The land all around was dark with shadowed haze, the sky as black as an empty void above him. Mountains rose high amidst the east, lightning unfurling about their great pinnacles. Aniki watched from the ground as an angel, bright and beautiful against the blackened land, soared across the sky with his swift and darting movements. Following close behind were vicious demons, their claws splayed and reaching to tear the wings from the poor creature’s back. Aniki glanced to the right of him where, nearly hidden behind a veil of shadow, the cloaked and hooded creature stood watching as he always had. The demons soon caught the tired angel, and he tumbled to the earth far below, brilliant light emitting from his heavenly body and filling the area, dissolving everything in the soft purity...
Aniki, please, help me... I cannot win this fight without your aura... Come, find me and we shall fight together against the shadows of evil, for if I am to stand alone my fate shall be in death and yours a path of darkness...
Those words hung within his waking thoughts, soft as the morning mist which hangs amidst the cool and dampened grass. Aniki laid still in his bed as images echoed gently through his mind, images of creatures and of ancient lands, far too strange and beautiful to exist in a world quite so ruined as this.
Still he wondered why, why they were always there, why he saw them night after night and fading into day. Could something which has been seen and felt throughout a lifetime without ever having been experienced in consciousness, truly be just a figment? Or could one be gazing through the looking glass into another land, one which exists beyond our notice? He wondered always since he could remember; what hides beyond what our blinded eyes only choose to see?
Aniki struggled to decide what was truly reality and what was simply trick of imagination; which was the dream and which was the waking day; how could he know? He barely knew exactly who he was, let alone who or what was a figment of his imagination. However, it never took much thought to decide what he wished (rather chose to believe at times) was only a figment.
From down the steps in the living room, he could hear the all-too-familiar sound of raised voices. His stepfather was an angry man, losing his temper over every inconvenience or misplaced item.
With a sigh, Aniki pulled the pillow over his head in attempt to drown away the angry noise, which came to an abrupt end, followed by the slam of the front door. At last, all was quiet, at least outside of the boy’s mind. That is, until he heard hurried footsteps coming up the stairway to his room. When his bedroom door flew open, he sat up in surprise as his mother began to pull open his drawers and toss his clothes upon the bed.
He stared at her with concern, his strawberry-blond curls sticking to his face with static from his pillow. Before he could find the words to question her behavior, she spoke with a soft, exasperated tone. “Get dressed, quickly, and get your shoes on.”
“But why?” Aniki frowned slightly in frustration.
She sighed a bit, deep worry set into the lines of her lovely face. “Please, Aniki, do as I say. We don’t have much time.”
The boy, only seven, got out of bed and began to change from his pajamas, putting on the faded black jeans, grey t-shirt, and soft black sweater that his mother had put out for him. As he sat down to put on his socks and tie his chuck taylor shoes, he looked up at her. She was standing beside the window, gazing out at the dark haze of the city, as though she was looking for something. He paused in thought, remembering how she often pulled him through the streets, searching for some place that she never could find.
“What are you looking for?” He questioned curiously.
For a moment she did not answer, then shook her head slightly as she turned back to him. “It’s difficult to explain, honey.” Quickly, she took hold of his hand, pulled him down the steps and out the door.
“We’ve been down this way a thousand times, there’s nothing here...”
Aniki was following closely beside his mother as she walked calmly down the wide streets of Chicago, though he could see by the wild look in her eyes that she was frantic in her search, something she normally was not. The evening was cool, soft mist creeping up from the depths of the earth and cloaking the streets in a dismal air. He broke his gaze with her as a disturbing feeling began to dissolve his nerves, gazing behind him into the desolate haze of grey.
“I know. We’re going to the airport.” Shira spoke softly, but her voice was determined.
Aniki looked back at his mother sharply. “Why?”
“It is time, finally, but I can no longer find the gateway here, so I must try somewhere else... When I find one, I’ll finally be able to take you to your home, where you can be as you were destined to be.”
“Gateway?...” He froze, gazing down at the damp sidewalk beneath him. Shira paused and brushed her hand against her son’s cheek affectionately, looking carefully into his golden eyes.
“I know you don’t understand, you won’t until you see for yourself the world in which you belong... Until you talk to him...”
He looked up at her, curious. “Who?”
