Ocean

An ocean lay before him. Not physical, but virtual: in all directions, he could make out the brilliant sparkle of sun upon crests of waves, birds gliding freely upon thermals. That wide-open horizon frightened him for the lack of any definite end or reality, but far more, it excited him, tantalizing him with that fervor for the unknown he’d wielded since childhood.

A wont to look back tempted him. He stared longingly towards the pier as he recalled the traits of these familiar shores he’d inhabited his whole life, contemplating the magnitude of no return. The job with steady income in a country that knew no war, a decent sum in retirement savings, a home with a wife who cooked warm meals and tidied his things the same familiar way each day. A stability in which he’d silently stagnated, unable to confide in anyone since his father’s passing, struggling internally to not be so childish as to be led by dreams and fancies and instead surrender himself to the gravity of what he had spent his life building: a life he did not care for, a life of predictability.

That spirit of adventure had been caned, rebuked, punished, and choked. Doggedly, it persisted, triumphant in defiance. The thought of crossing that ocean in a coffin did not bother him any more, the way one is no longer bothered by the creaking of a door. He had grown accustomed to the thought, and so when his good friend would visit and tap familiarly at his shoulder, he was no longer left in the throes of uncertainty. He would greet his friend, would follow diligently, and relish in the tales and poetry they wove like cloth of golden fleece.

Age made his legs brittle, his back weary, his face wrinkled. But with loyalty of habit, he returned every time to that sight. Like watching a painting, he would be lost in imagining the distant horizon limned by fiery sun, reflecting the fire that refused to go out inside him.

Then, like all days, he would turn, following the same path he’d etched out with age. It was not lack of courage that brought him back, but faith —

Faith that some fires do not go out in death, but burn only brighter as they reach towards the heavens and are at last freed from the stones of lies that encircled them in life.

Portrait of a Portrait

His hair was long and oily, curling slightly upwards at their ends in an open rebellion against gravity which mirrored the expression that had been etched into his face over years of defying what others condoned as common sense. His choice in clothing indicated a preference of holding onto comfortable, well-worn items: his faded olive green jacket which showed its age through its broken zipper, tattered velcro wrist-straps, and easily-missed burn-holes from back when he still smoked. If you held it against your nose and breathed deeply, you could still smell the smoke from all those years ago. It illustrated the side of him I liked the most: that endearing loyalty to things which had endured the good-and-bad with him.

His wristwatch might have been the only item that glimmered a hint of the richness beneath the rags: but even that, on closer examination, had scratched up steel-straps where his hands had rested on desks as he’d worked long hours toiling over computer programs, or those rarer occasion when he’d chanced to bump into something through one of his deft, practiced movements.

Usually, he bumped into me. Then he’d come back and caress the spot, like that was going to make it any better; he did it with a sensuality that made it pleasant, forgivable, and altogether familiar.

Much of his behavior conveyed an open disregard for aspects that might have bothered other people: how he went out with me to fashionable places in those same faded clothes with a two-day shadow upon his jaw and chin which he would stroke almost proudly, how he enunciated the grooves his glasses had left upon the bridge of his nose by taking his spectacles off only to massage those very darkened spots.

It was only when you looked into his razor eyes that you could see how effortlessly he could remedy any of these visual artifacts, if only he found a compelling reason to do so. I gave him none for I had accepted him as he was, and as if I was his only reason for doing anything, he thus did nothing.

We didn’t talk much. He didn’t coddle our relationship by decorating it with words or telling me how he felt each day or what work had been like. There was the occasional outburst when he just had to rant on about something completely technical, and I could only help by interrupting him with trivial questions that he always answered with the greatest attention — so much so, he’d often completely forget what he’d been rambling on about in the first place. Then I’d have to gently remind him with a sparkle of humor. I loved moments like that, moments of knowing I was the only one privy to this aspect of him.

I held a keen awareness of the fact that he relied on me the same way he relied on his pencils to draw those sketches that bordered on artistic; relied on his dusty mechanical keyboard to write stories that fell short of being literary; and relied upon his aged electric guitar and tube-amp to produce those sounds that seemed to thrill him as being musical where others would have criticized it as meaningless noise.

In just the same way, he relied completely and wholeheartedly upon me to be his anchor to humanity, else he would certainly have careened away in any breeze that happened by.

It was in this unspoken reliance and attachment to me that our love existed: he loved me, and I loved that he needed me. His dependence was so juvenile, he would go so far as to regularly point out jewelry and clothing on other women and then say, “darling, wouldn’t that look so much more stunning on you?”

In similarly naive manner, he occasioned to fashion love poems he’d leave hanging on the refrigerator, saying such things as “thine beauty hath chained my soul; without thee I shalt never be whole… be back late” to indicate another restless night of wandering the streets, struggling to draw upon that tenuous river of inspiration that flowed within him.

I asked him once, “what compels you to write, to draw, to make music when no one cares to read, to look, to listen?”

He smiled in a mysterious way. “You do.”

I blushed. It was true; I couldn’t help but listen and look and read and see that all his art, every last bit of it, even those scribbles and vague sketches: all of it was devoted entirely to me.

“I sometimes wish I had more to give to the world… but immortalizing my love for you is all I have to gift.”

I both loved and hated that he said that. I adored that he could not help but express his love for me in so many ways. I hated that he belittled it as though it were something so small when to me, it was more valuable than the world itself.

Can’t you see your own worth as a man?

I knew he was blind to that. No one had ever told it to him — not even me, for I secretly feared if he understood the true magnitude of who he was, he wouldn’t care to have anything to do with me, not when there were so many more selfless and beautiful women out there.

Selfishly, I despised myself for hoarding his magnanimity. In a certain word, I’d always believed that it was the woman who makes the man. Our marriage had cemented that belief, but in so doing, I began to feel an inexplicable burden of guilt for transforming an otherwise talented and ambitious human into one not so different from myself: comfortable with the status quo, content with a life of quiet insignificance. I wondered what more he could have become that he chose not to. His passion for me was what I loved; it was also what I hated most.

