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Chapter 6
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"Confusions of the hunted will echo in your head
the weight is on your shoulders
you cant release the dead"

-LeŠther Strip,"No Rest For the Wicked"

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Dais' shadow quickly consumed him,sending him to drown in it's ebony depths.He felt as though he was being dragged underneath the surface of a black ocean.The darkness fell so heavily upon him that it actually felt like some kind of liquid substance surrounding his body.It seemed so suffocating,and he was mildly surprised that he was still able to breathe.He inhaled the darkness and let it flood through his body....like a fish swimming in it's neverending world of desolate,inky blackness.A sudden image of Vanth's dank,deep green eyes flashed inside his mind....they resembled that of a fish....definately lacking in human quality.How dreadfully appropriate, He found himself musing.It is probably swimmimg through the shadows somewhere close by.The sickening thought caused an uninvited shudder to creep through his body.
The darkness suddenly seemed to grow bitterly frigid.Freezing in fact.The kind of cold that seemed to turn his internal organs to ice as well as put a devastating chill on his flesh.He shivered and prayed that this seemingly endless fall would soon be over and done with.He didn't care how hard he fell.He didn't care where he fell,but the thought of forever plunging through a cold and monotanous sea of black really got his adrenaline flowing in the bad way.Was he even falling?He couldn't be sure anymore.Ironically,being a master of illusion,his perception and awareness of reality had always been imacculate;a quality that actually helped him become so cognizant in the arts of illusion.But somehow,this frigid darkness was managing to decieve even his senses.He obviously couldn't rely on his vision,which ached from staring into the freezing void,and his body was beginning to grow numb from the chill in the air.
Nausea began to wash over him and he realized that he must be falling if he was succumbing to motion sickness.But before he had any further opportunity to angst about his vexing situation,he made a sudden and unexpected departure from the darkness.The dense,frigid atmosphere was abruptly replaced by much thinner,mildly cool air that he could feel caressing his flesh in rapid,aggressive strokes as he plunged downward.He could now see the feathery edged splotch of darkness that he had emerged from,rapidly getting smaller and smaller above him.He noticed the spot of black was set against the calm,pale blue of the sky.It was a welcome sight.Relief washed over him as he realized that the seeming eternity that he had spent descending through the darkness was now merely an unpleasant memory.There was only the present....
However,the feeling of relief quickly dissapated as he came to his senses and glanced downward.Below him he could see a rapidly approaching expanse of what looked like concrete....
There was only the present....
The reality of the present was that he was falling quite swiftly towards a hard surface....without his armor.
He had just enough time to mentally recite every expletive he could think of before impact occured.He felt like a frail twig being carelessly stomped upon;a helpless baby bird who had stumbled from it's mothers nest and plunged downward to crush it's delicate body on the hard,merciless ground below.An intense explosion devastated every inch of his body as he struck the ground.In that instant,he felt no pain.only the devastation of impact.But he figured,once the shock wore off....
He was aware of his vision distorting and fading to a fuzzy purplish grey,sending his mind reeling in a dark and turbulent cloud of disarray for several moments.
When his mind and body finally began to recover,he halfheartedly wondered why he wasn't dead,or why he was even conscious for that matter.He still wasn't aware of any pain except for the persistant throbbing that invaded his head,accompanied by a staticky roar,like the sound of a restless wave throwing itself relentlessly against a jagged rock,repeating again and again without a moment of silence.
Eventually,the crashing waves inside his head began to subside,taking the throbbing pain with it.The fuzzy darkness began to dissipate,like storm clouds clearing a sky after their destructive purpose had been carried out.And curiously enough,painless feeling began to slowly seep into his body.It was then that he became aware of a number of things.
The first thing he became aware of was the sky above him.It was no longer a sea of tranquil,undisturbed blue,but instead,a roiling mass of malevolent,grey storm clouds,eerily verging on a deep,olive green in some places.They were moving across the sky at an unnatural speed;coiling and churning like an angry beast,desperate to reach some unknown destination.He then felt the cool,damp air upon his flesh,and his acute senses picked up the faint aroma of wet earth and metal.He suddenly remembered his dream,with the strangly calming tension in the air that had been eminated from the darkness that loomed on the horizon,waiting patiently for the appropriate time to pounce......
