Thursday, September 23, 2010

Story: Stitches

The picturesque village of Toz has been home for those wishing to live in peace for many years. Seemingly without conflict, it soon proves otherwise when a girl goes missing, setting off an unexpected chain of events that will unveil Toz is anything but a peaceful village and its peace was bought for a price most bloody...

Table of contents: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53

Chapter One

A picturesque scene in the backyard of a tall, blue house in the village of Toz. Lines and lines of colourful flowers surrounding a partially paved resting place where two rocking benches were. On each of those, somebody sat. A girl and a boy, to be exact. They talked, sometimes jokingly, sometimes seriously, sometimes cheerily and sometimes enigmatically. They enjoyed the time and didn't notice it pass them by although they would never wish it away.

They were having so much fun. It was a beautiful summer day, after all. There was something inexplicable in the air, something making the nature come alive and rousing the spirit of every being.

They talked on and on, going over the same topic again and again, laughing. In a different time and space yet at the same moment and place, the day turned to night, but they didn't notice. Months went by, the waning summer cowered to the waxing autumn, but they didn't notice. Years advanced, but they didn't notice.

The place was left to decay, eventually falling apart, but they didn't notice, for their brains had been eaten out by worms and their bodies had long since perished, having been feasted upon by larvae.

The laughter was a fleeting thing and life was but a tick of the clock, but the two didn't care, for no dead had ever realized anything.

There was no summer, no autumn, not a single season. Neither a day nor night. The only thing that remained was a grey shade of everything that stood the test of time. It was like an old photograph that always brought memories, but at that moment there was no onlooker and the atmosphere was bleak.

Thankfully, the girl and the boy lived and the day didn't get dark yet, so the two could enjoy their moments together, unaware of the horrible phenomenon of their dissolution that happened and did not. It was a bizarre, inexplicable occurrence in any language, yet it was true and had happened, despite lying far in the future.

In current events, the girl, who sat on one of the rocking benches, slowly caressed her own hair as she always did when she was lost in thoughts. The boy, who sat on the opposite bench, knew her habit well and stopped with his response to the girl's last question, patiently waiting for her to untangle the knot made out of her thoughts as well as her fingers from her locks of auburn hair.

When that happened, she spoke with almost a possessed voice: "I had a dream once."

"What was it about?" the boy asked, always too eager to hear one of her dreams. She had a way for storytelling, which was an ability the boy admired, perhaps, above all things.

"I was standing atop the hill to the far left of the house. The blades of grass were waving in the enchanted wind. In a second, it gained the strength of a gale but in another, it was as weak as a breeze.

For a moment, I thought it was originating from the buried ruins of a supposed city belonging to a long lost civilization rumoured to wield insurmountable powers, but then I saw the skies, which were grimly black and thundering far and wide as if trying to reach every soul and wake terror.

Fright took hold of me quickly but as I tried to flee, forces of unknown origin possessed me and paralyzed my body on the spot. I couldn't do anything against it. Then, black fog appeared from the sky and lightning struck every five seconds, allowing me to see unspoken horrors that were manifesting beyond the haze.

I wanted to scream, but I couldn't open my mouth as if something glued my lips together. I thought those were my last moments, I believed I wouldn't leave that place alive.

When the next lightning struck, however, all was changed. I saw faces, terrible faces expressing deep agony. They were shouting a name. They were shouting…"

"Why are you telling me this?" the boy interrupted, feeling discomfort bite deeply into his mind, imagining the horror in his very eyes.

"Because it called your name," the girl answered enigmatically and fixed her gaze on the boy.

"My name?" the boy asked awkwardly as if he was afraid. Truth was far from that, however. He was just overly worried.

"Yes," the girl continued with the spooky drama.

"Why are you telling me so now?"

"I don't know," she said, her voice sounding baffled.

"Are you okay?" the boy asked while rising up from the bench.

He was about to check whether she wasn't ill but as he approached her, both felt a sudden touch of a bitter wind.

"It is there, calling out for you."

"Are you okay?" the boy repeated the question, but it was to no avail because the girl just sat there silently watching him. "Okay then. Do you want me to go there and check that place?"

The response was but a simple nod and the boy understood.

There was always darkness to the bright side of the mind, and there was a downside to each of the redeeming traits – a bitter aspect of the girl's soul the boy knew about. From time to time, dark spirits would possess her mind, making her behave in a confusing and often insane manner. He knew this was one of such bouts.

As inexplicable they might have seemed, they were rooted deep within the fabric of logic. There was an explanation, however, a simple fact that many of the fundaments of logic were beyond the grasp of a sane mind.

Having set out for a solution to the riddle, a cure for the seizure, the boy's footsteps had led him to the grassy hill, the alleged destination of the dream's hazy prophecy. He was standing atop it, awaiting something to happen, perhaps a bizarre occurrence, maybe a revelation or perhaps nothing at all.

It may have seemed that the boy was the good hero, the pious character on the side of light, but appearances could be deceptive as he had his dark side, which he ignored and suppressed, a persona buried deep within the shadowy confines of subconsciousness, shouting, screaming, raging… awaiting the day of freedom.

He stood there silently, scanning his surroundings with his eyes, yet he couldn't see anything besides tall blades of grass waving in the air. The place seemed to be devoid of any magic and felt as dead as a graveyard, yet that was merely an illusion to fool the senses of the boy, for it was indeed possessed with dark spirits.

However, he found out soon enough when shadows emerged from the ground, engulfing him and then disappearing all of a sudden. What he saw afterwards, though, was an experience most horrifying. The hill resembled a wasteland, its borders were surrounded by a thick fog with streams of dark coloured gases flowing hastily from side to side as if they were stray souls wandering full circle.

The boy couldn't see anything besides them despite the fact that the hill should have given him a vantage point – it was as if there wasn't anything at all beyond the fog, having disappeared mysteriously.

When he stepped forward and looked at those visible winds, he saw they were actually endless ethereal ropes made of spines, leather, flesh or flame. He wanted to reach out and touch them, but as soon as he stood before them, inhuman screams and screeches overwhelmed his mind.

Instinctively, he jumped back and the shouting in his head ceased, leaving behind a bitter taste of nothingness. The boy started to feel anxious, for it was as if he had really tasted the void. His mind was becoming filled with thoughts of what was beyond the common world and whether the empty space he experienced was the answer.

Nevertheless, his introspection came to a halt when a voice spoke to him, making him realize those boundaries disappeared and he was once again standing atop the hill with the village surrounding it.

"Greetings, tall one," the voice said.

"Hello," the boy responded while looking around to find the speaker, but to no avail. "Where are you? I can't see you."

"Down there, tall one," the voice replied, prompting the boy to look down.

There it was, a small lawn gnome standing right next to the boy, dressed in a blue suede outfit and holding a spade in his hands.

"Allow me to introduce myself," the gnome said without moving. "I am Rhon. Now don't do the same, tall one, for there is no need to. I have come to deliver you a message. Your friend is in grave danger."

"How do you know?" the boy asked and felt blood coursing through his veins intensely. If the girl was in danger, he knew he had to act quickly.

"That doesn't matter. I have delivered you the message and that is what mattered. You should go now, go before she is lost."

"Tell me at least what sort of danger she is in," the boy enquired, but the lawn gnome remained silent.

The boy didn't wait even a little longer, instead he rushed towards the place where he had last seen the girl – the backyard.

He ran as fast as he could and within a moment, he was there, finding it was abandoned and the rocking bench where the girl had sat was slowly swinging from side to side. He was too late.

He looked around in hopes of noticing anything that could help him, turning full circle and seeing that the rocking bench was no longer empty. A man in a black cloak sat there, his identity concealed by his clothes. The boy knew he was watching him, perhaps in curiosity because he didn't speak a single word.

"Who are you?" the boy asked.

The man just sat there silently, not even bothering to answer.

"I said 'who are you?'" the boy asked in an intimidating tone.

"No need to raise your voice over petty squabbles," the man finally spoke.

"Petty squabbles? My friend has gone missing!"

"Yes, I know. That is why I sent a messenger to call you back."

"Call me back? So tell me where my friend is already!"

The man laughed. He was apparently entertained by the boy's behaviour although the boy saw no reason to be in a cheery mood, which angered him even more.

"Your friend has been kidnapped," the man said suddenly in a grave tone.

"Kidnapped? By whom? Speak!"

"By the vile Lord Garrigard. The champion of evil deeds, the land owner of the County of Sin."

"Lord Garrigard? But that's fairy tales!"

"You might say so," the man said and paused for a moment. "But then why would I be here telling you?"

"True. It's strange that my friend has been kidnapped and quickly after I find a shadowy man sitting in the backyard of our house. Care to explain?"

"There are forces that bind us to do things against our own will," the man replied enigmatically.

"And those would be?"

"I am sorry, I can't reveal more."

"Stop being so cryptic. I can't figure out a thing!"

"As I have mentioned, there are forces that bind us. I can't say more that I am told to. And I think it would be of your best interest to ask about your friend and not me."

"Okay," the boy reluctantly agreed. "Where is she then?"

"Lord Garrigard kidnapped her. You won't be able to track her, for the vile Lord possesses powers beyond imagination."

"So how do I save her?"

"Careful there, the Lord is not just a pawn you can simply beat. Your straightforward attitude, the belief that you come in and take what you wish might as well be a dooming sentence."

"I'm trying to figure out how to save my friend, that's it. Do you want to tell me what to do then if you're so wise?"

"Of course I will tell you. First, you should reunite with the old roots. The village of Toz abandoned them long ago, but I believe there is a place around here somewhere, the last haven of the ancient lore."

"So you won't help me at all?"

"I have told you all I could. It is up to you now to solve the Heresy of Toz… before it is too late."

"What heresy are…" the boy began asking, but the man mysteriously vanished.

Chapter Two

The village of Toz was a small settlement founded thousands of years ago upon the river Haz by a farmer who had been cast out from a nearby town for cheating a wealthy merchant that had happened to be a friend of the town's ruler.

However, the sands of time left little remains of that city and even the wisest of historians no longer knew its original location or its name. Lines blurred, ideas conjoined, many were led to believe the city was the same as the mythical one the girl had spoken of, thinking the village had thrived so much it had grown over the ashes of the old city.

Nobody dared to prove that theory right or wrong though, for there was a superstition rooted deep within the minds of the villagers. A tale speaking of a greedy woman who wanted to build a house on the hill so that hers would tower above the others in the village. According to it, she was consumed along with the men she hired to flatten out the ground by the souls that were rumoured to dwell beneath the hill, souls that purportedly belonged to the citizens of the old, forgotten city.

Despite having been a prosperous piece of land, the village congregated about thirty houses and despite that small number, the villagers didn't engage in social activities that much. Instead, they preferred working on their house, farming or doing whatever work they found. It could have been considered an odd behaviour by a common visitor, but the villagers didn't really think about it because it was their habit.

They didn't even find it odd that there were two young people living in a house of their own, their parents and grandparents long since deceased. But those two led happy lives. Well, at least until one of them, the girl, was kidnapped on that fateful day.

Standing in front of the town hall, the boy was hoping to confront many questions that had arisen within the last two hours. Who was the man in the cloak and why had the girl been kidnapped just after she had told him to visit the hill? Had the strange occurrence any connection to it?

He entered the shabby old halls of the spacious building that was plain in architecture and wandered through the halls with chequered floor of black and white colour and walls of concrete until he arrived in front of a door that bore a sign: Makros, the Mayor of Toz.

He knocked on the door carefully as if not wishing to disturb anybody and in an instant, it opened before him.

The room he entered was a large, comfortable place much unlike the rest of the building. It had a blue carpet with exotic ornaments covering the floor, mahogany furniture, a vast array of pictures hanging on the walls and even a fireplace. Next to the fireplace sat a man with a poker dressed in a gown and when he noticed that somebody was in his office, he dropped the poker in shock and jumped out of the chair so quickly it looked like he was about to run away in fear.

"Good day," the boy said.

"Oh… greetings," the mayor replied in relief. He sat back down and grabbed the poker he had dropped, shaking it madly in the air. He didn't even bother looking the boy in the eye.

"Are you okay?"

"What?" the mayor yelled in confusion. "Oh, goodness. Yes. I am okay. Just that it's a welcome change to see a living face."

"A welcome change? You mean you haven't been outside and met people for some time?"

"No. Of course I've been outside. Don't think that I am lazy. But it's those ghost who keep visiting me."


"Yes," the mayor replied. He rose from the chair again, heading towards the opposite side of the room. He stopped in front of a picture of an old woman dressed in seamstress' clothes. "An hour ago, I was visited by Aunt Margaret. She intended to stop by and have a cup of tea, but when I said that I was out of tea, she stormed off while yelling angrily." The mayor slowly walked away towards another picture, coughed and continued with his boring speech. "Or this fine man James. He always comes in late hours and is as drunk as a lord. He tells me about his life again and again. I always have to inform him that I've heard that one, but he talks nevertheless. Why, everyone needs to talk! I imagine living people aren't the only lonely things in the world. Oh, wait, don't you want to talk as well?"

"As a matter of fact, I do. My friend was kidnapped."

"That nice girl? She took a lot after her mother. Why would anyone do such a thing to her?"

"I don't know. I came home and found a man shrouded in a cloak sitting on the bench. He informed me that she had been kidnapped by Lord Garrigard."

"Lord Garrigard? Oh boy, your imagination tricked you. Surely a man who acts as a villain in fairy tales wouldn't somehow come alive and take your friend away."

"You have to believe me! That's what the shrouded man said."

"I'm sure your friend ran away in some hide-and-seek game and is waiting for you to find her hiding behind a tree trunk. Lord Garrigard simply does not exist."

"But ghost don't exist either!"

The mayor frowned at first, but after realizing there was logic to it, he reconsidered. "I take your point," he said in a tone of relief mixed with grim realization. "It seems as though terrible things are befalling the village. The people have been constantly littering the complaint board with whines that I never show myself outside and never do anything for them.

I do show up and I try to help, but I've only seen the old biddy Catherine outside. It was in the afternoon and she was towing away her large baggage filled with rummage. I asked her if she needed a hand, but she didn't say a word. She passed by as if I was not different from the air surrounding us all. It was very strange.

Worse still, those ghosts have been appearing for a month already. And to think I've realized just now that something is wrong. I must be mad."

"The shrouded man told me to reunite with the old roots," the boy hoped to get the conversation back where he wanted.

"Old roots, you say? The entire village is standing upon the old roots. Every mark, every home and even the town hall."

The boy was becoming tired of having to listen to cryptic messages. First the man in the cloak and now the mayor. "I seriously need to find my friend. I can imagine what terrible things might happen to her if I am late. Please help me as fast as you can so that I can set off in search of her."

"Honestly, I don't know where to find Lord Garrigard. But if you say you have to reunite with the old roots, I will try to help you. My knowledge on that subject is limited though."

"So what do you know?"

"As I said, the old roots are beneath those things this village is made of. The old memories, the old lore. Many villages and towns have their own graveyard, but we do not. Thus the old roots are everywhere. Nobody listens to them nowadays though. Nobody knows the language they speak."

"You mean the dead?"

"The aura, the strange feel that surrounds the burial grounds. The corpses are no longer there because they were eaten by worms and bacteria. Their souls, like any other, never left the bodies despite the popular belief. Well, not only the 'dead'. There is more to the old roots than just people. Their houses, gardens, crops, food, cuisine, culture… the lore of their time. That is what the old roots mean."

"So I am supposed to learn the lore?" the boy asked aloud although the question was aimed more at himself rather than the mayor.

"Maybe. Materials for study are hard to come by because we have never really had a library. In fact, we have never had any book either except for…" The mayor paused while walking towards his empty desk. When he reached it, he crouched underneath it and grabbed an old book with sturdy brown binding made of leather. When he wiped the dust from it, he came to the boy and handed it to him.

"Thank you," the boy said hesitatingly as he opened the surprisingly lightweight book. Its pages were blank. There wasn't even one with a letter on it. "What kind of book is it?"

"I don't know. It's very old. And it was there for a long time. When this office gets handed down from one mayor to another, the new fellow always asks about the book in wonder. At least that's what my predecessor said. I can't confirm for I'm yet to see my successor. As for you, you aren't the new mayor, but I can't give you a different answer. I'm really sorry."

"Is it okay if I keep the book?" the boy asked although he didn't have any idea of what he would use it for.

"Sure. At no time in the history of this village has the book been useful. Nobody even knows how it got here. Perhaps some writer wanted to create a tale but forgot. Or died. Or I don't know. Anything could have happened. Anyway, that is all I can give you for help. You'd better go. I can sense that another ghost is coming. Oh no! It might be Aunt Margaret. I can hear her footsteps miles away. Go, go already!"

The boy reluctantly left the room in confusion and as the mayor closed the door behind him, he realized he had forgotten to thank him. However, the doors were bolted shut and nobody responded even after knocking and asking for entry.

Eventually he gave up and headed out of the town hall, bitterly aware of the fact that his visit didn't answer any questions, but made him even more confused instead.

Chapter Three

The mayor was a creepy person. He must have gone mad. The ghosts, the way he had reacted upon seeing the boy, the manner of speech he had used – it all signalized he had gone beyond insanity. The boy knew, however, that a man doesn't turn into a maniac by wishful thinking. There must have been something that had scared him so much. Given light that he had been considered to be a strong-willed person, the boy began imagining the terrors he might have encountered.

The boy knew something was off, for he remembered the bizarre occurrence that had happened on the hill. He wondered whether those events were connected, but he quickly abandoned such thoughts, realizing he could wander deep into the territory of horror beyond a sane man's grasp.

He couldn't resist the urge to think, however. He needed to think. His head started to fill with ideas as to what to do, where to find Lord Garrigard, how the old roots fitted in and how to save his friend. The only clue he had was a bizarre book with no words.

He found himself wandering through empty streets, his subconsciousness hoping for some sort of a miracle. It wasn't until then he realized the village felt dead, its people plain and withdrawn.

He recalled many events in the past and they all had a simple thing in common. Whether the neighbour Tom, a fisherman, wanted to borrow a rake, the family Bronstoyle needed someone to look after their children when they were going away for shopping, or the old spinster Mary asked if they were in the market for sweaters, it was the same. Their looks empty, their speech apathetic, their skin pale and their eyes twitching.

He also recalled that it hadn't always been like that. When he was but a little thing playing in the sandbox and his parents were still alive, long before his friend's family moved in, people were friendly, albeit always working. They were smiling at each other, laughing. They were happy.

The boy wondered why it had changed so much. He couldn't recall when it had begun, but he knew it had turned to worse since his parents drowned on a sea route to a distant city of Yellinger and his friend's parents vanished without saying, leaving their only daughter behind.

He asked himself whether those events with a two-year gap between them were somehow the purpose, but dismissed it soon afterwards, reminding himself that there was no way his and her friend's parents disappearance could be connected with recent events and besides, he would have noticed that things had been becoming different back then.

As he was walking around, he came to his senses again, noticing that the skies had gone dark and the air cold. He wanted to run back to his house as he didn't have any warm clothes on, but suddenly, the wind gained strength and while wasn't endangering him, the houses that were surrounding him were rooted out and consumed by clouds above his head in a single second.

The skies formed a grim-looking whirl of ash, sucking in the sand and dust off the road, and the boy cowered in fear. The book he was holding slipped out of his hands. He tried to reach for it as it settled on the ground, but it opened and its pages began turning themselves very quickly.

It shocked the boy. What dark magic was at work? What was going on?

When his hand nearly rested on it, he noticed the pages were full of text. Curious and afraid at the same time, he grabbed it as if it was a hot potato and fixed his eyes on the page that was opened.

However, he couldn't understand the text as it was written in some sort of a cryptic language, but when he browsed through the book a little, he saw a single word comprehensible to him. Garrigard.

The storm settled, the skies calmed and the confused boy watched his surroundings in awe. He was so taken aghast in the eyes of the sky that he didn't even notice the houses were standing on their places. When he did, however, his mind was overwhelmed by the previous occurrence that he didn't even wonder anymore.

His sight rested on the book, which was devoid of any text again. He browsed through in anger, not willing to accept the strange happening as a moment of insane, irrational magic, and his decision eventually brought him to the first page. Surprisingly bearing words, the previously blank sheet held two lines in its centre.

The story of vile Lord Garrigard, by an unknown storyteller.

Going through the following pages which had been blank just a second ago, the boy recognized a tale familiar to him. It was the tale his parents had read him so long ago as a bedtime story.

It was about Lord Garrigard and his plot against the Kingdom of Dreams. He kidnapped a princess, locked her deep within the bowels of his keep and demanded that he be given the crown in exchange for princess' freedom.

The fairy tale ended with a happy ending, however, as a brave young knight rescued the princess and banished Lord Garrigard into the depths of hell.

The boy wondered. Was it a signal? Going through his memories, he asked himself whose the shrouded man's allegiance was. He apparently knew much more than anyone in the village, but who was he? The village was always an independent one, almost forgotten by the rest of the world. There was little chance any outsider could be conversant in their ways. Did it mean that he was somebody from inside? Somebody the boy knew? He hadn't recognized the voice, however, and looking back in time, he didn't find it familiar either.

Aware that he wouldn't find the answer with the little he got, his attention focused on facts rather than guesses. Thanks to the cryptic path set before him by the shrouded man, the boy received a magical book that possibly hinted at a connection between his quest and the fairy tale of Lord Garrigard.

Was it a metaphor? Or was Lord Garrigard really a live person? In either case, the boy was glad that he had a less abstract lead.

He sat down on the ground and thought for a moment. He couldn't recall any keep in the vicinity and as far as he knew, there was no kingdom nearby. In fact, closest settlements, which were pretty far anyway, were city-states led by merchants or councils and the only kingdom he knew about was Dharn, a distant land made famous by its silk and steel despite located mainly in a desert.

It must have been a metaphor. The girl was the princess. Was he the knight then?

Still, there were more than just two characters in the story, though only other two major ones. Who was the king and, most of all, who was Lord Garrigard?

Once again, the boy realized he was in a dead end. Or was something eluding him? Was he not observant enough? As much as he tried, he couldn't come up with a solution. There must have been a piece of information yet unseen and unheard, waiting for him to be uncovered. But where to start looking? Where to go?

Makros wouldn't be hospitable because he was most likely admitting ghosts at that time and although the boy was curious as he had never seen a ghost in his lifetime, he knew that the salvation of her friend took higher priority. Makros would certainly provide no help. Besides, he hadn't let the boy in when he knocked on the door the second time.

So who was next? The villagers? All unhelpful. Anyone he knew from outside? No. Revisiting places for investigation? He couldn't figure out anything better. Perhaps he had overlooked important clues. Or perhaps somebody was waiting there for him, prepared to direct him the way he needed. Either way, he didn't hesitate any longer and hit the road.

Chapter Four

Magic wasn't anything extraordinary in the world yet despite that, only few had the command over its power. It wasn't something breathtaking, however. No turning sand into gold, no building houses out of thin air, no summoning people or monsters.

In fact, magic wieldable by mankind was reduced to minor illusion spells and those were but a tiny little nothing in comparison to what the boy had witnessed during his travels that day.

The real magic was in possession of nature and misguided spirits, but it was beyond the grasp of a sane mind to understand, thus many viewed it as a core of folk tales and thought of anyone telling them of powerful magic as crazy.

The boy had seen its power, however, and after being confronted with many wonders and unbelievable occurrences, he was only coming to believe it.

On the way home, he saw Catherine, an old woman that was considered the village's most outgoing person. How times had changed. She looked like walking dead. The boy knew he had nothing to lose, so he approached her.

"Good day," he began.

"What?" she responded, plodding along the street without stopping to see who was talking to her.

"Good day, Catherine," the boy repeated.

"Good, you say? Whatever. I don't mind."

"I needed to ask."

"Ask me? Why ask a wretched old witch. Even the dead are respected more than the elderly."

"I sense something wrong happened. Can I help?"

"Help? Nonsense. Nobody needs help now. It was relevant those years ago when this village was going to hell. Now it doesn't matter."

"So you noticed the change as well?"

"Of course! Everyone noticed. But they're too damn scared to admit it. That, or they've been changed. Bah! We all changed. It feels like the world aged so fast during the last decade. So sour."

"What do you know about the change?"

"Not much. Certainly it isn't as charming a story as is the disappearance of your family, your friend and her family."

"What?" the boy was taken aghast.

"I'm the town's elder. Wise woman and all that. I ought to be aware of what's happening around."

"And what is happening around?"

