For your information, I hate the way this site won't allow me to format. When I skip a line or don't skip a line is relevant, thank you very much. For a less format-challenged version, you might want to see the version I have on livejournal, on the Tales of Hearts community.
Warnings for this chapter: blood, itty gritty details, and swearing. Some action before the next chapter's angst.
Once more, my beta is unavailable, so any mistakes are my own.
Chapter 1: Bonds of Darkness
"I'm really sorry! When you fell to the ground like that I thought your wings had messed up or something. There's been a strange disease going around recently, and people's wings have been breaking without any explanation… I'd never have guessed you could actually fly!"
Kohak laughed. This boy was really nice after all, and she regretted hitting him. But really, it wasn't her fault he'd managed to grab her at the wrong place when she landed.
"You can fly too, can't you?"
"Yes but I need wings for that. You can fly without them! That's so cool!"
It was strange, being suddenly so friendly with someone, especially someone her age. Back on Duhr, there had been no children their age to grow up with, and the adults treated them with a mix of respect and pity, never forgetting their heritage.
"Anyway my name's Shing. You?"
"Oh, I'm Kohak. And this-"
"D'you really think we're gonna introduce ourselves after you manhandled my sister?"
She rolled her eyes. Her brother could really go overboard when he got protective. Not that she really blamed him -she had been too young to remember their flight, and the only memories she had of their mother were feelings, warmth and songs from the months before, but Hisui had been old enough to live through this nightmare like the hell it was, and it seemed the urgency had never left him- but his attitude ended up making them more conspicuous instead of allowing them to blend in. In the end, it was making their travels more risky, which in turn made him even more nervous.
And this Shing boy really seemed to be a nice person.
"This is Hisui, my older brother."
"What? He's nice, and he did try to help us! Besides, we need help to find this Zeks person."
Shing was looking at her with curious eyes, head tilted slightly to the side.
"You know him?"
"He's my grandfather. You really came here by accident? You're awfully lucky!"
She could feel the distrust radiating from Hisui like taintcloud waves.
"Why should we believe you?"
"Well don't if you want! But he is. And he's teaching me all he knows about magnus, so there! There isn't a man in the sky who can use them better than him!"
"You looking for a fight?"
She elbowed her brother, walking in front of him to take the situation back in hand. Shing blinked for a second, apparently surprised by her casual display of violence, then smiled at her as he remembered who he was talking to.
"That's why we're looking for him. We learnt something important and we need his help. Do you know where he is? Please?"
"Something important? Really? What?" Then at her hesitant look he caught himself and grinned. "Well let's go look for him, you can tell us when we're all together, right? He's off fishing with the men of the village, we can go catch him at the main docks! Are you coming?"
There was a light in his smile that seemed to dissipate the relents of mud and purple clouds, a warmth that she used to think only came from fire but that she was starting to associate to the sun.
But as she turned to follow him she felt a strange presence, as if something cold and invisible was trying to put a barrier between him and them. It felt like slush against her neck, and she shivered.
It was strange, to be able to have fun and chat with people his age. Even if one of them was trying his best to ignore him.
Ever since they had moved to Diadem he had lived alone with his grandfather, in their house on the banks of the Lesser Celestial River. While he went to Nashira with Zeks on a regular basis, he had been home-schooled, and interacted little with the children of the village. He had tried to make friends at first, but the first time he had come home angry and upset after being bullied, Zeks had raged out, come home looking more worried than ever, and told him that the children there were too nasty for a boy like him and that he should just stay at home unless he was with him.
Those two are suspicious.
He could feel the possessive presence brushing his shoulders, could nearly feel the glare.
You say that of everybody. They're very nice!
Even the boy who threatened you?
He's just protecting his sister! That's so cool actually! I wish I had an older brother.
The touch on his mind snorted.
Siblings are annoyances. They're nothing but a pain.
Did you have siblings?
I don't need to have them. I know.
There was no point in arguing with him, especially when he was being aggressive. Personally, Shing found the two of them pretty cool, and Kohak was definitely a nice girl, and pretty. He did his best to keep clean of the waves of disgust coming from his guardian. If they had a secret, well they had a right to. He had one too after all.
