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"What do you do?
What do you feel?
What are you?
Just a beast?"
Sage never knew what became of Cale or Dais. After the bizarre
ballroom fiasco they were the only ones alive, and they had promptly
been seperated. Dais had been the first to vanish. Taken by the dark elf
into his very own shadow, much to Sage's astonishment. Cale was the next to
go, bleeping out of existance in the company of Mania. One infinitesimal moment they were frozen mid-action. The next, they were gone. He was alone then, but somehow not feeling very lucky. And at about that instant he remembered teleporting away from the place against his will, the room vanishing in
a warm, spinning medly of glitter and color...
And this is where he had ended up. First impression told him he
had somehow ended up back in the human world, and for a moment he thought that perhaps he had, but as much as he would have liked that to be
the truth, he quickly dismissed it as highly improbable.
It was a place on earth. One that made him feel right at home. It
was a place so blissfully peaceful and ordinary that it wrenched his
heart with hopeless yearning.
He had teleported to just an ordinary neighborhood. Albeit completely
empty, it was a friendly suburban area. Not the rigid, lonely, restricted
kind either, but rather a place where it was very easy to imagine all of
the normal ups and downs of reality happening just like it should. In
fact, he realized, the neighborhood actually seemed vaguely familiar. Perhaps
it was modeled after a real place on earth. A place he had been before. But how
would the shadow demons know enough about earth to create a facsimile of
There were many houses surrounding him. Normal houses where
normal families should reside. Large trees by the side of the road shaded
portions of the narrow streets, and gentle gusts of tepid wind blew
rosey pink sakura petals from the branches they delicately clung to
and sent them tumbling soundlessly across the road. The sun shone
bright, although Sage couldn't seem to locate any sun, and it created a
lazy, tranquil heat in the atmosphere, enough to make him sweat
underneath his hot, emerald armor. The subtle breeze would also bring to
him the distant sound of wind chimes from time to time. It was a sound
that had always filled him with a lulling contentment.
The atmosphere was beginning to make him feel quite somnolent. Was
it a purposeful ploy to decieve and distract him?
Even if he had thought he was actually in the human world, he soon
came across quite definate indications assuring him otherwise.
They were the street signs, which he had previously neglected
to pay any attention to. Glinting, green sheets of metal on stalks standing still at every street corner. The gleam of sunlight off the metal had caught his eye and he squinted against the glare to read what it said, without really knowing why. The first one he read read Mania St. Another nearby read Azrael Dr.....
He decided to take the one titled Sage Blv.....Might as well play along.
The street winded up a hill through increasingly odd and elaborate
houses, overlooked on one side by a rocky bluff.
Despite all that had happened, Sage found himself bringing his hand
to his mouth for a much needed yawn. He blinked drowsily and thought of
sleep....He thought of how good it would feel to just lay down and let himself
drift away. Warm, golden streams of sunlight bathing him and the wind
chimes singing him a lazy lullaby.
Although there was no one there to probe his thoughts, he immediately
felt guilty for thinking such a thing.
The last curve of the road led him to the summit of the small
hill, and he found himself at a dead end. The trees were much less abundant
here and part of the scenery had fallen away, revealing what lay beyond
the quaint, sunny neighborhood.
No. Definately not the human world.
Below and beyond him was an emerald field of seemingly neverending
length, the grass rippling even in the absence of any wind. It resembled
a turbulent ocean.....but green rather than blue. The thing that most struck
him, like a sharp, alerting slap in the face, was the distant city of
pagodas far, far on the horizon, just big enough to make out.
The Dynasty. This was an intriguing twist. The towering pagodas
called out to him, eminating a feeling of both forebodence and
friendliness, blended to create one undescribable sensation. He could
envision himself standing on a shore, looking out across a vast, churning
ocean, the shores being the promise of a menacing yet familiar home and
the innocuous tranquility of a foreign land.
All traces of somnolance had quickly been eradicated. He considered
attempting to cross the neverending field and pondered how long it would
take him to reach the Dynasty.....but then again there was always
But why go to the Dynasty when he had first come here? A place which
had resulted in nothing more than uneventful placidity. What could
possibly be the significance of such a place?
