Hunting Shadows

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Chapter 36

She did what he said, breathing deeply and feeling the energy of the realm. The wind drifting through the meadow, the expanse of the sky, the animals in the forest, the forest itself – pulsing with life. She could feel the water, lapping gently against the shoreline, waves mixing with the wind to create a salty spray. And then, she felt it for real: the energy of the universe, the lifeblood that connected everything and ran through everything. She gasped and opened her eyes; everything seemed crystalline and microscopically clear. She was also levitating in a white orb of light.

“Whoa; that’s pretty cool.”

She grinned as she clenched and unclenched her fingers, excited to feel the thrum and pulse of life tingling along her skin. JB was smiling at her, but it wasn’t a human smile, it was the reaper’s demonic deathly grin of a rotting skeleton. She could see his full reapers form of black lightning and writhing shadows, a skull dripping with blood and malice. His eyes glowed eerily with blueish red black flames of wrath, Fear and death combined into a macabre image surrounded by decay. Her focus faltered, causing the white orb surrounding her to disappear and she fell back to the ground.

“JB?”

She hated the way her voice squeaked, but she couldn’t help it; terror overwhelmed her and panic clawed at her chest.

She was starting to hyperventilate as nightmares began to surface.

“Breathe, Eryn, Breathe dammit!”

JB was saying something, and he looked human but perception and reality were two very different creatures. Silver claws flashed in the sunlight and he leaned back just in time to avoid getting ripped open by her claws. She was snarling, her teeth bared and eyes the color of yellow quartz.

“Eryn, snap out of it; control your fear.”

JB barked, his voice going low and threatening. It was a few moments as reaper and panther faced off, before sanity seemed to return to her eyes and she made the considerable effort to return to human form. The moment she did, the strain on her mind and the tension in her body snapped. Her eyes rolled back into her head and she collapsed.

“Why did I agree to let you do this?”

JB whispered as he picked her up and brought her back to the tent. He knew she would be out cold for the next several hours. Which gave him enough time that he could check on things in the middle ground and collect the souls of those who had passed on.

JB wasn’t around when she woke up that night, which was both a sadness and relief for her. His true form was terrifying, the very essence and embodiment of terror. Calm your mind, control your fear, your stronger than your fear. She breathed in the cool night air of the hidden realm she was in, feeling the energy that thrummed below the surface. It started with a tingling in her fingertips, growing up and expanding outward until she felt the pulse like a heartbeat. The white orb of energy sizzled and swirled around her.

It wasn’t long before she was able to feel the fiber of every living creature that pulsed with life. It was intoxicating, and thrilling… and then a subtle shift of consciousness, like a snake slithering beneath the grass. She could feel that something was not right in her world. A darkness that bled and screamed out in pain, it was making her edgy, and she could feel it getting closer. White electricity danced over her skin and as she focused her breathing, channeling her energy, she could feel the white electricity dancing across her fingers.

Now she could hear it as well, the silent scuttle of multiple feet in the forest. Fear arced out from the creatures running from it. “I will not be afraid, I’ve fought countless creatures, and I’ve won every single fight.” With her resolve strengthening, she let her body naturally channel the energy around her and allowed herself to become panther. Her fingers became claws tipped in silver, while her ears rounded out and her hearing accentuated, her eyes changed from hazel to a yellow green.

There was a crackling in the air, the scent of metal, death, and decay a moment before JB appeared some ways from where she was standing, facing the forest that surrounded the meadow they were in.

“Welcome back; where were you?”

She didn’t turn around, but knew it was him from the presence she felt. The ground began to shake and she could see the leaves on the trees start to quiver. One more second and the creature was upon them, snapping jaws and dripping fangs. It’s 8 jointed legs gave it an extra speed boost and allowed for higher agility. It’s triple layered glowing red eyes sent chills dancing over her skin as it entered the meadow. Growling low and threatening, the panther wanted to play with its prey before she killed it. She shook the urge to present it to JB afterward away along with every other thought of fear or doubt.

JB still had not joined her when the monster entered the clearing. Nor had he answered her. Just then, the giant spider, spit a glob of greenish mucus at her. Focused back on the creature, she dodged, sidestepping away from the glob. Droplets spattered against her leg and she hissed as it began to burn like acid. New plan, avoid the spit and take out the spider. Ten years worth of training kicked in and she was running toward the edge of the trees, she would need to get to higher ground. The spider continued to spit globs of mucus at her, surprisingly agile with deadly accuracy for something so big.

“Word of advice, don’t touch the body.”

JB’s gravelly voice echoed darkly across the meadow. He continued to watch her, his expression unreadable and his Reaper’s cloak floating around him.

“Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind. Are you going to help me?”

She shot a glare in his direction, but never took her eyes off the spider as she kept running and dodging globs of mucus.

“Can’t.” JB shrugged.

“Why not?”

“It’s your test, I can’t help. Channel the energy. Control your fear.”

Just as he said that, the spider stopped chasing her, a calculating coldness in its six red eyes. She stopped momentarily as well, sizing the monster up and weighing her options. The creatures mouth began clicking, its pincers sliding together and between one heartbeat and the next, it set the globs of acidic spit on fire. Things had just gone from bad to slightly worse, a ring of fire now surrounded her and it was getting uncomfortably hot, uncomfortably fast.