That's right. Let them keep their stupid secret, talk with Zeks and leave. We have our own secret.
He shook his head, smiling. Sometimes he really didn't understand how Creed worked. He was nice to him, protective, but he seemed so angry against the world. And even when it came to Shing, he would often stick to his own views and decisions rather than let himself be persuaded. Often Shing just went along. Creed was his friend, and a part of him, and when they were alone it didn't hurt to humour him. The warmth he would feel from the often too-cold soul was worth it. But sometimes he had to draw the line, especially when interacting with people, and Shing always felt a little bad about contradicting him. Creed had protected him before, after all.
But really, he was stronger now, and could defend himself just fine. And people weren't nearly as bad as Creed believed.
"So, how far is the village?"
He turned to her, grinning.
"About fifteen minutes away from here. You're going to have to fly a lot though. The water's up this time of year, and some of the trail's setting stones are covered. But it's not hard, and it's great fun! Back when I was a kid I'd play here, and try to see how far I could go with my wings without help."
He felt Creed tense and nearly winced.
"Ah. Er… one day Grandpa found me right in time. I was going to fall into the water." He pouted. "I was grounded for a week after that. Grandpa is too strict."
Kohak chuckled, but from Creed's perception sharing his mind, he knew that Hisui was frowning even more now. That made him feel bad. He wanted to be friends with them, not make them suspicious. It wasn't his fault Creed didn't want other people to know he was there.
He gave them his best grin, and led them on the shallow stone path into the meanders of the Lesser Celestial River.
There was something wrong with that kid.
It was a gut feeling, his own version of the premonitions that sometimes woke his sister in the night. He felt uneasy around him, and it wasn't just protectiveness. Something about his smile itched at the back of his mind, warned him that this seemingly innocent kid was more than he appeared to be.
He started to fear that his own sense of danger was related to the vision that had brought them there. But Kohak hadn't mentioned a boy, just a man with red hair and a sorceress with wings of metal.
They needed him to find Zeks. But as soon as that was done, he wanted to be away from the kid. Any outsider was a liability, and they had a mission to achieve.
To be honest, he'd rather have left the job to someone else. But Kohak had had the vision, and she would have left on this trip to "save the world" with or without him. She had inherited that power from their mother, and so she'd made its handling a personal matter. But their power was only really complete when the two of them were together, vision of the future allied with perception of the present.
They didn't need anyone else, especially not happy go lucky kids from the islands. Back home they had powerful magicians who would help them if they asked for assistance. What mattered most right now was speed and discretion, to find out what exactly going on and who was responsible.
It was about time, too. On their way they had come across people whose hearts were slowly being sucked dry, their wings faltering and their spirits broken. If someone was feeding on hearts, they had to know how, and fast.
There was some good to this trip, though. Kohak, who had always been restless, seemed happy now that she had a goal. And right now she was laughing, although he would have preferred it if it hadn't been at that idiot. She balanced herself on the currents of magic and glided over the river, following the boy who was rushing ahead with his strange black and white wings, coming and going like an overeager fluffpup. He sighed and was going to follow them when his sense of danger flared and he caught sight of a glint of metal.
He just had time to tackle Kohak to the side before a ray of dark light blew up the ground over which she had been hovering a second before, blasting Shing into the rock and them into the river.
Before he even had time to register why he was suddenly against a wall of broken rock, Shing felt a suffocating wave of aggressiveness flare from his spirit. His head hurt and his eyes were unfocused, but Creed's senses were functional, sharpened by rage. Through his dazed vision he fought to locate Kohak and Hisui, and with a blink he finally saw a figure in green and white clinging to a rock in the river, fighting against the current. Kohak was nowhere to be seen.
Forget them! We have to get out of her way!
But Kohak and Hisui-
She was after them. Didn't you see? It's the girl she aimed at.
He hesitated for half a second before Creed cried out a warning and another blast barely missed him. He turned to face their opponent, trying to think straight through his fear and Creed's anger.
