I woke up to a field full of bodies.
They were my partners in this mission, going to the Cero village. Jade, Lana, Abigail, and all her followers were dead. As I stood up, their soulless lumps of flesh attempted to pull me in. It was strange… I knew it was a night terror, and the sight was gruesome, but this dream was different. I felt at peace despite how horrifying all of this was. When I turned to my right in this dark world, I could see purple trees and darkness rising from the grass. In the distance, a symbol I knew well etched into my mind suddenly.
Vampirism channels spectrum for the user to use at a later time. It will pull the life out of a person for your desire. The circle represents entrapment. The dot represents the one entrapped by the user.
I walked over the corpse around me, stepping on faces and limbs while silently apologizing to them. But I was drawn to the symbol of vampirism. As if the sign stopped feeding for its master and latched on to me.
I felt invigorated knowing what this symbol meant. The horror of the dream subsided, and, in a way, I felt at peace in this disgusting land.
Before I reached the symbol, a creature rose from the bodies I was walking over. When I turned around, it stood about 3 ft taller than me with a skull face and hollowed-out eyes. Around its head down to its human-like legs was a thinly veiled dress made up of what looked like human skin. Its skin dress sleeves were short, revealing purple-black hands with dark slush pouring from its body.
I readied my blade. Unlike how I usually was in my night terrors, I felt I was in control and could defend myself. My sword darkened as the onyx world around us hued a deathly purple. Suddenly, the ground shook, and the bodies around me began to pulsate. Symbols appeared all over their skin, and the spectrum was absorbed from them. The mark of vampirism was all around them.
That’s when I knew what I was looking at. This creature that approached me was one I knew the name of.
“You’re vampirism, aren’t you?”
Marks appeared on its skin dress as it rushed me, stomping on the bodies of my companions. As it approached, spectrum gathered into the monster showing that it was absorbing from the victims below.
I ducked, avoiding its first strike. A massive wave of dark energy danced behind me, destroying the purple trees. The world shook violently, showing the god-like power of its spell. I escaped and distanced myself from the being.
(“That creature is powerful…”)
Darkness rose from below me in the shape of spears. I quickly moved, but one cut my arm…
And I felt the sharp pain and loss of spectrum from my body.
(“What the hell?”)
Until this point, I believed I was sleeping in my night terror. Although it felt like a dream, everything was real, making my breathing labored. A new spell emerged in the form of a sword. It appeared above me and crashed down. I shadow-walked to the side to avoid it at each swing.
(“Every slash is overbearingly powerful! It’s because this creature of the dark is using the power of all these victims, my partners…”)
The gruesome creature’s black slush splashed over Jade and the rest. I could feel their spectrum being drawn for this monster to have dominion over.
I closed my eyes and connected with a piece of myself rooted deep inside. The darkness that brings me closer to death. When I opened my eyes, my irises had a purple glow. I had become closer to death but stronger because of it.
I spun and sliced at the beast. When my blade hit its skin dress, it sounded like I struck metal. Echoes danced out, activating the vampirism symbols on the victim's body. This surge of power all fed back into the creature.
Quickly, I shadow-walked away just as the skull monster unleashed its spell, blasting darkness across the field. I narrowly escaped the powerful blast. Bodies of the victims rag dolled to the side, and some even lost limbs. This monster didn't care for its victims… it just used them for power.
(“I can’t win by battling this creature.”)
Something in me told me that wasn’t what this fight was for. I still felt this ease of warmth despite the scenery and battle’s outcome being so dark and cold.
So I stood tall and put away my weapon.
As if someone was guiding me on what to say, I connected with that symbol still hovered in the sky behind me. The word was etched into my spirit, and I felt like a warm wave washed over me. The creature screeched as it approached me. The sound mirrored that of iron rubbing against each other.
I brought my blade to my arm and sliced it, allowing blood to pour over the remaining victims on the ground. A voice was calling out to me, telling me what to do. As if I was made for the sole purpose of this moment, I understood how I would win.
