Chapter 10 Flickering Lights
Ansel’s soul was floating in a dark void. He knew he was going somewhere, but he knew neither where his final destination would be nor how long it would take to arrive there. None of this bothered him though. His mind and worries were fixated purely on the boy. As he worried and worried over the young boy’s fate, his mind drifted back to the night when everything came crashing down. The day that the boy had been born.
It took place 3 years ago on a dark night in a place far away from any of the Four Kingdoms.
Ansel was breathing hard, his back against a large oak tree. The Grimm were after him, and he knew he wouldn’t elude them forever. Ansel was an old man with a long white beard and a bald head, he was rather muscular for his age, was wearing black robes, and had his head covered with its hood.
It was a cold autumn night, deep in the wilds, far from any of the 4 kingdoms; he knew no one would come to help him. If he were alone he would have chosen to fight those creatures to his dying breath with the weapon he had taken from the armory, a hybrid crossbow that could split into twin pickaxes, but he couldn’t afford to now, not when another life relied upon him. The young boy lay asleep, tucked inside his coat dreaming peacefully, completely unaware of the approaching peril. Ansel smiled as he gazed at the boy’s face, the young lad couldn’t have been more than 3 years old. The order had believed that he was to be the key to a bright future. But after holding the boy Ansel knew the truth. He hadn’t felt any special aura or abilities in him. The child was the same as any other child, even if the circumstances of his birth had been extraordinary. Regardless, they had planned to raise the boy into a fine warrior.
If only they had gotten the chance. How did things go wrong so fast?
They should have been safe back at headquarters with the advanced Dust shield surrounding it. How did the Grimm break through after all these years? Ansel knew the answer, knew it but refused to believe it. There had been a Grimm that was different from the others, one that looked human. It had ripped through the barrier like it was tissue paper, and led an army of Grimm to attack them. The army was vast, consisting of uncountable numbers of the dark beasts. The rest of Ansel’s comrades had stayed behind to make sure that at least that beast was dead and entrusted him with the task of saving what they believed to be the miracle child. Ansel believed that they would be successful. They were the best of the best, ex-hunters and ex-members of various combat factions throughout Remnant armed with the latest in weapons technologies.
“They will for sure be able to kill it” he thought, but the sheer number of Grimm that had poured into their headquarters had simply been too much. Their deaths were inevitable, but they would not be in vain. He would get the boy to safety and alert the rest of mankind to this new threat.
His breathing had leveled now, and he felt able to run again. He once again took off through the dense undergrowth, sped along with the weight of his mission.
Suddenly an ear-splitting howl split the night; they still sounded like they were a little ways off, but the Grimm would soon close in on him. He had to hurry to the docks; hopefully its force field would still be operational, if so they the boy and him would be safe long enough for him to prepare a small boat. The noises behind were getting louder and more varied, he heard the howls of Beowolves, Cries of Nevermores, and the roars of giant Baskervilles. He doubled his pace, praying he would make it to the docks before they were upon him.
He dashed into a clearing and stopped in his tracks. Standing before him was the king of the forest; a giant boarbatusk the size of a small house nicknamed “The Major”. Unlike normal boarbatusks the Major had protection on its stomach as well, making it practically a moving fortress.
It had its eyes on Ansel, its mouth salivating in anticipation of fresh meat. Ansel cursed his fortune; he couldn’t hope to defeat a beast that had ended the lives of many veteran hunters. But he had one chance to flee and survive. He had taken a small supply of dust bolts with him he had fled headquarters, which were linked with a detonator he carried.
“They won’t be able to harm the Major” he thought, “but they may be able to disorient it for a few minutes.”
Just as this thought finished passing through Ansel’s mind, the Major charged at him full speed, determined to enjoy its meal as soon it could. Ansel dove to the side, making sure to cover the child with his arm, and quickly loaded the bolts into his crossbow. The force of the Major’s charge made it very difficult for it to change its direction, but the beast quickly planted its feet and turned around to face his prey. But this split second gave Ansel the time he needed to quickly fire off all the bolts that he currently had loaded in the crossbow. The bolts were aimed at many of the gaps in the Major’s armor and upon striking the hide, stuck to it. This seemed to confuse the major for a moment as it inspected the new protrusions sticking out of its body. Using this time, Ansel quickly stuck the boy into a more stable position in his robes. He had to get out of here quickly, the rest of the Grimm were getting close, and if they caught up he and the boy would be doomed.
With a thundering squeal the Major charged at him once again. This time Ansel was prepared. He leapt into the air and then, using the trees as springboard, leapt onto the major’s back.
“I hear your hide is pretty tough” Ansel said, disconnecting his crossbow into the pickaxe form, “But smashing stuff like that is what these babies were made for”, with that Ansel began striking the hard shell with the pickaxes, each blow infused with his aura.
