"Wars of Light and Darkness"
By: Jade Lightning, a.k.a. ReverseTheEclipse
Verse Twenty-Five: “There For You”
“I think it’s admirable you survived a three day walk from Angel Island simply living off the land Armundae but, a girl needs more than that.”
As Armundae adjusted his cape his eyes glanced back at Aerealei’s grandmother, watching as she carefully packed a picnic basket with food and other supplies. He had grown to love the gentle old woman over the past several days, including her good natured teasing.
He had gotten to know her so well over those past several days. She had practically moved in to that fixed up wooden shack, telling Armundae and Aerealei stories of their heritage in preparation for this final day, the day Armundae would bring her with him back to Angel Island, to introduce her to his people.
They had hardly shared a moment alone, but after the first five minutes of stories from her grandmother, they knew this information was more important than all else at that moment, and so they listened, carefully they listened, taking in every word.
They heard stories of the old echidna village on the sea cliffs, which now lay abandoned from the time both Elliot and Ilyamay and their people deserted it. They heard about the day the hedgehogs of Valordian first saw Angel Island rise into the sky, and how they waited for word from the echidnas to explain this phenomenon. No word came, nothing came.
It was then they heard the story of the invasion in Valordian, and how the seeds of hatred were sown when the echidnas did not come to their aide. She was mostly retelling stories that Armundae and Aerealei had told each other of their people in the time they had spent together. By the time she had covered it all she could tell they were still interested but hadn’t really taken anything from the stories yet.
That knowing smile curled her lips. “My children, I only told you that, so it is still fresh in your minds when I tell you this. This is where I tell you, that our history is shared far beyond an old pledge. This is where I tell you why the pledge was made in the first place. This…is where I tell you exactly who you are.”
“Who we are?” Aerealei looked at Armundae, then back at her grandmother and added, “You mean, besides who we already know we are?”
Sipping tea the old woman chuckled softly. “Child you are far more than you could ever fathom you could be. This is where I tell you more about Kashoku and Arandor, our founding fathers…or…” Her eyes glinted under the crackling fire light as she glanced at them. “Father.”
That bombshell…that realization, that truth…that Kashoku and Arandor, Arandor and Kashoku…
All this time, they were one in the same.
That thought rattled around in Armundae’s head as he grinned to himself. “I agree Mum,” he glanced back, “So be sure to pack plenty for her. I will survive just fine on nuts, berries, and mint leaves, even tree bark.”
The old woman glanced at him, smirking. “You going to call me Mum when I come for the wedding?” She finished packing the basket closing it gently, pausing. “That’s fine…because,” she looked back at him, “You know convincing my daughter and her husband to accept you will take more than a day. I am…hopeful your people will be more accepting.”
Armundae looked at her. He knew there was no way they’d accept the story about Kashoku and Arandor being the same person. It would be high treason to even suggest that the beloved High King that brought the echidnas to the golden age and the height of their power and glory was any less than one of them. After all, Kashoku’s children came out looking like pure echidnas. This was something not even Aerealei’s grandmother knew how to explain. However, hearing that Arandor’s brother Shadow still walked the world, she immediately suggested they go to him for the missing gaps in the story. After all, so little of it survived in Valordian, and absolutely none did in Angel Island, and the little that did survive was only possible for one reason.
Aerealei was a direct descendant of his daughter, Amarie.
“What…? But I…I thought that the royal family had fled during the invasion,” Aerealei stammered.
“Correct my dear,” her grandmother remarked, sipping her tea some more, “However that was just the side of the family that bore the mark.” She glanced at them. “Much like Armundae’s family split into the Guardians and Captains. The older brother took the mark and continued the line, and the younger brother founded the House of the Captains. Here…the family with the mark ran away. The older sibling stayed with his family and defended the forest as best as he could. That was the last royal leader we had. After that, the leader of the village was voted on by the people for their strength and leadership, what they did for the village. It was already nothing like the royalty on Angel Island but, with the mark gone, there was no sense in keeping the leadership in the family. It’s the reason why you’re just like everyone else my dear. It’s the reason why you are safe for now. It is also the reason…why Armundae was able to find you, at least that is what I believe.”