The storm is here.......
At the moment,what most intrigued him about the situation was the familiar feeling of his mystical armor around his body,fitting like a second skin.Apparently,his armor had protected him from the fall and he remained completely unscathed.....but he hadn't called on his armor.He wasn't able to....
Intrigued,confused and angry,he lifted himself from the ground.It made him furious that these shadow creatures apparently had complete control over him.He was sure they could kill him any time they wished,but they chose to let him live untill they were done playing with him.Even forcing his armor upon him to save him from a deadly fall....but he had to admit that a part of him was relieved by their intervention.
When he got up,he noticed that he was actually standing on a rooftop of a very tall building.He perched gracefully on the edge of the roof and looked out over the city in which the building resided.Monuments of modern society were scattered abundantly in front of him.Skyscrapers made of concrete and glass.An endless labyrinth of streets below.Not a bit of vegatation in sight....He immediately recognized it.This was modern day Tokyo! Although the sprawling mass of buildings and streets should have been bustling with activity,everything seemed to be completely silent and empty....No signs of life were visible,infact,the entire city seemed to radiate an aura of lonliness and death....It was completely abandoned.A vision hauntingly similar to the time,not so long ago,when this same city had been vacated by dynasty forces....A chilling reminder of what he used to be......and perhaps still was.
From the edge of the rooftop,he gazed out across the concrete kingdom.He knew that Vanth was here.....and mabey more of them.He could feel it.An eerie and wicked presence in the air,alerting him that she.......it was somewhere near by.
Exhileration and rage washed over him as he scanned the desolate city.He refused to play their game.He still didn't know exactly why they were doing this,or where they came from,but he would see to it that they be hunted down and made to pay for their manipulative behavior.
Perched on the towering building,he felt like a ravinouse hawk,ready to swoop downward and grasp his unexpecting,terrified pray in his menacing talons.He was hunting.A rush of power and dominance surged through him,yet deep inside,buried behind his imperturbable outer shell of mentality.........there was fear.
His heart jumped with a mixture of horror and excitment as a large,winged shadow soared over him,and he realized perhaps it was he who was being hunted.He looked up.
It was Vanth.
Her fully armored figure glided across the sky above him.Large golden wings spread out against the roiling mass of dark clouds. Her ghastly helmet looked like something that should be worn to a halloween masquerade.It was ornamented with two gnarled,golden horns,unnaturally large,red eyes and a row of long,glistening,metal spikes as a broad,toothy grin.It evoked a feeling of repulsion and horror just looking at it.It brought to mind a twisted and demented version of one of those smiley faces he would see everywhere in this modern world.....
Her shadow drowned him a couple more times as she circled overhead like a hungry vulture.
With a malevolent gleam in his eye,he quickly retrieved the morningstar from his right gauntlet and lept into the air,wondering what would be the best way to dispose of the pest.
Vanth suddenly seemed to notice his attack and rose to a vertical position.As he flung the morningstar at her head she quickly manuevered out of harms way and calmly presented the large battle-ax that she had been holding behind her back.However,her left wing did get entangled with the chain,but that was quickly remedied.With a quick flick of her razor wing,the chain snapped and fell away from her,falling to the ground below.
Dais noticed how versatile and sharp the demons wings were,and realized that if he wasn't careful he could easily be disemboweled or decapitated.
He swiftly levitated backwards away from the ghastly thing and detatched the spider-like weapon from his back.Several of the small scythes flew towards her,but the dark elf managed to evade them with unnatural ease.A fraction of a second before one of the scythes struck her creepy,grinning mask,she grabbed it with one of her golden talons,and with a sudden metallic snap,easily severed it from his weapon.
The gesture was yet another bit of kindling for the wildly flickering flame of rage inside him.He realized how incredibly strong the elf was.Even stronger than him,he guessed.Like all of the elf's other qualities and attributes,her strength was incredibley unhuman.....unnatural under any circumstance.He quickly retracted his weapon and decided that a better strategy would be to try and counter the demon's attacks.
