Fensburg was silent that night. No frogs croaked, no owls or other birds, nothing. The entire wood around the town was eerily silent, and they were all aware of it. That night, no one slept, each of them gravely aware of how much danger they were in. When they set out at dawn, it was reluctantly and with heavy eyelids.
Djastra’a was no more that a couple days away from Fensburg, just on the other side of the Djastran border, but with each passing moment, the group became more and more wary of their surroundings. Shun insisted on carrying his sword around unsheathed, Luna kept accidentally cutting her palm open with her claws and Bruno refused to take his eyes off the other two, still unsure if this was some kind of trap or not.
The first day passed without event, the forest still as silent as it had been since they arrived. That night, they finally got some sleep. Shun kept jolting awake, sure he heard something nearby. Huge, earth-shaking footsteps. But every time he glanced over at his comrades, they didn’t appear to notice.
On day two of their walk along the silent road, the day passed much as the one before it had, but just as the sun began to set, Bruno became sure they were being followed. So sure in fact that, several times, he whipped around and pointed his gun into the darkness.
“Would you stop that!” Shun said after the fifth time that hour.
` “Believe me, I’m not doing this for fun. I keep hearing footsteps behind me, and... just now, it felt like someone was breathing down my neck.”
“Yeah, and I keep hearing and feeling footsteps shaking the ground in the middle of the night. It’s nothing. It’s never anything. Just keep walking and ignore it. You’re freaking me out even more.”
Bruno glanced over his shoulder as he continued, and then, unexpectedly, bumped into Luna’s back. “You can move along, Queenie. Nothing back there no matter how hard I look.”
Luna didn’t respond.
Shun stopped walking and returned to Luna. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“Shhh!” she said, pointing up at the treetops.
Shun and Bruno followed her line of sight and froze. There at the tops of the trees, dozens of little lights danced around, perfectly visible against the black, starless sky and skeletal trees. They made no sound and only a few seconds after the three noticed them, they blinked out of existence.
“Let’s just keep going,” Shun said, smoothing down his puffed up fur. “We’ll be in the city by tomorrow and we need to rest before then.”
The other two agreed, and they carried on, still wary of their surroundings.
When the group made camp that night, the sky was dyed a bleached orange from the light that covered Djastra’a. As the group gathered their laid their fire, Shun called out from his makeshift tent. “Luna, did you take my flint?”
Luna, who was currently placing the last sticks on top of the unlit fire, glanced around her. “I don’t have it. Bruno?”
He chuckled. “You two are something else, y’know? Heroes determined to save Djastra’a, but can’t even keep track of your own belongings. No, I haven’t seen your flint.”
“I’ll see about making a firebow...” Luna said reluctantly.
“You’re a dragon ain’tcha?” Bruno said. “Just breathe on it.”
“It doesn’t work like that...” Luna said.
Shun sighed. “We just need a spark,” he walked up behind her and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Just a little, okay?”
“No, I-” Luna cut herself off. “I’ll show you.” She inhaled deeply a few times, trying to find the right breath to ruin her teammates faith in her. And there it was. Reluctantly, she exhaled, spewing a burst of flame at the pile of waiting wood. But it didn’t burn, and didn’t illuminate the area. Luna’s flame was dark purple and shadowy. It made shun feel like he was standing next to a forge, but in spite of all the heat, the pile of wood neither turned to ash, nor caught fire.
Bruno let out a hearty laugh. “A feared dragon queen who can’t even light a fire! Now I’ve seen everything!”
Luna dug her claws into the palm of her hand, and let out a hiss, as she prepared to cast a spell, but Shun grabbed her arm before she could begin.
Bruno laughed again and mimicked the sound of a cracking whip, but Luna wasn’t going to be provoked anymore.
Eventually, with the help of some of Bruno’s gunpowder, they got the fire lit, and settled down for the night. Though they were apprehensive, they were also exhausted and quick to doze off. Even Bruno, who was supposed to be keeping a watch. They all slept deeply, and dreamlessly, until just before dawn. There were footsteps in the woods. Bruno jolted awake first and quickly roused the other two. The fire was out and so Shun scanned the area with his above average vision. Hurtling toward them, he spied an emaciated caprine woman. As she got close enough for them to see, she fell to her knees and started coughing.
Bruno dropped his gun and rushed to her side. “Mawmaw!? You got out! Do- do you need-”
He didn’t even finish his sentence before her cough transformed into a maniacal laugh that rang loudly in their ears as the woman fell to pieces, rotting at an accelerated rate, right before their eyes. As her corpse decayed into a sickening black goo, the woman’s laughed continued to echo loudly throughout the area. As the laughter continued, the old, dead trees surround the camp all fell, snapping and cracking at the thickest parts of their trunks and forming a ring around the camp. The sound of laughter got louder, and with it, the fallen trees began to burn with shadowy flames. And from within those flames, stared dozens of twinkling lights.