With her hand on her chest Aerealei blinked slowly. “I’m…his direct descendant? And…Armundae is…?”
“It’s obvious that he is…he can trace his lineage back to Kashoku directly,” her grandmother added. “Kashoku first came to these woods and saw Lady Hailamei, and this was what inspired Arandor to return here when he needed to pass on his Light, the second mark. …I only know these things because Amarie told the stories to her children, and it managed to survive. The echidnas either forgot or…”
“Were too prideful to believe their King was anything less than one of them, and for that, I am ashamed,” Armundae said, staring into the fire. He glanced up, seeing both women looking at him and blushed, before adding, “Still, you really think that’s the reason I’m here? Because of fate?”
Aerealei smiled at him, relaxing when she saw him push past his doubts. They both looked at her grandmother who thoughtfully picked up a biscuit, studying it as she said, “Either that or Arandor guided you here himself. After all you told me Shadow made it clear to stay away from this place, and he said so in your best interest, to keep you safe from those here who would wrongfully judge you.” She took a bite of the biscuit chewing it carefully, before grinning upon swallowing it. “And of course, we know how Arandor lived life his own way. He went against the better judgment constantly, including going against the advice of his brother, and somehow…though he made many mistakes, it always worked out in the end. My guess is he knew you’d both be up against tribulations, but that you would make it through together. He’s gone over Shadow’s head on this one. …Knowing Shadow he’ll probably chuckle about it, privately, when nobody can see it but him and Arandor.”
Armundae glanced at Aerealei, seeing her look into her lap. “But…Arandor is dead, isn’t he? Why is Shadow still around but not Arandor?”
“Hmm…,” he grandmother sat the cup of tea down leaning back in her seat. “Lady Amarie told her children though her father was buried, he lingered on, wandering the world with his brother.” She glanced at them. “However Arandor not being present, the suggestion that his spirit guided you together, and this yellow echidna Armundae speaks of have led me to the conclusion that Arandor is alive, and yet not, at the same time. That is a question only Shadow can answer for you. …however children I do believe this. Arandor’s soul rests within you. He will keep you safe, but remember this well. Do not speak of any of this to anyone. It is too soon. Our people here will never believe it, and Armundae’s people will call it blasphemy. If you must talk about it, come to me, or speak with Shadow. Do not repeat any of this, to anyone. You both bear a precious secret, and a precious gift. It must be protected, at any cost.”
“A precious secret…and a precious gift. But…what is it?”
Armundae glanced over and saw Aerealei dressed and ready for the journey to Angel Island. She looked to her grandmother first, who smiled approvingly, before glancing at Armundae, giving him a gentle blush. His earlier thoughts flooded out of his head for the moment in favor of ones about his new life with Aerealei. She was dressed heavier than normal for the road ahead, still wearing her usual dress and shawl, but wearing boots now instead of sandals, which would work better for the long walking distance ahead of them. He grinned. She would always look beautiful no matter how she dressed.
“You’re ready and you’re beautiful,” he looked to Aerealei’s grandmother. “I am as well…and if the picnic basket is then, we’re ready.”
The old woman smirked; she had grown to love his humor. How exactly she would cover for Aerealei after so long she wasn’t sure yet. She had to be careful about it. Aerealei could have left the woods, and while people would find it strange, since nobody left Valordian, this would slowly be forgotten. However, if it was even suggested that she had journeyed to the floating island in the distance, this might be enough to spur the hedgehogs to try and attack the echidnas at long last, in retribution.
One thing was certain. They had to get away, far away from here, and stay gone long enough for their tracks to be covered.
“It’s ready, although you must try not to empty it too quickly.” She handed the basket to Armundae, watching Aerealei walk up and hug her. She slowly returned the embrace closing her eyes. “Mmm, I love you my beautiful granddaughter, and I couldn’t be happier for you. …he’s one handsome and wonderful man.”
Armundae blushed gently as he watched them. Aerealei pulled back some smiling. “He is…and I love you Grandmother. …I’m…I…,” she sniffed, wiping her eyes, these sudden tears choking back the rest of her thoughts.
“Aerealei?” Armundae asked in concern.