Rather than attacking,she floated a few yards further away from him and returned her gleaming battle-ax to the position behind her back,where she held it with both hands.
"Are you enjoying the game,Warlord of Illusion?" She inquired in a voice that had been slightly deepened and left a very faint metallic resonance.
Her words somehow seemed more foreboding coming from the horrifying suit of armor,rather than her elven visage,which still managed to be pretty threatening.Every word she spoke seemed to be some sort of insult,subtle or not.Her use of his epithet rather than his name suggested that she was taunting him,or she merely didn't want to defile herself by speaking his name."Game?What game?" He retorted."You hardly play fair,you impertinent little imp!"
"I play only as fair as you." Vanth stated.
It occured to Dais that the elf was right.To him,honesty and fairness weren't exactly morals to be fallowed.He considered attacking at that moment.Striking her down while she was in a seemingly vulnerable position.But before he had time to further consider the possibility,she was gone.....In one tiny fraction of a second,she had vanished from sight.Her teleportation hadn't been accompanied by any indication of sound or energy.Simply,one second she was there,and the next,it was as if she had never been there at all
He first scanned the turbulent sky above him,and then began to frantically examine the desolate city.He was only partially relieved to find his adversary's spritely but menacing form perched on the edge of a rooftop,not far away.
Without a moment of hesitation,he teleported himself to the rooftop opposite of where she stood.He felt hard concrete appear under his feet where thin air had been less than a second before."What are you doing?" He demanded.
"Dont fallow me." She snapped."The hunt must continue.....I wouldn't want to snuff your vile existance so soon.....what a waste of fun." She paused momentarily and tilted her head,as if reflecting upon something.She then resumed her contemptuous chatter."It's like the cat and mouse....destined to play this sinister sport."
"Yes,but who is the mouse and who is the cat?" Dais questioned with sinister smugness.He glared superciliously at Vanth,and although it was hard to look down with calm disdain upon such a horrifying thing,he managed to put on a convincing act.On the inside,pent up feelings of rage,fear and anxiety coiled and churned,making him feel as if some kind of creature was devouring him from the inside,yet on the outside,he remained as cool as a cucumber.
The dark elf glanced mysteriously from side to side and after a few moments of silence she turned to Dais and spoke once more."If I were you,i'd watch your back,mousey.....we're not the only hunters in this concrete kingdom."
Her words caused an icey shiver to streak up and down his spine,and his heart began to beat rapidly."What do you mean?" He questioned in a demanding tone.
"He's in the city with us.....hunting.I saw him earlier.....I didn't know he was here." Peculiarly,her voice seemed to carry a very subtle hint of what sounded like worry......But,then again,it could have been a deliberate action to further unnerve him.
He felt his skin crawl across his body and he fought the urge to glance anxiously behind him.He kept him gaze locked intently on the impassive helmet she wore.Usually,he was able to clearly read the thoughts and feelings of a person by studying their facial expressions and body language,and sense the emotions that eminated from them,but as he gazed at the demon he didn't have a clue as to what it was feeling or what must be going through it's head.She wore a mask that was forever frozen in an unnatural expression of demented glee,and he could not at all sense how she felt,but rather,the way she made him feel.
He watched as the demonic elf suddenly took two large leaps backwards,placing herself on the opposite edge of the building,still holding the battle-ax behind her back.Once again,her eerie voice issued forth from her nightmarish form."I suppose I should wish you luck,for someone has to die." She apparently found her words amusing,for she began to giggle.........the giggle(which seemed more mocking than genuine) soon turned into a laugh.............a laugh that was cold and demonic...............demented yet amused...............like the sadistic cackle of a rabid clown with a taste for the flesh of children.And as she laughed,she tilted backwards,plunging off the edge of the building and disappearing from sight.
"Stop!" He roared as he once again detatched the weapon from his back and lept to the spot where she had fallen from.He was thankful to hear the dreadful laughter slowly subside,but losing track of the elf's wherabouts only meant prolonging this living nightmare.He cautiously peered over the edge of the rooftop,for some reason afraid of what he would see.But like the laughter,Vanth had completely disappeared.Nothing abnormal lay below him;just the vacant and dismal alleyway.