"Well. You noticed that the village turned pale right after your friend was kidnapped, didn't you?"

"Why is everybody talking in riddles? What do you know about the kidnapping?"

"Makros told me not long ago."


"Yes, he exactly."

"Strange. He said you weren't particularly talkative lately."

"True. But try responding to somebody while enduring severe pains stemming from cancer. Oh yes. Cancer. That is what struck the village."

"You still haven't told me what you know about my and my friend's parents."

"Really? Okay then. Your parents drowned. Your friend's parents left their child to fend for her own. I must admit that you've handled the task of living on your own very well, though. Nobody in the village expected that."

"You misunderstood the question. You showed particular amusement regarding what happened to my parents. Explain yourself."

"Kids these days. No respect for the elderly. Where are your manners? Oh, I forgot. With no parents to raise you, it's no wonder you don't have any. Still, I don't hold the answers you seek. Go visit Makros. He is aware of more than he lets on. Go, buzz off. Leave an old woman to her grief."

The boy felt a bitter touch of anxiety in his mind. How come he had never been paying attention to the bizarre occurrences happening all over the village? Had he been that ignorant?

The girl. While she was still around, the boy never cared about the truth. Their world had comprised only of happy moments, of positive aspects of the village. The dull, gray portion of reality had never been of any interest to them. It was such a revelation to him now that he was alone, left to wake up to the dimness of truth. The village he had lived in for his entire life was not a place where he wanted to stay anymore.

Nevertheless, he knew he had to carry on. Eventually, he arrived at the town hall again and within moments, he stood in front of the door that led to where he had last met Makros.

"Is anybody there?" the boy yelled in hopes of being let in.

"Hello?" he tried to get attention after a minute of silence.

No response. After countless of debates he had had with the residents of the village, he became increasingly discontented and weary of the cryptic way everybody preferred. The boy longed for a straightforward dialogue with clear answers. For simple reasoning. For anything opposite to the sluggish pace he attained.

He tried to open the door, finding they were unlocked. The chair on which Makros had been sitting when the boy saw him earlier that day was facing him backwards and he could see somebody on it.

"Hello?" the boy said so as to make the man on the chair wake up.

It was to no avail, however. The boy slowly walked towards the fireplace until he stopped in horror, standing face to face with Makros. He was dead. His body was mutilated.

The boy battled the urge of vomiting and turned away, breathing in and out slowly. Who could have done such a thing and why? Catherine? Was she more than he thought she was? A dangerous woman under the guise of an old, ill lady?

Strangely, the picture of Aunt Margaret was missing. The boy looked around until he saw it burning in the fireplace. Could the ghosts be real? Having experienced the unbelievable, the possibility of spirits roaming around didn't look so small to him. Could they have exacted revenge on the poor man?

Which of those two versions was true? Or was there a bit of truth in both?

When he heard silent echoes of crying slowly intensify, his attention sharpened. His gaze was fixed on a wall that appeared to contain the source behind itself. Carefully, he came to it in order to listen to what the lamenting person was saying.

The voice stopped sobbing all of a sudden, leaving the boy to a brief moment of silence. He thought he was just not paying attention enough, but he was wrong.

He felt something hit him in the head. In pain, he jumped back and noticed a bulge protruding out of the wall. Another blow followed. Two narrower, but more protruding bulges appeared on both sides of the original one. The cries began again, this time so intense that the boy believed they must have been coming directly from behind the wall.

With the next blow, fear possessed the boy's mind, making him run out of the room. The fact the door slammed behind him by itself didn't escape him, which made him even faster.

Soon, he was standing in front of the town hall, looking at it in confusion. Whatever dark spirits possessed the place, the boy didn't dare exploring it. Instead, he decided there was a person that had a lot to explain.

Chapter Five

Catherine was the prime suspect now. She must have had some connection to what had happened at the town hall. Thus, the boy's attention shifted to her. He was on his way to her house, knowing that she was walking in that direction last time they had met.

Upon knocking on the door of her shabby abode surrounded by overgrown vines, nobody opened. The boy's patience was wearing thin and so he entered without being prompted to do so.

The house was in a state of extreme disrepair. Everything was covered in a thick layer of dust, cracks were all over the walls and the smell of stale air was ever-present.

The boy explored the place carefully as if afraid that it could have collapsed at any moment until he came to the bedroom. A bed of ancient age was the centre of the room, a large wooden piece of furniture fit for an ogre.

Besides the bed, there was a closet, a desk and a chair on which the old woman sat.

"There you are," she welcomed the intruder.

"Makros is dead," the boy replied in a grave voice.

"I know," Catherine said surprisingly calmly.

"What else do you know?" the boy asked in an intimidating tone. He was growing weary with her tricks.

"That depends on what you want to hear."

"All. Possibly from the beginning."

"Really?" she exclaimed. "As you wish then. I was born seventy-two years ago, a week before Christmas…"

"Spare me. I'm not interested in jokes. Tell me why you killed Makros and what dark magic is on the loose at the town hall."

"Town hall," Catherine replied apathetically. "Such an unusual thing to have in a village. But well, I guess it's just a habit, because it's not particularly a town hall yet you won't hear anyone calling it any other way."

"I will repeat it once more. Why did you kill Makros?"

"I didn't kill him, child."

The boy sighed, but was far from giving up. "Isn't it strange? You send me to seek out what secrets he didn't tell me and I find him dead! Worse still, I had to flee for my life. Were you trying to dispose of me as well?"

"I didn't kill him!" Catherine defended herself.

"Who then?"

"I told you already that the village is falling apart!" she began explaining so fast that the boy had a hard time catching up. She almost sounded like mad. "I told you so. They are there. Everywhere. The boundaries. They are only a step away from breaking. Stitches won't hold them much longer. Makros was killed. Previously unacceptable beings roam freely in our world. Unimaginable events occur on daily basis. You should run for your life. Escape the village while there is still time. Nothing can withstand the chaos here now. Other places might be safe, but the threat will grow."

"What?" the boy didn't understand.

"Just run for your life! Leave the village!"

"But where should I go? And what if my friend is still in here?"

"Even if she was, you wouldn't be able to save her."

"But what about the…"

"Don't you understand? Everything you have witnessed is either a sign of falling into chaos or people acting while influenced by it!"

"You've been holding on to something all the time, don't try denying that. I will leave, but first things first. For once, tell me what I want to know."

"Damn it! Don't you realize what is at stake? It is not about keeping secrets. It's about survival. I am old and rooted to this place but you aren't. You can still escape! Let go of the ties you have to this village and save yourself while there is time."

"I don't care about what's at stake! I've spent the past hours diligently searching for answers yet found only smoke and mirrors!"

"Time is on the essence!" Catherine insisted, but in a single flash of a moment, she reconsidered. She gave up. "You won't stop until you have it, right? Fine. The clock is ticking and I can't tell whether it's still safe here. I can't explain much to you because you're not stricken by the same plague I am. Madness, maybe, but I sense it's not originating from our own heads."

"Just tell me where to find my friend."

"Unfortunately, I don't know that. But I can tell you about what's going on here. It might be essential to the survival of your friend. I reckon everyone was trying to tell you. Step by step, they revealed the littlest truths to you so that you can grasp it. And then, once you got it all, you would understand. However, there's not much time left."

"Why it is so hard to tell me where is this Lord Garrigard and where is he keeping my friend?"

"Quite simply. Lord Garrigard…"

"Tell me," the boy insisted while Catherine stopped talking.

She didn't respond anymore. Her eyes froze, her look was apathetic.

"Tell me!" the boy demanded but it was to no avail.

In anger, he rose up from the table and ran towards her, shaking with her motionless body. It was no use, she was dead.

"What the hell?" the boy expressed his confusion, not willing to accept that somebody could die all of a sudden. Especially when an answer was at hand.

He was so distraught by the bizarre happening that he didn't realize something terrible was amiss. First, quiet voices echoed throughout the room. Then, the room shook. Windows broke. Ceiling began to crack. The entire building was crumbling.

"Time has come," a whispering voice said, deafening the sound of background chatter. There was no point in staying any longer, the boy realized.

He was about to run out of Catherine's abode, but he stopped on the edge of the doorstep, his heart pounding so much it was about to tear through his chest. He was gazing down into an abyss.

The decay ceased. The house was stripped of its surroundings, floating in nothingness. A moment of stillness ensued as if reflecting the boy's mind. He was sitting there watching things around him, his mind empty and his thoughts wandering.

Was it real? Where was he? How to get out?

He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Perhaps to think it through. Perhaps to switch off for a second. Or perhaps to blindly hope that things would return to normal once he wakes up to the world.

When he did, he found himself standing on the hill near his house. There was no sky, only blackness, and there was no horizon. He carefully observed the place, noticing nothing of interest. Then, he made a step forward. And another one. Curious yet afraid, he wanted to find out what was going on. Somehow, it all seemed so familiar to him, so friendly, so soothing. Had he gone mad?

Suddenly, he felt a headache overwhelming him. His eyes gazing into the distance, the immediate space in front of him transformed before his sight. Streams of flesh, bones, iron and energy were floating to the right at impossible speeds. Screaming voices were coming out of them, waking terror in the boy's mind. He tried to turn and run away, but he couldn't. He was surrounded by the horror. He couldn't escape.

His hand reached out in a desperate attempt to escape, but upon touching the streams, uncontrollable panic took hold over him. His hand retracted back, his body was shuddering so hard he battled with keeping balance and not falling to the stream and being engulfed by it entirely.

He believed he would be locked in the insane prison forever as he didn't understand the essence of magic. He wasn't aware of a pulling force that was rising behind it. A force that grew so significant within but a few seconds and sucked him into the stream.

Never before had he experienced such a terrifying shock. He felt his body was being torn apart and reconstructed repeatedly again and again. His vision was fading in and out, noticing occasional surreal imagery of blurry streams of energy. His hearing was alternating from perceiving white noise and nothing.

It lasted for so long that the boy thought he no longer existed. Therefore it was much to his confusion that he regained his full consciousness, standing in a wasteland that distantly resembled the village.

He repeatedly observed his hands, clasping them together as if not believing his own sight. When he finally reunited with the truth, he observed the barrens and imagined what had once stood on the ruined remains. Once a proud village – now rubble.

He looked down, seeing a withered hand buried beneath the ruins of a house. Fuelled by curiosity, the boy began unearthing the corpse, finding it was Catherine. He was standing atop the remains of her abode.

Instinctively, his eyes drifted towards his house. Strangely, all he saw was a small field of grass. Completely amazed by the unusual sight, he ran to it and just as he stood on the grass, the reality in front of him flashed like a flickering light bulb. His vision was alternating between the wasteland and the original state of the village.

At first, the boy tried to grasp the insane occurrence by logic, but his attempt failed miserably and he was soon caught in the flow of insanity. Being carried away, he recalled the not so distant moment when he lost control over his body. He thought it was happening again.

Suddenly, he was thrown out of a brownish mush of unknown substance, realizing they were streams of blood, flesh, bones and iron he had been pulled into moments ago. He was on the hill, his prison no more and the village still standing.

He was dazed. He could no longer understand. No longer perceive. In the seconds of his fleeting sanity, he realized he should have listened to Catherine.

He apathetically glared in front of him, expecting a final blow, a coupe-de-grace. He even sat down and readied his hands in expectation of death's final embrace.

Minutes went by and hours as well yet the boy was still alive. He would have remained there until the end of eternity, had it not been for a single, clear sentence.

"My Lord!" somebody shouted. "The king is not here."

"Have you checked every building, every tree and every stone?" a disturbing, evil voice roared. It belonged to Lord Garrigard without doubt. It sounded exactly the way the boy had imagined when he was young.

The presence of the evil man managed to wake the boy from his apathy, his senses on full alert.

He looked around until he noticed two men standing on the opposite end of the street that led to the hill, one in coal black armour and another in posh leathery clothing.

Although the boy regained his consciousness, his senses were oblivious to the possible danger. He dashed towards Lord Garrigard, angered and hoping for an end to the insanity.

"Order the soldiers to pillage this place. Leave no one alive."

"Wait, you scum!" the boy yelled in a bout of hate.

He ran as fast as he could, but it wasn't enough. He was still so far away. In an instant, Lord Garrigard disappeared behind the corner.

The boy was persistent, however. Just as he arrived at the end of the street and faced the crossroad, he took a turn to the right, pursuing his target, who vanished behind yet another corner.

"Stop!" the boy yelled, not understanding how a heavily-armoured knight could manage to outrun him. The boy couldn't even see him running, which added to the ridiculousness of the situation.

"You will never catch us or free your friend," the voice of Lord Garrigard echoed in the boy's head.

He was slowly getting short on breath but he was far from calling it quits.

He arrived at the next corner, taking a turn, but finding nobody. However, he saw something unusual in the landscape of the village. A street of five houses should have been paved yet there was a rusty metal platform with a chasm on its left instead.

He went through without stopping, noticing a bit of the floor cracking and falling into the chasm in front of him. He jumped across and landed on the other end, but suddenly, the platform shook and detached from the ground. The boy instinctively jumped to the right, grabbing hold of a door handle of a house.

His situation was desperate and he knew it. He tried to climb up but the door opened midway, shaking him off the slope and making him lose his progress. He lifted his head to see who did it, watching Catherine looking him in the eye.

He couldn't believe what he saw. She had died! How come she was now alive?

When the boy blinked, Catherine was no longer there. Instead, a lackey of Lord Garrigard stood there laughing at the boy.

"What…" he wanted to express his confusion, but the door loosened. The boy realized the grimness of the situation, but it was already too late. In an instant, he was falling down the chasm, receiving a beating from the slope as he tumbled down and rolled along it.

Desperately, he tried to get hold of anything, but he failed and a hit his head on a tip of a boulder, the book slipping out of his hand as he lost consciousness soon afterwards.

Chapter Six

There was a cliff was descending down to a fertile basin littered with buildings rising tall to the skies and ships floating around.

In the city, there were people. They looked content with where and who they were. Quite unlike their counterparts that lived directly beneath. Those were evil beings full of hate. Heeding a legend, they believed they were the original citizens of the city. They vowed revenge to the kin inhabiting the surface. They were preparing for a war day by day. Until they emerged.

The battle was a devastating one, but even though many lives were lost, there was something darker that happened that day. In one of the towers, an explosion went off and minutes after, the tower crumbled.

The battle carried on and little did combatants watch their surroundings, which were becoming filled with deathly air emitting from the fallen tower. Eventually, the battle was over with nobody to be proclaimed victorious, for not even a soul survived that night. And so none saw the transformation of the city into a place of bizarre, fractal-like buildings that rose and disappeared with time, eventually withering and becoming covered in a thick layer of earth.

The focus shifted, the scene changing to the underground. Tunnels had long since collapsed, but there still were some that managed to survive. In a desperate attempt to create a self-sustaining community, they performed operations and surgeries on their fellows, mutilating their bodies, dismembering them. It was apparent that the surgeons had lost their minds years ago.

However, things were playing in their favour. With the discovery of a strange substance that had been responsible for the demise of the city and the creation of colossal fractal-like buildings, the efforts of the dwindling underground civilization doubled.

The substance was both a miracle and a disaster, but the evil surgeons were only aware of the former. Being an infinite source of energy, building material and a versatile resource, the way for the rise of the forgotten people was at hand. It could have stopped at that, but much wanted more. Within a year, the downsides outweighed the upsides. And within two, there was nothing but ash left.

The place was marked by the series of events, both on the surface and beneath. Most of those who arrived felt a presence of something dark and left as fast as possible. Others stayed and died under various unexplained circumstances.

For thousands of years, colonists avoided the place, until one day, a weary farmer came upon the land, resting his bones on the grass and deciding it was a paradise, calling it Toz and creating a village.

However, he wasn't of a sound mind. He didn't notice the strange things happening around him. Settlers missing. His family hanged in the basement of their house.

Over the course of time, the farmer left and was found dead in the river Haz, but those who found him were afraid to tell anyone, realizing they were old and rather unwanted. They knew that it would have caused a mass migration and they would have been the only ones left.

And so years passed, lore forgotten, facts found and hidden. Some remembered, but faded with time. The most important truth, however, was lost with the start of the fight. Deep within the once standing tower, people were hard at work to contain a secret that threatened the entire world.

Fast forward to the times of Toz, nobody knew of that secret. Somehow, many felt its presence although they didn't realize it. And even if they did, they wouldn't be able to explain it. They would agree on a simple fact though. The unforgiving secret was on the rise and the possibility to stop it was becoming dim with every wasted second.

Chapter Seven

When the boy woke up and realized the vision of the dark struggle was just a dream, he felt relieved. However, when he looked around, he was downright confused. No room for joy that he had survived a fatal fall. No mourning over the loss of the book.

He was standing at the bottom of the pit he had tumbled down into, realizing the circle of blue far above his head was the sky. His surroundings were made of rocky veins sticking out of the ground, the walls and the ceiling of the large cave he was in.

"Are you okay?" somebody spoke, prompting his eyes to look aside to spot a dwarfish man with a full beard in shabby and coal-covered clothes observing him with concerned interest.

"I... I feel right," the boy spoke as he stood up.

"Miraculous. And I thought you'd be dead the moment I saw you and realized that you fell all the way down. I guess this place is really lucky."


"Well, not many people who fall into a mine shaft are destined to survive it unscathed, but God wills it that you're actually the second person to withstand the test of fate."


"Aye. There was a girl that was met with the same amount of luck just like you day or two ago."


"Indeed. The king himself decided to inspect the marvel."


"It was the single most touching moment I saw in my entire life. The king's face was covered in tears when he saw her. It was his long lost daughter."

"His long lost daughter?" the boy wondered.

"Truly. At least some jolt of joy in those dark times..."

"What kind of dark times you speak?"

"I see you're just as confused as the girl. Do you happen to know her as well?"

"That depends. Did she tell anything? Where's she from?"

"Toz. That's the name of the place where she lived, I think."

"That's her!" the boy realized. He finally found her! "I have to see her!"

"That'd be downright impossible. The king treasures her dearly. Nobody can see her. No blaming the man though. He isn't mad. Just cautious. Enemy spies everywhere."

"Enemy spies?"

"Indeed. There is a war going on between the king's loyal armies and the legions of the unruly dark lord Moaster."

"Why is the war happening?" the boy pondered. He was very well aware of the possible link between the situation he found himself in and the fairy tale about Garrigard.

The fact that he was stranded somewhere remotely different didn't burden him now. The girl was all that mattered. He had to save her. Question was, hadn't her parents abandoned her? Why was she now a daughter of a king?

"Why don't I get the same attention as the girl? I just survived a fall." The boy did all that he could to get to her.

"It's after work hours. Nobody besides me saw that and I doubt people would believe me since... well, they just wouldn't believe me. I'm sorry."

"So I'm lucky to survive, but unlucky in my quest."

"Quest, you say? What are you trying to do? Slay a dragon?"

"No. Just save the girl. Something is terribly wrong here."

"Terribly, you say?"

"Yes. I need to get to the girl."

"Why would you want to do that?"

"She's in danger."

"Wait. Aren't you a spy for Moaster?"

"I don't even know that Moaster of yours."

"Well, if you're not, then I believe you," the dwarf said, fully revealing his naive personality. "And I feel that I know a special something you need in order to get to her. Just follow me."

As the dwarf spoke, he headed away from the depths of the mine, towards the surface. The boy had no other choice but to follow. Trapped in a realm different than his own, he didn't know where he was. Yet he felt it in his bones that he needed to find the girl unless he wanted terrible things to befall her.

Chapter Eight

He was amazed to see houses built of stone. No concrete, no bricks whatsoever. Roads were in for the same treatment.

"A fine city, but albeit a little crowded," the dwarf explained, prompting the boy to wonder. It looked more like a village, both by the population and area size. There were very few people outside and one could see from one end of the settlement to another. However, such a definition of a city was expectable since he wasn't in modern times anymore. It was the medieval era.

"Hello," somebody from the opposite side of the street spoke, making the dwarf respond in the same way. Only the boy remained silent in confusion.

In his age and culture, people that didn't know each other rarely greeted just because. Therefore, the boy didn't speak a word, his interest slowly shifting towards something else. Towards a castle standing upon a nearby hill.

"Magnificent, isn't it," his guide commented.

"Is this where the king resides?"

"True. And we are heading that way."

"You still haven't revealed what the little plan of yours is."

"Just wait. Don't worry, you'll manage."

The boy wondered. The place seemed serene and calm. No trouble, no problems. It was almost unimaginable that there was a civil war ongoing.

When they finally stood in front of the castle gates, he realized how little he was in comparison to the whole structure. Thousands of people could fit inside with ease yet it would still provide breathing space.

"It is me, Revard, open the gates!" the dwarf shouted at somebody behind and within an instant, the door opened.

They entered the courtyard, a grassy place bordered by tall walls where every single entrance was guarded by a pair of pikemen. One such pack was observing them with sour looks on their faces, making the boy uneasy. He felt as if they would stab him the next second.

"Do not fear," the dwarf noticed the boy's fear. "King Reginald is a wise ruler. Unlike Moaster, whose name should evoke tremor in your soul."

"I'm not scared of meeting him."

The two delved into the insides of the castle, finding a maze of vast torch-lit corridors, decorated with tapestries and a red carpet. The boy felt completely lost within the endless hallways, yet the small man easily navigated the realm as if he knew it by heart.

Still, it took them about ten minutes to arrive at their destination. The throne room. Hidden behind gigantic doors and guarded by the most elite soldiers of the realm. King Reginald was certainly within.

"I, humble servant going by the name Revard, demand audience with the king!" the dwarf spoke mightily.

The two sentries stepped aside instantly, allowing the short man to open his way and reveal enormous hall with golden statues of knights lining the path to the exquisite jewel-encased throne on which the king himself was.

Strangely, there was one more place to sit. It was right beside the ruler and was just as extravagant, but it was empty. Could it have meant that the queen had deceased?

"Follow my actions," the dwarf whispered as he slowly walked towards the monarch, the boy emulating his example.

The two soon stopped and bowed in front of the sovereign, a man looking exactly like his fairy tale counterparts. Elderly, bearded and with a golden crown sitting atop his head, his body was covered beneath a flamboyant red mantle lined by white fur.

"This noble man is here to join you in your efforts as a knight, my king."

"What?" the boy whispered angrily, immediately realizing the dwarf's idea wasn't exactly sane.

"This noble man? I see a child before me," the sovereign laughed.

It dawned upon the boy that his guide was quite a lunatic. That is why the dwarf had said nobody would have believed him about witnessing another person survive a fall through the shaft. The boy also realized that if he was to achieve his goals, he had to take matters into his own hands.

"My liege, it isn't as my friend says," he spoke.

"No?" the monarch sounded confused.

"I come from afar. Searching for my friend that has been taken away from me. A friend that happens to be your long lost daughter."

"I can explain," the dwarf interposed, expecting something terrible to happen unless he silenced the boy.

"Let the boy speak," the king objected.

"Like her, I fell through the hole in the mine and survived. I understand this is hard to believe, but I don't lie. I can think of multiple ways that can confirm what I say. However, I suppose the best one would be to let her prove it."

For a moment, the monarch seemed to be deep in thought. His face stretching all wrinkles, his eyes scanning his surroundings as if he was searching for an answer floating in the air. Meanwhile, the dwarf shuddered in fright. He was afraid that the boy was getting them both into serious trouble.

"Fine," the sovereign spoke firmly. "If there is truth to your words, then we will discover it. But before we do, tell me something. Tell me why do you seek her?"

"Because of friendship. We have known each other since early age..."

"Friendship is a divine bond, child," the monarch interrupted, "and if your fear for her stems from it, your soul is indeed noble. I have to warn you though, for if you lie to me, if you are an enemy to me, then I will have to enact punishment upon you."

With those words, the king clapped and the curtains hiding a part of the room behind him began shaking mildly. The movement stopped after a while and complete silence ensued, providing both visitors with time to ponder. While the dwarf dreaded many possible outcomes such as being beheaded, the boy didn't doubt his success for even a second.

Yet things evolved much differently when somebody finally emerged from behind the draperies. It was the girl, but as she was walking towards the thrones, she didn't seem to even notice the boy.

"Hey?" he spoke, his mind engulfed in confusion. What had happened? It was her. Exactly her. How come she didn't recognize him now? Was she playing dumb? Was she protecting some secret? What was going on?

"My daughter, do you know this child?" the sovereign asked as she finally stopped straight in front of the boy.

She didn't respond. She just looked at him with a blank gaze, almost as if her soul had been sucked out. Who had done this to her?