He bit his lip absentmindedly and sighed, untill a tiny movement
from the corner of his eye jerked his head to the side to gaze at the
house that rested at the dead end......It was more like a very subtle
telepathic slap actually, for he soon realized that that particular house
had been nowhere in his field of vision.
The house was tall. Two stories to be exact. And it was immaculate
white with pale blue trimmings. Its appearance of being quite tall was
enhanced, he realized, by the small width of the house. It looked as though
the interior couldn't possibly be very spacious. The lawn was bright green, with a rainbow of flowers below each window, and
it lay back like a cardboard cutout against a sky of cloudless azure.
It was a vision so disgustingly ordinary that it could only come
Through the white, gossamer curtains that gently floated away from
an open window he saw a dark flicker of movement.
He stood still and stared through the open window for the longest
time. The gauzy curtains were ruffling gently in contrast with the
churning, wind-swept field below.
Once again came the fugitive flicker of movement.....but he still
could not decipher what exactly it was.....It was large and dark....and
the shape had not appeared proper for a human being.
He was breathing heavily now. His no-datchi unsheathed and standing at attention. The only sounds that accompanied him now on this fine day, other than the wind chimes which still sang to him from time to time, were the ludicrously loud thumping of his heart and his steady, deep breaths, entering and escaping his body.
He moved closer to the house and almost jumped right out of his skin as the flicker once again appeared, but this time stopped directly in front of the window.
Whatever it was was partially obscured by secretive shadows, but he did see the eyes.....they were gazing out at him from the darkness....through the parted strips of alabaster gauze.
He watched it watching him, shock creeping slowly up his spine.
It was human after all.
In a moment of surreal confusion he stood frozen as he watched the figure lean out of the open window, its arms resting on the window sill, the gossamer curtains rising and falling on either side of it.....it was calling out his name.
For a moment Sage felt as though he could not move or speak, and after a bit of grappling he finally found the one word he seeked.
She was leaning out the window and waving enthusiastically at him, a felicitous smile upon her lips. Strands of her long, brown hair were floating away from her in the gentle breeze.
"Sage!" She continued to wave as if casually beckoning him to the window. The startling sound of her felicitous voice abruptly cemented her in this bizarre reality like a contradiction.
"Mia!?" Caution forgotten, he lowered his weapon and quickly closed the distance between himself and Mia.
His hands were on her shoulders with a force he hadn't meant to apply. He was shaking her small frame, and the words came out a frantic, run-together string. "Mia what are you doing here?!"
His only answer was a look of startled bafflement. Her large eyes blinked several times in rapid succession as if punctuating her confusion.
He realized how aggresively he had accosted her and forced himself to calm down. With a deep sigh he slowly let his hands slip from the smooth flesh of her arms. Perplexed, he waited.
"Sage, what's gotten into you?" She asked, shrugging him off as he released her. "Now i'm going to wake up with bruises tomorrow!"
Sage stared at her, dumbfounded. His mind was attempting to comprehend too many things at once. "I...." At a loss for words he was shaking his head.
Finally, she smiled at him. Her smile was like a ray of sunshine, warm and friendly, but also blinding. Blinding to hide the poison aura. Her smile seemed somehow caustic this time, like an ultraviolet kiss. "It's okay Sage....why dont you come inside. What are you doing standing out there in your armor anyway? Acting all strange...." She trailed off as she disappeared from the window like a painting vanishing from it's frame. Sage felt a moment of panic, wondering what had become of her before he saw the shiny golden knob on the white door twist, and the door swing open.
Mia was standing in the entrance of the quaintly disturbing house. Something Sage had failed to previously notice was the pale pink sundress that she wore, with the silky, gauzy fabric that floated gently around her slender legs. The dress seemed to stir a vague recollection. He was fairly certain it was something he had seen her wear once on earth....in reality. Her hair, a bit more unkempt than usual, glittered golden in the light of a sun that did not exist. Her large eyes held intelligence and innocence and her cheeks were a flushed, rosey hugh. She was beautiful.
"C'mon inside, Sage." She said, motioning for him to come. "Have some tea. I'm getting kinda worried about you..."
Sage could distantly feel the phantasmal, goassamer curtains brushing against him as they rose and fell in the gentle breeze. "Mia....what's wrong with you? What have they done to you?!"
