"Wars of Light and Darkness"
By: Jade Lightning, a.k.a. ReverseTheEclipse
"The First Interlude"
Verse Thirty-One: “Father”
A day with a breeze was always welcome. Even if it was tropical. Shadow spent the last year going back and forth between Angel Island and Spirit Island, checking in on Kashkie while also keeping a watchful eye on Thaileon and Armundae. He also had the added task of trying desperately to find where the parents of the Daughter of the Light were hiding.
It was good that they were hidden, but bad at the same time. Thankfully, Shadow had help in the form of Lady Agatha of Chastity. With her help, he now had the assistance of several Terra Guardians, the same group that Cynthia of Flora came from, the Guardian that helped heal Spirit Island after it was touched by Oblivion of Pestilence in order to keep from alarming the echidnas and bats there.
Her, her counter the Guardian of Fauna, and a few others were keeping their eyes peeled and their ears tuned to whispers on the wind for any clues leading to the Daughter of the Light. Shadow’s only hope was to try and find out where the royal family, the half that left Valordian and took the bearer of the mark with them, had migrated to over the years. It was like trying to find one seed buried in a field of flowers.
Agatha cautioned Shadow as well; she reminded him he would need even more support than he realized. Help would have to come from outside of Arandor’s two bloodlines, the three families that came from Mitsukai and the two that came from Hailamei, and so Shadow spent time as he searched looking around for where this help might come from. He felt a bit silly; he was never a good judge of character. With Kashoku’s friends, Acadiar and the rest, it was simple. They stepped up and came into the story on their own. They weren’t looked for or called upon.
Maybe that was the trick, to just wait for them to show themselves. It was all Shadow had to go on. Still, he kept an eye out just to be safe.
A day with a breeze was always welcome. Sometimes the air forcing itself into his nose and down to his lungs was the only way he remembered to breathe. Two-thousand years wasn’t long enough to completely grind the habit into him while others got it down after breathing for just a few minutes inside their mother’s womb.
Okay maybe he that was stretching it a little bit, but sometimes poking fun at himself was the only way he could stay both amused and distracted. Unlike Kashkie, he wasn’t forgetting the fate of these echidnas any time soon. It made him sick if he thought about it. It was easier to come up with stupid jokes in his mind even at his own expense. It kept the food in his stomach and made him less irritable.
If only Kashkie was in his right mind to see him now. He’d be so proud.
Looking out Shadow scanned the horizon. He envisioned a grid map overlaying the world. He knew the notion of clearing areas of it one by one was foolish, for the parents of the Daughter of the Light could easily move from one to the next. He imagined they were still children at this point, not quite caught up to Thaileon and Armundae and Deannalee, and so he had time, but precious little, to find them.
The Darkness bleeding out of Blackfire, laced with evil and completely beyond Mukot’s control would be drawn to them the hardest. As badly as it punished Deannalee, keeping it hidden from everyone, and messed with Thaileon in ways not even Shadow saw just yet, it would crush the Daughter of the Light before she had a chance to be born.
Losing any child of Arandor would cost them, but it was she, and the Son of Strength, who absolutely had to go. One of them was safe, the other, Shadow could only pray would be kept safe a little while longer. Perhaps Arandor was protecting them somehow. He couldn’t be sure.
Arandor was never that reliable anyway.
“You sure look amused, what has Armundae done now?”
Shadow glanced behind him, realizing first he had smirked to himself at yet another joke in his head, and then recognizing that Guardian Thaileon stood there before him. “Thaileon,” Shadow nodded his head out of respect, “Nothing.” He looked back out. “He and Karadin are on duty then?” He sensed Thaileon nod behind him, then closed his eyes. “Best idea Elliot had, naming the Captains of the Guardians, his brother’s sons. It meant the Guardian had a little more freedom.” He paused, closing his hands into fists as his arms were crossed. “Kashoku would have wanted it that way. He wanted everyone to be free like he was.”
Thaileon walked up beside him. “I’ve known you since I was nine and I still think it’s amazing that you are the one he called brother,” he said. Looking at him he continued. “The way you speak, the things you know, it’s incredible.” He looked out. “I know nothing of the world out there, but I know it had to have changed drastically over two-thousand years, far more than our people did. I admire you for adapting to it.”
