A Few Weeks Later
The city was dark.
Shadows hung over the ruins of the capital, which was stained in blood. The sun was no more than a smear of forgotten brightness in the sky. It barely managed to light the world through the thick, choking smog that clung in the air and drifted through the cobbled streets. Dark silence lingered in every corner and wrapped itself around the crumbling buildings and ancient towers like the dying heat of a fire. Shadow moss spread over the alleys and passages and coated the ground in an unnatural black grass.
Wind whistled through the long-bare trees and howled over the hills surrounding the city. Sand whisked up from the barren landscape and swirled high into the already polluted sky. The deathly breeze told stories of pain, misfortune and betrayal.
It was a forgotten world.
Rantil's mind was caught in the gale and his thoughts blew from alley to alley, from high tower to crumbled ruin. He knew that he was caught inside a dream and as much as he tossed and turned in the waking world, his body would not lift from his bed and back into reality.
With each swirling turn of the wind, Rantil's vision was pulled and dragged across a world he didn't recognise. A final gust threw him high into the air, where, suddenly, his body took form and his limbs were visible to him again. For a moment at least, he could use them to swim through the fog all around.
A light beckoned him to climb upwards through the thick, viscous air. He did so. It shone out like nothing he had ever seen before. Its beauty called to him like he was witnessing both the start and end of the universe in a single moment.
"Rantil..." the light whispered, with a kind and soothing voice inside his thoughts. "I need..."
"What? What do you need?"
The voice muttered something, but the strength of the light blinded Rantil to what.
"Please, tell me!"
"I cannot stop
"What can't you stop?"
I need your help."
He was finally close enough to reach out and touch the light, but it started to slip away.
He began to fall.
The roaring of the wind surged through his hair and buffeted his dreaming mind. He quickly fell beyond the layer of fog and could see the city below once more. There was nothing to stop him falling through the suddenly thin air and his vision snapped to black as he crashed back down to the ground.
When he awoke, he imagined himself a desperate man, running through the city. He imagined he was searching for something, hidden and lost inside one of the buildings. He imagined that, whatever it was, was vital to the workings of the universe. In his mind, he convinced himself that the world would soon end if he couldn't find it.
Panic ran through his every thought, but they were thoughts that were not his own.
"I must find it," he muttered in a voice quieter than a whisper. "I can hear it in my head, it's calling out to me. I must be getting closer."
He wove through the streets, trying his hardest to stay hidden. The shadows shrouded his presence from the prying eyes of the city. The humming grew louder in his ears. "If I can hear it so clearly now," he whispered to no one but himself, "then it must be nearly time. If it is not stopped, it could mean the end for us all."
With his back against a jagged wall, he skulked his way out of a pitch-black alley near the far edge of the forgotten city. He looked up and saw a large, leaning, stone tower. It loomed over him and gave the impression that at any second the uneven rocks would grind across each other and the stone would crash to the ground.
Against any will that Rantil could muster to keep away from the building, he advanced upon a small window set just within reach on the tower's far side. He tiptoed and peered through the rough-shaped hole which led inside the tower.
But when he saw what was in the room beyond, he turned his back and crouched down to the floor. Images from the Temple, far away in the Phayorian Mountains, flashed through his head. He could once again see the menace and twisted cruelty on the demon's face. All the pain and suffering caused because of it returned to him in an instant. He didn't want to be reminded of what he lost trying to stop that one demon.
And now, inside the tower, were three.
"It's almost ready sir!" shouted one of them, in a small, wavering voice. Rantil could hear scurrying inside the room and for a moment, thought it was heading his way. He pressed his body closer to the wall and listened. "After years of waiting and planning, it will soon be ready. Finally, we can
"There is no need to remind me," interrupted a much louder demon. Unlike the one before, his voice was booming and filled with an authority that put Rantil on edge - more so than he already was.
He shuffled his feet around so the he could stand; he peered through the window again.
"This will be the defining moment in all our lives," smirked the large demon.