Mia furrowed her brow and gave him that look again. That awful look that gave him the impression that she thought he wasn't exactly playing with a full deck. "What's wrong with me, Sage? Honestly....what's gotten into you? And who in heck are 'they'?" She asked, beginning to sound frustrated as she turned to go back into the house, leaving the door open for him. She obviously expected him to fallow.
"...Mia..." His frustration was intensifying. He fallowed her quickly to the door, the grass underneath him crunching under his hard, metallic bulk. As he approached the dark entrance he was stopped by a flicker of movement through the air in front of him. A butterfly, so delicate, as if folded from paper, rose from one of the plots of bright flowers by the house, unsettled by his presence, and flew so startlingly close to him that its glossy wing almost brushed against his cheek. Vibrant violets, blues, greens and pinks shimmered and danced against the sky, reminding him of an origami character being blown away in the wind. He held his breath as he watched it madly flutter away across the field of emerald waves, as if each beat of its fragile wings was a desperate struggle between life and death...
And he fallowed Mia into the darkness.
When he stepped across the threshold of the house he found that it was not nearly as dark as it had appeared from outside, and he wondered how the shadows could have been so tenebrous when he had stood directly in front of the window. But on second thought, he couldn't even recall ever looking inside.
The atmosphere had also shifted when he entered the house. The becalming warmth had turned to a more artificial, subtle cool. A higher strung tension almost.
The interior of the small house was much like what he had somehow expected, but perhaps exaggerated. He found he was right in guessing that the inside couldn't have much capacity, for it indeed was quite startlingly small, and quite crowded as well. The room was amply lit while having no artificial light sources. Natural light filled the room from not one, but two windows, Sage noticed. Another window, with the same gauzy, white curtains, was on the back wall, and through it Sage could see the towering pinnacles of the Dynasty palaces, far, far in the distance.
Although the decor of the house, which was actually only one room, displayed nothing too out of the ordinary, strange unsettling and unreal were the first words that came to Sage to describe it. He supposed it was because he had never seen a room that exhibited such an obsessive, fantasy-absorbed, aesthetic intricacy as this one did.
The floor was thick with carpeting in some places, and smooth and shiny with white, marbled tiles in others. The base carpeting was plush and white, much like the carpeting in Mia's family mansion back on earth. Artistically laid layers of oriental and lace rugs were spread in some places. The furniture in the room seemed to be arranged in a way that would accommodate a conversation between a small group of people, and Sage's mind reeled into ominous territory trying to imagine what manners of conversing could possibly take place in a place such as this. On one side of the room there were two chairs sitting beside each other. They were fashioned from polished, black stone and upholstered in white satin. On the opposite side of the room, facing the two chairs, there was a large, plush sofa-thing, covered and draped with satin and gauzy fabric, and piled high with pillows trimmed with frills of lace. The wallpaper was lovely. He thought it looked rather victorian, but at the same time, timeless. It was colored in gold, burgundy and rich lavender. The incredible intricacies of the alien-botanical design repeated over and over across the walls. Throughout the room, against every wall, there were shelves and tables displaying such an array of things that they registered only slowly in Sage's mind. There were statuettes. Demons, mythical creatures, and monsters, all grinning or scowling at him. There were dolls. Ones from all corners of the world, and beyond. From oriental to victorian to eerie voodoo and fetish dolls. And there were many he couldn't even begin to place. There were other objects as well. Stones and jewels. Dingy white bones, including a spinal column displayed upon a table top. A coiled snake that he almost thought was real untill he realized it was only taxidermy....or a very realistic facsimile. He was confronted with a jumbled array of faces and images. So many of them. He thought of a puzzle. Something he was meant to piece together....or something he was meant to find amongst all this. Inside the house there were also large, gauzy drapes that were dirty white and pale yellow. They hung by the windows and from the tops of some of the larger display cases. They looked old and dead and eternally serene. They exuded the very essence of decay, and through them filtered lazy beams of sunlight. The house had appeared to be two stories high, but Sage noted the absence of a staircase. The room was a mix between a decaying victorian parlor, reinvented for an undefinable time or place, and the interior of a giant dollhouse.
Sage noticed the door had been closed behind him and had a sudden yearning to be outside again. With the languid heat, and the distant windchimes, and the wide open space.
