this was the perfect offering.

After taking one last look at it, he placed it on the funeral pyre and took out his Zippo. With one last look at the moon he lit a twig and threw it on the pyre. Taking a step back he waited. It took a while but at last it was completely ablaze. It wasn't until he felt something wet touch his hand that he realized he was crying. "May the gods be with you, Dusk. May they welcome you in their halls and delight in your presence, until you are bound to return to this world or another." He said softly, almost choking on the last words.

Just when he was about to turn around and return to the cottage one of the bigger logs exploded, sending a whirlwind of sparks to the sky, and for a brief moment, Sard was convinced he had seen it take the form of a crow surrounded by butterflies. He kept staring at the fire for a while longer, as if making sure it was indeed that, a fire, and nothing more.

Deciding that it must be his eyes playing tricks on him, it had been a tiring and extremely strange day after all, he turned around and left the clearing. Yet, as he made his way home, deep down he knew that he had not imagined it. The coincidence of it being those two animals, the same as his bracelet was too big to be just that, a coincidence.

He took off his duster and wellingtons outside, before entering. He'd decide what to do with them the next morning, right now he was too tired and freaked out to make any more decisions. That, and he still had Dusk whom he would now have to look after. He sighed deeply as he opened the front door. All he had ever asked for was a life of peace and solitude. But he wasn't a cruel person, he couldn't, wouldn't throw out a small child who had just lost his brother.

As soon as he entered the living room he saw the boy had fallen asleep on the couch, huddled under a fur blanket. A small smile appeared on Sard's lips. The way he lay there, sideways and with his knees drawn up, head having fallen to the side and face completely relaxed, devoid of the sadness he had seen there before. He looked so … peaceful, just like any other sleeping child. At the very moment, no one would be able to guess what had happened to Dusk. It caused Sard to relax just a little, tension leaving his shoulders. The boy must have been exhausted.

Feeling somewhat better he first went into the kitchen to wash the grime from his hand before searching the cupboards for something to eat. The fact that he had been gone for a week didn't help him very much in that matter. All perishables had been used up before he left, leaving the fridge strangely empty. He made a mental note to go shopping tomorrow, and not just for food, Dusk would need some new clothes as well.

Eventually he found some pasta and some canned tomatoes, corn and chickpeas. It didn't take him too long to prepare a hot meal and set the table. Once that was done he made his way over to the couch. For a moment he just looked at the sleeping boy. He knew that what he saw, the innocence, the peace, was nothing but an illusion, one created by the comforting presence of sleep. A temporary chance to forget, to not have to care about whatever was going on or had happened. It was almost like something magical, after all, how many things were there in the world that could make one forget about all ones memories, even for only brief periods of time. Not much indeed. Yet, seeing the boy like this, it made him feel sad as well. Were it not for the rhythmic rising and falling of his little chest he could just as well be death. After all, wasn't death the big brother of sleep?

Tenderly, very much like a big brother would do, he brushed a stray tendril of hair out of Dusk's face. He was amazed by its colour, now that he could see it clearly, what with the grime and gore and ash washed out. It was black, and not just any black, but the type of black that seemed to suck all the light, out of the air surrounding it. It didn't have the usual shimmer hair had, instead it was dull and opaque, something which seemed to made the black only even darker. Much like his eyes, Sard thought. Those were dull and dark as well, seemingly sucking all the light out of the air.

It was slightly unnerving, that much he couldn't deny. But no matter how strange this child may be, it seemed as if Dusk had already made himself a small and cosy place inside Sard's heart. He would care for the child. He would help him, would do anything to make him feel better after what had happened to him. He felt obliged to. Almost as if it were his duty. Strange as it all may sound, to Sard that was how he saw it.

Dusk tossed somewhat in his sleep, having been awoken by Sard's tender caresses. Sleepily he untangled an arm from underneath the fur and rubbed his eyes, yawning. Endless black met swirling silver, and for a brief moment there seemed to be a connection between the two. Something old, ancient even, but it was gone again before either of the two could determine what it was exactly.

