Sneak peek at Silent Requiem, due November 24th, 2017!

Prologue

Unknown Day

 

The air was thick and the stone cold in the depths of the underground base. The room encapsulating Serraemas was dimly lit, the only source of light coming from a flickering torch on the far wall. Serraemas sat huddled in the corner, his shoulders back and legs strewn out. A droplet of water made its way from the dark ceiling above onto the cold ground not far from Serraemas’s foot.

Five-hundred-seventy-two.

Serraemas looked down at nothing in particular, lost in thoughts he never wished to see again. The images appeared inside his head, cycling in tandem as if each had its own burden to displace onto him. As soon as he thought that he dismissed one for good, it returned like a phantom as if to remind him that the farthest he could banish it was the back of his mind.

Bliss hadn’t neared him in over a century. No, that fortune was never his to keep ever again.

Drip, drip.

Five-hundred-seventy-three, Five-hundred-seventy-four.

The void of silence was his only company. Inside, he felt a hollowness. The last part of his soul had been taken from him in the form of Zaranet, the elemental and dear friend who had existed within him for as long as he had lived.

He hadn’t seen it coming, but he should have. Sanjin had swooped in, utterly crushing his staff—the weapon that held his source of power and his bond with Zaranet. From then on, his bond with the elemental was shattered, and from then on, Serraemas had been reduced to nothingness.

Sevag was supposed to have already dealt with her, but in the end it didn’t matter.

How long had it been since he sat there? Serraemas couldn’t remember, nor did he care to. He had lost his power, and thus the path that he had treaded on was no longer there, leaving him naught but to whittle the rest of his life away surrounded by darkness.

Drip, drip.

Five-hundred-seventy-five, five-hundred-seventy-six.

The steady drops of water had become rhythmic, a stark contrast to the dead silence that pervaded the dead air. Even a simple act such as counting had perhaps saved him from completely growing mad, or perhaps he already was. Perhaps only the mad counted drips of water.

In the end that didn’t matter either. Nothing did anymore, and that realization plunged Serraemas where light did not follow.

Serraemas looked at his hands. They were grimy, his nails long and his palms callused. They quivered despite his best attempt at holding them still, a reminder of his path—unsteady and unstable.

In his right hand Serraemas held a decently-sized rock. When he had first found it upon arriving into his room, it was jagged, but otherwise untampered with. Now, its edge was carefully hewn to the point where it was as sharp as a dagger.

Drip.

Five-hundred-seventy-seven.

Serraemas slowly raised the sharpened rock to his throat. His hand still trembled, but he knew that it wasn’t because he doubted the action that he would soon take.

Drip, drip, drip.

Five-hundred-seventy-eight, five-hundred-seventy-nine, five-hundred-eighty. What are you waiting for?

Serraemas held the rock even closer. He felt the sharp edge pressing against his skin. It would be so easy, all he had to do was a quick jerk and be done with it. Yet, the memories pressed even harder. They taunted him to do it. Every empty face. Every lifeless set of eyes. They stared at him coldly. Even Elena’s empty stare bore into his mind. Not even she would spare him.

His heart raced. Sweat clumped in his dirtied, unkempt hair. Serraemas squeezed the jagged stone hard. He felt it puncture the skin of his hand. He felt blood start to ooze out, first onto the rock, then down his hand, the length of his arm, and finally onto the floor.

Drip, drip.

Just do it. There’s nothing left. Do it, you blasted coward.

The image of Elena stared at him with arms outstretched, welcoming him. It was almost serene, but he knew better. There was no light waiting for him. He knew that. But… even to lift the unbearable burden crushing him, he continued to hold the rock to his throat.

Serraemas closed his eyes, willing for the tortuous specters to leave him be. Hundreds and hundreds of images came and went, all torturing him. Each and every one stabbed his mind, and he nearly winced from it all. All those lives, taken by his own hands. Some deserved it, but others he had taken as a result of what needed to be done. Innocent lives. Their deaths had been necessary. Now it was all in vain.

