Shadow Marked

"There's a monster sweeping the land. An immortal being, bathed in blood, leaving nothing but fire and blood in it's wake. A nightmare not seen since the Age of the Gods. And the worst part? It looks just like the dead princess."

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3. Part 3

He had sworn never to return here. Never to return to this place of death.
… your fault … it’s all your fault …
“What now?” Lyra’s voice echoed throughout the chamber, drawing him abruptly from the past and back to the present.
Jak shook the guilty thoughts from his mind, forcing himself to focus on the Book in his hands.
It was just as he’d remembered it. Dark, cracked leather, time-worn pages crinkling as they turned. He knew exactly what page he needed to find.
His fingers trembled as he turned to it. And there it was. The monster that haunted his nightmares, depicted in perfect ink strokes, smiling up at him through blood-stained lips.
The Beast of Death.

“Jak?” He flinched as he looked up to find Lyra suddenly standing beside him, her angry glare now tinged with concern. “Pull yourself together.”
He nodded and turned the page, pointing at a new drawing before passing her the Book. “I need to replicate that symbol. It’s going to act as a cage, trapping it inside.”
She bit her lip, the first sign of any nerves she had expressed, and handed the Book back to him. “So it’s not going to be able to get out?”
“It’s not going to get out. It’s going to stay in there, trapped. And then,” the ghost of a smile tugged at his lips, “It’s finally going to die.”

Lyra didn’t return the smile. Her own face was drawn into an expressionless mask as she reached inside her cloak and withdrew a dagger.
Jak’s hand trembled slightly as he took the blade from her and walked over to the chalice waiting on the stone altar. He didn’t allow himself to think before he sliced the dagger deeply across his inky palm, the blood immediately welling up in response. His hand throbbed as he held it above the chalice, the sound of his blood dripping into the cup twisting his stomach.

Silence descended upon the room as he carried out the preparation for the ritual. He walked to the middle of the chamber, knelt down, and began drawing harsh crimson runes onto the stones. Soon the floor was covered in an intricate design of bloodied runes and swirls, a perfect replica of the one depicted in the Book.
He got to his feet, sweat beading on his brow from the draining effects of the runes even in their unactivated state.
He could sense Lyra’s eyes on him as he got up and made his way to the north corner of the chamber and etched another small rune. His legs felt heavy as he walked to the east and south corners, repeating the process. His body knew it was nearly time.

He stopped by the last corner, the final rune he had to draw swimming before his eyes.
“Jak?” Lyra’s voice was deafeningly loud as it broke the silence.
She stood where their sister once had, looking small, and scared, her shoulders hunched forward, and her arms hugging herself.
She took a deep breath, and Jak steeled himself for more of her knife-life words to be thrown at him.

“I blame you, Jak.” Her knuckles turned white as her fingers dug into her arms tighter, as though she were desperately trying to hold herself together. “I blame you so much that it hurts. You knew back then that it was wrong, that you were trying to tame the untameable, and you did it anyway. And so many people have paid the price for it.”
He flinched. Her words were nothing he hadn’t already told himself, and yet they still caused the shredded remains of his heart to twist painfully.

“I blame you … but I can’t hate you.”
He couldn’t speak. Words failed him as he stared at her, not daring to believe what she had just said. Not allowing even the barest spark of hope to light, just in case she decided to extinguish it.
“I can’t hate you, because I think…” Her gaze dropped to the ground, as though she were ashamed of what she was confessing. “I think I would have done the same if I had been you.”
“You wouldn’t-”
She barrelled on, cutting him off. “If I’d discovered the Book, and thought I could do something to make all of our problems go away…” She shook her head. “I don’t think I would have been able to resist.”
He didn’t know what to say, and she seemed to understand. “I’m still angry with you, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to change that. But you’re trying to make things right now, and that’s what matters. That’s what counts.”
Her eyes passed over the room, and he could tell she was remembering the night it all started. Remembering the screams. The blood. So much blood …
She shook herself, banishing the memories from her head, and gave him a long painful look.
And Jak understood what the look meant without her having to voice it.
She was saying goodbye.

He swallowed around the lump in his throat as she turned her back on him and vanished from sight, her echoing steps getting fainter and fainter as she left the chamber and catacombs behind.
Leaving Jak with a spell book in his hands, and regret in his heart.
Alone.
Ready to summon a monster.

 

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