The Bonds We Tie

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Tinder, Nov 15, 2015.

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  1. When a merchant family is attacked on the road, their young daughter is forced to flee for her life into the mountains. There she meets a mysterious boy claiming to be a demon. They join together to find a way back to her people. As they grow closer, the world they inhabit grows more dangerous. Secrets will spin a dangerous web that could mean their end if they are not careful.

    Threats cut through the night air. Tsura flew forward, branches scraping her checks.

    “Run, my lamb!”

    Blind instinct guided her. She knew nothing of the mountain. Thorns caught her woolen dress and green cloak. She heard the fabric rip as she struggled through. Mama wouldn’t be happy about that.
    A root caught the toe of her boot. She dove head first into the weeds. Nettles stung her face, making her eyes water. She brought her hands up to rub the pain away. There was a thud from the woods behind her. Cursing followed.

    “You can’t run forever, you little bitch!”

    Tsura blinked back the tears, pushed herself up and plunged onward. Her lungs were on fire. Her legs had gone numb. Fear kept her moving. A thick patch of bramble caught hold of her. She struggled through like a snared hare. Her cloak was ripped from her shoulders, but she kept on running. She couldn’t stop. Papa told her not to stop.

    Suddenly the trees fell away. Bare rock reared up before her. Manmade pillars stood out against the rugged backdrop of the natural world, each intricately carved with swirling patterns. A carving crowed the structure with a picture of a knight surrounded by a heavenly aura lifting his sword heavenward. Well-worn stairs marked the path to the ornate gate of silver and steel. The structure was dark as though it had been abandoned for years.

    “Beware the temple carved of rock. There rest the thralls of steel and light.”

    She stumbled to a stop at the base of the stairs. The gates stood open, but the darkness forbade entry. The air was heavy as though a storm were about to break.

    The sound of thrashing reached her ears from the woods. She scurried up the stairs into the shadows. Heavy silence hung in the halls, disrupted only by the sound of her footfalls. Small torches began to appear as she walked, illuminating the hall with a dim glow. She stared at one as she passed. The fire looked weak, sickly almost. Wall carvings became visible as she went along. Some depicted scenes from the stories she’d heard the grey cloaks tell. Others were filled with words she could not read. A few were covered by elaborate tapestries with lots of bright colors and detailed pictures. Yet little passion emanated from the art. It felt more like an obligation; created to fulfill a duty to the subject. Tsura hurried passed them, hoping to get further into the safety of the darkness. A passage appeared and she took it, turning down another and another. It was not long before she felt she’d lost her pursuer as well as herself.

    She stopped to rest behind a large statue. It was carved of pure white stone and depicted a man in armor. He looked angry with a frown chiseled onto his features and his sword thrust up skyward. Tsura looked away, gathering her knees to her chest. Suddenly she tensed. She could hear footsteps
    “I heard it this way.”

    She froze. Her ragged breath stopped as the footsteps approached her.

    “No one should be out of their cells.”

    A pair of men appeared from the other end of the hall. They wore silvery armor with lions on their breastplates and pauldrons. She’d never seen a lion before, not a real one at least. They were creatures from a distant land across the sea. Mama had told her stories about them. The men walked past with their backs to her. Her eyes were drawn to their swords at their sides. She remembered the curved dagger of the man chasing her.

    “Those new recruits were still restless yesterday. Maybe one got out to prowl.”

    “Too quiet for that. Sounded like an animal.”

    Tsura curled herself into a tight ball and squeezed her eyes shut. They had swords like the men from the road. What if they wanted her too? She never should have stopped.

    “No animal would come in here.”

    Their voices retreated down the hall, quieting to a distant murmur before breaking off. Tsura sat there quivering. Exhaustion had sunk into her bones, but she needed to keep running. She wanted to go back. Mama and Papa would be waiting for her. But the man with the knife was outside. Papa had told her to keep running, but she didn’t know where to go. They had been traveling most of the day without seeing even one town. She couldn’t walk all the way back alone. Not with those men out there. She laid her head on her knees in the cradle of her arms. There had to be a way to get home. Mama had told her a trick once to find the caravans, but she had forgotten it.

    “There, I see it!”

    Her head shot up. The men were back. They were running down the hall.

    “A child?”

    She jumped to her feet and shot down the corridor. She turned into the first doorway she saw.

    “Damn, the chamber,” she heard one curse from behind.

    The room was filled with green crystal pillars. Strange marks covered each of them in a series of patterns though she could not say what any of them meant. The rest of the room was nothing more than a large cavern. Water dripped down from stalactites on the ceiling into little pools along the edge. The air was damp and cool. Tsura saw an opening on the other side of the room. She ran for it.

    “Stop!” she heard one of the men shout.

    Tsura glanced back. Her foot kicked something hard. She went sprawling forward. She glanced down and saw a big disc. It was green like the pillars with lots of strange lines carved onto the surface. The designs were in a series of rings each one blossoming out of the middle which was smooth and polished to perfection. It was so dark it looked like a hole in the ground. She rolled forward and pushed herself off. The men ran around the disc to catch her. She cleared the door and bolted down the nearest passage way. None of them noticed the drops of blood she left on the stone.

    Tsura turned down another hall. It was a dead end save for a small fissure in the wall. She stopped in front of it, peeking in to see what there was. A light shone from the other end. The men appeared at the door. She squeezed in. They reached in after her, but she slipped from their grasp. They cursed as she made her escape. She had to walk sideways, maneuvering her thin frame through stone. She got stuck once, and had to sit and wriggle for a long time to keep moving through. There was a small opening on the other side of the wall, just big enough to squeeze through. She slipped her head out first and the one arm. Her lower half got stuck. She wiggled her other arm out and began to pull herself forward. Finally she burst out and ran smack into a pile of crates. They began to teeter. She rolled to the side as they came down. One burst open, spilling a pile of wool onto the floor while the crate at the very top hit the wall and slide down in front of the fissure. She took a deep breath. That had been close.

    There were stacks of supplies everywhere. Sacks of grain were precariously piled in one corner surrounded by barrels and crates of all sizes. Bolts of cloth leaned against the wall, all in varying shades of grey and white. There was a door on the wall opposite to the fissure Tsura had squeezed through. Seeing no other way out, she walked over and pushed the door. It didn’t move. She tried again, harder this time. It refused to budge. Panic blossomed in her chest. She rammed herself against the door, resulting in a loud bang and a hurt shoulder. No, it wasn’t possible. She pounded her fists against the door, stopping only when they began to go numb. She was trapped.

    Her breath caught and her eyes began to water. She needed to get out. Taking a step back, she looked for a tool to help her. Only boxes presented themselves. There was no way to go back the way she came. She needed to find Mama and Papa. “Someone help me,” she begged the empty air, “Please.”

    The door lurched open. Tsura looked up. The men stood before her, red faced from exertion and anger. “Found the rat,” the first announced. He stepped forward. She darted to the side. He catch her waist and crushed her to his chest. “Not this time,” he warned.

    “Let go,” she screamed, thrashing with all her remaining strength.

    He laughed at her efforts, “Kick my armor all you want, little rat. Don’t cry to me of bruises after.”

    “We need to get her out of here,” his fellow said, turning to go.

    Then the ground lurched out from under them. Her captor fell forward, releasing his hold on her to catch himself. Tsura raced forward, but a second tremor knocked her from her feet, giving the second man enough time to catch her. Her shoulder burned from where she’d hit the door and her heart raced.

    “Simeon,” her captor called to the man on the ground, “Get up. We need to check on this.”

    The other man stood up and walked out of the room. Tsura was carried back and dropped on the ground like a pile of rags. The man shut the door after him. She jumped up and slammed her fists on the door, but it was already bolted shut. “Let me out,” she screamed after them, but there was no reply. She sank to the floor by the door, biting her lip to stay strong.

    “We’ll deal with the rat later,” she heard Simeon say, “Come on.”

    Tsura remained on the floor for a while. Seeing nothing to do at the door, she drifted back to the fissure. She pushed the crate, trying as hard as she could to move it. Nothing worked. Whatever was stored within was far too heavy to be moved by a child. Tears began to flow down her cheeks. She was trapped with nowhere to go. Papa had told her to keep running. Why had she stopped? Now she would never get out. A whimper escaped her lips. She took a deep breath, quieting her sobs before they could begin in earnest. She needed to be strong. Mama would want her to be strong. She stood up again and tried pushing the crate some more. It would work if she just kept at it. It had to.
    #1 Tinder, Nov 15, 2015
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 29, 2016
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  2. It came through the anemic patch of gray-green bushes with the lumbering air of a wounded animal, its narrowed crimson eyes glaring from the shadows of its twisted face. Kamon had no idea who it was. Who it had been. The sickness leaking into everything here from the Void had corrupted the demon before him beyond recognition. Out here, these mindless former brethren were called “Hollows” for that very reason.

    “Just go,” Kamon said with a hiss, tightening the grip on the crude knife in his right hand.

    The Hollow lurched, responding to Kamon’s demand with an abysmal screech of indecipherable words, causing the child’s face to pinch together in disgust and fear. If he were going to survive, he’d have to fight. There was no other way around it. It was somewhat ironic really. He’d been exiled here because he wanted to stop fighting.

    Kamon took a cautious step back, eyes never leaving his enemy, his knife at the ready in front of him. This did little to dissuade the Hollow. Its fangs gnashed together inside its sunken, almost canine face, the grating sound making Kamon’s skin break out in gooseflesh. As the tall beast planted its feet and prepared to pounce, Kamon broke away to his left, sprinting through the thick copse of trees. He could hear the Hollow crashing after him. His heart hammered in his throat as he pushed forward, but he kept his focus, knowing what lay ahead—a sheer drop into the Void. It was risky, but it could be his only chance at getting out of this alive.

    The only drawback was that he’d have to use his magic . . . .

    The Hollow screeched again, the sound almost like a scream of agony. Kamon didn’t have time to let his emotions take over though. A sudden gust of wind blew in from behind him—exploded really—and there was a sharp, thunderous crack. One of the deadening trees had given way to the Hollow’s assault, its faltering roots unable to save it. Kamon felt his feet leave the ground. His eyes widened. The blast sent him hurtling through the brush and out the other side. Powdery dust rose into the air where he hit and tumbled, gouging his face open on a rock before he finally came to a stop. The air was filled with whispering cries. Kamon groaned and pushed to his hands and knees, staggering away as the uprooted tree slammed into the ground and skidded over the edge into the Void. That could have been me, Kamon thought.

    He pushed it aside and looked back. The Hollow emerged from the woods. Its eyes were like two small fires blazing in dark sockets. It took Kamon a second to realize that he’d lost his knife. Probably when he hit the ground. The boy gritted his teeth and quickly scanned the dirt before looking at the Hollow again, afraid to keep his eyes off it for more than a few seconds. The knife hadn’t been there. He had time to wonder if it had gone over the edge like the tree before the Hollow charged, raising its gnarled, clawed fists into the air. Kamon froze. It was a demon from the SIN clan, he realized. I’ve seen that move before.