"I know vampirism on an intimate level. I can feel the flow of energy from each victim you steal from. You may be the bearer of the symbol…."
My heart pounded so hard I wanted to grab it to ensure it didn't escape. I took the blood from my arm with two fingers and put the symbol down on the grass. When I completed it, my blood lit up, and so did all the signs around me.
"You are only the bearer of the symbol. But the dark vessel calls for you to do their bidding."
I could feel the energy of the victims pouring into my body. I’ve never felt this much spectrum flow in my veins as I channeled my spell.
"You're nothing more than a servant! I call you when I need to use the spell, and you open the door! But without me, you have no purpose!"
A portal opened behind me, and I molded the spell I wanted. Black chains emerged from the demonic void behind me, latching vampirism in its grasp. My purple eyes shined brighter than ever.
"You don't have dominion to decide who I want as my victim! I decide that, and you will obey me from here on!"
It was like another person took over my soul, giving me the words to say. It didn't scare me, though…
I felt as though this was how everything was made to be.
The demon screamed that chalky, iron wail, like two machines bashing against one another. I pulled it in, and the void opened up like a vacuum. I used both my hands to wrangle the creature to me. It fought, but my will was imposing. The symbols on its victims lit up with my drive to win.
Everyone who once was taken by vampirism… was my victim. And that was okay as long as I used it to save them…
The world shook like we were in a tornado. I screamed and gave one last push, throwing the skull demon off its feet. It flew above me, and the chains of hell pulled it inside. I watched as the creature fell into the endless darkness.
I heard a faint whisper as it descended to its rightful place.
"Very well, master…."
I watched the demon fall endlessly into the void. Satisfied, I shut the portal and turned to the symbol floating in the sky.
I said to the mark I adored. That warmth basked over me as I turned around and… freed the victims of vampirism. The symbols melted away from their bodies, but before I could see them get up, the world distorted, and I opened my eyes.
I woke up from the night terror. I was curled up on the grass far way from the others. My chest was burning, and my arm hurt. I checked it, yet there wasn't a mark when I slashed myself in that intense dream. The sun was just beginning to rise, so I would have to return to the group soon. When I stood up, I heard those words again in my head…
"Very well, master…."
It was faint… but I could hear it. As I made my way to the group, I knew one thing was sure…
And that was I broke a piece of that blur hidden inside me. The one Jade could perceive and I wasn't aware of. I felt I got a little stronger and wanted to use my symbols more…
"Where the heck were you?"
When I reached the campsite, Lana was pacing around, waiting for breakfast. They seemed to be cooking some eggs and chicken, a hearty meal for the long day ahead of us.
“Ah… I went off to sleep.”
I was relieved to see her and another Baron member alive and healthy.
Lana looked at me strangely for a good reason. I sat down, and she sat on the side of me. The small barklight watched me curiously. In the faint light, her bright eyes contrasted the early morning.
“What do you mean you went off to sleep?”
Lana demanded an answer. She looked at me a tad suspiciously. I turned to the cook nearby, and even she was curious about it.
“Everyone was curious about why you left last night, Feodora."
The Baron member questioned as she turned her eggs.
"…Well, I have night terrors. So… to not wake anyone up, I… ah… found a more isolated place to sleep."
“Night terrors? What are those?”
Lana innocently asked with a tilt of her head. This was the most interested I'd ever seen her when it came to me. I rubbed the back of my head as I explained.
“Night terrors are basically intense dreams that cause a person to scream… or thrash around at night due to how realistic they are. I… ah… I have them every night. It’s a curse because I’m a dark vessel.”
“What kind of dreams? And… it’s a curse?”
The child asked.
"… Bad dreams, Lana. Very… bad dreams. And yes, all dark vessels have a curse, and mine happens to be night terrors.”
I spoke. The child looked a tad unsettled by what I told her. She looked away slightly.
"I heard light vessels receive things known as "blessings," and they gain superior abilities and things. Ah… you know that girl in town, Vivian Heart, she's a holy vessel."