Often, he would come home and I’d be occupied in the kitchen, and he’d constrict his arms in a manner tighter than a hug, so I couldn’t move or escape if I wanted to. I rarely felt anything when he did things like that, at best I found it a nuisance and loathed it.

Except that it was the loving sort of loathing one gets after hating something for so long, one can’t help but feel comfortable with the familiarity and fall in love with it.

Of course it was more than that — some deeper part of me felt satisfied in an inexplicable way, because it was his gesture to communicate: “I’ve been thinking about you dear, and all the things you have to deal with when it comes to me, everything you take care of without my asking…”

I knew that was how he meant it because as soon as I’d stilled myself and stopped what I was doing, rolling my eyes with a faux pas frown he was forced to notice, he’d caress my fingers, seeking out callouses and imperfections, rubbing and enunciating them. Then he’d begin kissing my cheeks, particularly the beauty marks and all the speckled imperfections that he would often touch in gentle reminder. “Perfection in imperfection,” he’d wink.

Those were his ways of saying “I love every inch and last detail, the good and bad, the beautiful and ugly.”

He was so dependent. So very dependent. And I so very much needed that dependence, I almost despised myself for my addiction to it. I was his opiate and he was my liquor.

Sometimes, out of boredom, I’d say something arbitrary like, “I hear there are some beautiful beaches in Bali.”

Then ten months later, out of nowhere, he’d rouse me one morning with his lips against my neck, his arms in an uncomfortable embrace. We’d get up for breakfast, and he’d present me with an already-packed bag, and we’d be off. Except we wouldn’t go to Bali, we’d end up somewhere quite the opposite, like Finland. I would feign boredom and irritation as he’d incessantly take snapshots of me with his semi-professional camera and small set of lenses. When I would try and reverse the situation to capture a snap of him, he’d playfully dodge, leaving it blurred, or with one of his sardonic expressions that yelped “no you don’t!”

“Look, photos are to remember things that are important to you. You’re important to me. Me? I couldn’t give a hoot about myself. Why would I want to remember myself?”

“You idiot,” I’d scold him, shaking my head. “Do you even realize how juvenile your logic is? You sound like a three-year old. I’m not taking photos for you to remember yourself, I’m taking photos for me.”

He’d shrug with the most worthless comeback. “Unlike men, I’m pretty sure women have perfect memories and remember everything. I mean, how else do they remember the most useless things to hang over their husband’s heads?”

“Like knowing all the places you forget your keys? Remembering what foods you like?”

“Buttered toast is not my favorite food.” Then, without giving me time to riposte, he’d steamroll: “To my point, men need photos to remember that things are even important and worth remembering. For women, photos are a luxury, because they already remember the things that are important.”

I actually couldn’t argue with him about that. In this way, he amassed a myriad photos of me, while I had almost none of him. I had more photos of him as a child and a young man than after our marriage. Actually, I had more photos of us during our honeymoon than in the ten years following.

When we’d return to the airport for our flight back, he’d fake a puzzled expression and say, “strange, I seem to have booked the wrong tickets…” and then we’d end up in Bali, just like I’d wanted, me in a bikini and strangely self-conscious of the slight weight I’d gained with age while he would squeeze just those aspects of me in a way that stated, “I love that, too.”

He didn’t just do this sort of thing once. This was a stunt he repeated on a semi-annual basis. In the same way that I hated how tightly he would hug me at times, ever vacation had to start with going somewhere that I definitely did not want to go.

As part of the almost cat-and-mouse nature of our marriage, there were certain things he hid from me. He was secretive in logic-defying ways, freely acting as though he were having an affair with another woman, purposefully locking files away in encrypted drives with cryptic names that suggested it was someone other than me. I knew that possibly couldn’t be true and found the way that he toyed with my insecurities and paranoia frustrating. Some days he would just… not come home until one AM, claiming he was in the office writing or working on a personal project. (To wit, I had actually installed a miniature GPS tracker in the shoes he always wore, so I knew he wasn’t lying) 

He would drive me mad with such behaviour, which would invariably lead me to playing my trump card to squeeze the truth out of him by seducing him in the ways I only knew how.

Even then, his mockery seemingly never ceased. It was only through the years that I began to realize this was his strategy for openly addressing the unspoken fear of infidelity that is on everyone’s minds, but rarely discussed in a healthy way. As someone who had been in more than a few such relationships, I began to appreciate the thought behind his actions, even if I detested the actions themselves.

In spite of it all, there was one thing he never yielded on: he would never let me actually view the contents of his caches of supposedly illicit media. The thought of not knowing burned at me for a bit, but then I realized it was okay to let him have a few secrets. So long as I knew that there were secrets and how to get to them, that is. It was the secret secrets, the unknown secrets, that were truly frightening.

When I got the call about the accident, the first thing, the only thing, that I could think was: “Now I’ll never know.”

Later, I would think of myself as a terrible human being for thinking something so trivial in the light of such tragedy. It was my counselor who gently described to how our minds, not knowing how to deal with trauma, often thinks of the stupidest things as a means to cope, to distract from the true immensity of what has transpired.

After the funeral, I couldn’t bring myself to go back to our home, to see anything that reminded me of him. I went to stay with my parents during that time, embroiled in a state of constant shell-shock and symptomatic PTSD. The days following the funeral seemed like years. I spent those years laying in bed, tormented by my memories of him, by things I expected to be there. His being gone was like a missing appendage, more valuable than a leg or an arm. Some unspeakable part of me had gone missing, and my mind echoed ghost pains every waking moment.

Sleep was my makeshift cure for my permanent affliction. I did everything I could to fend off consciousness: the constant pain of being awake was unbearable; it would ebb and flow between just barely tolerable to mind-warping.