Rantil gazed closer and for a moment let his body relax. He wasn't sure how, but he recognised the demon. He recognised the lingering scar that contorted his right eye, where the shade of his skin was an even darker red. Rantil knew he was given that scar during the Right of Huumax, a ritual ceremony during which this demon was bestowed the powers of a General. And with it, control over the entire city.
The small demon stuttered, and looked up to his leader. "May I remind you, sir, that we still need a catalyst to release the energy trapped within."
The General span around and threw his fist into the face of his companion, whilst shouting, "I had not forgotten!" The scrawny demon whimpered, fell to the floor and clutched at the side of his face, where there was now a bloodied cut.
"Yes... of course not sir."
The General breathed in deeply and regained his posture. "It really is something to behold," he whispered as he moved out of sight. Rantil had to adjust his footing so that he could follow the demon to the far side of the room.
There, standing on an ornately carved stone plinth, was a boulderous rock, emanating a light that rose and fell in time with his breathing. The patterns inside this large rock reminded him at once of the Quilnar Mast. But the light inside was so uneven; it looked unnatural and ill. A deep purple hue pulsated through the stone and swirled around with the last remnants of orange light.
Beside the rock, stood the third demon.
His back was straightened, his head was held high and his eyes kept a solid fix on the entrance to the tower. Around his waist was a worn leather belt, where metal blades and knives hung, pristine and new. He breathed heavily and with a wheeze, loud enough for even Rantil to hear.
"Sir," he began, without taking his gaze away from the door, "I think there is something you should know."
The General moved over to the soldier's side and they whispered between each other for a second. Eventually, they parted.
"I see," the General replied with a quick glance back to the large, unknown rock. "Fortune favours us, it seems. We have much to ready before we depart."
Nothing else was said between the demons, who then turned and headed for the door. Rantil ducked his head back below the window and strained his ears to hear the fading footsteps of the three demon men.
He wanted to run, he wanted to be as far from this place as possible. He wanted to forget the nightmare around him. It wasn't real - it was only a dream. But there was one thought that kept him from waking, a single thought that meant he couldn't stop himself from shifting around the outside of the tower and creeping inside the room.
"It must be stopped," he whispered as he came in sight of the mysterious rock that stood, mighty, at the back of the tower.
Something shifted in the darkness of the street behind him; he spun around and stared into the thickly gathered shadows for any signs of life. When he had assured himself that all was clear, he slowly turned his attention back to the strange light that shifted through the room like the rippling of water.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?"
He could feel a stream of warm air on his neck. His eyes froze onto the shining boulder. He daren't look around. In his mind, he screamed out, hoping that someone would hear him shouting in his chambers and force him to rise from his sleep. Slowly, and without a want or need to, he looked back over his shoulder into the face of the demon General.
Instinctively, Rantil lifted his hands and the General was pulled back against the wall of a nearby building by chains of white light. They contorted around his muscular, dark-crimson body and bound him in place. Light poured into the adjoining alleyways and startled several small rodent-like creatures scurrying through the darkness. The General frowned.
"I'm disappointed," he admitted. "I expected something a little more impressive."
Rantil knew the General was waiting for him to reply, but could think of nothing to say. His mind drew blank and his gaze sank into the darkness of the demon's eyes.
"But then I figure it's my own mistake. I know better than to fear you. I know more than one of your secrets."
The emptiness of the General's soul began to bear heavy on Rantil's mind. He could feel himself becoming heavier. He wanted to look away; he wanted to turn his face from the demon and down to the floor. But there was something holding his focus on the depths of the General's heart.
Suddenly, without any warning, Rantil fell to his knees. A great weight on his thoughts forced his legs to give way and let him crumple to the ground. There was nothing left to keep the white chains around the General strong and so they faded back into the darkness and allowed the large bulk of the demon to drop back to the floor.
"But then, maybe it's your own undoing that you expect so little from us."
Rantil struggled breathing under the weight pushing down on him from above. He shifted his balance onto all fours and just managed to look up at the General who advanced towards him.
"It is time for you to stop fighting. Your time is coming to an end
and soon, we shall once again roam the surface of your world with freedom."
Using the last of his energy Rantil pushed his heavy body away from the floor, knelt back and said, "That time will never come."