The Major squealed as bits of its armor were chipped off, shaking and thrashing, trying to get Ansel off. The vibrations were so intense Ansel couldn’t find the time to use his pickaxes any more, but he had done his job. There were now many small notches in the Major’s armor, just large enough to fit a bolt. Using the momentum from the Major’s thrashing, Ansel leapt from up onto a nearby tree branch, then fired off the rest of his bolts, each sticking in place to the holes he had made. The Major turned to look up at him and growled, preparing to smash through the tree trunk and bring Ansel to the ground.
“Too late piggy” Ansel said, triggering the detonator. Every bolt stuck on the Major exploded, filling the forest with multi-colored light. The Major squealed in pain and surprise as it’s armor splintered, then it collapsed to the ground, apparently dazed.
Giving a whoop of success, Ansel leapt from the tree and took off in the direction of the dock.
“I’m getting too old for this” he thought while sighing, but feeling the boy’s slow breathing, his exhaustion melted away and he doubled his pace, determined to make it before the Grimm got to them.
He hadn’t gone 100 meters when an ear-piercing squeal pierced the night, whipping his head back, Ansel saw the Major spinning towards him, its spines screaming bloody murder. Ansel leapt sideways, but not soon enough. The attack brushed his shoulder and sent him flying backwards into a tree. Clutching the boy in his arms, Ansel took the full brunt of the collision with his back. There was a cracking noise and he screamed out in pain. He collapsed to the ground breathing hard; he had used up most of his aura cracking the Major’s armor, and after that blow had almost none left. He tried to get up, desperately trying to catch his breath.
Then the Major was upon him, quickly seizing Ansel’s arm in its jaws. Its teeth crushing bone and rending flesh. Ansel screamed in pain, frustration, and despair. He had failed and now both he and the boy would die. The world was slowly growing darker, his life’s blood flowing out from the wound and his eyes losing focus. Suddenly, things started getting brighter.
“I must be approaching the afterlife” Ansel thought with despair, shame clawing at his mind at the knowledge of his failed mission. “I hope they won’t be too angry at me.”
He opened his eyes a small crack expecting to see the great beyond, but to his surprise, the light was coming from inside his robe. The sudden light had surprised the Major and made it back off a few steps, it now eyed Ansel with a cautious eye, as if making sure nothing strange would happen.
“The boy” Ansel whispered,
He then whipped open his coat, wanting to see what was going on with the boy. The child was still fast asleep, but was emitting a strange blue glow. The Major grunted, now believing there wasn’t any present danger, and charged straight at the two, its tusks ready to impale the two onto the tree. Suddenly, the light surrounding the boy intensified, and then burst forth in a brilliant flash. Ansel covered his eyes with his one good arm, temporary blinded. He heard a slamming sound and a squeal, and afterwards a constant scuffling noise. He slowly removed his hands from his face, and was stunned by what he saw.
Standing before him was the simulacrum of a man, formed of pulsating blue energy. It had stopped the Major’s fierce charge, which was capable of plowing down even the strongest of hunters, with one hand which was fastened firmly around one of the creatures tusks. The Major was squealing and struggling, trying in vain to pull its tusk free. The strange being turned its head and looked at Ansel, and then gave a condescending gesture.
Turning back to the Major the being seized its head with his other hand to use as a handhold, and with a squelching splattering sound, ripped the Major’s tusk out. Then, with a deft motion too fast for the untrained eye, plunged the tip of the tusk into the Major’s right eye.
The Major reeled back, squealing in pain, trying to get away from this new foe. The being stepped forward, the blue energy swirling in the palm of his hand. Seeing this with its one good eye, the Major turned to run, but it was too late. The being thrust out his palm and struck the Major in the side, the resulting explosion blasted the Major through the forest, smashing through tree after tree like they were nothing but weeds. Squealing, the Major flew off, far in the opposite direction, vanishing from sight, a few moments later there was a low boom, and a cloud of dust rose above the forest, far away from their current position.
The being turned back to Ansel, kneeled down, looked at the boy in Ansel’s arms, and then stared at Ansel’s face.
“You should know that this boy isn’t what you all believe him to be.” Said the being. Its voice was a gentle whisper, like the sound of wind passing through leaves. But each word it spoke rang in Ansel’s ears, as though it were speaking from a megaphone. “Had I not been accidently pulled in during his creation, both of you would have died here tonight.”
It then reached out its hand and touched Ansel’s wound, there was a flash of light, and Ansel cried out at the searing pain that soon followed. After the stinging had faded he looked down and was amazed to see his arm in perfect condition.
“It has however been a long time since I last experienced the physical realm.” The being said, stroking its chin “it may be interesting to see how things turn out for this child, so I will stay for now.
It then rounded on Ansel.