Lana kicked her feet a bit.
“She’s nice and plays with me sometimes… But comparing her blessing… to your curse… ah… your life must be hard, Feodora.”
Children often say what's on their minds, and Lana was no different. I couldn't say I had the most leisurely life growing up. Having to survive and learn that I wasn't accepted by the world… was a bit hard for me to swallow as a kid who… did want to play with others. But my curse showed me that I was supposed to separate myself from others…
The Baron member nodded and returned to the meal. An awkward silence fell upon us as we sat there, waiting for the food to be ready. The young barklight put her hands on her thighs and looked at me. She reminded me of a cat as she warily observed me.
“Listen… ah… Feodora.”
She began. Lana pushed out her feet and sat up properly.
“…Sorry for being a jerk that day when we first met.”
I was surprised as I sat up.
"My big sister was in a bad mood that day… and I really wanted to make her happy. Your weapon exuded the dark element, and I… really wanted to give it to her as a gift."
I thought about that day when we met at the shopping district. She seemed to be doing something "good" for her older sister in her eyes. Lana maybe isn't used to not getting her way. She threw money at me and figured it was the "right" thing to do. That showed me how she was raised. That status and money can solve everything...
“No… your big sister explained to me. I forgive you.”
"I just want to be a good sister, but… I screwed up a lot. I'm not sure… why she keeps me around."
“Young master, don’t say things like that.”
The cook said as she gave Lana a warm smile.
"You're right. I shouldn't think like that…."
The barklight stood up and walked over to me. I had to look up at Lana, which was strange because it's usually the other way around.
“One of my best friends is missing… and I want to get her back. Ah… would you… ah… please help me?”
She was tearing up as she pleaded. Maybe it was getting to her, the feeling of not being as strong as her sister as she begged.
“Yeah, that’s why I’m here in the first place, Lana.”
“I-I’ve been worried about her, and I… I really want to play baseball with her again. She’s one of the only friends I have… Precis and… Marable are the only two who treat me… like a normal kid, you know?”
I nodded. Being the little sister of a "goddess," I'm sure there are trickle-down responsibilities and expectations. It would seem that the other kids don’t treat her as an equal but… someone who has to be treated with respect. I imagine they'd "let her win" to please the Pasco family. But when I met Precis, the girl who teased her, they seemed to be genuinely good friends.
“Don’t worry, we’ll find her… ah, Marable is her name?”
Lana nodded so hard that the drills on her head began to shake like mad.
“T-Thank you… I just really want my friend to be safe. My big sister is also worried about Caesar. He’s been with our family since the day she was born. S-She might not show it, but she’s worried to death about her friend.”
Lana turned to the large tent holding the goddess inside.
“He’s a really good person and… I don’t know what we’d do if something bad happened to him. Everyone who left on the pilgrimage is great friends to us…."
All of Lana's worries seem to be coming to a head. Just yesterday, she wouldn't say a word to me… but now it appears that she's beginning to see me as an ally rather than a foe. So, I gave her a calm smile. I'm not good with kids, but I know that reassurance is the best I can do now.
"You have your big sister, Jade, and me on this case. I doubt anyone will be able to stop us from rescuing your friends."
For a bit, her legs started to shake. She sat down next to me and looked up at me.
“…You’re right. I… I need to have more confidence that everything will be okay.”
Suddenly, the barklight wrapped her arms around my stomach.
“Thank you for coming to help!”
After a brief hug, she stood up and looked at me. Those cherry-colored cheeks made me giggle under my breath. Without waiting for my reply, she ran back into the large tent.
“Ah, young master, the food is almost ready.”
The Baron member teased. She looked at me and tilted her head.
“Seems young master has taken a liking to you.”
I shrugged, brushing off my embarrassment.
“Maybe kids… aren’t too bad.”
After breakfast, we packed up and made our way back onto the open road. The sun rose slowly, casting a blue tone across the world. We had the same formation as yesterday, with Abigail in the middle. However, Lana stood next to me this time, close to her sister, and I was on edge.