For several tense moments,he stood so still that he seemed as inanimate as the building on which he stood.Like a frightened animal,every nerve was on edge and alert;his heart beat rapidly and his senses were hightened.He was aware that he was being hunted.He couldn't just stand there much longer.
Someone has to die.
Her words were the truth.Someone was going to die.How else would it end?He remembered how he had slaughtered Kayura in the eerily beautiful ballroom.One more warrior lost.The first victory for Talpa.He supposed he should feel guilty and sorrowful about her apparent death,but he actually felt rather apathetic about the fact that she was dead.It didn't concern him at the moment.What really filled him with anger was the fact that he had been under the control of those blasphemous creatures.Their influence was a subliminal force;insinuating into the mind and taking a firm grip on the subconscious.For all he knew,every move he made and every thought that passed through his head could not be his own,but simply actions decided by a higher force.....like a puppeteer jerking the strings of it's marionette.But he doubted that Talpa and the others had that much power.
With the powerful fluidity of a wild cat,he lept without a sound,from rooftop to rooftop;silently advancing deeper into the hauntingly desolate city.The raging flame of fury inside him grew.His control was sacred to him,and if that was ever to be taken away.....he couldn't imagine the emotional chaos and frustration.To be reduced to such a state was unthinkable.He clenched his fist,and his sparkling blue eye narrowed and gleamed malliciously as he scanned the ostensibly empty city.He felt the satisfying wieght of his weapon in his right hand.He wanted desperately to use it.
The game had not yet been won.
He lept across a few more buildings before taking a break to study his surroundings.Familiar structures surrounded him.Every building....every street.....everything appeared exactly how he remembered it.....yet much.....much different.
The only obvious,visual peculiarity was the detail of the city;mainly the signs and advertisments that adorned most of the buildings.There was one in particular that demanded his attention.....mounted atop a nearby building was a fairly large,billboard style sign that simply read,in bold,black letters:Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself.It evoked a very odd feeling when he looked at it.In some places,the paper was torn and faded,giving it a drab,weathered look,and it's conspicuous simplicity gave it a subtly ominous appearance.It was a cryptic message from Vanth to him.He was sure of that.He understood......a vainglorious reference to herself,no doubt.
Nothing to fear but fear itself.
Why would such an unhuman creature use such a human phrase?For that matter,how did she even know what this city looked like?The possible answers were unnerving.
He took a deep breath,pryed his eyes from the sign and decided to prowl the streets instead of the rooftops.He stepped off the edge of the building and fell,landing soundlessly on the empty street below.
Out of the corner of his eye,he thought he saw a large,black shape that seemed larger than Vanth,disappear around the corner of a nearby building.His heart jumped with excitment.He slinked stealthily and soundlessly across the pavement towards the building.Every inch of his body was ready and willing to lash out with deadly abhorence at this mysterious predator who stalked him,but when he rounded the corner,all that greeted him was the desolation of an empty street.
He lowered his weapon but still remained acutely vigilant as he silently prowled the street.He was hunting and being hunted.Something he seldom experienced.During his time serving Talpa,he had many enemies,but none more dominant than he.He had always played the role of the predator,rather than the prey,and never had he feared for his life.But now he found himself as not only the predator,but the prey as well.The thrill of the hunt pulsed through his viens.He could sense the evil presence of his persuer drawing near,and it sparked a feeling of primal fear......but there was something more......animosity......exhileration......excitment.He realized he was enjoying the game more than he anticipated.There was a certain sense of euphoria in this gnawing dread.
As he prowled across the pavement,he peered into the many shop windows that lined the street.Most of them were lit,with odd displays visible behind the glass.But some of the shops were so dark that it was like staring into the same huge,black shadow that he had been sucked into not long ago.He got the distinct impression that there were.....things behind the glass of the darkened shop windows......nightmarish things,lurking in the darkness,but hidden from view.
He continued down the street and caught sight of a particularly intriguing window display.He was immediately drawn to it.It was nestled in between two darkened shops and was mostly dark itself,except for a small display in front that was illuminated by a small,vaguely red tinted light.The display consisted of three porcelain dolls,slumped against eachother in a semicircle and seated on a pile of rumpled,red velvet.