“As you were.” It said
It then reached out its hand and touched the boy on the forehead then, like a mist being funneled into a vacuum, was sucked into the boy from the point of contact. The boy shifted uncomfortably in Ansel’s arms, and then let out a long deep belch, smiled, and shifted into a more comfortable position.
Ansel was stunned.
“What was that thing?” he thought, not understanding what the being had said “Perhaps the boy truly is destined for greatness! I must bring him somewhere that will allow him to reach his full potential”.
The hunter academies, those would be perfect. The boy would meet many good people, and hone his skills with the best of the best. With his goal firmly in mind, Ansel picked up the boy and began running in the direction of the docks once again, many hopeful thoughts whizzing through his mind. All of them wondrous, none of them true.
After running for an impossibly long period of time, Ansel finally broke through the tree line. There before him were the docks. He breathed a sigh of relief and ran up to them. The dock consisted of a small two story wooden boathouse with no walls and a slanted roof. It was merely propped up on all four corners my strong wooden columns. There was a small storage of supplies on the first level in case of emergencies, as well as the boats which could be pushed down a ramp into the water, parallel to the pier. But first he had to activate the dust force field generator located on the second floor.
He dashed up the stairs, and then found the generator, wrapped tightly under a water-proof cloth; it was a small cylindrical device with an opening on the left side to insert the dust crystals to power, and a simple on and off switch on the other side. He checked its systems and found them to be in working order. He then picked up a crate of dust crystals lying next to the generator, and dumped most of them into the generator’s energy chamber. He then pulled down on the ignition switch, and the generator hummed to life. After taking a few moments to process the dust, the machine extended an antenna out from its top, and fired a beam of light straight through the roof. After reaching a certain height, the energy began to spread out and curve downward, covering the dock in its protective embrace.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Ansel walked down the stairs, finally able to relax. He took the boy out of his robes, and then wrapped him a blanket he found in the supply cache. Afterwards, he placed the boy in of their best boats (an advanced model with autopilot functions, a small dust force field generator, and a special sonic disruptor to keep aquatic Grimm away). He made sure all the functions of the boat were in perfect order and then began to pile supplies into it.
Suddenly, an ear-splitting screech filled the air, coming from the direction of the forest. Ansel whipped around and saw that the Grimm had caught up. The group was a menagerie of different monstrosities that leered out at him from the forest. Ansel wasn’t worried though; he had charged the force field generator with enough dust to last the whole night if need be, and he only needed a few more minutes to get ready to leave. But to his surprise the beasts did not charge forward, instead they parted, forming a narrow path between the two groups. The next scene froze Ansel’s blood in his veins. The humanoid Grimm emerged from the groups and stood before him, its body splattered with the blood of Ansel’s comrades. When it had first attacked he hadn’t gotten a good look at it, but now he saw it in its full glory. It was about the average height of a man and had sharp, glowing red eyes. Its mouth had two rows of pointed teeth almost like jack-o’-lantern. Its body was completely black and was darker than the night that surrounded it, with pieces of its armor jutting out all over its body at strange angles. It had sharpened claws at the end of each of its digits; they weren’t nails though, but its fingers. It seemed to have a spiky head of hair, but on closer inspection were small spikes adorning its cranium. But the most daunting sight of all was the 6 crystals protruding from its back, each pulsing with red and black light, with tendrils of shadow wrapping each of them in a twisted embrace. The same light from the crystals was also emanating from the creature’s eyes and mouth, lighting up the path toward the dock.
There was no time to supply anymore, Ansel leapt into the boat and quickly started it, entering the coordinates for the nearest human kingdom into the autopilot system and prepping its force field. He then got out and pushed the boat into the water. There was a sudden crashing sound, the humanoid Grimm was standing in from of the force field; the crystals on its back were pulsating and sending reddish-black tinges of energy all over the creature’s body. It claws raked against the field, its energy reacting with the dust field. Cracks were beginning to form; it wouldn’t be long before the creature got through.
Ansel knew what he had to do; he had to keep that thing here for as long as he could, so that the boat could carry the boy to safety. The boat hummed to life in the water and began to move forward, following the preprogrammed course. Ansel reached inside his robes and pulled out his remaining dust crystals, and fitted them all into dust-powered explosives he had taken from the supply cash. There was a smashing sound as the beast broke through the barrier and an explosion rocked the boathouse as the force field generator exploded on the second floor. Ansel pulled out his pickaxes and charged at the Grimm, channeling the last bits of his aura into the tips.
It was over in an instant. With a lighting fast movement the Grimm dove forward and drove its hand right through Ansel’s stomach. Ansel cried out in pain, blood bursting from his mouth. But then he smiled. He grabbed the Grimm’s arm with one hand and then opened his coat with the other, revealing all the dust bombs he had prepared.
“Got you now you bastard” he said with a smile, and triggered the detonator in his coat.