"My daughter?" the king wondered. "My daughter, what is wrong?"

"You idiot, you lied to me," the dwarf used the moment of confusion to curse.

"I didn't lie! I know her!" the boy shouted, his sight turning to the dwarf and then back to the girl. "I know you! Why are you silent? What happened to you? Does this have anything to do with the hill in our village? With the old roots? Please, tell me what is going on!"

Yet the girl was still speechless. Her eyes closed all of a sudden, her body turning limp and crashing at the boy, who caught her just in time. Almost as if she fainted, but it wasn't that case because when her head fell close to her friend, she finally spoke, albeit in a whisper: "It's Lord Garrigard."

"Who's Lord Garrigard?" the boy exclaimed, but the girl didn't respond anymore. Her skin was sickly white. Her eyes closed. Her pulse gone. Her life vanished.

"What? No!" the king shouted in exasperation as he rose from his throne, immediately taking the girl from the boy's arms and hugging her tightly. "My daughter! What happened, my daughter? Speak to me!"

The boy stood there paralyzed. Confused. He couldn't understand. Nobody in the room could.

"You!" the monarch's emotions got hold of him, forcing him to believe the only logical possibility present at the moment. In his eyes, it must have been the boy.

"To the dungeons with him! And with you, Revard, as well! It will be seen to it that you receive the punishment vilest for... for..." the sovereign suddenly found himself speechless, his voice turning into mumbles as his royal guards swiftly intervened, grabbing the two by arms and dragging them away to dreary depths of the castle.

"No!" the dwarf helplessly tried to defend himself. "No! This is a mistake! This is not my fault! I swear!"

On the other hand, the boy remained silent. His mind was confounded, his will completely broken. He made it all the way there to see his friend die? In amidst the overwhelming confusion? It was beyond unfair.

As they were being towed away, he could still hear the monarch weep. He could hear him cry. "Why... oh why did I allow those wretched murderers enter my gates and so dumbly offered them my daughter? Why, when they seemed so harmless? Why do senses fail an old and frail king?"

Chapter Nine

The boy, along with the dwarf, found himself locked in a prison cell deep underground. The room was dreary and there was little light that illuminated the patches of straw littered along the floor. A powerful stench was overwhelming both inmates, but they endured it bravely.

"What have you done?" the short man shouted, yet the boy ignored him, thinking about the mess he was in instead.

How could he have known? How could he have expected it to evolve that way? He wondered what dark forces were at work, but he couldn't really figure it out. And now that he was imprisoned, there was no telling whether there was a way out of it.

The dwarf was still lamenting, but the boy was so deep in thought that he didn't pay any attention to that. In fact, he was so distraught that he didn't even notice steps that were heading towards his direction.

In a minute, there was a group of guards with an odd elderly man dressed in a purple cloak and a pointy hat. Exactly like a wizard. His face was stern and sour, but there was also wisdom and knowledge hidden within.

"Bring him to my tower!" he ordered the soldiers and they did his bidding instantly. The boy didn't attempt to struggle. He simply let them carry him. Anything was better than being imprisoned.

He could hear the dwarf shout in protests, but that was about it. Soon, the cries of inmates went deaf and the group emerged upstairs. Within minutes, they were ascending through spiralling stairs leading towards the top of one of the castle's enormous spires. The wizard tower.

When they entered, they found themselves engulfed in a chaotic mess of bookshelves, potions, chemical apparatuses, various pots of ingredients and magical items. Gems and arcane secrets were scattered all over the floor and it was amazing to behold, but the boy was so distraught by his confusion that he didn't care.

Only questions filled his mind and nothing else. Questions stemming from the inexplicable event that had happened hours ago. He refused to believe that the girl was dead. It was unthinkable. Unbelievable. It couldn't have been.

"Put him on the table over there and bind him," the elderly sorcerer commanded the guards.

They followed his orders and soon, the boy was lying on a stone table, his hands and legs tied to it by tight leather. However, the real measure meant to prevent his escape came only now. The wizard grabbed a magical staff from a creaky closet and in a single swipe, cuffs of purplish energy were keeping the boy pinned to the stone surface.

"Thank you, that will be all," he said to the soldiers and they departed immediately, closing the door behind, thus leaving the two alone.

"My little friend," the sorcerer began, "you probably know why you are here."

"I suppose," the boy responded although his mind was still out there, not really paying attention to his interrogator.

"The king has gone mad due to your actions. He is fuelled by hate now. He thinks that you are working for Moaster and that he sent you. It is logical, after all. You certainly have much information stored in your brain. Much information that the enemy surely doesn't want us to lay our hands on.

But we aren't stupid. We aren't going to be taken aback. We will carry on. We will fight this war until the likes of you perish and peace pervades our kingdom. The blow you have dealt was overwhelming, but not fatal.

Oh yes, there will be consequences. There will be revenge for what you have done. For killing the innocent daughter of the king!"

The sorcerer was quite a talker, but the boy didn't care. He didn't listen to him at all, his mind trapped in clouds of ponder until he heard that dreadful accusation.

"I didn't kill her!" he exclaimed.

"You lies will not work, you treacherous wimp! We have means uncovering the truth whether you are willing to cooperate or not. A spell so powerful that you can't stand against its might. Magic so overwhelming that merely a selected few can command it."

"I didn't kill her," the boy repeated silently this time. But it was to no avail. The man swept with his staff, making the ground shake in tremor while dark haze emanated from the tip of the cane.

"Behold, the arcane spell of earth's roots. Banned by the High Council of Wizards for instability. But I have learned to master it and will resort to using it despite the restriction in this dire time of need, for enemies are cunning and will not stop.

First, we will delve into your memories. We will learn if what you say is true."

The sorcerer's words were distorting and in a moment, the room surrounding the boy disappeared. It was replaced by something far more familiar. By the peaceful image of Toz when he was but a timid child.

Through his little eyes, he saw rich colours of autumn in the village. Sitting in the playground along with his best friend. The girl. They could barely speak, but that didn't prevent them from playing. All while their parents observed them.

Parents. They were alive. Although it felt quite real, the boy knew it was only a memory. A piece of his past that he was reliving now. It hurt him to be aware that they weren't amongst the living anymore. If only he could have altered what had happened. But no. It was impossible.

The memory began shifting. Speeding up. Skimming through key moments both good and bad. Laughs and hugs shared with his friend, but also tears and sad events. Like when the news of his parent's death reached him. Like when hers left.

Fast forward some years, the lush colours of summer were gone, replaced by greyish tones. But the world was still vibrant around their house. As if an impenetrable aura was shielding it from harm.

The girl was there, sitting besides him on the front porch. The village surrounding them was cast into bitter darkness, but they ignored it. Their friendship was strong to the point of blinding them. They couldn't see what had befallen Toz, sealing themselves in a bubble of happiness.

Until even that image faded. Another giant leap through history and the boy was gazing at the empty rocking bench. Then, there he was talking to the mayor. Chasing after Garrigard. And ultimately falling.

"This doesn't make sense!" the sorcerer exclaimed as the boy found himself tied to the table in the stone room again. The enormous quantity of memories he had to relive were straining his already stressed mind greatly, but he still held.

"What doesn't make sense?"

"According to what I saw... you are speaking the truth!"

"I told you I didn't kill her!"

"But that is impossible! I've used my crystal ball to see that treacherous moment of your reunion in the throne chamber! It is... it is as if something wasn't right! I don't understand it! How is this possible? Such a gaping discrepancy!

Crystal! So clear and refined that the only jamming of truth occurs in the mind of the observer! And the ancient magic! So powerful that it can't be overridden! This is unimaginable!"

"I didn't kill her!" the boy endlessly repeated.

"I sense I get it now," the sorcerer grinned all of a sudden. "There are spells that can retransform one's thought. Bend it and blend it. Moaster is an evil man. His dark magicians certainly command energies that are capable of twisting the living to believe something they want them to.

We need to look into your soul, young one. This will hurt, but it is necessary if we wish to learn the truth. If we are to drill beneath the shield of Moaster's wizards and dispel the curse of falsity. If we are to discover the truth."

He raised his staff, its tip emitting bluish streams of light. They were gaining in strength, forming a thick and impermeable haze around the confused boy and separating him from his surroundings.

At first, he could hear silent whispering accompanied by an occasional laughter. Their echo resounded almost thunderously, as if he was in some sort of a giant cavern. Meanwhile, the light became darker and darker and the fog restless as if it was commanded by superior winds.

His skin felt tingling. Then, it gained in power. It was burning. Scorching. The whispering turned to screaming. The haze became a tremendous waterfall that could crush boulders of stone.

The pain he was experiencing was overpowering. He wanted to set himself free, he wanted to escape, but he simply couldn't. His arms and legs were straining themselves to the point of breaking, yet he still pulled harder and harder. To no avail.

The screeches were maddening. Millions of souls being tortured at the same time, their bodies torn to shreds slowly. He could see them. He could imagine their faces in agony. And he realized that they were him. They were everywhere.

Madness was surrounding him. The fog wasn't there any longer, replaced by distant layers and clouds of grim hues like black, gray and red mixed with confusing tones of green, yellow and brown. These clouds flowed back and forth like rivers constantly changing their direction. It didn't make sense, but it was so intense that it was ripping the boy's soul apart.

It felt as if he had entered a destroyed world. A world filled with nothing but devastating agony. A realm that had been met with a cataclysm so unimaginable that it had reduced all matter and energy to a mould of inexplicable insanity.

There wasn't any reason. There wasn't any sense. There was just pain of battering so strong that it was almost breaking bones. Screeches turning into white noise so loud that it was ravaging the soul.

Yet amongst the dementia, the boy heard a familiar voice. A desperate one. "What is happening? End the horror! Make it stop!"

It was the sorcerer. The echoes of his voice pervaded the realm. Suddenly, the dooming dimension disappeared. The boy was back in the world of the living again.

"What the hell was that? The terror? I... I don't understand! Something went wrong! I... it was never meant to be that way! The earth... the ancient magic! It failed!"

He didn't expect it to evolve that way. His spell had apparently backfired. Thankfully, neither of the two got hurt. At least physically, because the boy was so shaken up that he was unable to speak even just a word.

His eyes were twitching and his whole body shivering, his arms trying to break free, his mind believing the shock could come back any minute. In fact, he could still hear the horrors resounding in his head. That gleeful laughter. That piercing screech. The battering pain. The overpowering perception of dread. He felt that he would never forget and the memory would haunt him forever.

He was so distraught that he didn't notice the wizard had stormed off in panic, leaving the boy completely alone in the tower. Wherever he had gone, it was a mystery, but the boy didn't think about it at all. He was too preoccupied with the agony that was reigning in his head.

Chapter Ten

He didn't know how much time had passed. He just remained there as he was. Although he was slowly recollecting, he was still far from being conscious.

There were steps echoing in the tower. They were angry and hurried. Joined by voices quickly afterwards. Shouting voices. Soon, their owners stood at the entrance to the upper floor where the boy was. It was the king along with the sorcerer.

Gone was the monarch's sorrowful countenance, with not even a drop of his despair visible on his elderly face. It was replaced by wrath. By a completely understandable bout of rage, never doubting that the boy was the culprit.

"My liege, I've seen it! It's inexplicable! I've never witnessed such a... such an oddity. It was as if..."

"Enough with your magic," the sovereign reprimanded the wizard, immediately coming to the tied boy. Soon afterwards, they were joined by two halberd-wielding guards. The king observed the captive, his face expressing disgust and disbelief at the same. As if it was shouting words the man was unable to speak. As if it was crying: "How could you?"

Yet the boy still felt under the influence of the recent horrendous event. His numb senses barely noticed.

"My liege," the sorcerer tried to interpose the sovereign's introspection.

"Not now!" the monarch snapped, his eyes glaring at the imprisoned, his mouth opening to address him for the very first time since his visit. "You dared to come here in your insolence and misuse my good will. Yet even though you have achieved your mischief, you still stand to deny you're the one responsible. Whatever curses you are using to fool the wisest of my realm, I will not be tricked by it!"

"My liege! The boy isn't at his senses! If he indeed did it, then he was unaware of it. He was carrying out the command of Moaster."

"Enough I said!" the king thundered at his servant, turning to him with the anger he had in his eyes. "This is blasphemy. I am the sole ruler of this realm! I know best what is true and what is not! For my daughter has been mercilessly killed! By some sort of black magic! Daringly, in the chamber of law and light! In my throne room! Yet to add insult to the unimaginable injury, the butcher laughs at us as he bewitches our minds!

You have failed me, my loyal servant. You have failed me. But never mind. I will carry out the punishment myself. A punishment fitting the offense. It has been a long time since such a sentence was uttered in the past by my great grandfather. Even though I recognize it is a dire instrument, I have to resort to it. Guards!"

"Sir! But it's just a child! You can't think of killing him!" the sorcerer tried to intervene.

It seemed to be to no avail. The two soldiers approached the boy, their sharp blades lifted in the air and about to sever the nearly comatose inmate's head.

"Sir... stop! This can't... can't go on like this!" the wizard made a last attempt to prevent the gruesome execution. "He is truly innocent. Please. Heed my words!"

For a moment, the sovereign frowned. But then he reconciled. He raised his right arm, signalling his guards to halt. In deep contemplation, he turned to his servant once again. "You are right. I realize the error of my ways. I am a man blinded by tremendous sorrow that clouds my mind. I can't be the sole embodiment of justice in this case. The God himself will have to judge, for only he is ultimately just."

In a second, he turned back to the boy, his hand revealing a dark glowing crystal. His palm grasped it firmly above the offender's head, but as soon as the sorcerer noticed, he screamed in fear. "My liege! You can't! This artefact is so divine that it might... it might bring enormous suffering to our realm! My king! Please! Come to your senses! This is madness! This... listen! I have transgressed! I have used the earth's roots in Lord's name, but what I witnessed was unimaginable. The horror. The terror beyond comprehension!"

As much as the wizard's plea was desperate, the monarch didn't even flinch. Without moving an eye, he calmly spoke: "Then this spawn of mischief has made a pact with the Devil himself. May God grant him eternal punishment."

The crystal floated ominously above the boy's head. Its dark energy was radiating out of it, spreading into all directions slowly. He could sense its power reaching for his body. Enveloping him in a tight encase that was almost choking him.

The world was becoming grim and he could sense it. He imagined the horrors again and as the thought of immense pain resurfaced in his mind, he began shaking. He desperately tried to break free, but he had no chance. His retinas widened, his head shuddering and his hands desperately pulling to get out.

"No!" he shouted in fear so mighty that it was making his heart jump. Yet the real terror was only to come.

It was ironic that the rest merely observed him, their gazes gleeful apart from the sorcerer's, who alone knew what could happen, his lips silently whispering a prayer. Alas, it was too late. The darkness had already consumed too much.

Evil laughter roared throughout the room, waking a quake so strong that everyone barely remained on their feet. When it disappeared, replaced by a growing wail, the faces of present audience turned from enjoyment to shock.

One of the guards tried to get out, but the door was firmly locked. Not even a kick, not even a slash of the halberd could pry it open. The wizard noticed, immediately trying his spells, but it was to no avail.

Meanwhile, the darkness was already mounting another stage of the dreadful assault. Wrapping the walls in a stream of black fluid that burnt the skin upon touch. Then, the ceiling began shaking in tremor. Many of its bricks fell down as the spire felt like it would crumble any second, until the top finally loosened enough and darted away as if the power of thousand dragons tore it out from the tower.

The view above didn't reveal blue skies at all. There was a black spiral that towered ominously above everything earthly. The sorcerer did what was in his strength to undo the damage done, but he was unsuccessful.

In desperation and led by the belief that the boy was behind the grimness, one of the guards severed his twitching head. Yet even though the bound prisoner died immediately, the horrors didn't cease.

The man couldn't understand it, his breath so heavy and his mind so timid that he acted on animal instincts. He slashed with his halberd, he swung it madly as if thinking that it would be of any help. But the madness only escalated. The echoes of wailing growing beyond sanity.

Then, all sorts of bugs and spiders began emerging from the corpse and soon, there was nothing remaining of the body. But the guard wasn't there anymore. In overwhelming fear, he climbed out and jumped down.

Strangely, the king just stood still while the sorcerer tried to hold the horrors at bay. The insects roaming the room. The storm coming from the cloud above. The madness overtaking the realm.

The monarch was possessed. His eyes glowing black. He laughed. The echo of his voice was thunderous and not unlike the devilish one that had taken place at the outbreak of current events.

While he was grinning and observing his new, twisted kingdom, ghoulish hands emerged from the walls of blackness and in a brief flash of a second, the other two men present were taken by them, disappearing forever.

Meanwhile, far away from the scene yet close enough to witness the bizarre change on the horizon, a man in coal black armour was sitting on a horse with an army behind his back. They were marching towards the castle.

Chapter Eleven

Although the tower room was vacant now, the glowing crystal was still there, floating in the air. Emitting out evilness.

As for the boy, his fate was quite grim. The insects that had emerged from his body had been the result of the strange magic tampering of both the sorcerer and the monarch with something the boy had been marked by long ago. Something unknown to him. However, did it really matter now that he was dead?

The bugs were crawling down towards the bottom of the twisted insides of the castle where pulsating veins of coal colour emerged from walls entirely covered by a black substance. Arriving at and roaming across the ravaged courtyard where blades of grass became alive, hulking tentacles that smashed everything daring to come its way.

They continued their journey, running as far away from that place as possible. Eventually getting to a serene meadow so distant from the castle that the black hole couldn't even be witnessed on the horizon.

There, they began gathering. Climbing on top of one another. Creating familiar shapes. Legs. The torso and arms. Finally the head. Along with his clothes. There the boy stood, he was reanimated. Although his skin was much paler and his eyes glowed with pitch black hue. Although it was littered with scars across his entire body. Some were noticeable like the one stretching from his left shoulder all the way down to his wrist, but most of them weren't. Scars that, upon closer look, revealed themselves to be stitches that held his earthly being together.

He felt strange. As if thousands of little entities constantly ran around within the depths of him. As if something was tingling in his finger from time to time, then running towards the head and down to the legs.

He couldn't understand what had happened. But it didn't matter to him. The notion in his restless brain was very different from what had been fuelling him prior to his savage execution.

He found himself walking along alleys, wandering around ponds and wading through dense forests. He didn't know why, he just went as he was driven by something inexplicable to him. Something that had been suppressed for a long time but was now set free.

Perhaps it was confusion. Perhaps it was anger of having been restrained. Or perhaps it was corruption of the soul.

He was drawn towards the unknown. At first, he couldn't see it, but then, the horizon became clear. He was heading to a tall mountain.

What secrets could it possibly hide? What truth could lie beneath the snow-rugged summit? He didn't know, but he marched on. His new body ignored the cold and the strain. It merely continued.

Swiftly, he rushed through the nearly impassable peaks and within moments, he was there. Standing atop the highest of the reaches.

He didn't ponder his fate. He didn't wonder why he was there or what had led him there. He simply stood and looked around. As if he was soulless. The breathtaking view didn't amuse him. All the cities, settlements and castles were within his reach, yet he didn't even care.

There was an opening nearby. The boy took that route. Entering a darkened cavern. He had never been there, yet he navigated the maze without lights easily. Soon, he emerged into a strange room with glowing fractal crystals. Their shapes were vivid and colours lush, but there wasn't anything joyful to them. It was as if thousands of tortured souls were trapped within.

In the centre of the cave, there was a black pool. The boy somehow felt drawn to it. As if it was wooing him. Beckoning him to come close. And when he stood near, it sucked him in like a predator that devoured its prey.

Chapter Twelve

What was going on? Where was he? He couldn't tell. He couldn't see. But he could sense. Things around him. People walking from here to there. Those weren't people. Those were ultimate madmen.

He was deep underground, lying on an operating table surrounded by devious machines that were emitting horrendous sounds and gigantic fractal crystals that formed almost everything, ranging from jagged walls to aggressive contours of the scarce furniture.

He tried to get out, but he couldn't. He was tied. The bond was too strong to overcome. Was he doomed?

A single glimpse to both sides revealed inmates who had met the same fate. They were twitching, they were screaming, but it was to no avail. They wouldn't get out. Nothing would save them.

There were only a few people that were free. Men in white coats holding various tools of torture. Men with a wicked grin that didn't hint anything good. He could see one approaching an unfortunate captive.

The tied prisoner noticed. He screamed. Shook. But it was useless. The scientist got to him. Holding a terrifying butcher knife. Screeches of pain and agony followed as the white-coated man revealed a fragment of an intensely glowing crystal in his other hand, stuffing it inside the orifice he just cut in the test subject's chest.

The boy looked the other way, yet there was another experimenter. A man walking towards him. A man with a devilish smile as he approached with a bizarre, twisted cold metal of odd shapes. The boy blinked and the man was right above him. Then, he blinked again and he felt the steel piercing his heart.

He was wide awake, his eyes opening. Yet he wasn't lying on an operating table anymore. He was standing in a gloomy cavern with tons of crystal pipes and tubes going around in a tangle, transporting some sort of energy.

He could also see human torsos fused into the pipes, serving an unknown, but grim purpose. Perhaps they were channelling power. Perhaps they acted as a computer. The boy couldn't tell.

By curiosity, he navigated the cave instinctively, eventually arriving to the heart of the place. An enormous pulsating crystal. He felt drawn to it. He felt overwhelmed by it. It was commanding him to join.

As he was getting closer, he could recognize silhouettes of people floating inside the pool of fractals of vivid contours and lush colours. Yet he didn't even consider the possibility of risk. And in a second, his body merged with it, allowing him to see, but not understand.

He witnessed a realm of void of overly flaring hues as if the essence of the entire world was gathered there and dispersed like a wild, untamed beast that ravaged across endless plains of nothingness. Then, the image refocused, changing into some sort of an underground mine.

Although there wasn't any apparent source of light, there wasn't darkness. He could notice pale men and women with their eyes flashing black. They were walking around with pick axes.

Some were digging. Others were approaching strange ore of various colours, touching it with their hands and sucking it in as if it was an energy they could magically harvest. The boy's spirit observed it, following a crowd of workers emerge out of the cave and see a gigantic city nearby with towering crystal skyscrapers.

There were flamboyantly dressed people running around, overseeing the miners' work, instructing them to lay their gathered ore and use it to construct something. A building, a road, a machine. The possibilities seemed to be limitless.

Yet with every new item created, the hue was becoming increasingly black. Until it was too much to handle. The world tore itself apart like stitches that couldn't hold the pressure any longer, revealing that untamed void. It spread like cancer. Like a virus, like a tumour that would make the surroundings wither and consume them. Within minutes, there was nothing left of the city. There was only that void.

Strangely, that realm of emptiness had once been inducing madness in the boy's mind yet now, he was completely used to it. And even more. He was drawn to it. He was drawn to the power of the odd crystal substance. He was drawn to the black crystal that had almost killed him during the king's interrogation.

He understood what he had been asked of. Regardless of actions and consequences. There was no girl anymore. There was just the gem. He needed to obtain it. He needed to consume it.

Chapter Thirteen

He was drawing nearer to the castle. Finding the city in complete disarray, consumed by black magic and ravaged by bloodthirsty soldiers of Moaster. As if they believed there was anything to plunder.

The boy knew better. He felt it within himself. He was aware that they wouldn't come across anything besides death and suffering. Besides twisted insides of devastated houses. Besides trickeries luring them to their deaths. Yet they were too blinded to notice. Too blinded to care about anything else than greed.

He was unsure about their allegiance, but he figured out it must have been Moaster. That, or the king's armies had gone mad, but the latter seemed impossible – why would they plunder their own land?

He walked through the decimated town with caution even though there was no need. His steps eventually led him to the castle. To a dark place with its gates wide open, revealing a twisted courtyard of burnt bodies impaled on spikes.

The boy ignored the screaming of those still alive and twitching in agony, his goal plain and simple. The tower.

However, the path to it was blocked by a crumbled wall. He recalled another way in though. He entered rather gloomy insides of the castle, noticing the stonework riddled with stitches not unlike those on his body. From time to time, there were black, pulsating veins. He could see a wide mouth grinning at moments, its teeth a fine assortment of jagged blades capable of tearing any earthly being apart.

Although he felt at home deep within, his humanly thoughts were waking fear in his mind. Just not to touch the surroundings, it instructed him.

He was getting closer to his goal. He could sense the presence of the dark crystal. Of his goal. He was drawn to it like a moth to the fire. Yet he heard a voice that captivated him even more. The girl's voice.

