A/N: Sorry for the somewhat lengthy intro, but it's necessary & hopefully the story will be well worth it. :) Any reviews are much appreciated, either compliments or constructive criticism is welcome. I will undoubtedly edit little details in this at some point, but nothing too major.
Hope you enjoy~
Heavy rain. A menacing voice. The glint of gold eyes piercing through darkness.
These were the only things that flashed through Demarion's mind as he regained consciousness, gasping for air and clutching at his chest, coughing. As he lay on his back to combat the dizziness, the first thing his eyes registered of the surroundings was the sombre night sky looming high above him, a handful of stars seeming to blink in and out of existence as one sped across the scene. Time felt as if in slow-motion whilst his line of sight followed the trail, allowing a feeling of calm to wash over him, but it was gone as suddenly as the shooting star.
Demarion rolled onto his side as the dizzy symptoms began to subside, taking a moment to examine what exactly it was that he was lying upon. The ground beneath him was charred and lifeless, the immediate area littered with dead and blackened tree stumps and fallen cedars. Upon steadily rising to a standing position and being careful not to lose his balance, he realised the same environment stretched as far as the eye could see, at least in such limited light, no matter which way he turned.
His heart began to thud more violently, his pulse ringing in his ears being the only sound he'd heard since waking. He was completely and utterly lost, unable to recognise anywhere or anything. There were no life forms in sight, the landscape was abandoned of all but the vast stretches of nothingness; much like his memory.
He had no recollection of anything past his name. Nothing was familiar, not even himself. He tried desperately to find something in the corners of his memory, anything at all that could give him some clue as to what he was doing in the middle of nowhere. The image he received was far from what he was hoping; a flash of the soulless gold eyes staring back at him from a part of his mind he seemed determined not to venture into, even for answers.
The eerie, silent atmosphere was almost intolerable, making Demarion feel far more uneasy than he would ever deem reasonable. He shuddered as a cool wind blew, throwing at his face scattered bits of ash and the heavy scent of smoke. His body seemed free of any harm, but the same couldn't be said for his clothes. The tattered rags draped over his torso could barely pass as a dark jacket and shirt, whilst the jeans had such long tears through them that he might as well have been wearing a grey hula skirt. He scuffed his trainers on the ground as a small billow of ash from the charred earth blended into the breeze.
Demarion took a deep breath in to gain some composure, but it only resulted in him coughing due to the heavy concentration of smoke that was layered thick in the air. It was at that moment he realised how parched his throat felt, which was accompanied by the empty feeling in his stomach.
"Wonderful." He looked up to the sky once more as if hoping for a greater power to give him some direction, but he received none and let out a sigh.
As his gaze lowered back down towards the horizon, he spotted a small orange glow out of the corner of his eye. The glow induced a little hope inside of him, as he considered the possibility that there was a nearby civilisation who could give him some answers. This possibility gave him a goal, a direction, and that was exactly what he needed.
He began a swift walk towards the dim light, all the while trying to shrug off the constant feeling of being followed. He looked over his shoulder countless times and even picked up one of the pointy charred branches for defence, yet there was no-one to be seen. Demarion was almost certain he was just being paranoid so tried to not let it get to him, but it was more difficult than he thought as he began constantly checking over his shoulder. He felt constantly cautious but couldn't work out why.
He was so preoccupied with the idea of being followed that he never sighted the sudden drop and slipped on something fairly large, causing him to take an involuntary descent downwards as the forest sloped. Demarion slid down the hill along with the object he so carelessly tripped over, tearing up his clothes even more as he went. Luck had befallen him as he narrowly avoided hitting any obstacles, at least until he smacked into a tree stump lower down. He winced a little as his shoulder grazed up against the bark, cursing the several large splinters that embedded themselves in his skin, but he decided to ignore them and pressed on.
Feeling disorientated but a little more awake, he carefully manoeuvred his way down the remaining slope, looking for suitable patches to place his foot in an attempt to climb down properly. Once he gained his footing, he promptly made his way to level ground with ease.
The tree stumps were now thinning out a little in correlation with the cedars becoming leafier and more alive. The inferno that caused such devastation up the top of the hill clearly hadn't reached all the way to the bottom, so Demarion was slightly relieved to have a less daunting environment surrounding him. He took a few steps as the leaves crunched loudly beneath his feet and burnt twigs snapped. He pulled back a branch with the intention of ducking underneath, but spotted something blocking his path on the ground and immediately stepped backwards, cursing under his breath.