The General roared with anger and struck him beneath the chin, whipping Rantil's head upwards. He cried in pain and landed with his back to the ground. Before he knew anything else, the demon towered over him, pushed his head against the cobbled street and clasped his throat in his muscular hand.
"It's too late to stop us now."
Rantil gasped for breath and pulled at the General's thick wrist. "What do you want from me?"
The demon moved closer and brought a new terror into Rantil's nightmare by saying, "You are going to help us escape."
With his free hand, the General pounded at the side of Rantil's face. Pain ran through his sleeping mind, which echoed in his unconscious body. He could feel the demon's fist striking his cheek, bringing forth blood from his nose.
Everything began to darken and Rantil knew that the dream was coming to an end. He knew that he was about to wake back into the real world where there were no demons to speak of, or mysterious cities with no name.
Though in the seconds leading to the end of his nightmare he saw the small demon scurry from the shadows and look up to his master. The General looked over his shoulder for a moment and whispered, "Your catalyst is ready," before punching the man beneath him into a final deep unconsciousness.
With a sudden exhausted jump, Rantil sat up in his bed. The loud thumping of the General's attack echoed through his first waking thoughts, until eventually, he realised that it was someone knocking at the door. Slowly, he followed the light shafting through the half open window across his chambers to where another three loud knocks resounded from outside.
He glanced up at the ceiling and tried to let the last remnants of the nightmare wash away into the past. He began to lift his head from his pillow, but a dull pain ran through his cheek. He reached up with his still sweaty hand and gently ran his fingers across his face. There was a lump underneath his eye that was sore to touch and for a moment, he thought the dream was real. This was a mark from the General; it couldn't be anything else.
Three more loud knocks coerced him to shuffle from lying and sit up in bed. Deep into the Kirathun Season, the morning light was bright and warm. Warm enough in fact, to make the usually cold lightwood floor seem pleasant under his feet.
He closed his eyes for a moment until a voice murmured from the other side of the door, "Rantil, are you alright?"
His mind was still heavy and his legs were weak but he managed to stumble over to the other side of the room. He quickly pulled a clean robe over his head and fastened the rope around his waist. Just as yet another knock echoed through his room, he flicked open the catch and pulled the door slightly open.
Kantou stared at him from the bright corridor. She frowned and in a voice of concern said, "You look awful."
"What time is it?" he muttered, rubbing his eyes. They were red and slightly swollen.
"Nearly time for the Council to convene."
He stuttered and absentmindedly turned away from the door and wandered back into his chamber. Kantou stood at the door and eventually followed him inside. She watched him quickly make his bed, but soon, his mind began to throb and he lost his focus. If the bed wasn't by his side, he would have collapsed to the floor. She quickly closed the door and sat by his side.
"It's happened again, hasn't it?"
He lowered his hand from rubbing his eyes again and slowly nodded. "It's always the same."
"You said it yourself
" she began.
"I know what I said," he interrupted. "But each time I have it, I can remember more about it."
She felt his body tense as he spoke; she knew something was bothering him. "What is it? Rantil?"
" He gritted his teeth as though he was loathed to even hear himself say, "I think they're coming. I think the demons are coming." Kantou sat in a shocked silence. "They've got, something. They're going to use it, to
I wish I could remember. When I'm in the dream, everything seems to clear. I feel like a different man. I just wish I knew
knew what it meant."
"You know what I think."
He stared at the floor. "It's not time."
"Then when will it be?"
Rantil looked up and out of the window. There were only a few clouds in the otherwise blue sky. Several white birds soared past his room on the third floor of the Regallum and disappeared behind a large building in the city below. The light from the sun spread a warmth over the houses beyond like they were glowing with life.
"What was the last thing she said to you?"
He sighed, "That she would be there when we needed her again."
"And isn't this time? If you truly think the demons are coming for us, then we need her help."
Blood rushed to his head as he stood up, though he quickly recovered. "But what about the Council meeting?"
Kantou stood up after him. "I will go in your place," she announced. "It is far more important that you should understand the meaning in your dreams." She paused. "Go, see Shieef, and hope that it is only that