The laughter stopped and the three were left in silence, surrounded by this watcher, or watchers.
“Queen... Luna...” The fire moaned. “I thought it was you, but that demonstration of your fire was what ultimately gave it away...”
“Who the hell are you!” Bruno shouted, firing his gun into the flames.
“Who...? Who... indeed...” it replied. “I am The Dark. I am Death. I am Sleep, Dream, and Nightmare. I am everything that isn’t. I am everything that could be. I have come for...”
“I know why you’re here...” Luna said. “I still owe you...”
“What!?” Shun said, his ears flattening back and his fur puffing up.
Luna scowled. “When I took over Djastra’a all those years ago, I made a deal with them, with The Dark.”
“She... gave up her wings for greater control of the skies... and gave up her flame... her light... in order to see into the void and see what could be,” The Darkness hissed. “And finally, she offered her life for the lives of those who killed her people... When the final one died, I came to this earth to claim her, but was... unable to locate her. When... yonder city, became engulfed and I could not enter, I became convinced she was hiding within... I see now, that I was wrong.”
“You!” Shun drew his sword. “You’re responsible for the demons that stalk the outskirts of the city!”
“Yes...” it replied. “So many mangled bodies... Would that I had been able to kill them...”
“But the light won’t let that happen, will it!? Instead, you trap them in cages of their own flesh and condemn them to a fate worse than the hells.”
“I... know you...” the shining eyes in the dark clustered around Shun. “You’re the... deserter...”
“I’ll not justify my decisions to a demon!”
“You need not... You are very nearly below my notice. Allow me to... drag Luna away with me... and you are free to live out whatever life you choose...”
Bruno fired his gun into the swirling darkness once again. “Go shove it up your ass! Queenie here’s life is her own. I may hate her, but I’d never hand her over to a seething devil who wore my grandmother’s skin!”
“And what do you say... deserter...?”
“She’s going to break the spell on Djastra’a and its people with us! After that, we’ll see.”
“How touching... the three of you will get to spend eternity together... in the void...” The darkness began to swirl closer and closer, pushing the three would-be heroes together.
Shun slashed at the darkness with his sword. The blade slid through it like warm butter, and the darkness faltered.
“What...?” It coiled itself around the blade, crawling and slithering toward the hilt and Shun.
“Don’t let go!” Luna shouted. “I don’t think it can return the sword to its void!”
Shun let out a violent hiss and pulled the blade free from the darkness. He assumed a low stance and stared into the malevolent void. “NOW!” he yelled. Shun kicked off the ground, spinning and cutting through the dark like a man possessed. The trio quickly dashed through the opening, headed toward the golden horizon.
The Dark’s voice echoed throughout the woods. “The Queen... The Ultima... is headed for headed for the city... do not let her in...”
Summoned by The Dark’s voice, beasts from planes unknown began to give chase. The sounds of dozens of thundering feet filled the air, mingling with the cackling, howling Dark. Once or twice, one of these monsters attempted to block the path, but they were quickly dispatched by a swipe of Shun’s sword or a shot from Bruno’s gun, and fell to the earth, their flesh bubbling and falling from their corpse.
Shun, Luna and Bruno ran until their lungs burned and legs hurt, but they could go no farther. They had reached the riverbed, and just on the other side were the outskirts of Djastra’a. Light shone down on them from above with no clear source, and just beyond the reach of the light, The Dark amassed. It hissed and writhed, but dared not edge closer to the light. Without looking back, Luna led the way, sliding down into the riverbed and crossing to the other side. The others were quick to follow. As they hoisted themselves up on the other bank, in Djastra’a, The Dark called out to them.
“I pray you are... successful...” it said. “I will be... awaiting the end of this light...”
Bruno fired one last shot across the river, before turning to the others. “We’ll figure out what to do about that later...” he said.
“At least we made it into the city...” Shun said, glancing around. “Well, Luna, now would be a good time to start breaking that spell.”
“I’d love to,” she replied. “But...” As she trailed off, the air behind her began to shimmer and slowly, her torn and broken wings began to become visible. “This place has no potential. No possibilities lurking in the darkness. My magic is gone.”
The Next chapter should be the last one, but it may take a little longer than the last few have. I actually have a funny story about writing this part, I mentioned this on my Facebook and Twitter, but I’ll say it here too, because I think it’s funny. I generally don’t write spooky stuff, and so as I was writing the way The Dark appeared, I spooked myself so hard. Like, there were no lights on, it was after sunset and I was jumping at shadows. I had to turn on some lights and log into Final Fantasy XIV just to unspookify myself.
Also, y’all should follow me on Facebook and Twitter, so I don’t gotta keep putting this here. I also have an Instagram, but I’m not as active there as I’d like to be.