Yami No Oozora: Chapter One and Prologue

Yami No Oozora: Darkness of the Heavens

Notes: Hi, everyone, I'm back!^_^ This is the first chapter and prologue, obviously, rewritten and hopefully, improved. I realized as I was writing this story that my goal wasn't being accomplished: as the introductory tale to Upperworld, I had to build the world first, and I simply wasn't doing much world-building.^^;;
So here it is: chapter one of Yami no Oozora (Darkness of the Heavens is the English title). Now much shorter, with more explanations and even footnotes (I'm insane, I know), I hope this time around YnO does what it's supposed to.^_^; The footnotes are there mainly to explain things that would be awkward to explain in the story, or to generally inform readers about customs, traditions, etc. in Upperworld. So I do hope you read them.^^
The prologue is unchanged, btw, because it was the only part I liked from the old version.-_-; Pretty sad, isn't it? Ah, whatever. Go read.^_^
Standard disclaimers apply, FYI.


The darkness stretched on in all directions, curling and wrapping around tall, wide-trunk trees. For nearly anyone watching, the forest would have proved to be the least welcoming piece of scenery. But for the lone figure rushing frantically down the winding path amidst the trees, the dark was a sanctuary.

Stumbling from pure exhaustion, the figure staggered blindly to one side of the path, and then crashed through the underbrush with no attempt at silence. His breath sounded harsh and too loud to his ears, but he couldn’t help that. As the stubborn branches snagged his clothing and scratched his face and arms, only one thought crossed his mind.

Keep running.

He broke past a small wall of bushes and found himself in a clearing. The light of Beryllus filtered through the few overhanging branches and their leaves, feathery in the dimness, shining with particular clarity on the rough dirt ground. He stared for a moment, numbly, at the soft, serene light, his face still obscured in shadow. Then, with a half-sob forcing its way out of his throat, he whipped around to melt back into the darkness of the forest.

“Where are you going?” A quiet voice floated from the clearing that had been empty of people mere seconds ago.

A scream of pure undiluted panic tore past his lips. “NO!! No!!! Stay away!! Stay away!” The figure broke into a frantic run away from the clearing.

“Don’t go. Our master requests your service.” The same quiet voice continued, unperturbed.

No matter how hard he ran, he could still hear that voice, always right behind him, relentlessly following. He tripped over a protruding tree root and collapsed in a pathetic heap on the ground. “No no no…help me…” He mumbled, clutching at the grass and the dirt.

In almost no time at all, a wall of light slammed up from the forest floor, slicing toward him and engulfing his prone figure. Then, as abruptly as it came, the light faded, taking with it the immortal who had tried to escape.

Daitra’s darkness took over the forest floor, obscuring any signs of intrusion. But the light of Beryllus danced softly upon the silent treetops, flitting down once in a while, as if daring the forest to reveal its secrets.

Yami No Heya: Room in the Darkness

The Sentinel of Lost Souls leaned back, sinking into his comfortable armchair, and crossed his legs casually. His ruby-red eyes, gleaming softly with some inscrutable expression, took in his surroundings with a nonchalant glance, before settling upon the three points of candlelight in the ornate, golden candelabra.

He had been in here for a very long time, waiting. The room he waited in was large, and though in reality not overwhelmingly so, its size was enhanced by the sparseness of furniture. His armchair, colored a deep, soft burgundy, was placed with its back facing the only door; an identical piece sat directly opposite him, currently without an occupant. That would be where the souls were invited to sit, when they came. Between the two armchairs was a low table, bare of all decorations save the candelabra he had fixed his gaze upon.

The usual visitors to this room would, if they were in the state of mind to notice, see a fireplace on the back wall, the marble mantel gleaming with a pearl-like dullness—a fireplace never used, for the owner does not need its warmth. Or its light, for that matter, which is provided by the candles, fixed to the walls in their holders, illuminating the room so clearly that it was unlikely they were just ordinary candles. Thanks to that very illumination, every detail of the wooden paneling gracing the walls where they met the ceiling could be seen. Following the paneling around the top of the walls, a visitor’s eyes would travel downward, and note with some surprise that there were small paintings within elegant frames decorating the walls as well. Or at least, one would have to assume they were paintings, for the subjects—whether landscape or portrait—could never been seen. In the back left corner, an old-fashioned oaken wardrobe stood. But what its contents were, visitors never knew, and never asked, having of course, more pressing matters to deal with.