    The boy took a deep breath and set his feet. As the Hollow brought its fists down, Kamon sprinted forward, tendrils of darkness gathering around his feet and dissipating into silvery clouds of mist in his wake. It was painful. He’d almost forgotten in his two years out here. The ground splintered in a spider-web pattern underneath the Hollow’s fists. A tremendous groan filled the air, as if the very earth was sobbing, and Kamon jumped, exploding off the ground with a burst of energy that sent him sailing toward the trees. He squinted against the wind and pain that gripped him, forcing himself to focus. The boy tucked and rolled when he hit, spinning as he gained his footing. The Hollow was teetering amidst its own destruction. It was just like a sinner to rain down chaos without any regard for his or her own safety. Now that it was corrupted, it was even more reckless, which had definitely been to the boy’s favor. Someone was looking out for him today.

    As the ground around the Hollow began to give way, Kamon summoned one last burst of energy and gathered the darkness from the trees around him, the effort enough to make tears stream down his face. The energy curled and rose. It looked like he was ripping the shadows from their casters, and with a tremendous shove, the boy threw his arms forward, a cry of anger and agony rending the stale air. A sea of black like a coursing tidal wave rushed forward and slammed into the Hollow. The creature howled and staggered backward. Underneath, the ruined earth gave way, crumbling down into the abyss that surrounded this cursed place. Kamon watched from his knees, barely conscious. Unable to regain its balance, the Hollow screamed, its haunting cries fading into silence as it disappeared over the edge. The boy smiled.

    Then collapsed face first into the pale dirt.


    “Kamon? Kamon!”

    The boy blinked his eyes as he awoke, coughing. His body ached. His throat felt like sandpaper. Then he remembered the voice and scrambled to his feet, running a few steps before stumbling to a standstill and facing the newcomer. Kamon nearly dropped.


    An older man stood before him. For all intents and purposes, he looked human. Most demons did. It was only when they were corrupted by the Void or overused their magic that they started looking less like the ones who banished them and more like supernatural beasts.

    “Kamon . . . what happened?”

    The boy shook his head and grunted, gingerly touching the side of his head. It was tacky with blood. “You know what happened, father. Why ask? Did you come to finish the job that the Hollow couldn’t?”

    Mirak, as everyone else knew him, sighed. “No. I came—” he started. He paused mid-sentence. His eyes lingered over the recent battleground as if assessing the damage. “I came to bring you home. You’ve been out here long enough.”

    Kamon was stunned. Being offered a place back into a clan after exile was . . . . It just didn’t happen. Though he supposed his father being the leader of his clan allowed Mirak to do whatever he wished. There would be consequences to this. For both of them. Still, he had to hide the relief that flooded through him. He’d been so sure that he would have ended up dead. Or worse, as a Hollow. The thought caused him to grimace and he glared at his father, suddenly angry.

    “I’m surprised it matters to you. You’re the one that exiled me here in the first place.”

    “I know perfectly well what I’ve done,” Mirak said. His tone was as steady and matter-of-fact as always. “It was the judgment of the entire family that you should be punished for your disloyalty and weak will. Dissension within the clan leads to chaos. One need only look at the example of the sinners to know that.”

    Kamon clenched his fists. “Sometimes I think I’m the only sane one left here.”

    Mirak eyed him, a frown forming on his angular face. “If you choose to go down this road again there’s nothing I can do for you. I went against the wishes of the clan to come here and bring you back, claiming that two years was enough punishment. It seems like all I did was waste my time.”

    Mirak turned to leave and Kamon wiped his eyes, disgusted at the tears that had formed there. “How did you know I wasn’t already dead?” he shouted. But he knew the answer.

    “We would have felt it,” Mirak said. “We’re family. You knew the answer to that, so why did you ask?”

    “I don’t know,” Kamon said. This whole exchange was wearing on his already fatigued mind and body. “Why do we have to fight? You say it’s for respect and power, so that our clan will be able to rule over all the others and finally start restoring order. Am I the only one here who wants to know what difference that makes? If we do win this stupid war, who’s to say it’ll change anything? What stops the other clans beneath us from banding together and continuing the fight until we’re all dead?” The boy’s chest rose and fell as he spoke, his voice breaking with emotion. “You think some long-dead notion of Sehkensu even applies anymore? I doubt most of us even know what that means.”

    “The Elder Tribe has been a tradition for our kind for generations. It’s the duty of every clan leader to teach those under him or her those ways, so when the time comes that one of the clans is victorious, the others will fall in line. That’s the way it has always been.”

    You mean the way it used to be, Kamon thought. He sighed wearily. “Even so, you’re forgetting something.”

    Mirak crossed his arms and grunted. “What’s that?”

    The boy pointed at the Void. “Everybody’s so worried about fighting for control they’ve forgotten that what they’re fighting for is dying.”

    “We haven’t forgotten, Kamon,” Mirak replied quietly. “That’s why our clan is trying to win this war. To stop the bloodshed and focus everyone’s efforts on finding a way to stop the Void from growing.”

    “It’s too late,” Kamon said. “The sickness is too deep. . . . It’s over.”

    “It’s only over if you give up.”

    Kamon blinked back tears and looked up at his father. The man’s golden eyes were narrowed, but the boy could swear he saw tears there too.

    “Come,” Marik said. “Let’s go home.”

    Kamon wiped his face once more as Mirak started off. He didn’t share his father’s hope that anything would change, nor did he believe that a cure for this prison world existed anywhere. The whole thing was futile. But he decided that while Pandemonium slowly withered along with everything on it until there was nothing left, he’d live out the rest of his years fighting for his family, and trying to find a few, rare moments of happiness. If happiness was still possible.

    The boy took a step forward and felt the world sway. He fell to his knees, his eyes blurring as the most bizarre sensation he’d ever felt in his life began to fill his being. A cryptic set of symbols burned to life in the ground beneath him. Strange lines and interconnecting rings, teeming with an eerie greenish light that enveloped him with a warmth that was almost comforting. But underneath this was a buzzing, unfamiliar vibration—it was magic. It was not his own, and it was not his father’s. Those who had lived back when demonkind was first banished to this world might have recognized it. Yet this was different somehow. Not that Kamon would know this one way or another. The boy screamed. Mirak, who was now a good twenty or thirty feet away, spun back, his golden eyes widening in his ashen face.


    The green light intensified. Try as he might, the boy could not move, and the magic invaded every inch of his being, almost as if it were reaching inside of him and yanking out his soul. He could see his father running toward him, but he wasn’t going to make it. Kamon’s eyes rolled back, yet before he was lost completely, a faint voice called out. Someone help me . . . please. The desperate cry seemed to echo in his fading consciousness. Then it was gone, and it was just him in a vast expanse without any sound or light, rising upwards at an incredible speed.


    He awoke to the world shuddering, his face against a smooth, glasslike surface. It was cool to the touch and soothed the lingering heat radiating from his skin, but Kamon did not trust it. The boy scrambled back on his hands and feet. His eyes darted around the foreign cave, taking in the strange pillars that surrounded the disc he was crouching on. Where am I? he thought, his pulse beginning to race with adrenaline again. It didn’t look like any place he had seen in Pandemonium. And the magic that had brought him here wasn’t demonic. It had been oddly . . . pure and benevolent. He remembered the voice that had called out to him as he was fainting. Whoever it had come from sounded scared and alone. That was a familiar feeling.

    Footsteps. Kamon’s sensitive ears picked up faint footfalls and voices. He dashed down from the raised dais and toward the safety of the shadows, disappearing through one of the openings opposite the approaching strangers. Tsura’s blood was mysteriously absent from the portal’s polished surface. The boy stayed crouched, almost like an animal in the darkness. At the far end, two men emerged. Adorned in gleaming silver armor with an image of a large, maned cat on their breastplates, Kamon held his breath. There was no way he was still in Pandemonium. This had to be . . . .

    “Aydalon,” he whispered. The young demon froze in shock. One of the knights was looking around the room, and the other one was inspecting the disc he had awoken on. It appeared the one near the portal was named ‘Simeon.’ And judging by his facial features, Simeon was not happy. He motioned toward the second man, who drew his sword and started toward Kamon’s general direction. The boy scampered back, his footsteps oddly quiet as he raced down the dimly lit corridors. Where the exit was, he had no idea, but he wasn’t about to get caught by the armed humans patrolling this place. Who knows why they had summoned him here. If they were preparing to attack without even knowing anything had worked, then it certainly wasn’t for friendly conversation. Kamon slipped down another passageway. Something was drawing him in this direction. It was a feeling deep in his gut, like instinct. But was that feeling wrong?

    The boy was staring at a dead end. A fissure had split the wall open, and he thought he saw a faint light at the end of it, but would he fit? And something was blocking out most of the light anyway. That’s when he heard faint sobbing and movement. Somebody was in the room on the other side. Kamon heard the voices of the knights again and turned, moving quickly down a passage parallel to the storage room. Every once in a while he would catch a glimpse of a carving or painting, some of the same man, and some that looked like a god backed by the powerful spirit of a maned cat. He didn’t have time to process this though. As a bend appeared ahead of him, the boy took it, circling around toward the crying person as quickly and quietly as possible. There was a sudden rush of voices, these ones new, but they began withdrawing toward the chamber. Probably more knights who had been shaken from their sleep by Kamon’s arrival.

    Renewed fear bloomed in his chest with a vengeance. He had to get out of here. Now. The boy raced onward, moving faster than his brain had time to catch up, and he realized at the last second that he had rushed straight past the door he’d been searching for. Kamon crouched and skidded painfully to a stop, swiveling back around and dashing towards the locked door. He hadn’t a clue why he’d been drawn there. Didn’t know who was in there, or whether they were friend or foe. But he had survived near the Void for two years by trusting his instincts. Why would he change now?

    Kamon took a breath and grabbed the heavy iron latch holding the door in place. It slid open with a muted clack. Not daring to speak, the boy in the tattered clothing pulled the door open and peered inside, his amber eyes locking onto a figure near the back. It was a girl with deeply tanned skin and dark hair tied into a braid. Though her face was young, she was quite tall. Taller than Kamon by a good three inches at least. The boy found himself speechless for a moment, unsure of what he was supposed to say, or even how to interact. He’d never spoken to a human before. Never seen a human before today. Thankfully, common sense prevailed, and he remembered he was running for his life.

    “Hurry,” he whispered. “Before they come back.”
    #2 A Clockwork Tangerine, Nov 15, 2015
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2015
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  3. Tsura continued her efforts until her tired limbs began to shake and sweat beaded down her forehead. She fell back to the ground, putting her arms onto her knees. Whatever energy had been left in her drained away. Nothing she could do would move that crate. She glanced at the door. There was a chance she could slip out before they noticed her. If she were quick enough, she could still escape. All she had to do was rest for a while.

    She brushed the sweat from her forehead. Another rumble ran through the ground; softer than the previous. Perhaps the men would forget about her. She sighed and glanced towards the wall. There were sacks of grain stacked all over so she wouldn’t starve, but water would be an issue. She laid her head back on her arms. Mama would be upset. Tsura had lost her cloak and now she’d lost herself. Papa would try to find her, once he’d chased away the bad men. She hoped the fuss hadn’t woken Aiden. He was only a year old and Mama had said he needed his rest.

    Tsura tensed. The sound of running footsteps echoed from beyond the door. She rose to her feet slowly, wincing when she put weight onto her legs. They had come back. Blood pounded in her ears. It would be now or now. The bolt slid in the door. She tensed her body to run. The door swung open. Her breath caught.