Sard looked confused for a moment before smiling softly. "Dinner's ready. I bet you're hungry, huh?" Dusk just looked at the older male for a few more moments before nodding softly. Looking a little better than before he pushed away the fur and got up. He was dressed in one of Sard's t-shirts, seeing as the redhead had nothing that could possibly fit a six-year old. "Thank you." He said in that eerie voice before sitting himself on one of the table's two chairs.

After a moment or two, Sard nodded and got up. Having sat himself at the table he started to dish out the pasta. For a while the two of them ate in complete silence, the only sounds coming from outside, like a lonely owl's call.

"So, uhm…" The older of the two began, nervously twirling his pasta round and round on his plate. "How long had you been there… in the woods… with your… brother." His voice is soft, as if he isn't sure if he should be asking something like that right now, and he isn't. He really hasn't got a clue as to if he should ask about Dusk's brother and what happened now or should he wait, wait until the boy had had some time to think things over. Should he let the boy relive everything now, so that it was over, or later, and maybe cause him more grief by reminding him of it. He really didn't knew. It was just that he had never been, and had never imagined that he would ever be in a situation like this. By the gods, why did everything have to be so confusing. He wanted to do the right thing and help the boy, but what exactly was the right thing. Asking him now or later. Keep him with him, take him to an orphanage or maybe start a search to see if he could possible find a family member. Surely the boy must be an orphan, if his parents would have been in the area surely they would have reported him and his brother as missing, causing whole searches to be initiated, but judging from the level of decomposition of Dark he must have been sitting with the body for quite some time. Argh, so frustrating.

As he mulled everything over inside his head, causing him to worry more and more, if he was doing the right thing he barely noticed Dusk answering his previous question. He dropped his fork as he was catapulted back into reality. "Hah?" Dusk just looked at him blankly for a moment. "I've been there for about a quarter of a lunar month, give or take a few days. Tonight's a full moon and I believe the moon was a little farther that first quarter when it happened."

Blushing slightly with embarrassment, Sard bend down underneath the table to retrieve his fork. "I see." It made sense, he had been gone for a week and he had walked through the clearing the day before he left and there had been no sign of two boys. "So… do you want me to contact anyone, let them know you are here?" Dusk shook his head at the offer. "No," His voice was still barely more than a whisper, but Sard was sure he would still be able to understand what he was saying, even if they were to be in an extremely crowded, loud area. "There's no one to contact. We - I don't have anyone. Dark and I are orphans, we never had anyone." He hadn't lifted his head as he spoke but now he did, and those big black holes that were his eyes sucked Sard in like a vortex. "You'll help me. I know you will. You will take care of me until it is time for me to go on."

It was silent as the two stared at one another. A soft smile had appeared on Dusk's lips and Sard couldn't help feel startled, and maybe a little scared. How did he know? How could he be so absolutely sure? Maybe it was just childish innocence, causing him to assume everyone would help him. No, Sard dismissed that thought almost as soon as it manifested. He knew it wasn't that. It was something completely different, if only for the fact that Dusk had probably seen much more of man's bad side that its good.

Having finished his food Dusk left the table and walked over to the window, the one looking out on the forest. If one possessed good eyes and looked very carefully, knowing what it was they were looking for then a small flicker of flames could be seen in the darkness.

"You know just as much as I do that what I said was true. You will help me. You're destined to. You saw the signs." Dusk could practically feel the questioning look on Sard's face. "Yes, the signs. Your bracelet, the fire, the crow, the butterflies. You saw them." Sard wanted to say something but no sound would come out when he opened his mouth. How could he know what he had done, had seen back there. "Who are you?" He finally managed. Dusk turned around, leaning casually against the windowsill. "I am who I am. I am what people want me to be, just as much as I am what they want me to be the least. This is who I am, nothing more and nothing less."