The explosion blew the boathouse to pieces and sent the Grimm flying outside, crashing into a group of Beowolves, and tearing them to pieces in the process. In a few moments it was up again, seemingly unfazed by the blast. It walked slowly back to the smoking remains of the boathouse, searching for its quarry. Lying in the middle of the wreckage, his skin charred black by the blast was Ansel.
“Too late monster” he said with a weak smile, “he’s gone now”.
Looking towards the sea, they could both see the boat speeding away from the shore, faster than any of the Nevermores could fly. Ansel grinned, staring his executor in the face. He had completed his final mission and had no more regrets. The Grimm stared down at him and then smiled. A chill ran down Ansel’s spine, the Grimm weren’t supposed to have souls. They couldn’t respond like this to human words. Suddenly the crystals on the creatures back began pulsating, releasing tendrils of crackling energy that covered the creature’s body. The Grimm opened its mouth and the energy began flowing towards the open orifice, fusing together into a quivering black ball of darkness.
“Wait” Ansel spluttered “Sto-“.
It was too late. The ball burst forth from the creature’s mouth towards the boat, speeding across the water, an umbral shooting star. It collided with the force field, energy crackling against energy, the field trying in vain to hold it back. And then the sphere detonated. The area where the boat had been was engulfed in the dark blast that parted the sea in all directions. Slowly, the blast faded and in less than a minute it was over, and the sea was empty. No sign that the boat was ever there remained.
“No”, Ansel choked, he had failed. The boy was dead, and this creature free to walk the world unchecked.
All he could hope for now was a quick end to his suffering. The creature looked down at him, the grin still visible on its face.
“Well hurry it up”, Ansel spat, “I don’t have all night”.
The creature lifted up its hand, but instead of bringing it down and ending Ansel’s life, it grabbed one of the crystals on its back and with a grinding noise tore it out. Then raised it above its head like a ritual dagger and drove the crystal into Ansel’s chest. Ansel cried out in pain as the gem pierced his heart.
“At least it will be over soon” he sadly thought.
But something was wrong; there was a sudden burning sensation where the crystal had pierced him. He glanced down and saw black tendrils spreading out from where he had been pierced. It spread quickly over his body, first covering his arms and legs. Ansel begin flailing with the little strength he had left, but his muscles wouldn’t respond to him, his limbs were moving, but not by his will. Ansel screamed as the umbral strands began creeping up his neck, eventually covering his head. In a few minutes the pain was gone, and Ansel looked out across the sea with eyes that were no longer his.
The thing that was now in control of his body stood up and then stared into the water, and through its eyes Ansel saw what he had become. A monster, another humanoid Grimm. He screamed in frustration, but it was a sound that only he heard in the depths of his mind. His body now belonged to the Grimm, his soul bound inside it like a prisoner. He struggled against the bonds around his soul, trying desperately to regain control. But whatever power that was binding him had him completely subdue. Despair coursed through Ansel’s soul, he would now have to watch as the creature that controlled his body ended the lives of countless innocents. The two Grimm raised their heads and roared, elated with their success and the addition of a new comrade. But out of the corner of the creature’s eye, Ansel saw something. A sight that the new owner of his body paid no attention to in its moment of triumph. A sight that filled him with a slight hope.
It was a faint blue glow, far out at sea that was slowly being carried farther and farther away by the waves.
Far far away, on the top of a barren mountaintop shrouded from the world below with a thick layer mist, there rested a large ramshackle wooden house with sign in front of it that read “Madame Zeroni’s”. The sound of snoring could be heard clearly from the outside, leaking from a small crack in one of the windows. All of a sudden there was a snort, and a clatter. A few minutes later, an old woman, covered from head to toe in thick brown cloth, slowly walked out of the house. Reaching into her clothes, she pulled out a strange circular crystal device and held it up to her eyes as she stared into the heavens. She stayed quiet for a few moments as she observed the signs only one with her ability would be able to see.
“Hmm, a red star, blooming like a rose, has just been born” she said, wrinkling her forehead “and to be born near that group with the star white as snow, the star hiding within the black shadow, and the yellow star that shines like the sun. Hmmm, it seems they will have a great role to play in this world as well.”
She then turned her attention to another hidden celestial event, one that eclipsed all others at that moment.
“So” she said finally said, in a voice that resembled the whispering of wind “The star of the ancient has finally begun its long journey once again.”
She looked through the crystal a while longer, and frowned through her shawl.
“But it seems that darkness threatens to swallow it” she said.
Madam Zeroni pondered these new developments for a few moments. She then placed the crystal back into her robe and then stared up at the heavens once again.
“Be safe enduring shard of light from ages past” she said “lest the world be inevitably swallowed by shadow.”
She then turned and marched back into her home and after a few minutes the sound of snoring could be heard once again.