He realized he was not far away from the throne room. And the speaking was originating from there. He altered his course, stopping behind the door leading to it, finding the guards being slowly consumed by the walls, being blended in by some sort of acid. These soldiers were giving out the impression of having long since died despite their eyes being open and moving. Nevertheless, the boy didn't pay attention to them as much as he did to the conversation going on the other side.

"...your daughter, Reginald! Kingdom for your daughter!"

"Were you not listening to me?" the king replied, his voice ghastly and frightening. "Your trickery has led you here, but your greed has served as your undoing. I am aware of the prophecy. But you should know better that folk tales and witchcraft are just make-believe."

"What is this blasphemy? Here she stands, her hands chained, her mind tortured by a powerful spell that I will not unbind until I get what I wish! Are you that much of a cruel father? Ignorant of his daughter's pain? The prophecy... the prophecy told you would act otherwise! Why don't you abide by it, old fool? You would have spared yourself the hassle!"

"Old fool, you say? That is a mistake. It is you who is the fool. Not I. Back at the city, didn't it occur to you that the roles have shifted? Don't you feel it inside you? The urge clawing at your senses? The very reason why you want my kingdom? Because of the ore? Because of the energy that I now wield? We both have been fooled by a pretty face..."

"Enough with the talk! I demand the ransom! Or else she dies!"

"She dies? You are mad, Moaster. Or shall I call you by your true name? By the one you will be known for centuries to come? Garrigard? Nevertheless, I am weary of your insolent and arrogant threats. You have no soldiers to back up your claims. They have certainly been swallowed by the consuming call of the ore. By the overpowering greed. Chained to it and transformed into mush.

It is what it does to us all as it spreads. Yet we are powerless to resist. You can sense it within yourself, can't you, traveller of time? Don't deny that you do not understand now. Don't deny that it was the undoing of many in the past. Don't deny that it infuses us with visions and knowledge! Don't deny that you are blinded by it too!"

"You foolish old king! The prophecy is right! I have seen it with my own eyes!"

"Idiot! Didn't it occur to you that you have been tricked? By forces far more powerful than you? By forces that maintain a firm grip over our realm, their power so insurmountable that you can't possibly grasp the very idea?"

"I will not have it!" another voice joined the fray. "By God, I will cast down evil from this land as the prophecy foretold!"

"Fine then, at least somebody plays by the rules," Moaster replied, followed by the clashing of steel.

The battle was enticing the boy to come, for violence was waking up wild thoughts within his mind, untamed visions of destruction that evoked feelings of what he so desperately sought. The crystal. The substance of the void. The image of nothingness and its boundless power.

Yet when he entered, the duel had just ended with Moaster emerging as a victor, leaving a headless corpse of a valiant knight lying right besides him in the twisted version of the throne room. The curtains, the gold, the carpets – everything had turned pitch black, tinted with motives of gruesomeness and death. Even the walls were covered by stitches and veins that seemed to live their own, perverse existence.

"The deed is done, Reginald. You know that for the future to come, this needs to happen! Don't hinder me!"

Strangely, it seemed that nobody noticed the intruder, who was standing by the door silently. The two men of power carried on with their struggle of words while the girl was kneeling there with her hands chained by a spell.

When he looked at her, he sensed something within his head move. A feeling of being drawn towards her. Was it a remaining drop of friendship somewhere deep in his now darkened soul?

"Hinder you? The powers that hinder you are far above my grasp. I am merely a pawn. Like you. A pawn in a puppeteers' game. Can't you see that the prophecy is false? That it was broken the very moment you set foot on my soil?

This one, this is the interloper! The reason why things aren't going according to fate! Fate that, mind you, was to have you dead by this noble knight's sword!"

For the first time, somebody noticed the boy. The king's hand was pointing at him. His almost skeleton-like hand. All while his ghoulish face was observing him. His eyes coal black.

Yet Moaster just glanced at the boy and looked back, deeming him as insignificant. "Then die, blasphemous king. To hell with you and your fake kingdom!"

With a single swipe, the sovereign's head was separated from the body, rolling down along the cloth and landing on the ground. The monarch's figure stood still for a second before it crashed as well, but Reginald was far from being dead.

"You will not succeed here,s armies had gone mad, but the latter seemed impossible " his ghostly voice resounded in the room, soon turning into a devilish roar.

Moaster scanned the place in search for the source of the voice, refusing to believe magic was at work. Yet when his eyes rested upon the boy, he ceased with the futile effort immediately.

"You. I remember you. You're the one who tried to catch me back in the rift of Toz and Himmar."

"Himmar?" the boy asked curiously without moving a limb despite the lord's advancing steps.

"This city is called as such," Moaster replied, his lips twisting into a wicked smile, his sword arm rising. Yet the boy felt no fear.

"So you are the one who took my friend."

"Indeed. But you know that, I am sure. You read the story, didn't you? How I kidnapped the princess and demanded the kingdom. But did the tale mention the truth? The fact that I was unaware of? That the princess revealed a secret to me? The powerful ore on which the kingdom stands?"

He was close. Very close. His blade was almost within reach of the boy.

"It didn't," the boy answered honestly.

"Deceptive, isn't it?" Moaster replied calmly before his voice suddenly shifted into anger. "As well as your most uncalled for interference! Why do you dare to defy fate? Why do you dare to stand against those with power far greater than your feeble body can muster? But never mind. You're just a nuisance. A last person I have to kill."

The boy didn't resist. His head fell down like a ragdoll, revealing countless restless insects running around within the depths of his insides. Yet in merely few seconds, the body was made whole again, stitches appearing in the place of the cut. Moaster could only watch in sheer horror.

"What kind of dark magic is this? Who the hell are you?"

The boy ceased to be apathetic. He was driven by a voice inside his mind. Hate that was reminding him of the atrocities committed by Moaster.

"Speak!" the impatient lord shouted, his arms too afraid to attempt executing the boy again.

Yet the stitched being remained silent. His thoughts were gathering. The whispers becoming loud. Instructing him to take his revenge. There was a black glowing blade resting in his right hand. He didn't know how it was possible, but he didn't ponder about it.

He swung it Garrigard's way, but the evil lord countered. Yet the steel couldn't withstand the mystical powers of the boy's sword. It was separated into two and in a moment, Moaster felt the cold and merciless weapon piercing his chest. He couldn't resist.

With the blade stuck midway in the devil man's body, the boy rested his shoe on the belly of his adversary and kicked, effectively pulling the sword out and making Garrigard crash down to the floor.

It was done, but the girl was nowhere to be found. However, the boy didn't care that much. The crystal was all that mattered to him.

Chapter Fourteen

His sword was gone, but it didn't matter. His steps had led him to his target. It was there. The black glowing crystal in the room without a roof, the undone spire above which a dark rift loomed.

He didn't hesitate for even a second, grasping it firmly and sensing the darkness pervade. The gem was dissolving, but it wasn't because of some weakness. It was because of its magnificence. It was finding its way into the boy's soul as he was absorbing it.

Then, there was nothing left of it. But his ravenous hunger felt unsatisfied. He demanded more. Blinded by its untamed power, he wanted to consume more.

He heard whispers at first. They turned into laughing. It was the king's spirit that roamed the decimated halls of the castle. The boy could sense it.

Yet before he could make a move, the floor shifted and with it did everything else. Soon, there was no tower. No walls. They had decayed and crumbled, taken away by a vicious plague that swallowed the masonry as if it was dust blown away by a single breath.

Time flew by insanely fast and the taint quickly overpowered the ground, leaving a black mark of pulsating veins and cables intertwined, substituting for earth. Even though it was only a fleeting experience, the boy could see gaps in the terrain, revealing that wild, untamed realm. Clawing at the reality. Thirsting for the land.

The stitches healed over time, however. The scars overgrown by tall grass. There was little to no evidence about the history, yet there was an undeniable pulse of life. He was standing on a hill. A hill he knew very well. Hill overlooking the village of Toz.

Yet the clock wouldn't stop at that. Its hands paced mercilessly, its march besieging the rising settlement. Soon, a hazy cloud encased it. He had arrived to the present. It was exactly as he had left it.

"That was fast," a familiar voice commented, prompting the boy to turn and realize that he wasn't on the hill anymore. In the blink of an eye, he appeared in front of the rocking bench of his backyard, observing the shrouded man sitting there before him.

"You," the boy responded in exasperation. A feeling that was waking thoughts of the past that had been almost lost to him. Something human. Something logical. Something far away from the insatiable hunger for the pitch black substance.

"No need to direct your anger at me. I am not the enemy. Besides, it isn't even me you seek."

"Who do I seek, then?" the boy asked, his temper showing.

"The girl? Or... is that no longer? Hasn't that been replaced? Isn't it what rather than who?"


"I believe you understand me more than well in that aspect. For haven't you been consumed by the plague that binds you to the old roots?"

Emotions were a powerful thing. A drive that, if strong enough, could easily cancel any logic. Just like in the boy's case. Whatever truths the shrouded speaker might have had, the boy cared little, his vision hazed by a waking dark desire. A desire to destroy. A desire to be like the untamed world beyond.

"Try to hold on to your humanity. I understand you have been cursed and that bars you from realizing what achievement your actions have brought you. And I find it ironic. But you can still choose."

"What are you talking about?" the boy asked with distrust, his thoughts becoming murderous, his imagination seeing the enigmatic man lying dead in a pond of blood. Yet somewhere deep inside, he heard the call. He heard his waning humanity.

"You are not an animal. A mindless ghoul. You can still avoid becoming one."

"Why are you telling me this when it was your doing that led me to be what I am now? Speak!"

"Indirectly, not intentionally! Who knew how would this evolve? As for why I am telling you – it is my duty to present you with the choices you have in front of you. Turning a blind eye on the possibilities of fate is quite a... luxury that only a few can afford. And you don't belong to that fortunate group."

"What can I choose then? What is my choice?"

"You can soothe your anger that you are letting flow, for instance. Don't you hear it inside you? The unique opportunity to be given a second chance is not without a price, but the scars do heal. You just need to be willing."


"Can't you hear the human in you calling? The compassion? The resolve? There is something within you that you left interrupted. Something you were getting done. Why let it go now, after all the hard work?"

"After hard work? You are kidding me! You know what possesses me! What I need! And you know very well that nothing else matters. I might have been different once, but that is gone!

This is what I call ironic. Your trickery has led me to this yet you want me to turn my back against it? Against a voice that is just as reasonable as the one of my past? I was changed. Redefined. I am another person."

"You haven't been redefined!" the enigmatic man spoke firmly for the first time ever. "It has always been there, that dark side. That gnawing thought. You were merely ignoring it because your former self was stronger! The tables were turned, true, but not completely replaced!"

"It matters little!"

"Fine," the man yelled, but his voice shifted to a calm tone afterwards. "If that is your choice, then so be it. My work is done here. But before I go, allow me to at least show you what you have uncovered yet so blindly overlook. The Heresy of Toz."

"The old roots. I understand. Magical ore. Many kingdoms and realms fell into ruin in a greedy quest for its control. Guided by the same hunger that I feel now."

"Let's settle for that definition of the roots although it is quite off. Nevertheless, that is not the Heresy I am speaking about."

"No? But what then? What?" the boy snapped angrily, although it was his inquisitiveness enquiring this time. A relic of his old self surfacing after the wild and uncorrected new personality showed its first cracks.

"Isn't it obvious? The Heresy of Toz involves Toz. It is, after all, centred on Toz, not Himmar."

"But the past..."

"The past you've seen is not the true past. It is an interruption made by a traveller from more recent times."

"Garrigard?" the boy almost shouted, realizing what the King had called the rebelling lord. Traveller of time.

"At last. I believe I have overstepped my boundaries in this matter by... directing you in the right direction, but it was merely a finishing touch. Something that can't do any harm."

"But what is it now? What am I to do?"

"That is yours to decide. All I can say is that you can expect a visitor tonight."

"What visitor?" the boy wondered, his eyes blinking, revealing the mysterious speaker had vanished, leaving the boy with a gnawing feeling of doubt and curiosity.

The ravenous desire for the mystic substance and everything it encompassed, mainly lust for destruction and chaos, was still burning in his heart. Yet there was a seed of thought rooting in his mind. Perhaps there was hope. A hope relit by the ulterior motives of the shadowy man.

Chapter Fifteen

The boy spent most of his idle time on the hill. Wondering. He could sense the dark energy hidden beneath. He could feel it touching him. Invigorating him. Once, he had feared it so deeply. Now, his new self welcomed it. Or at least the evil part. The other one was cowering in terror.

It hadn't been so long since he had been called by the girl to visit this place. Forced to dread the untamed realm, the headache inducing tremors and insane visions. Yet now, he was resonating with it.

He would have remained there for all eternity, blinded by the lust for the world beyond, but when a single stray look landed in the skies, he noticed it was already after dusk. A visitor, he promptly recalled, and in an instant, he was rushing home, his inquisitiveness fully awakened and taking over.

However, when he stood before the front gate of his house, he realized there was somebody standing on the front porch. A woman. She was slouched and mildly twitching, as if she was holding off pain. Knocking on the door from time to time in a bout of nerviness.

The boy carefully approached her, not wanting to scare her away. She seemed very erratic, almost as if she was heavily drugged. Perhaps that was even true, since her arms were marked with numerous bruises and odd stains, some of them bloodied.

Yet the confrontation had to come sooner or later. She turned abruptly, revealing her weary and worn face covered by occasional locks of weak, messy hair. Her tattered old and bland clothes were making her look pitiful, but her pallid, ghoulish skin and twitching eyes were giving her a horrific touch.

She almost didn't notice the boy, but then the eyes connected. She was gazing at him in as much disbelief as she was possible to exert.

"You?" she exclaimed in a raspy voice.

"Who are you?" the boy wondered.

There was no answer at first. The woman was dazed as if she was constantly drifting in and out of consciousness, her posture waving from left to right. Then, suddenly, she stepped off the front porch and went all the way to the backyard.

The boy followed, of course. He was quite confused by her behaviour, but he was curious to find out who she was. What was her purpose? What was her role in the grand scheme the boy was trying to grasp and understand? The burning desire to destroy was silent at that time and his eyes were glowing black only mildly.

"This is the place, right?" she spoke as she stopped in front of the rocking bench.

"The place?" the boy asked although he knew fairly well what she had meant.

"This is where my little girl was before she was... she was..."

"She was what?"

She didn't respond. Instead, she sat down, her sickly-looking face smiling for the first time during her short visit.

"Who are you?" the boy wondered. He suspected she was the mother of the girl, but it made no sense. However, did anything make sense at all? The kidnapping, the ghosts in the town hall, the visit to the past, the strange realm and even his own death and reanimation?

The king in the medieval times had believed her to be his daughter. This woman was somehow deeply connected to her as well. But just where the truth was?

"My little angel. She is..."

"She is what?" he insisted, ignoring the tears that began pouring from her otherwise apathetic eyes.

"She is..." she struggled for words. "She is... she is not my daughter."

"I don't understand," the boy replied, his thoughts confused. If she was not her mother, then who was she and what was she doing there?

"I... I am sorry," she spoke, her eyes connecting with the boy's once again. There was deep remorse within. Regret for actions done in the past. Actions that had inevitably led to recent events.

"Sorry for what?"

"For everything," she responded. "For everything she has done."

"What has she done?" the boy kept asking. He needed to know the truth, whatever it was.

"She is not my daughter," she gathered the will to form a sentence, her shaking hands reaching inside her clothes. As she was crying, she took out a messy bunch of papers from her garbs, handing it to the boy, who received the documents with interest.

Newspaper cuts informing of a girl found in a forest, adopted by loving parents. Sheets from the registry office concerning an adoption of the girl that was his friend. Investigation journals of strange incidents regarding Toz. An article about a car crash.

He knew the names. He knew them damn too well. They were his parents! With both interest and anger, he read on. In the middle of a night. A figure in the dark appearing all of a sudden. Possibly a girl. A swift swerve. Then death.

"It was her," the woman spoke, but the boy heeded her only briefly before delving into his own past. Trying to recall the events when the town elders had informed him of the fatal tragedy.

He had been just waking up. The house had been empty, his parents nowhere to be found. Then, the doorbell had rung. He had got downstairs and opened. There they had been. The mayor, Catherine and three other people. But it had been the mayor who had revealed it to him. Who had lied to him.

Why? Why a naval accident instead of a car crash? What was the difference? The past was inconclusive and the present held no answers. There was only that apathetic look of the woman sitting on the rocking bench.

"She fooled us all. Tricked us and used us. She isn't my daughter. We had to leave..." she spoke, her voice turning deaf in the middle of a sentence. Her eyes were wide open, but her thoughts weren't present any longer. Whatever state of mind she had entered, there was no way for the boy to wake her up.

What next then? His head was boiling in anger, his dark side enticed again. Wanting to break free and wreak havoc on those who had lied. Three still lived, after all. But first, he needed to learn the truth. And if it was hidden somewhere, it would certainly be somewhere in the town hall.

Chapter Sixteen

His steps were leading him towards the centre of the village and although he was mostly driven by anger, he didn't know who to direct it at, for he was confused. The girl? The evidence was inconclusive. Plus, she was a lifetime friend. He found it hard to believe that the one he trusted could have been a betrayer all along.

He sensed the burden of sin was with the mayor and his friends. Now dead mayor and his friends. Perhaps that is why he had been murdered. Or perhaps not. Their lie was an obvious hint. Yet still, it felt somewhat out of place.

Although most of his knowledge was a hazy cloud, there was something he thought he had understood. The girl was so captivating that she had a strange spell to her. Making others fall for her. Like her adoptive parents. Like the king in the past. Like Garrigard.

He didn't pay any much attention to the world around him, his eyes focused in a tunnel vision. The grim and sinister atmosphere pervading the village thus escaped his sight – the greyish skies along with an encroaching mist where black snowflakes waved in the chilly wind.

Along the way, he went past houses he knew very well, but they had been changed drastically. Overgrown with pulsating veins of coal colour. Yet he ignored it all. He ignored the ghastly haunting of spectres floating invisible in the air, manifested as wails. He ignored the old roots branching out. Taking over.

He stood before the town hall. Once a proud building, now a twisted ruin. He recalled how he had fled the place in fear of his life. Now, he shrugged the feeling off, knowing he had to discover the truth. Understanding that his long journey had long since lost the meaning of an innocent childish game. Or a rescue mission.

He entered with a deep breath, imagining all the truth hiding out there. He was so preoccupied with pondering the possibilities that he didn't realize the arrangement of the interior had changed drastically.

Twisted halls spinning like a tangle were covered in a layer of black substance exactly like the one in the Himmar castle. The walls were riddled with wandering insects that had million tiny legs. As their little luminescent bodies crawled back and forth, their ticking movement resounded in a disturbing hum.

The boy couldn't remember which path he should take, but figuring it out wasn't much of a problem. He followed the streams of critters flowing into the distance, eventually arriving at the door he wanted to open. The door leading to the spacious chamber where he had last met the mayor.

He opened without hesitation, revealing the room had been twisted beyond recognition. No warm fireplace, no exquisite decorations. Instead, there were those dread-covered walls with portraits of devil entities. Furniture was full of sharp, claw-like contours.

There was a thing that remained the same though. The chair. Although the mayor's corpse was no longer present, it was the only item still reminding of the past. The boy felt drawn to it. As if the truth was hiding there. Waiting for him.

Truth. He wanted to discover it so much. The desire that it induced in him was so powerful that everything else had to step away. The inexplicable hunger for destruction and decay. Ironically, even the grief that was undoubtedly the fuel for his expedition to the town hall was cast aside.

He was close. It was almost within reach. And then he touched it. Irrationally, he expected he would figure it out. He expected he would be enlightened. That he could finally see the facts. Yet nothing came. No revelation, no memories from the past, nothing.

He was standing there in utter confusion as multiple feelings rushed to his head. Feelings that were ambivalent. Feelings that were cancelling each other, rendering the boy's mind into a mush of dazed thoughts.

He was overpowered by that mental state. His senses were numbed. He couldn't notice the insects that were gathering in the room. He couldn't notice the mild shaking turning into a tremor.

The horrors he had run away from were once again waking up. Angered by the intrusion. Yet the boy stood there still. His look was apathetic. His black-glowing eyes empty. Ignorant of the terror forming in front of him.

The quake was overwhelming. Pictures fell off the walls, furniture jumped up and down. The only thing that withstood was the boy. Defying the unknown. The creature in front of him. A pyramid upside down, formed out of insects. From its top face, a set of tentacles emerged and landed on the ground, providing it with limbs for movement.

It didn't hesitate to make a step towards the boy, who finally saw. Who finally realized the luminescent horror was about to tear him apart.

"Your interloping is not to be taken lightly," a gravy voice echoed within the room. At the same time, the door, the only way out, shut itself and the tremor ceased.

Up to now, the boy had been confused. However, the dire turn of events had woken him up. His instincts took over.

"I will kill you!" the monster wailed as it slowly moved forward.

"The boy didn't dare to speak a word, but that was out of anticipation rather than out of fear. He knew he had to fight the hell-spawn. It couldn't end like that. Not without him learning the truth.

The outcome was bleak, but the boy had no other option that to battle. Quickly, he grabbed hold of a sharp claw sticking out of the table in front of him, readying himself for the clash. Meanwhile, the creature was advancing. It was just two metres away, its body still moving as the insects crawled atop one another.

"Kill, kill!" the voice repeated again and again, the horror moving forth slowly. Imposing its overwhelming terror over the boy.

He was prepared. About to slash with his weapon. The moment came. He thrust forward.

"He doesn't fear!" the voice exclaimed in confusion all of a sudden, making the creature disperse, revealing an overweight ghostly figure in antique-looking clothes. It was an old lady, but her almost non-existent contours were making it hard for the boy to recognize who she was.

"You don't fear," the woman repeated calmly, her hand raising a cup from the table and taking a sip. A cup that had materialized into ghostly properties just when she had reached out with her hand.

"Who are you?" the boy wondered, his instincts calmed, his feelings once again taking over, his confusion demanding answers that he had came for.

"Surely Makros mentioned it at least once," she toyed with the boy as she flew around the room. "He and I spent many hours debating."

Tea, the boy thought in silence. "You must be Aunt Margaret," he spoke, realizing that back when he had been told about the ghosts by the mayor, he had been dismissive. Now, after his rich experience, he didn't find it odd even a little. "I want to know something."

"In due time. But first, let's move to a more appropriate place," she said, her voice shifting along with the entire room. Soon, there was nothing left, only darkness. Yet the boy felt that he wasn't in the unknown. He was merely travelling.

Chapter Seventeen

When he felt they had stopped, he realized he entered an eerie chamber. The woman was floating in a gigantic room full of moving circular platforms of bleak and gloomy colours. They connected, allowing passage for some time, then they disconnected and moved into another place. Their purpose was completely unknown to the boy.

Yet she was at home. She seemed to enjoy every change as she flew around and laughed. Meanwhile, the boy stood on one of those platforms, holding his breath with each unexpected and unpredictable move.

"Where are we?" he wondered.

"We're at home," the woman shouted ecstatically.

"At your home, right?"

"Exactly, exactly!" she replied, her mind apparently in the clouds.

"I've never seen anything like this!" the boy exclaimed in order to gain attention of the ghost. And it worked like charms. She stopped in the air and the platforms did with her.

"You haven't? Oh, of course you haven't," she responded with interest, her ghastly existence closing in to the boy and examining him. "Deep scars. Deepest yet. These are from the newest formation."

"Newest formation? I came for information."

"And you expect I have answers..."

"Maybe. I thought I'd find them on my own, but since you speak and seem to know something..."

"I know a lot indeed, for I've met many people," she said, bringing the cup to her lips and taking a sip.

"Like the mayor?"

"I've witnessed many mayors take office."

"What about Makros?"

"Yes. An impulsive fellow. Got quite paranoid in the end. Such a sad end to him."

"What happened to him?"

"There isn't much to be said. Greed was his undoing."


"Yes. So much did he want power. So much. He wasn't like that though. He used to be modest. But the old roots... they twist everything. You know it, don't you? You have been reformed in its image. You even have a shard in your heart."

"He knew about them?"

"Ever since your friend came round. She has a way with swaying people's minds."

"What does she have to do with it?"

"You've already been revealed that," she replied, prompting a thought in the boy's head. She was a ghost, after all.

"Were you following me?"

"Ghosts haunt this place. Roam free in your village. Grow stronger with every inch of ground the old roots take."

"I don't understand what you're telling me. I came because of an entirely different question..."