Chapter II: The Gathering – All I need

Sard awoke earlier than usual the next morning. Laying on his back and staring at the ceiling he thought about the boy who was currently sleeping on his couch downstairs. After Dusk's strange words they hadn't really said anything anymore. He had just cleaned up before getting him a spare pillow and blanket. Something really wasn't right about that boy. No six-year old talked like that, especially not an orphan. He swung an arm over his eyes as he sighed deeply. What exactly was he supposed to do? "You'll help me, I know you will." Those words kept repeating themselves in his head. He would help Dusk, of that there was no doubt. It was just the fact of how he had known that with such certainty.

Coming to the conclusion that just lying in bed, wondering and pondering till eternity wouldn't help him much Sard decided to go downstairs. As he had said before, yesterday had been anything but an ordinary day, maybe that's what had brought all the strangeness on. One could never know.

Seeing as it was still pretty early Sard hadn't expected to find Dusk wide awake and scribbling feverously on a piece of paper. He didn't seem to notice the older male until he switched on the light.

His head shot up, black hair whipping around his face and equally black eyes wide with surprise. "Oh?" Was all the sound he made before taking another piece of paper and scribbling on that one as well.

A single eyebrow rose as Sard just looked at him quizzically. Crossing his arms in front of his chest he decided to wait and see if Dusk would explain. That didn't seem to be the case. Just when he was about to ask what he was doing Dusk put down his pen and looked Sard straight in the eyes. "I've made two lists, one for you and one for me. If you really want to help me you need to find every item on it." He stood up, grabbed one of the papers and walked towards Sard, handing it to him.

Slightly confused the redhead took the paper, taking a quick look. The items listed weren't rare or anything, a little searching was all he would have to do to attain them. No, what puzzled him was the strangeness of the items, and the fact that he couldn't for the life of it think of what Dusk could possibly need them for. A rodent's skull, holly leaves and berries, snail houses, oak leaves, an eagle stone, and so on. Most of those items could be scavenged from the woods, though some would require more effort, like the eagle stone. Of all the different items two caught his attention, a crow's feather and the wing of a butterfly. Those two animals again. And it was winter, where was he supposed to find a butterfly?

He was pulled out of his thoughts by Dusk's eerie voice. "I gave you the easy ones. Please gather everything on the list as soon as possible. The sooner it can be done the better." He gave Sard a small smile before walking backwards and dropping himself on the couch. "It?" Sard asked. Dusk twisted himself so he was lying on his belly, head resting on his interlaced fingers and legs swaying back and forth in the air. "Uh-huh." He nodded. Sighing, the older of the two ran a hand through his long hair. Well, it seemed like it was near impossible to get any straight answers out of the boy. Suppose he'd just have to wait and see. "Guess I'll just try to get everything together as soon as possible then." Now that might be an issue. Despite the fact that the forest was so close it would become rather inconvenient for Sard to really go on a good search. It got dark very early and school was about to start again in a few days. He wasn't really planning on failing his last year in university. Gah, why does everything, always have to be so damn complicated?

So, he had to go on a search for items that could have easily belonged to a medieval witch. All fine and dandy but right now his priorities were to eat some breakfast, get dressed and go shopping, lest he wanted the two of them to starve, oh, and some clothes for Dusk as well. Complicated, all too damn complicated.

For the following weeks Sard collected as many of the items as possible. Some required a lot of searching, whilst others he came across by pure accident. Dusk must have been completing his own list, as Sard had been unable to catch the boy anywhere between sunrise and sundown, some days he hadn't even come back during the night. What sorts of items could it be that he needed so much time to gather? He'd find out eventually, wouldn't he?

At first, he had thought it would be difficult for him to deal with such a young child. It wasn't a secret that young children were more often than not, hell to look after, causing many parents to go grey prematurely. Combined with the fact that he didn't like to be around anyone for too long a length of time, not even quiet, mature people, he had mentally prepared himself for the worst. None of that though. No temper tantrums, ridiculous demands or whatever. Most of the time Sard wasn't even aware of Dusk's presence, except then for that strange aura that hung around him. He also knew some of the most beautiful stories he had ever heard. After dinner Sard would light a fire in the hearth and Dusk would tell ancient stories about nymphs, lycans, imps, elves, fey, dwarves and many other mythical beings.