His no-datchi was still hanging limp in his hand, the tip touching the carpet. He briefly considered putting it down, but something made him want to hang on to it, as if putting it down would be a very bad idea.
"Mia, you have to listen to me," Sage urged, watching her watching him. She acted as if there was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. "You're not yourself. Maybe you're being controlled...I dont know. But this...none of this is right," he said, indicating their surroundings.
Mia gave him that funny look yet again. "Sage dear, if anything around here is 'not right', it's you" She scowled at him, starting to look genuinely concerned. "Now just sit down and relax. Tell me what's up.....Tea?"
"Do you want some tea?"
Sage said nothing.
"You'd better have some," she said, turning to a very small, round table. Upon it was a silver tray with a delicate china tea set.
She was turned away from him now, letting him concentrate fully on the room once more.
His eyes came back to the dolls. Something was nagging at him about the mass of faces. Something he had seen. Something subliminal that had triggered a small reaction. The display shelf closest to him was made of glass but draped in blood red velvet. There were many oriental dolls on this one. He scanned them, trying to study each one individually.
There were kabuki figurines, and pale porcelain ladies dressed in kimonos, and dolls in samurai armor......so familiar.....the ones in samurai armor....
He couldn't believe he stared at them for so many seconds before realization finally hit.
The first one he noticed was Ryo....then Kento....Kayura....Dais....Cye....there they were, all slumped dejectedly against one another.
No....oh God no....
Warning flags were triggered in his head. Every fiber of his body screamed red hot danger. His mouth went dry and his heart seemed to sink to his stomach. Something was terribly wrong here.
There was no Sage doll. He wasn't among them....nor was Rowen....or Sekhmet....or Cale....the set was incomplete.
Why are we missing? Why only them....oh God, why only them!?
Somewhere in the distance, through a haze, he could hear tea being poured into fragile china cups.
As he stared at the five little dolls something deep inside of him was trying to tell him the truth. He knew why some were missing. He knew but he didn't want to acknowledge it. He didn't want to even consider that it could be true.
Their tiny painted faces were so tortured, frozen that way forever. Their jeweled eyes twinkled as if wet with tiny tears.
Kento and Ryo....and now the others have joined you....
With a trembling hand he found himself reaching out for the nearest doll. The Kento doll. Although utterly inanimate, its dismayed little face seemed to be calling out to him. Pleading for help almost.
Reaching out to it....picking it up. It was the only thing he could think of that might alleviate the tortured expressions. The only way to understand a piece in the puzzle. Standing and staring certainly wasn't going to help.
As he extended his hand, time seemed to move in slowmotion. He felt as though he was fighting a force that was attempting to push away his trembling fingers. Reaching through a invisible barrier of gravity. During this time he heard no sound. He sensed nothing. He felt detached. All he saw was his armored hand....and the waiting doll.
Finally his fingers slipped around the doll's small body, his armor scraping as it slid against the porcelain. As he lifted it from the rumpled velvet its body went limp in his hand. Its little armored legs dangled lifelessly. Its head was lolled to one side, and one of its arms drooped over his thumb. He felt like he was holding a real living being. So tiny and fragile. He could almost feel the warmth of its body heat and the tiny, rythmic thump of its heartbeat through the armor that covered his hand.
His hand must have been trembling more than he thought, for as soon as he lifted the Kento doll away from the display shelf it slipped from between his fingers. Maybe it was the shock of actually holding it that had made him drop it.
He sharply drew in his breath as his eyes fallowed its journey to the ground. And with a sickening shattering noise, he watched it explode across the floor.
Its head seperated from the body and shattered completely, the two little horns on top of the helmet were the only things that stayed intact. Several of the limbs severed in the same way. A shattered arm slid across marble. The bulk of the body broke into several jagged pieces, some which shattered to hundreds of tinier shards, scattering them across the floor.
Sage's immediate thoughts were horrible, disturbed and grotesque, and he could barely stand the sight of Kento's decimated body. Bits of orange and white and black, all mixed together. All wrong. Two little brown jewels amongst the rubble.
Oh God, what have I done?!