"...yet I speak about something completely remote. There are things far greater that are at stake than the death of your parents. But I admit that it plays a part in the intricate plot."

"What part?"

"So abysmal that it is not worth mentioning. What are two lives worth when everything you know is in danger?"

"Everything. They were my parents!" the boy shouted in anger.

"You understand so little," she laughed. "You cling to something so insignificant. Unaware that what you can decide is far more important. I know, for I made the same mistake in the past as well. All of us ghosts did.

This time, the situation is worse. It always worsens. You are the only one who might remain if you fail. If you don't wake up soon enough. If you doom your realm. You will stand here just like I do and ramble. With nobody to listen, for the next age might hold nothing."

"Nothing? I don't understand. Everybody speaks in riddles and I'm tired of that. I want reasonable answers. Where is the girl? Who killed my parents? Why did Makros lie to me?"

She sighed. "Where is the girl? I don't know. Who killed your parents? It was a car accident. They killed themselves. As for Makros, he went mad. He thought he could sweep the truth under the carpet."

"Under the carpet?"

"I don't want to lie to you, therefore I won't continue with the gossip. What I know is just a collection of wails and lamentations. What I am sure about is that you wish to see it with your own eyes rather than to hear it from me. As for where it happened exactly – you have the necessary piece of information already. And when you seek that place, don't fret. You will know you found it when you get to the right spot."

As her voice fell silent, she disappeared. In fact, everything did. And when he blinked, he was back in the town hall.

Chapter Eighteen

There was something inside the boy's head. Something gnawing at his thoughts. It had been there ever since that moment he had found the situation had been far more complex. Yet it had risen to prominence only now. And it was growing with each second he was drawing closer to the place of the accident.

The village was far behind his back, shrouded by haze, hidden by a series of hills. Still, he sensed the old roots calling strong within him. As if they were near. As if they were everywhere.

The gnawing notion was slowly overpowering the brutish, cold-blooded desire. Yet it wasn't giving any way to his humanity. It was anticipation. Pure and simple anticipation of unravelment. The truth.

All the forest routes and clearings were behind him and the only thing before him were thick woods. He knew he was right. He could almost taste it. The news articles were guiding him. Instructing him to seek the road that was now abandoned and left to decay.

There he was. He scaled the elevating terrain and arrived at a neglected motorway. The railing was torn apart, the freeway cracked like a withered soil. He realized he was nearly there. A photo he held in his hands showed him the exact spot. Almost a U-turn around a small hill. He was merely a few steps away.

On the outer edge of the road, he could see the railing was fairly conserved save for a specific spot where it was crushed. Next to the place, an enormously tall tree stood. It was malformed roughly in two metre's height. As if it had been injured. As if... something had crashed straight into it.

When he glanced back on the road, he noticed blood. In fact, he overlooked a whole trail of it. Or not. It seemed to appear just now. Cloudy skies were becoming grimly black. The blood began dripping downside up. The trees transformed into shadowy ghosts that creaked and screamed with every move they made.

Yet the boy didn't fear. He believed he was in the middle of an important revelation. Of something he so desperately sought.

He heard a voice. In the centre of an eerie madness, he turned around to face the speaker. There she was. His friend. The girl. She was standing idly on the freeway, looking into the distance.

A distant echo of an engine was rumbling. It was becoming stronger. He could recognize the car approaching. Then it appeared. Even though the weather was ghastly and he couldn't really see, he knew those were his parents.

She was in the opposite lane, so the chances of a crash were small. Yet she made an inexplicable step towards the vehicle in the very last second.

A swerve followed. A hardly manoeuvrable drift. A crash. It had happened so quickly. The boy could only have watched. Helplessly. But now that it had been done, the paralysis inside him exploded in a violent eruption.

His heartbeat was uncontrollable. In the shock, he ran to the car. From up close, he could see his parents. Their eyes were closed. Their faces bloodied. Their bodies stuck between the wreckage of the car.

He could feel tears rushing to his eyes as he desperately tried to pry the vehicle doors and rescue his parents. And he couldn't do anything to save them. It was an image from the past. A replay of that unfortunate event. Yet he wouldn't let go until the very last moment. Until time began shifting.

The car disappeared, but the girl was still there. Standing in the open, her eyes gaping into the distance. Her gaze completely empty and apathetic. Of course, she was very young, much younger than her present self.

"Why have you done it?" the boy shouted in anger as he approached her fast. "Why?"

She didn't even look at him. As if she didn't even notice him. As if she was trapped in a strange state of trance.

"What is wrong with you? Do you know what you have done?"

She didn't respond, but she seemed to realize the boy was yelling at her. She looked him in the eye. For a whole minute, the two stood there in utter silence, the boy trying to grasp the truth. Trying to understand the horrible fact that the one he considered a friend was truly a betrayer from the very beginning. But why?

"Sometimes, I wish to return," she lisped in a bored tone.

"Return? Where to return? Why have you killed my parents?"

There wasn't any kind of reply. The boy wouldn't get an answer. He wasn't destined to get it.

Her image dissipated, vanished into thin air. Meanwhile, the environment started changing. The trees were getting smaller, the road disappeared. The terrain was being remoulded before the boy's eyes. Changing elevation, getting a winter coat, thawing out, housing wild animals, growing tall grass, giving birth to thick woods and shifting again and again.

Until there was nothing but a green plain. In the distance, there was a city just like the one from his dreams. The changes stopped, time slowed down. He was a witness to the death of the town from afar. Noticing the explosions and the crumbling buildings. Sensing the shockwave. Observing a wall of blackness spread and engulf everything and everyone. Remoulding it all.

As it advanced towards him, he could see its instability, spotting ever-changing rifts. Hearing insane laughter and untold noises. It was beckoning him, wooing him, playing on his unnatural instincts that he had gained after his reanimation. Yet he didn't answer the call. The breakdown of his anticipation, the sorrow and the horror of his realization were stronger.

And so he watched the ravaged soil and the storming skies calm and rejuvenate. He witnessed the retreat of the substance. Its last shelter was directly beneath his feet, but it was defeated even there, disappearing from the face of the planet ultimately.

However, the boy could feel it. Although it was the dawn of a new day, he could feel it near. Like it was still there. Not as strong as during its conquest, but present nonetheless. It was leading him to believe it was buried underneath the soil. Radiating its power. Beckoning anyone foolish enough to heed its cries.

This was how ancient societies had been unmade. This was the revelation he was being shown over and over. Yet he ignored it. To him, nothing was greater than the sadness of loss and the shock of betrayal. He wanted rest. He wanted peace in his mind. He closed his eyes.

Chapter Nineteen

It opened his eyes. The shades of black and white became richer. Gained many, many dimensions. For his entire life, he had been ignorant. Blind to the world all around him, considering only himself and his immediate surroundings.

His human heart was beating like mad. There was so much variety to the colour. Yet with the vastness of the spectrum, something sinister revealed itself in its full glory. The factor of permanent confusion. There was no certainty. Nothing was to be taken for granted.

He was taught a lesson. A lesson that meant he was free, but bitterly. He could go anywhere he wanted, but why would he do that? He could run around in circles, he could explore the world, he could tell everyone about the insanities. However, he was lacking a reason.

With the loss of his beliefs and a friend, everything seemed to be sour. The truth, the reality was dry and abundant in animosity. It was sucking his soul out of his body, it was leaving him without purpose.

The sense of duty, the sense of need was waning. The urge to discover and reveal was gone. The task to save the girl made perverse. The desire to punish those responsible had vanished. All that was left was a haunting collection of confusing feelings. Well, that and the cataclysmic drive to devastate, although the latter was quite diminished as of late.

He didn't know what to do. The thoughts in his head were turning against him. The rich palette of aspects of the world was showing itself in a twisted light, making the boy anxious and paralyzed.

Even his own reanimated nature woke disgust in him. Just who was he? A freak? A zombie? A servant of the old roots?

A fleeting notion aroused the boy's interest in something he had been overlooking. In fact, he had been turning a blind eye on many things, locked in a tunnel vision and hunting for his goal whilst ignoring everything else. But there was a specific person. A chain linking it together. The mysterious messenger.

It was him from the very beginning. He had, more or less, instigated the boy's entire journey. Put the wheels in motion. He might have been the key to the lock. The solution to the crisis.

However, the ideas of resolve quickly tumbled down, replaced by a droning misery. There was no way for the boy to find him, but supposing that it happened, the enigmatic person made it clear that he didn't want to decide, merely reveal.

And the girl. The girl was the single biggest disappointment yet. For years, the boy had regarded her as his best friend. The two had spent many days together. Many joyful days. But now that he saw, he realized how ironic it had been. How sarcastic it had been that he had been unable to notice the decaying world. That he had been unable to understand it had been her influence all along.

She was like a virus. Why else would she captivate everyone? Turn them into unwitting slaves? Just like she had done to the king, to her adoptive parents and even to the boy.

He was so angry at himself for being so blind. How could he have been that ignorant? Imagining himself sitting on the rocking bench along with her. Blankly staring. Thinking of empty ideas. How different he had been from that? And how different he had been from all those he had deemed as apathetic? As dead?

He had been dead as well. Resting his idle decaying existence in the eternal autumn and letting maggots eat away his very soul and body. Allowing them to chew their way through his decomposing corpse.

In an ironic fact, it had been his death that had brought him to life. That had provided him with eyes capable of seeing the truth. That had lent him the ability to realize the plots and schemes.

The old roots. The strange happenings in the village of Toz since the girl's arrival. The great many cataclysmic messages. Those things were deeply connected and, apparently, another catastrophe was due.

Was there a way to stop it? And did the boy even want to stop it? He didn't know. His thoughts were flooded with seas of anger and bemusement. His emotions anchored in the oceans of sorrow and betrayal. The loss of his parents had never been so actual.

His needs began to crystallize though. The sense of duty reappear. He wasn't sure what to do about the old roots yet, but he was certain that he had to avenge his parents. Strangely, his burning desire to destroy was ringing in unison with that. Almost as if these two goals were the same despite not really being so.

There were things he had to do. Find the girl and question the remaining people that had visited him on the fateful day to announce the death of his parents. The former was quite impossible to realize at that moment, but the latter seemed doable.

It meant travelling to a rather distant city where one of those he sought had moved. She was an old lady named Marie Jenkins...

Chapter Twenty

He didn't know how long he had been walking. However, he was sure he was drawing nearer to his goal. Day had been changed by night and vice versa, yet he didn't feel exhausted a little bit.

It was beginning to dawn and he could see the city skyline in the distance already, but it wasn't clearly visible, making it look like a shadowy version of its actual self and waking a prompt in the boy's mind. The town seemed to be exactly like the one from his visions.

However, he realized he was fooled by a morning mist. His arrival into the densely populated area finally explained the truth to him. It was an ordinary city like all the others that dotted the land.

It was a striking contrast to the village of Toz though. There was no fog, the streets were bustling and everything was on the move. It was actually the opposite extreme. Noisy roads flooded with litter that was pressed under a lid of toxic fumes. Shabby houses with cracked walls and chipped windows. Nervous and rushing people constantly yelling at each other. That was Riverfare.

The environment was waking great anxiety in the boy's head. He couldn't sense the dark roots calling him there, giving way for his confusion that amplified the tension. Thankfully, he kept his aim in mind. He wasn't going to stray.

He even remembered the address. Murky Street. He had been to the town when he had been very, very young. His parents had been still alive back then. He couldn't recall the trip unfortunately. In fact, he couldn't recall any coherent memory with his mother and father in there. He didn't weep over it though. He had a task to fulfil after all and that didn't allow him such a luxury.

As he was wandering, he came across a map displayed on a panel glassed in the pavement. He inspected it carefully until he spotted his goal. Murky Street.

The city wasn't as large as he had believed it to be. His destination was only two blocks away, unbeknownst to him prior to that moment. He quickly set off, his head full of anticipation.

However, he failed to notice an important fact. The fact that he was different. The fact that if one looked at him with more than a fleeting glance, they would see the stitches. They would figure out that he was alien.

Before he could realize that or even ponder the possible reactions, the answer arrived on its own. A piercing scream. It belonged to a middle aged, fair haired woman whose shock was so overwhelming that she had dropped her shopping bags.

Without wanting it, the boy began drawing unnecessary attention. From left to right, they were all gazing at him. Creating a circle devoid of a soul wherever he went. Accumulating and forming a bloating group of frightened, curious or hateful individuals that shared a common interest. Him.

His anxiety was growing, having seemingly no boundaries. However, people surrounding him were much harsher than his own fear.

"Somebody call an ambulance!"

"Is that a zombie?"

"Kill it! Kill it!"

The reactions were mixed, but they weren't positive at all. They were waking dread in the boy's mind. Something that his chaotic and destructive part feasted upon. Something that was inciting a desire to twist, torture, cripple and decimate. Something that was making his scars more visible. Something that was making the bugs and beetles run restlessly within his insides. Something that was making his stitches ooze out a blackish fog.

He knew he had to calm himself. He had to talk to Marie Jenkins, not go on a rampage. However, his new and still unpredictable instincts could hardly be leashed, effectively controlling the boy like a slave.

The only way out of this was to run. Run and hope he would reach his target in time. Yet it seemed to get worse. Sirens were echoing in the distance and were getting closer. It was just a matter of seconds until they would get him.

He sprinted so fast that people in front of him couldn't step aside quickly enough. He didn't mind though, for he found a path nevertheless. Ploughing through masses of confused women and men.

He even felt somebody trying to catch him. A fist flying by to fight him and subdue him as if he was an animal that had escaped from a zoo. That realization made his boiling anger crystallize in those fumes that he was exhaling through his faulty skin. Fumes that burned anyone who dared to stand near, making them retreat.

Soon, he set himself free from the encirclement, but he found himself in front of a new obstacle. The police had mobilized fairly fast, having created a roadblock already. He had to stop, realizing he would be running against an impermeable cliff otherwise.

The situation was grim. With a herd of spiteful people behind him and a wall of cars and uniformed men in front of him, he was trapped.

There was an entire minute of silence. Everyone gazed at the boy in confusion, trying to figure out the right words while he desperately sought an exit. A number of boxes under a closed window belonging to a block of flats. He could see a staircase inside the building. It must have been a hall.

"Give up!" a policeman managed to utter a phrase through a megaphone that he held, but the instruction wasn't really intimidating. It was showing the insane amount of confusion and disbelief everyone felt.

Just who was the boy? How come such a monstrosity was allowed to exist? They understood so little. A contrast that he subconsciously sensed. A contrast that, if he had been paying attention to it, would make him realize the importance of what he had seen in the visions.

"I repeat, give up!" the man of law said. This time, he was more convincing, but still not as much as his colleagues that held the boy up at their gunpoint.

"Burn the abomination!" somebody yelled from afar.

"Lay down and give up! I will count to three!" Apparently, people around him were starting to lose temper. It was ironic how today's society distinguished itself as civilized, setting itself apart from its medieval counterpart. The entire scene was reminiscent of burning a witch at the stake.


It was now or never. The boy knew it. He made a run for it. Leaping towards the boxes and climbing. Hearing the grunting and rumbling of gunshot. He was almost at the top. But then a bullet hit him, making him struggle for balance.

He sensed the projectile tear a stitch on his arm open, sending multiple insects flying to sides. His left arm was now holding by a thread. Yet he wouldn't give up. He jumped onto the topmost box, using all his strength to kick the window. Praying that it would break.

Thankfully, it gave in without resistance. The boy swiftly sprang in, but the shower of gunfire only intensified.

"Don't let him get away!" he heard them shouting.

He couldn't stop. He knew they would probably catch with him, but he just couldn't cease. He rushed down to the opposite end, opening the door of the housing estate and emerging into another street.

Merely one block, he thought to himself as he ignored the pain and dark energy leaking from his wound. Yet those that chased him were restless. They poured from both sides and also from behind.

He ran as fast as he could, his right hand holding his left elbow. He could see the sign Murky Street on the wall of a building in the corner of an intersection he was sprinting towards. Would he make it?

"Freeze!" he heard a hateful scream, which infused his mind with an even greater desperation. All while he was keeping his destructive thoughts at bay.

He was almost at the turn. Almost there. A second was what separated him from temporal safety. Yet he felt another shot mercilessly pierce his thigh. He grunted and gritted his teeth in response.

He made it. He was in Murky Street. Now to find the correct house. Number seven. His wound was slowing him down, but he persisted. One. He was limping, but he carried on. Three. The pain was starting to overpower him. Five. His vision began fading out. But he was merely a step away!

Seven! Strangely, the door was open, but there was no time to wonder about that. He darted inside, hearing it close itself instantly. He had entered an antique looking hallway with ancient, dust-laden furniture and a grandfather's clock.

"My god, you are wounded severely!" an elderly woman that came to the hall out of a nearby room yelled in horror as she noticed the boy.

"They're after me," the boy shouted, but it inspired little fear in the old lady's mind.

"Do not worry. You're safe in here. But first, we need to tend the wounds."

"You don't understand! They've got guns!" the boy expressed his concerns, realizing that his injuries and exhaustion were catching up to him, making him dizzy and feel like he could faint at any moment.

"I said don't worry. I know what's going on. You're perfectly safe. Now we should..." she spoke, but the boy found it hard to concentrate. His vision was blurring. Then, he tumbled to the ground.

Chapter Twenty-one

Bad dreams didn't go away. They were intending to plague the boy to the very last moment. Just like now. He was lying on an operating table, tied by ropes so thick that he had no chances of breaking through.

It was an ordinary hospital. No flashback from the past, no vision either. There were doctors, nurses and even patients everywhere. Shouting and hurrying like usual. However, there was something out of place in there. It was the boy.

"Sedate him!" a doctor with a veil said as he approached him.

"We've already done so. The subject didn't respond to that," a woman standing nearby replied, prompting the boy to look at his left arm and notice a giant needle stuck in there, pumping some chemicals right through a tube that it was connected to. The view induced shock within his mind, causing him to struggle.

"Calm him down!" he heard his audience shout everywhere around him, but he wouldn't be tamed. He didn't want to be examined like an animal. Dissected alive. He wouldn't allow that to happen.

"Let me go!" he yelled at his captors, but the closest thing he could get to an answer was a wicked smile from a doctor that was approaching him, tugging along a small table filled with a variety of knives.

"An interesting specimen," one of the white-coated men remarked and a painful sting followed. The boy looked to his right, noticing a nurse holding a syringe and administering some kind of greenish fluid. It seemed to be a toxin, prompting him to shake like mad, but the entire assembly of doctors immediately grabbed his limbs and prevented him from putting up a fight.

"What have I done to you?" he shouted.

Alas, his questions were unheard. Those people were madmen interested only in carrying on with the experiment. The boy was nothing more than an anomaly meant to be examined to them.

He could witness them bringing a scalpel. Cutting one of his arms away. Yet he could just watch and endure the insane pain that he felt. Observe insects forming his body rush out to all sides.

Meanwhile, another physician brought a scanner. The tool was small and connected to a large screen on the other side of the room and as he hovered it over the boy's chest, everyone could see swarms of bugs running around inside, composing organs such as a pulsating heart or expanding and contracting lungs.

He wanted to scream, but the toxin must have been beginning to take effect. It was paralyzing him. He couldn't move anymore, just stare at his hopeless situation as the perverse madmen continued to unmake him.

Stitch after stitch, they tore them apart to expose more and more. To throw away flies, roaches and centipedes that roamed within. To throw away his very essence. To disassemble him and put his parts into separate jars for observation.

He couldn't feel his legs. His eyes could confirm that, witnessing that those limbs were nothing more than torn pieces of skin. But they didn't stop at that. Their ravenous hunger for his destruction was unstoppable.

The scan screen soon changed its state, revealing the truth. The boy was reduced to a torso. Only his head and the upper half of his chest remained. The rest was no longer there, taken away by insane physicians.

Despite his immobility, he still sensed the agony. He wanted to scream, he wanted to run, he wanted to do something. Yet he couldn't pull a muscle. All the insects inside him were running away in fear of their life. Emptying his body and creating nothing but an empty shell out of him.

They laughed. He could hear them as he looked into their faces. Grimaces of evil people taking pleasure in his ordeal. Grinning at their successful torture and pushing the mutilation even further. Yet there wasn't a thing he could have done.

Emptiness was swiftly reaching for his head. Like sand in an hourglass, his insides were falling out. His thoughts were brimming with hate and pain, but then they began to fade. His vision was becoming blurry and his mind was dissipating. He knew it was the end, yet in that last moment, he felt life like never before. He wanted to scream.

Chapter Twenty-two

"Let me go!" he shouted as his eyes opened, seeing a modest bedroom with but a table and two wardrobes next to a bed he was lying on. He was breathing in and out fast as he was still caught up in those terrific events in his dreams. The images were just so vivid. He couldn't help it.

"You're okay. I've patched you up," the elderly woman spoke, prompting the boy to look at her and realize that she was sitting besides him, her hand holding a needle.

"What have you done?" he spat out, his vision locked on his arm that had been sewn back to his body.

"I've helped you, everything is okay now. You need to calm down."

"Calm down? How did I..." he mumbled in confusion, but then he recalled where he was and what had been going on prior to his fainting. "How long have I been out? Where are those people?"

"Relax. They aren't going to get here."

"A locked door won't stop them," the boy objected, immediately jumping out of the bed and heading out. Although he didn't know the place, the flat was a small one and it wasn't hard to find the entrance. Soon, he was standing in front of it.

It was strange. There was nothing to be heard. Nothing but complete silence. His curiosity was propelling him forward. Commanding him to discover why it was that way. Where was the angry mob that wanted to burn him at the stake?

He opened and saw, but he couldn't understand it. There was the void, yet it wasn't so vivid like he remembered it. The colours were mostly black with a tint of dark gray here and there, but that was it. No voices, no movement, no insanity, no destruction, no panic, no overwhelming fear. The serenity was eerie.

"What is this place?" he wondered without even looking, somehow sensing that the old woman was behind him.

"A sanctuary," she responded, pausing to let the boy process his thoughts. Yet he just silently gazed outside. What was he thinking? Did he imagine jumping out there and explore the unknown? Did he consider it?

"I suppose you came for me," the woman continued, immediately picking the boy's attention.

"You're Marie Jenkins, right?" he said as he turned towards her. He was sure it was her, but his memory couldn't recall the face.

"I am."

"How come you've learned about this? This power? What do you know about it?"

"I might have an answer or two, but don't you think it's rude to come asking like that, not even telling me what's going on?"

"I'm aware that you've lied to me about my parents' deaths."

"It was about time you found out. In truth, I was beginning to worry that you wouldn't ever wake up. Just like the others."

"Others? What others are you talking about?"

"The entire village. Toz."

"But if you knew the truth, why did you lie to me?"

"You were young back then. Do you expect you would understand? Grasp what was going on? A child that hasn't reached his tenth year yet thrown into the heart of a decaying world. I can't imagine that ending up good."

"You could at least have revealed a bit of it. Why a naval accident? Why not a car crash? Why not there at the motorway?"

"It was Makros' decision. We were convinced we could thwart it. We thought we could somehow undo it."

"By not telling anyone? I call it turning a blind eye!" the boy exclaimed in anger, feeling his stitches burn.

"It wasn't my call. Makros had the final word in everything. He was the mayor, after all. He believed that you shouldn't find out. It was him who came up with the idea that he could undo the damage so that nobody would ever realize what was happening. I know it was foolish but we were unaware of what we were up against back then!"

"Now Makros is deceased and the village is teeming with evil. And you couldn't stop it so you simply ran. Tell me, where is the rest of your lot?"

"If those were normal circumstances, I'd say you're rude. However, these are no normal circumstances. But to answer that question – they're dead. They stood against the spreading of the horrors and perished. Not all people are lucky like you. Not everyone has the gift of the old roots."

"A gift? You mean my resurrection? Frankly, I don't know whether it is a gift or a curse. Speaking of which, how did you learn to patch me up? Are you..."

"Not your resurrection. You are a marvel. A miracle. Can't you see it? You've been through the deepest pits of that dimension and managed to get completely unscathed! Don't you understand how impossible it sounds?"

"Apart from being killed and revived as a mad... thing, yes, I'm okay. I can't say that I'm human anymore though. The urges, nightmares, ideas, visions... I've never thought this kind of perspective was real, I... I could never have imagined it."

"Those incidents were allowed to happen thanks to men, not the otherworld. Trust me, you haven't seen what that realm is capable of. My lifetime friends succumbed to terrors that haunt me to this very day. Terrors that drove me out.