Before she could answer, sounds of movement broke through the intense silence as malevolent energy burned through the concrete walls of the buildings around them. Shira took a firm hold onto Aniki’s hand and quickly pulled him forward with her. Fear and confusion swelled into the back of his throat as the vile energy closed in around them, its hostility becoming as thick as the mists it hid within. He soon noticed them, dark figures, hunched and seemingly formless as they crept forward in silence, quickly surrounding him and his mother.
Shira froze as the strange figures, cloaked in shadows, trapped them in place before an abandoned building. She swiftly pushed her son, who was trembling in confusion beside her, into what once was an industrial factory. She hurriedly pulled him through the darkened halls, lined with bits of machinery that had yet to rust apart entirely, until finally a door was there before her.
The malevolent shadows were close behind, following at their heels, and Shira glanced back as one drew a dagger. It raised the long and jagged blade in its hand, thin and boney. She shoved Aniki through the door, drawing a blade of her own from a strap tied around her hips as the hidden creature struck at her suddenly. Shira cried softly as the blade pierced her chest, but quickly took hold of the creature, slicing its throat with the knife in her hand. The remaining shadows ignored its death and swiftly moved to catch her, but she managed to reach the door and quickly closed it behind her, bolting its iron frame shut.
Aniki stared at her, trembling in horror at the blood as it seeped through her blouse. She searched franticly through the room, breathing heavily as the wound took its toll. The strange creatures hissed in fury as they pounded upon the iron door, its old frame slowly giving way to their will. Finally she found it, an open vent who’s tunnels lead far to the back of the building to the furnace. Shira pulled Aniki close to her and spoke softly. “You have to go through the vent, follow it until you reach the furnace in the back of the basement. There will be windows that you should be able to fit through and escape.”
“I can’t leave you mother, those things will kill you-”
“You have to go, you have to fulfill your destiny in the other world.”
“I don’t want to go to another world, not if things like those shadows are there, I don’t want this destiny, I don’t even know what it is...” Aniki was beginning to lose his grip, realizing that his mother was dying before him and there was nothing he could do for her.
She gently touched his face, then took hold of the locket around his neck, the one she had given to him when he was just a babe. She smiled. “I know you are afraid, and that’s ok. It’s natural to fear what you do not understand, and I wish that I could explain everything to you, but I can’t. So I need you to be brave and remember everything I’ve told you... Once you reach the other world, they will know you, and they will teach you everything you need to know. Remember me when you listen to the melody that plays around your neck, I was given this locket from a dear friend in the other realm. Find him, the angel, he will protect you and care for you, and teach you all that he knows. You cannot escape your destiny Aniki, just as I could not escape mine, for they are already written into what is to be... Now go, you must hurry.”
Shira squeezed his hand and gave him a kiss on the forehead, then forced him through the vent as the bolts upon the door began to give way. Quickly he crawled through the narrow tunnel, his hands trembling as they felt through the darkness before him. The tunnel was an incessant void of shadow, nothing but black lie before and behind him. Aniki had never feared the dark before, but he felt his palms begin to sweat and his pounding heart swell into his throat, suffocating all sense of logic.
A sharp chill pierced the back of his neck as he felt something move within the tunnel behind him. He pushed himself forward quickly until his hands finally felt the bars of a vent beneath him. Aniki pulled frantically, struggling to break loose the rusted hinges. Sounds of movement drew quickly nearer as the vent refused to give way. He froze in panic, wondering if there could be another way through which he could escape, when a soft and heavenly energy began to pulse though the thick atmosphere. The bars of the vent suddenly shattered beneath him, and Aniki tumbled through darkness to the floor below.
Dull light of grey fell upon the stone around him, filtering through clustered sprinkles and spatters of dirt upon a basement window, like the light behind the patterns of a kaleidoscope. Aniki rose, curious that the floor had felt as soft as cloud when he fell upon it. He climbed upon the stacks of storage crates and pushed open the window, gazing out into the empty street. Nothing but soft haze lined the darkening alleys as night fell between the towering buildings. Cautiously he crawled through the open window, its frame just large enough for the small boy to fit through.