    In the doorway stood a boy with dark hair dressed in rags. Tsura found herself at a loss for words, unsure whether she ought to run or rejoice. He didn’t look like he belonged with the men from earlier. Maybe he was lost too. She stared into his amber eyes, frozen in the moment. He didn’t look friendly. He could be helping the man with the knife to find her. She tried to keep her face as passive as possible like Papa when he had to haggle. ‘Show no fear, my lamb, and they will respect you.’ She bit her bottom lip, waiting to see what he would do.

    Then he did something she hadn’t expected. He beckoned her to follow him. She straightened up, eyebrows furrowed to accompany her frown, “What?” She’d expected…well she wasn’t sure what she’d expected, but not that. Not an offer of help. How could it be possible that a stranger would materialize just in time to help her? Unless it was all a trick. Papa had said to be wary when she was alone with a stranger. She took a step back and demanded, “Who are you?”

    “Oy, there’s someone there!”

    She flinched at the sound. The men were back. The room seemed small suddenly. She darted forward into the hall; the boy momentarily forgotten. They’d come from the same hall she’d tried to run down earlier.

    Simeon was running in front of his fellow with another trailing close behind. “The rat’s out!”

    His fellow from earlier had a sword drawn, “Where’d the boy come from?”

    She glanced back at the boy, hesitating for a breath. “Come on,” she growled out, grabbing his hand. She fled the men, following the passage past the bend where it grew dark. The walls became rougher as they ran. Nature still ruled in this part of the mountain temple. It was clear this passage had not been used for the temple. Tsura wasn’t sure it would lead them anywhere. But it was either the unknown or capture. She preferred to take her chances. They came to a wall with a small opening near the ground. Tsura released the boy’s hand to bend down and push herself into the tunnel. She beckoned to the boy wordlessly. It was a tight squeeze, but she managed to get through. Once the rough of the cavern had extended away from her head, she stood up and waited for the sound of the boy coming through. Reaching out, she grabbed the boy’s arm and slid her hand down to his. She put a hand to the wall and began to walk forward, slowing her pace just a hair.

    She heard an unfamiliar voice call to the other men, “Got through the wall.”

    “Damnit,” Simeon yelled, kicking a wall (or man) by the sound of it, “We need to find them.”

    “Ignore the rats. The grandmasters may need our help.”

    Tsura jogged along with the boy for what felt like an eternity. She breathed heavily as she ran, still exhausted from her earlier attempt at escaping. There was no time to stop. She kept a grip of the boy’s hand, hardly aware of herself as she pulled him along. He was an afterthought in the escape, but she would not leave him now. Suddenly there was a cool breeze on her cheek. Breezes didn’t come from inside mountains. A dim light appeared in the distance. She picked up her pace and ran for it.

    The darkened halls she’d been greeted by when she first entered reappeared. She could smell the night air. All other thoughts dropped from her mind as she dropped the boy’s hand. “Hurry up, I think I know they way,” she called, a relieved smile breaking over her face. Pain was momentarily forgotten as she ran for the exit like a wildfire through dry grass. She continued to follow the hall not stopping until the ornate steel and silver gates reappeared. They remained open.

    Tsura burst through into the open air. Distance rumbles could still be felt from the interior of the temple and the sounds of shouting echoed down the halls. She raced down the steps glancing back once to check that the boy was following. “The woods,” she directed, beckoning him to keep running. She did not feel safe in the open.

    She sprinted through the fields as though real lions were behind her. It was not until she reached the tree line that she slowed and then only to work her way through the thick weeds. She squirmed through and continued in a ways until she found a tree stump next to a large fallen oak. There she could not see the edge of the forest. Relief flooded her and she collapsed onto the stump bent forward on her knees. She gasped for breath, certain that she would never be able to move again. But she was free once more. That was all that mattered. The cool air brought slow relief to her stinging lungs. Her limbs ached but it was the good ache of job well done.

    It took her a few moments to catch her breath. She looked up at the boy. The danger had passed, but now she faced another problem. Who was he? There was nothing remarkable about him that would suggest why he was out here. He looked like a boy from the village to her. She straightened up, her eyes less guarded than they had been in the temple. “I don’t know who you are, kid, but thanks for the help,” she smiled a little, “I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t showed up.” She attempted to straighten her clothes like Mama had taught her. “My name’s Tsura by the way. Tsura tru Coe.”
    #3 Tinder, Nov 19, 2015
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2015
    • Love Love x 1
  4. Kamon watched the girl closely for a moment, his eyes narrowed. Being in this strange land talking to humans, a race he’d only ever heard about growing up and had almost come to believe were a myth, was far from comfortable. It set him on edge. This girl seemed wary of him too, though. Her face changed at his words. It was as if she didn’t quite believe he was there to help her, and the young boy could relate.

    “What?” Her voice reflected every suspicion she had. Then she stepped away from him. “Who are you?”

    His face went blank at this. What was he supposed to say? That he was a demon? That somebody had summoned him to this world for reasons he didn’t know, and likely wouldn’t understand? That his family and clan were probably losing their collective minds knowing he’d been summoned for what might have been a sinister purpose? Maybe the Order of Rasalas had finally grown tired of merely confining them and was searching for a way to kill them off in one swift and final blow. Kamon opened his mouth to speak. Nothing came out. Instead, a very familiar and unwelcome voice answered.

    “Oy, there’s someone there!”

    The boy nearly hissed at the sound, but his anger was placated for the time being as the girl finally came forward.

    “Where’d the boy come from?”

    Kamon froze. Did they really not know? They’d summoned him here for god’s sake! Unless . . . .

    “Come on!”

    It was the girl again, and Kamon felt a strange shock as she grasped his hand. He hadn’t expected that. Not that it was entirely unwelcome. The last person who had held his hand was his mother, and that was years ago. For the first time in a long time, Kamon put his trust into someone else. The boy had no idea how to get out of here. He didn’t even know where here was. So he had no other choice but to believe that this human girl knew where she was going. It was a scary feeling. Kamon ran after her, eyes squinted and searching for anything that might hamper their escape. He could see better than the humans in the darkness. Of that he was almost certain. The passage they were in now was pockmarked with decay, holes decorating the worn surface where the stone had begun to crumble away. Vines were even beginning to creep through the cracks and climb up the walls as if to hold fast to this ancient place before it collapsed completely. Better to let it return to nature, Kamon thought.

    The girl’s hand fell away. He looked back down the passage, ready to fight if necessary as she wiggled through the small opening in the wall. The footsteps were growing louder. Once she was through, Kamon dropped and scurried forward, wincing a little as the tight, rough space clawed at him with rocky fingers, trying to keep him in this awful place. With a final push he squeezed through and pushed himself to his feet, his chest rising and falling a little quicker now. He hadn’t liked that at all. That small, suffocating space felt too much like a coffin. His thoughts broke as the girl grabbed his hand again and started to lead him down another passage. She was moving much slower now, and he could see (but mostly hear) her hand brushing the wall for guidance.

    “Got through the wall.”

    “Damnit!” That was Simeon’s voice. Kamon’s mouth twitched at the sound of the knight kicking something. Or someone. “We need to find them.”

    “Ignore the rats. The grandmasters may need our help.”

    Grandmasters? Kamon thought as he followed the girl. Help with what? Did they really not expect anything to come from that portal? Then . . . how the hell did I get here? And why? The boy’s mind was swirling, and it was a good thing his new companion was guiding him, otherwise he’d have stopped there in that passageway staring into the darkness like a mindless husk. The implications of his summoning and the culture—even world—shock was finally starting to seep in now that their escape was almost complete. He barely felt the wind that was blowing in, and had all but missed the light in the distance. Then he was jolted forward as the girl ran, and he had no choice but to follow her once more.

    A bizarre entry hall greeted them. There were pictures on the walls, but Kamon had no idea who they were of or what they meant. Nothing about the last several minutes made any sense. He sniffed, and the familiar scent of nighttime and forest life brightened his outlook for a split second. Because out of everything, that was familiar. He’d smelled that for the last two years.

    “Hurry up, I think I know the way,” the girl said as she dropped his hand.

    She didn’t need to ask him twice. Kamon was right on her heels, barely acknowledging the massive silver gates as he blew past them. He could feel mild tremors coming from the temple behind them as his feet touched the earth and the vague shouts from the men tasked with investigating them, but he didn’t care. The boy was already making a beeline for the woods without the girl even having to mention them. It was like a safety blanket. His one safe haven in this crazy world. He embraced it, moving more nimbly and easily through the thick scrub then his companion. A brief smile touched his face, yet was gone in an instant, hardly noticeable to anyone but him. If he’d had it his way, he would have kept going. Might have run for miles just to put this behind him and convince himself that this was all some hallucination brought on by his time spent near the Void. It drove the other exiled demons mad. Turned them into Hollows. Who’s to say it didn’t do this? What if it played with your mind until you lost it because you couldn’t tell what was real and what wasn’t anymore?

    He heard a thump and stopped, casting a glance over his shoulder. The girl was sitting on a stump, sucking in the fresh air as she rested and regained her strength. Kamon paused. Part of him desperately wanted to keep going, but the girl was young, and he wasn’t sure humans had the same level of endurance. The boy was tired, yes, but not quite that tired, and he could keep running until his legs gave out if the situation required it. It was a trait that saved his life many times back home.

    He caught her looking at him and he turned his gaze away, suddenly embarrassed. She might ask him who he was again, or where he came from. She’d want to know how he found her there. And what was he supposed to say? Did humans know about demons, or was his race a myth to them like he’d thought humans were to his?

    “I don’t know who you are, kid, but thanks for the help.” She smiled when she said this, and the boy blinked, finding the expression somewhat comforting. “I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t showed up. My name’s Tsura by the way. Tsura tru Coe.”

    Tsura, he thought. It sounds pretty. Not at all like I’d expected, what with that other human named Simeon. The boy wrinkled his nose at the thought, and then cleared his throat, absently putting his hand to his chest. There was a small bump there where his pendant was hidden. Touching it gave him a moment to gather his thoughts.

    “My . . . my name is Kamon,” the boy said, his stilted manner of speech reflecting his unsettled nature. “I . . . woke up there.” That wasn’t entirely a lie. “I heard you crying when I was trying to find my way out. That’s how I found you.”

    He paused and lowered into a crouching position, finding it more comfortable than sitting. Predators could be out here, human or animal. Sitting made him complacent. His head tilted, and his eyes became distant, as if he was listening intently for something that wasn't there. Then the boy lowered his gaze before forcing himself to look her in the eye. Father told him that a man who couldn’t look somebody in the eye was either a liar or a coward. And he didn’t want to be either.

    “What were you doing there?” he asked, not knowing what a painful question he was truly asking.
    #4 A Clockwork Tangerine, Nov 21, 2015
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2015
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  5. Tsura watched the boy as he responded. ‘Kamon? That’s a weird name.’ His explanation for getting there seemed odd too. Perhaps those mean men dressed like lions had done something to him. Something about them had seemed strange like they knew a secret. Maybe that secret had something to do with Kamon. But they couldn’t have known about Kamon because they’d been confused when they saw him. It was like he’d wandered in as she had. Maybe he was just lying about why he was there. But why would he do that? She was distracted from her thoughts when he mentioned finding her. She sat up straight and crossed her arms, “I wasn’t crying. I was trying to move the crate. It was really heavy.” Her burning cheeks told another story. She hadn’t realized that she’d been that loud. Her pride refused to believe he had heard her, but how else would he have found her?