When I was awake, I found food and drink wholly unappealing and unsatisfying. It was as if my ability to enjoy anything had been almost utterly and completely evaporated. I felt desiccated, a husk whose juices had been dried out, leaving just enough to form a walking corpse, a zombie. My mind lost touch with reality for nary a month, until one morning, my mother forced me out to meet with his lawyer and review his will.

As my mind glazed past the details of the assets I’d inherited, I could only think how little any of it was worth, how thoroughly hurtful any reminder of him would be, and how everything I got felt like blood money. In too many ways to count, I felt like what I was receiving was a curse, things that would torment me which I could not bring myself to be rid of.

Then, at the end of our meeting, something unexpected happened. His lawyer gave me a letter of personal instructions. I didn’t want to read it then, but I was instructed that, as the executor of his will, I had a legal obligation to review his personal instructions in the presence of a notary, so the transfer of assets could proceed.

My heart ached and I could hardly breathe for the stone in my throat. In the end, my mother opened the letter for me, gently wiping the tears occluding my vision so I could see what was written.

It was a handwritten note, his slanted scrawling slashing through my heart. I suddenly felt glad that I didn’t have that many pictures of him, and then I felt horrible for thinking that.

See you on the other side. Don’t let me be the weight pulling you down.

Bet you’re glad you don’t have so many pictures of me now, eh?

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I’d let the lawyer and notary review the note, then I crumpled it in illogical fury, keen to toss it and just barely able to restrain myself into pocketing it. I was angry at him, his tone, the way he seemed to know what would go through my mind before I did. Most of all, I was livid at him for leaving me here alone, with so little, with so few words. This is all he could find to say, after all we’d been through? Even in death, he continued to mock me sardonically, playing those same games as if he were still around.

It was that anger that jolted me out of what I was going through.

In the days following, as I began to throw myself back into life with a frightening aggression, it began to dawn on me just how much one person has to love another to know the right words to say for something like this. How much a single person had to have thought about another person and what they would go through. Somehow, in the way I loved and hated, he’d left me feeling inadequate yet complete.

His nonchalance, machismo, and gentle affection were so tersely conveyed in those simple words —  See you on the other side. It was a phrase he’d used often enough, before work, before going to sleep, before any time we parted. In all of these circumstances, it was obvious that we would see each other again. But now that it no longer was, now that such certainty had been buried in permanence, he chose the words he would have said as if… nothing had happened at all. It was that stupidly reassuring and endearing absoluteness, that idiotically absolute faith, that comforted me the most. It made life feel… like I would be without him but a single day.

When I finally got back to my apartment after spending another month with my parents, I saw his computer and something in my mind clicked. I remembered the note. I hadn’t thought about what the random string was, but in that moment, I knew.

I booted his machine up and logged in. I began to decrypt his folders. I began to gain some semblance of what he was always up to at his office.

I had always assumed he showed me all his artistic creations. I began to realize I was grossly mistaken. There were photographs of me, often when I wasn’t looking, capturing some aspect of my expression in the most natural ways. Notes about how my face looked in different light, poetry about my hair and hands, countless practice recordings of his songs that illustrated the countless hours and attempts he poured into them, and… perhaps what struck me most of all were the things he’d never shown me. Short stories he’d written about our relationship. Digital paintings of me based on photographs. There were even complete fictional novels centered around stories I’d told him from my childhood, or discussions we’d had.

Everything he had ever shown me and said to me was hardly the tip of the iceberg to the vast volumes of art he’d made about me. In his works, I began to see how much more to him there really was, how little I really knew about the person I’d married. I knew his behaviorisms, how to tell when he was lying, how to manipulate him to do what I wanted. I knew his likes and dislikes, his birthday; his past, his hopes, his dreams. I knew his tendencies, his moral strengths and shortcomings, his philosophies. I knew his focus, his almost cold-hearted look when thought through problems. These were things I had always equated to knowing a person, but they suddenly seemed inconsequentially superficial. All the nuanced complexity and shades of his soul, the unspoken and incommunicable aspects that made up his depth as a human… the core of his being, that manifested as the person I knew: this was something I had no idea about.

I began to realize how much of him was still here.

Eyes like Coals

There was a man I once knew, with eyes like coals.

If men were created as swords are, then he must have been forged in the fiery core of a star by the Godsmith himself. Only that intense pressure and heat could possibly have been enough to temper the material he was cast from into a moldable form.

When at last he was made molten, he must have been folded indefinitely for ten billion years or more, ’til the star itself gave its dying breath and collapsed, its constituent atoms melting into one another to form a glorious sheen of white over the sword within.

That sword could only be cooled by wandering the dark near-zero for some few billion years, ’til at last ’twas drawn to this planet by the strings of fate.

Lux Tenebris Concept 0-3

Serrellious awoke to light shining upon his eyes. He lay still in bed, enjoying the fleeting sentiments of remembering her. He did not know who she was, or whether she existed. Coming to his senses, he recalled the steely words of his own logic: ’tis but my mind, playing games upon my heart’s strings.

She was what he most desired, the embodiment of salvation in a world in which peace was always a fleeting thing. And so he pushed her from his mind, and returned to that mantra that had yet to fail him: struggle.

He remembered words he had once spoken:

“Struggle with all your being, for struggle is what gives life meaning. Moments of peace are as sips of water in a scorched desert. Death is the gate to freedom from this struggle.

“But death without having struggled is but a ticket to a suffering far worse, from which there is no redemption.”

He had said that when he was once mortal. Now an Immortal, the freedom of death grew constantly further from reach every day he lived. Despite it, he remained true to his conviction and struggled on with every ounce of his being — though in doing so, he grew ever more resilient, more capable, and more difficult to kill.

What a paradox… to want death, and to cling so much to life.