Their attacker was a woman, tall and cold, silver hair cut strictly across her neck. He gasped as he say her wings -they were made of metal, and beat slowly as if they had been real flesh, keeping her in the air above him. She advanced on him slowly, and Shing stayed frozen.
Her red eyes narrowed.
"Another of those meddlesome sorcerers? You won't stop me."
Behind him he heard a splash and a cry. Hisui's arms had given in and he'd fallen into the water.
Without thinking he turned his back on the woman with metal wings and sped through the air and river foam as fast as his wings could take him. Behind him rock and water rose as she attacked once again. He located Hisui, half sunk in the current, and swiped down to grab his arm. It took all his strength to drag him to the bank in time to dodge the next attack. Hisui didn't have the advantage of two sets of senses and well-oxygened lungs, though. He was coughing up water, trying to breathe. Shing could see the woman readying her next attack, and there was no doubt she would hit her target.
He charged at her.
Idiot! What are you doing?
A well-placed explosion pushed her to the side as she fired, angling her blast energy away from Shing's path. He turned in surprise, and nearly cried in relief as he recognised his grandfather.
"Shing! Get out of there!"
Zeks's voice was tenser than he had ever heard it, and his eyes never left the enemy.
"She's not using any magnus. You can't fight against this kind of power, Shing. Get out! Grab the boy and run, get out of Nashira, and don't come back unless I contact you!"
The woman attacked once more. Zeks blocked with a set of shields, consolidating it with an aura. Shing swallowed. He knew Zeks only had a limited number of those. He wouldn't last long if he stayed on the defensive.
He kept back a sob and flew back, landing near Hisui.
Just leave him!
He grabbed Hisui by the arm.
"Hurry! We have to find Kohak!"
Hisui blinked, but didn't talk back. To Shing's relief he just nodded, coughed, and rose above the ground, gliding faster and faster until both he and Shing were rushing above the river.
They nearly crashed into Kohak. She appeared across a turn in the riverbed, wet but alive, flying in the opposite direction.
"Shing? Hisui! Are you all right?"
"I'm fine. We have to get out of there."
They turned to him, surprised. He swallowed.
"My Grandpa's out there! I can't leave him behind. I'm going back, you two run."
He turned once again and sped towards the fight, his fear growing with every sound he could hear above the hoarse song of the river.
Shing! Turn back! Zeks can handle this, you have to get away.
"I'm not leaving him!"
Damnit listen to me!
"Shing! I'm going with you!"
Kohak caught up with him, Hisui following behind her and obviously not agreeing with her plan. He smiled in gratefulness, then turned back to face the path.
They reached the fight just in time to see Zeks hit by a shockwave of darkness. Shing cried out in horror and sped forwards, catching him before he hit the ground. Behind him he heard the sound of magnus being whipped out, and a ray of light burnt its way past him and towards the woman.
Zeks was bleeding, his stomach torn and one of his eyelids crushed. His breathing was harsh and irregular, and Shing gasped, the sudden intake of air burning his lungs.
Creed, what do we do?
There's nothing to do. Those idiots will never stop her, and neither of us can heal. Food is not going to fix something like this.
Kohak screamed and fell. Shing only had time to turn before the woman was on him, readying yet another blast.
He set Zeks on the floor and tried to fly away, but he was too tired, and panic slowed his reactions. Within ten seconds of dodging he was cornered, his opponent closing the distance slowly, certain of her victory.
"I won't let meddlers come between me and the opponents of Creation. No matter their age."
NO YOU DON'T, YOU BITCH!
His heart imploded.
Suddenly all of the rage and fear he could feel from Creed concentrated and burst, radiating out of him in dark, thick waves. His wings blazed, white hot at his back, casting hard, blinding grey light on the scene, turning his vision black and white. The woman flinched back, shielding her eyes.
Shut up, SHUT UP!
Darkness bled from him, sliding across the ground and pooling at her feet, reaching up to ensnare her. For a few shocking seconds he could hear her choking, and then she screamed. Just as he thought she would collapse the ground at her feet exploded. She'd blasted free of the spell, using her apparently invisible weapon.
Shing collapsed to his knees, suffocated by the hate flowing through him, as she fell into the river and was swept away.