    She focused her attention back on Kamon. He crouched down, still tense as though he expected those men to follow them out. Tsura didn’t know why they would bother. They had been distracted after the two had gone through the dark tunnel. There was no reason for them to follow. It had only been a misunderstanding. Maybe he was just scared. Until he’d shown up, she knew that she’d been a little nervous. He almost looked like an animal when he sat like that. A cat if she had to pick one to describe him with. Maybe he’d been raised by wildcats like the child in the legend that Mama used to tell her. A lost child lived happily in the wilderness with his family of wildcats until he came across his real mother among the caravans one day. That story had such a sad ending though. She hoped it wasn’t the case.

    His next question drew her back to reality. His amber eyes locked with hers as he asked what she was doing there. Anxiety came back to her heart as her thoughts turned to her family. She looked away, hoping to hide the shine that had returned to her eyes, “I…got a little lost.” The man with the knife came back into her mind as well. She pulled her legs up onto the tree stump and wrapped her arms around them, a chill running through her. “We were traveling on the main road, just me, Papa, Mama and Aiden. I was riding up front with Papa since it was late. We don’t usually travel so late at night, but Papa said the mountain was a safe place. He wanted to make it to the next town before market day.” She realized she was rambling and paused to get herself back on track. “I’d just closed my eyes for a second when some mean men showed up. Papa told me to run, so I did. I didn’t mean to go so far, but one of the men followed me into the woods. I had to keep going. Papa’s probably worried now. I’m not supposed to go far away when I go out by myself.” A shiver ran down her arms causing her to draw her legs closer to her body. “I need to find them. I’m sure Papa’s gotten rid of the men by now. He’s really strong and good with a sword.”

    She didn’t want to talk about it anymore. She glanced back toward Kamon, “What about you? Did you get lost out here too?”
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  6. Her insistence that she hadn’t been crying was kind of endearing. She was obviously a proud girl, despite her age, and him mentioning that he had heard her in such a vulnerable state embarrassed her. Kamon tried to keep a straight face. He hadn’t meant to upset her with the facts of his arrival, so instead of arguing otherwise or laughing, he merely nodded as if to say “my mistake.” The boy was still nervous. Those weird men with the silver armor hadn’t followed them it seemed. Whatever business they needed to attend to with the grandmasters was far more important than two stray children, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being hunted. Pandemonium was vastly different than Aydalon, and old habits were hard to shake. He knew he must seem strange crouched in the leaf- and twig-strewn ground like this. A similar red tint bloomed in his face and he stood up, doing his best to seem somewhat normal.

    “I . . . got a little lost.”

    The way she hugged her legs to her body suggested she was scared, withdrawing into a self-protective shell, and Kamon immediately went on alert. He slowly lowered himself back to the ground, eyes scanning the forest as she continued speaking. She had been with her family when they were attacked, and one of the men inadvertently chased her off toward the temple. What if those men were still out there? And where was her family? He saw Tsura shiver and repressed the urge to go to her side. The boy may not have always agreed with his family, yet keeping them safe from those who would harm them was never an issue. This girl wasn’t family. But she had saved his life, and she was kind. She certainly didn’t deserve whatever fate had befallen her.

    “I need to find them. I’m sure Papa’s gotten rid of the men by now. He’s really strong and good with a sword.”

    The boy nodded again, though in his heart a small part of him was doubtful. He was well aware of loss. The violence beings were capable of. And the ugly despair that greeted those who were naïve enough to hope for something better. For the girl’s sake, though, he’d keep up appearances. Because despite how much he mistrusted it, he did hope her family was safe. Until he found out how to return home, the least he could do was make sure Tsura was reunited with her loved ones and out of danger.

    “What about you? Did you get lost out here too?”

    Kamon tensed at this. He wondered how well his disingenuous answer had held up. Not very well it seemed. The boy searched for the right words to tell her that would be accepted, but it was hard. Hard to believe he even needed them. Harder still to believe was this bizarre emotion he’d felt since he’d found her. As confused and scared as he was being in this new world . . . it was nice to have company again. He hadn’t realized just how nice until his father had shown up to take him home, but this was different. Even though he’d been glad to see Mirak, he’d still felt alone, because the man refused to understand him, and because of his differences he’d never truly be accepted. This girl required nothing more from him than conversation and truthfulness. It was a pleasant change.

    “I guess you could say that,” Kamon answered. “I’m . . . not from here. I’m not even sure where here is. My w—” He caught himself. I almost said ‘world,’ he thought, a flicker of fear causing his stomach to tighten. “My country is different.” The boy hoped that was the right word. If he was to believe everything he’d learned, humans and demons used to live together, so their vocabularies were similar. Of course, they had their own language too, but Kamon had learned human speech very early, and it was now their dominant tongue. Some said they’d need it when the day came that they finally returned to Aydalon.

    “This place feels familiar though. The woods. I’m used to living in them.” Kamon took a deep breath and looked at Tsura again, trying to sound reassuring. “We’ll find your family, I’m sure of it.” The boy had included himself without invitation, and he cleared his throat, lowering his gaze. “I mean . . . I’ll help you find them, if you’d like.”
    #6 A Clockwork Tangerine, Nov 22, 2015
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2015
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  7. Tsura listened to his explanation, her worries fading as he spoke. It was rare to meet people from outside of Aydalon this far from the port cities. He really must have been lost if he’s made it all the way out here alone. He didn’t seem to be lying. Now that he’d mentioned his origins, she could hear his accent. He knew the common tongue, but the way he pronounced the words seemed odd to her. Not bad, just different. She kind of liked the sound of it. Not the polish talk she heard in the big cities, nor the looser sounds of the caravans that she’d grown up with. She wished she knew where he was from. She’d never been able to remember what other countries came to trade in Aydalon. Papa knew the differences and told her about them often. Talking to the people from foreign lands was one of his favorite things to do at the markets.

    At the mention of finding her family, she immediately brightened, “You’d really help me?” She hadn’t thought about asking the boy for help. She’d assumed that he would have somewhere to be going to. After all, he had a home to get back to as well. She lowered her legs and jumped to her feet. “Maybe my family can help find yours after. It’ll be like a deal,” she smiled and held her hand out. She waited a moment for him to respond before firmly grasping his wrist as she’d seen her father do when he made a deal with customers, “My papa knows where all the towns are. I bet he could get you back to wherever you came from. Or maybe the others could help you.”

    She walked forward, releasing his hand as she paced, “I don’t think I could find the wagon again. Papa’s probably moved on too.” She paused to think, stopping on the edge of their little clearing. “I bet we could meet my caravan in the next town. They were supposed to be traveling nearby. Papa was going to meet with them after the next market day. Mama always told me to go back to the caravan if I ever got separated from the road.”

    She bit her lower lip, crossing her arms over her chest. She kicked the ground lightly, “The only problem is I can’t remember exactly how to find them. The caravans don’t go near the towns and only a few people will go into town for supplies. Mama taught me a rhyme to help me remember where the meeting points are, but I forgot the rhyme.” She sighed and started to tap her foot. She hated not remembering. It was in her head, she knew that. She could even hum the tune, which she began to do quietly. Mama had made her repeat it to her every night. That was until Aiden was born. She’d been too busy since then. She’d been trying to remember it in the scary mountain place too. The tune played endlessly in her mind, but no words came with it.
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  8. Kamon’s tension eased as Tsura seemed to accept his words at face value. There was no hint of distrust or judgment coming from her, and that was enough to bolster his spirits. Perhaps there was no need to be so wary around her. He’d still need to be careful not to reveal his true origins, but for the time being, she seemed to be perfectly fine with the fact that he was not native to Aydalon. That was a huge burden off his shoulders. The boy could breathe easier.

    He almost smiled when she perked up, excited that he’d offered to accompany her. That shadow of dread was still there though, and any hint of a smile was forgotten in an instant as he stood up again, watching her with a sort of fascinated curiosity. Were all humans so quick to grasp at hope and optimism? It was so unlike demons. His own clan claimed to be fighting for a better future, yet underneath Kamon always sensed they were lying to themselves. That their intentions may have been good, but deep down they knew Pandemonium was a lost cause, and they were merely fighting because that was all that was left. The boy envied Tsura’s ability to find happiness and meaning in the smallest of gestures.

    “Maybe my family can help find yours after. It’ll be like a deal.”

    She smiled then, holding out her hand. Kamon was so caught off guard by her statement that he almost missed this. He blinked, looking down at her hand with a puzzled frown. What was this? Some human custom of sealing a promise? Kamon tried to remember if he’d seen it before among clan members, or heard about it from the elders. Their own way of expressing the acceptance of a promise made was to swear an oath holding a symbol of the clan they represented. For some it was a piece of jewelry. For others it was a tattoo inked into the skin with dye and needles. The latter usually just bared the marking while reciting the oath, while the former would hold the object in their hand and place it against their chest. The boy groaned on the inside. He couldn’t remember what to do with humans! Finally, he just did the simplest thing he could think of, which was to hold her extended hand for a brief moment like she’d done for him during their escape. Then she squeezed his wrist. Another strange custom, and he suddenly started feeling out of place again. He realized just how different they were, despite looking alike, and that there were many things about human culture that he wouldn’t understand. The boy regretted not paying more attention to the elders’ teachings.

    The boy nodded again when she let go of his hand and mentioned her father being able to get him back home. He felt like he was doing that a lot, but he didn’t know what else to do or say. Kamon didn’t know any names of places or other countries outside of Aydalon. Where was he supposed to be from? What would he tell them? There was no way these people were going to be able to get him back to his family. There was just no way. He sighed quietly, his eyes following the girl back and forth as she spoke. Kamon found her voice oddly soothing. It helped a little just to listen despite the fact that her offers were essentially without merit. Not that that was her fault.

    When she suddenly paused and bit her lip, kicking at the ground, Kamon tilted his head. She didn’t remember how to find her caravan? He hadn’t expected that, but she was young and traumatized, so he supposed it made sense. The boy tried to think of how he could help when the girl started humming. It startled him to hear it. Demons didn’t really sing or hum tunes. When they wanted to express something musically, it was usually through chants, and singing was considered a rare and private affair. He was surprised to find that his eyes had gone cloudy, and he ducked his head away from her as she turned, pretending to be watching the woods. Was he really that homesick, or had Tsura’s song really affected him that much? How could such a simple tune do that?

    Once he’d composed himself, he coughed and got to his feet, hoping his eyes weren’t unnaturally shiny.

    “Memories are tricky things. Sometimes if you think about something too hard, it won’t come. When that happens, every so often it works better to take your mind off of it. It may come to you unexpectedly.” Kamon crossed his arms and thought for a moment. “Do you remember which direction you were traveling in to get to the market? If you can, and you know where the next town is that your caravan headed to, I might be able to figure out which way to go.”