Shadow smirked again, remembering growling at automobiles adding a constant hum to the air anywhere remotely near a town or city. He remembered that blasted motorcycle he had to walk home after dark and learn how to ride after days and days of trial and error. He could remember the first day he noticed a change in the smell of the air due to smog and pollution. On the other side however he remembered being entertained at the intelligence and ingenuity of humans and all of the other races of the world. He wasn’t going to lie to himself or anyone; there were a lot of modern conveniences that he loved, and he loved them enough to forgive modern times for most of their shortcomings…most of them.
“I wouldn’t know how to explain it Thaileon, only that you are right. I’m not sure anything I’ve done is particularly admirable but, I’ll take the compliment.” He paused. “However I sense you came here to say something besides that. What is it?”
Thaileon grinned. “They said Kashoku could read minds too, the fun you both must have had, communicating from mind to mind without making a sound. The messes Armundae and I could have gotten into growing up. …Anyway, you’re right, I did have something to tell you.”
Shadow shook his head but chuckled softly. “It’s a handy power…yes, and he and I enjoyed it and used it well.” He looked at him. “What is it Thaileon?”
“Well,” he grinned slowly, “Laryllia, she is with child. I had to tell you first, before anyone else, even my mother.”
Shadow looked at Thaileon, the lessons and scars of two-thousand years controlling his face, keeping it from showing the conflicting wave of emotions that tumbled about in his heart when he heard those words. He had sensed something about Laryllia, and so he felt it was coming soon, but something about hearing it awoke a simultaneous eruption of joy and doom inside of him.
He felt the joy anyone would at this kind of news, stronger in his heart since Arandor’s family was his. Sutei became Shadow’s son, and Alamalie and Amarie his daughters, and so he loved them as such. This love extended to all of their descendants, and yet Shadow had distanced himself from them until now, when he had no choice, in order to be able to survive to this day, unable to take bonding to them only to lose them.
That’s where the dread came in. He knew that this child would not be the Son of Strength, but this milestone for Thaileon, one meant to be joyous and precious, was only one more step to his life being extinguished. It couldn’t be seen now; Thaileon looked young and strong and healthy, full of promise. He was the picture of the undefeatable warrior, but Shadow knew even he would crumble under the crush of Mukot’s evil.
Special qualities were needed to survive, and Shadow was afraid Thaileon didn’t have them. Perhaps he did, but unlike Armundae he possessed that same fatal, stubborn flaw that would destroy all of the others. The inability to trust, or believe. When the truth came out, their fates would be sealed, and there was nothing Shadow could do about it. He accepted it where Kashkie couldn’t, and perhaps the yellow echidna being unable to remember their fate was for now, a kindness.
Shadow accepted it. He didn’t like it. He forced his lips to grin. If he hadn’t fully mastered breathing, he had completely mastered his emotions, and only allowed the ones he wanted to paint themselves on his face. He wouldn’t allow his grief to smother the happiness he did feel. At times like this he tried to imagine Arandor’s reaction.
“Descendant number five-hundred or so, he’ll lose track every time,” Shadow thought to himself, causing his grin to hold stronger. “I am honored you chose to tell me first, and I cannot begin to convey how happy I am for you both. This will surely be a bright light in the story of your love, and of this village.”
Thaileon rubbed his neck, grinning sheepishly, showing a side of the boy he still was in some ways, while living the life of the grown man he had become. “Just another duty of mine right? I already know the village will be exuberant. Boy or girl I’ll have an heir, they’ll be able to rest their worries.” He paused, looking back at Shadow. “How could I not tell you first? Such a personal joy of mine, greater than I have ever known, and yet who would be the first besides Laryllia and the doctor that I would share this with?”
“Your father,” Shadow said. He turned, looking back out. “I am honored Thaileon, but I am not…”
“You really should have had your own kids,” Thaileon said, grinning. “Armundae and I both, you were there for us when we needed you. Does being over two-thousand years old mean you can’t have them? You look no older than I do in a lot of ways. Your age only shows in your eyes, far wiser than even the elders…and your mood whenever you wake up on the wrong side of the cot.”
“Excuse me?” Shadow looked back at him seeing the Guardian grinning at him cheekily. The ebony hedgehog wasn’t sure whether to show Thaileon that crabby, wrong-side-of-the-cot mood, or let go of it entirely. He was more struck by this idea that anyone thought he would be a good father. This came not long after Kashoku had asked Shadow not to give up hope for his own future, and here Thaileon was suggesting the same. Shadow was almost completely sure Arandor wasn’t strong enough to influence Thaileon, so this simply had to be irony.