“I’m fine,” she sniffed, looking up as she felt her grandmother help dry her eyes. “I just…I’m overcome thinking…I won’t see the woods again.”
Her grandmother looked at her sympathetically. Aerealei was such a brave girl, and still so young, only fourteen. It was a hard choice for anyone to make. She glanced at Armundae seeing him wrap his arms around her from behind, having placed the picnic basket down. His eyes were closed. “If you’re going to miss it…you’ll just have to come back and visit.” He looked at her. “After all we can just come back to the shack.”
Aerealei blinked; “But…how would Grandmother know I’m here?”
Her grandmother tilted her head thoughtfully. “I take a walk every evening. If you are here visiting, simply leave a lit candle in the window of the shack. That is how I will know you are both here. He’s right my darling. This is not goodbye forever. Perhaps…with Shadow’s help, maybe, we can heal the wounds between our peoples, and you won’t have to hide anymore. Just take courage.”
With a slow nod Aerealei smiled. “Thank you,” she looked between her grandmother and Armundae, “Both of you. I just…this is such a big change I feel…I could blow away in the breeze.”
“You will not blow away,” Armundae chuckled, “Not with my strong arms to hold you steady. Come and meet my people. They’ll be easier to get through to, especially with Shadow there. Once that’s done, like your grandmother said, perhaps we can soothe the hurts of your people too.”
Aerealei smiled. “Mmm, in reality all of us, echidnas and hedgehogs, are of one people,” her grandmother remarked, “And I think it’s about time we were united again. This reunion starts with the two of you, I just know it. The trust and love you extended to each other, it shows that no amount of hurt can keep us separated forever. If anyone can fix this divide, it’s the two of you.”
Armundae grinned, while Aerealei blushed gently, before taking a deep breath. “Mmm, I suppose it’s…time for us to go then.” She looked up smiling. “I love you Grandmother, and thank you. I’m sure I’ll be back to visit soon.”
“You will be,” her grandmother replied, a hand on her granddaughter’s cheek. “The lad promised me as much,” she added with a small chuckle, “You both take care of each other. You already have the loving part down, so be brave and take that first step together. Don’t you worry about me or anything here. I’ll hold down the fort.”
“Thank you Mum,” Armundae said, hugging her gently, “And thank you for everything you’ve done for us. And you are correct, I promise you Aerealei will be given only the utmost in care. She’ll be cherished all of the days of her life, and well beyond the end of them.”
Hugging back slowly Aerealei’s grandmother replied, “I believe this Armundae, son of Zecharias.” She leaned in to his ear and whispered, “And you be strong. Follow Shadow’s guidance to the letter.” She pulled back looking into his eyes, speaking softly. “There may come a day where you have to make difficult decisions Armundae, and when that day comes, you must trust Shadow’s words above any inclinations your mind gives you. He’s been around for over two-thousand years. He’ll protect you and Aerealei as best as he can, but if she’s as important to you as you’ve shown me in these past days…”
She paused, looking at Aerealei, who was picking up another basket that was filled with the few possessions she was going to take with her. The sunlight hit her in such a way that she simply glowed, looking almost angelic, as though her wings would appear in the blink of an eye and she would take off flying back to the clouds above. He was enchanted by her, but her grandmother’s words rang in his head, and the remainder roped his attention back in to be heard.
“Then you’ll trust his words. Trust him, do whatever he says, even if your heart desires to do differently,” she looked at him right as he did at her, “If you do that, then I am certain you’ll both make it out safely in the end, and you’ll be able to love her until the end of her days, just as you promised me. Never forget that promise.”
Armundae nodded slowly. He took this all seriously, but couldn’t help but grin. “Is this because I disobeyed Shadow and came here when he told me not to?”
The old woman smirked. “That was Arandor’s doing. When the time comes, when it’s serious enough, Arandor will know. He obviously knew you’d be safe here with Aerealei and me. Ah no Armundae, I trust you, I simply wanted to leave that last bit of knowledge with you, because…if dark times should come, you must be ready to face them. It’ll take bravery, far more than either of you are needing right now. I need you to understand this, because not only will she need your strength, but you’ll need it for yourself. I don’t want the happiness you two have now, to completely drown out the common sense to be wary for danger. That is all.” She smiled some. “Just trust Shadow, and do what he tells you. You do that, and take care of my little Aerealei, and you’ll be happy for the rest of your days as well.” She patted his cheek gently, then walked around him where she hugged Aerealei once more.