“Right over the mountain trail is the Cero Village.”
The goddess said to the group.
"Once we arrive, the first thing is to get all the information we can. Stay vigilant, and don't go off alone."
The group cried back words of acceptance as we made our way up the mountain path. There was a wide opening that led to a village. The housing wasn’t like in the Radiant City. Everything was made of wood and seemed to be beaten down by the elements.
Jade spoke as she ran in front. We all rushed after her and followed her deeper into the collection of housing. People were on the ground. There had to be around 30 or so of them sprawled about the village. Windows were broken, and houses collapsed. Men, women, and children were in horrible positions; whoever did this had no bias.
“Everyone, get to aiding!”
But I heard a voice, and it revealed the truth.
“Don’t touch them!”
I cried out.
But the Baron member ignored my command. Annoyed, I used my shadow walking to dance through the shades cast by the buildings. When I appeared before her, I put my hands out.
“I said, stop!”
The nurse huffed at me.
The nurse scoffed at me even though I may have saved her life.
"Vampirism! These people suffer from spectrum sickness due to the curse of vampirism!"
Jade ran up to me and stood beside me.
“What do you mean, Feodora. Explain to everyone what’s going on.”
“Feodora, do you know what’s happening?”
I went over and touched the body. Just as I assumed, I wasn't affected by what was happening because my resistance to the dark spectrum was higher than everyone here.
“I believe so.”
I said to Abigail.
“Sorry, I’m going to have to remove your clothing.”
I apologized to the woman who was affected. Over her body was that symbol, vampirism. I felt it coming into the village, but that confirmed it. My body was more in-tune with the curse.
“What the hell?!”
Jade looked at it, then looked at me.
“It’s a symbol of the dark arts. Do you know what this means, Feodora?”
"Yes, I know this symbol and its meaning, Jade.”
Jade gathered everyone around to hear what I had to say. All the attention was getting to me, but I… sighed deeply and did my best to explain.
“Vampirism channels spectrum for the user to use at a later time. It will pull the life out of a person for your desire. The circle represents entrapment. The dot represents the one entrapped by the user.”
I explained, pointing at the symbol.
"If any of you touch a body here, that symbol will attach to you, and you'll become another victim of the dark vessel doing this."
I could see a few barons back up for a good reason.
“What about you, Feodora?”
“I should be fine with my resistance to level 2 darkness. This symbol has no control over me.”
“Do you think you can break these seals, Feodora?”
In the past, I would have said no… but in my heart, as if a chain broke off, freeing a bit of power from inside, I confidently nodded.
“I think I can, Abigail. But I want you all to back up, just in case.”
Lana and the others did as I asked. Even Jade was a good way away from me. I touched the woman’s body where the symbol was.
(“I can feel that the dark vessel who did this is still around…”)
I closed my eyes.
(“Breaking these seals might alert them… but keeping them on might kill these people.”)
My eyes turned that horrid purple, and my hands pushed spectrum into the symbol. It briefly battled my cancelation spell, but I cracked the symbol. It burned away, and I could feel this woman was safe.
“I broke the vampirism spell!”
I called out, a tad excited. With a cough, I calmed myself down and rubbed the back of my head.
“Great work! I knew you could do it.”
Jade smiled, although I felt as though she was teasing me.
The knight turned to the group.
"Feodora and I will go around, find the people of Cero Village, and break their symbols. The rest of you help get them to a shelter and cure their spectrum sickness."
Like the leader she was, Jade commanded. Everyone, Abigail included, did as they were told. As we walked around, we found people of all ages. Children to the elderly, and nobody who was being used by vampirism was spared.
"I'm putting down a light signature, showing everyone that this person is okay to touch."
Jade explained as she put down a light spell. It lit up next to the victim, a smart way to ensure that nobody gets caught by the vampirism spell. Once we gathered all the people, we all came together for another briefing.
“We need a group to stay behind and treat these victims.”
Jade ordered, and a few members volunteered to stay behind, splitting our numbers by a few.
