Shadow Games

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Chapter 1

Vincent trudged through the empty night as the burning ache of old wounds constricted his breathing to the point of pained gasps. He had been wandering for months now, searching. He sighed exhaustedly as he shuffled his feet to the side of a grave he’d uncovered and collapsed to his knees. Pebbles dug painfully into his knees, but he could barely feel it. The anticipation and exhaustion far outweighed any type of pain he might feel now. Gently and reverently he touched the headstone, afraid to brush away the dirt and leaves to read the name, to find yet another dead end. He licked his wind burnt lips and tried to take another deep breath to work up his courage. In a burst of anger and excitement he swiped aside the debris and sat back again. His eyes scanned over the crude engraving again and again but his mind wouldn’t register it right away. For all the world, he just wanted to read the name but it only came across as meaningless scribble. Frustrated, he closed his eyes and breathed as deeply as he could, again, to calm himself. The night came into focus as he opened them again and read the name of the man he’d searched so hard for. The man, his father, whose memory compelled him to take this long journey now lay before him, in an open grave. The poorly made casket looked brittle, as if just a touch would cause the boards to shatter and reveal their contents. Now that he had found him he was overcome with a joy and fear that he had never known before. But under the currents of his turbulent emotions there was a deep seated anger burning within him. He’d only rarely seen his father and then he’d disappeared. He had endured hardships and joys with no fatherly guidance. He had been alone for months to seek out the man that left him, and now, staring into the grave he was lost again.

“Why!?” He suddenly croaked, shocked to find that the rough sound of his own voice was alien to him. Neither the cold night, nor the casket’s occupant answered him as tears stung at his eyes.

“Why...” He whispered this time, and still with no answer to satisfy the question that had burned him for so long. He sighed softly. The journey was over and now he was determined to get answers, one way or the other.

“If I have to bring you back... or die... either way I get my answer.” He mumbled as he gritted his teeth to stop the flow of tears that threatened to spill from his tired eyes.

He slid a heavy leather pack from his shoulder and let it fall to the ground beside him. The contents jumbled and clinked together as it thudded into the dirt. Slowly his body started to relax and a calm resolve blanketed his roiling emotions. His expression became cold and remote as his numb fingers deftly opened the pack and exposed its contents to the night.

Silently he pulled from it his tools and laid them out in the way that would serve him best. In the dark, alone in an empty field, he was going to find out why he was left to suffer. For a moment that thought threatened to break his calm, meditative state. Vincent righted himself and laid his hands gently on his legs, staring at the head stone again. He was nearly his father’s name sake, but not quite. Vintgar hadn’t been the one to name him, but his mother thought it a good idea. For so long he hated his name because it was akin to his absent father’s. But soon it wouldn’t matter anymore. He was determined that it would end tonight for better or worse. Finally from his belt he pulled a silver dagger and watched as the cold moonlight glinted off its steel point. With a practiced grace he closed his free hand over it and slid it down, slicing into his palm. The blood that seeped between his fingers, his father’s blood, was pitch black in the dark. But Vincent knew even in the brightest light of day it would remain the same. With a sharp movement he leaned down and wrenched open the decrepit casket, staring into the darkness. For a moment he stared at the wasted body that had helped give him life. He was disturbed to find that after three years, his father was still very much intact. This gave him pause and as the dark blood seeped down his arm and onto the ground his resolve nearly shattering. In the darkness of night, looking into this grave, he could almost believe that the man had simply been sleeping all this time. His ritual nearly forgotten, Vincent leaned over to note the striking resemblance between father and son.