He watched them both. He knew the elderly were to be respected, for their knowledge, something they gained in the long years of their lives. Something about what she said struck a deep chord inside him, exactly what she wanted to happen. He knew how firmly she believed the stories of her history, of Arandor and Kashoku and how Shadow was Arandor’s beloved brother. Like the echidnas she truly believed the one on Angel Island now, was the same one that walked with Arandor centuries ago.
She knew that like any other elder, he had wisdom from those years. However it was more than that. He knew of something much greater, happening beyond the world around him. He had spoken of it briefly once or twice to satisfy Armundae’s curiosity, and also, as Armundae now recognized, to try and win over his trust. He remembered Shadow saying something about trusting him being the only way Armundae could save himself, and now that he had bonded himself to Aerealei, believing and trusting Shadow was the only way to save her as well.
There was a great storm brewing out there…somewhere. Following Shadow was the only way to keep Aerealei alive. That’s what her grandmother meant. Armundae might have to make difficult choices, going against everything he believed and what he knew, but he’d have to, if he wanted to get them out alive.
He would do it. As much as he loved his mother, and Thaileon, and his people back on Angel Island, Aerealei was the most important soul in the world to him, more precious than his own life. He would remember this.
He would protect Aerealei.
He smiled as she turned to him, pulling back from her grandmother at last. “Alright, now I’m really ready. We should go so we can get some miles behind us.”
She sounded so confident and strong. He knew she was really ready now; that she loved him as strongly as he did her at that moment.
Extending his arm he looked at her grandmother once more. “We’ll come get you for the wedding Mum, or perhaps Shadow can. He can use something called a portal to travel. That way, you could come and get back here without being missed.”
“Ah, that would be wonderful Armundae, and I’ll be counting on it,” the old woman replied, “On you go now dears. I hope your journey is a safe one, for I know already it will surely be happy and fruitful. Take care.”
Armundae nodded, starting to walk after Aerealei took his arm. She looked back as she walked smiling. “I love you Grandmother.” She blew her a kiss, getting only a wave in return. She looked ahead slowly closing her eyes. “Mmm, I already miss her.”
The crimson echidna looked at his beloved. Hearing her say she loved her grandmother reminded him of something important, and for a moment he felt terrible having not thought of it before. Grinning, he looked ahead and said quietly, “Hai H’Nai loo Se’tal, Aerealei,” in his own language.
She looked at him blinking. “Was…was that your language, Armundae? What did you say to me?”
He grinned some more. “Yes it was. What I said to you is translated into the common speech as, ‘I love you forever,’ or, ‘Forever I love you.’” He looked at her. The first person says it as ‘I love you forever,’ while the one in reply says it as ‘Forever I love you.’ The thing about that is,” he looked ahead, his eyes waiting to see the edge of the line of trees marking the forest’s edge, “That was a special way of showing love, shared only between two lovers. You never said it to anyone else, just your mate, the one you took for life. It’s something sacred. It’s more binding than marriage, almost more than intercourse.” He blushed gently. “Really it was something I should have said the other night by the lake but, it didn’t occur to me until now, when you were telling your grandmother goodbye.”
Aerealei blinked, her cheeks getting progressively pinker as Armundae spoke. “When I said I loved her, right…” She too looked ahead, thinking to herself. It wasn’t as though they hadn’t spoken about marriage, hinting at children, each having their own dreams of eternal bliss, promises made, ones that would take their entire lives just to keep. Still, it was just as Armundae said. Something about these words from him struck her deeper in her heart, far deeper than other simple words of love from the days before had managed to awaken within her.
It was like the words themselves were laced with magic, some kind of magical essence that became tied to them, tied so tightly that it was a bond that was shared even after two-thousand years. Perhaps Arandor too spoke the words to Hailamei from time to time, when they were alone, and surely Kashoku did to Mitsukai for all to hear but for her heart alone.
