Chapter 8: Episode 33- "The Source"
“Keep up now, Kaylie. Let’s not fall behind. The end of the road is waiting for us to arrive.” Cora encouraged her little girl, observing Kaylie’s slumping head from the unmasked heat of the sun and the weariness of the many miles they had walked that day. It had been two days since they left the mountain passes behind them. At first it was a slow fade through lush forests and marshland, then the path began to grow more dry and harsh, until by this, the third day of their travels, Cora, Kaylie, Venatrix, and Ferron found themselves crossing desert lands.
“Exactly whose idea was it to cross the Ha’jing Wasteland?” Ferron called up to Cora from the middle of the group; Venatrix walked many paces back from Ferron to act as both lookout and rearguard for the troop.
“If you’d rather, we could circumnavigate the wasteland and travel through the hills of Adif Yen.” Cora offered without looking back at Ferron.
“I would love to travel through the hills!” Ferron whined, moaning against the dust and heat.
“…The hills full of renegades and Scarliffs.” Cora continued her thought. This seemed to quiet Ferron’s complaints. “I take it you’ve come around to my path of logic then?”
Ferron’s blood chilled at there mere mention of Scarliffs; terrible beasts that lived in the depths of the hills, under the forest canopy hidden in the shadows. The creatures lurked through the hill country, preying on travelers: carnivorous leatherbacks that travelled in packs, with long gangly arms and scimitar sized claws. An ambush of Scarliffs would leave a company of Imperial Soldiers nothing more than a pile of armor and a pulp of skin and blood in mere seconds. Scarliffs feasted on bone marrow and disposed of what little else humans had to offer for scavengers.
“Have I told you how much I love deserts?” Ferron replied sheepishly, thoughts of the Scarliffs unnerving him. Cora chuckled a bit as they continued across the sand.
Meanwhile in the halls of Celestio, the palace of the Imperial Ruler in Jong Kabur, sitting upon a lonely throne, thin and haggard, was the bent over form of Festus Kane. The shell of the man, skin greying as it lost its luster and color to malnutrition and an acute sickness growing as a cancer within him. His skin cleaved to his bones, fat and muscle melted within him as his body slowly ate away whatever it could to sustain his heartbeat. Just live. That was all that passed through Kane’s mind between eons of grey, there was the occasional billboard thought passing through his spacious brain: just live. Survival was all he had left. The voices of the demons were silent, he had to wait it out or be wasted away to nothing at all.
Somehow he knew the demon’s would not keep their word. He agreed to do this deep for them in return for the head of the Rebellion leader Elias. Now, alone in the halls of a deserted palace, weak and wasted, lacking even the strength, he was helpless in the hands of darkness. Would he live the night? Did he care if he lived? Was it night? Color had lost distinction in his dimming vision, the effects of demons leaching the humanness from him was as post-mortem decay in a living host.
He was a living dead man, unable to control even the basest of actions. But as if in a dream, his body began moving. He couldn’t feel it: he had lost all feeling, his nerves were starved and dormant. But his mind was aware that he was moving, controlled entirely by the demon spirits within him, as a literal puppet he was drug from the throne and across the room to the massive wooden doors at the entrance to the throne room. The doors were opened from his entrance to the throne room many days before. The blood bath that ensued still bore lingering signs upon the room; stains on the floor, bodies not quite decomposed, or fragments of bodies lay about the throne room: a veritable tomb.
Carried by the forces beyond his control, Kane walked as a corpse on strings down the halls of the empty palace and descended the stairs to the dungeon, spiraling lower and lower. He descended into the earth, torchlight barely illuminating the steps ahead enough to see, let alone a man of weakened vision to make out. But Kane didn’t believe he even needed sight, the demon’s saw for him. Why not? They did everything else for him. He was even more a slave to them now than when he simply did their bidding blindly. He was no longer a servant of the dark forces, he had become one of them: a wraith, a spirit being living in the flesh of an carnal being.
The more Kane found himself embracing this fact, the stronger he felt himself grow, not physically but mentally. He spirit was taking control once he let go of the physical and allowed his mind to grow. Down, down he went into the belly of the palace, to the lowest levels of the foulest dungeons. Men captive down here and creature alike dead from being simply cast into death cages and left to rot, very literally. The stench of death was thicker than oxygen in the air and clouded even the very air in front on him.
Kane passed the last mounted torch a long distance back and by now even the concept of light itself seemed a dream to wonderful to imagine. Down here, where no light had ever come before, direction was a given by the presence of the darkness. Kane’s body, led primarily by Aphaliax, Kane could sense his spirit strong inside, seemed to know the way to where he was leading. There was a darkness darker still than dark itself that lay ahead, there was air fouler than foul ahead. Aphaliax was leading them to the devil himself, Kane felt sure of it.
There was nothing left for Kane in this life, every moment was nothing. No purpose, no loss, no anger, no torture, no pain, no feeling: Kane knew he didn’t know anything. He may as well have not existed, but what was even the purpose in that? He was utterly useless and too far gone. Kane’s spirit had even given up on hope of an ending. It was a limbo as he felt nothing, as his body plunged deeper and deeper into darkness, much akin to how his soul continued to be invaded and overthrown by the demons.
He thought of perhaps asking himself the characteristic cliche questions of: ‘why had he done this?’, ‘how could he have been so blind?’, but all was nothing and nothing was everything, and here in the heart of the earth what really mattered anyway?
Darkness. Utter darkness. Total blackness of mind, of heart, of sight…. There was nothing. Then all of the sudden, there was even less than that. As if the very air to breathe was stolen from his lungs and yet he did not die: the feeling of wrongness, of unrealistic reality. What couldn’t possibly be suddenly was. As an apparition of flame and fire, wind and rain, earth and sky, a beast so terrible and great rose from the darkness. A beast so filled to overflowing with darkness, that as a waterfall, it seemed to constantly shed scales of dark for further darkness still. A cauldron of bubbling evil outpouring and refilling it self in a never ending cycle. This was the source of all wrongness.
And suddenly, as if the bonds of the demons were broken from his body, Kane felt. But not just sensed or perceived; it wasn’t just the inflow of sensory feeling: Kane internalized evil itself. He felt everything. A brutal assault of hate and war, lust and greed, pride, deceit, death, and even love tore at his emotions, cutting like a thousand torturous lashes, knives twisting in his flesh. Love was the worst, for it truly gave a hope to despair, the deception of goodness to evil and burning a man’s soul with the same fire as hate. It was a two edged sword and it cut Kane to the quick. The demons themselves cowered before The Source. All but Aphaliax shrunk back before the spawn of darkness. It was not a spirit, it was not human… some creature of the depths had been awakened, and mankind’s reckoning had come.
‘Well done, Festus Kane.” Aphaliax brutalizing voice billowed from Kane’s own mouth. “You have made a fine sacrifice!”