“This is why so many people think I’m you.” He murmured absently before returning to his kneeling position, pulling the numb feeling around him again like a blanket. He looked down at his wounded hand and opened his fingers slowly. The wound had already begun to heal but was still seeping enough to continue. He started to murmur ancient words, words that he had memorized time and time again over his journey. With each intoned chant he could feel the energy around him begin to gather and pulse. The night began to sing with the power he called up. He was using his blood to call to one that shared it, to bring him back in spirit if not body. As his words flowed from him, impregnated with the power of his will, he stretched out his hand letting the dark blood drip down into the casket. With the last drip, energy rushed from him and down into the ground. The feeling of it was exhilarating and terrifying all at once. Vincent’s exhaustion took hold again and he fell to his side, unable to support himself any longer. The night was again silent as he, pain forgotten, gasped for air, fighting to stay conscious. For what seemed like an eternity, there was nothing. No shining spirit emerged from the dark, nor did a body rise from the grave. All he felt was his energy, his life, slipping through is fingers like sand. The cold seeped into his clothing, skin and bone as he laid there staring at the open mouth of the grave, hoping he hadn’t wasted his chance for answers. With a jerk, his body started shutting down and he looked to the sky. He could feel the cool rush of death approaching faster as he waited for something, anything that would give him peace. The slow thrum of energy pulsed around him again and his eyes snapped back to the grave. In his state, Vincent could see the energy collecting there, pooling down into the casket. His foot being in both worlds now, he could watch the energy seep from him. A soft rustling drew his attention and he felt his pulse jump before stuttering and slowing again. His father was awake, alive. A shadow of dark hair emerged from the mouth of the grave and Vincent gasped a breath. Finally he could ask his question and find the peace that had eluded him. But when he attempted to voice it, his breath betrayed him and his voice refused to cooperate. Vintgar pulled himself from the hole and stood tall against the landscape. His body no longer withered and desiccated but strong again as he stared groggily around himself, unaware that his son lay dying behind him. Vincent again tried to speak, to make any form of noise just to get him to turn. This time his ragged intake of breath caught the man’s attention and he spun around teeth bared. Vintgar growled dangerously but it was cut short as he examined the man laying before him. The pain and grief on his face was evident once he realized who it was that was laying at his feet. Vintgar dropped to his knees, a defeated man.

“What have you done?” He whispered, the lack of use making it more growl than speech.

“Why...” Vincent forced out as he to gasped in another breath. Vintgar shook his head as his brow furrowed, he didn’t understand the softly spoken question. Gently he cradled his son, brushing back the same dark hair that adorned his own head and looked into the same eyes he’d looked into a thousand times.

“Why... did you leave?” Vincent again forced out with a rush of air as he began to shake, his eyes tracing the energy seeping from him and into his father, giving him life.

Vintgar shuddered as tears began to flow from his newly restored eyes and he shook his head. “I had no choice.... I didn’t want to, but I had no choice. I left so you could live.” He breathed softly in agony. Vincent felt it, he felt the peace that he’d been searching for. Vincent smiled gently up at his father finally knowing he was loved, cared about. Vintgar shook his head again and with a panicked look around started grasping at the tools Vincent had laid out for his ritual.

“Maybe I can reverse this...” Vintgar mumbled as he started looking at each stone and tool then tossing it aside. “What ritual did you use?!?!” He blurted out in fear. Vincent simply shook his head and with more effort than he thought he could gather moved his hand to stop his father. Vintgar stopped to look down at him, his eyes wild.

“Father, I’m at peace.” Vincent murmured softly using his new found will before it could leave him.

“I went into death knowing you would live, and now you’ve brought me back at the expense of that life!” Vintgar cried softly. But the claim fell on deaf ears. Vincent had already closed his eyes, his tired body going limp. Vintgar violently shook his son’s shoulders but with no response he broke down and wept.

***

Vin sat on the rickety bar stool he grumbled incoherently to himself. He couldn’t drown the visions that kept playing over and over in his head, he didn’t think he ever would. His son, his one and only son was gone. The vision of laying the spent body in that cold grave, the one that was meant for him, started playing again as he noted the new presence in the barroom. The little thing was carefully picking her way over and around the carnage he’d left. Hidden in the shadows, she let out a small whimper. It was such a small sound that Vin wasn’t sure he’d actually heard it. He knew the girl, knew she’d feel pain for each soul ripped from the patrons and devoured. Above all, his anguish would bring her to her knees. Somewhere deep down he may have cared. He cared that this girl would suffer through him, for him. But in his current state he was in so much pain that he couldn’t bring himself to care. Again a whimper, louder this time, came from the shadows behind the bar. His bloodshot eyes slowly roamed the darkness, knowing he wouldn’t be able to see her until she decided to materialize. He sighed softly and drained the last of a bottle of rum.