His heart sank.
These were not just any ordinary dolls.He immediately recognized them,and the likeness was actually quite uncanny.......simple and elegant,yet an excellant portrayal.The one in the middle was obviously Ryo.The one slumped against him on his left was Kento,and the one on the right......It was Kayura.Her expression was sad......pathetic in fact,suggesting her soul was very unhappy right now.The expression portrayed by the Kento doll was that of mildly surprised dismay,with a hint of dopiness that always seemed to grace the face of that gluttenous little troll.Ryo,however,was a bit different.Curiously,a small smirk was apparent on the doll's face.Dais had no clue as to what it might mean.
He could almost feel the presence of the dolls,as well as see them.Like vague remnants of souls......calling out to him.Out of some strange compulsion,he set his hands on the glass and peered deeper inside........

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It moved stealthily through the empty city,moving like neither a human nor animal,but with the fluidity of a creeping shadow.....like a walking nightmare.It made not a sound as it advanced across the desolate streets with frightening speed,fervently seeking the tender human flesh of it's prey.It could feel the presence of it's target grow stronger with each corner it rounded.It was so close now......and finally,it spotted a tiny speck of red in the distance,amongst the gray surroundings.It began to close in on the figure.It's prey was found,unaware of the beast that roamed wild and free......

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Dais couldn't make out any of the objects that hid behind the cloak of darkness beyond the spooky display,but he did see many tiny lights of assorted colors.The small lights were colored in gold,green,blue and red,and they were scattered sporadically through the darkness.Some of them were even blinking.It was as if he was staring into a darkened game room where the only signs of activity were the busy,twinkling decor on the lifeless machines,which had been left operating for reasons unknown.
He briefly considered going inside the mysterious shop,curious as to what horrors he would find inside,but it occured to him that it might just mean walking into a trap.
As he peered into the darkness,another muffled image appeared before him.At first he thought it was something inside the shop,but after a few seconds he realized it was actually a reflection.Whatever it was that was reflecting in the glass must have been quite dark,for it was barely visible in the dark window.
His heart jumped and he spun around to find out what it was that stood behind him.He felt it before he saw it.A dark and wicked presence,weighing down on him with the very essence of dread,and it only intensified when he saw who stood across the street from him.
It was Talpa.
This must have been the mysterious third that Vanth had spoke of.The elf had refered to it as "He".....but why?This thing that used to be Talpa wasn't even human.He was sure of that.It was a nightmarish sight to behold.He couldn't find the right words to describe it......It was definately not an easy thing to look at.Like each one of these surreal creatures,he couldn't help but look upon it with a mixture of terror and awe.Even its movements were surreal.He couldn't imagine doing battle with such a thing.
Dais raised his weapon and slowly began to back away,his gaze locked intently on Talpa,his face a mask of calm intimidation.
Talpa watched him with empty eyes and raised one long,twisted talon.It then waved one of its frighteningly long and sharp fingers back and forth in a subtly threatening gesture of disapproval.It was as if he was scolding a small child and telling it its punishment would be extremely dire.And then he lunged.
Dais was mildly mystified at how he had been able to evade the demon's sudden attack.It had happened so quickly and abruptly that it barely even had time to register in his mind.He was able to reflexly dodge the sinewy creature's lightening quick advances for a few seconds,using teleportation,but he knew he wouldn't be able to keep up this dance of death much longer.He could barely think,much less make logical decisions.Those steely,spindly claws would soon deliver his demise.But before any unfortunate end could be met,there came an intervention from above.
It was more of a distraction really.High atop a nearby building,the familiar shape of Vanth's ghoulish form could be seen against the enormous sign which blaringly read,Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself.Her figure crouched on the edge of the building and peered downward.She seemed to be watching the action taking place on the street below.