He thought about it. If he could have a child, would he? Would he dare open the door? Would he do it? Arandor’s children didn’t come out immortal, so his likely wouldn’t either. He couldn’t bear to have a child only to lose it. Thaileon didn’t understand how passing on immortality worked, either that or he gave Shadow far too much credit when it came to how well he handled his losses.
Like Kashkie, his only solution was to bury what was hurting him, something he rarely did because by now he had accepted pain. He wasn’t sure why he couldn’t with this. Thinking about losing a child hurt him just too much, just like thinking about losing Kashkie hurt too much, losing Arandor…losing Lulabei…
Shaking his head he chuckled. “Fair enough Thaileon.” He looked at him. “Perhaps some day, perhaps, but right now my responsibility is for you and Armundae. We should return now and announce this to the village. I am sure there will be quite a feast to celebrate.”
Thaileon grinned a bit longer before chuckling himself. With a nod he replied, “Of course, and I know Laryllia is looking forward to it.” He started walking. “She’s nervous as anything but happier than I’ve ever seen her. It makes me warm right down to the tips of my fingers when I think about it.”
Shadow walked beside him. “Makes me happy to the tips of mine that you valued telling me over telling Armundae,” Shadow said with a grin.
“You don’t think he’ll tell you first when it’s Aerealei’s turn?” Thaileon smirked, “I’m his best friend I know him. I’m just lucky I got to be first. …You know sometimes it’s still hard to believe he found the love of his life. We both owe you a lot, but he owes you the most of all.”
“I did nothing,” Shadow said plainly. “I asked him explicitly to stay away from Valordian. If anything it was Kashoku that was responsible for this.”
Thaileon blinked, looking at him. “Kashoku…? How did he…”
“He’s not alive, not like I am, no,” Shadow interrupted, glancing at him. “His spirit is just ever present. He looks after his family even in death, and since he loved Valordian himself I’m certain he’s the reason Armundae disobeyed me and went.” Looking ahead Shadow smirked, “Not only did Kashoku know Aerealei was perfect for him he could never resist teasing me. I could see him grinning at me the moment I saw Armundae and Aerealei approach that day. I could hear his little chortles as he tried to keep them quiet. Yes…I do believe he masterminded that himself, the little bastard.”
Thaileon was silent for a moment, as was Shadow, and so they remained until Thaileon chuckled. “Only you could call Kashoku a bastard and get away with it.” He looked at him. “You were his brother, in many ways, you really were, despite you looking nothing like an echidna, but the way you speak of him, you sound like a brother admiring the other.” He paused, looking ahead seeing the edge of the village come into view. “You never explained how you met him, or where you both came from. Even our history only says so much about him. …Perhaps one day you can tell me about him? I’d love nothing more…than to tell my son all about his first king.”
Though Thaileon continued walking at the same speed Shadow immediately slowed down, coming to a stop right where the edge of the woods met the outskirts of the village. He felt a sick spot in the pit of his stomach. Thaileon wanted to know about Kashoku’s origins, but Shadow knew the Guardian King would immediately regret asking, and would most likely revoke any trust he had in the hedgehog for the rest of his life, however short.
It was a topic he wanted to avoid, but now that Thaileon was due to become a father, he knew this curiosity in his history would be impossible to quench until Shadow had explained it. It burned stronger than it had in any echidna since Durnam was alive, since everyone truly believed Shadow was the same one in their history. If anyone could fill in the missing pieces, it was him, and if he refused, he would be reviled. If he conceded and shared with them the truth, he would be banished.
He was dammed if he did, and dammed still if he didn’t. He couldn’t lie. Lying wouldn’t save them. Telling the truth might save a few, however small the chance. It had to be taken.
“He told you first? Seriously?”
Wondering had a way of swallowing up time and awareness, and Shadow’s next conscious thought was of the village of echidnas cheering and walking about excitedly. He could see Thaileon with a proud arm around Laryllia and a grin of equal delight curling his lips. Laryllia was like the blushing bride she was not but a year ago, smiling at her people, the beautiful and radiant queen, now the beloved mother that would give them their new Guardian prince or princess, assuring the bloodline of Sutei-Midoka would continue.
To his immediate right, Shadow saw Armundae, grinning in a similar cheeky fashion, yet his eyes were far more gentle and trusting. They struck Shadow; they reminded him of something but at that moment he couldn’t remember what it was.