Magnus Dyserious had said to him once: “You are a strange breed, even among Immortals. You seek death, crave it, purposefully place yourself in situations that you may face it. Most of us Immortals, we are cowards comfortable with the ephemeral entertainment of this world. That is why I believe you, Serrellious, more than anyone else, are the embodiment of salvation for the rest of us.

“You, in your unyielding spirit, shall show us the light we have long forgotten.”

Serrellious did not know what to make of those words, not then, and not now. He remembered them nonetheless, for they seemed significant.

Turning his head to look out the window near his bedside, he drifted off once more.

***

He awoke to the sensation of moisture upon his head. The silhouette of the fair maidenly figure of Josefina Ridley, her long, dark blonde hair tied into a ponytail and cast askew over her shoulder, met Serrellious’ wearied eyes.

He watched her as his vision slowly gained acuity. Unsure what to say, he remained silent as she mopped his brow. As she rose from his side, he asked — “How long was I out?”

“We found you yesterday morning.” Josefina replied, then paused. “Doctor Hirsch has been tending to you since then. You’d sustained gashes over the entirety of your body… had you been a normal human, we were certain you would have died from blood loss alone.”

Josefina paused a moment before continuing. “All your wounds seem to have healed with nary a scar.” Her statement was more of a question, trying to determine the nature of this man who could withstand such injury and heal so quickly.

“And the beast?” Serrellious asked, ignoring the implicit query.

Josefina nodded. “The Doctor verified that it is truly dead. There was naught a residue of magic left according to his instruments.”

“Good.” Serrellious said, now moving to sit up. His entire body ached, but he shrugged off the pain effortlessly as he consciously drew magic into his body and strengthened his cells. His coal-like eyes became tinged green as he did so.

From the hallway could be heard rapidly approaching footsteps. The figure of Doctor Hirsch appeared in the doorway.

“Are you all right?” were his first words, rife with concern for Serrellious’ well-being.

“Yes.” Serrellious answered with gentle gratitude. “Thank you for all you have done.”

The Doctor nodded, the concern of his expression rapidly melting into relief. “When you are ready, meet us downstairs.”

Serrellious nodded, and both the Doctor and Josefina left the room, shutting the door quietly behind them.

***

Serrellious appeared downstairs shortly afterward in the small but cozy dining area of the Ridley home. Three people occupied the seats of the round dining table: the Doctor, Josefina, and old man Scott Ridley. They all turned to eye the dark visage of the hunter as he entered. A tin of steaming coffee sat in the center of the table, with cups set for four.

It was Scott who first spoke. “Sir, I cannot thank you enough for what you have done.”

Serrellious shook his head. “Allowing me respite is thanks enough.”

It was the Doctor who spoke next. “For your deeds, the Mayor would like to reward you himself.”

Again, Serrellious shook his head. “There is no need.” Tacit to these words was the underlying sentiment: The reward is in the deed.

The Doctor was adamant to accept this, and pressed on. “We have not much, but the townsfolk have collectively amassed a hundred platina in payment.”

A rare smile crossed the hunter’s youthful face. “Is there an orphanage in the town?”

Puzzlement crossed the Doctor’s face. “Why, yes. Why do you ask?”

“I ask that you kindly convey to the Mayor and the townsfolk this sole request: of the reward money, apportion an amount agreeable to all for the upkeep of the town orphanage.”

The Doctor, Josefina, and Scott were all silent as they reflected upon this most noble of requests. During that silence, Serrellious looked around the room as though searching for something. His head stopped as he looked out the window towards the barnyard out back. “My steed is there, I presume?”

Scott glanced through the same window and nodded silently in answer. He could not find within himself any words to adequately convey the immensity of reverence he suddenly held towards this stranger.

Serrellious took one step forward before the Doctor’s voice interjected, stricken with a combination of puzzlement and uncertainty. As a material man, the Doctor could not internally reconcile that a man so selfless as to wager his life for folks he did not know should go without even the tiniest fraction of remuneration. “Wait –”

Serrellious stopped mid-stride.

The Doctor shook his head, realizing there was no deterring the resoluteness of the hunter’s request. Instead, Doctor Hirsch retracted himself, bowing his head graciously, his spirit enraptured by the unfathomable nobility of this man. He found himself barely able to utter the words, “Thank you.”

Serrellious did not respond and continued walking towards the back door that led to the barn. As he left the dining room, he paused and said certain words that seemed to come not from his mouth, but from a myriad many voices that spoke from everywhere and nowhere at once — as though the very atoms of the air all reverberated in unison.

“Thank not I, for I am merely an agent.”

Then he left.

Lux Tenebris Concept 0-2

Serrellious rode in silence through the night. He approached Raleigh from the North, but broke away from the main path before reaching the town. Guided by a sixth sense of the approximate location of the magical aberration that had been affecting the Ridleys the past nights, he made a bee-line through the valley directly towards the Ridley farmstead.

The breakneck speed at which Serrellious rode was unreal. Part of his extraordinary velocity could be attested to the fineness of his mount, but the greater part doubtless derived from the rider’s own magical abilities. His eyes glowing a crisp blue, the very air about him seemed to bend to his will, creating a slight vacuum and reducing the coefficients of drag whilst propelling him forward via air pressure; the water of small brooks and creeks that he crossed seemed to coalesce into solid ice beneath his steed’s steps, only to disperse as soon as they had passed.

Midway to his destination, the skies began to rain gently upon the earth: a cold and solemn rain that gave premonition of the graveness that lay before the rider. Yet the rider hardly seemed to get wet, as if the rain purposely dodged him, afraid of deterring him in the slightest.

By the time he arrived at the Ridley farmstead, the rain had grown into something of a torrent. His traveler’s cloak still remained mostly dry as his mount sloshed through mud and came to a halt just before the farm.