The movement on the building averted Dais' attention long enough for Talpa to seize his prey.Dais felt himself get lifted into the air to gaze directly into the empty eyes of the towering monster.To his horror,he realized one of Talpa's gnarled claws was gripping his neck.Hard enough to cause considerable discomfort,but not hard enough to cause serious damage.He had expected the metal of Talpa's armor to feel cool against his skin,but instead,they felt hot against his tender flesh.Burning in fact.The smooth metal surged with heat,as if armor and body had become one.The expression of taunting,sadistic glee frozen on Talpa's face told him a long and agonizing torture awaited him and would be immensely enjoyed by this sadistic creature before he was finally killed.
And then,like an angel for her welcome interjection,and like a devil for the inpending doom she brought,Vanth teleported from her rooftop perch to join the action.She blinked into existance without a sound,behind Talpa.She twirled her battle-ax and he could hear the whoosh of the displacement of heavy,wet air.
"Oh,please master,allow me to slay him."The elf pleaded with mock innocents.Her tone then took a drastic turn."My blade is hungry for a taste of your flash!" She hissed,turning to Dais.
To Dais' surprise,Talpa reacted in a quite unexpected way.He loosened the grip around his neck,discarding him and letting him fall to his feet.The demon then turned to Vanth,and in one quick and sudden movement,grasped one of her long golden horns and tore off her ghoulish helmet.He then grasped her neck and roughly lifted her from the ground,as if she was no better than a rag doll.
As Dais watched the startling display of violence,he noticed there was something vaguely familiar about the way Talpa's lithe body moved and fought......something familiar about his stance,but nothing he could place.
Vanth hung limp in Talpa's clutches for several moments. "......M..Master....." She squeeked.The dark elf's frosty hair had fallen askew over her dark flesh and dewy,emerald eyes,which had grown unnaturally large and round.Yet as Dais watched this curious display,he couldn't help but feel as though he was watching actors on a stage,rather than anything too genuine.
The nightmarish sprite began to struggle silently in her masters grip,but Talpa kept a firm grip on her tiny neck.He seemed to be immensely enjoying himself.He then took ahold of her left arm as she jerked violently away from him,causing her arm to be swiftly torn from her body.
Dais silently watched the odd happenings.He was mesmerized.
Vanth looked idly at the spot were her arm used to be,as if she refused to take even that suriously.Dais' horror for these creatures only intensified when he saw that the blood gushing from the demons wound was not red.....but as black as the depth of night.The consistency of the ebony liquid didn't even seem the same as blood.....not exactly.It brought to mind liquified shadows.
Talpa promptly flung the elf aside and once again turned his attention to Dais.She fell with considerable force against the side of a nearby store with a loud crash that disrupted the relative silence and echoed through the streets.Apparently she fell hard enough to be rendered unconscious,for she sat,slumped motionlessly against the brokeen galss and concrete,her head down and eyes shut,like a broken doll in need of repair.
Before Dais had a chance to react,Talpa's monsterous form closed the gap between them in a fraction of a second,and struck.He heard the metallic scrape of clashing metal and felt a painful rupturing deep within.He heard a possitively wicked and sadistic laughter rise from the creature in front of him,and to his shock and horror,he realized that Talpa's gnarled,razor claws were embedded deep in his chest.
Someone has to die.......
Talpa laughed with sadistic glee as he dominated his prey.Plunging his claws deeper and twisting,causing bright red,scalding blood to gush across Dais' maroon armor.
Dais had never seen so much of his own blood at once.Every inch of his body was acutely aware of the pain surging virulently through him.His vision began to distort and fade as his life seeped out of him through the gaping hole in his chest.
As his consciousness began to fade,he took in the scene around him one last time.In the center of an otherwise desolate street,underneath the endlessly roiling and coiling storm clouds above,he faced his former lord.He gazed directly into the taunting mask that this demon hid behind,and beyond him,slumped against one of the large shop windows,he saw Vanth's inert form lift her head and fling open her frightening eyes,one at a time.First the left,then the right.Jerking to life like a lifeless doll being magically animated.And he thought to himself......mabey he was better off this way.....mabey he was lucky to depart from this living nightmare.But then he remembered the dolls that had gazed helplessly up at him from the store window,and he got the sinking feeling that mabey even death would fail to free him.....
And as the scene faded to blackness and he finally surrendered to the euphoria of death,he only hoped his comrades wouldn't fall to the same fate........