Once free, Aniki took off aimlessly through the shadow-filled streets, anger and confusion clouding his mind. He knew not where to go or what to do, and as he thought to himself, mist dampening his jeans and jacket, he no longer cared. His mother, the only person who loved and cared for him, the only one who saw greatness within him, was suddenly gone from his life. Aniki knew that he could not return to the home he once shared with her, and that callous man he refused to consider his father.
As he blindly ran, a thought occurred to him. Aniki paused at the corner of a street beneath a lamp post, people walking numbly past him as though he was not there at all. He wondered if his stepfather would be searching for him. After all, he and his mother had left while he was gone, perhaps that is why Shira was in such a rush.
He walked carelessly through the crowds of people, now numb himself as he pondered. The thought of his stepfather finding him and having to tell of what happened was terrifying. Even worse, he wondered if those shadowy creatures would be looking for him, and he certainly did not want to face them alone, whatever they were.
A voice suddenly caught his ear. It was soft and gentle, but clearly the voice of a man. Aniki paused to listen as the voice called to him, pleading to him by name.
Aniki followed the voice into the dark and misty alleys, where the sounds of the city became muffled and the voice grew stronger. As he listened, it continued to call for him, but said nothing more.
“I’m listening, what do you want? Who are you?”
Aniki waited in silence, beginning to feel that he was talking to nothing but himself.
I am the one who has watched over you since the day your life began.
He froze. The creature that he had always wondered about, the strange, cloaked being that watched him in his dreams, the one who’s presence he could always feel even outside of his dreams... Could this be the one who was speaking with him, he wondered.
“The one from my dreams, then? Are you here?” Aniki searched through the dark streets, but the voice never seemed to get any closer.
You must take the path which shall be shown to you, for there is no other. The darkness which shall follow in your footsteps will consume your heart and soul otherwise.
“What do you mean, what path? How will I know where to go?”
Do not fear. Follow the guides I shall send, and you shall find your way.
“I don’t understand...” He stopped, gazing down at the rippled water beneath his shoes as the unearthly presence faded with the voice. Alone again, he sighed. Aniki was beginning to feel terribly lost and afraid, unsure as to where he should go. Despair sunk deep into his young heart and he wished there was someone he could go to, someone to give him comfort and tell him where to go, what to do. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, wanting nothing more than to shut out the entire world into soft darkness.
There was darkness at first, an endless sea of black where nothing but his own thoughts drifted in and out. However as he thought, he began to notice a light, dim and distant at first but growing brighter the closer it came. Before he knew it there was no darkness at all, but soft golden light filling his closed eyes. Aniki opened them in confusion and gazed before him at the source of the light, becoming even more confused as he looked at it.
The source was nothing more than a small orb of glowing, golden light, the size of a golf ball. It hovered calmly not far from his face, swaying gently from side to side in a leisurely trance. Aniki stared at this peculiar, lustrous object, wondering if it was actually there or if he was simply imagining it, which he found himself wondering the same thing about all of the paranormal occurrences of the day. Cautiously, he reached out to touch the little orb, tapping it gently with his finger. It sparked a bit in reaction to his touch, but with a pleasant energy rather than electricity, and twirled in a few swift circles.
“I must be dreaming... this all has to be some awful nightmare. And when I wake up, there won’t be any shadow creatures, weird voices or floating balls of light, because none of that exists. There is no other realm, and no one that I have to find...”
The orb flashed for a moment with brilliant light, spinning in quick circles and swaying from side to side, as though it were trying to communicate with him. Aniki sighed.
“And I suppose you would disagree?”
It paused, blinking softly.
“Of course you would... because if what I said was true, then you wouldn’t exist. And no one wants to be told that they don’t exist... Fine. Whether this is a dream or not, I guess I’ll find out, and I might as well go along with it until I wake up... So what are you here for anyway?”
Aniki could hardly believe that he was talking to a drifting ball of light, but decided to dismiss the strangeness of it. The little orb said nothing of course, but spun and dived to his left hand, gently tapping it, then moved swiftly forward a few feet away, pausing as though waiting for him. He watched it, pondering for a moment.
“You want me to follow you?”
It blinked, hovering in place ahead of him, and Aniki figured that if it had eyes it would be staring at him. He sighed again, somewhat annoyed. “Fine then...” He began to walk towards it, wondering in the back of his mind if that was truly a wise decision. The orb playfully lead him through the dark streets, bouncing and twirling through the air in what seemed to be excitement. “What are you so excited about, anyway? Just because I decided to follow you?”