“Show yourself Persephone...” He murmured as he set the bottle down on the nicked and scratched bar. Persephone stepped forward slowly as she materialized from the shadows.

“Vin...” She whispered breathlessly. Silvery tears shimmered as they rolled down her too white skin. Vin looked at the bartender’s corpse as it lay slumped over the bar close by.

“What? Not going to offer the lady a drink? I know she doesn’t look it... but she’s plenty old enough...” He asked then chuckled darkly as he scooped up another empty bottle and peered inside it. Persephone watched as her thin arms wrapped around her middle, determined to hold back the sob that was shaking her body.

“Why’s the rum always gone?” Vin spat and smashed the bottle against the wall behind her. She jumped, cringing away as a startled scream erupted from her and she disappeared again.

“Scaredy cat...” He mumbled before laying his head on the bar. He felt the air shift again with more certainty. He’d pissed her off and she was going to confront him.

“Vintgar!” She squeaked making him chuckle again. The grainy surface of the bar was irritating him so he raised his head and looked at her.

“You’re quite lovely when you’re angry.” His lopsided grin only inspired a spark in her gray eyes.

“What have you done?” She whispered carefully as her eyes roaming over what was once a busy bar on a Friday night. Vin sat up straighter and turned to look over the room of corpses. In a sweeping gesture he smiled.

“They couldn’t handle how I have a good time, and they didn’t really take to having their souls forcibly removed.” He shrugged as his gaze came defiantly back to hers.

“Why?” The word came from her lips as a breath of air. Vin stared at her before grumbling incoherently again.

“He’s gone...” He burst in a snarl but this time Persephone didn’t waver. She had absorbed enough rage and pain to numb her reactions. Her eyes that had shimmered with tears slowly hardened as Vin sat, his breath rushing in and out of the silence.

“Vincent is gone... stupid boy...” He growled and pushed away from the bar as he stood, knocking the stool over. He stumbled over someone’s out stretched arm and fell to the floor. He sat there on the filthy floor stunned as Persephone glided across the creaky floor boards and various types of bar debris. He looked up as she stopped; her scuffed chucks inches away from the hem of his filthy jeans. Vin looked into her angry eyes without flinching.

“He raised me from my grave, gave me back the life force I gave him. Didn’t know what he was doing. Of course he didn’t! It was my deal... my choice to give up everything for him!” He spat. Persephone listened quietly, her expression never flickering.

“His choice, your choice. That doesn’t matter to me. This...” She swept her arm to indicate the room. “... This, what you’ve done... That is what matters.” Vin scoffed and pushed himself back to his feet with a great deal of effort. He was over flowing with power and alcohol. The thought of being drunk in more ways than one had seemed like a fantastic idea at the time. Now that the room wouldn’t stop spinning, he wasn’t so sure.

“Why should one little binge matter? Why should they matter, they were only human. We’re... well mostly immortal. Which... I really thought I’d be sleeping for the rest of eternity with my son living from my energy. Taking my life force and doing something useful.” He shook his head and turned towards the door.

“I’m here to help... I was sent to take away the darkness and let you really have a second chance.” Persephone said, her voice no longer wavering. Vin paused and swung his gaze back to the girl. Silently he looked over her appearance. Memories of her, the first time they’d met broke through the haze. He remembered how small and frail she had always appeared. The skittish way she conducted herself was endearing. Persephone looked like a teen, even though she was as old if not centuries older than he. The silent moment passed and he growled softly.

“You will not take my darkness. It is MY pain and MY sorrow. No one else should be able to take that from me.”

“Vin... you’re not thinking clearly...” She stepped closer, her power sizzling through the air around her. She was pulling bits of blackness into herself, extinguishing it. Vin felt some of the pain dull and took a step away again. Her story played in his head, the way she had told the story of herself.

“I’m... I’m an empath.” Persephone stuttered as the shadows slowly slipped around her, obscuring her form from the group.