I tried to get as far away as possible and forget, but it beckoned me. It called to me. In bitter irony, I wanted to escape but my own mind couldn't allow it. Can you even grasp that? Can you?"

"I've been through much worse than that. Ever since the change, I've been blundering in the dark. A corpse, a zombie wandering blindly. Yet only now do I begin to realize that my life prior to that was no different. But I still don't understand what it asks of me. Your words indicate that I was chosen..."

"Chosen? No. That dimension isn't sentient. It doesn't choose anything. Its reactions are natural and spontaneous. You have been lucky so far, perhaps there is an answer to that. Your friend. Who could have known that such an innocent little being is actually the source of evil? It started with her arrival. But you are aware of that already, right? Otherwise you wouldn't be here talking to me."

"You didn't answer my initial question. How did you learn those tricks? You say that you're dreading the otherworld yet you seem to be in control of it."

"Have you seen the visions? Have you seen all the civilizations perish? And have you realized why? Because of one single thing. The old roots. They were maddened by them. Their souls erased and made loyal to the black substance. The substance that courses through your veins now. The substance that everyone sought to have. The substance that used greed of people as means of its spreading.

We believed that we could control it. That we could halt its expansion by trying to understand it. This is how I learned this magic and how I learned how to sew you together. But believe me, it is little in comparison to the true power of the realm."

With her last sentence said, she suddenly brought her hands to her head. She was experiencing severe pain and the boy sensed it.

"What's the matter?"

"Nothing. Everything. You know the dimension's strength. It grows with its misuse. And this is misuse in a way. I'm putting this place in danger by doing this."

"Then stop it."

"You'll have to escape first. Remember that there are angry citizens wanting to kill you. I can do one last trick though."

"What about you? Won't they slaughter you in the process?"

"Don't worry, I'll be fine," she replied.

A large ancient door suddenly showed in front of her. Before the boy could say anything, it opened and revealed a decayed version of Riverfare. He had so many questions he wished to ask, but time wasn't on his side.

"Is it safe?"

"Nothing from that world is safe yet it's certainly better than a raging crowd right now. I can't guarantee it will be without peril, but at least I can assure you that you won't be facing a murderous stampede."

"Will we meet again one day?"

"Maybe, but that won't be soon... and I'm afraid that it won't happen unless it is too late. Go now. Don't waste a moment."

Was there really no other way? No chance to stall it? Perhaps yes, but there was not a minute left to ponder. The boy obeyed.

Chapter Twenty-three

The boy found himself standing on the other side. A singe look behind was enough to see there was no way back. There was suffocating smoke everywhere, making it hard to breathe, but his persistence prevented him from giving in.

By heart, he began navigating the desolate streets of the neglected and decayed version of Riverfare. An odd hum resounded in his ears, but he didn't pay any attention to it, choosing to care only about getting out.

However, he realized there was something terribly wrong when he reached the supposed end of the town. There were no plains of grass or a forest stretching into the distance, but the opposite part of the city instead.

The boy was confused. What kind of dark sorcery was to blame for that? He was aware that he had voluntarily gone into the portal even though he hadn't known what to expect, but he would never have guessed that he would have found himself ensnared in there. He paced through Riverfare and eventually arrived at the exact scene much to his exasperation. Was there really no way out?

He grunted out of anger as he looked around in a blind hope of understanding the strange phenomenon when he spotted a figure walking in the distance. "Hey!" he shouted at it, not taking the possible danger into account.

The person was shy though, taking to their heels instantly.

"Wait!" the boy yelled as he began chasing after the mysterious silhouette. Ignoring the choking smoke, he sprinted through a maze of houses, turning left and right continuously in order to keep pace.

Although he couldn't see farther than a few steps, the pursuit was seemingly nowhere near its end. Yet then the person stopped all of a sudden as if trying to avoid a fall at the very last moment.

The boy quickly caught up and came to a halt just next to the figure – a girl unknown to him. She seemed to be apathetic to his presence, which was odd considering that she had attempted to escape him. It took merely a single look forward to find the reason though. There was a horrifying view stretching before them.

It was a vast and wide pit filled with some sort of an entity that was spread all over. Its ribbed black skin contained numerous jaws that floated across the body like fish swimming in an ocean.

In the centre of the room the being was taking, it had a ten metres tall tower-like appendage that pulsated up and down, churning out dark fumes with each stroke. It was the source of the fog.

"What is that?" the boy wondered aloud, hoping that the girl would answer his question.

Yet she remained silent.

He tried to search for an explanation in her eyes, thinking that behind the grimace of contemplation and fear was the truth about the creature. However, she didn't allow him to carry on with that for long. She jumped forth, falling into one of the mouths the monster had, disappearing in utter darkness.

It had happened so quickly that he hadn't had the chance to intervene. Strangely, he wasn't shocked or appalled. His dark senses had been sneaking in silently, enticed by the disturbing sight.

He needed to find his friend, his human sanity realized as he gazed in front of him. Yet the longer he was standing there, the more that logic seemed to wane. It was apparent that the being was composed entirely of the old roots.

The substance was beckoning him. Calling him to join with it. Was that the fate of the girl? Had she been like him? Or had she been wooed by its sweet song regardless? Song that overrode the mind?

The stitches were burning him. He could see black foam oozing out of them as insects inside him were crawling and tingling. His feet were itchy. His thoughts whispering. Jump. Embrace the flesh.

He blinked and saw her. His friend. The girl. The chasm was no more, replaced by a flowery plain. Somehow, it made him forget that she was a betrayer. He was glad to have her around. He was overjoyed to have found her after such a long and tiring ordeal. He was ecstatic that he saved her. His mission was complete.

He made a single step towards her, wishing to comfort her. Yet his eyes closed and opened again, revealing he was balancing between life and death with one foot in the air. Swiftly, he retreated as he realized the hallucination had nearly cost him his very existence. He finally came to his human senses.

The first thing he did afterwards was turning backwards, followed by running away. Even though he was aware of his past experience inside the decayed version of Riverfare, he was convinced that there was a way out.

Dashing left and right, getting back and coming full circle, the boy defied the fate of being trapped in the hellish alternative of the city. He simply refused to believe that he had to wander around forever.

He must have been rushing through the town for the fifth time already when he got an idea. What if he visited Jenkins' house? Perhaps the strange dimension was connected through it to reality. Or perhaps not, but it was the only thing he could come up with.

Arriving there didn't take him long. He recognized the building instantly and approached the door, noticing it was supplanted by a flat mouth that opened wide once he got close enough. It revealed a vast array of sharp teeth that could tear a bear apart in the blink of an eye.

Although there was nothing but darkness beyond the two saws, the boy didn't hesitate to enter for even a second. His steps led him boldly inside and in that moment, the jaws snapped shut.

Chapter Twenty-four

The version of the house he had entered was twisted. The walls were covered with a blackish fluid – the old roots – yet that was merely the beginning of the horror that possessed the place.

The furniture was full of deep scratches and blood marks. There were no carpets on the black floor, only blinking eyes observing every move of the boy. Doors weren't anywhere to find, utensils and accessories were scattered around and floating in the air as if an unknown force propelled them. They had grown twisted thorns that changed with each passing second, making it all look like a living organism.

The boy advanced to the room where he had woken up. The notion came out of curiosity rather than the need to get out. It was in complete disarray, the furniture torn into shreds, pictures on walls replaced by its fragments holding tightly on the wall like pieces of puzzle waiting to be assembled.

His attention was piqued by the bed. It was covered by the black substance completely. Pulsating, flowing around. They were hiding a corpse laying on it, he thought at first but then he noticed it was breathing.

"Help me," he could hear a silent whisper. It was calling him to aid.

He didn't know what to do. Although the place was quiet, the notions he was receiving were like screams. And they were many. The presence of the old roots was beckoning him, playing on his destructive and chaotic instincts. The unknown was waking human fear in him. His resolve was getting a beating, but it still functioned. As for his curiosity, it was commanding him to reach forth.

"Do not linger," it wooed him. He was merely a second from touching.

He did it and a shock was sent through his body, crushing him to the ground in severe pains instantly. He felt his stitches burn as if they were trying to tear themselves apart. As if the insects inside him wanted to break free. He could hear them scream. He could hear them protest.

As he was swirling in agony on the floor, the whole house began changing. Holes appeared in the walls, revealing blank and empty spaces of void that he knew well. Mad voices were yelling from within as vortexes of wild and untamed chaos roamed there, their touch reaching the room.

It was like that day on the hill. Like the dawn of his journey. Yet it was different in many ways. He was made of the old roots. He was a part of them. Could it have been that his human traces that he had started reclaiming were causing him pain?

He wanted to make it stop, but there was nothing he could have done. He shook madly in his mammal instincts that hoped to ease the agony. He attempted to scream, but his jaws felt like they weighed tons and he was unable to move them.

Those piercing screeches were crawling inside his head. Sinking into the mind like shards of glass, like a shattered crystal that drilled into every corner of his brain. The insanity was reigning over him as his whole body sensed the old roots twisting him, demanding destruction and decay. Demanding that everything stitched be torn violently, razed, ravaged and devastated so savagely that nothing but primordial void existed.

He thought he would have exploded, he thought he would have died. Yet it all ended abruptly. Rolled in a ball and still twitching out of the memory of pain, his senses were regaining control.

He managed to stand up, watching his hands with a curiosity. The stitches were burning, but it wasn't something that would hinder him. After the seizure, it seemed like a simple tingle.

His instincts were confused at first. Almost as if his human ones were battling the old roots. He didn't know what to do due to the daze, but then came an order. A scream inside his head. Get out!

He rushed to the door he had used to enter, but he found the jaws tightly shut. No matter how hard he tried, they wouldn't open. There was a large eye just above, observing him in mockery. He attempted to hit it in anger, but its reflexes were always faster.

It closed whenever the boy's fist approached. There was no way out. No other exit. Windows contained nothing but the void. He glanced into one of the holes, but the nothingness was beckoning him to jump into it. That is why his human fear commanded him to steer clear and look away.

He was troubled. He sensed that he was overwhelmed. His original instincts were still in control, but he was afraid that they wouldn't reign for that long and the state of oppressing power of the old roots would return.

Only now in the moment of a crisis did he realize the importance of the lesson he had been given by the shadowy messenger. But the question who he was didn't pop up this time. The boy had more primal matters to deal with. His own survival.

He sank to the ground and closed his eyes. He tried to meditate, but all his efforts of concentration ended up in seeing decay and destruction. His own village being torn apart. Houses being rendered to pieces and sent flying into the emptiness. Faces distorted and pulled to sides until their explosion. Known faces. Faces that had been dear to him in the past. And then his parents appeared.

He opened his eyes in terror. He would rather stand against the void than replay that moment with the old roots twisting it beyond perversion. But he needed to find peace. He needed to calm down.

Where to go, what to do? Who was he? Was he human? Was he a monster? What was going on? Questions were constantly surfacing in his head. He had answers for some, he had guesses for others, but for most, he knew not a word. That is why he was paralyzed in thought.

Chapter Twenty-five

He couldn't take the stare any longer. The eyes were still twitching, still moving. His ponders were left unanswered. He had to get a move on. He had to get out otherwise those eyes would have driven him mad and made him jump out of the nearest hole.

He was in the hall that was connected to three more rooms. Kitchen, bedroom and living room. He didn't dare to go to the bedroom, so his next steps led him to the kitchen. It was a rotten place with a large table in the centre and nothing else.

There were numerous bloodstained knives dug into the surface of the table and although the boy felt it wasn't safe in there, he couldn't resist the urge to investigate. He approached the piece of furniture and in an instant, eyes opened wide on it, their gaze fixed on him. He retreated a metre in the moment of shock but stopped quickly afterwards.

He didn't understand, but he knew that since the possessed version of the house was anything but logical, he didn't have to. However, he also knew that dangers could be lurking near and strike at any time.

Those knives suddenly pulled up, floating in the air in a threatening position. The boy slowly backed away, expecting them to dart towards him. Yet nothing like that happened. They pierced the ceiling instead, tearing it apart in a fiery dance.

He watched the scene with awe until it finally ceased and the knives fell to the floor like dead. The hole that had been created was the beginning of a large darkened tunnel leading upwards. Was its emergence a coincidence? Or an intention?

He dared to explore. He climbed onto the table and reached towards the blackish cave. Just as he touched its surface, gravity shifted and he was pulled inside, turning midflight so that his head wasn't going to crash first.

The tunnel started tilting to side, gently slowing the boy's descent until he came to a full stop. He could hear vicious echoes of the unknown, but he couldn't see a thing. There was no light and he had to navigate by instincts, touching the ground and feeling his skin absorbing the black sleaze.

Strong winds were blowing from behind, making him believe he was getting closer to the exit. A sharp turn followed and then he spotted it with his own eyes. The end of the tunnel was in front of him.

He crawled to it, realizing that he was separated from the outside by a thick layer of glass. No matter that it was hanging ten metres in the air, he simply wanted to break through and get out despite the scenery below was full of busy people in a dust-riddled street of Riverfare. Alas, he couldn't get through. The barrier was too strong to overcome, no doubt reinforced by the dark magic of the old roots.

He sighed in disappointment and began his journey back. There was no point in lingering any further. Treacherous sounds accompanied him all the way to the entrance, but he didn't care about them. Somehow, he was at ease with them around – a sign that his alien instincts were once again gaining foothold in his confused mind.

He reached the edge and it spat him out like a bullet. He fell to the ground, but his dark anatomy absorbed the hit, allowing him to rise to his feet.

His attention was piqued by the bizarre insides of the room. Eyes, so many eyes. They weren't that unnerving to him now. He felt as if the old roots were alive through them. He felt that they merely wanted to establish connection with him. They meant no harm to him. Or that was what he believed.

His steps led him to the larder. The door was made of a string of pulsating veins, but he didn't hesitate to open it despite the grossness. The place that was revealed before him was much more disgusting, but he was used to that after his experiences.

There were countless shelves inside the oddly large space. He doubted the real counterpart was that vast. Fat maggots and sleazy worms were filling it to the brim, crawling around and emitting ticking sounds.

As much as it was a disturbing sight, he didn't find it interesting in any way and therefore closed it. The only room left unexplored was thus the living room. He paced swiftly through the house, arriving there in but a few seconds.

It was modest both in space and equipment, yet this reflection of reality had been tweaked with nightmares and horrors. The chandelier was a tangle of spikes that oozed out greyish light, the furniture consisted of black pulsating veins and the carpet was basically a giant collage of flat faces sewn together. They gazed at the boy with contempt, but they remained silent and their mouths locked.

Despite so many bizarre things, his interest was piqued by something so normal that it was odd. Clock on the wall. Ticking away the time. Nothing special, nothing out of the ordinary. He came to it and inspected it. Looking from one angle and another over and over again.

Yet then a wheezing echo came. It was as if somebody tried to speak but pain prevented them from doing so. The boy turned around in wonder, spotting none other than Marie Jenkins.

She was encased in a thick shell made of the black fluid and the only visible part of her body was her face. Her mouth was wide open, but no words came out. It actually seemed that she was choking.

He wanted to approach her, but a single step changed everything. Her skull cracked, her hair falling down and revealing a jagged rift on top of her head. Strings began emerging out of the opening cavity, expanding into the place and widening into platforms of black that crushed their way through the walls. Soon, they created an entanglement that could be walked upon.

The void was exposed. Screams were at large, madness was pouring in. Yet despite the savagery that it was enticing, the boy was at peace. Somehow, the wildness was overridden. The only notion that he felt was that he needed to explore those new paths. Find out why they had been spawned.

He embarked upon that journey and just as his feet rested on the verge of the room, he heard echoes amongst the laughter, whispering and screeches. They were becoming stronger to the point of being intelligible.

"We can't do that yet. The village will be endangered if we promote and unleash its presence. Everything will crumble."

The boy recognized the voice. It belonged to Marie Jenkins.

"But if we linger on, it will spread naturally and destroy our world anyway," a man spoke. It was Makros.

"Maybe we should tell."

"No! Think what could happen! Scientists would come. Then tourists. Then they would realize the horror. And then? Bombs and wars and all sorts of pestilence. Do you think that would solve anything?"

"I understand."

The conversation ended there, prompting the boy to continue along the crooked pathways in amidst the untamed region of the void where colours were subject to a constant change in the severe and erratic winds.

"I realize what it does," the voice of Marie elaborated. "First, I thought it simply spreads. Like a virus. But then I started seeing those visions. I believe it is actually alive and trying to convey something."

Silence ensued, but only for a while. The pondering resumed quickly afterwards.

"It's been a month since we discovered the true nature of that substance, yet now new facts begin to surface, making me convinced that we will never ever dig deep enough to learn its true nature at all.

I can hear whispers. Echoes of a fall. And it makes sense to me. Why would it want to speak to me and actually warn me? Unless it is using a different kind of logic, one so alien to man that we can't grasp it, there must be somebody else.

I think I understand it. The dreams, the lessons, everything. And I start to notice that my mood swings a lot when I'm nearby. That furthers my theory. Whoever created those visions, they were consumed by this substance. Perhaps they created their warning for future people, perhaps they thought they could still save themselves. I can't tell, but I'm sure those messages aren't the product of the entity that thrives beneath the surface of Toz."

Silence reigned once more. It did so for a little longer than before, but Marie's voice began speaking again soon.

"Maybe I was wrong. As I ponder it more, I realize another thing. What if the visions are spits to our face? Laughter received from the conqueror that seems so incomprehensible to us?"

He was eager to discover more, but the exploration ended all of a sudden. Platforms began shaking so vigorously that it knocked the boy to the ground. He tried to get back to his feet, but the struggle was lost.

He could notice the entanglement was retreating. He saw its speed was picking up the pace, heading towards the open skull of the woman. He was about to roll away just as he was above the living room floor, but it was too fast. He found himself trapped inside her brain, the cavity sealing itself.

Chapter Twenty-six

As soon as he blinked, he realized he was trapped in a memory. Toz was a picturesque village rather than a pot of haze ravaged by the old roots. Although the image seemed real, he was merely a ghost and couldn't interact with anything. Just fly through walls and float around while observing the folk going on with their lives. People gathering at the square and chatting. No detached and apathetic men and women but lively villagers.

He wasn't exactly free to roam the realm though. He was drawn to the hill where a group of people was congregated. He recognized them all. Catherine, Makros, Marie and Flint – the settlement's fisherman. They were younger by about a decade, but still old enough for the boy to recognize them.

Flint was lying on top of the hill while others were standing safely away. The man was twitching in agony. The boy knew why, but he could only watch. The audience was just looking, not willing to interrupt the hell Flint must have been going through. They could see nothing besides flickers of purple floating around the victim of the old roots.

"Maybe we should intervene?" Marie wondered.

"No!" Makros objected strictly. "Whatever possesses him now, it might spread on us. I say we wait."

"And I say we should get him out fast. He wasn't like that for the few seconds of the beginning," Catherine stated her opinion.

"I agree," Marie concurred.

Makros nodded reluctantly. The three then approached Flint and towed him away. However, the person didn't stop twitching. His eyes trapped in the horror, it seemed that he wasn't going to recover.

The memory ended there. Forward in time, the three were sitting in Makros' office just by the fireplace. They were gazing into the fire and discussing their next move.

"What about Flint? Is he better yet?" Makros wondered.

"He has been fast asleep for four days, but at least he isn't shaking anymore," Catherine responded.

"You two realize that we can't tolerate this any longer, right?" Makros elaborated. "It started at the hill and it must end there. We have to push it back to that place and banish it from our realm.

Who knows what it might do if it spreads even more than it already did? We can't dare to guess what we are up against, but we are aware of one thing for sure. It all began with the girl. Ever since she was adopted..."

"But what do we do with her?" Marie asked.

"We can't force her out. The entire village would be outraged. Besides, that would just move the problem somewhere else. We can't tell how fast it spreads, but I somehow sense that it wouldn't take long to get here. No. We need to take care of things here and for good. Thus, we need to be discreet," Makros thought aloud.

"Discreet? You don't mean..." Catherine exclaimed in a grim realization.

"Kill her?" Makros finished her sentence. "Yes. I'm afraid that is our only chance."

"Look at her!" Marie objected. "She's like a picture! How could she be the source of that evil? We can't be sure yet! I say we wait and evaluate. We observe."

"We are not scientists!" Makros reprimanded her. "Besides, I am the mayor here. I decide what happens and what does not."

"Remember who elected you," Marie threatened. "And more. Do you realize that if this plot ever reaches out..."

"Are you trying to point out that you would blackmail me?" Makros shouted in anger. He certainly didn't like disobedience. Strange, that wasn't how the boy remembered him. To him, he was that confused individual moments before his demise.

As much as the debate was intriguing, it ceased. The boy was taken forward in time again. He could see the girl standing in the fog-riddled street. The memory must have been more recent, perhaps along with the previous one. He could see the trio as well. They were approaching her, yet she talked to them first.

"Hi," she said. They were in the middle of the street the boy knew. His and her house was just next to the place he was floating above.

"Hello, young lady," Makros spoke as he came to her. She seemed so friendly, so innocent. Yet the mayor was convinced of otherwise.

"Would you like to play with my teddy bear?" she replied in her naivety. She wasn't aware of the plot that was about to ensue. Or was she?

"Of course," Makros responded and the trio followed her as she made her way towards the house.

Soon they entered the insides of the building. Just as the girl closed behind them, the normal looking lobby suddenly began tearing itself apart, revealing isles of black pulsating ground connected by narrow pathways. One false step and they would fall to the void that was surrounding them. Void that screamed aloud with all its vivid colours blending together like space nebulas.

While the four stood there on the entrance floe, shadow spirits roamed around, manifesting as grey energies. The people observed the new realm with curiosity at first, but they realized the grim horror shortly afterwards. From the bowels of the emptiness, an entity emerged. It seemed to be a vortex at first, but then it formed into a twisted being of thousands heart-like organs moving and twitching.

It had no eyes, yet it precisely knew where everyone was. It extended its body towards them, embracing them in one swift move yet sparing the girl. There was nothing they could have done to protect themselves.

The boy could hear them scream. He imagined what horrors they must have been experiencing, but he didn't feel for them. His conscience was possessed by the old roots that sided with the girl.

"I understand why you wish to kill me," a low, grunting voice suddenly echoed throughout the vast realm. It was the girl that spoke. "However, you must understand that I have the right to defend myself. If you want to survive here, you will have to desist. And if you want to survive in the long run, then you will have to submit yourselves to the will of fate. Do not resist the calling. Do not resist the urge. It will win either way."

Each word she magically uttered caused a tremor so powerful that many floes crumbled and were taken away in a violent storm. But when she ended her speech, the quake didn't stop. It grew stronger in fact. Until everything disappeared. There was only darkness, yet even that wasn't the final state.

He sensed that his ethereal presence was being disrupted. He was regaining his earthly body. Marie's brain was opening again.

Chapter Twenty-seven

He was churned out into the living room. Still a dreary and frightening place to live with holes in the walls and old roots overrunning every nook.

It seemed the same at first glance. Exactly the same horror. Yet then the boy spotted the bedroom was changed. It was radiating with blinding white light so strong that there was nothing to see besides that.

Wary of the possible danger but knowing that he had to get out, he began approaching the strange occurrence. It could have been a trap, it could have killed him, but he didn't take those possibilities into consideration.

He crossed the boundaries in a daring step. Yet that was a terrible mistake. As soon as he did so, something behind him gave out a snapping sound, prompting him to turn around and notice that he was ensnared. The white colour was surrounding him on every angle.

He tried to get back, he touched the wall, he wanted to go through it, but it was impermeable. To make matters worse, the notion of vastness was merely an illusion. The boy discovered it soon enough by following the unnoticeable walls and realizing he was in a square room where it took only a small jump to get to the opposite side.

Confused like an animal that suddenly found itself locked in a cage, he stood still and watched his blank environment while he was thinking. Was there a way out at all? He couldn't tell, but he became aware that he had to start searching for it.

However, every nook of the prison he touched was solid and unbreakable. His own human anger wouldn't break it. Bashing his hands against it and kicking was of no use. After a moment of blind rage, he ceased and sank to the floor.

Time went by. He was different, he wasn't really human, but that didn't mean the insane amount of experiences with madness during the recent days didn't take its toll on him. He was confounded. He couldn't even figure out what he was doing anymore. His goals strangely felt blurred and unclear, his inquisitiveness numbed. All this was leading the boy into the realm of apathy.