    A quiet rustle came from the bushes nearby and Kamon whirled, crouching low and instinctively grabbing a nearby rock as a weapon. After a moment, a small, furry creature emerged with long ears and a stumpy tail. The boy relaxed. It couldn’t be . . . . It certainly looked like one though. “Just a raeb,” he murmured. “A floofy one too.” He watched the critter for a moment before it darted off back into the brush, unaware that his description of the rabbit was peculiar at best.
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  9. Tsura stopped her humming when Kamon coughed, turning her attention back to him as the wordless tune was momentarily forgotten. She’d heard that sort of advice before. Mama had told her that many times when she couldn’t remember the end of a tale or the name of a town. Memories are like butterflies, lamb. Sometimes you need to coax them back. Perhaps it would come to her once they’d gotten to town. She always remembered the words to her songs when she wasn’t paying attention.

    She nodded when he asked about the road. A bright smile returned to her face as she pointed to the trees. “I remember that. Papa taught me how…” She fell silent when Kamon suddenly crouched down again. Tsura took a step back, her senses immediately on high alert until she saw what made him jump. It was only a little rabbit. It jumped away as soon as it saw them, bounding away into the bushes. A relieved breath escaped her lips, her muscles relaxing as she realized that running would not be necessary this time. She’d done so much running today. If it had been possible, she would have suggested they find somewhere safe to sit down and sleep for the night. Even a small nap would have been welcome.

    All thoughts of rest fled from her mind when she heard Kamon’s comment on the rabbit. She stared at him, unsure of how to respond. “Raeb?” she asked, poorly mimicking the word. “You mean the rabbit?” A smirk broke out on her face and she started to giggle. She realized how silly they both had been and her laugh deepened until she could barely get her words through between breaths. “You got scared by a little rabbit.” She continued to laugh for nearly a minute before calming herself, still giving the occasional hiccup of laughter, “You’re really weird, Kamon.”

    She turned back toward the trees, touching one closest to her, “As I was saying, Papa taught me a trick to navigate in the woods. Moss usually grows on north side of the tree since it’s not so sunny. By looking at the trees, you can find which way north is. I remember looking for the moss on the trees on the road. I could only see a little bit of it from the side.” She pointed to the far side of the tree, “The moss is on the other side of the tree so that’s north. That's the way we were traveling that way. Which means the road…” She turned and point to the side of them, “Is that way! Come on!”

    Seeing no reason to wait, Tsura started off in the direction she supposed was the road. She moved at a brisk pace, darting around the trees and through the underbrush with little trouble. Now that she didn’t have to run, she found it much easier to concentrate on the path she was taking which resulted in a far more graceful trek through the woods. It felt good to be moving farther away from the scary temple into the trees. There were lots more places to hide here than there had been in that stuffy place and absolutely no weird lion knights. It also helped to know she wasn’t alone. Had Kamon not been there, she doubted she would have been able to move away from the safety of that clearing. Having the boy behind her gave her courage to press on. After all, the sooner they found the road, the sooner they could go home.
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  10. Tsura’s attempt to imitate his unusual word for the rabbit barely registered with the boy. After the rodent had disappeared, the world had darkened before him, the shadows thickening. Kamon’s hands shook, his heart racing as the girl’s laughter filled the night air. How was she laughing? There were things out there that wanted to kill them. Huge, hulking things filled with rage and loathing, incapable of being reasoned with. Tsura’s giggling was like a strange series of musical notes humming in his head. He stayed crouched with his fist tight around the rock. His skin broke into a cold sweat. You got scared by a little rabbit. The sentence filled him with a profound confusion. . . . Rabbit? Yes, it had been a rabbit. That was the human word for it. Because he was in the human world. Everything snapped back in an instant, and his panic attack slowly began to fade, his madly beating heart returning to a more normal pace.

    “You’re really weird, Kamon.”

    Fear blossomed into embarrassment again. How silly and paranoid he must have looked reacting so violently to a rabbit! The boy felt a twinge of resentment, though he knew she hadn’t meant anything by it. If anything, she’d probably been scared too, and the realization that it was just a tiny creature made her laugh in relief. But it still hurt. The human had no idea how his reflex upon the possibility of danger had saved his life countless times. She was young. She hadn’t been forced to grow up yet. He let out a shaky breath, trying to calm himself down as she started talking again about the moss on the trees. It surprised him a little. After all, he’d been about to suggest the same thing. The differences between them were vast, but Kamon was also just as fascinated with the similarities. He’d have some interesting stories to tell when he got back home.

    If he got back home.

    “Which means the road is that way. Come on!”

    The dark-haired girl began to walk away at a quick pace. Kamon watched her for a moment, noticing how this time she seemed much more surefooted and confident. It was quite a difference from her blind, terrified crashing through the woods earlier. The demon guessed that this current version of Tsura was closer to her true self. And despite how she’d made him feel earlier—it had been an innocent expression—he found himself liking her more now than he did before. If he could just remember that things were different here, and that he didn’t need to be so defensive, he could see her maybe becoming his friend. He’d need a friend if he were going to survive this place.

    Kamon thought about dropping the rock, but that inner voice warning him of danger convinced him otherwise despite his wish that he could relax, and so he kept it firmly in hand as he followed Tsura toward the road. Now that things were more or less calm, the boy started to feel the first signs of fatigue, though the weariness was more mental and emotional than physical. Would being here ever get any easier? Or would the bonds of Pandemonium prove too tough to break? The idea saddened him. He didn’t want to be stuck like this forever. Forever was far too long for a demon.

    He squeezed the rock in his hand for comfort and moved quietly through the brush after Tsura, turning his thoughts to her and the human town. What new oddities awaited him there? New customs, food, animals, architecture? All of the above? He was intrigued and frightened all at once. To experience such a variety of things that he only heard about in stories, or never heard about at all . . . . Kamon’s natural curiosity relished that. But how would he blend in? What if he didn’t know the names of anything? The human girl might think he was lying, or simple minded and unable to read or identify things that probably came as easy as breathing to her. It was no use. He couldn’t do anything about that now. The boy would just have to wait and see what happened. Tsura seemed amiable enough. Maybe she wouldn’t mind. Maybe helping her find her family would be enough for her to see past all the things that showed just how out of place he really was.

    . . . For her to see past everything that made him less than human.
    #10 A Clockwork Tangerine, Nov 27, 2015
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2015
  11. Tsura trotted on ahead of Kamon, picking a path through the moonlit trees. Occasionally she paused to glance at the trees again, but it was never for long. She’d never had trouble remembering which direction to go after she’d oriented herself. Her natural agility reappeared now that she had her thoughts together. She’d spent hours running around the markets throughout the early years of her life; dodging carts, stalls and people on her imaginary quests to save everyone from monsters. The games made her nimble and quick, though she’d never had a real need for either ability until today. The trees weren’t much different from the market crowds. They didn’t even move around like people did.

    It was almost fun to run through the woods now. No one was chasing her and she even had a friend to play with. She’d never had many friends before. They never stayed with the caravan long enough for her to play with anyone and few of the children in the cities wanted her to join their games. Sometime it made her sad, but mostly she grew bored. There were only so many adventures she could enact alone. That was why Mama had started to teach her songs to sing. Even when she was all alone she could always sing. Sometimes people even said that it sounded pretty. She frowned to herself. If only she could remember the song Mama taught her about the caravans. Then she wouldn’t need to worry at all about getting home again.

    They soon came to a stream which brought a smile to Tsura’s face. She could remember crossing it when she’d first come into the woods. It was too big for wading, but she knew a different way. She motioned to Kamon, finally remembering he was following her, “Hurry up, it’s this way.” Running along the river bank, she kept up a steady pace until they came to large tree. Its roots had grown out into the stream, leaving a little trail for them to use. Without a second though she climbed up and started across. She jumped from root to root eyes bright with excitement. They were almost there. Just a little farther than they would be on the road.

    She broke out into a jog as soon as she reached the other shore, seeing the light of the road ahead. She never stopped to check for Kamon, assuming that the sound of crunching leaves from behind her was him.

    The last of the trees fell away as she reached the road. She was panted, but happily. They would be on their way at last. She turned back with and pointed down the road, “Now we just-”

    A pair of strong arms scooped her up in that moment. She was crushed to a man’s chest and a gloved hand clamped over her mouth. She yelped in surprise, too shocked to move. “You’re not getting away this time, whelp,” the bandit growled lowly in her ear.

    Understanding struck her in an instant. She began to struggle, kicking and wriggling. Not now, she begged silently, He’s not supposed to be here. It was getting harder to breathe. She bit the glove, but it only filled her mouth with a sickly taste of grime.

    A dark laugh rumbled in the man’s chest, “Fight me all you want. It’ll be over soon enough.” He removed his hand from her mouth and threw her to the ground.

    She slammed into the earth. The wind was knocked out of her, blurring her vision. She pushed her head up, resting on her arms. The world was swimming before her. She heard the distinct sound of a blade being drawn. She needed to run. Her body wouldn’t respond. She coughed pitifully and blinked to clear her head. Help.
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  12. As his thoughts continued to race, he began to fall a little farther behind his new human friend, her quick and effortless trekking through the woods keeping Kamon on his toes. He kind of liked the distance, though. It gave him more time to try and come up with a good story to tell her and her family when they met up and asked him where his own folks were, since Tsura was so far ahead he didn’t have to worry about her making small talk with him. He’d never been good at that, even with his own kind, finding most chats either aggravating or meaningless, and at worst both at the same time. But maybe it’d be different here. After all, he had no history with these people, so they wouldn’t expect much from him. It was almost like starting over with a clean slate. An appealing thought, and one he almost relished if not for the faintest twinge of homesickness that kept sneaking up and surprising him.

    The girl’s voice was a bit faint, but his sensitive ears picked it up easily enough. The confidence she exuded now was reassuring, and he perked up at the sight of the river. It was large and clear, unlike the ones near the Void in Pandemonium, which had begun to stagnant and turn the vile, brownish-green color of decay. His nose wrinkled at the unpleasant memory of the odor of those very rivers. He could see the dead fish rotting on the banks. The demon’s stomach gurgled quietly in response to his growing nausea, and he forced the negative thoughts aside again, making his way after Tsura as she continued to lead the way. Kamon tucked the rock into his pocket and leapt up onto the huge twisting roots of the tree, scurrying across like a cat, his fingers naturally finding knots and holes to climb. It was fun. And he hadn’t had fun in years. The sensation was a little scary, yet pleasant, and the boy was close to smiling again when a dark, deep feeling like dread seized hold of him and made him freeze in place.

    He stayed crouched, his heart pounding as Tsura ran ahead toward the road. Kamon wanted to shout to her and tell her to wait. Something wasn’t right. But he couldn’t find his voice. His immediate thought was: Hollow. One of the corrupted beasts was watching them from the shadows of the trees, just out of sight, preparing to pounce and crush them into pulp. The boy opened his mouth. But a strange voice called out into the darkness instead.

    “You’re not getting away this time, whelp.”

    It was hushed and raspy. The voice of man, not a Hollow, but evil just the same. Kamon snapped his gaze in the direction the voice had come from. Tsura was too far ahead though, and he couldn’t see her right away. The demon grunted and scrambled forward along the forest floor, hardly making a sound, his breathing low and quiet to avoid detection. He’d had to use stealth many times in his life. Now, with the strange man occupied, Kamon had the upper hand. It’s him, he thought. The bandit Tsura told me about. He came back for her.