He was too busy thinking that if he could save anyone, again, the one most likely to be the one, would be the son of Zecharias.
“Yes he told me first, and he made it plain he believed if it were you you’d have told me first as well. Truth?” Shadow asked.
Armundae blinked, blushing gently. “Actually, now that you mention it, he’s probably right. After all, you are like a father to me.”
Shadow shook his head. “He said the same thing. How you both see me as a father figure I cannot imagine. Countless males in this village, and you picked me. It’s a conundrum of the greatest intricacy beyond even my reckoning.”
“Err,” Armundae’s expression turned sheepish. “Smaller words perhaps Shadow. I’m a Captain not a scholar.”
The Dark Elemental looked at him. Though rare, sometimes there were instances where he felt laughter start to build up in his toes, traveling through him until it burst forth, and now was one of those times. He laughed unlike he had for awhile, and it had the consequence of hurting his sides more than it normally should. All the while Armundae just stood there almost shyly, but his grin strengthening. Something about seeing Shadow happy, genuinely happy, was heart-warming. It was a feeling that somehow bled its way back into Arandor.
They deserved that laughter.
Straightening up Shadow wiped his mouth, looking at Armundae. His body relaxed back to a state he was familiar with, folding his arms across his chest. He exhaled slowly, shaking his head. “That felt…good. …what I meant Armundae is…I don’t see why you and Thaileon look up to me so, that’s all. If it’s only because I knew Kashoku, then, that’s not a very good reason. A lot of people knew Kashoku, and not all of them are noble.”
Armundae tilted his head; “Is that was Thaileon said? …I look up to you because you were about the only one that could tell me I wasn’t crazy for wanting to travel, and didn’t make me feel like a failure when I couldn’t find a woman to love here. I look up to you because like any father you were there for me, and you argued in my defense even to the elders. If it weren’t for you I’d never have met Aerealei. I would have resigned myself to a loveless marriage all for the sake of producing an heir I couldn’t be a proper father to anyway as I only remembered a few of the lessons I learned from my own. God bless his soul, I will miss him forever, along with the rest of my family…like my grandfather. …Still, I believe they sent you here to save me. I owe them all of my happiness. I owe it all to you. That is why I see you as my father. That is why when that day comes for us, besides Aerealei, you will be the first I tell of the flower and fruit of our love.”
Shadow blinked. A long time had passed since he could remember truly being stunned by something in the way Armundae’s words did it to him now. While Thaileon was thoughtful and spoke of the great father Shadow would be, at the same time the reasons he gave came back to him being wise, simply being there when he was needed, and being the “brother” of Kashoku. Armundae’s reasons, while sharing some similarities, all came from the heart.
Saying he owed his entire happiness, even down to his very point of existence, all to Shadow, and so he loved him like a father; that was real admiration and gratitude. The last time Shadow felt that from anyone, well…he couldn’t remember, again.
“Armundae…I do not claim to know precisely what brought me here. I know why I came but that’s not to say I wasn’t guided,” he looked at him, “Our lives are a mixture of fate and free will. You move of your own volition, but never stray too far from a certain road. It just so happened that in order to continue down your path, the ones we walked needed to intertwine. You needed me, and…after hearing that, I am happy. Perhaps this pride I feel, is like a father’s pride.” He paused. “I wouldn’t know. The one thing I do know, is that no matter where the roads lead,” his eyes glanced at him, “I have faith that I will only continue to be there, as I have been all these years, and you will give me even more reasons, to be proud.”
Without missing a beat Armundae grinned. “Man, that’s one of the nicest things you’ve ever said to me. Will I get more nice words when I am a father?” He chuckled, blushing some. “I have a feeling it won’t be long. Aerealei will be sixteen soon, and she told me she thinks she’ll be ready. …do you think I will be a good father? I barely remember my own.”
“You will be,” Shadow said, without needing much time to think. “I could see that much the day in the tent when the elders yelled at you like the blockheads they were being. They saw a stubborn teenager trying to be rebellious.” He glanced at him. “Me, I saw a young man already mature beyond his years, with love in his heart for a woman and children he didn’t even know, and wanting to give them the whole of his heart. You loved them then. That will support you when the time comes for them to be born. Any man can create a baby. It takes a special kind of love and desire to be a father; the kind of love that surpasses any you’ve ever felt for yourself, and the desire to live for them and through them, so that one day they may take up this journey themselves. …so the cycle that your grandfather and father faced and upheld, it now passes to you. They did not fail, and Armundae, you will not fail either.”