As he deftly dismounted and began walking towards the barn, he espied movement in the darkness. The moon was hidden by rain-clouds, making it impossible for most humans to easily see the monstrous form that lurked about the house. Even if the moon had shown, the creature itself was veiled in a darkness that made it almost invisible, meaning its true form could only be perceived by beings capable of utilizing some form of eye-magic capable of piercing through such deception. Serrellious’ glowing blue eyes brightened in intensity as a singular “o” shape began to form around where his irises would have been.

To him, piercing such deception was child’s play.

This creature resembled an amoeba with trunk-like tentacles that spawned outwards from its nucleus. Each key branch featured lips smacking in delight and a cavernous mouth lined with rows of razor-sharp teeth. From these branched smaller and thinner tendrils that slithered about much like snakes, seeking prey.

Fearlessly, Serrellious approached the beast. The larger trunks began to approach his direction, drawn to the delightful scent of his flesh and magic. Tendrils coiled back, then shot out. Suddenly, a powerful whipping sound accompanied by the whistling of steel through air, and the sickening sound of flesh and blood being rendered, rung out. The tentacled beast screeched in anguish, several of its tentacles lying on the ground and writhing.

Though he had been but disarmed moments prior, Serrellious now held in his left-hand a blade. It was a blade of black that glinted an ethereal silver. From the hand that wielded the blade, blood dripped gently. The hilt of the blade itself was like the maw of a beast, and long bony teeth sunk themselves into the flesh of Serrellious’ hand, feasting on his blood and life force.

The beast, lacking the intelligence to understand the true ability of the prey it sought, screeched once again as it directed all its main mouths at Serrellious. He sidestepped one, and a flash of silver severed it. Another came at his head, but he recovered instantaneously and split it in two, dark silvery blood splattering all over his face. A third mouth circled around, but mere inches from his back, Serrellious turned slightly and swung downwards. This time, the tentacle was shredded completely, only small chunks of flesh remaining.

The sword that Serrellious held seemed to be changing. It had grown, and the silvery parts of it moved as though it were alive, like fish surfacing upon the lake of a black pond on a moonlit night. The tentacled beast seemed to have at last realized it was outmatched, and suddenly began to slither away with remarkable speed given its size — but too slow.

Serrellious pointed his blade at the beast and uttered these words:

Falsyvver, consume.

His blade shot forward and began to branch out into smaller tentacles resembling the beast it now hunted. It was a monstrous black mass, and the silvery bits that rippled across it could be made out as smaller swords that yearned for blood.

The tentacled beast cried with bloodcurdling agony as Falsyvver descended upon it like a dark cloud, shredding it to pieces and consuming its bloody remnants. In but mere moments, there was nothing left to indicate there had ever been a monster of any kind, save pools of dark blood.

Serrellious took a single deep breath. The battle was not yet over.

The sword that he held now turned around to face its wielder. The flashes of silver gnashed hungrily before Serrellious himself was encompassed in the darkness of Falsyvver. The sword mercilessly attacked its own commander, but an aura protected Serrellious as his eyes stopped glowing blue and now glimmered a radiant crimson.

Thy bloodlust be mine, thy heart the gruesome reflection of my own desire to kill: sleep Falsyvver, sleep.

Sleep.

Falsyvver calmed and hung still a moment before its dark form retreated back into the form of a black blade, which Serrellious promptly sheathed. The teeth that had latched onto his hands let go, and Serrellious fell to one knee, his left-hand bleeding profusely.

From a great distance away, a flash of lightning pierced the sky, but no sound could be heard. Only the rhythmic pattern of rain, and the slight thud the hunter’s body made as it fell to the ground.

As his vision blurred and his eyes drooped, Serrellious saw a face. His head rested in her lap and he felt the warmth radiating from body and bosom as she combed her fingers through his jet-black hair. His heart felt at ease, and as he focused on the vivid clarity of a sunset horizon, his mind thought: surely this is a dream.

Dear Erica 2

Dear Erica,

It sounds like you are in a good and healthy relationship. I am glad to hear things are working out for you on that front. I am sure your husband is a good human being and that his career will take him far. I’m sure you too will find good fortune in your chosen career. If ever you wish to discuss those topics with me, I hope I can be a meaningful resource to you.

I suppose my first letter was me grasping with the throes of feelings I have struggled with for a long time, have buried time and time again beneath mounds of sediment, and still on certain days those feelings surge and burn me with their brightness.

As far as the trivialities of life are concerned — yes, I work. I’m accustomed to the grind of the 9-5, the blur of days that are little more than going through motions. My greatest conflict is trying to find meaning in it.

Your statement that most women would find me intimidating to say the least is understandable. I’ve concluded the same thing myself, so I do not indulge myself in any specific hopes. The intensity that I communicated to you is something which, as I indicated before, I strive to leave caged, locked up, and bound within myself. I have no one to express it to, so I found some catharsis in being able to tell you owing to our former familiarity.

The gravity of the topics simply happened to be things I felt I needed to express, in pursuit of that catharsis.

I am glad that you took the time to respond. Frankly, I was expectant our correspondence would end at that first letter and you would think I’d really gone off the deep-end.

Which I have. I won’t deny that.

Sometimes, I see you in me dreams. It is meaningless because your are merely a passing figment that catches my eye: “I know her.” Or I did, long ago in what must have been a past life.

There are other women I’ve fallen for who I also see in my dreams in the same capacity. I can only presume it is the aspects of me I’ve solemnly tried to murder and bury expressing themselves in the only way they know how — in slumber, when my conscious restraints are at their weakest.

Last night, I had a similar dream. There was a woman I fell for and pursued with some tenacity during my college years. I was repeatedly denied, yet I could not shake some feeling that she was my soul-mate.

Stupid.

That dream I had last night, I saw her. We spent time together. We watched a puppet show together. I carried her on my back for some reason, I felt her against me. As we were walking, the scenery became vivid, every detail and color emulsifying with such clear intensity. I thought: “this must surely be a dream.”