Lying underneath the tree was a burnt carcass, so badly mutilated that Demarion couldn't tell if it was human or animal. He paled when he realised it must have been what he slipped on at the top of the hill, before both he and it tumbled down.
He kneeled down to examine it, a look of disgust plastered across his face as his eyes narrowed. He avoided touching the body as he looked it over, trying to ignore the faint smell of charcoal and pork that seemed to be emanating from it. One of the limbs was twisted in such a way that it looked broken, whilst another appeared amputated with part of a bone jutting out of the side. He shook his head at the grisly scene, a sick feeling starting to build up in the pit of his stomach as he tore his gaze away and pushed himself back up to standing.
Demarion stared up at the sky as he walked, unable to comprehend the scale of the situation. He was careful not to trip over anything as he made his way towards the orange glow, but he could no longer see it from the angle he was at and looked about for some higher ground.
He came to an abrupt halt as the trees ceased, staring up at the dark stone wall in front of him which was almost triple his height. He frowned at the lack of a visible entrance in all directions, but spotted an old pipe scaling the wall and headed towards it. He grabbed hold of it and swiftly made use of the footholds, clambering upwards and swinging his legs over the top so that he could sit and view the area from a greater height.
To his relief, he was on the edge of a village. There were no lights in sight apart from the fire's glow in the very near distance. The streets were lined with tarmac but the houses looked medieval. Windows were shattered, the wooden doors of homes had been broken down and the structures of the buildings themselves were crumbling. A red sign coated with rust said 'Lorlea Village' in white lettering. The place looked deserted until Demarion drew his gaze back to the fire and noticed a few figures surrounding it.
He glanced back over his shoulder into the inky darkness of the trees, still unable to shake the feeling of uneasiness. He thought he saw something dash from behind one tree trunk to another, but it moved too quick for him to register an image.
Taking a deep breath and throwing his hood over his head, Demarion pushed himself off from the wall and landed silently on the ground in a crouched position. He edged towards the group that were huddled around the fire, making sure not to make any noise. Pressed up against one of the crumbling buildings as he peered around the corner of it, he tried to listen in to their conversation.
"We can't stay here for much longer, they're going to come back." a boy muttered with a solemn look. The firelight flickered across his pale face and illuminated his brown eyes and freckles. There was a small scar at the base of his jaw. "I don't want anyone-else getting hurt. This'll be easier if we split into two groups, we'll go more unnoticed."
"Sit down before your legs give in, you've been pacing for the last two hours." another boy yawned and ran one hand through his spiked brown hair, using the other to eat a marshmallow. "I know this town like the back of my hand. I know all the tricks and discovered half the tunnels. If they come back I can keep us out of trouble, alright?"
"Out of it? Rupin, you're the one who usually causes it in the first place." a dark-skinned girl huddled with a warm jumper shook her head from the opposite side of the fire. "No, no I agree with Jesse. We need to get moving, we've been here for three days since the attack and the forest finally stopped burning this morning. Someone's going to come here sooner or later and I really don't want to be around to find out who, okay?" Her eyes darted anxiously towards the general direction of Demarion so he quickly turned his head away, making sure to stay in the shadows but keep in earshot.
"Fine, fine..." Rupin shrugged. He put his hands behind his head and lay back on the ground while the others continued talking. He'd just finished his marshmallow so rolled over to grab an apple from a small basket of food they'd gathered.
"What're you guys gonna do then?" another boy piped up. "Me an' Amy," he gestured towards the girl that had just spoken, "we'll head for our cousin's place. If we're splittin' into two groups, Jodie can come with us."
Jesse nodded towards the redhead who was sat by Amy. "Okay, Jodie, you go with Noel and Amy then. Me, Rupin and Kiara'll head towards Darcanis."
"Darcanis?! My uncle said that place is full of assassins and drunk gamblers. You'll be killed before you even set foot in that town!" Jodie objected, jumping up in anger and accidentally smacking the apple out of a disgruntled Rupin's hand. "You can't go there, Jesse. Just... just head onto the next place. Go around it. Please?"
"Kiara says she's been there before. It sounds like a rough place, I admit..." he trailed off, glancing over to a girl with short black hair and a thick hooded winter coat. She was sat with her back against a wall and knees up, eyes closed but intently listening before she spoke up.
"We'll leave in the morning."