Abigail turned to me and questioned me further.
“Do you think the people who did this are still around?”
"Yes, the one who did this has to be around to keep the vampirism spell going."
“Are you telling me the culprit is still in the Cero Village, Feodora?”
The “goddess” put her finger to her chin.
"This is horrible…."
"With everything prepared here… it's time we look for the missing Baron and find the person doing all this."
Jade said. I nodded.
“Feodora, would it be possible for you to do something like this alone?”
Abigail asked a good question.
“Yeah… it would be.”
I confessed. With my hand on my hip, I explained.
“This spectrum is fairly weak. It’s not producing much darkness. The symbol itself is what’s really doing all the hard work.”
I bent down to the child and showed everyone her belly, where her symbol was.
“Right now, the symbol is draining her spectrum. All the culprit is doing is feeding one symbol the ability to do that. All the others are essentially replicating that same spell amongst themselves."
Jade crossed her arms.
“Do you know where they are feeding the spectrum?”
"It's like what happened in the abandoned ruin. The symbol was feeding another source, which turned out to be a beast, Jade."
I explained as I covered the small girl’s stomach. I stood up and faced the three of them.
“All of the spectrum is being fed underneath us… deep underground.”
I concluded. Abigail nodded as she stepped to the side.
“There are underground ruins in Cero. It’s where they worship their deity, Annaba. If someone is drawing spectrum in there, then there has to be something larger going on here.”
Jade put her hand on her hips.
“If I go by my previous investigation… it’s likely the culprit is feeding this spectrum to a beast. And if it’s been going on for this long… there's likely something massive underneath us, and we have to be prepared to take it out."
She turned to the group of Barons.
"We are going to have a fight ahead of us. It's likely your people are being held captive below. I won't say this will be easy, so prepare for battle!"
Like the warrior she was, Jade brought out her sword.
"Everyone, follow my lead, and I'll lead us to victory!"
The knight cried. Everyone began to cheer battle cries… and even I was getting into it. Jade Opal was a leader in every sense of the word. Abigail stepped in.
"Alright, 5 of you will stay and aid the Cero village people. I need 7 of you with me. Jade, Feodora, and Lana are coming with me to find the culprits who did this. We will find our friends and family and take them back!"
Members cried out, cheering on their beloved goddess. We followed Abigail at her command as she led us to the worship grounds. We ventured into the nearby forest. One of the followers took the lead and led the way as we made our way through a thick jungle. When we reached a clearing, we approached a large monument that towered up to the heavens.
“Is this what we’re looking for?”
I questioned. Abigail nodded.
“Yes, this is the temple of Annaba. When we step inside, a pathway will lead us underground. Let's be cautious as we proceed from here on out."
We approached and made our way inside. It was dark, and Jade and a few other barons had to make themselves a light using the fire spectrum. Before we disappeared into the walls of the Annaba Ruins, I turned around and looked outside.
I caught eyes with her… the woman that attempted to slice off my neck.
She stood under a large tree that cast its shadow on the earth. With short orange hair and a black uniform that reminded me of a soldier, the devil smiled, taunting me. Those cold purple eyes that became one with the darkness cut into my skin…
The user of the destructive versions of shadow crafts... just like me.
“Who are you?”
I murmured as I attempted to run after her, but she vanished into the shadows. She was shadow walking, and I melted to do the same but suddenly stopped. The large door of the ruins we stepped through made a clicking noise, and the contraption caused the door to slam in front of me. Everyone turned around, surprised.
"I expected this…."
Jade said as she got the attention of everyone.
"We assumed this would be a trap, so we shouldn't be caught off guard. Stay vigilant. If we are going to save your people, we need to keep level heads."
We turned to the inside of the ruins. Giant steps leading deeper into the ground sat in front of us. I touched my blade…
I knew from this point on… I would be dealing with someone just like me up to the fighting style. Eagerly I walked behind everyone else…
“Maxwell… who is she?”
I whispered, feeling that the culprit behind this might want answers just like me.