Short story: Fire Dark

Darkness loomed over the land like eternal midnight. A kind of darkness so deep, it became lit by its own obsidian, atom-honed edges. Amid it, were the gnarled roots of the tree of life. Ruts of Earthen-tangle deep enough to bury even the sturdiest climber. They reached upward into a stalk of barren, petrified limbs like old ventricles in a fossilized heart.

The stars seemed not to exist above them. Nor clouds or moon.

Dead leaves rustled in the distance, stirred from some forgotten hollow eternally belching them. War had swept through the land. Night came. Bombers spewed fire like dragon’s breath. By day, what lay not in ruin would slowly crumble to it.

Little was ever rebuilt. Most was cannibalized: chiseled away by the dual forces of need and time. Their actuators of brute force and terror. What remained was bone, fasting in darkness for eternity. Never to be seen again. Forgotten.

The spark of Humanity had dimmed, but so too had all else. Life itself, so far as all evidence suggested, was flickering and might soon fade. The terror that alone brought with it was underscored by one, haunting question: who would be last to go?

Day-by-day, what few abominable creatures managed to eke out an existence, did so by suckling moisture from corrupted dregs. Each breath, each drop, poison and necessary.

Those feeling the call, what might once have been termed honor, were rising in the stupor of all blood-drenched and ready to die. They knew of nothing. Felt nothing. Save the knowledge that death must be had, and the greater it, the greater the deed.

He was like that. Sitting across the fire, head draped in mail. Face empty and sallow. There was no telling how long he’d been on the road. His face, at first hidden, shorn with tattered links fraying from overuse. He’d tanked more than a few blows to the coif.

The crest-shield of a forgotten clan rest at his side, half covering the sword that now lay bare. Its hilt, still in-hand but resting rather than clasped. This creature knew only the ways of death and fire. Each step in its world was a battle against one for the other. Why, was not certain: only that something drove it onward.

Time passed. How long cannot be said. Omnipresent gloom turned morning into afternoon as much as evening into midnight. A heave of breath escaped the creature’s lips. A mannish sort of grunt. Mail scraped and strained. The creature rose as if mechanical, its sword metallic and polished in blood.

He stopped astride at the other creature’s gaze. The one whose perception made sure to ground his reality. Enough so it remained existent to uphold its shackles through him. He turned his face toward the gazing creature, something alike and different about it at the same time.

With a slight inclination of his head, the gazer corrected him.

Not that way. Death lies that way.

I seek Death.

The exchange thus ended, the creature turned again to leave. This time he did not step. On the ground the light sound of metal hitting stone.

Take it.

The gazer was standing now. Knowing he could do no better good than to aid the abomination. Even if he failed, he’d tried. That was more goodness than any else in the world. Especially in these times. As if the very soul and fire of Humanity rested on such actions, the armored creature defied will and turned back only a step.

There, he stooped. Lifting the trinket to the firelight reflecting off the obsidian skies. A gem glittered: hope’s eternal flame in abounding darkness. He removed a gauntlet, threading a gangrenous-looking digit through the ring. Then, fitting the gauntlet back on, he turned away hesitating only slightly in his step.

His coif shuffled in attempt to look back, but the angle of his destiny was too strong. The current of death too swift, and the fire too bright now. No longer healing, but burning. He breathed and started off again.

Armor echoed through the night for far too long. The remaining creature stood, one ring poorer yet richer within somehow. He knew not why. Only that he’d acted on a compulsion. As that of the creature whom sought that light so vehemently even death could not stop it.

Because in the end, it seemed, even the darkest soul carried light within it.

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