At the sound of her voice, a searing pain shot through Demarion's head, leaving him to double over and cry out in anguish. He fell to his knees as his hands laced through his hair and clutched at both sides of his head.
As soon as the group heard him, Rupin and three others jumped back reflexively. Kiara immediately lay her hands on a gun that was by her side, and Jesse took a few wary steps forward, deciding to call out.
"Who are you? Stop hiding!"
Demarion took in a few deep breaths as the pain subsided, waiting a few moments before he reluctantly stepped around the corner and revealed himself. He didn't speak, but instead stared directly at Kiara. His eyes were shadowed by his hood, making only the lower half of his face visible.
The girl made no attempt to indulge in conversation, electing to point her gun at him instead. "Answer him." she demanded, making a fleeting hand gesture towards Jesse.
Demarion remained silent, his chest still heaving from the pain he experienced. His name was the only thing he knew about himself, he wasn't about to trust strangers with it.
He took a small step back when he realised the girl was genuinely prepared to shoot. He wasn't sure what the 'attack' on the town had entailed, but it had everyone on edge. The two girls who were stood cowering behind Rupin watched Demarion in fear. Rupin himself was trying to put on a brave front, but his expression and weak stance just showed that he was scared and worn out.
Demarion lifted his hands up in mock surrender. "Ben. Ben Holmes."
Kiara slowly lowered her gun and put it back in its holster, staring at him fixated. "... Say that again." When he didn't answer, she pushed herself up from the wall and instantly walked over to him, grabbing the neck of what was left of his shirt. "Take your hood off."
"I said my name is Ben." Demarion finally repeated, ignoring her last request and using one hand to prise hers away from him. She was a little too close for comfort.
"No, it isn't. Tell me why you're using that name or I'll shoot." Kiara reached for her gun, a look of mild horror crossing her face as she did so.
His eyes narrowed. "I'd like to see you try." He pulled out her gun from behind his back and aimed it at her.
"Hey!" Jesse leapt forward in her defense, although he was only armed with a jagged wooden plank he'd picked up off the ground a few moments prior.
Kiara stuck her arm out in front of Jesse to stop him going after Demarion like a battering ram. "It's really you, isn't it?"
Demarion looked momentarily at Jesse who was giving him threatening glares, then back to Kiara. "I don't know what you're talking about. Enlighten me."
She shook her head. "Don't play stupid, Demo... It doesn't suit you."
"Demo?" Jesse repeated. "What kind of name is that?"
Kiara ignored Jesse and scowled, walking back over to Demarion. She reached out her hand, making him instinctively flinch back, then grabbed his hood and pushed it off his head.
She let out a gasp as the material fell back. "Your eyes... and your hair..."
"Common features of a head, surprisingly." Demarion grimaced whilst glancing around for a reflective surface to see what was wrong with them. The rest of the group was staring at him, eyes wide.
"I'm pretty sure navy blue hair and silver eyes aren't exactly this month's hottest new trend. And you're so pale..."
"Just tell me how you know me." he growled, taking a step forward which Jesse viewed as a threat. Demarion raised an eyebrow at the blonde kid who decided to suddenly stand between them as Kiara eased him out of the way.
"We were... good friends. You always used to use Ben Holmes as an alias, before you went missing. I don't understand–"
The earth shook as an explosion was heard in the distance. The force of it sent Rupin off-balance as he tumbled over, grabbed by Amy and Jodie before he hit the ground.
"That bomb went off in Marswyn... Get moving, all of you!" Kiara shouted, snatching her gun away from Demarion whilst he was processing the idea that he had apparently gone missing.
The group turned into a panicked flurry. Jesse put out the fire with a nearby bucket of water and grabbed his satchel, whilst Rupin plucked the food basket off the ground along with his rucksack. Amy, Noel and Jodie immediately scarpered with whatever belongings they had, not waiting behind to say goodbye. Kiara swung her rucksack onto her back and grabbed hold of Demarion's arm. She tugged him in the direction of Jesse and Rupin, both who were waiting anxiously to get going as they signalled for her to hurry up.
"Run!" she demanded, not waiting for his reply as she dragged him away.
Once they'd caught up, Rupin climbed through one of the lower broken windows of a house, throwing open a trapdoor in the wooden floor and lighting a torch. "This tunnel leads North. It doesn't go as far as Darcanis but there's an old cabin on the moors. My friend lives there, he might be able to help us out if he hasn't fled already."