The white electrical current was still dancing across her fingertips. Letting it linger and form into a ball, she threw it at the spider, hoping to catch it off guard.

The spider curled into a ball, deflecting the energy ball like it was nothing. Time seemed to slow down and everything became crystalline clear. No fear, no hesitation, she wiped away every emotion and calmed the raging storm inside. The spider scuttled towards her, zigzagging from side to side spitting globs of green mucus moments before it lit them on fire. She dodged each shot the monster, made until it was within range. The monster reared up bearing pincers and wicked looking teeth. She moved then, sending a bolt of electricity through the underside of the spider’s head, charging it with the all the rage, pain, and panic that had been building.

The energy bolt severed the spiders head, and she stood triumphant between it’s broken body and severed head feeling empty and devoid of feeling. Her eyes had gone black and a dark, deadly aura surrounded her. The white energy was still there sparking across her metal claws. She had done it, she broken through the barrier that before had not allowed her to access the darkness that she would need to be able to control if she wanted to have more control over her shadow panther form.

“Well done. For the next part of your training, we’re going to my home world.”

“Would that be safe?”

His look of indecision spoke volumes. “No, it wouldn’t be “safe” but it would give you better access to the shadow realm.”

The thought of being in the shadow realm and back in the Reapers home world was less then appealing to her, but she knew that if she wanted to further her training she would have to. JB helped her pack up the tent and campsite, while also restoring her energy level. It was a rare connection they had, even though her lifeforce was tied to his, she retained his humanity and was the sole reason he could maintain human form in the mortal realm. Kyros rarely took human form, and even when he did, he couldn’t hold onto it for very long. JB had always assumed it was because his human connection had passed away and he didn’t have anyone else to come home too.

Eryn was waving her hand in front of his face.

“What?”

“You spaced out there, everything alright?”

“Yea; I was just thinking. That’s all.”

“Thinking about what?”

“How I’m able to take human form and Kyros isn’t.”

“I never noticed that, but now that you mention it… why isn’t he?”

“In order to take human form in the mortal realm, Reapers need to have a human connection. Someone who’s close to them, and strong enough to be bound to a Reaper. You and I have a special connection that goes beyond just physical.

You have an incredibly strong mind, and soul. Not to mention, because of your animal genes and ability to transform into a panther… I can command your shadow self to save you and protect you when I can’t be there physically.”

“Like how you kept me alive when I was trapped with the lizard people that poisoned me?”

“Yes, like that. How do you feel?”

The intensity of his swirling blue black gaze gave her pause and she mentally began going down her checklist.

“I’m fine, better than fine, actually. How do you feel?”

“I don’t; are you ready?”

She nodded and followed him through the portal to the Reaper home world. It was just as beautiful and haunting as she remembered it, except now it was slightly different. Everything was grey and dead, but it was also peaceful and serene. The sky was a smoky gunmetal and seemed to be perpetually overcast. Similar to the middle ground, everything had an aged, decayed feel and was devoid of life; caught between life and death.

Training was excruciating. She had never been exposed to so much mental strain. It was difficult at times to remain human and still maintain control over both her shadow and panther. The two sides of her seemed to war continually against each other.

She was meditating when JB walked in, carrying a tray laden with food. The smell of it making her mouth water.

“You’re doing well, come take a break.”

“I don’t feel as if I’m making any progress.”

“How did you defeat the spider?”

“I surrendered control and wiped my mind.”

“What if you tried that? I’ll keep you safe.”

“I’m afraid of losing myself to the darkness and not being able to find my way back.”

“You were always the best part of me, let me return the favor; I’ll keep the darkness from swallowing you.”

She nodded and finished the plate of food in front of her. JB had always been her partner. Renewed with energy and a plan she began her exercises. This time, panther and human melded together as one, no fear, no barriers, just energy and control. The shadows grew around her, and she allowed herself to sink into their depths; becoming one with the darkness. Everything became transparent as the shadows morphed and moved and she moved with them, slinking along the walls around the room, moving from one shadow to the next.

There was no light, no sound. No feeling, nothing but dark energy and a void that seemed to run straight to her soul.

She was ethereal and as her form solidified into a panther, it was much easier to control and manipulate the darkness. Everything became clear, as the darkness solidified. Looking down, her paws were coated in a dark blueish red flame, her claws glinted yellow and when she looked at JB, she could see him smiling. Cold and terrifying, his Reaper’s cloak of writhing shadows floated around him. He was as much a part of this world as anything else.

In this form, she could see the tether between the master of death and JB’s human soul. Odd that it would still fight for control, flaring out from it’s prison only to be leashed back into submission. She could also see the tethered link between her own soul and JB’s soul.

“You are the reason I keep fighting, You’re my humanity.”

His voice was low and she could hear it echo throughout the room. In this realm, it was like a silken caress, lulling and comforting.

“Stay awake, Eryn.”

She nodded, even though it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain her shadow form. She knew she had to be able to maintain it for as long as possible; but the strain on her mind and soul were becoming to much.

Her form began to falter, the shadows dispersing and then she was human again. JB picked up his unconscious partner; and brought her back to the mortal realm of the living.

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