Opening one of the glass doors of the large wooden cabinet standing in the living room, Sard took out a rather large wooden box. It was rather heavy, as he carried it over to the table. Opening it, he took out a wrinkled piece of paper. It was the same Dusk had given him. The only difference between the list now and then is that now, most of the words were crossed out. The box itself was filled to the brim with all the objects he had already gathered. Taking a pen he crossed out the names of two more objects. Next he reached into his coat pocket and took out exactly that, a small animal bone and a piece of mineral, an eagle stone. The stone rattled softly as he placed it inside the box.

Looking the list over for the umpteenth time since he had gotten it he shook his head. There was only one thing left and he had absolutely no idea as to how he would ever find it. A butterfly's wing. Sagging in his chair Sard looked outside, watching as the sky darkened and the stars appeared one by one, like mysteriously glowing eyes. Soon it would be pitch black outside, the time of the new moon was nearing and the small sliver of moon that adorned the night sky wasn't enough to see by.

Lost in thought Sard closed the box again, placing it back in the cabinet before opening a drawer and taking out a flashlight. Not really realizing what he was doing, he then walked towards the front door and stepped outside. The wind had picked up a little in intensity, the winter cold in it assaulting him like the nine bladed strings of a cat's tail. That got him out of his daze. A little unsure he looked around. No matter the cold, Sard felt as if he had to go somewhere, had to go inside the forest. It was a nagging sort of feeling and it grew stronger the longer he waited. Looking up at the sky he decided he could just go for a short walk before it would be completely dark.

Huddled in the high, furry collar of his coat he started walking. He didn't really think about where he was going, instead he let the strange feeling guide him. Luckily for him the old, giant trees broke the whipping winds a bit. It wasn't until he came to the clearing that the wind suddenly stopped. The sudden change surprised him a little. Turning around he could hear and see the trees swaying and moaning under the strong winds, but not here. Turning back towards the clearing he recognized the place he had set fire to Dark's little funeral pyre. A reasonable pile of ash was all that remained.

A rustling of leaves drew his attention and he saw a crow emerge from between the barren branches. It cawed once, twice, trice, before jumping down and landing gracefully with a flutter of tar black feathers. Its twinkling onyx eyes seemed to look at Sard before it let out a sound akin to a chuckle. Cawing again it made its way over to the scorched grass before starting to preen his feathers.

There was something suspicious about the whole scene. Mercurial eyes narrowed, following the crow's every movement before widening at a ghost of a touch on his cheek. Whipping around Sard frantically looked around the clearing, searching for the source of the touch. He gasped as he saw a butterfly flutter through the air. A butterfly? In Winter? Fascinated he followed the Lepidoptera's every movement. Eventually it landed atop one of the small piles of ash, lazily opening and closing its wings. It was a Red Admiral.

Slowly, as to not make a sound and scare the small creature, Sard started crossing the clearing. The crow had stopped his preening when the butterfly landed beside him, but soon continued to clean his gleaming feathers.

Closing in on both animals Sard stretched out his hand towards the Lepidoptera. 'Don't fly away. Don't fly away. Don't fly away.' He repeated inside his head, very much like a mantra. Then, in one fluid motion he captured the creature in his hand.

It didn't struggle, it didn't try to escape, it just sat still inside the cage he had made with his fingers. A soft caw drew his attention away from the butterfly and towards the crow. For a moment man and bird looked at each other. Eventually the Corvus made a motion resembling a nod before spreading its wings and flying away.

'Strange', It was the only word that fitted to describe what just happened. Looking back to make sure the butterfly was still inside his hand Sard took out his flashlight. The woods had transformed into a black nothingness and he'd need the light to find his way home. As soon as he left the clearing the icy wind returned. Wanting to get out of the cold as fast as possible he hurried back as best as possible in the dark.

