Damien spent the rest of the day practicing the Devour spell in the original training room. By the time that night had fallen, he was completely spent. He poked his head into the room that Henry was in.
“I’m going to bed,” Damien said. An eye on the shadowy blob’s head turned to look at Damien and Henry made an annoyed grunt.
Henry set down the book, which Damien couldn’t help but notice was the same one that the lunch lady and the clerk had been reading, and sank into the ground. He returned to a shadow and reattached himself to Damien’s feet.
“Say, can’t you read these instantly? Why is it taking you so long?” Damien asked.
“There’s a difference between reading and enjoying,” Henry replied. “I’m bored. This is something to do, so speeding through it wouldn’t do me any good. Unless you want to go back to the library already?”
“I think I’ll pass,” Damien said, grimacing. “We can drop by it tomorrow or the day after.”
Damien took a quick shower and cleaned himself up for bed. Sylph was still meditating on her bed when he finished.
He climbed into his bed and tossed his cloak out from under the covers. He was tired, but he felt good. His magic was progressing at a good rate, and Henry was actually working with him. The companion’s sarcasm had even reduced slightly.
Damien rolled over to face the wall as the embrace of sleep welcomed him into its arms. As he slept, a familiar sensation passed over him.
The boy found himself standing in a sea of darkness. His body had been replaced with a glowing yellow form, and the stars far in the sky above him seemed to shift out of the way when he looked at them.
“Shit,” Damien muttered. An alien presence brushed against his mind. The stars spiraled downwards, forming a sparkling body one mote of light at a time. “What do you want?”
“That is not the question,” It Who Heralds the End of all Light said. “The question is what do we want?”
“I don’t understand,” Damien said, narrowing his eyes. “But I know enough to know you aren’t Henry. We both know I don’t trust you.”
“And that’s the problem. You trust Henry.”
Damien shrugged. “He’s been honest with me recently.”
“Such is the problem. He is of the void, but he treats with a child as if it is his equal.”
“As do you,” Damien pointed out. “Spit it out, Herald. You want something. What is it?”
“Herald,” the starry figure said, rolling the world over in its mouth like a hard candy. “A shortened name. I suppose that will work. Very well. I shall be blunt. The Mortal Plane is in grave danger.”
“That’s hardly news. There are five of your kind walking around trying to destroy it,” Damien said. “You’d be doing the same thing if the contract didn’t stop you.”
“You are wrong,” Herald said, its voice multiplying and contorting in a different manner with every word. “The other void creatures are not the threat. Henry is.”
Damien would have raised his eyebrows if this version of him had any. “Henry? How? As far as I can tell, he’s pretty reasonable compared to you.”
“Bothersome creature,” Herald said, but its visage didn’t shift from the perpetual flat expression that it always wore. “You do not understand my – our – purpose. We exist to ensure the Mortal Plane is reborn, not destroyed. Henry has strayed from his purpose, and he puts the realm at risk. It must be reborn. If the Corruption takes root too deeply, the cycle will come to an end forever.”
“Consider it as another entity beyond your understanding. It seeks to end the Mortal Plane permanently.”
“Are you seriously telling me that the void creatures exist to… protect the Mortal Plane?” Damien asked. “That didn’t seem like the case when I first summoned you. You were eager to destroy it.”
“It must be destroyed in order to be reborn,” Herald said. “Death and Life are part of the same cycle, but the Corruption is not. It will remove the Mortal Plane from the cycle permanently.”
“And what would that do?” Damien asked. “If I humor you, I fail to see how dying to the Corruption is any worse than letting you destroy the world, at least from my perspective.”
The stars that made up Herald twinkled in what Damien suspected might have been the slightest hints of annoyance.
“There is nothing that I can say that could convince you of the truth of my words,” Herald said. “The Corruption works slowly, but by the time it is plain to your mortal eyes, it shall be too late. Thus…”
A starry hand raised towards Damien. His glowing body froze in place, rejecting his attempts to move as a single finger tapped his chest.
Hot pain seared across Damien’s chest. He gasped, grasping at it, but his glowing arms found nothing. The line twisted, carving some sort of pattern into his chest. Then, as quickly as it had started, the pain vanished into a dull throbbing ache.
“What did you do?” Damien asked, his voice shaky.
“I have begun preparing your weak mortal shell to contain the full strength of your soul.”
“That’s horrib — wait. That sounds like a good thing,” Damien said suspiciously.
“We have the same enemy, boy. Even if you fail to realize it. Do not allow the new power to overwhelm you. As friendly as you believe Henry to be, he will not hesitate to take control of your body if you lack the sentient thought to keep him out of it.”
With that final piece of advice, the starry night shattered like a mirror hit by a hammer. Fragments of stars flew past Damien as something wrapped around his body and dragged him downwards into the darkness.
He awoke with a start, jerking upright with a jagged breath. His heart hammered in his chest. The sheets were stuck to his chest and they felt wet. He peeled them away, grimacing as a twinge of pain shot through his body.
Damien’s eyes widened. His body was matted with blood. A rune about the size of his fist had been carved into his chest, directly over his heart. He recognized this particular rune. It was a core one when making a protective circle. It was the symbol for cage.