    He pushed through, peering out from under a cluster of bushes. The bandit had Tsura in his grasp. After a few ominous words, he threw the girl to the ground. Kamon heard the metallic scrape of the man’s knife as it slid free of its sheath. Saw the moonlight glint off the blade. Human or not, all of a sudden, he was a Hollow. A sick being that could only think in terms of violence and destruction. A being meant for one purpose: to kill wantonly without regard for anyone or anything but itself. Kamon froze again. His heart was slamming like a drum in his chest. His eyes were watering. He couldn’t use his magic. It had knocked him unconscious last time, and if this human Hollow reacted differently than his own kind, or was somehow immune, Kamon would die effortlessly, and Tsura would be next.


    It was the girl. Her voice, clear as a bell in his head, just like when he’d been brought here through the portal. Maybe he had imagined it. She clearly needed his help, so it wasn’t a stretch. Kamon’s eyes narrowed. Before he knew it, his hand had pulled the rock from his pocket and his feet began to move. It probably looked crazy, seeing a barefoot boy shooting out from the brush like the shadow of a wild animal, but he didn’t have time to think about that. He was in survival mode again. It was the bandit, or them, and they hadn’t come this far just to go out like this at the hands of some sadist who preyed on the innocent for a living. The bandit barely had time to register the sound of Kamon’s approach before the boy leaped and swung the rock with all his might. It connected with the man’s head with a sickening crack. The bandit’s eyes bulged and a short grunt of pain and surprise cut the night air as he crumpled forward, his grip on the knife going as slack as his body. The boy didn’t think. He snatched the knife, his teeth bared in a feral snarl as the dizzy bandit rolled onto his back and held out his hands. Kamon grunted as the man grabbed ahold of his wrists.

    Even though he was half out of it, he was still stronger than a twelve-year-old, and Kamon felt fear rip through him. But he never stopped fighting. With a frustrated cry, he kicked up to create space underneath him and drove his knees into the man’s gut, eliciting a sharp wheeze as the wind was knocked out of the bandit’s lungs. His grip loosened the tiniest bit. And when Kamon chomped down on the attacker’s hand hard enough to draw blood, it fell away entirely. Before the bandit had a chance to recover, the demon gripped the knife in both hands and slammed the blade through his chest. It didn’t pass easily, as he was wearing a protective leather gear over his shirt, so Kamon had to lean all his weight into it until the hilt of the knife butted up against the leather jerkin and refused to go any farther.

    The boy stayed like that for a moment, leaning against the knife, panting as sweat dripped down his forward. The bandit’s eyes were wide and staring. Lifeless. A tiny rill of blood leaked out of the corner of his mouth. Kamon heard a sound and shot a glance in that direction, finally remembering that Tsura was there. She had seen the whole thing. His eyes widened in shock. His hands slipped away from the knife and he fell backwards off the dead man’s body into the dirt, desperately fighting off the urge to cry. It was such an unfamiliar feeling. He’d killed so many things in Pandemonium. Why was killing a human so different? Especially when that human was evil? Kamon armed the sweat from his face and rolled to his hands and knees, staring at the ground and trying to get himself under control again. His emotions were all over the place. He could barely bring himself to look at Tsura, afraid to see the terror and disgust she must feel after seeing him like that. The boy started to turn in her direction. Then stopped. His eyes stung and he squeezed them shut, still on his hands and knees, his arms shaking uncontrollably from the fading adrenaline.

    And maybe just a hint of fear at the thought of losing the only friend he had here.
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  13. The bandit raised his knife, posed to strike. Tsura squeezed her eyes shut and pressed closer to the ground, anticipating the strike.

    But it never came.

    Instead there was a crunching noise like the sound of an egg being dropped, followed by a feral snarl. Tsura opened one eyes to see what had gone wrong. The other quickly followed. The man was sprawled on the ground in front of her with Kamon on top of him. Blood was leaking from the wound on his head created by the red-stained rock lying to the side of him. The bandit struggled to push off the small boy, but could do little more than hold him back. Kamon…he hardly looked like the boy she’d been talking to. His amber eyes were wide and wild with his lips curved in a snarl. He looked like a wild animal. He acted like one as well. He kicked the man in the stomach hard enough to push the air from his lungs. Trying to break free of the bandit’s hold, he bit down on his hand, eliciting a cry from the man on the ground and leaving a pattern of read marks on his hand. He wrestled control of the knife away from the bandit and slammed it down into his chest.

    Tsura pushed herself back from the scene, a new sense of fear welling up inside her. What sort of person had she found in these mountains? He pushed the dagger in until it would go no further and even then he continued to push. She glanced to the bandit’s face, seeing the lifeless eyes and empty expression. The frightening features were frozen in horror with a trail of blood running from his lips. She turned away, looked back to Kamon as he fell backwards. She tensed, ready to run if he turned on her next. He sat there in a crumpled heap, panting heavily. He wouldn’t look at her, but the scary look on his face was gone. He started to shake, looking to be almost in pain.

    Tsura watched, unsure how she ought to proceed. This boy had just killed a man. If he could do that, then there was nothing stopping him from snapping and killing her. But he’d come to her rescue for the second time that day and he wasn’t trying to kill her now. He looked scared and sad. Just like her father had looked that day so many years ago when a man had tried to rob them.

    “Why did Papa hurt that man?”

    “He was trying to keep us safe.”

    “But why did he have to be so mean?”

    “There are many nasty people in this world, my lamb. Sometimes sending them to meet the ancestors is the only course of action that can be taken. You’ll understand more when you’re older.”

    She wished her Papa were here to keep her safe. She bit her lip, watching him for any hostile movement. It would not be fair to just leave him. He was lost and alone. Even if he had killed the mean bandit, Kamon didn’t deserve to be abandoned. What he’d done had been for both their benefits. She glanced at the man’s face again, lingering no more than a moment on it. It was too hard to look at. Death had been captured on the man’s face. She looked back again, her heart pounding. She couldn’t sit here in silence forever. There was only one thing to do.

    She got to her feet, ignoring the ache in her ribs from her encounter with the ground. She walked closer and knelt down by the boy. Her hand reached out hesitantly, before coming to rest on the boy’s shoulder to get his attention, “Are you alright, Kamon?”
    • Love Love x 1
  14. Kamon’s breathing was labored even as he fought to control it. He couldn’t get the dead bandit’s face out of his head. In his mind, the wide, staring eyes of the corpse contorted, at once human and then incredibly grotesque and monstrous, like the face of a Hollow. It’s not real, he thought, his eyes still shut tight. You’re in Aydalon now. You had to kill him. To protect Tsura. To survive. That man was evil, and he would have murdered you both.

    . . . Just like he killed her family.

    That last thought made his stomach turn and he groaned, nearly collapsing in a heap again. He couldn’t know that for certain. But if that bandit was still alive, where was her father? Wouldn’t he have tracked the man down and dealt with him before he could hurt his daughter? Maybe the bandit had gotten away from him. Tsura’s father could be out there right now looking for them. He’d be worried sick. There isn’t time for this, Kamon thought, inhaling deep and letting out a long, shaky breath. The sooner we find her family, the safer she’ll be. There was safety in numbers, his father had told him once. It was a human saying, but one that applied equally to his own people and rang true in this instance. They couldn’t just stay here and wait for more bandits to show up.

    Something touched his shoulder and he flinched, panic flaring in his chest before Tsura spoke and he realized who it was. Her words . . . . She was still here. She hadn’t run away from him in fear like he thought she would. The girl was actually trying to comfort him. Once more, he was stunned by her compassion. It almost brought tears to his eyes again, but he blinked them back, her kindness finally giving him the courage to look at her. His amber eyes locked onto hers. In them was a deep sense of uncertainty and guilt. However, there was also still the innocence of a child and a profound gratitude that he could not yet express in words.

    “I-I’m ok-kay,” he managed, his fumbling words betraying the calm exterior he was trying to project. He leaned back onto his knees, rubbing his sweat-grimed hands off on the worn fabric of his shorts. “Are you? I saw that man throw you down. Did he hurt you very bad?”
    • Love Love x 1
  15. Kamon leaned back, steadier than he had been. Tsura gave a weary smile, using the expression to keep herself calm. She wanted to cry and run away from this awful place. She wanted to find her parents. Papa always made her feel safe. No one was stronger than him. The whole world could come against them and he’d still be there to protect her. “So long as I’m here, no one will ever harm you, little lamb. He’d always said that to her whenever she felt afraid. But he wasn’t around today. He was probably looking for her or trying to get Mama and Aiden to town. Either way, it was only her and Kamon out here. They needed each other if they had any hope of getting home.

    She moved back to give Kamon some space, “I’m okay. It was a little hard to breath at first, but I’m better now. You stopped him from…” She didn’t want to think about what Kamon had saved her from. She’d been foolish and rushed off on her own. She looked down at her hands resting on her knees before continuing quietly, “Thank you for saving me. That was very brave of you.”

    Her eyes shifted to the sky. What were they going to do now? They couldn’t stay here. Papa probably had run off the other bandits by now. They might be wandering around in the woods like this one had been. If they found herself and Kamon, they might try to finish their work to prove a point. They could always hide in the underbrush, but she did not relish the idea of hiding in the woods all night. They needed to keep moving. If they were careful and stuck to the main road, they could be in the next town as early as tomorrow afternoon. At least that was what she thought. She didn’t remember this road very well. The last time her family had taken it had been two years earlier. Back then she’d never paid attention to roads. But she knew the general direction to go in. It would just be a matter of walking for a few hours. Not ideal, but doable.

    Tsura sat down onto the ground, her legs curling underneath her, “Are you okay? That make looked like he was hurting you.” Her voice was soft but calm. She needed to stay calm now. Mama had taught her that was an important thing to remember whenever she was in trouble. She would figure out what to do with Kamon and then they would go and find the caravan. Mama and Papa would be waiting there. It would all be okay.
    • Love Love x 1
  16. Kamon’s breathing slowed and his body language relaxed to a normal posture as he listened. He was very glad she remained relatively unharmed. Physically at least. She’d probably still be disturbed by all the events for a while, which made his heart hurt for reasons he didn’t fully understand. Maybe it was because she was just so nice, and he didn’t like to think about her having nightmares or being scared. He was still scared too, though he tried not to show it. Tsura’s calmness was a welcoming gift.

    “Thank you for saving me. That was very brave of you.”

    The boy blinked, looking at Tsura with eyes full of surprise. Emotion twisted in his gut again and he willed the tears that threatened to spill down his face away, not wanting to look like a child even if that’s what he technically still was. He needed to remain levelheaded now. Other dangers could still be lurking out there. A sharp mind would help keep them both alive long enough to reunite the girl with her missing family. When she asked him if he was all right, he nodded, sniffling once.

    “Yes, I’m fine. Just a little . . . ” he trailed off, unsure how to end that statement. Tired? Afraid? Worried? Too many words seemed to sound true at the same time, so he merely looked at the ground for a moment and shrugged, hoping she’d know what he meant without needing to say it. “And y-you’re welcome. He was an evil man. I didn’t want him to . . . you know.”