I awoke back into that same empty state of existence I’ve endured long enough to accept without lament. It was merely a dream.

Why did I dream about her? Like I said: it must be my mind, trying to convince me to embrace some aspect of myself I prefer lost.

I do not enjoy my singularity. Nor do I seek to cure it. I want to embrace it wholly and forge me into a decent human being. As I stand now, I am too selfish and self-serving: too caught up in deflecting painful emotions to be much more than a hollow shell.

In the past, I used to drown myself and continue deflecting any anguish that occurred to me using substances. At least I seem to be passing out of that phase. Having resigned myself to an empty future, I could see no meaning except to use temporary salves to allay what I felt.

My younger siblings look up to me, and my past mistakes cling to me like a burden. It is weightless, but its tendrils wind themselves about my heart and choke me.

Best,

Everett

Dear Erica 1

Dear Everett,

“Whoa.”

That’s all I can think.

The intensity of your thoughts is ridiculous. I can’t match your prose at all. When we met and exchanged addresses, I imagined it’d amount to something lighthearted. “Hey, what’s up. How’s it going. Yeah, I’m married now. No kids yet. Decent job in HR at some big company.”

That sort of thing.

But it’s just like you to come out of nowhere, skirt any topics that a normal person might talk about, and plunge straight into the depths of “where none dare venture.”

I’m quoting you. Because I remember asking you in high school, “where do you think our relationship will go?”

That was what you said. “Where none dare venture.”

I know it was just you, being romantic, but somehow it stuck out in my mind.

None of my many relationships… and frankly, I am sad to say I have had quite a few…

None of them have even flirted with that level of intensity. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Like I told you before: you’re almost too intense. I don’t regret our breakup, certainly not now. I appreciate your clarifying your sentiments towards me, that you “truly love me” but you also do not care for me — since I sincerely do believe our breakup was for the better. You have always been different.

What I can say with certainty: you were the best first boyfriend any girl could have asked for. You made me feel like I was the only girl that mattered. It’s only too bad that isn’t all there is to a relationship.

Anyways, speaking of… I remember telling you about my husband, Darren. He’s a software engineer at one of those big international corporate conglomerates with good benefits, health insurance, and decent hours. Forgive me for my vagueness. That’s just my… paranoia kicking in. I had one ex who tracked me down and started sending me flowers. Still gives me the creeps.

Honestly, this whole business between you and I still feels risqué. I’ve told Darren about it and he’s okay with it (speaking of which, I agreed to let him read your letters, so bear that in mind…) but even so.

I say this having once been intimate with you: but you do understand that the way you phrase things, some women would feel uncomfortable with you, right?

After all, there’s no telling what guys are capable of these days.

Sexuality is such a difficult thing to comprehend. It’s intense with some people, then almost… nonexistent with others. I don’t know how it is with you.

Anyways… most of these days are just work, groceries, house-tending… It’s occupying in a good way. I hope this letter finds you well.

Take care,

Erica.

Dear Erica 0

Dear Erica,

It has been so long. We have both grown and matured in our own ways, yet as I write, my heart is aflutter as though I am a youth once more. I vividly recall that spring eve of our first kiss, walking along the canal beneath the dimming twilight whilst the pink cherry blossom petals fluttered about, our fingers intertwined… and you whispered into my ear “I wish we could live in this moment for forever.”

We cannot live in that moment, but a shard of that moment lives within me, for the brief and tenuous duration of my existence. It is beautiful in its clarity, the way it reflects and refracts light, and most of all for capturing those fleeting sentiments of humanity that are too often burnt away by the fiery forges of existence.

In growing up, we lose part of ourselves, either by choice or by forced sacrifice. Some sooner than others, while others still enjoy the luxury of a prolonged youth.

Whenever it is that we finally do grow up, our hearts harden like carbon to diamond in perfectly crystalline formation taking shape of certain core ideals.

Those ideals we adopt into our core are a byproduct of so many variables, they almost seem not worth enumerating: our heritage, parentage, genes, environment, circumstance, upbringing, friends, society —

Any countless number of variables.

There is one certainty despite the complexity of such an equation: our innocence must be given up.

Erica, I do not love you. Yet I will always love you. You are nothing to me. I would not mourn your passing any more than I mourn the death of a rose.

But I would remember that rose. On days when I least expect it, I would recall the beauty of that rose and its fragrance. I would recall pricking myself upon it, and smiling. Therefore, despite all pragmatic thinking, I must objectively conclude: I love you.

But you are nothing to me.

Take care.

Everett

Tomorrow is a Brand New Day Concept 1-0

As Hadrien flitted into consciousness, his automaton companion greeted him from inside his head. “Morning, Hadrien.”

“Good morning, Sai.”

“Pleasant dreams?”

Hadrien thought back to his dreams from that night. Like with many of his dreams, there had been a pervading sense of familiarity and comfort: much of the setting of the dream had been a patchwork of unfamiliar settings stitched into the fabric of his memories. Hallways from the schools he had attended as a primary and secondary student; the playgrounds, hills, roads, and terraces he’d spent so many of his childhood hours exploring with other children; the familiar rooms of the apartment he’d grown up in.

At the same time, there had been a pervading sense of urgency in his dreams. The statement “survival not guaranteed” seemed to sum it up, and his dreams had carried with them a sense of being hunted, not by any one individual, but by the very machinations of the dream itself: the fabricated society of his dream seemed bent on chasing after him and anyone associated with him. On top of that, his dreams had been plagued with an inescapable notion that the world itself was falling apart at its seams, bound to be struck by unimaginable destruction or chaos at any given moment.

