Knives Dark – Chapter 8 – “Innocence”

In his dreams, he saw her beautiful, innocent face. They’d known each other when they were children. Her black hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail. She laughed and danced with him, and with her, he felt happiness. When they were tired, they collapsed on the grass in each other’s embrace, foreheads touching. In his dreams, they did not speak, for there was no need. They had each other.

***

Raquel…” the name escaped the whited lips of the man laying upon the floor of Golias Tower. He groaned as he breathed slowly, coming back to consciousness, his eyes adjusting to the darkness. The wound in his chest where the sword had been had healed. This miracle was expected, for this man was Immortal. He gradually sat up, still in a daze. His mouth tasted of iron, and his throat felt dry and parched. He gulped, wishing he had water.

Painstakingly, he turned over and collapsed, so he rested on his abdomen. Every inch of his body ached with a deep pain and weariness that seemed to come from his bones and ligaments. With laborious groaning and tremendous effort, he lifted himself so he was in a crawling position on all fours. His arms and legs tremored beneath his weight, and he began crawling towards the walls he could barely make out.

He collapsed again about halfway, and lay there with his cheek resting upon the grimy floor, panting heavily. His lungs burned and his ribs seemed to squeeze at his organs. Wincing, he lifted himself once more and continued crawling.

When he got to the wall, he supported himself against it, turning around into a sitting position with his back against the stone. Closing his eyes, he quickly fell into a deep slumber.

***

He awoke when it was still night out, the tower as dark as he remembered it. The pain in his body had subsided, and there was now energy in his muscles that had been absent before. Eyes drooping and half-closed, he shook his head.

“Those fools…” he muttered under his breath, recalling the Queen Chrysithia and her treacherous followers who had slain him. In his heart, he felt the blackness of hatred, and it burned within him, igniting a fiery anger. Gulping and tasting the dryness of his mouth, he thought to himself, my Lord, forgive me my thoughts.

Thou doth sayeth, forgiveness is of divinity, and better for my soul. But thou also sayeth, to defend oneself before those of violence who would threaten one’s life and wellbeing. I must continue in my struggle against Shazzar, and these parties would doubtless stand before me.

Thou who hath given me form, molded me from clay and water, forgive me, for I can no longer forgive them.

I hath approached the Queens of this land extending a hand of peace, that they may be my allies in this war against Shazzar. In beguiling perfidy, they turned against me, revealing their covenant with the Lord Falcifer, known agent of Shazzar. Now I know I shall receive no aid from such disbelievers.

Four Queens hath I approached as such; four times now hath I been beset and slain by their treachery. Three times thus I hath forgiven the Queens, continuing onwards in peace, but upon this fourth ignominious death, I shall sheathe my anger no more.

Forgive me and guide me, my Lord, that I shall not commit transgression in seeking a deathly vengeance.

He then recited surat al-Fatiha and then surat al-Ikhlas: “Bismillahir ah-rahmanir rahim. Qul Huwallahu ahad. Allâhussamad. Lam yalid wa lam yû-lad. Wa lam yakun lahû kufuwan ahad.”

There is only one God, and He is self-sufficient, free of all needs and wants. He is the Creator whom all creatures of Creation need. He begets not any like Him, nor was he begotten. He always was, and always shall Be. There is none like Him.

Touching the giant scars upon his chest and neck, he contemplated how much time had passed. Doubtless it was no short term. Immortal though he was, his healing was not instant, and it required years to regrow an organ so vital as the heart. How many years was a question whose answer rested in the nature of the injury. This particular death had been monstrous: they had impaled him with his own blade, Falsyvver, and had utterly decimated his entire chest. He estimated from past experience that seven or so years had passed, give or take some months.

“I care not for this world and its kin, still I endeavour to save it,” he said aloud in a deep growl. Allah, forgive me, my anger.

Of a sudden, the sword Falsyvver that had been impaled in his chest and was now two pieces, suddenly came to life. The piece still stuck in the slab effortlessly removed itself. Both pieces levitated momentarily, then sped towards his face. Readily, he caught the pieces with his two hands, the hilt by the handle, the blade portion slicing into his palm, mere inches from his face.

He began to pull them together at the broken point, struggling as if pulling together two powerful magnetic poles of the same charge. Grunting with the strain, his arm, chest, and shoulder muscles bulged and his bones creaked until, with a titanic effort, he finally connected the two shards together in the dim light. As he did so, both pieces began glowing pure white and molten orange in his hands as the sword reforged itself. His skin sizzled and burned with the heat, the tantalizing smell of burning flesh upon the air, but he did not let go despite the scalding pain.