He collapsed under that burden. He was losing it, he was sure of that. Round and round his head spun. His sweat found itself rolling down his face. His panting filled the stillness, but it was getting hard to breathe. It was too much, and the rock would save him.

Serraemas braced, then slid the sharp edge to the right—

He stopped, a warm smile emerging and ceasing the rush of images. Serraemas latched onto it desperately. It was Raxxil’s toothy grin. The hammer-wielder smiled at him, the way that he had done more often than Serraemas could even remember. The smile that—even to this day—Serraemas had never reciprocated. And yet Raxxil continued to beam at him in his thoughts, just like the eternal sun bathed Ashkar with its rays every day.

“I gladly wait for the day that we can journey together again,” Sora had told Serraemas some time ago. It had been days, or perhaps even weeks since she had told him those words, and those words were from Raxxil.

In a fit of rage, despair, and melancholy, Serraemas slammed the rock hard into the ground. His heart was pounding, his skin bathed in cold sweat. He rose up, careful not to move or rely on his left arm much. The wound inflicted by Incindir’s fiery blade was deep, and Serraemas could still feel the sting. His arm, wrapped completely from his shoulder down to his elbow, would still need some time to fully heal.

Drip.

He had lost count. It wasn’t the first time that he had lost count, but he was hoping that it would have been the last.

Hope…

Serraemas reached down and picked up the same sharpened rock. He inspected it briefly. It was smeared in his blood and no matter how thoroughly he wiped it the red remained. He gave up, instead tucking it into his garment.

He looked over at the door to his room before opening it and making his way out. Once on the other side, the familiar, winding tunnels greeted him. He took a left, walking in silence in the direction of the underground lair’s main, cavernous room—of which he had reported to dozens and dozens of times in the past.

It wasn’t long before he heard a pair of voices echoing from beyond. He recognized them as Sevag’s and Sora’s. The former’s was nonchalant, of course, but the latter’s was dire—vehemently so—an occurrence that Serraemas did not recall happening too often, if ever. He slowed to a halt just next to the opening of the large room and crept up against the wall with his back, electing to keep his presence hidden.

“She wasn’t there,” said Sevag. “She ran off to go find Serraemas before I had the chance.”

Sora made a noise of blatant disapproval. “You were supposed to take them all out, including Sanjin and Mellin.”

Serraemas leaned to the right, sliding his body against the wall until he could see the two figures. Sevag stood with his back to him, with Sora standing opposite to Sevag. She was covered from head-to-toe, yet Serraemas didn’t need to see her face to know who was disappointed in who. Caretaker Gorr was also present, standing beside Sora, though he took no part in the discussion.

“What am I, some sort of child?” returned Sevag as he brought his arms up and shifted his stance. “Perhaps you would care to step in and rectify the situation, Master Sora?”

“No, you are going to finish your task,” ordered Sora as she procured a glowing orb. “This is now beyond rectifying. It is because of her that Serraemas has lost his power, which means that we have lost a powerful ally. If not for her, then Serraemas would have been successful and the Child of Light would be in our hands now—without the cost of nearly two lives.”

Sevag scoffed. “Is that supposed to be my fault?”

“Let me remind you that our numbers continue to dwindle despite being on the precipice of the prophecy,” said Sora. “It wasn’t just Serraemas. Erendil lost not only his elemental but his life to our enemy. If it wasn’t for Raxxil, perhaps the casualties would have been even worse.”

“Nonsense,” returned Sevag. “Did you just say that Raxxil did something useful? Now I know that you’re just making this up.”

“Go ask Serraemas yourself if you’re not convinced,” Sora said.

With a shake of his head, Sevag dismissed the comment. He then raised his hands to the air and made a gesture with his index and middle fingers. “How about I ask Incindir instead? My, my, what a silly moniker he chose, wouldn’t you agree?”

