The Girl and the Ghost
She told the others (the ragged few who remained) to keep moving, to never stop, not until they reached Lock Core. She told them not to worry, that she would find them in the city, and when they met again they would at last be safe.
Emily was beginning to worry she was a liar, and that not only would she never see them again, they wouldn’t be safe . . . none of them would, not ever.
‘What is it, Nathalia?’ she questioned her companion, her words delivered in a well-guarded telepathic bond. ‘What do you see out there?’
Next to her, the body of the golden-haired elf shimmered– or perhaps shivered, Emily thought. A pair of orchid blades flickered in and out of existence in her otherwise empty hands.
“I see death,” she softly whispered, her voice falling on only Emily’s ears. “Death like me . . . but different, and far stronger. It almost reminds me of . . . Alec, but evil. And unlike him, this being won’t hesitate to kill us or anything else it may encounter, nor will it hesitate to embrace the name ‘Destroyer’.”
Like Alec, Emily pondered, more afraid than ever to face what dwelt in the darkness.
She had grown powerful since the battle of Shattered Rock but she would still be no match against the power of the Destroyer.
The man leveled an entire city! They had only just recently escaped his swath of destruction, a blast radius that charred the land for miles.
‘Can we defeat him, Nathalia?’
“Perhaps . . .” she said. Her blades vanished as she smiled down at Emily. “If we face him together, all four . . .”
Her smile broadened.
“All five of us.”
Emily dared to take her eyes from the darkness to catch a glimpse of her other companions.
Together . . . she thought, wondering if such a thing was even possible. At the moment, other than the ghostly presence of Nathalia, she never felt more alone. They detest me, why would they ever fight for me?
She glanced at Solo Ki. His thin fingers coiled around the blackened Graelic; the dark staff reflecting the smallest light as if it were made of steel. His cape was even more worn and soiled since they left Shattered Rock, it whipped about his lanky frame which was as motionless as a slab of stone. Hate radiated from his grey and white eyes as he gazed into the night.
Sure, he will fight. But only for himself; to satisfy his need for vengeance, and to quiet the never-ending sorrow of his soul, if for only a moment
His intense scrutiny of the darkness was the first signs of life the One Elf had shown since their journey from Shattered Rock began. Their unknown, powerful enemy had managed to rouse him from what Emily had begun to fear was an eternal slumber. However, to her surprise, as despondent as he may have seemed, his senses proved to be permanently tuned to danger. Solo Ki was the first to detect the evil presence, and the first to realize they were being hunted. Initially, when he dropped back from the rest of the party, she simply assumed he had finally given up on the Seventh World. She continued onward in dread, fearing that at any moment she would feel an emptiness at her back, and turn to find the One Elf gone. If so, she would have no choice but to turn back to Lock Core and move on without him -- as she did with so many others too physically or mentally weak to continue.
Dertois’ words, and her subsequent decisions, continued to haunt her: “No matter what you do, you cannot save them all. But perhaps with your power you can save their world.”
Along with the mighty warrior, Gunt, she had charged Dertois to guide the survivors to the safety of Lock Core. If they found trouble along the way, the pair would be the only ones able to face it. But, as for the demon hunting them in the dark; neither the giant’s mighty war-pick, nor the blind, old mage’s wisdom would make bit of a difference. She prayed to the gods both false and true, that the two of them were at least strong enough to deliver the others to safety.
“To the dead with you. What are you waiting for?” Tetloan cursed, appearing ready to bolt into the darkness any moment. His remaining hand clenched and unclenched on the cherry wood handle of one of Nathalia’s blades. Licks of blue flame caressed the other.
Recently, she noticed Tetloan and the One Elf would wander off from the rest of the group, but she couldn’t figure out why. She would even see massive bursts of mage-flare erupting from their location. Out of curiosity, and concern, she even tried to snoop in on their private meetings, but was stopped short of her goal by a hissing and foul-tongued Galimoto. Because they were so often stepping away from the others, she wasn’t originally worried when she realized Tetloan had joined Solo Ki at the end of the procession, but then she felt it, and ignoring Galimoto’s dirty looks, she joined them. When she found them gripping their weapons, and glaring at the darkness, she instantly knew that – whatever secret meetings they were having before – this was something different.
And the evil she sensed . . . it filled the very darkness, as if the shadows moved by its will.
She caught herself before instinctually filling her veins with the Oneness. She thought to question the pair, but realized by their intense glares, she would most likely be ignored. Even Galimoto was ignoring her now, and refrained from insulting her in his musical voice.