Unlike in past dreams where destruction had presented itself in collapsing buildings and infrastructure, or in the detonation of nuclear devices, Hadrien had himself been the source of destruction in last night’s dreams. In order to escape those chasing after him, Hadrien had developed the telekinetic ability of flight and had mentally levitated both himself and an entire section of a skyscraper into the air, rotating it and causing the people within it to all go tumbling about while he alone remained floating and unaffected by the chaos.

He recalled watching desks, bodies, guns, and office supplies all flying through midair as he floated serenely at the center of it all. That act had required tremendous mental focus to accomplish, even in his dream. It had been a wonderful sensation.

Chuckling at this recall, Hadrien finally nodded after a long pause. “Yes. Pleasant dreams.”

“How are you feeling about today? Excited or anxious?” Sai asked, referring to Hadrien’s upcoming cybernetic augmentation procedure as part of his promotion to Major Chief.

“Excited, perhaps.” Hadrien said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what my upgraded body will be capable of.”

***

Hadrien showered and dressed himself in neatly ironed and starched clothes before descending the skyscraper apartment complex to the ground floor. He left and was greeted by the bustling streets of Orange Coast city in the early morning. Sunlight filtered through the behemoth sky-rises, blinding him temporarily as he waited by the roadside for an automated transport.

“Here it is.” Sai spoke into his mind just as a vehicle turned the corner and came to a halt before him. Finely contoured like a bullet, the streamlined vehicle had doors which swiveled open upwards. Hadrien got in wordlessly as Sai uplinked the coordinates for their destination, the headquarters of the International Bureau of Investigation.

Their travel was silent but scenic as they flew over hills overlooking the bay area of Orange Coast city. Arriving in precisely fifteen minutes and approximately thirty seconds as usual, Hadrien got out and swiftly walked through the revolving doors into headquarters. He saluted the guards, Allen and Timothy, who both nodded in recognition, and walked through the multi-frequency matter scanner.

Lux Tenebris Concept 0-1

It was the evening hour at which light was giving fast to night and the sky was a canvas of faintly sparkling twilight streaked with gentle shades of maroon and mauve. It was during these dimming hours of dusk, before the trio of Doctor Hirsch, Deputy Von Galle, and Elliot Verner had arrived at the castle of Magnus Dyserious, that another singular rider approached its gates.

This rider seemed like no ordinary human, resembling instead a clot of living darkness molded into human form. He appeared as a silhouette whose vacuous blackness held such immense gravity that even light could not escape its pull. All photons that would attempt to limn his features were consumed by the indefinite depths of his unfathomable emptiness.

His traveler’s coat seemed stitched from shadows, tattered raiments of darkest ebon whose tendrils wove through air with life of their own. Even his steed defied the description of normal: it was a lithe and nimble-looking creature, wearing a coat that held a subtle sheen of metallic blue, like the shade found upon some beetles.

The rider’s countenance was mostly shaded beneath a long-brimmed traveler’s hat whose color matched the dark of his cloak. What little of his face and eyes might have been visible was hidden by long, thick strands of jet-black hair that curled slightly outwards from beneath his hat. To accentuate the effect of hiding his visage, his head seemed to be tilted slightly forward, so his gaze must have been directed primarily to the ground directly before him. Altogether, his posture was that of one accustomed to avoiding eye-contact with those around him. Indeed, with an aura like his, it was difficult to imagine him as the sort who would purposely greet passerby, instead preferring the comfort of solace and silence.

As the rider neared the gate of the castle, his mount came to a halt and stood still of its own accord, without any need of the rider to pull on the reins. After a brief silence, a voice from the ramparts called out in a demanding and authoritative tone. “Ye who approaches, state thy name and business.”

“Serrellious.” came the rider’s icy reply.

The tone of the voice from the ramparts instantly changed to one of a servile nature. “Ah! I shall inform the Lord Magnus at once –”

“No need.” the rider interjected.

Serrellious dismounted and walked directly up to the gates, massive things of forged iron that were internally attached to a system of cogs and chains that formed a simple machine. In the past, this machine would have been operated by around ten men; in more recent days, it had become motorized. Regardless of its internal operation, pushing from the outside without the use of a ram would require the strength of at least a score of men.

Either unaware or undaunted by these facts, Serrellious looked up as he placed his gloved right hand upon the gates, at last exposing the hitherto hidden complexion of his youthful face and his sharp, inky eyes. He could not have been more than thirty, if that.

Carved upon that youthful face was a stolid expression that could only have been etched by years of endearing against external hardship and internal strife. Though his face showed no emotion, it was clearly a face that belied the tempestuous depths of sentiment which flowed violently beneath it: like the black-hole that consumes everything and lets nothing out, so too did his visage seem to encapsulate a profound volume of matter.

As Serrellious pushed gently upon the gates, the air about him seemed to ripple as though the very fabric of the universe bent to his will. His coal eyes suddenly sparkled a vivid sapphire blue, and the gates groaned as they gave in to what appeared to be the gentle push of his indomitable demands. He took some steps forward, his eyes continuing to glow and the gates moaning as they were forced to from the inertia of their slumber. When at last there was a gap large enough for him and his mount to enter, his eyes returned to their ordinary sable color, and he walked through.

His horse, in demonstration of its intelligence, followed him through. The two approached the stone stairs leading up to large, ornate oak doors. At the base of the stairs were two armored guards with sheathed swords, who now approached Serrellious. Unlike the man at the ramparts, these two seemed to instantly recognize the rider who now stood before them, and without wasting words, one of them walked up to the horse and began to lead it away.

The other guard bowed respectfully, indicating for Serrellious to enter, then walked ahead of him and pushed open the front doors.

Nodding curtly in polite appreciation, Serrellious walked past the guard and into the castle.

***

Lord Dyserious was a handsome youthful man with curls of dark brown hair. He looked to be barely forty which was impressive as he held the primary seat of power over the entire region of Terathia.