“So much confidence,” Armundae grinned sheepishly. Still, he nodded. “Thank you. …Really Shadow, I can’t imagine my father picking anyone else other than blood to look after me. I really can’t wait to have my own children just so they get the chance to know you, and see someone they should one day aspire to be just like, just like I do. I want to always be able to help people, and to love, and protect. If I can do that, then I have done my blood proud. …Anyway, we’ve got a party to get to, so let’s go!” He ran ahead but added, “I wanna ask you about what you meant about of people that knew Kashoku later, so don’t forget!”
Another young man with the spirit of a boy, but the dreams and ambitions of an adult, and yet Shadow had an even better feeling in regards to Armundae, as he had from the moment he met him and Thaileon as children. One part of his mind nagged him at his choice of words, implying that there were people that knew Kashoku that weren’t so savory but were also alive like he was. The other part reconciled; perhaps this would be a good way to open up the conversation about who Kashoku really was. He wasn’t ready to tell Thaileon, but with Armundae, the sooner the right time came to tell him, the better.
As Shadow walked into the village, still alive with the joys and well wishes of all of the people, he briefly closed his eyes, letting the breeze once again remind him to breathe. He remembered now what the gentle and trusting look in Armundae’s eyes reminded him of; it was something he heard UnDark rant and scream about in private moments over the past millennia, and it was the reason Shadow knew now more than ever that the time had come to reveal the secret of Arandor and Kashoku to him. He felt hope burning in his heart that before now he could never allow himself to feel, hope that someone, anyone on this island, the people Arandor loved and died for, could survive.
Those eyes were Durnam’s eyes. Durnam, the one who could see UnDark even as he hid himself with corrupted Light, and the lone soul that held the hope to unite his people, believing the story of their first king. He had passed that same spirit right on down to Armundae. Though Durnam could not save his village, or even his own life, through this little gift, he had given Armundae the chance to survive.
“Durnam, son of Arundel. When I first came here and saw Armundae as a boy, I was reminded of you, even though I never knew you personally. I saw you only a few times. I learned you were a pillar of balance. You gave the village hope and had you lived you would have restored it to glory, a golden age even Kashoku could not hope to outdo. UnDark may have killed your body, but he did not destroy your spirit. Protect Armundae, son of Zecharias. Protect him, and allow him to tap in to the same belief and trust that allowed you to see through Arandor’s eyes, the truth that everyone else either ignored or denied. If he will only trust in my words, he and even Aerealei may yet be saved. If it is the will of our master creator above, then please help me save him. If even one soul lives that would otherwise die when the hour of doom strikes, I will have that much more hope to hold on to, as will we all. I cannot save them all, but all of you that came before, in your wisdom, if the creator’s will be done, I beg thee, intercede. Save them. Protect and save all that I cannot.”
Shadow opened his eyes. He felt paralyzed when the words floated into his mind at last. He had no idea about Oblivion’s words to Kashkie, but even if he experienced the same nightmare right at that moment, it would not change his convictions. Two sons, ones he loved dearly, and yet, just like Elliot and Durnam, he knew he could only save one. He was that much more determined to give Armundae just one chance, the opportunity for Durnam’s faith to finally be realized. He would do everything he could to give Armundae the chance Durnam was robbed of; the chance to raise his sons, and remain with the love of his life until the end of both of their days.
Maybe Thaileon was right after all. The kind of love that surpasses any you’ve ever felt for yourself…and the desire to live for them and through them, so that one day they may take up this journey themselves; what else did he sound like besides…
“Life is just journey,
One we all must take,
Along the road we wander,
Our true purpose will awake.
Centered all upon yourself,
Lonely you will be.
Learn to love beyond what’s yours,
And the fruits of life you’ll see.”
Sitting around the dinner fires the air was filled with a mixture of laughter, the sound of evening creatures, and the smell of dinner fading away to the tropical scent of frozen starfruit juice among other island produce shaved down to ice. The islanders had grown to love Kashkie’s special dessert over the year he slept, and despite still being in a fragile state of mind, Kashkie looked truly, honestly, happy.