Whatever hatred Tetloan held for her, Galimoto shared it as well. The two of them shared everything now. They were bound by the Singularity, perhaps deeper than either of them even realized. Beyond Tetloan’s mind, Galimoto didn’t actually exist. But through the Oneness and Tetloan’s will, the creature was given the illusion of life. And because Tetloan was far more powerful than Brice, so too was Galimoto’s presence in reality (unfortunately so).
There was a time she would have counted on Galimoto, despite his wicked temperament. But now the creature was more fiend than friend. Even Emily was no longer spared his cruel words or evil glares.
If it came down to a fight, it was doubtful Galimoto would be of much help, for at the moment, the little red being looked more frightened than angry. His tail wound around Tetloan’s body, his claws hung from his shoulders. Only occasionally did he poke his beady yellow eyes out from behind the boy’s fiery red head.
And as for Tetloan . . . Even the hate-filled eyes of Solo Ki couldn’t match his glare. He would fight. Of that Emily was certain. He would fight anyone or anything. And he would do it alone. Emily was surprised he hadn’t burst into flames already to fly off storming into the darkness.
No. She wasn’t worried about him engaging the enemy, so much as she was worried about keeping him from it.
Emily knew there was only one thing that would bind them together . . . one woman.
‘They’ll fight for you, only you. Appear to them, and they will fight as one.’
The elven ghost turned her eyes to Tetloan, and the pair of thin, orchid blades sheathed at his hips. Her own illusionary weapons ceased to appear.
“If I must . . .”
Her body solidified, and for a moment she stood as she once was – beautiful, golden, glowing and bold. Then she faded to a silhouette, her milky flesh became the dark night.
“Only if I must . . .”
Why won’t you speak to them? Emily wondered, and not for the first time. What was she waiting for?
She wouldn’t ask, not now. Not when such sadness filled those ghostly eyes of grey and white.
They all prepared for the worst as the evil presence neared. None of them spoke. Even the constant ranting of the imp had been replaced by his chattering fangs.
Then . . . as mysteriously as it began . . .
“It’s gone,” Solo Ki murmured, his keen senses once more the first to grasp the situation.
His words broke the silence, and Emily’s fear. She blushed, embarrassed to discover she had unwittingly been holding vast amounts of the Oneness.
She let her fear, and flames, go.
She realized she wasn’t the only one, Tetloan was covered in flames too. However, he wasn’t letting go so easily
At the words of Solo Ki, Tetloan twisted his face into a snarl. His flames rose higher. He leapt forward as if to pursue . . .
The Graelic swept down at his feet, tripping him before he made a single step. He tumbled forward, his power gone.
Tetloan whipped his head around, directing an even more vicious snarl toward Solo Ki. One look at the disapproval in Solo Ki’s white eyes and the snarl vanished. Emily was certain the two of them were about to turn their hate against each other, then surprisingly, Tetloan turned away in shame.
“Whatever it was, it’s now gone,” Emily said, attempting to take charge of the situation and her hate-filled companions. “I for one, don’t wish to wait for its return. If we leave now, by sunset tomorrow we can be at Lock Core. I think it’s more important we tend to the others than risk our lives hunting this thing in the dark.”
The brief concession from Solo Ki actually managed to startle her. Before she even had a chance to respond, Solo Ki was already in motion. His long elven legs striding straight to the great Gorian mountain chain.
Tetloan was slow to rise, and paused only briefly to cast a final glare into the night, but then he was right on the One Elf’s heels – Galimoto in tow, of course, making sure he sent Emily a dirty look as he passed her by.
‘Thank the gods we didn’t have to face him,’ Emily said to Nathalia as they moved on. ‘There is so much hate in them all, I’m no longer sure they ever would have fought as one. Even for you.’
Her head hanging low, Emily followed after them.
I pray you’re wrong, child. If you cannot fight as one, in Lock Core you will all surely die alone . . .
Next to Nathalia a child appeared, a cherubic, bald-headed elfling.
“The demon lives . . .” the child pondered. “That was not foreseen . . .”
Her big, white eyes were full of worry.
“Yes, but what does it mean?” Nathalia asked.
“It would seem, sister, that nothing is certain . . . neither our fate . . . nor the justice of the Maker.”
Nathalia watched her friends traveling through the night, their timelines a jumble of possibilities. She longed to show them the way, but she was only allowed to guide them, in the end, their fate would be theirs to make.
For the first time since her return, she spoke out loud to the fleeting figures, “Father . . . you have to have faith. Tetloan, find love before all is lost. Galimoto . . . be good. And Emily . . .”
Imagined tears spilled from her eyes.
“Don’t give up on them. Heal their hearts, and they will fight for you . . .”