The orb paid no mind to his negativity, flashing brightly and staying close to him. Aniki shook his head and continued through the streets, figuring there was no point in asking questions. Around many corners the orb took him, glowing more and more brilliantly the further along they traveled, until finally it brought him to an unlit alleyway, dark as a clouded night. Aniki paused in uncertainty, the golden orb stopping not far ahead of him as something stepped forward from the shadows.
The light from the orb barely illuminated the thick darkness, just enough to touch the outline of the figure among the shadows. At first Aniki froze, deciding whether or not to run, for it seemed to be one of the shadowy creatures that were after him.
“Do not be afraid, Aniki. I was sent here to help you.”
This voice was not the same as the one he had heard in his mind, nor from his dreams. It was deeper, with a rough and rugged tone, yet still kind. As the orb disappeared into the darkness, the man calmly stepped towards Aniki, who could see nothing of him beneath the shadows of his hooded cloak.
“I need you to come with me. The demons are searching restlessly for you…”
“Demons? That’s what those shadowy things are?”
“Yes. We must hurry.” The man took a firm hold of Aniki’s hand, and pulled him with him into the dark alley. Aniki had no choice but to follow, and found himself moving closer to him as the chilling hiss of demons drew near. He glanced up and noticed large, black creatures crawling swiftly along the sides of the buildings around them.
“They’re everywhere!” Aniki’s heart was pounding as the swarm of demons began to surround them. He gazed at the man, now able to make out a sketchy outline of his face in the nearing lamplight of a post. The man was young, in his twenties, and though Aniki was panicked, he seemed rather confident.
“We’re almost there…” He whispered softly, more to himself it seemed than to Aniki. Just as they reached the last building on the block, he suddenly stopped, letting go of Aniki. In a single, fluid movement he drew a bow that had been strapped to his back and shot a demon in midair, its claws just a foot before his face. One by one many of the demons took bold leaps, each meeting the same fate in a blur of shadow. The swarm paused in apprehension, and Aniki’s hidden protector took full advantage of the moment, pushing open the door behind them and forcing Aniki in before him.
He closed and locked the door behind him, then stretched out his right hand towards the outer walls of the apartment. “No evil shall enter this dwelling.” The moment he spoke the words, a soft blue light glowed and followed along the baseboards, then faded.
With a calm sigh, the man turned to Aniki, and finally pulled back the hood to reveal himself. His features were rugged and handsome, and he had long hair of jet black that reached just passed his shoulders. His eyes were kind and dark brown. As he noticed the fear and confusion in Aniki’s amber eyes, his expression grew more tender with concern.
“It’s alright, you’re safe here. I know you must be terrified after all you have been through today…” His voice was quiet, and not until then did Aniki really notice his medieval Scottish accent.
Aniki gazed at him. “Who are you, anyway? And how do you know me? Are you the one that appears in my dreams?”
“My name is Faron. I am not him, but he is the one who sent me.” Faron sighed softly as he removed the hooded cloak, hanging it upon the rack by the door. He was tall, around six feet, and dressed in a white linen shirt, a leather vest with various arrow tips and daggers, and trousers of tough suede. He promptly removed his boots, mumbling something about how he disliked shoes.
“Oh… who is he then?”
“He is the Mystic, a very wise and powerful being. I’ve come from another realm to find you and take you back with me to him. Well, you and one other… And, I was going to bring along Shira as well, but…” Faron paused, sadness filtering into his expression.
Aniki looked down, his throat tightening with anguish. “Those demons killed her… But somehow I escaped…”
Faron stepped towards him and knelt down before him, placing his right hand on his shoulder. “I am sorry. I wanted to save her…” His thoughts wandered as he remembered back a few hours earlier, then shook his head a bit to clear his mind. “I was too late. Know that I feel immense guilt for her death…”
Aniki looked up at him. The anger he felt suddenly melted into anguish, tears pushing their way through. Faron said nothing, but placed his arms gently around him. For a long time he allowed Aniki to cry before speaking again. “Your mother told you about Origynn, did she not?”
“It’s all she ever talked about. But she could never find the way back to it, so I thought it wasn’t real…”
“Oh, I see. It is the world I came from. Very different from this realm, but I think you will like it.”