He sat between Casselina and Deannalee, with Lily and Toby sitting at Deannalee’s other side. The group of four helped him feel secure, as did the happy little prince Baralai at his feet. Everyone was joyous; Kashkie was more than just Casselina’s and Deannalee’s solid foundation after Teikaru ran off and Renaldo disappeared. Everyone missed him. Everyone came to depend on him and even saw him as a leader.
Usually, it was the father of the new Guardian of the Master Jewel that was seen as the male leader. This rule came into place decades after Ilyamay and even her son Jayden passed away, to help settle disputes when a Guardian Queen had many different suitors. This was why Deannalee was desperate at first to have Kashkie’s daughter. It would remove Teikaru from power, effectively divorcing them.
But tonight, around those fires, Deannalee and Casselina announced the change. Realizing just how important Kashkie was to them, and also in memory of their beloved Renaldo, they had come to realize that living that way wasn’t fair to anyone. Having to come up with rules to settle matters of the heart and hurt feelings just for temporary pleasure was beyond cruel. While Lily and Toby were still pleasantly shocked at this sudden change, and Kashkie even more surprised that he was the big reason it was taking place at all, the echidnas of the village recovered from it a lot quicker.
Wives looked at their husbands and smiled. Many of them had remained faithful anyway, and those that flirted it seemed saw the same over that past year. Nobody had ever fallen asleep for a year and awoken. Nobody had ever disappeared like Renaldo had. The people here were beginning to realize how precious life is, and how quickly and unexpectedly it can change, or be yanked away entirely.
Even for fun, it must be cherished. To say Hai h’nai eru, qu’etal, meant you loved that one person and them alone, and even more than that, it meant that you loved them more than you loved yourself. Such a powerful admission left no room for something like flirting, no matter how fun or exciting it might be for that brief moment.
Girls grabbed the arms of their loved ones, while the males did everything from blinking to tilting their heads. Realizing it was real, they grinned, putting an arm around in return and even kissing their heads. Those that were single simply blushed or looked relieved. It was less like a contest, and more like a story, one they were all writing together.
Deannalee smiled. They were all feeling as good as she did when she realized she didn’t have to feel as badly as she had anymore. Looking at her mother she could see the old queen keeping her composure. She didn’t speak of it, but Deannalee had heard that Casselina did cause Renaldo and his best friend, the man who turned out to be the father of Teikaru, a decent man, to squabble over her on occasion, only nothing venomous ever came from it. When she ended up with Renaldo, she was faithful to him always. In her heart, Deannalee wondered if Casselina just wanted Renaldo to see this, so he could be proud of her one last time.
Looking at Lily and Toby she got a thumb’s up from Toby and a smile from Lily. Deannalee was so thankful. If anything good came out of Kashkie’s illness, it was the fact that she had repaired and saved her friendship with Lily. With Teikaru abandoning her, and her father gone, this meant the world to her.
She was finally beginning to feel like a good queen, a beloved leader of her people taking them in a positive direction. She owed it all to Kashkie. When she looked at him she saw his head tilted as it was pretty frequently now. As though able to sense her attention, he looked up. “This can’t all be because of me, can it?”
Deannalee smiled. “It is. Mother and I realized how important you are to us…to me. You never liked what happened between us, but only because of…my bad attitude about it. I…think if I were single or had broken it off with Teikaru first you…might have accepted it, and even then, if you hadn’t, I wouldn’t have hurt so many people.”
Kashkie tilted his head. “I forgave you…any hurt you caused me is gone.” He grinned some. “I have enough paranoia in my head. If I can get rid of any pain or bad memories then I will. Those times we shared, even if for the wrong reasons, I won’t let go of the memory of you comforting me. You did then, and you are now. No matter what, I’ll always watch over you.” He paused, looking out. “You father, he is proud. Wherever he is…he’s proud of both of you.”
Casselina overheard this and looked over at them, her eyes meeting her daughter’s, the two of them smiling sadly. Leaning over Casselina kissed Kashkie’s head gently. “He’d be happy that you’re safe and sound with us again. He’s proud of you for surviving.”
Kashkie looked at her, unsure of how to comfort her, indirectly prompting Deannalee’s next question. “Kashkie…Baralai says a spirit comes to see him and play with him,” she started. Her voice dropped to a whisper, one she knew Lily would still hear but it was alright for she was in on the secret. “Could you…could you sense them? Spirits I mean? I know this one isn’t my father but, if my father is…dead, could you sense him?”