    Kamon fell silent for a minute, his eyes scanning the surroundings as he listened to the sounds of the nightlife. Insects chirping. An occasional owl or other birds calling to each other. The idea of getting separated from Tsura suddenly frightened him. He wasn’t sure why, but it was more than just losing a friend and guide. Something deep down told him he needed to stay by her side no matter what. When they found her family (if we find them, a small voice said), he’d just tell them he didn’t have anyone to go back to. Maybe they would let him stay with their caravan. At least that’s what he hoped more than anything.

    “I didn’t mean to scare you,” he whispered, looking down at the ground. The boy looked up then, studying the girl’s face, his expression sincere. The demon remembered what Tsura had done for him, when she’d offered her hand after telling him she’d help him find his own family when they were done. It felt like the right thing to do here. He just hoped she wouldn’t be too weirded out by him to accept the gesture. With a small, nervous breath, Kamon reached out and took Tsura’s hand in his, instinctively giving it a reassuring squeeze. “I would never hurt you, Tsura. You’re my friend. We should stick together, right?”
    • Love Love x 1
  17. Tsura felt the tension leave her as Kamon spoke. He was visibly upset which, oddly enough, made her happy. She wasn’t happy he was sad, but knowing he was disturbed by the man’s death did reassure her. When he’d attacked the man, he’d acted crazy like some kind of wild animal. Considering his odd behavior in the woods beforehand, she’d begun to fear Kamon was more dangerous than the bandit. But Mama always said that people did crazy things in the heat of the moment. Kamon had been reacting to the situation and his instincts had saved them both.

    He looked back at her, giving her a moment to notice his eyes for the first time. They were a really pretty color; like the bubbly precious stones from the marketplace. She’d never seen anything like it, even in all the time she traveled to the big cities with her parents. He hesitated a moment before reaching out and taking her hand. She watched it happen, glancing down at their joined hands. He was trying to make her feel better, that much she knew. There was a pause when he finished speaking. Tsura studied their hands. Then she looked up with a smile, “Right. We should get going then. The next town can’t be too far.”

    She released his hand and stood, waiting a moment for him to do the same. Taking a few steps towards the tree line, she examined the trees to be sure she knew which direction to head. She avoided looking at the body lying nearby. There was nothing they could do for the man now. Someone older and stronger would find him and take care of it. After a moment, she looked back to Kamon, “We need to go this way.” She indicated the direction with her finger before starting to walk in the direction, moving at a brisk pace. The farther from this place they were the better.

    The bushes near the road rustled. Tsura stopped and flinched away, her muscles tensed to run. A bird flew out, heading into the night sky. Glancing back at Kamon, she tried to force a smile to her face, “I’m just as jumpy as you are.” She laughed uncomfortably, running her fingers through her tangled hair. She glanced around them at the dark forest. It would be awhile before they were out in the open again. Considering how things went last time, walking alone might not be the best idea. She offered a hand to Kamon again, “Maybe it would be better if we stayed close. Do you mind?”

    After a moment, he took her hand and they started off.

    It took them quite a while to make the journey. The trail was well worn, but it twisted around the mountainside leading them up the side and back down again. Both children were tired which slowed their progress. For the first few hours, they traveled in tense silence, listening to the sounds of the forest around them. Foreign noises brought to them to a stop, pausing until they were sure no dangers were near. In the early morning hours, however, exhaustion quieted their fears. Tsura let Kamon’s hand fall from her, focusing her energy on continuing on. She was cold and hungry. If it hadn’t been for everything that happened, she would have suggested stopping for a rest. But anything could be out there in these mountains. They needed to find somewhere with lots of people where they could search for her parents. When the first rays of dawn began to brush away the darkness of the night, they emerged from the trees to the open plains found below the mountain.

    The town came into view right away, but it was not until the sun had risen high in the sky that they reached civilization. The sight did little to cheer Tsura, who was too tired to think of much else outside of putting one foot in front of the other. She’d never stayed awake this long before and her body was exhausted after everything that had happened in the mountains. She wanted to find her parents and then just sleep.

    They entered the town shortly after. Tsura steered them toward the town center where most markets were found. She stopped when they were close, glancing back at Kamon, “We should start by checking the markets. My parents are well known by many of the other merchants. One might have seen them enter the city.”
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  18. Tsura hadn’t pulled away or flinched in fear, even though she had every right to. She had smiled. It gladdened him to see it, and for now it washed everything else away, the boy momentarily forgetting about the man he’d just killed.

    “Right. We should get going then. The next town can’t be too far.”

    Her hand fell away, and Kamon got to his feet, watching her closely. She appeared to be reorienting herself with the surroundings, likely to be certain of where they needed to go before setting off, her eyes never drifting toward the bandit’s corpse. Kamon, however, did look. His eyes locked onto the knife in his chest. He wondered what Tsura would think if he took that knife with him. It was a much better weapon then the rock, and they’d probably need it. But it’d be a constant reminder of the man’s death. Maybe if he kept it hidden . . . .

    “We need to go this way.”

    Tsura only looked at Kamon once before setting off. Her avoidance of the dead body and desire to get out of there gave the demon all the time he needed to snatch the knife. He wiped the blade off quickly in the grass and tucked it into the waistband of his shorts before pulling his shirt over it. His shirt were a little baggy, which made the bulge of the knife difficult to see. The boy smiled and followed after Tsura, feeling much better now that the danger had passed and he was better equipped to handle the new ones. After a short while, a rustling sound filled the air. Tsura tensed. Kamon almost reached for his knife when a dark-colored bird flew out, disappearing into the sky overhead. The girl smiled and made another joke. Kamon remembered when a little rabbit had freaked him out, and he allowed himself to smile back, nearly laughing with her. Maybe trying to stay positive wasn’t such a bad thing.

    I guess that makes us both weird, he thought. She offered her hand in an effort to stay close and Kamon took it, falling silent for the rest of the journey. The trail wasn’t hard to follow, since it seemed to be quite used, but it weaved up and down and around, like a ribbon caught in a swirling wind. Even for a demon, it was an exhausting trip. He didn’t know how Tsura was handling it. The girl was fiercely determined for her age. As the time wore on, Tsura’s hand fell away, and Kamon didn’t object. His stomach had gurgled and growled like an animal. It wasn’t until then that he realized just how hungry he was. There wasn’t a whole lot to eat near the Void—small game here and there, and maybe fish that hadn’t been killed off by the water polluting if you were lucky. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had anything substantial or even satisfying. Kamon hoped it wasn’t much farther to town. The boy didn’t have any money, and he wasn’t sure Tsura did either. If he had to, he’d steal something. Some fruit . . . bread. Just enough to tide them over until her family showed up.

    As the sun began to creep over the horizon, Kamon looked out to see the town below them. It was still a distance away, but just being able to see it like a golden pearl in the morning light renewed his spirit, and he pressed on with his companion, trying to keep his strength up for the last leg of the journey. When they finally arrived, Kamon smiled wearily to himself for a moment, absently wiping at the sweat collecting on his brow. He was tired, dirty, and itchy, but still somewhat lucid, and he was vaguely satisfied that they had reached their destination without further incident.

    The boy followed Tsura to the town square. Sounds of bartering, chatter, laughter, and animals calling reached his ears. He saw different stands ahead, some colorfully decorated, some with pennants flapping in the breeze. One stall had various spices hanging from strands in the wooden structure’s roof and in open bins. Another had a similar display of fruits and vegetables. At the far end was a large man standing outside the door of a building yelling out prices to passers-by. A crooked sign overhead declared it to be a ‘Bakery.’ Kamon almost drooled, shaking his head and turning to Tsura when she spoke up.

    “Okay,” he said with a nod. “Should we split up and ask? Or do you want to stick together?”

    Part of him hoped she’d want him to stay by her side. But another part of him desperately wanted to go off by himself. Not just to ask the random merchants if they’d seen her parents, but to (hopefully) pocket a few things for them to eat later if for some reason her family hadn’t made it to town just yet. He’d need to be careful about it though. The last thing they needed was to get run off or punished for his thieving.
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  19. Tsura looked around the market, examining each of the vendors’ smiling faces. There were men and women dressed in the traditional woolen tunics and breeches of Aydalon selling everything from vegetables to weaponry, a few men from the Southern Seas decorated with their colorful tattoos stripped down to leathery skin pants hawking their exotic meats, and even some dark-skinned people from Itrador in the Northern Desert bundled in several layers of fur advertising their rare gems and fruits. Not one looked familiar. Her shoulders slumped. This will take all day, she groaned internally. “It would be easier to stick together. You don’t know any of the merchants that my parents are friends with,” she replied, her voice betraying her exhaustion. As foolish as it sounded, she had hoped to find Mama or Papa standing at the entrance of the town waiting for her. Perhaps they had gone to stay somewhere farther in town to rest. All she had to do was find someone who had seen them. She started for the first stand, “Come on. Let’s start asking around.”

    Their search began with an Aydalonian farmer selling a table full of vegetables. Tsura described her parents and their wagon, but the man only shook his head and shooed them off. While frustrated by the man’s dismissive attitude, she refused to give up after just one try. Assuming that Kamon was somewhere behind her, she continued on to the other stalls. Most listened to her description, but could only shrug their shoulders and say they would keep an eye out. One of the Southern Sea traders pointed incorrectly to the stand of a man from Itrador who happened to have a wagon tied behind him who hardly spoke the common language save for the language necessary for bargaining.

    After half an hour of wandering, Tsura was ready to give up. They had already made a complete circle around the market. If Mama and Papa were waiting here, they would have found them already. And if they’re weren’t here… Darker thoughts came to her mind as she remembered how many bandits there had been. What if…no there had to be another explanation. Maybe Papa had been hurt in the fight and they’d gone for medical treatment. All she needed to do was find the town healer. “We should go look around the rest of the town. They might be staying somewhere else in the city or looking for me at one of the other gates…” She wished her voice sounded for confident.

    “Natalie? No, too young. Tsura was it?”

    Tsura stopped when she heard her mother’s name. She turned in the direction of the voice and saw an old man sitting there behind a table filled with an odd assortment of items. He had a little cloth in his hand and was polishing an ornate rusty dagger. Everything on the table looked ancient. There were some weapons in various states of decay, a row of dusty scrolls, a handful of crumbling statues and a few pieces of weathered jewelry. The man was well dressed, clothed in linen tunic dyed a dark blue with cream colored trousers to match. He wore a sword at his hip and a pair of gold rings on his right hand. Tsura didn’t recognize him, but he’d known her mother’s name and seemed to know her. “Excuse me, sir, do I know you?”

    “Know me? Not likely,” the old man replied, smiling to reveal his many missing teeth, “You were a babe when I saw you last. Still hardly able to walk without you’re ma’s help. Glad to see you got her looks and not you’re old man’s.” He exploded in a laugh, chortling at his own joke.

    Tsura frowned, “How do you know my parents?”

    The man stopped laughing, glancing back at the children, “The name’s Erwin Rockmourn, ex-treasure hunter now retired and selling the last of my wares. I’ve been working in this market for since before your Pa started to travel his route. Got to know the boy and his pretty wife when she came along. Would have gotten to know you as well if I hadn’t taken the last few years off. Went on one last adventure and now I intend to live on the royalties of my hard work. Who’s you’re friend.”

    A bright smile broke out on Tsura’s face, “Maybe you can help us. I’ve been looking for my parents. We got separated last night on the trail here. That’s where I met Kamon. He’s helping me get home so that I can help him get home.”