Finally inside his warm cottage, he couldn't help but smile. He had found a butterfly. In Winter. Taking the hand with the creature inside out of his pocket he felt his smile falter a little when he saw the Lepidoptera was dead. Maybe it was better this way. It would most likely have died anyway.

Placing the tiny corpse on the table he walked over to a bookcase and took out a thick book. Placing it beside the butterfly he opened it, placed a few tissues over the middle pages and placed the butterfly inside. The fragile wings would be better preserved here than in the box with all the other items. Closing the book he wondered briefly if Dusk had already finished his list or not. With a shrug he dismissed the thought. He'd have to wait and see, Dusk never said anything about his own list or why he needed all those items. Grabbing the book he opened the glass cabinet and placed it atop the wooden box.

Unzipping his coat he shrugged the heavy material off and folded it over his arm. Turning around to put it away, he jumped in surprise as Dusk suddenly stood behind him. Placing a hand over his frantic heart he smiled weakly at the boy.

"Meet me tomorrow at twilight in the clearing" Dusk said in his ghastly voice before turning around and walking away.

'Guess that means I'll finally find out why he needs all that stuff.' Sard thought.

Chaper III: Whoever Brings the Night – Dark Wings

Taking out the wooden box and placing the butterfly inside, Sard wondered what Dusk was planning. He hadn't seen the boy since he had told him to meet him in the clearing.

Putting on his coat and zipping it up as high as possible, he took one last look at the box' contents, before closing the lid and taking it outside with him.

As soon as he entered the forest he knew something was wrong. It was silent, too silent. Not even the chirping of the evening birds could be heard, nor the rustle of leaves. A shiver ran down his spine. Taking a deep breath he continued on to the clearing. As he neared it he heard the first sound penetrating the silence. It was a crackling sound, like a fire, and that assumption was proven right when he saw a flickering light and the dancing shadows between the trees.

As he stepped inside the clearing he saw Dusk standing on front of the fire with his back towards him. The boy seemed to be dressed in something that could only be described as moth wings and cobwebs, black moth wings and cobwebs, streaked with threads of silver.

Turning his head Dusk smiled at Sard. "Come." He said, his voice now having a less eerie and more melodically sound to it, like the chiming of small silver bells. A little hesitant Sard made his way over to Dusk. "I trust it you have everything?" He pointed at the box. The redhead nodded, handing the box over. Dusk nodded as well, placing the box on a tree trunk that hadn't been there before. Already placed on it were many different object, some of which Sard recognized, like scales, and some he didn't, like a small glass vial with a swirling silver-blue smoke inside.

"Thank you." Dusk said, opening the box and checking its contents. "So, those are the things you collected." Sard said softly, hoping that maybe now he would finally get some answers. The boy nodded. "Uh-huh." He lifted the scales; they were a warm gold with delicate dark-red patterning. "Naga scales." He put them back and lifted a fang about the length of his underarm. "Tooth of a wyvern." Next was the vial with the strange smoke. "Fog from Avalon. These things were really hard to find, if you wouldn't have helped me gather everything I probably wouldn't have made it in time. Now, you might want to step back a little."

Sard couldn't believe his ears, nagas, wyverns, Avalon. He couldn't be serious, how could he? These things came out of stories, myths even. Yet, he did as he was told and took a few steps back, curious to see what Dusk would be using all those things for.

The sky was devoid of the moon and the last bit of daylight had just disappeared. Dusk took a folded piece of cloth off of the tree trunk, taking three wooden figures out of it, a cat, a hedgehog and a harpy. Closing his eyes he cast them into the fire as he chanted.

-Thrice the brinded cat has mewed!
-Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined!
-Harpy cries: " 'tTis time! 'Tis time!"

Everywhere between the branches of the trees, small lights appeared and music from ancient times started to fill the air. A choir of otherworldly voices, seemingly coming from nowhere soon joined the music.