He sat alone eating supper at one end of a grand dining hall that could seat at least twenty. Overhead, arches of stone supported a cathedral-like ceiling and vast crystal chandeliers hung down to illuminate the enormous space. Despite the grandeur of his surroundings, the food that Dyserious afforded himself was comparatively simple: water, a small pot of stir-fried vegetables in an aromatic sauce, and the fillet of a fish drenched in gravy, all served with rice. It was perhaps food fit for a middle-class citizen, not the Lord Magnus of an entire region.

While Dyserious chewed contemplatively, Serrellious was escorted into the dining hall by one of the maids, who bowed wordlessly and left as soon as she had accomplished her task. Dyserious watched Serrellious with a pleasantly amicable expression as he enjoyed his food. By the time he’d swallowed and wiped his mouth with his handkerchief, Serrellious had seated himself some few chairs away from Dyserious.

“It’s been a while. What brings you hereabouts?” Dyserious asked with his unchanging, almost doll-like smile.

Serrellious exercised no such pleasantries. “Wickedness is afoot.” he said tersely.

Dyserious nodded, still maintaining his porcelain smile. “I have sensed it too. But I cannot act without concrete fact, and so I wait.”

“Not for long.” Serrellious replied.

As soon as he had uttered these words, the maidservant who had led Serrellious in scurried back into the room.

“My apologies, Master — there is a trio of travelers claiming to be from Raleigh who seek an audience. They are tenacious in their request, and they claim it is an emergency involving their town.”

Dyserious’ smile widened just the smallest bit. “Let them in.” he commanded.

***

Doctor Hirsch and his companions were led into the grand dining hall where they now stood face-to-face with both Serrellious and Dyserious. Doctor Hirsch recognized Dyserious, but was unaware of the identity of Serrellious. Somewhat nervous in confronting the Lord Magnus, Doctor Hirsch momentarily doubted his decision to bring the Deputy and the Mayor’s Aide. He had originally reasoned that an audience of three men would be more impactful than showing up alone. The doubt quickly vanished as Dyserious spoke.

“Where a letter would have sufficed, instead I find three men, unannounced, and at so late an hour. Surely, there must be good reason.”

“My Lord Dyserious, I deeply appreciate your graciousness in granting us an audience despite the unexpected and unorthodox nature of this visit.” Doctor Hirsch began.

“I am Revault Hirsch, the Doctor of Raleigh. This is Jean Von Galle, a Deputy Sheriff, and Elliot Verner, one of the Mayor’s trusted aides. We come because last night, a demonic beast visited upon one of our farmers and slaughtered one of his livestock.”

Dyserious nodded with a bemused expression. “Only one? And you are sure it was a demon and not wolves?”

The trio all nodded with confidence, most of all Doctor Hirsch who had performed the analyses and double-checked the facts himself. “I have personally analysed the residual magic radiation at the scenes of the slaughter, and using basic decay-rate calculations, estimate a Class C beast of at least 30 deciverns.” The Doctor paused, in case Dyserious wished to speak.

The Magnus remained silent, though his smile had tightened into a pursed expression. The Doctor continued. “We sought an audience with you that perhaps you may know of a hunter on short notice capable of dealing with such a foe, for surely it is beyond our means.”

At this, Dyserious gazed directly at Serrellious, his face once again resuming its practiced smile. “I do indeed know of such a hunter, and as your fortune would have it, he stands with us now.

All three men turned now to face the dusky form of the youthful-looking Serrellious whose presence itself was hardly more noticeable than a shadow’s.

Pausing to let Serrellious’ visage sink into the sights of the travelers, the Magnus then followed up. “Only the question remains: does that man wish to help you?”

Serrellious’ face maintained its stoic rigidity as he was examined by the Doctor and his companions. Each of them scanned over the corporeal darkness of this man, attempting to dissect the mystery shrouded beneath that impenetrable exterior. He was not much to look at; indeed, in many ways he was plain and easy to miss… but when examined closely, a profundly focused intensity became apparent, all the more so as one continued to watch him.

The Doctor wondered how best to describe such a man, so easy to miss yet so profoundly keen in his depth. He is like a blade… Hirsch thought to himself. A sword so plain, one would not glance twice; yet with an edge so sharp, it could split atoms in two.

Though he seemed young, Hirsch sensed maturity beyond description in the fine features of the man’s face. At glance, he may have seemed a normal human, but if he had relations to the Magnus, an Immortal Lord, then surely he too was…

Verner too was transfixed by the same thoughts as the Doctor. “You are Immortal, are you not?” he voiced gently, as if afraid of the consequences of such an innocent question.

The silence of both Serrellious and Magnus Dyserious was enough to confirm both the Doctor and Verner’s suspicions.

“Let us not dwell on trivialities. Though you may not have heard his name, Serrellious exceeds even my might in swordsmanship alone. This is to say nothing of his other abilities.”

Only the Deputy seemed unconvinced, though this was due to his nature as a more brutish sort, unable to discern the subtler aspects of a man’s countenance. Immortal or not, all men were dubitable in their abilities ’til they had proven themselves physically, particularly men like Serrellious whose exterior appearance belied any definition of the strength within.

In answer to the Magnus’ question of whether or not he would help, Serrellious offered a single query of piercing prose: “Whose farm was attacked?”

Still mesmerized by the uncertain depths of Serrellious’ character, Doctor Hirsch automatically replied: “The Ridley farmstead, barely a mile out of town along the eastern road.”

“If you go to the fountain in the center of town, then follow along the road that leads to the cathedral, that will take you straight to the Ridleys.” Verner additionally volunteered.

Not having anything supplemental to say, Von Galle kept his lips pursed and simply watched Serrellious with a slight scowl that seemed intent upon indicating his approval was only on account of the word of Magnus Dyserious.

After a moment of silence, Serrellious finally indicated his formal acceptance of the request in his usual formal and forthright manner. “You three rest. I shall travel the night. Haste is of the essence.”