But as soon as the doll cracked open, the atmosphere of the room seemed to momentarily change. He involuntarily gasped as a flicker of something....almost visual....almost tangible, passed through him and away, rising above the house. The ephemeral sensation was warm and friendly. Made of pure energy. Sage looked down at the shattered pieces of porcelain on the floor. It was as if the strange flicker had been released.....released from the doll when it broke...
Sage had been aware of Mia's reaction when the doll had first struck the ground. He found it quite odd. She had jerked and tensed, frozen. Her breathing grew heavier, and although he couldn't see her face, she seemed to be absolutely seething. She seemed not only startled by the sound of the shattering doll, she seemed disturbed. Evidently, she had felt the fleeting flicker of that familiar something as well, and it only seemed to disturb her further. He heard her sharply draw in her breath in reaction to its sudden presence.
Sage watched her with vigilance as an enlightening fact that had been buried all along only now began to surface within him. It now seemed so obvious, and he wondered how he, of all people, had failed to realize it sooner.
Mia seemed to relax a bit. She let her muscles untense and looked up at the ceiling, as if searching for something. Her breathing was still curiously heavy.
Sage now knew why his subconscious had told him to hold on to his no-datchi. He lifted it from the ground and poised it at Mia's back. The tip of the blade grazed her flesh, just shy of drawing blood. Mia felt the tickle of cold metal and froze once more. Not in a way that gave the impression she was at all tense, but that her full concentration was now on Sage. She still didn't turn to look at him.
"Tell me Mia," Sage began, keeping the blade against her back, forcing her to stand still.
She turned her head to the side a bit, but not enough for him to see her face. She was listening....waiting.
"Tell me....when you dream, do you ever feel that...unsettling sensation, that point of realization where the wrongness just all begins to fall into place....and suddenly you know....you know it's all a dream....you know it's not right....Do you ever feel that, Mia?"
He let silence hang in the air.
"...Or do demons dream?...Mia."
She lowered her head. The silence was deafening as he waited for her response. It was overwhelming. He could physically feel the tension, growing dense in the air.
"No.....dreams are worlds created by humans. Demons don't need to dream." She spoke so matter-of-factly. So bluntly, as if she was not at all surprised by his question. And this only terrified him.
She finally turned around to face him. She had no regard for the blade at her back, and Sage instinctively moved it away, not wanting to harm her.
Their eyes met, and almost against his will he took a step backwards. Her expression was one that Mia would never wear. There wasn't a trace of naiveness left in her features, and it held a drastically different kind of knowledge. A terrifying kind of knowledge. And the eyes....the eyes are windows into the soul, and what he saw in the depths of her glassy brown pools was definately not Mia. He wanted desperately to turn away, but he found himself mesmerized, frozen in a moment of hair-raising fear.
She finally averted her eyes, setting him free. She was looking at the shattered remains of the Kento doll and shaking her head. She looked angry.
She knelt beside the mess of cracked porcelain. "Look what you've done," She said, breathing the words in a furious whisper. "Look what you've done!"
She seemed not only angry at him, but angry at herself, and she now seemed to not even acknowledge his presence. "How did this happen...?" She asked herself distantly. "I could almost feel it slip through my fingers....and away..."
Sage got the distinct impression that she was talking about the mysterious flicker of energy, but what she meant he did not know. The implications of her words left him with a disturbed, queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach.
"Well....I suppose it was getting too easy anyway," She said, turning her eyes, dark and possessed, once more on Sage.
Sage lowered his blade to her forehead. The eyes had prompted him to do it. "Enough....enough with the charade," he hissed through clenched teeth.
She only stared at him with those big brown eyes that had stared at him so many times before, in that other state of reality that now seemed so far away. What was the real Mia doing right now? What was she feeling? Oh, how she must be worrying. How long had she been worrying?....But those eyes, they had never stared at him like this before. Their sheer power threatened to dissolve him. It was like gazing into the vast night sky, and without wanting to, seeing all that lay beyond. All that the darkness really did hide. Seeing all the terrors you never wanted to know existed.
Out of the corner of his eye he noticed something on the ground, and he looked down. Horror overcame him as he saw what was happening to the jagged pieces of porcelain that once had been the Kento doll. The pieces seemed to be melting. Melting into something utterly unnatural. The broken bits were liquifying into a thick, black goo. The pieces that had landed on the carpet seeped in and stained the white with its wicked essence. Sage immediately thought of dark red, staining white sheets....The melting pieces of doll on the marble tiles formed into non-reflecting pools of unfeasibly dark ooze, like liquid shadows. He felt sick and disembodied as he watched with lurid fascination.