“No,” scolded Sora as she held up the orb for Sevag to take, though Serraemas was unsure if she was answering both questions, only one of them, or neither, like one would when ignoring the nagging of a child. “Use the Orb of Knowledge, take care of Sanjin, and report back.”

Sevag chuckled heartily. “Don’t get so stressed out. It’ll give you ugly wrinkles, you know.”

Serraemas watched as Sora zipped forward, placing her gloved hand on Sevag’s chest.

“Is this all just a game to you?” Sora asked fiercely.

“Oh,” replied Sevag without the urgency Serraemas would expect of someone about to endure an undesirable fate. “So you’re going to banish me, too? Then I suppose you’d have to do all the work yourself. Have you forgotten why you’re always in here and why we’re always out there? What a pity it is that you were stuck with such a headache-inducing affinity.” He paused before and after saying ‘headache-inducing’, as if it were a terrible pun.

And it was. Sevag’s words held merit, for the cost of using space elementalism was steeper than most others. While heavy use of some of the other affinities affected the nervous system and brain, such as lightning and ice, they were symptoms of fatigue and not directly associated with affecting the brain. Space elementalism, on the other hand, caused terrible migraines, fatigue that was not so easily cured by rest, and seemed to affect the body in ways that were yet to be understood.

The cost was heavy, but the power matched it.

“Don’t confuse compassion for weakness,” Sora said as she removed her hand from the man’s chest. “You may not find use for it, but without it our dream is reduced to tyranny.”

“Oh, right,” began Sevag as he turned away and headed for the opening of one of the tunnels that led to the surface. “Overthrow the tyrants and instate your own vision. That’s a good way to spell compassion.”

“Sevag,” Sora called out flatly.

The silver-tongued warrior whipped around, his distinct white hair and single black lock bouncing in the air while his armor plate clinked.

“The orb,” she reminded, still holding the glowing object in her outstretched hand.

“How silly of me,” said Sevag as he walked back to the much smaller figure, took the orb, and once again made his way to the other side of the cavern. His heavy footfalls echoed across the vast tunnels, accompanied by the whistling of a tune. Fainter and fainter they grew until silence reigned again.

Serraemas looked back at Sora, who emitted a drawn-out sigh before looking over at Gorr.

“Is he truly on our side?” grumbled Gorr with a frown. “Was he ever?”

Sora withdrew her gloved hand into the recesses of her cloak. “A man like that doesn’t have any side.”

“To this day, I still don’t understand his intentions,” added Gorr.

“Dark element feeds off of negative emotion,” explained Sora. “Slowly, the elementalist is consumed by insanity. For Erendil, it was his own troubles that fed his elemental. For Sevag, however, it’s the misery of others. Where Erendil rejected it, Sevag revels in it, even in the insanity.”

Serraemas took a deep breath, gathered himself as best he could, and moved out into clear sight. As he walked toward Sora, she caught sight of him, and judging by her reaction she was both surprised and relieved.

“How do you fare?” she asked plainly, and rightfully so. There was no need for arbitrary pleasantries or exchanges at this point. Even the question was frivolous, though it was more as a means of starting a conversation than anything.

“I’m… fine,” croaked Serraemas, realizing that he hadn’t uttered a single word in quite some time—days perhaps—and his hoarse voice reflected that.

“I was hoping that you would eventually find the strength to leave your room,” Sora continued. “I must admit though, I was beginning to think otherwise.”

Serraemas nodded slowly, but said nothing.

“Is there something you would ask of me?” she inquired.

“No,” he spoke softly. “There is nothing I can ask of you.”

Sora acknowledged the statement and continued to gaze back at him patiently.

Looking down, Serraemas pondered his words carefully. “I know I appear disheveled and haggard. I’m no more use to the dream we started so long ago, so I must leave. I’m… I’m unsure if I will ever return.”

“I understand,” Sora responded. “If I may ask, what are you hoping to find?”

Hope…. There it is again. Do I still hope?

“I’m not so sure myself,” he explained. “Perhaps, just perhaps, I can find myself again.”

 

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