The usual visitors to this room—the ones he was waiting for—were the lost souls of mortals, who drifted to this boundary between life and death, seeking guidance, vengeance, answers to their questions. And he was here to provide them with what they sought, being the Sentinel of Lost Souls.

The tiny flames on his candles flickered merrily, in reality an extension of his own power, just like everything else in the large room. For a moment the Sentinel remained very still, eyes on the dancing flames, his mind relaxed and floating elsewhere. The room where wandering souls gathered was eerily silent.

Then slowly, without moving, the Sentinel willed his power to spread, stretching from himself as the epicenter and extending outward to the darkness beyond the door. His invisible energy swept around the vicinity, probing and searching for a familiar feeling: the presence of a lost soul. He found none, and within seconds the Sentinel had gathered his power back within himself, where it lay quietly like a smoldering fire.

The Sentinel sighed on a note which hinted at relief, and then smiled. He loved his work, but once in a while it was nice to take a break from listening to bewildered, furious, or terrified mortals narrate their tales of woe. Once in a while, it was nice to just sit here, and think.

The candlelight flared and dimmed alternatively, dancing to a song of random patterns that he enjoyed, because it was so soothing to watch. On a whim, he pulled some fond memory from the recesses of his mind, concentrated, and sent the images of that memory into the flickering flames. Almost immediately the fire on the center candle flared up, just as the other two were extinguished, along with every other candle lighting the room. Within the center flame, the Sentinel saw his own memory rising out of the light burning yellow on the wick—

He was floating a few inches above the ground, pointing to something far away in the distance. His floating was an attempt to compensate for the incredible height difference between him and his companion, who was beside him, raising a skeptical eyebrow. The Sentinel within the flame turned to look at his companion and said something with a teasing gleam in his bright eyes. With a disdainful ‘humph,’ the other glided forward, his long black cloak soundless upon the pebbly ground. The Sentinel shook his head, used to this behavior, and hurried to catch up.

Behind him, two other immortals trailed along at their own paces. One of them, her hair glistening gold in the daylight, yelled out something excitedly and gestured toward the distance with a slim hand. Keeping pace beside her, a male immortal looked dubiously at his friend, shrugged, and reached to straighten the deep purple robes he wore.

The Sentinel turned around toward them from up where he was, and waved, calling out, “Come on! We’re leaving you behind!”

Hearing that, they instantly—

The single flame on his candelabra was abruptly snuffed out, plunging the room into darkness, as the Sentinel straightened in his seat, frowning. He could sense something—or more specifically, someone—moving toward the room, but it was too fast, too certain, to be a mortal soul. His expression turned thoughtful, and in a second the room was once more completely lit, every candle on the walls ablaze. The three on his low table burned steadily, their dance muted.

By the time the visitor appeared in the Room of Lost Souls, the Sentinel was standing beside his armchair, a careful, but polite, smile on his face. “What a pleasant surprise, Hermes.”

Hermes, an immortal who had a head of glossy chestnut curls, bowed crisply and replied, “Indeed, Lord Sentinel.”

The Sentinel refrained from commenting on how stupid he thought the honorific sounded in conjunction with his name, but felt he had to try and get rid of the ‘Lord’ somehow. “Please don’t be so formal with me.” Hermes smiled, but showed no indication that he was going to change his way of address. Biting back a resigned sigh, the Sentinel switched the topic to a more important one, “What brings the fastest messenger in Upperworld here?”

Hermes bowed again, closed his eyes, and within a few moments produced a small, shimmering orb of light that floated a few inches above his open palms. “An epistle from the Lady Nemesis—Goddess of Vengeance, Chief Scourer, and Warden of Upperworld.”

The Sentinel raised his eyebrows, “And she sent you?”

“Well,” Hermes suddenly looked sheepish. “Technically I shouldn’t be doing this, but… well, the lady is quite. . .persuasive.”

It was with a conscious effort on his part that the Sentinel managed to keep his face straight. “I see,” he murmured politely, and reached a hand out for the epistle. Hermes released it, and the orb drifted over to the Sentinel, glowing and pulsing a soft gold. It was Nemesis’ color, Nemesis’ aura, so familiar that the Sentinel felt a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth just holding the epistle. It had been a while, hadn’t it?