Aniki was silent for a bit, thinking over what he knew so far of Origynn. “I don’t think I want to go there…”
Faron tilted his head slightly in curiosity. “You would rather stay here? But you would be alone…”
Aniki fidgeted a bit with his sleeve. “Can’t I stay with you, Faron?”
“Not unless you come with me. I can’t stay here.”
“Because I’m needed in the other realm. It’s where I belong, it would be selfish of me to turn my back on those who need me.”
He gazed down at the dull, shaggy carpet of beige beneath his shoes. Aniki didn’t want to be alone, but he also did not want to go to such a strange and dangerous place. All he wanted was for all of the day’s events to disappear, to wake up from this nightmare and have his mother there with him. There would be no more demons, and no reason to leave what he knew.
Faron looked carefully at him, seeming to read his thoughts. “I understand that you’re afraid, it’s alright. You will have time to adjust to the thought of the other world, there’s another I have to find before I can leave.” He stood and unbuckled the studded strap slung around his shoulder, which held the bow, as well as a leather case of arrows, and laid it upon the chair beside him.
Aniki stared at him, feeling somewhat nervous about being locked in a tiny apartment with a man so heavily armed with dangerous weapons. “I’ve never seen anyone carry a bow and arrows before…”
He smiled. “Really? What do the people here use to defend themselves?”
“Well, usually guns. Sometimes knives…”
“Oh? I’ve never heard of a gun before… This realm is quite different. Not at all like Origynn, and so…” Faron paused and coughed for a moment, turning away. Even in the dim light of the room, Aniki was certain he noticed dark splotches of blood upon his hand as he removed it from his face. The young man sighed heavily as he pulled a white cloth from his pocket to clean off the blood. “I’m sorry. It’s highly destructive and toxic. The very air seems to be poisoning me. It’s so difficult for me to breathe here, so many toxins in the air and not enough… Well, air. Which is why my sinuses are bleeding, and my throat too.”
“It doesn’t do that to me.”
“You’ve lived here since you were a baby, so you’re already adapted to living here. I came from an entirely different environment where the air is free of the toxins that fill the atmosphere in this realm. And, considering I have only seen a few rows of tiny little trees, I can see why the oxygen is so low… After all, you need plants to filter the air. Without them you get this miasma that fills the sky above the city.” Faron took a deep breath and pushed the thick black curls away from his face, closing his eyes for a bit. He looked suddenly very tired, Aniki thought, and he couldn’t help but feel worried. Though he barely knew this strange man, Faron seemed very nice and caring of Aniki, so he certainly felt much safer with him than on his own. The last thing he wanted was for Faron to die as well and leave him entirely alone.
“Faron… you’re not going to die, are you?” Aniki asked quietly.
Faron opened his eyes and gazed down at him, then smiled kindly. “Don’t worry about me, Aniki. It will take more than bloody sinuses to kill me.” He laughed lightly before heading back towards the tiny kitchen area. Aniki followed close behind, looking over the small apartment as he walked. It barely had a “lived in” appearance, with no television, no pictures on the walls, no shelves or decorative objects. What furniture was there looked as though it had barely been touched, and the only thing he noticed that clearly belonged to Faron was a large bag on the sofa.
“Do you like tea, Aniki? Or would you prefer water?”
“I like tea, as long as it isn’t bitter.” Aniki paused and watched as Faron quickly washed his hands.
“Don’t worry, I have plenty of things to sweeten it, you’ll love it. I may be an awful cook, but I can make good tea.” He laughed again and filled the teapot with water, placing it on the stove to boil. “Are you hungry? I can boil rice or make toast… These little toast-making devices are great, we don’t have anything like that in Origynn so I always burn toast… But here, I can make it perfect.”
Aniki smiled at Faron in amusement as he took a seat in the wooden chair by the table. “You don’t have toasters there?”
“Unfortunately not. We don’t have these… electrical ovens and burners, or the cold box over there.”
“A refrigerator.” Aniki clarified.
“So that’s what it’s called.” Faron smiled, then glanced across the counter at the microwave. “And, we definitely don’t have things like that over there… I avoid it, haven’t even touched it.”