That was where the old roots within him, the powerful destruction thrived. Standing unopposed, it could spread over his mind and slowly take over while he was desperately trying to find some meaning in the fake light he was in, unaware that his evil, unnatural instincts were beginning to overwhelm him just like during the first days after his transformation.

He was invigorated with a renewed sense of life. A dark and sinister sense. Decay and death were calling him and he heeded them like an obedient slave. He could hear voices coming from beyond and he wished to follow them. He witnessed the old roots approaching his prison and he gladly watched.

He saw the world. A planet of blue with its people living their happy lives of friendship. Yet a malignant spirit appeared, a mere dot on the surface. The vision zoomed in instantly, showing that the spot was a figure shrouded in blackness.

Suddenly, he noticed that there was another standing by. It was of bright white colour at the start, but then the other person touched it and the old roots spread, consuming the being alive.

The boy could observe its sketchy and hazy eyes struggling against the invasion, but ultimately succumbing in severe agony. The first individual disappeared, leaving the newly mutated entity alone in the peaceful world.

The vision zoomed out a little and the boy could see cities from above and people inhabiting them, walking around like ants. Pursuing their jobs, living their lives and generally not suspecting anything.

Yet the darkness relentlessly advanced as the transformed figure approached them. Every nook and corner was hit, sparing nothing at all. No man, no woman and neither a child. Each building withered and grew thorns, tentacles, saw-toothed mouths, became twisted and crooked.

The content world was changing in front of the boy's eyes. The old roots engulfing everything and everyone. The last drop of a lush and friendly realm suddenly vanished. There was only blackness in space.

From afar, it seemed as if there wasn't any planet, but the boy knew better. He could witness how the black roots spread into the void, reaching neighbouring celestial bodies, consuming the sun and continuing in its deathly advance.

First the solar system, then other star systems. The entire galaxy succumbed swiftly afterwards, leaving nothing but a blank and invisible scar in the universe. Yet the conquest of the old roots didn't stop there. It continued on and on until the remaining drop of light was extinguished.

That was the fate that awaited the world, but the boy wasn't afraid. In fact, he was even enticed by the vision. He understood the metaphor at the beginning as well. The person infected by the first host was him. He was the harbinger of doom. He was the one to bring forth the decay.

The images had faded already and there was that maddening whiteness again, but the boy was still drooling as he replayed those ideas. He was possessed by the old roots almost completely. Death and destruction were his causes and he needed to fulfil their bidding. He needed to unmake anything in his path.

In his hallucinations, he touched the walls, his evil mind sending carnage through his palms and infecting the confines of his prison. Black spots appeared on the edges at first, but then it spread and formed pulsating veins growing on top of each other.

The strange organism thrived, but when the last drop of white vanished, there was nothing to feed on. These veins withered rather quickly. In the following moment, it fell apart, freeing the boy.

He was standing motionless for a while, his thoughts rearranging to grasp the insane amount of decay his head was imagining. Suddenly, the place felt like the cosiest of homes, its holes filled with empty void whose songs soothed him.

Yet the mesmerizing feeling didn't last forever. Somebody began knocking rather angrily. Somewhat confounded, the boy approached the door that had become normal and looked outside through the peep hole. Policemen were trying to get in.

He wasn't afraid. His evil instincts were reigning free. He wanted to murder them. He wanted to witness life waning out of their eyes. He wanted to observe them scream in agony as they crumbled and died.

The sensation of insects hastily crawling inside his inhuman body was undeniable. It was making his mind boil in anticipation as he viewed all the possible options of torture he could delve into.

They ceased with pleasantries, choosing to force their way in, hitting against the door. He stepped aside, expecting them to break through the creaking door soon. It was only a matter of minutes.

Whispers were echoing in his head. Orders that instructed him to go back to the bedroom. He followed blindly, not taking the possibility of being imprisoned again into account. However, nothing like that happened.

He passed through, stopping right next to the bed. The men of the law breached the door swiftly afterwards. He could hear them shouting, but their words had no meaning to him. He preyed on them like a predator.

"What the hell is that light?" somebody said and the boy grinned wide with knowledge that the trap was set even though he couldn't observe it.

He was aware that they were approaching. He was aware that they came for him. And he was subconsciously aware that they would become ensnared in the same prison as he had been.

A policeman rushed into the bedroom, but crashed against the invisible wall. Two other men followed. The boy outside could see the trapped individuals, but they couldn't see him. It was a comical image.

He walked all the way to the group of struggling people, watching them attempting to break out.

"How in the..." one shouted on top of another.

"Get out! Get us out!"

"What is this charade? We know you're there! Open it!"

"This is unit seven, I request reinforcements! I request reinforcements! Can anybody hear me? Damn it, the signal is jammed!"

"Hey! Open the damned place!"

"You're not going to make it easy on yourself! Give up!"

"Give the hell up!"

"Do you hear me?"

The boy took pleasure in watching those poor souls crammed in such tight space. Acting out of authority yet failing to realize they had none. He was the only one who could free them, but that idea was out of question.

He came right to them, observing their confused grimaces from up close. It felt odd to be so near yet remain unnoticed. His thoughts were ranging from evil to destructive as of that moment. They were concentrated on torture.

He touched the invisible wall, filling the small chamber with horrors of his own. Yet he didn't expect his enemies to be far cleverer than that. An explosion came from behind. He suspected that another gap to the void had spawned, but the truth was different.

Three men quickly jumped to his back and before he knew it, they knocked him unconscious. He couldn't even tell how they had done so.

Chapter Twenty-eight

He found himself in a bizarre realm of nothingness. His inhumanly senses felt at peace, almost as if they had achieved what they had desired. However, that wasn't exactly true and he realized it quickly.

It was his mind viewing the expected end of all things. The state that his possessed self strived to achieve.

It would seem odd to him that he had been scared and experiencing agony when in his normal senses yet revelling in it when not. Alas, there was little room for his human thoughts and so he didn't care.

As he glanced around the goo of vivid insanity, he noticed torn bits of the former world. He noticed people floating in there, or rather parts of them. Besides that, he could also spot memories. He recognized some of them, but others were completely unknown to him.

However, most of those things were decaying fast and were soon reduced to nothing. He took note of each of such an essence though.

For instance, he observed his own death through the eyes of a spectator. Seeing himself lying and helpless whilst madness ensued. Seeing himself twitching in agony. He could imagine the experience, but it felt strangely relieving.

The memory was consumed before it could finish, leaving the boy to his imagination until he found other visions to pursue.

"What do you want from me?" a familiar voice spoke. It belonged to Makros, who was sitting in the town hall and chatting with Aunt Margaret.

"I don't want anything from you. But you... you should remember who you owe. To whom you owe your allegiance. You shouldn't deny that."

"I've spent years saying no to it."

"You're just greedy. But there's no blaming you. Everyone is greedy."

"Fine. Then why do you bother me still?"

"Because of the same reasons that make you break your oath. They believe you, Makros. They believe that you can rid this place of evil."

"They believe? Frankly, I'm not sure what to believe myself at all."

"They weren't either, but that is why they look up to you now. They think you can solve the crisis."

"Solve? This has no solution. This has never had one from the very start!"

"That's broken will talking."

"Drink your tea and be gone. I've got pressing matters to attend to."

"Pressing matters, hmm? Well, don't let me keep you, mister mayor."

The vision was apparently coming to a close, but the realm was quicker to vanish. The boy woke up.

Chapter Twenty-nine

The nightmare was real. For days, his darkest thoughts of both human and inhuman confusion had been gathering to warn him, yet he didn't heed the call. This was the inevitable result.

He didn't listen to his fears. His manifestations of dread. It was obvious that a creature like him would cause upheaval in the realm of the living. It was unavoidable that they would point their fingers at him both in fear and anger. That they would want to observe him, run tests on him and lock him up in a cage for everyone to see.

That prospect was ironic. Humanity was ironic. Deeming itself the pinnacle of evolution. As the most sophisticated species on Earth. As the centre of the universe. As second to none in the world.

Xenophobic and arrogant to anything alien. Overriding instincts with numbed reason stemming out of conformist life. It was such a bizarre thing to witness them acting so high and mighty. So intelligent. So powerful. Yet ending up banging the head against a wall just because.

Now he was bound to a bed. His eyes opening, he noticed confused personnel standing around him. They weren't like those from his dreams, but he wasn't calmed by that fact in any way. He was a prisoner of theirs and he needed to set himself free.

His instincts were waking from their slumber. He had to get out. He had to use all his strength to break the chains holding him. His anger was beginning to boil while a group of doctors, nurses and specialists watched him with curiosity.

He couldn't overcome the trap that was keeping him. He couldn't beat it, yet he struggled nevertheless. There simply wasn't any other option. He didn't want to be vivisected like an animal.

He realized that some of the people were hastily scribbling something. Observing him and evaluating him. Even mumbling remarks about him. He couldn't understand them, but it was infuriating him. He was not more than a thing to them.

"What should we do?" one of the nurses wondered.

"Inject him with sedatives," was the response.

In an instant, a nurse brought in a needle, preparing to stab the boy and pump him with poisonous pollutants. He doubled his efforts, but the restraints were too enduring. He couldn't win.

He felt the sharp tip pierce his skin. There were no veins inside his body and all the insects swiftly gathered, grabbing the invading object with their tiny mandibles. The fluid was oozing out, but it rained down the hollow space evacuated by the bugs.

It ended up on the other side of the inner part of the skin, but it didn't soak. It sprinkled out of his stitches instead as the boy shook his arms in anger. They were conducting tests on him, he thought. Sedatives were first. What would come next?

His inhuman nature was waking up slowly, but it was becoming visible with each passing second. His eyes were glowing black. The stitches burning. The ticklish movement of insects inside picking up in anticipation.

The nurse tried to withdraw the needle, but the bugs were holding it firmly. She struggled to pull it out, having to use both hands. The boy saw it. He saw what she was doing to him. It was angering him.

She can't have been older by more than ten years. Why was she such an insensitive person? Why couldn't she see the suffering she was inflicting upon him, upon somebody completely unknown to her? Unknown to anyone? Why did everyone want to catch him and cage him? What had he done to them?

Those thoughts were filling him with resentment. His mind literally shouting. Imagining evil things.

Suddenly, the insect grip loosened. The needle swiftly began pulling out. It felt like a weak sensation, a tingle, yet proved to be the onset of an avalanche. It happened so quickly that the boy hadn't even had a chance to affect it.

His own instincts reacted instantly, sending dark shock through the leaving tip of the nefarious instrument. The corruption spread like a spear relentlessly darting through the air aiming for its target. The old roots twisted the material, cracking it with twirling ghoulish thorns and reaching the nurse.

Her skin swiftly became pale, then turned black as her body was paralyzed. Merely a second afterwards, she was shattered like a glass that hit the ground. She was reduced to nothing more than fragments and shards.

"What the hell?" one of the doctors managed to shout in a combination of awe and fear, retreating along with his colleagues at least ten steps away as if they were afraid that similar fate would meet them.

He still struggled. He still tried to break free. His observers were much more cautious now, remaining safely away in order to avoid the erratic and inexplicable wrath that he was capable of.

However, like cavemen that discovered fire but were terrified by the sight, their curiosity eventually won. They began closing in, ignoring the fact that a woman had already paid the highest price.

"Shouldn't we..." another nurse began her enquiring, wondering whether they shouldn't do something about the deceased.

"We all knew the risks. This is an important scientific discovery," one of the doctors answered.

"Risks? I don't want to die," the nurse protested, but it was more of a rebellious comment than an actual revolt and fear for life. She didn't speak a word after that and the doctor didn't do so either.

What to do now? They asked themselves the question whilst still watching the boy helplessly trying to break free. His instincts were commanding him like an animal, his reason having no say whatsoever in this. It didn't matter anyway, for it could hardly control the untamed power that did as it pleased.

There was silence. Unknown. Nobody could tell how to proceed. But it didn't last forever. The door suddenly flew open, revealing none other than Marie Jenkins. Although old, her resolve was strong.

The boy noticed her along with the frown on her face, but he was convinced that she didn't come to rescue him. His attempt to free himself didn't cease.

"Why didn't you kill him?" she yelled. "I already told those idiots what he was after, the threat is isolated! Don't allow it to spread!"

He was right. These blasphemous thoughts were pouring coal to his steaming mind. Transforming it into a simmering pot that was about to blow. Betrayal. She had trapped him in the twisted version of her house in order to ensure that he wouldn't have escaped.

Punish. Destroy. Raze. His hate was reaching an all time high. Oozing out of every stitch on his body. The old roots outreached like deadly knives thrown. Like flame, they spread as they consumed everything along with the bed and dissolved it to dust, setting the boy free.

They didn't have a chance. They perished even before they could wink. Marie Jenkins was amongst them. The turncoat. The liar. Justice was served.

Now that he could get out of the disintegrating bed, he rushed out. He was able to beat a group of unarmed civilians, but he stood no chance against an army that would certainly get called to the scene if he lingered on. He was convinced that despite his unearthly existence, he was still mortal. That is why he escaped.

Chapter Thirty

He was outside. Finally. This time, he wasn't going in but out, which played to his hands. However, it didn't mean that it was to be a walk in the park. The screams that he heard wherever he went served as proof.

He wasn't alone though. Either due to the magic Jenkins had casted or the boy's emotional breakdown, the old roots were spreading. It was ironic considering that Marie had tried to prevent such an invasion.

There was no telling whether it would evolve in exactly the same manner as in Toz. The onset was very violent, but since the boy had been so detached when it had begun, he couldn't compare. Besides, he didn't even care.

He could notice that sirens were waking up from their slumber fairly fast, alerting the city. He recalled the ordeal he had to pull through instantly, his resolve strengthening as his rage made his stitches burn.

Meanwhile, the black substance continued with its conquest, proving that its premiere in Riverfare was much different than in Toz. It was undeniable that it was stemming out of the boy's wrath. As if the method of taking over was derived directly from the host's mind.

He ran as quickly as he could. Although his dark thoughts wanted to cause carnage, they also seemed to exhibit reason. It was like they had their own sense and logic. It was as if the old roots were sentient. Right now, that twisted part of him had evaluated the situation and decided it was better to get out as fast as possible.

Car engines were rumbling in the distance. Police cars, the boy concluded. They were heading towards him. Their plan was to catch him and make sure he wouldn't escape next time. His plan, however, was that there wouldn't be any next time.

He ignored people that were either too confused to move or rushing around in panic. Some of them even almost bumped into him, but as soon as they realized they were about to collide, they steered away.

It wasn't surprising though. The boy was so blinded by his efforts that he didn't notice his immediate surroundings. The insane vortex that he was emanating out through his very skin. Mad chatter and bizarre seizures sensed by anyone drawing near. Like foolish flies that evaded death only when it was clearly imminent.

He didn't look about in his hurry. He couldn't see the black substance crawling around like a monster, slowly and confidently taking over, knowing that nothing stood in its way to domination.

The fact that his escape was almost uninterrupted was making him curious, but getting out was of topmost priority. Still, he wondered. Where were all those cars? Policemen? Soldiers? Gun-toting individuals ready to shoot? And more. The last of the sirens fell deaf.

His inquisitiveness eventually got the better of him. He was already on the edge of the town when he stopped and looked behind, witnessing the catastrophe. He saw houses crumbling as the old roots strangled them and popped them like bubbles in the next moment. He saw vehicles, sheds, lampposts, newsstands and other constructions wither and melt as if they were made of chocolate. He saw people trapped like mice, unable to escape. Yet the black substance was merciless, prolonging their suffering and spawning agonic grimaces on their faces before twisting their deteriorating carcasses.

The boy observed the carnage he had put into motion, but he didn't feel remorse. In fact, his dark instincts were inducing satisfaction in his brain, its human remains included. Death and destruction. It seemed so perfect. It must have been right. The population deserved it for wanting to vivisect him, experiment on him and kill him in cold blood.

The decay was complete. There wasn't a reason to run. There was no Riverfare anymore. The old roots were satiated, the expansion came to a halt.

Chapter Thirty-one

With the total destruction of Riverfare, the boy's steps were now leading him to his home. Toz. He was completely consumed by the old roots, heeding their call whilst his last drops of humanity seemed to have retreated into the depths of his shadowy mind. It looked like there was not a trace of it anymore.

He was pacing towards the village, each step causing the soil to wither and die. Although he wasn't leaving a single hint of life in his wake, the view before him wasn't particularly alive either.

It was Toz, after all. Its corruption was swelling to unimaginable heights. Unlike in Riverfare that had been razed and consumed, it was as if the village was designed for an even more twisted fate.

There was a strange storm, a vortex raging in the sky. It was like a tornado, yet much larger and not made of air and dust, but the old roots themselves. It was as if they were using it to establish connection with the world and infuse it with its evil.

However, that wasn't the only thing that plagued Toz. There was much more and the boy soon witnessed it with his own eyes as he emerged at the outskirts of the place. Stitches not unlike his were holding the ground, the houses and everything together in an alternate version of spiky thorns, pulsating veins and moving burnt flesh instead of dirt, wood, brick and concrete.

Sinister screeches were echoing around like devils sneaking upon unsuspecting people, laughing at the prospect of scaring them to death. An impermeable haze was grasping the surroundings firmly, preventing anyone from seeing farther than a few metres, inducing despair of confinement.

"Help me!" he could hear a sobbing sound resounding in his ears. He was numbed by the insatiable instincts controlling him, but he noticed the call for aid. He glanced the way it came, immediately spotting the reason.

Digby, a local, was reaching out with his hand. His body was crippled, entangled by the perverted soil that encased him yet refused to consume him. He was essentially a prisoner and as his body became gradually changed, the old roots fed on his misery.

His skin was twisting to a black tone, withering into wrinkles and deformities. His eyes were swollen and red, his face melting and joining with the mutilated torso while he was still alive.

The boy didn't care. It didn't fill him with any kind of emotion. There was but a never-ceasing urge to cause decay and devastation. Without reward for satiating it. Without an end to it.

He passed by the unfortunate soul, leaving it in its sobbing despair. He couldn't have saved it if he was human anyway.

As he was progressing towards the heart of the village, he took note of torn stitches that looked like the ground itself was unzipped and revealed its true self. The wild, untamed realm that the boy knew very well already. The madness of vivid colours, the insanity of screaming voices, the instability of dreadful winds blowing, the constant and violent change tearing the mind and body apart. It was the primordial world.

It wasn't where the boy's steps led though. The old roots had other plans for him. Instead, he reached a familiar place. His home. It wasn't that picturesque house with a lush garden anymore. The fence was made of corpses wailing about their misery post mortem, the flowers corrupted into withered stalks that resembled twitching worms.

As for the building, it was covered by the black substance completely, having grown eyes vigilantly watching, living veins that infused the perverted entity with vigour, stitches that glowed red with hate, spikes with impaled torsos on them and oozing out a steam of darkness that poisoned everything in its vicinity.

He passed through the fence as it obediently moved aside in front of him like it somehow heeded him. He then walked towards the backyard, or rather its twisted version. There was an enormous rift in the middle, bridged by a narrow ledge on which the rocking bench stood. It was odd, but it was the only thing not transformed by the evil.

As he was approaching it, he noticed that he wasn't alone. The girl was sitting there. That sight woke confusion in his mind all of a sudden. His human thoughts desired to resurface, his curiosity yelling to get attention.

There were so many emotions now. He was flooded with them whilst his eyes were fixed on the girl that was staring blankly into the chasm. She looked so innocent, yet she was the very cause of this hell.

However, he realized something very odd as he got closer. She didn't seem to be the person she had been. It was as if her true self couldn't be shrouded by the facade anymore. Or perhaps it was the boy's transformation that allowed him to see past the skin.

A distortion, an erratic void was floating in front of him. He caught the scent of the black substance in her. In fact, she wasn't human even to a small degree. Every bit of her was composed of the old roots.

No wonder he had been always so blind. So ignorant. He had been corrupted by the devilish old roots from the very beginning. He was the closest thing that it had to an offspring, the girl not taken into account. He was essentially its champion. The harbinger of doom.

He was confounded but still, his unnatural instincts were in charge. Guiding him to sit beside her. They were so near now. The radiation oozing out of the girl just like before. Overwhelming him with illusions.

He didn't resist them. He didn't battle their violent ways. That is why those hallucinations swiftly overpowered and subdued him.

Chapter Thirty-two

His vision was replaced by a sinister reality. Giant worms with multiple heads were roaming the skies and creatures capable of devouring a man were ravaging the land. These entities were strangely surreal, shaded and mysterious. Almost as if they were not out of that world.

The boy, or at least his avatar, was standing in the middle of sunken ruins. He didn't have time to ponder his new form, for the scent of danger was omnipresent and there was no way to hide from it.

It must have once been a glorious civilization, but with the tremor and storms raging on, everything suddenly seemed so weak and fleeting.

There were many bizarre occurrences around, though they shared a common denominator. Stitched-like ruptures from which blackish fog oozed out. Powerful roars echoed within certain ones while others were being stretched to the limit as a monstrosity after another poured out.

"We have to leave this place, my master," an eerie yet intensely desperate voice pleaded, prompting the boy to look behind.

It was a being unlike anything he had seen. Standing on no legs yet remaining in balance thanks to three tentacles capable of sucking themselves to the ground. Completely lacking arms. Being of conical shape with so many eyes scattered across the surface of the body that it was almost scaring.

"Master?" it enquired in an unsure tone, fear oozing out of the inhuman, crackly noise.

"I know," the boy responded, his own voice scaring him upon hearing it. He was somewhat confused by it. The experience was so real. No old roots controlling him, but his humanly senses weren't quite there either. What he was feeling was a mush of never-before witnessed emotions, if they could have been called as such.

"Where do we go?" the boy asked upon spotting his newly gained friend turn away and begin a sluggish departure.

"We need to get somewhere safe," it replied laconically, causing the boy to be irritated a little.

"And where is that?" he enquired further, realizing that they had scarce chances against the natural horrors that were decimating the realm with such an unbelievable ease that it was hard to believe.

Suddenly, an explosion came, prompting the boy to face the mysterious, yet scaring event. He noticed a huge airship floating mightily in the air. It was composed almost entirely of metal. A hulking giant shooting powerful lasers and torpedoes in every direction, because the enemy was everywhere.

It was a chaotic situation. The scenery was very depressing as alien cities were burning or even being blown to pieces, leaving nothing but ashes thereafter. Yet it was nothing in comparison to the present horror.

In the sky, there was a towering monster with millions of moving mouths laughing with a grin as wide as a house and teeth as sharp as a saw. It also had countless long thin arms stretching into the distance, having claws on their ends. It was a balloon of terror, a dark cloud that poisoned the air and filled the minds of any onlooker with despair and hopelessness.

As much as the metal ship seemed strong and powerful, it proved no match against the enormous creature. No weaponry could pierce its thick skin, no machinery could break its robust body.

The bloating entity reached the cruiser in a moment and in another, it grasped the technological marvel with its many claws, cleaving through it like scissors through paper. An explosion went out shortly afterwards but the monstrosity consumed everything, even the black fumes coming out.

It was a horror of unimaginable heights. Nothing could stand in its crazed way to destruction. No bomb could destroy it. No weapon would stop it. There was no chance against such a beast other than rout, but one couldn't be on the run forever.

They were almost on the edge of the ruins. It was ironic. The terror was pacing so swiftly but their movement was nearing snail speed. Yet they were alive. The boy's mind was still human after all. His thoughts were racing, for his body couldn't fully employ it with its slow advancement.

"How long has it been like that?"

"It's recent. The Great Conjurors are to blame for this. The greed that blinded them propelled them to amplify the power they believed they could wield. The dark ore indeed spread faster, but with it came the terrors."

"Why didn't anyone stop them?"

"They are our lords. They wield unlimited power. Don't you remember, my master? You are one of them."

"I'm one of them?" the boy wondered as the two finally found themselves outside the ruins, treading a narrow pathway between curved arches made of an unknown aquamarine substance.

"Of course," the being responded. It was confusing to the boy. If he was responsible for this doom, why would anybody protect him?

"Why do you help me then?"

"I would never betray my master. You have a plan. A way of saving us. That is why we have to get out. That is why you retrieved the crystal. That is why you sacrificed the lives of so many here."

"I've sacrificed lives?"


"How many exactly?"

"Two billions."

The boy was astounded. So many dead just because of a plan unknown to him? Where were they going now? What was that plan about? How would anything save them from the unrelenting monstrosities?

"Why have I done that?" the boy enquired, noticing a dragon emerge out of the ground, rupturing the already devastated infrastructure and disappearing within the soil soon enough, accompanied by a tremendous roar.