Serrellanos… Serrellanos… Serrellanos… Severyn… Serrellanos… Severyn… Arclaud… Severyn… Master… Severyn… Serrellanos… Serelllanos… Arclaud… Master… Severyn…

As he held Falsyvver, haunting whispers echoed through the chamber, emanating from the blade itself. It was Falsyvver, weeping with joy to be reunited with his master, Serrellanos Arclaud.

“Yes, it is I.”

The illusion. The spell. It is broken.

Serrellanos nodded as the glow and the whispers died down. Falsyvver was referring to the genjutsu, illusion magic, that had been used by the Queens to deceive him into trusting them. Capable as he was, his eyes and heart had failed to pierce through their illusions every single time. This was the powerful magic the Queens used to control their followers and reign over their kingdoms.

He had approached each Queen with the intent of asking them to be his ally in his lonely war against Shazzar. He had done so because his heart had hearkened him towards them, resonant with the sentiment of familiarity and trust. He had felt they would be worthy companions on his difficult quest. For all his fortitude and intelligence, the song of his lonely, yearning heart was one he could not ignore. With retrospective certainty, he now saw how utterly alone he was, and perhaps always would be.

The Queens were in actuality vain creatures, blinded by their earthly desires. They sided with the Lord Falcifer Adonis for his promise of power to ensure their continued rule. Lord Falcifer was himself an agent of Shazzar, both sworn enemies to Serrellanos. Over the eons, the two had clashed, equal but opposing forces that decided the balance of the world. In the latest chapter of their conflict, Serrellanos had awoken from a thousand year slumber to this world ruled by these Queens, overseen by Lord Falcifer from his floating fortress.

Serrellanos had sealed away Falcifer two millennia prior, after the two had nigh razed the world with the fury of their conflict. This was the same cycle that had taken place six times before, over the course of twelve millennia. Roughly every two millennia, Falcifer would re-emerge, working from the shadows to secure power despite Serrellanos.

For his failures to preempt Falcifer, Serrellanos was unsure whether to shoulder the blame upon himself. He strove to remain integrated with humanity, though aloof to it, a stranger in an alien world. He lived amongst people as a nomadic shadow that called no place “home,” traveling with his heart as his guide, striving to help those in need. That Serrellanos remained blind to Falcifer’s activities was a testament to Falcifer’s cunning.

Perhaps in his age, he was growing desensitized to the pain of the world and the flow of energy within it. Maybe this was why Falcifer had such opportunities to establish himself. Serrellanos could not dispute the fact that his endless struggle often left him tired, uncaring. The little empathy that remained for the human condition was but a candle to the flame it had once been. But he did not perform good out of empathy, nor out of a misplaced sense of feeling good about himself. He truly did good for good’s sake alone.

Serrellanos himself felt nothing at all from his actions, but watching people have hope… seeing them smile and comfort one another, watching as they found happiness in this life: these things filled him with warmth. That was his reward. Thus, his devotion to humanity did not wane, but grew, even as he became increasingly stoic and stone-hearted. In this way, Serrellanos perceived divine truth, as an agent of the blessings of Allah.

“I am no prophet, nor savior; I am merely a forgettable slave to Allah, one of many placed upon this Earth for a time. I may not age nor die as humans, but I am still human, flawed like the rest of them. All I have is but the strength of my will, forged by the Creator Himself, and the penitent desire to do His good.” Allah, forgive me and guide me, that I may be among the good in this life, and the hereafter.

Serrellanos had always emerged victorious against Falcifer, every time thinking he had at last ended him with permanence. Alas, Falcifer was resilient, and enough of him always managed to survive that he resurrected. It was a song whose tune was growing old, leaving Serrellanos to wonder whether so hardy a foe could ever be completely vanquished. He retained the hope that it was possible, but now firmly believed that to do so would require more than simply killing him. Serrellanos knew not how, but he was certain he would one day know.

Each Queen that had murdered him had doubtless done so to curry favor with Falcifer, whom Serrellanos perceived as instrumental to their reign. Every time he was slain by one of the Queens, he resurrected, his eyes perceiving with greater clarity the true colors of these rulers and the nature of their malignancy that had taken hold of the world without his notice. Their presence was like cancerous tumors that were now beginning to metastasize. Indeed, he would never have taken the Queens to be the people they were.

