Under the Shadow of Night

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Chapter 16

I am huddled on the floor and feel cool, smooth stone beneath my fingers. My eyes open to a faintly illuminated tunnel. The outlines of the uniform floors and walls are highlighted by a spectrum of colors. I raise my head and can see the upside-down pyramid in the distance. The sight fills me with dread of the unknown. I scramble to my feet and start to run in the other direction, but as I turn around, I am confronted by a crowd of grisly figures blocking the passage.

The blue dress of the red-haired woman in front is torn and bloody and she stares at me with pitiless blue eyes. “Why did you let them in?” Essa asks, her soft voice chilling.

“I-I’m sorry,” I plead. “I didn’t mean to-”

“Why did you lie to me?” she demands, her eyes turning hard with hatred. 

Behind her, I can see Sarya and Rimor approach me, their eyes similarly distant and furious. 

“We’re dead because of you,” Sarya tells me and blood runs down from her mouth and eyes. “I thought you loved us.”

“I do- I… I did,” I stammer, but my words become lodged in my throat. 

The crowd slowly starts walking toward me, a steady pace that feels like an inevitable hunt. 

“We loved you, Eron,” Rimor says, his face bloody, his body mangled. “But you never truly loved us. That is why you could only think of yourself. That’s all you have ever done.”

“No!” I scream back. “I tried to save you. I tried to stop it.”

“But you set it in motion,” Essa replies. “And now, there is nothing left.”

“Please, what can I do?” I ask. “Please.”

“It is too late,” Sarya says. “What’s done is done. You cannot change the past.”

“But… I… I can change the future,” I say, and as I do, I feel a warm thrum behind me. I look back down the tunnel and see the upside-down pyramid gleam. “I can stop Kira’thaz.”

“You cannot atone for what you have done,” Essa snarls, and I look at her and watch in horror as her face contorts, as if a monster is wearing her skin.

“Maybe not,” I reply. “But I can protect others. Save others from…”

“From what you did to us,” Sarya says coldly.

“Yes.”

Rimor scoffs. “Surrender to the fate you deserve. You owe us your life a thousand times over.”

Guilt and shame wrench me, and I almost collapse to the ground as the crowd surges toward me, their eyes wide and hungry as their mouths unhinge and the teeth elongate into fangs.

“No,” I whisper, and regain my footing. The surging monsters halt as I strain against the self-hatred I feel, the need to punish myself, to destroy myself for the pain I have caused. “No. There must be something more. I can’t bring you back. I would sacrifice myself a thousand times over for each and every one of you if I could. But I can’t. But I can fight for this world.”

“Why?” Essa hisses, her eyes black and venomous. “This world is a place of suffering! Death and hatred ravage all that is ever good! Your selfishness attests to it!”

I raise my eyes to meet Sarya’s gaze, and tears flow down my face as I look at the monster I have turned her into. “Because there is more to this world than that. Beneath all the hurt, there is goodness. It was always there, and I could never see it. You all tried to show me, but I was too blind to see.” I kneel, but because I choose to, and bow my head. “Please. Forgive me. I will fight to protect the world you all believed in, that you loved and brought me closer to. With all that I am, I swear it.”

The twisted and malicious ghosts shift, slowly fading into a bright mist. I look up and see the shadows in my family’s eyes begin to fade as their hatred turns to grief, and from grief to acceptance. 

“You have a dark road ahead of you,” Essa warns as she gazes at me mournfully. 

“But it is a road I choose to walk,” I reply. “And as long as I choose to hope, anything is possible. You taught me that.”

Essa flinches as if struck, but then a soft smile spreads across her face. She, Sarya, and Rimor have begun to fade into the mist, and though I wish I could pull them back, hold them one last time, I know that I have to let them go. 

“Thank you, Eron,” Sarya says as she disappears. 

Rimor is silent and closes his eyes as he fades.

Essa’s smile wanes as she bows her head. “Farewell, Eron.”

Suddenly, I am pulled backward through the tunnel, toward the upside-down pyramid. I turn to face it. Terror still fills me, makes me want to scream and hide within myself until the world tears me apart, but I cry out and open my arms to the pyramid as it flashes brilliant white, igniting myself and the world with cleansing fire.

 

 

Xanenax’s patience was already wearing thin as he entered Colonel Ennar’s office. It had been over an hour since he had arrived, and Ennar had given no excuse for making his superior officer wait for so long. Ennar sat staring out the windows of his quarters, facing away from Xanenax and Knel on a backless chair behind a matching solid stone table, his horns arcing to encircle his head. The surrounding desert was near stillness. Heavy drapes hung at the sides of the windows, woven with deep crimsons, purples, and blacks in a complex, almost chaotic pattern. A light, nearly scalding breeze caused the curtains to shift ever so slightly.



David Rauenzahn

Edited: 29.07.2019

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