It reminded her that she felt the same. As much as it tickled her and Lady Mitsukai and Hailamei before her to hear, she knew it was something that needed to be reciprocated in order to truly keep that magic spirit alive.
Tightening her hold on Armundae’s arm she replied, “Hai…H’Nai…loo…Se’tal, Armundae,” she looked at him blushing. “I only hope I said that correctly. Echidna dialect isn’t my native language after all.”
Armundae felt his back tighten and his spin tingle when those words floated into his ears, and straight down to his heart. Looking at her he grinned. Not but weeks ago he could only dream he’d feel such a feeling stirring in his heart, and to top it off she ended it with that adorable little charm that he loved so much. She was so cute, and so precious.
She shined bright like a star, one that belonged to him and him alone.
He smiled, touching her cheek with his free hand. “It was perfect, I understood it just like you were a native speaker.” He grinned. “Don’t get shy just yet. They’re going to love you, I just know it.”
It was as though he could read her mind. He knew her just as well as she knew herself, if not better. She appreciated that more than he’d ever know, since she wouldn’t have to struggle to find the words to say things buried that deep. It was a dear comfort to her, and only boosted her bravery even more.
“I’ll be fine Armundae,” she said finally, looking ahead, “I’m nervous yes but, I know I’ll be alright.” She looked back at him. “It’s because you’re there for me, just like I’ve been there for you this entire time we’ve known each other, and now,” she giggled, “We always will be. I’m nervous but, I couldn’t be more excited for our life together.”
This caused him to smile. He knew it was the truth. He was just as excited as she was. It was so much excitement that the nervousness was just a by-product of it. It was a bundle of feelings that couldn’t be untied, and was as euphoric and empowering as it was for that reason alone. After the first three weeks Armundae stopped thinking about going to the Northern Kingdom. The whole of his attention and focus was to be there with Aerealei, his beloved. It wasn’t until now that walking back into his village wandered back into his waking thoughts so prominently. He wasn’t completely sure of how they’d respond to Aerealei, but at the same time he knew his declaration from before was totally and completely true.
They were going to love her. This was because he loved her so much, so much that they couldn’t help but be inspired by this sight, this feeling, and welcome her warmly into their hearts as well.
After all…they only said for him to go and find a wife, a woman to bear his children, and continue the bloodline.
And Aerealei surely could do just that. As in a corner as they were with Armundae facing them down, they had no choice but agree, in the end.
It was empowering. He was comforted, and grinned when he felt the nervousness recede back to the bottom of the knot of feelings, for the time being, and perhaps for a good long time to come.
He patted her hand gently, answering her words from before. “Neither could I Aerealei, neither could I.”
The lovers exchanged a warm and carefree glance, their smiles shining. They looked ahead and could see the edge of Valordian Forest coming into view. Of like mind, heart, and excitement, they shared one realization now of the days to come.
All that was left to stand between them and the rest of their lives and love together, was a three day walk across the plains that connected Angel Island and Valordian, connecting them in the same way the two young lovers did as they walked together into the sunset.
“I love you forever,
Words for you alone,
Feel the passion within them,
Laced in the tone.
Always there for you,
In my heart you will be,
Forever I love you,
Walk together with me.”
Love. Such a warm and beautiful light glowing at the heart of Salas continent across the sea. As Armundae and Aerealei made their way home, the antithesis of affection unfolded on the other side of the world.
Although, this misery hadn’t completely blanketed this island. Some gasps of care in defiance of death and dying held on, but it was a fragile grasp, and none could be sure how long it was going to last.
Kashkie could feel it. He was outside of the village that afternoon. It was hot with the heat of summer setting in particularly strong due to the humidity of the tropics. Though he sweated, he faithfully performed his Yoga exercises, stretching and bending his body, focusing on his inner peace. He did this often before he would meditate, and he would meditate when he felt something needed to be addressed.
What needed to be addressed was this sense of warning. It wasn’t too strong, at least that he could feel, but something certainly wasn’t right. He took any abnormality seriously, for he knew that Mukot’s darkness would take any opportunity to strike, even to the end of keeping Deannalee’s daughter from being born at all.