“Don’t be frightened little one...” Vin murmured and extended his hand, a playful grin curling the corner of his lips. “What, pray tell, is an empath? A sort of demon?” He asked softly as she hesitantly took his offered hand with a nod. Smoothly she stood to her full height, which wasn’t much, and glanced around the room. She began to visibly relax with his offered support.

“An empath sir...” She mumbled softly.

“Vin, please call me Vin.” He gave her a sincere smile. She in return smiled shyly and her too white cheeks bloomed with a rosy color as she nodded.

“Vin, an empath is just another type of demon. I am assigned people, people that are struggling with some form of darkness in their soul. I integrate myself into their life and if they are willing to take a second chance, I can pull the darkness from them.”

Vin thought it over for a moment and looked back down at her.

“You pull sin, sorrow and pain from them?” He asked quietly and she nodded excitedly.

“You seem to understand the basics of it. But it’s not only those situations… those with anger and addiction are a lot of who I’ve helped too.” Her voice trailed off and she began to close up again. Vin saw this and smiled gently.

“So what do you do once you’ve taken it into yourself?”

“I dissolve it, it’s gone. I’m like a walking filter....” She chuckled nervously.

“Oh.” He nodded. “Does it affect you at all?”

Persephone glanced down, her hand still in his and another rosy blush tinged her cheeks.

“My emotions can be influenced by those around me. If they are in pain, so am I. Anything they feel, if I’m not careful, will affect me.” She smiled shyly and lowered her eyes.

“Honestly, that has to suck.” He chuckled. “But I hope there aren’t emotions running rampant around here. Well at least not bad ones.”

Persephone giggled softly and shook her head. Her silvery blonde hair obscured her face by design. “Only good ones for the moment.”

Vin shook his head angrily. “Stop it, Sephie…” He growled.

“You are my new case, and since you already know me and what I am I can just cut to the chase.” The thrum of her power in the air picked up in intensity.

“Don’t make me hurt you, Sephie...” He pleaded softly. She stepped forward, but without the soft push and pull of her power. Her shoulders slumped gently and she shook her head.

“I don’t like seeing you like this, Vin. And I certainly don’t like feeling your emotions like this. It’s not safe for anyone.”

He roared out his frustration until his voice broke and all he could do was heave gasping breaths and glare.

“My son is dead. I have every right to feel like this.”

Persephone’s eyes changed again, and in them was a pleading quality. She stood there silently begging and unable to do anything without his permission. He was unsure of how long they stood there in silent conversation with one another but finally he turned and stomped from the building. Persephone’s lip quivered as silvery tears rolled down her cheeks again. She knew what would be coming now. The lights around her dimmed and she closed her eyes as the air around her grew thick with power. Persephone fought the urge to slide into the darkness and disappear through the shadow realm.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk, little one. You were so sure he’d accept your help.” A dark voice rumbled softly.

“Nicholas…” She murmured with scorn, in way of greeting. She knew he wasn’t really there, not in a physical sense but the projection he used for temporary trips to the mortal world were just as terrifying.

“Aye. So your plan to take back Vintgar’s... shall we say, darkness...” He said doubtfully as he looked around. “...failed, and I’ve come to collect on our deal.” The tall projection of him moved as silent as smoke across the floor and stood in front of the little demon. Her body shivered at his presence as he licked his lips slowly and looked her up and down.

“I can’t believe you offered yourself for some lowly Darkling. Why is he so special to you? Why would you enslave yourself on his behalf?”

She took a breath and steadied herself as she opened her eyes.

“I do not need to explain my actions to you. You couldn’t even begin to understand my reasons.”

Nicholas lifted his hands and shrugged.

“Hey, I was just curious. I still get the goods either way.”

“I’m not finished trying yet...” She stuttered defiantly and lifted her chin. The lanky demon chuckled.

“All I have is time, baby doll.” He murmured as he leered at her. Persephone quickly wrapped the shadows around herself and fled into the one realm where Nicholas would be hard pressed to catch her. Her heart beat thudding in her ears she started quickly searching for Vin but he had yet to step into the darkness himself. If he wouldn’t listen she’d soon run out of time.

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