    “Is that so,” Erwin replied, examining the pair as he put down his rag and dagger, “Let me see now. I’ve been at this gate since dawn this morning. No one gets in the town before first light because of all the bandits running around the country side lately. The gates opened and I saw old Jared, Miss Orianna and her little brother…” He muttered under his breath, occasionally using his finger to keep track. He stopped and looked back to Tsura, “Sorry, child, I’m afraid I haven’t seen your folks. Unless they came in another gate, but your old man never could keep away from a market for long. Are you sure they were coming into town?”

    The news felt like a mountain falling on her. She’d been so sure they were here. She turned and started heading back into the market, “I see. Thanks anyway, sir.”

    The old man called after them, “Good luck with your search. If you need any help, old Erwin would be more than happy to give you some assistance.”

    Tsura walked until they were in the midst of the crowded market again. If her parents weren’t in town, then where could they be? They wouldn’t have gone back to the caravan without her. But if they weren’t here then that was the only other place they could be. She turned back to Kamon, trying to keep the fear from her face, “If they aren’t here in town, they might have gone to meet up with my caravan already. We should try looking for that next.” Except she still couldn’t remember the song her mother taught her. Her stomach growled, reminding her how long it had been since she’d last eaten. She was tired as well, but stopping would do them no good. It would be better to find the caravan.
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  20. Once Kamon’s attention was drawn away from the food, he noticed the people for the first time. There were so many, and he could tell by the way they looked and dressed that a lot of them were from different places, likely from all over Aydalon. Some of the tan-skinned men had tattoos marking their bodies. One with short sleeves and a vest had a blue sea serpent winding all the way up and around his right arm, with the sharp-toothed gaping maw ending in the middle of his bicep. Yet others were of a darker skin tone garbed in furs of varying colors, though most were reddish-brown or white. A young couple near a vegetable stall wore matching purple and gold silk with ornate hoops in their ears and strange markings around their eyes.

    The boy couldn’t help but compare the sight with his own world. His clan, the Silver Crescent, was always at war with members of Fate’s Hand and SIN, and each of these clans had its own customs, abilities, and appearances. Fate’s Hand members were usually bronze-skinned with bright green eyes and intricate tattoos that symbolized their connection to the earth and their belief that things were already decided. They were simply the weapons carrying out the preordained outcome of their world. Whether they won or lost, they did not know, but they were in complete acceptance of both outcomes. Phoebe, the leader of this philosophical clan, was both beautiful and terrifying. Her hair was a fiery red, shaved on one side and long and flowing on the other. On the left side of her face was a green handprint like war paint. The Fates were naturally stronger during the day, and drew their strength from the earth, which allowed them to use their magic with less pain and backlash then the other clans.

    Members of SIN were considered the pariahs of the demonic community, and that was saying something. They were a family filled with a deep, burning hatred for humans and a special loathing for the Order of Rasalas. Though “sinners’ are a mix of different families, the original founders and their bloodline have a bizarre, almost charcoal gray skin tone. Their eyes are a glossy black. They’re often seen in tribal garb fashioned from animal skins and simple cloth adorned with blood and skulls—both animal and demon. These chaotic clansmen and women are the most feared on the battlefields of Pandemonium because of their complete lack of remorse and suicidal tendencies. It’s a common sight to see SIN demons charging into the fray and unleashing a violent blast of energy that completely destroys them and anyone in their vicinity. As such, their lines are dwindling, but they have been known to bully or coerce demons who have yet to join a clan into joining their family, and even causing members of other clans to defect. Kamon believed it was because of Casimir, who was a hulking mass of muscle and rage, and was so intimidating that some demons couldn’t help but say yes for fear they’d be demolished.

    Kamon’s own clan, the Silver Crescent, was lead by his father Mirak. His father was tall and streamlined with piercing golden eyes and sleek silver hair. The boy didn’t look that way yet, both because he was young and because he hadn’t used his magic nearly as much. Their powers had a way of changing their appearance, making them less human and more like their ancestors. The Crescents’ were most adept and powerful after dusk, reaching full strength at night when the moon was out. They were stealthy, able to move in the shadows with ease, and were particularly skilled at ambush and assassination. For this reason, Crescents usually wore black or indigo blue cloth and armor when on the front lines, as it allowed them to practically disappear. Kamon liked to think his own clan was the most levelheaded and intelligent, but he was bound to be biased. They were his family after all.

    He felt a faint tug around his heart again and swallowed a lump in his throat, nodding to Tsura as the girl began to make her way around the market. She was right of course. He didn’t know anyone here. He didn’t know anyone in Aydalon for that matter. The boy allowed her to take the lead once again, only a step or two behind, his eyes scanning the stalls as they passed. Tsura’s questions to the vendors gave him the perfect opportunity to sneak a few things here and there, as most of them were too busy listening to the girl or shooing her away to notice her ‘invisible’ companion. The first man they asked had an attitude that made Kamon want to punch him. He made due with pretending to inspect a long, bumpy green vegetable that resembled a kocumb—or what he’d learned humans called a ‘cucumber,’—and then putting it back, though what he’d really done was carefully sneak it into the open cuff of his long-sleeved shirt and then stash it into one of the baggy pockets of his shorts. The vendor hadn’t even noticed, and Kamon believed it served him right. The man was entirely too rude for his own good.

    As the pair continued around the crowded marketplace, he managed to snatch a small round block of cheese and a thick slice of bread too. Kamon stopped there. He didn’t want to press his run of luck. The boy did wish they had some meat though. They had almost reached the end of the circle of stalls when he spied one of the tattooed men in leather breeches standing near a wagon filled with meat. The cuts were all different sizes, and some were covered in some sort of spices. Some were dried into hunks that looked like a good travel food. Hanging from the roof of the covered wagon by strands of rope with skinned rabbits. Every once in a while, the vendor would wave a fan shaped like a leaf to shoo away the flies that kept trying to land on them. Kamon’s eyes suddenly stung as a memory surfaced.


    The small, hairy creature dangled lifelessly from the end of the thin cord attached to its back foot, its eyes half lidded. He reached out and touched one of its long ears.

    “You catched it?” he said, pulling his hand back and looking at his mother, Celeste. Her golden eyes were bright and narrow, and her hair was a silver-white that twisted and fell down her back in natural waves. She smiled.

    “Yes, I caught it, Kamon,” she said. Celeste freed the rodent’s foot from the snare and reset the trap before picking the creature up by the ears. “Do you remember what we call these?”

    The boy’s forehead furrowed as he searched for the word. “It’s a raeb.”

    “That’s right,” she said with a laugh, tucking the small animal into her satchel. “Back in Aydalon, where we used to live, the humans call them ‘rabbits.’”

    “Raeb-ets,” Kamon repeated. His face scrunched together. “Raebuts.”

    Celeste chuckled, smiling tenderly before kissing the boy on his nose. “Very good, moonbeam. Now come on. Your father is expecting us.”

    She held out her hand and Kamon grasped it, a look of childish annoyance plastered on his face.

    “I wish you wouldn’t call me that, mum,” he said. “It sounds girly.”

    “What would you like me to call you then?” she asked.

    The boy shrugged. “Anything but moonbeam.”

    “All right. How about I call you . . . sunbeam?”

    Kamon groaned. “That’s even worse!”

    “You said anything,” Celeste insisted.

    “I take it back then.”

    “How about I take
    you back?” the woman said, pulling Kamon close and ruffling his hair.

    “No! I hate that! And I hate sunbeam,” he yelled. The boy broke away, laughing as his mother chased him through the woods and back toward home, where Mirak was waiting for their safe return. As they broke through to the other side of the trees, Celeste caught Kamon around the waist and whirled him around, her cheeks a vibrant shade of rose.

    “Gotcha!” she said with a breathy chuckle. “Face it, Kamon my son. You’re a moonbeam. Now and forever.”

    The boy’s giggles tapered off into another groan, though this one lacked any real disgust. His eyes danced with happiness. “Ugh,” he murmured. “ . . . Moonbeam is such a girl’s name.”


    He coughed to disguise the soft sob that escaped, though his stomach gurgling again did a decent job of that. Kamon tore his gaze from the dead rabbits and turned to look at Tsura, his face pinching a little in concern. She wanted to check around the main part of town now in case her family was somewhere else, but she didn’t sound very sure, her voice wavering slightly and giving her away. Kamon forgot his hunger and homesickness for a moment as a feeling of dread slithered its way up his spine, making him shake. It was the same feeling he’d gotten after he’d killed the bandit, when he’d believed her family was dead. The way things were going, that guess was looking more and more like a reality, and he desperately prayed that it wasn’t true. For her sake.

    “Okay. I’m sure they’re around here somewh—” he began, but an unfamiliar voice cut him off.

    It was an older fellow, and he seemed to know Tsura, or at least her family. That was promising. He let out a breath, silently mumbling something under his breath as he listened to the two talk. The man made some joke about her looks before laughing, and the sound made Kamon wince internally at the horrible timing. He wasn’t in the mood to chuckle, and he very much doubted Tsura was either. Erwin Rockmourn, Kamon thought. A peculiar name. But his words brought a smile to the girl’s face, and he started to feel a little better. Maybe they would have good news after all. He held his breath. Old Jared . . . Miss Orianna and her brother . . . . The demon watched Erwin tap his fingers as he listed off the names of everyone he remembered.

    And then: “Sorry child, I’m afraid I haven’t seen your folks.” Bitter disappointment enveloped his entire being for a moment. He should have seen this coming, but he had hoped. The boy let out a soft sigh and forced a more neutral expression to return to his face. Even in light of this distressing news, he wanted to at least appear like he was optimistic, because seeing Tsura in such turmoil made him sick to his stomach. But what if giving her hope where there was none wasn’t the right thing to do? What if she was accepting the fact that her family might be dead, and convincing her that they might still be alive made it even worse when she found out they were truly gone? He hated being this conflicted. Kamon decided to see how Tsura reacted in order to figure out how to proceed. If she were hopeful, he would be too, and if she wasn’t, well . . . he’d be supportive either way.

    The boy followed her back into the bustling marketplace, watching her cautiously. When she spoke next, her voice was still somewhat rattled, but she was doing a much better job at hiding it. Kamon considered what the girl said. He could tell she was exhausted, and as hungry as he was, he knew she must be too. Her eagerness to find out her family’s fate was understandable, but continuing at this pace was also dangerous.

    “Tsura,” he said quietly, being careful not to offend or anger her. “I know finding your family is important. Especially with all that’s happened. But . . . I can tell you’re tired and hungry. We both are.”

    He paused, looking down at the ground for a moment before looking back up at her face. “I have no knowledge of this place. I’m not from here, so you’re my guide, and I depend on you to take us where we need to go. It won’t do either of us any good if we set off looking for your caravan and end up collapsing. Maybe . . . maybe we should take a short break to regain our strength.”

    Kamon looked around the market again, noticing a walkway that led north. Beyond that was a hill that overlooked the town. It was covered in thick grass and wide, shade-giving trees—a perfect place to eat while still being able to keep an eye out. “Look,” he said, pointing to the very spot. “We can see the market and a bit of the town from up there. It’d be a nice place to relax, and we could ask that Erwin guy to keep an eye out for your folks in case they come through and we miss them. They might just be running late.”
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