“I don’t know how well you feel energy, but I can feel a lot of radiation from that little box. I was thinking it may be some sort of timed explosive, with that panel there being how you set the time for it to go off. A last resort of defense?”
Aniki laughed a bit. Though Faron seemed intelligent, he was thinking a bit too far ahead on this one. “That’s a microwave, Faron. We use it to warm up food, not blow things up.”
Faron tilted his head a bit. “Really? I never would have guessed that one.”
Aniki smiled, but found himself feeling curious. “Faron… who else are you looking for here?”
He hesitated for a moment, thinking over his answer. “A young man named Tai. He also belongs in Origynn, like you. I was told that he, too, is in this city, so I’m hoping it won’t take too long to find him…”
Aniki looked down a bit. “Hopefully not as long as it took you to find me and mom…”
Faron was silent for a while as he mixed all sorts of crushed leaves and spices together for the tea, though he seemed to be working rather absent-mindedly, thinking deeply over something of more importance.
“…Can I ask you something?” Aniki was hesitant.
“Sure. You can ask me anything you like.”
“Well… why now? Why hasn’t the Mystic sent you before?”
“I’m not really sure. The Mystic probably knows something that we don’t. Maybe something is about to happen in this world and it is no longer safe for you, or maybe the Dark Forces are about to make a move and he needs you now.” He paused and set a cup of tea on the table for Aniki, and one on the other side for himself. “The Mystic is quite an interesting individual, he knows things. He even knew exactly where you were, that’s how I found you... It wasn’t exactly easy though. Staying in communication with him was difficult with all of the distractions and energy waves everywhere...”
“He must be really amazing to be able to talk to people in their heads and appear in their dreams...”
“Yeah, he is definitely that. He’s been around since ancient times, watching over the world with his powerful energy perception, sensing every move of the Dark Forces...”
“What’s energy perception?”
Faron pondered for a moment, trying to think of the most simple explanation. “Well, all matter has its own vibration frequency, which is caused by the energy vibrations of the atoms that make up the matter. In living creatures, each individual has its own frequency. The frequency can be altered by thoughts and emotions, even sound waves, but your energy is always unique to your being. At least, that’s how it was explained to me. I don’t quite understand it myself. Most humans do not consciously perceive energy, though most do react to it in subtle ways.”
Aniki was impressed. “That’s really cool... I wish I had energy perception.”
“From what I understand, you do. Or maybe you will. The Mystic will probably teach you and Tai how to use it.”
Faron smiled as he poured the rice into two bowls. “Sure, I would think it would be a useful ability for warriors of legend.”
Faron was quiet for a while after placing the bowls upon the table. The rice, Aniki found, was quite bland, but was better than nothing. The tea, however, was delicious, a lovely blend of sweet honey and vanilla. The room was silent aside from the soft hum of the ceiling fan, until he heard what sounded like a very soft and short growl. He glanced at Faron, but he seemed to be too focused on the rice to notice Aniki’s concern.
“Uh, Faron, do you have a dog… or something, that might be growling?”
Faron looked up at him, appearing slightly startled for a moment, but quickly regained his composure. “Oh, um… no, it is just my sinuses… No dogs or anything here.”
“Oh.” Aniki froze as he noticed a shadow moving across the window, which, though covered with blinds, was illuminated from behind by the lamppost outside. “Those things… they can’t get inside, right?” He whispered.
Faron followed his gaze, then smiled reassuringly. “No, they can’t cross the barrier seal I placed around the building. Even if one was to break through the window, it would burn to ashes instantly, and any that followed would meet the same fate. You don’t need to worry, you’re perfectly safe here with me. Thanks to the Mystic’s gift of temporary power, that is.”
The two said little while finishing their rice and tea, and only the sound of running water filled the room while he washed all of the dishes. After they were dried and put away, Aniki followed him back into the living room.
“Unfortunately I don’t have a bed, only that large chair and the couch. You may choose which you would like to sleep on.”
Though Aniki would have liked to sleep on the couch, he figured it would be unfair to make Faron, the larger person, sleep in the chair. “The chair looks nice, it’ll be fine.”
After Faron removed his bow and arrows from the chair and was about to lay down on the couch, Aniki rushed to him suddenly and hugged him tightly, taking him by surprise a bit. “Thank you, Faron…”