Round about the cauldron go,
in the poisoned entrails throw
Skin of toad and spike of bone,
sharpened on an eagle stone
Serpent's egg and dancing dead,
effigy of beaten lead
Double double trouble you,
bubble in a witches' brew

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog
Lizard leg and fairy wing,
round about the cauldron sing
Double double trouble you,
bubble in a witches' brew

Root of mandrake dug at night,
when the moon is full and bright
Slip of yew and twig of fern,
make the fire dance and burn
For our will it will be done,
when the hurlyburly's done
Double double trouble you,
bubble in a witches' brew

Double double toil and trouble
Fire burn and cauldron bubble
Double double trouble you
Bubble in a witches' brew

Double double toil and trouble
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble
Double double trouble you
Bubble in a witches' brew

As in a trance Dusk danced around the clearing, feeding every object to the fire as he did so. Depending on what it was the fire would change colour, rise in height or cast a whirlwind of embers who would take shape during the blink of an eye, before burning up. It had to be the most amazing thing Sard had ever seen, would ever see. It was as if he had travelled back in time and was seeing one of the fey folk's pagan rites. Would someone have asked him to come up with the most otherworldly ritual he could think of, he wouldn't had been able to come even close to this. It was just so special, magical.

The music ended as Dusk cast the last two objects into the fire. A crow's feather and the wing of a butterfly. The fire dimmed out, but some embers kept glowing, before rising higher than they had done during the whole ritual, depicting a crow and a butterfly, circling around each other as they set for the sky.

Despite his heavy panting and the sweat that shone on his skin Dusk was smiling more brightly that Sard had ever seen him do in these past few weeks. For a few moments it was dead silent in the clearing, except for the crackling of the fire. Then Sard's eyes widened when what he had assumed to be a robe of sorts, made from moth wings and cobwebs, started rippling. Dusk didn't seem to notice, or maybe that was supposed to happen. Swirls of darkness gathered around the boy as the strange material seemed to separate from his skin. The whole process took only a few moments but to Sard it felt like hours. Before him stood Dusk, but not the Dusk he knew. Not the strange, shy boy who had lost his brother. No, before him stood the most amazing being Sard had ever seen.

Dressed in swirling darkness and with giant lacy wing erect behind him Dusk turned around. "I thank you, Sardonyx. I am Dusk, one of the fey that rule the night. Dark, he was my worldly manifestation and his death released me, his fey brother. Yet, to join my kin a ritual had to be performed during the moonless night. Were it not for your help, I would have faded. You deserve my eternal gratitude." He bowed deeply before turning, spreading his wings. Graceful like a dark butterfly he took to the sky, followed by the many lights that had been waiting between the bald branches.

Sard watched them rise higher and higher, until he was unable to see them anymore, yet he kept watching. Just when he was about to return home, a small light caught his attention. Looking back at the sky he saw a single falling star, soon followed by many more. Mere seconds later the sky was filled with hundreds of them, illuminating the darkness like falling embers.

Epilogue: Fires at Midnight – Melody of Resolution

For Sard it had been impossible to forget Dusk. Ever since he has been extremely fascinated by mythology and ancient folklore. And every full and new moon he would go out to the clearing and light a fire as well as leave little things he found during the day. He knew Dusk hadn't forgotten about him either, because every time he went, both a crow and a butterfly were waiting for him and a single falling star would appear in the sky, and the next day, the items would be replaced by herbs, fruit or baked goods.

Song used is 'Wytches Brew' by the neo-pagan folk band Omnia

Song titles used:

Falling Embers – Enya

Rest Calm, Whoever Brings the Night – Nightwish

Silent Ceremony – Yuki Kajiura

The Gathering – Immediate Music

All I Need, Dark Wings – Within Temptation

Fires at Midnight – Blackmore's Night

Melody od Resolution - Takeharu Ishimoto (Crisis Core -Final Fantasy VII- Original Soundtrack)