Nearly half a century had passed, mostly with Serrellanos dead, since Falcifer had first made himself known to the world. He had appeared one fateful day out of nowhere in his flying fortress Jormugand. Serrellanos had witnessed firsthand how war, inane taxes, and oppressive governance was mangling and destroying the lives of goodly men and women.

Despite the weariness of his aching soul, his sense of justice had not diminished; it was quite the contrary. He could clearly perceive good and evil intertwined, forming rich shades and colors in between. His heart, which had hardened over the ages into pure diamond, had metamorphosed through these latest deaths once more. Now it was harder than diamond, harder than any material in the universe: a singularity from whose deathly gravity no evil could escape.

Contained within Serrellanos was an engine of infinite potential capable of utter destruction that granted him his Immortality. It was fueled by a coldness that matched the zero of space, a heat that burned hotter than the core of the bluest star, an electricity that had more potential than Jupiter’s lightning: it was sheer, unbridled hatred and raw anger; the gushing vitriol of countless lifetimes of endured pain and cruelty; the sum cumulus of all human torment and suffering. It was the Darkness of the Void, which Serrellanos utilized with his insurmountable will and devotion.

All those capable of magic, from mages to the Queens, derived their power from the Darkness. Unlike them, Immortals did not merely use such power, they were borne of it. For the Immortals were encapsulations of the higher dimensions of the Void itself, soul shards directly channeling the Darkness into a projection of their form on this plane. This is from whence their powers truly derived.

Unlike most magic users, Serrellanos had an added ability they lacked, a trait that empowered only the most devout: he could transform Darkness into Light. This Light was the only energy capable of shattering an Immortal’s soul shard in the Void and preventing their resurrection. Serrellanos knew this for he had killed other Immortals with the Light, long before Falcifer. Indeed, Falcifer was but the latest incarnation of a long line of deceased Immortals that had opposed Serrellanos, the first Immortal.

Just as Allah had created the universe from Darkness, had formed Light from Nothing, Serrellanos too wielded this ability. Therefore, the penultimate source of Serrellanos’ power derived not from negativity, but from an all-encompassing love. Borne from this Light was Agonicia von Falsyvver, the ultimate sword, the Immortal slayer.

There were others out there who possessed the ability to turn Dark to Light, owing to their love for their Lord, but Serrellanos had yet find these companions. It was not an easy task, for peering into another’s heart and soul was not an ability that any living creature had. He had thought that the four Queens were such benevolent beings, but now saw how this was misguided wishful thinking.

While the Darkness itself was pure energy in the most negative forms, it was not itself “evil.” It was pure energy, plain and simple. But harnessing the Darkness invited the whispers of Shazzar, who was drawn to it like a fly to flesh. It was Shazzar’s whispers which would subsume the hearts of those using the Void’s Darkness and manifest as evil. Shazzar would latch onto the fractional pieces of arrogance, hate, greed, envy, and lust in every human’s heart, slowly transforming them into wicked shadows of their true selves. Indeed, to utilize the Darkness was a constant struggle against Shazzar even for Serrellanos, but it was a struggle, a jihad, he undertook with diligence and love.

In thinking about the Darkness, a perverse warmth crept into Serrellanos’ mind. He smiled, as though in a sickly dream. “These wretched humans. They think me the villain. Know they not how disgraceful their deeds are? How corrupt they have become in arrogant self-righteousness? They are the perverse, the misguided. And I shall end them.”

Then he screamed out in agony. “Begone, Shazzar, whisperer of hatred! I’ve no use for your poison in my heart! Mankind is my kin, I was begot of them, and I shall try and save them. Even if they are wicked, even if they slay me time and time again!

“Twisted they may be, but you are the devil, corrupter of hearts, sworn enemy of man! You are the causer of wrongs in this life! My war thus is with you, my wrath reserved for you, not my fellow man!” Serrellanos yelled, before lapsing into heaving breaths.

“Those who fall victim to your taint, they are not innocent nor free of responsibility. But only Allah knows what is in the hearts of men, and for the truly irredeemable amongst us, He has saved a place in the hells, and He is the most wise, most just! I have no right to judge, so I shall greet mine kin with peace and good tidings, ’til they threaten mine!”

“Bismillahir ah-rahmanir rahim…” he began reciting surahs to ward off the invisible evil of Shazzar that sought to taint his mind.

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