She rose to her feet. Her movement this time was beyond merely graceful, it lacked any trace of human difficulty.
"I said....end this charade." He could hear his voice cracking as the monster in front of him became more and more apparent with each passing moment.
She stepped away from him, and her metamorphosis began. Sage watched as he moved himself cautiously to the other side of the room. And when the process was complete he found that he hadn't been able to pick out the exact moment, or the steps in the process, of her physical morphing. The change was quick and subtle, yet the transformation was drastic.
He hadn't known exactly what to expect. Looking at her, he thought back to when he had been bound in chains, held captive in Talpa's palace, and realized who this one was. The demon woman with the horrible eyes that had stood next to Talpa. What was her name?....Azrael. That was it.
She had looked almost pretty then. Almost human. In front of him now, she looked like she belonged on one of the shelves, on display amongst the dolls. She would be one of the ones that seemed to belong to no place or time. An alien ornament. She wore a shiny, black material that also seemed to be one with her skin. It covered every inch of her lithe body, right down to the tapered points of her spidery fingers. Silver segments of armor, again without earthly origin, covered her in some places. Her pallid face was like a mask, impassive black and white. He imagined that if he touched it, it would be cold, hard and smooth. Her eyes were blackholes. Passages to nothingness. A row of dots arced above each empty eye, and below them spilled tears of ebony.
The way the demon moved....it was fascinating and mesmerising. Like a shadow. She moved like a shadow. Her darkness liquidly sliding through the room, and, if his eyes weren't playing tricks on him, bending across the objects she crossed. She herself was like a blackhole, her presence alone like a rift in time and space, tearing apart and absorbing all that she touched. Where she stood, she was all that existed.
She had moved herself nearer to the remaining dolls, as if guarding them.
"And I suppose you want to kill me now?" Asked Sage.
"I dont think it would make much of a difference one way or the other..." answered Azrael. The voice was the one from Talpa's palace. It hadn't changed.
"You killed Ryo and Kento....and you killed the others too," he said, motioning towards the dolls. He hadn't planned on those being his next words. They simply came out in a moment of fury and sadness.
"Death is such a subjective thing to you humans. It is so hard to kill you in totality. To completely annihilate your soul. Killed is not the word you meant to say."
He watched her, but only on a superficial basis. He feared looking too deeply.....look at the window but don't look inside.....She seemed so unreal. He watched for signs that she was breathing. There were none.
"So their souls are still alive....but the plans you have for them are far worse than death, i'm sure of that. And that is all that matters to me," He said.
"Oh yes, their souls are in great agony, I assure you." She seemed to relish telling him this. She wanted to make him suffer.
"Where are their bodies?" He hissed, trying to ignore the demons words. He knew she was right, and to know they suffered so terribly tore him apart inside. Hope now seemed like barely a glimmer in the distance.
"I dont know where their bodies are. They're around here somewhere..."
"What do you mean you don't know?" He asked dubiously. "How could you not know?"
For seveal seconds she only looked at him as if reluctant to speak so freely. Her icy darkness, embellished with a smile, threatened to penetrate his soul. Her expression told him of so many secrets and so many answers, all inside of her, so close yet so far. He knew she would only tease him with cryptic hints.
"Our game is a chaotic structure," she began at last. "Or if we wish, it can become simply complex, but in the present it is generated quite spontaneously, and is constantly suseptible to manipulation. There needn't be much planning, so I, for one, have forgotten the bodies of your friends amongst the flow of chaos. But I told you, they are here."
So many questions raced through his head. And so many emotions. So much fear and anger and desperation. But he buried it. Ignored it. Forced it all into deep recesses of his mind. Just for now. There was too much he needed to know. Desperately needed to know. And he hadn't a clue where to begin or what to say.
"But how can you possibly be so powerful?" He asked. "Where do you come from that can distort reality so far beyond the laws of magic? You're nothing like those from the Youja-Kai....I don't even know if that is where we are anymore....please....I need to know." He could hear his voice growing meak in the face of such a demonic presence.