“Thank you, Hermes,” he replied with a nod. “Did Nemesis ask for a reply?”

“No, Lord.” Hermes promptly answered. “The lady stated that all would be clear when you unseal the epistle.” Well, at least he didn’t add the ‘Lord’ in front of my name this time, the thought flashed by the Sentinel’s mind. It’s a start.

“Very well,” he began absently, intent on reading the message as soon as possible. But as he looked up to see Hermes staring rather wistfully at the golden epistle, the Sentinel couldn’t resist just a little tease—“Exactly what did Nemesis do to convince someone as busy as you to bring such a trivial little note?”

Hermes started, averted his gaze, then blushed as red as a boy, despite being an age-old immortal himself. “Well, I was unoccupied at the time. . .that is, the Sages had nothing for me, so I thought, why not? I mean it was not as if. . .well, she did say. . . .” He caught himself in the midst of his rambling and stopped, his blush deepening.

The Sentinel strove to keep a devious little smirk off his face. “Seduced you again?”

“NO!” Hermes shouted, before he remembered whom he was talking to. “I mean, uh, No, my lord. Nothing of the sort. . . .”

“No need to be so uptight,” the Sentinel interrupted. It’d slipped his mind, how the messenger took everything so seriously. “I was only teasing.” Hermes stared down at something apparently very interesting on the floor, what was visible of his face completely red.

“May I. . .may I be dismissed?” He mumbled.

The messenger looked so utterly miserable that all the fun of teasing him quickly evaporated; the Sentinel felt rather sorry for him. “Of course. You may take your leave.” Gratefully, Hermes leaned forward in yet another crisp bow, turned, and dematerialized out of the room. The Sentinel could feel the messenger’s aura flit away, vanishing as Hermes left the realm between life and death. For a moment he stood, staring at the wood grain of his door, before shrugging and turning his attention to the epistle.

The sphere glowed expectantly in his hands as the Sentinel closed his eyes in concentration. He did a routine check for tight seals and wards indicating the importance of the message, and found only one, a simple little thing anyone could break. The flaxen haired immortal opened his eyes and shook his head. Trust Nemesis to convince the most important messenger in all of Upperworld to deliver what really was a trivial note. But then again, anything Nemesis asked, Hermes would undoubtedly do: the Sentinel had rarely seen anyone so hopelessly infatuated with her (most deeming the Goddess off-limits). A shame, really, that Hermes didn’t have the sense of his fellows, that out of so many immortals he had to fall for Nemesis, an asatyric.(1) What sort of feelings must arise when the one you love is incapable of reciprocating? And now he was doing Hermes an injustice: it wasn’t as if the messenger could help his own feelings…

The Sentinel cut off his own thoughts before they went on long pointless tangents, and unsealed the epistle with a quick exertion of will. The golden orb’s light increased in intensity for a few brief seconds, then dimmed and floated out of the Sentinel’s hands. He turned, walked to his armchair, and sat down. The epistle floated after him, suspended in mid-air above his little table, waiting until the Sentinel had found a comfortable position. The instant he looked up, the epistle changed.

The sphere expanded, stretching out, up, and down, the dull golden color fading gradually as its shape grew more complex. From this amorphous energy mass grew the form of a slender woman, tall, with well-shaped limbs and finely chiseled face. Her hair of gold spread out, surrounding her head almost like a lion’s mane, before settling down upon her shoulders, a soft halo of powdered light. The woman floated there, eyes closed as if sleeping, while more color poured into her, letting her seem more alive and less like an apparition. Finally, she opened her eyes, and smiled.

Seated in his armchair, the Sentinel smiled back, even though he knew the imagus before him couldn’t see.

“Hello, Sentinel,” the imagus of Nemesis began immediately. “I know you’re all for word games and riddles, but I’m going directly to the point. Blossom season is beginning, and even though this time the Sages don’t have any sort of Immortal Council planned, I thought maybe you’d like to visit anyway.(2) We all know you have a weakness for flowers, and there’s certainly a shortage of them where you work.”