After he finished his movements, he sat down, crossing his legs and putting his hands together in balled up fists, focusing on his breathing. What was off in the world around him. What was changed about it.
He started with everything he knew.
Deannalee was happy, at least from what he could tell. Sometimes she looked tired, and a few times he saw what looked like bruises, but she wrote them off quickly saying she fell and didn’t want him to worry about her. She loved her baby so much. He couldn’t help but smile warmly at the sight of her and little Baralai.
And Baralai, while he wasn’t going to be the Master of the Elements, Kashkie could tell the little prince had superior potential; he was someone to be watched.
They were fine. Deannalee and Kashkie had a friendship now. He no longer felt nervous around her. He felt like he could do nice things for her and not have to worry about how it looked. Lately, he felt the need to do more nice things than ever for her.
Teikaru hadn’t changed. He only acted pleasant to save face. He knew Teikaru wasn’t the least bit interested in Deannalee’s happiness anymore. He was blind to what was happening to her, and it wasn’t because of Casselina. The same light that kept Teikaru from harming Kashkie, worked against him. The darkness that sat inside Teikaru and possessed him until it became part of him, as Renaldo had said, blinded Kashkie to what was happening to Deannalee.
And it went deeper than that. It went as far as laying the blame on that shadowy figure that followed Renaldo to his icy tomb inside the dead volcano. Though this person could not help what his influence was causing, it affected things no less. The only reason he was even there was because Teikaru had already brought down such horror; this added presence just made things worse.
Still, this problem nagged at Kashkie, even if he didn’t have the knowledge to understand it. If he had, he could have saved them all right at this very moment.
He ran things over in his mind, no longer needing to focus on his breathing. He tried talking to Teikaru but he would just run away from Kashkie hissing, as if his presence bothered him. Kashkie realized it was never going to be the same between them again. He was beginning to think it was time to give up on Teikaru. If he focused on Deannalee, maybe he could save her and her children.
…Maybe him being the father to the Master of the Elements wouldn’t be so bad after all. He thought about it. If anything it would make things easier on Deannalee, and he could protect her better.
No. He couldn’t give in to inclinations. He couldn’t make Teikaru angrier than he already was. Besides Deannalee was working hard to fix their friendship. He would honor that. He could protect her no matter what.
No good. Something still nagged him.
Was there something out there he just couldn’t see? Was Mukot causing trouble, sowing the seeds of destruction right under his nose? If there was he had to stop it. He thought harder, diving deeper into his mind and the world around him.
Casselina…she was troubled. Renaldo claimed she’d get crippling headaches. Sometimes she would snap at him. Other times she was quiet and totally not like herself. He explained he would pull her gently into his lap and rock her, singing soothing words to her to show his love, and she would be alright.
Something was clearly wrong with her, only Kashkie didn’t know what. Again, he was blind to the darkness. It was something Shadow could pick up easily, but it took advantage of Kashkie’s inability to sense what was right under his nose. His brow wrinkled in concentration. It was turning into a battle with his own thoughts.
Teikaru’s anger and distance he understood. After what happened with Deannalee there was a gap between them that would never be crossed again. He chalked it up to little more than frustration, something that would have dire consequences in the days to come. Casselina was afflicted by something, something he did not have the wisdom to see, and yet Renaldo pulled her out of it.
That’s when it occurred to him. The name rung around in his head.
Kashkie thought about it. He had not seen Renaldo for several days. That’s when he remembered.
“What do you mean he’s gone?”
Deannalee was frowning. Casselina had her arms crossed staring at Teikaru with annoyance.
Teikaru smirked. “I told you, he left. He’s off scouting the island. He said he’d be back after awhile. Now that I think about it he mentioned seeing some ships off the edge and was pondering going to investigate them. After all, ever since Kashkie came here we can’t really be sure our island remains invisible now can we?”
“Why didn’t you go with him?” Deannalee frowned. She looked hurt, so much so that it hid how angry she actually was. “He could get hurt or captured or…worse!”
He sneered at her. “You go and insult your father and his own abilities by offering to go with him. Then again you bitches are the ones that are all powerful around here.” He laughed. “Better yet send Kashkie so they can die together!” He walked around Deannalee and Casselina heading back into the village.