The yellow echidna winced slightly, rubbing his brow. “Only if he’s here with us. If…he’s in heaven…” He paused, struggling with it, something he couldn’t remember. “Shadow, someone he knew, they could reach heaven, but me, I can’t, especially not like this.” He looked at her taking a deep breath. “…I definitely…sense someone here, but…as sick as I am, I can tell you, it’s not your father. It’s…someone else.”
Toby had been pulled away by Baralai briefly, and so Lily turned her attention to the two of them. “Someone?” Lily asked.
Kashkie nodded. “A male…tall, white fur…” He winced again. “Blue eyes, gray hair…his heart is heavy.” He looked at Deannalee breathing deeply again. “He’s…watching you. Right now. You’re the reason he’s here.”
Deannalee blinked. “That’s…that’s how Baralai described him to me. …Who could he be…” She spoke slowly, then looked at Kashkie. “The night Baralai was born, after you left…Teikaru hurt me. I was too sick to sleep, but I felt a hand stroke my head and comfort me. …Kashkie, Baralai hasn’t told me a name. What is his name? Can you tell at all?” she asked, taking his hand.
Lily looked at Kashkie. He was already breaking out into a sweat despite the air being relatively cool for their tropical summer weather. “Dee, he looks sick…let’s give him a break.”
“N-No, I can do this…for Deannalee,” Kashkie swallowed. “It’s just…the emotions…they’re so heavy. …I’ve read auras before but never…one so powerful. He’s…tormented, but not out of grief.” He looked up. “It’s out of love and the sorrow that comes with it. He stands by and watches…he waits. He loves and protects, in a way I can’t, nor would I even if I could…simply out of respect. …his name…his name is…”
Casselina looked over at them now, having missed the bulk of the conversation and more concerned with how quickly Kashkie’s condition was deteriorating. She sensed something foul at work, something of the nature that used to give her headaches. However some light whether from Renaldo or even Kashkie now protected her from it. She was able to raise her head and look towards the outer edge of the dinner circle. There, Toby stood, keeping Baralai safe in his arms, his wings flapping in warning, his ears back and his fangs barred in a violent hiss.
Teikaru stood just footsteps away from him. Baralai was frowning, trying to root his way into Toby’s arms as tightly as he could. Casselina sneered, everyone’s eyes turning in the same direction. By now everyone had grown to hate him for one reason or another. On a night as special as this, he just gave them more reason to.
Deannalee and Lily both looked now as well. They realized now what was happening. Lily hissed mimicking her husband. Deannalee looked back at Kashkie in just enough time to see him choking on the name of her guardian angel before vomiting the last half of his dinner on the ground, the sweating so heavy now his hair and fur were soaked. She rubbed his back gently trying to comfort him, looking back at Teikaru glaring. She angled her body in a protective stance, ready to take anything from a balled up fist to an icicle spear in order to protect Kashkie.
The silence was deafening until Teikaru grinned even more, twirling water around his wrist. He eyed Baralai for a moment; it was clear the father had far from given up on his son, even if the last thing he felt for him was love. He glanced at Casselina, realizing immediately she was now beyond his control; taking away Renaldo had done nothing except for working against him. He hid his disgust at this, looking straight at Deannalee and that miserable yellow echidna. This at last, was what caused him to sneer, but only for a moment.
“What’s wrong? Did I crash the party?”
Shadow was watching from the safety of the tree line, ready to spring into action in case something happened and either Kashkie or Deannalee were threatened. He sighed. There was no way Kashkie would father Deannalee’s daughter. He knew no matter what Teikaru would be the one to do it. It was inevitable.
“None of us like it, I know you don’t especially, wandering spirit. …I am so sorry, believe me…I feel your pain. The last thing I want is that poor girl to be hurt again,” he balled up his fists. “I don’t want anyone to hurt again.”
Closing his eyes he turned away. He decided Kashkie and Deannalee were safe for the moment, and Teikaru’s evil was so overpowering he couldn’t bring himself to look at him anymore. He felt so bad for Deannalee and this spirit he didn’t even know that he needed a moment just to breathe a sigh of sadness for them. He hated stories that could only end happily by ending tragically.
It was so overwhelming he almost missed him. Almost.
“You don’t want anyone to hurt again? …Big words.”