Rupin dropped down first, followed by Jesse. Kiara nodded at Demarion. "Go on, you next. I'm the one with a gun if anyone follows us from behind."
"Just give it to me." he said bluntly.
Kiara laughed. "Despite your little trick earlier, you don't know how to use a gun. At least, you didn't the last time I saw you... Now go on. We can talk later." She gave him a little shove as he begrudgingly dropped into the tunnel below, nearly landing on top of Jesse as the blonde boy quickly stumbled out of the way.
"You could at least apologise." Jesse glowered, cradling the basket of food that Rupin had asked him to hold a few moments prior.
"Move next time." Demarion retorted, sighing inwardly at the mud that coated his lower legs from the impact.
Just before Jesse could engage in a heated argument with him, Kiara dropped down into the tunnel and pulled the end of a rope to close the trap door.
Rupin called out from ahead. "Looks like no-one's been down here in a long while, we're good!"
He bounded back towards the trio and reclaimed the food basket, grabbing another apple and taking a large bite out of it as the four started down the tunnel. "I hope none of you are scared of spiders."
"So how do you know this 'Demarion' anyway, Kiara?" Rupin asked, leading the group onwards through the murky darkness of the underground system. He tossed a chocolate bar back to Jesse at his request.
"I don't understand why you're not more wary of him... just showing up like that, he might be corrupted and good at lying." Jesse grumbled, unwrapping the chocolate. "I'm not buying it, Demmy."
"Don't call me that." Demarion muttered under his breath as the pain he felt earlier resurfaced a little. "I'm not lying. Or corrupted, kid."
"I know it's him. Something's clearly happened to him, but he's not been corrupted by the Nightmares, you can tell." said Kiara, using her hand to brush some fallen soil from her hair. "I don't know why those mutations appeared," she glanced at his hair, "or why his clothes look like he's been dragged through a garden of barbed wire, for that matter... but it's definitely him, trust me."
Demarion looked over his shoulder at her. "'Nightmares'?"
"You really don't remember anything at all, do you?" she sighed. "Just before you went missing, people across the country started acting up. Really badly. Going on killing sprees and destroying villages."
"Such as yours." he assumed.
"Lorlea wasn't my home, but yes, you get the idea. It started out from the South District, but gradually grew towards the West and East, where we are now. Those in the North haven't been affected because, well, you know how they are..." she murmured.
Even though he had no memory of himself, Demarion still knew about the country. The North District was covered in metres of snow, with all of the cities built underground and sculpted from ice. The people there were the rich of the land and rarely saw true sunlight. The entirety of the North was the most technologically-advanced area known to man as the people there were conditioned by technology to never sleep, devoting all their time to science and education.
"If you're trying to tell me that bad dreams are killing people..."
"If you don't sleep, you can't have nightmares. The North are lucky in that regard. But the Nightmares I'm talking about are so dreadful they're turning people in the rest of the country insane. Twisting them, making them commit acts you wouldn't even think possible. So many people have become psychopaths in the past few months. The nightmares play on your worst fears, bad memories, on evil that's rooted deep within you. Force you to face everything you've ever tried to avoid or forget. The people who aren't killing others are killing themselves."
"The North aren't even doing anything to help." Jesse grimaced, pocketing his empty wrapper. "They have all the resources but they've completely abandoned the other three Districts to deal with it ourselves. Those people abandoned our culture completely, neither Oneiros or Noctus can help them now." he said disgustedly.
"You've lost me."
"Here," Kiara put her hand on Demarion's shoulder to bring him to a halt and passed him a weather-beaten book with a black leather cover. "It's your journal. I looked after it before you went missing, so I've kept it safe since. It explains a lot."
"Hey! I see the light at the end of the tunnel." Rupin exclaimed, turning around and grinning. "Well, not literally, 'cause it's pitch black outside..." he trailed off as he came to an abrupt stop and stared fixedly at a figure on the ground. "That's... well, that's really not something I was hoping to find down here..." he sighed, stepping over whatever was on the floor and making a brisk walk to the rope of the exit.
"Ugh, I've seen enough dead bodies to last me a lifetime." Kiara muttered, being the last to step over it. "Looks like it was shoved down here in place of an actual grave..."
As the four climbed out and closed the hatch, they all flopped onto the fresh grass that greeted them.
Rupin rolled over and pointed towards a flickering candle light a short distance away. "Looks like he's home."