Casselina growled. “That good for nothing boy.” She looked at Deannalee, seeing how shaken her daughter was. This was a moment of clarity and understanding. One where her love for Deannalee and her husband was stronger than the darkness that held her puppet strings. She pulled her daughter into a hug stroking her head. “Don’t worry dear. Your father is strong. He’ll come back to us soon I promise.”
Deannalee looked up at her mother. She had no idea the part her mother held in her torture every night or so, whenever Teikaru could be bothered to force himself on her. There was the coldness Casselina gave everyone, but Deannalee didn’t hold it against her. At that moment, she felt closer than ever to her mother, so close she didn’t want to let go.
Somehow in her heart she knew her father wasn’t coming home, not any time soon, if ever, and Teikaru knew it. In fact, it very well likely was Teikaru who sent him to his death in the first place.
She closed her eyes hugging tighter as she sniffed. “I hope so Mama. I…want Daddy to come home safely, to us both.”
Casselina frowned. She held Deannalee closer in return, closing her eyes. “He’s strong. He will come home Deannalee. He wouldn’t leave us. Ever.”
Kashkie remembered overhearing that conversation. He saw Teikaru stomping back into the village, and overheard the tail end of it. That had happened days ago, and there was still no sign of Renaldo.
Either he had gone on the ocean to look for supposed ships sailing by, or Teikaru was lying about the entire thing.
Opening his eyes Kashkie took a deep breath. Somehow he knew, it was the latter.
Getting up he looked around. If Renaldo was still on the island somewhere, perhaps imprisoned, maybe Kashkie could find him. He closed his eyes using his aura powers, ones he had practiced with ever since Shadow showed him baby Baralai’s aura before he was born. Looking around he could sense nothing. He felt Deannalee and Casselina faintly back in the village, but nothing else.
Yet for some reason, his eyes were drawn to the dead volcano at the middle of the island. Something about it stood out in his mind. That’s when he heard it.
“Ice…in the volcano.”
It was Kashoku’s voice again. If Kashoku was pointing him in that direction, it was worth a look.
Running ahead spurred on by this clue, Kashkie got tunnel vision. He didn’t notice the change around him until it hit him like the force of a bat being slammed into his face. He skidded to a stop bringing a hand to his nose.
Looking around he didn’t notice the sickly cloud of pestilence creeping out of the jungle brush around him from behind. The air got thick and heavy, as though it were trying to suffocate him and push him onto his knees. The darkness was foul, not gentle like the kind he felt within Shadow. This was crippling darkness, the kind that Teikaru possessed, and that haunted Casselina, hidden from him because he did not have the knowledge to perceive it.
He only felt it now because it was taking his attention and awareness by force.
Just when he felt he was about to vomit from the sickness, he saw it. He saw a figure veiled in oily, thick, sickly pestilence. Only his head and face were visible. That face, ashen grey, piercing red eyes on black, not white, staring at him ominously.
He wasn’t sure, but if he had to guess, he felt like this was the equivalent of staring death in the face, and there was nothing comforting about it at all.
He coughed, opening his mouth to speak, but instead he closed it shut quickly, afraid he would gag and choke on it, fulfilling the death this one had come to bring him.
Only he wasn’t here to kill Kashkie, not yet.
“Who…are you…,” Kashkie managed to choke out finally, coughing hard as he dropped to his knees.
It was at that moment he realized he could barely keep his eyes open. They closed without him telling them to. He immediately forgot everything he had been doing. He forgot Kashoku’s words to him. He almost forgot Kashoku entirely, Shadow too, and even himself.
But he wouldn’t forget. He couldn’t. He was too ashamed that he was about to die and leave Shadow alone to face the war that would come.
He felt his consciousness slipping. That’s when he heard a voice. It wasn’t Kashoku’s comforting voice, but rather one with a simple, but ominous warning.
“You cannot save him. You cannot save them all. You’re blind to the real danger. You stand on the edge of a knife. Fall, and you lose…everything.”
It was so dark, Kashkie wondered if he’d ever see the light again. The last thing he could remember before the darkness consumed him completely, was Arandor standing there, knife in hand, poised to throw it at him.