The Sentinel’s smile vanished as his brows furrowed in thought. An invitation to Upperworld? For fun?

“It’s only for a little while, Sentinel,” the imagus sounded teasing. “Surely you can curb your workaholic tendencies for such a short amount of time. Anyway, come up after you get this message; I have your rooms ready for you. When everyone gets here, we can have a marvelous time enjoying ourselves. See you soon!” And with that, the Nemesis’ imagus melted away into strands of power that the Sentinel gathered back into the shape of a sphere. He looked at the epistle silently, Nemesis’ message reverberating through his mind.

Technically, he was not allowed to leave this room unless the Sages informed him, through messengers like Hermes, that his presence was needed in Upperworld, where most immortals reside. He had agreed to this arrangement when he became the Sentinel of Lost Souls eons and eons ago, though the rule was, in his case, more of a formality than a necessity. Time did not pass in the boundary. He could stay away for months and come back to find everything just the way he left it. But he was, and had been for a long time, treading on thin ice with a particularly influential and powerful Sage. Such breaching of rules would certainly give His Eminence an excuse for arrest, whether time existed in his workplace or not.

The Sentinel sighed, brushing a hand through his hair as he debated with himself. He had actually broken the rule before, once. And that one time, he had been forgiven because his reasons for disobedience overshadowed the crime. His life, after all, had been in danger.(3) But now? Nemesis knew the rule regarding immortals who worked outside Upperworld as well as he did. She would never invite him just because he had a “weakness for flowers,” as she had claimed. There must be another reason, a deeper reason. He could feel, despite her flippant words, that the Goddess of Vengeance was troubled about something—and he’d learned very early on that Nemesis’ intuition was frighteningly accurate. He should go to Upperworld.

Except he could imagine how the Decider—the Sage he had angered long ago—would say scathingly when he heard the reason this time, “Instinct? You came to Upperworld because her instincts told her that all was not well? Really, Sentinel, I expected better from you. Instinct is for animals and mortals, not for us.” And then he would be arrested, because Nemesis’ intuition, while more trustworthy than most trustworthy things, would not serve as an adequate excuse for the old greybeard…(4)

The Sentinel stopped himself again, feeling his own frustration turn into very irreverent thoughts. He was starting to sound like Charon, one of his colleagues—a realization that wasn’t all-together encouraging. The truth was he knew his own choice—he knew the right choice. But the dangers: discovery, then humiliation, then very likely the loss of his beloved duty, and…

But all of that hinged on whether or not he would be discovered in the first place.

The Sentinel stood in one graceful movement, and the epistle in his hand shimmered as it vanished. Something was wrong with Upperworld, something Nemesis knew she could not handle alone. He would just have to risk discovery, using the tricks he knew and his friend’s assistance to keep hidden. The Sentinel cast a glance around the room, and as his eyes swept across the candles, the flames upon them extinguished. As soon as the last candlelight flickered out, he disappeared from the room as well.

* * *

(1) The immortals in Upperworld are categorized by, among other things, whether they are satyric or asatyric. This is the broadest sort of category because any immortal, regardless of power level, rank, or gender, has to be either one or the other. Satyric immortals are just like mortals in their passion and emotion. Asatyric immortals do not feel lust or passionate love, which is why the Sentinel reflects that it is a shame Hermes (who is obviously satyric) should fall for Nemesis, an asatyric.

(2) Nemesis refers to the Blossom Council, which is mentioned in footnotes of the short story “Notes.” It always takes place during Blossom season, but the Sages, rulers of Upperworld, do not hold it every immortal “year,” or cyclus.

(3) Because all non-canon Upperworld stories are related, directly or indirectly, to each other, there will be oblique references to events that happened earlier in the timeline of the immortals’ lives, just as we would remember things that happened to us long ago. Knowledge of what the Sentinel is referring to is not necessary to the understanding of the current story.

(4) “Greybeard” is a derogatory term for a Sage—especially one who is old-fashioned, too conservative, and pigheaded. The insult is said to come from the immortal who founded Sagacity Hall—in other words, the first Sage—not because he exemplified those characteristics, but because his most striking feature was a long, silvery beard. (All the more striking because immortals don’t usually sport facial hair.^_^) Can be used, by the way, with any Sage, regardless of whether or not they have beards.

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