Shadow opened his eyes blinking. Not but ten feet away from him stood UnLight, his arms crossed across his chest, the fire light making shadows dance across his face. Ages had passed since Shadow last saw him, and yet he appeared not to have changed at all, except for those eyes. Like Shadow’s, they were the only way you could tell they were far older than their bodies made them out to be. UnLight looked over at him, his eyes surprisingly gentle.
He wondered if that’s what his eyes looked like to Thaileon and Armundae. They had to be. A father had to have gentle eyes.
“UnLight,” he whispered, unable to form the words. He wondered what had become of his half-brother. He never expected him to actually seek him out.
As if picking up on this UnLight looked back out. “That gray echidna makes me sick. He’s even more disgusting than UnDark is, and that’s saying a lot. …you don’t want anyone to suffer yet you’re feeding that girl to the wolves just to get a daughter out of her.” He shook his head. “Big words. None of you are impressing me right now.”
“Oh and Mukot is? Correct me if I’m wrong but if Mukot would call all this nonsense off then we wouldn’t need to be doing all this to begin with,” Shadow replied immediately.
UnLight looked up slowly, cutting his eyes at Shadow. “Hmm,” he looked back out watching the confrontation unfold. “No wonder he wants your blood. You’re the kind that if he can’t have you, nobody can. I could never make him that proud.”
Shadow raised an eyebrow, confused, but dismissing it quickly. He was afraid UnLight would run away at any time, and as part of his small, personal mission, he was determined to try and save UnLight’s life. This was the first real opportunity he had had in hundreds of years. “UnLight, you don’t have to make him proud. You can live for yourself. If you do that, you’ll find people you actually care for, and that care for you, and it’s them that you can love more than yourself. Don’t you want to know what that’s like? As big an idiot as you think I am I at least know and feel love.”
UnLight didn’t move, keeping his eyes cut at Shadow in the same spot, those orange, piercing eyes, glowing from the firelight.
With a sigh Shadow rubbed his forehead. “Alright, you’re not going to answer me, that’s fine. I told you a long time ago it’s up to you to decide, I’m not backing down from that. Why is it that you’re here then? Surely you don’t feel that bad for Kashkie and Deannalee, and I know you don’t feel bad for me.”
“Hmm,” UnLight said finally, looking out. “That’s incorrect, I pity you. Or…perhaps I pity myself, for I know I can never be like you.” He paused, then added, “I do feel bad for Kashkie. I think Arandor was the biggest idiot ever, something even you can understand, don’t lie, but Kashkie didn’t ask for this. I feel bad for him and that girl. Arandor dammed all of these descendants of his to torment and death.”
Shadow frowned some. “It would be easier if you hadn’t let UnDark kill him in the first place, or if Mukot would call this off. Quit trying to put the blame on Arandor and tell me what your problem is.”
UnLight sneered lightly looking at him. “Me assign blame? Sounds to me like you’re doing it too from up there on your high horse!”
“Who started it?” Shadow replied, calmly and plainly. “Tell me that Father and Arandor started it, and I’ll let it go.”
Blinking UnLight turned away, sighing. “…I’m…I’m sorry. I just… …I know Father is the one that started it, and the reason why I know, is why I’m here.”
Shadow looked at him, confused, and shocked that he actually got an apology out of him. “Why you’re here? What do you mean you know why he started it?”
UnLight leaned back against a tree, crossing his arms again. “UnDark found a book, one in Uncle Serpent’s library,” he said, glancing at him. “You knew that Uncle Serpent was his brother yes? Well…it goes deeper than any of us ever knew.”
“Serpent…Serpent of Fate,” Shadow whispered, wincing slightly trying to remember so long ago. He did remember his Uncle Serpent, the only friendly face, and the one that helped him escaped to Fiera so long ago, wanting so desperately to save the child, his little nephew, from the doom he foresaw coming upon Mukot. Shadow hadn’t thought about it since he became an adult, but he realized he owed Serpent his life and his freedom, but he couldn’t spend long dwelling on it for now. Looking at UnLight he asked the obvious follow-up question. “How much deeper?”
With a heavy sigh UnLight looked out. “I despise him killing innocent people, and I’m starting to be confused at why he wants you dead so badly. Uncle Serpent is the reason you ran away, I know that now because this was also in that book, I discovered later. UnDark stopped reading before he got that far…the idiot.” Rubbing his neck he glanced at Shadow. “You want to know how deep it goes, Shadow? Not only did he banish Uncle Serpent and put a price on your head…he also murdered his entire family.”