"Because the cause is desperate and any sacrifice is worth the price of survival. The damage is great, but you believed it is still reversible."

"Reversible? How?" the boy yelled so as to make himself heard amongst the constant shouting of monsters and din of weaponry whilst the battle raged on in a desperate bid against insurmountable odds. No matter how hard the mechanical machines tried to fight, the creatures always outmanoeuvred them.

"By undoing the corruption rooted within the souls that sacrificed themselves to the device you created. The device that amplifies the dark ore."

"Where is that device?"

"In the very heart of the invasion. Your hometown."

"My hometown? Why would I ever create such a monstrosity in my own hometown?"

"You wanted to make it famous. To restore it to its former glory."

Suddenly, a thundering explosion went out. Fiery inferno spread out, encasing them in an impermeable layer of flame. There was no way out and while they were stranded helplessly, unimaginable monsters danced around the blaze.

The space seemed to shorten, the air transforming into choking fumes. They could barely breathe.

Yet the fatal blow was only to come. An overwhelming screech echoed around them and before they could turn to witness the approaching doom, everything faded into an everlasting blackness.

Chapter Thirty-three

The boy was confused. Being in another body was a stressing experience. Especially while being stripped of many of his senses and instincts.

He thought that he would have woken up into his reality, but he was wrong. He was still trapped inside a shell that wasn't his and although he was somewhere underground, he could recall the recent memory.

The world bleeding as the butchering creatures advanced. The skies filled with crimson red as if blood had been pouring in from space, the land becoming twisted and hostile. It had been apparent that the old roots had been winning the war. The concept was so clear now.

The danger was too overwhelming. The boy was very lucky to be in an alien body, otherwise his restitched self wouldn't ever come close to grasping the truth in all its perverted glory.

It was ironic how a different composure of the head changed the outlook. He was thinking many things that he would previously have not. He was pondering secrets that he had never considered. Only now did he realize that there was actually a transition between his former human and his evil version, not including the infestation of the old roots. The way of the brain differed heavily from his undead reanimation.

Question was, would he still understand the impending message, the distressing vision of this doomed realm? Or would he forget and once again fall prone to the insanities lurking in his head? Would he raze more cities than just one? Exact his revenge because his instincts whispered to him?

He started feeling guilty for having done that, but his humanly emotions were put to a halt as suddenly as they surfaced. Along with the servant, he was standing in a darkened cavern with black crystals glowing with eerie greyish energy.

"What is this place?" the boy enquired.

"This is the entrance halls to the ancient library," the being responded in an enigmatic tone as the two soon arrived at the edge of a gigantic realm with blinking wires dotting the landscape.

There were millions of machines in the underground chamber, connected by the vast highway. It must have been the brain of the entire civilization.

"Why are we here?"

"To fulfil the task you have envisioned, sire. You wished to corrupt the data streams with the black ore on the grounds of your belief that it will enhance our society and bring us welfare. Is that still your dream, my master?"

"Of course," the boy spontaneously replied much to his horrification. That certainly wasn't his intention!

He wanted to speak, he wanted to lift his voice, but it felt as if he wasn't in control of his body anymore. It must have been a reanimation of the past. He had no input to that. He wasn't granted the power to alter history.

In their sluggish movement, they approached the centre of the place in quite some time, allowing the boy to ponder many things, mostly old roots related. The concept was very clear to him now.

An unknown, incomprehensible entity bent on destroying the entire world. It has nearly succeeded more than once. Yet why only nearly? The visions he had witnessed had been implying that the old roots would have won and the universe would have been reduced to primordial wilderness.

Perhaps it simply wanted to cyclically destroy? That didn't sound plausible to the boy, but maybe it just was that the actions of the dark substance were beyond any logic. Still, he was convinced that it had always been somehow beaten back. It might have been due to a miracle, it might have been due to a cleverly executed plan at the very last moment.

Whatever the truth was, the horror was taking over Earth again and the boy was the single person that was aware of the danger. He needed to overpower his urges to destroy and spread the word. There was time to turn around.

However, things were bleak for this unknown realm. The two were standing next to a conical computer that was bleeping continuously. All the lights seemed to converge at this very spot.

"Do it," his instincts commanded him to say.

"I will fulfil my master's wish," the being responded obediently.

In an instant and without requiring any movement from the servant, the ground began shaking mildly. The lights went red at first, then changed to black, making them unrecognizable from the surroundings and throwing the two into darkness.

Even though there was silence, the boy sensed so much change. The presence of the old roots was undeniable. They were everywhere. Corrupting everything. He could literally imagine that they were spreading across the entire planet the moment they had released the horror. Giving way for the most terrifying invasion ever.

Suddenly, screeching shrieks echoed throughout the room. They lasted for more than a minute, making the boy wonder what was going on.

"What was that?" he asked.

"Those were the many souls connected to the system. They have been overtaken by the dark ore."

Chapter Thirty-four

The boy was back at the backyard. The end to the vision was so abrupt, confusing him greatly. But as he was standing there and gazing into the eyes of the girl, he began understanding the truth. Somehow, those were her memories. She had merely handed them down to him.

He was still grasping his own self, having got out of touch with his body after being cast into a shell of a mythical being. His mind was coming to terms with facts, with the present and with the situation.

Slowly, he was becoming to realize it again. All the questions, the struggle, the ordeal. It was her doing. Her fault. She was the very root of evil. But why the message? It didn't make sense.

She had killed his parents, yet why was she showing him the past now? Was she trying to trick him? The dark senses were shouting within his skull so as to overtake it, but he wouldn't listen. For once, it seemed that the human confoundment was stronger.

"Why did you show me that?" he asked.

"Because I wanted to tell you the truth," she spoke suddenly, her voice sounding apathetic yet strangely desperate at the same time.

"The truth? I've already seen the truth! You're the reason why this is happening! Why my parents died! Your mother told me, mayor's cohorts told me! I was presented visions that I should have never seen! Death of my mother and father. By your hand!"

"Frankly, can you believe anything after what you have seen? Do you really trust hazy memories induced in your mind by an unknown force? Those could as well be fabrications. I was always your friend. I would never have done a wrong thing to you."

"But the same applies to you. Your visions could be just as false."

The girl's grimace turned angry. It was as if the boy had upset her. However, her voice was still calm. "Your words pain me greatly. I can't shout, but trust me that I would if I could. You're so naive and foolish. But that is expected of your age. The change and infusion might have prepared you a little... but... it doesn't look you're faring well at all."

"Faring well? What is this nonsense? Why are you dodging my questions?" the boy yelled, sensing his stitches burn with hate. The old roots were awakening.

"Don't you remember what you have been told at the very start of your journey? That I was kidnapped? You were supposed to rescue me. Even now, the dark tide is gathering to sweep the land and yet you remain idling your time here. Instead of going out to avert the impending catastrophe."

"Wait. You're here. You aren't kidnapped anymore! I've slain lord Garrigard! But this..." the boy stuttered in confusion, recollecting his thoughts before regaining his hard stance. "What you say is a lie. After all you've done, after so many damage you have caused, how can you be so evil and try to manipulate me into believing your schemes? It is you who wanted to spread the old roots."

"You catch up so slowly," she responded in disappointment.

"Slowly? Then bring me up to speed! If you say that I'm wrong, prove me wrong! So far, you're just blurring it like everyone else!"

"The twisted reality you are witnessing is beyond human grasp. I still remain imprisoned, appearing to you by the sheer power of my will. Locked away in a distant tower by lord Garrigard who is far from being dead. Using me to fulfil his dark schemes."

"But how come? I killed him!"

"Maybe. And maybe not. The vile man has placed a seal on my mind so that I can not formulate certain ideas. I've did my best to prevent him from discovering many key revelations, but this one... is blocked."

"Why did you kill my parents then?" the boy swiftly changed the topic.

She looked at him sternly, her face frowning. She even stood up as if she was about to unleash her fury, but then she spoke calmly again. "I didn't kill them."

"But I saw you!"

"What you saw was a lie. An embodiment of what others wanted you to see. I admit that I was a part of that plot, but it wasn't my will to execute that. You humans. Your greatest flaw is that you can't see past the skin to understand the true notions. But I don't blame you."

"Your will? Then whose will was it?"

"Are you deaf? Or dumb? Can't you piece the picture together yet? Lord Garrigard imprisoned me long before you were born. He has been poisoned by the power of the old roots and believes that I am the key to unlocking them. He is blinded by their power, completely consumed. Unaware of the cataclysm he can bring about if he succeeds."

"Are you implying that he orchestrated this? That he controlled you to do that? But why?"

"He knows that you're after him. And he wants to stop you. He has been aware of you since your birth. In your language, you could say that it was prophesized. You are the only one who can put an end to his menace.

After your last meeting, he fully realized that you are a threat. He is determined not to allow you win next time. Even though he can't reach you directly, he will do anything to stall you. The tide is gathering, as I said."

"I..." the boy began shouting in rage, but then he made a sudden realization. It was as if his own mind issued him a warning. He had unknowingly been told something countless instances before and now it was starting to surface. Do not trust everything he heard.

It was indeed a very dirty game. But how many players were in it? The boy was so confused that he couldn't figure out what to do. He himself was partly twisted, causing a schism in his head. Was he to stop the old roots? And how? Or was he supposed to aid them? Who was his ally and his adversary?

"I sense your confusion," the girl spoke again. "Indecisiveness. I believe a deeper explanation is in order then. I just pray that the vile lord won't discover."


"Just listen," she snarled, her mood of apathy thawing out. "You're alive, right? Still retaining your mind to a significant degree. Why do you think it is possible? When everyone else either dies or gets controlled by the old roots?

Because I was preparing you all along. Everything was supposed to evolve in a different manner. You were to mature. To become a strong man that would stall the forthcoming events of horror. But it took a steep turn to hell. Garrigard is twisting the elements with such zeal that I was forced to take action."

"Take action?" the boy interrupted as he had his suspicion. "What do you mean by that?"

Alas, the girl didn't answer. She only blankly stared at him. And when he tried to get closer to her, she suddenly dissipated, the particles floating away into nothingness below.

Chapter Thirty-five

He was more confused than ever. Sitting above the chasm in the chaos-torn village of Toz. What was the purpose of it? He couldn't find an answer. He felt strangely empty. Even the old roots within him were silent.

He wasn't sure what his real goal was. The implications were dire, but neither involved party seemed to be the good one. Lord Garrigard, whose whereabouts were completely unknown, was the obvious antagonist now. But what about the girl? Her goals appeared noble but her means were devious, even though she had claimed that most of the treacherous deeds had been performed under outside influence. And humanity? Those that were in terrible danger? They loathed him deeply and wouldn't hesitate to vivisect him should the opportunity arise.

It was ironic, but there was apparently no just side he could join. If he was chosen by the girl to save the world, what for? Was there anything worth saving? The planet was already tainted and the old roots were progressing. Why stop a rolling train?

Worse still, he wasn't that good either. Having brought doom upon a moderately sized city. That was a despicable action. Thus even the selfish drive of preservation was out of question.

It was a bizarre moment. He was paralyzed by indecisiveness and unable to escape that maze. Regardless of the chosen outcome, the result would always be the same. Nothing would change.

If he would eventually decide to follow the path set before him by the girl, there was little information involving Garrigard. He would have a hard time searching for him and he was aware of that. It was making his case all the more hopeless.

Or perhaps he was wrong. Perhaps he had been thinking too humanly and thus was unable to see the truth. He could finally feel the black substance waking within him. He had been clinging on to his humanity that had made his view very obscured. He had been too fixed on the life of civilization that he had considered it right and good.

Yet the truth was very different. In fact, no truth was technically true. It was merely a stab at reality. An outlook. The only thing that mattered was to find the most positive one. The one the black substance was trying to convey.

What if that hostile entity wasn't actually evil? What if it was the other way around? What if men were the plague and not vice versa? What if men perverted the world and the old roots were simply a method of correcting the unsustainable devastation?

The theory was somehow very pleasing to the mind, soothing him and making him reconcile. Yet it wasn't enough to wake real interest within him. A stalemate was keeping his head in paralysis. Without any drive to move forward, he was trapped in the confines of his own brain much to the dismay of the girl and humanity in extent.

Chapter Thirty-six

He would have sat there for all eternity. He would have remained there until either his body decayed or the old roots took over and dissolved him. But fate had another plan in store for him. Or was it fate? Wasn't it someone acting from afar, displeased with the boy's continuation of his inner struggle?

Either way, an oddly cold wind began stroking his face. It was quite a change from the stale air of rotten flesh and burnt remains. Awakened by the sudden notion, he glanced around so as to find its source.

He couldn't spot anything, but that didn't mean it wasn't there, hidden from plain sight and observable only through extrasensory abilities. Without knowing what he was doing, he rose up, heading towards the unknown.

It was leading him along the possessed streets with a haze of rust pervading them, echoes of madness screaming everywhere around. It seemed that the old roots were already halfway through with the decomposition of the village.

His steps had inevitably directed him to the centre of the settlement. Supposedly, there was to have been the city hall. Yet it was missing now. Replaced by a withered and twisted version of its former self, it resembled a twirl of insanity, a mould of decayed flesh, cracked concrete, broken wood, rusted metal and pulsating vines of the old roots. It had many contours and turns reshaping at each second.

No sane being would ever dare to venture inside but then, he wasn't really sane. That is why he willingly stepped into the madhouse where monstrous limbs were reaching out from every crevice, where darkness reigned over the place and where oppressing screeches caused shockwaves so strong that the very construction shook.

It was the home of many horrors that would scare even the most notorious individuals. Yet the boy persisted. He ignored the gaping holes where the old roots resided with their wild, untamed insanity. He didn't care about the wails of tormented ghosts. He didn't pay attention to the morbid twists of the insides of the former city hall. Instead, he paced straight for his goal despite being unaware of what exactly it was.

Finally. He stopped in a spacious chamber where darkness surrounded him. There was only a narrow platform that led towards a strange device in the centre. Other than that, there was nothing besides the void taking on the form of blackness. However, the shrieks, the vivid imagery, the calling chaos were undeniable, oozing out of it and calling for the boy.

But it was as if it didn't affect him at all. It might have been due to the old roots within him, it might have been due to something unknown to him. Whatever was true, he wasn't going to discover it now anyway.

What mattered more was the contraption he was in front of. It seemed like a torture machine, a delicate tool with millions of thorns, knives and spines sticking out of its walls. It had a slot fitting for just one person. He observed it with confusion, not understanding its purpose.

"Go forth," a voice goaded him. A voice that he recognized instantly. It was Margaret.

"Hello?" he spoke, wondering where she was.

She didn't materialize, choosing to remain hidden from sight. Yet that didn't mean she didn't answer. "The balance hangs on you. And even if you are confused, the events that take place are unrelenting and will not wait until you see through."

"Margaret? Why are you telling me this?"

"Because it is imperative that you enter your fate."

"But this is a torture device!"

"Torture device? That might be one interpretation. But no. It is not a torture device."

"Then what is it? Who could have constructed such a vile contraption?"

"Its origins are unknown to me, but it belonged to one you knew. To Makros."



"Why would he..." the boy wondered, not finishing his question.

"He was possessed. Although not as strongly as you. The twisting of your body and spirit was a disturbingly violent process without equal. You might not feel the call of the old roots within you as of now, but be sure that they are on the wake. You have lingered for too long that without this device, there might be no hope for you and you will succumb to them before you even realize it."

"So this... this thing is to suppress them? Makros used it to suppress them?"

"Temporarily. It cleanses the soul at the horrid expense of agony. But it is the only chance. And I have to stress out the word temporarily. As you noticed, he lost his struggle, choosing to take his life."

If she was speaking the truth, it was a dire one. But why would she lie to him? Of all people he knew? His reason was wary, but his instincts were trusting. And he eventually gave in to them.

She was correct that he was still confused, that he couldn't tell what was right and what not. And important seconds were ticking away while he was indecisive. That is what finally solved it for him.

He went forth, turning around and placing himself slowly in the slot. Feeling the tingle of the sharp tips of various blades, he awaited the pain. And then it snapped. It was beyond anything imaginable. He had been unprepared for it.

Those piercing tips penetrated his skin, making his eyes open wide, making his senses scream yet be unable to voice a sound.

His body received an electrifying shock the moment he connected. His mind protested as every single insect within his insides twitched and screamed in madness induced in the boy's thoughts.

It felt as if the spikes were drilling deeper, twirling and sending the pain further. He wanted to shook, but he was so firmly locked in place that he couldn't move. Yet his eyes saw. He saw black blood pouring down his body, drenching his clothes.

He was starting to hallucinate. Madness was taking over. The screeches were overwhelming. Calling out to him. Shrieking about death, decay and destruction. The wild insanity was flowing back and forth violently, battering his body like thousands of sledgehammers.

He witnessed disturbing imagery before him. People slaughtering people. Burning houses. Falling skyscrapers. Explosions. Thunderous ones that levelled an entire city. Entire continents. Cracking the planet open, splitting it in half, fragmenting it further to little shards. Causing a chain reaction that spread through the solar system. Making everything crumble and dissolve, reaching out to every nook of the universe and break down even the most hulking giants – black holes.

Suddenly, there was silence. He could hear his own breath. His heavy wheezing. He thought it was over. He thought it was done. Yet he was very wrong. A shock of agony came hard and unexpected, draining his body to the very last drop. He fainted.

Chapter Thirty-seven

He woke up lying on the floor of the blackish platform. Dazed and confused, he looked behind to investigate the strange buzzing noise and noticed that it was coming from the device. It must have been overwhelmed, causing it to malfunction and collapse, its remains sending strikes of lightning to sides once in a while.

Somehow he realized that there was no time to contemplate. The stitches were still scarring his body, now burning him more than ever, oozing out fumes of blackness. However, there was not a second to pay attention to that. He had to get out before the structure would crumble and bury him within.

Despite his feet feeling like they weighed tons, he ignored the pain and ran. He ignored the insanity of the old roots around him and darted forward. Navigating the mad mazes that were changing every second.

He eventually reached the outside, not recognizing what was before him. Was it Toz at all? There was nothing he could remember. There were traces of soil and occasional hints of houses, but that was it. Everything else was consisting of the void. Even the skies were infected with the same nature, nothingness pervading and making the patches of clouds slowly retreat.

He knew that it was what would happen to the entire world. That prospect suddenly felt terrifying to him. He was the only one capable of stopping it. The only one capable of averting utter destruction.

But where to start? Where to go? He tried navigating the labyrinth the old roots had created with their emptiness mixed with the remnants of the ground. It seemed that he was ensnared in there without end on the horizon.

Yet then Margaret spoke again. "I'm sorry I couldn't appear sooner. I haven't noticed that you woke up. I sense that you caught glimpse of providence. Good. There is no time to waste. You need to get out of here."


"I will help you, but first, you have to retrieve something you lost."

"Lost?" the boy couldn't figure out what.

"Follow my directions," she said and he obeyed.

She eventually led him to a small isle where a book was lying. He didn't recognize it at first, but as he approached it, he remembered. It was the book from the town hall.

"What is it for?" he wondered.

"It helped you reach Garrigard once. It might be instrumental in reaching him again. It is the closest thing we have to a chance."

He skimmed through the book, finding every page blank.


"It's an artefact of a forgotten age. Its secrets are unknown to me. You have to rely on your instincts with it... and a little bit of luck. Anyway, there is no time to waste. We should get going."

He heeded her once again, following each of her directions. The never ending maze actually had an exit, but an almost unnoticeable mist had been hiding it from the boy. Now that he saw it, he was baffled though.

Tall gray walls were surrounding the ravaged and torn land. They were obviously built by man. However, it was a very desperate look. Some of their sections had holes in them, holes filled with void. It was apparent that there was no stopping the old roots.

He approached a gate and was about to knock on it, yet Margaret interrupted him. "Be careful out there. I have no idea what to expect."

"You aren't going?"

"I'm bound to this place. I can't."

He understood what that meant. Not only was she imprisoned, she was going to be erased from existence. There was no way the boy could prevent the old roots from spreading further in a feasible amount of time.

"There is not a minute to waste. Remember that," she woke him up from feelings of pity.

He finally knocked. Alas, nothing happened. Or at least not immediately. The gigantic sturdy door suddenly gave in, falling down with a thundering echo, revealing withered soil beyond and yet another layer of walls in the distance. It seemed to be a long road ahead of him, but there wasn't a moment to spare and he was aware of that.

Chapter Thirty-eight

When he finally arrived at the next walls made almost entirely of concrete, he noticed that in a nearby tower, there was a man in a radiation suit. Immediately, he recalled his past experience with the common folk and realized that they would almost likely want to imprison him or worse. Perform experiments upon him.

However, it seemed that there was no other way out and he was already there after all. There was no turning back. He checked his stitches that were strangely calm, but it was most certainly the result of his stay in that machine. Yet they were still visible. He wasn't really human.

"Hey!" the guard noticed him and the boy spotted that the speaker was armed.

The boy was thinking. Would saying something help? Or would it doom him? He was afraid to lift his voice but then, what if it was the only way out?

Thankfully, the man in the tower continued on his own. "Quick! Where's Jackson?! We've got a survivor! Open the damn gate!"

Suddenly, the concrete wall in front of him began sliding to side, revealing a colourful and rich horizon before him consisting of forests, mountains and distant cities. However, that wasn't really important.

The encampment nearby was what mattered. It was populated by an army regiment possibly meant for handling any situation that could occur. The soldiers gathered around in awe and confusion, some of them unarmed, others aiming the weapons at him in precaution.

"It's okay, people," a charismatic weathered man spoke, appearing out of nowhere.

"He's a hell spawn!" somebody from the crowd commented.

"He is just a kid!" their apparent leader yelled, "We quarantined that zone and left the inhabitants to their fate, what did you expect a survivor would be like? Well groomed?"

"It might be a ruse! That place is a damned ruse!"

"And that's why we are here for."

"I don't like it even a little bit," the soldier protested, albeit in a calm tone. "The place looks like Hiroshima or something... it must be radiation everywhere."

Radiation. That word made the boy smile. Although the tales of horrific malformation of living beings and devastation of the environment weren't particularly mellow, he knew that they were still nothing in comparison to the twisting powers of the old roots.

"So, kid, tell me. Are you alright?" the leader, who was apparently Jackson, spoke.

"I think so."

"Good. At least a little something. Your wounds don't look really well. Don't worry, I've already called for a transport. They will be here soon."

"A transport?" the boy exclaimed. No. He didn't want to end up like the last time. Chained to a bed while scientists injected a syringe after another into his body.

"Yes. They will help you. Don't worry. You'll be alright."

Those words were so very wrong despite their soothing nature. Yet as he glanced around and reassured himself that there were armed soldiers ready to fire, he concluded his chances of escape were dim at best.

"I see you've brought a book. Is that your favourite?" Jackson carried on with his psychological game.

However, the boy was silent, his mind still focused on how to get out of the situation.

"Alright," the soldier continued. "Kid. Can you tell me what happened there? Who did this to you? Was there a terrorist attack?"

He was wrong but there was no point in correcting him. The boy recalled that the book had strange powers, perhaps that was an option. Yet he hesitated because it wasn't exactly safe. Last time he had unwittingly used it, it had transformed the realm he had been in, shifting it into the past where he had died.

"The sun is burning my eyes," the boy suddenly spoke. He had to go for it, but first he had to ensure nobody would shoot him out of fright. That is why he needed that there were as few people as possible. Ideally none.

"Don't worry, help is on the way."

"Can I go to a tent? I must rest. The sun is making me unwell."

"Alright, kid. Alright. Come," Jackson replied and headed out.

The boy followed and soon, they both entered a tent.

"Is it okay now?" the soldier asked.

"Better," the boy said, feigning being exhausted. Crashing down like he hadn't slept for ages, he yawned.

Jackson remained there for a few seconds, but then he left. It seemed to work. Immediately as the boy realized he was alone, he opened the book and skimmed every page, hoping that there would be something else besides blank sheets.

Angry that things weren't playing into his hands, he stepped up his effort. Thankfully, it yielded fruit as one of the final sections had a caption. Bargain with the Devil. He knew that story very well. It was about a man that found himself in hell for reasons unknown and made his way towards the exit where he outsmarted a horned sprite, thus earning freedom.

Suddenly, the realm around him began shifting, the tent shaking like mad. There was shouting outside, but the boy didn't go out just yet. He was waiting for the storm of change to cease.

Chapter Thirty-nine

When he went outside, he noticed the place had been drastically twisted. No plains, no forests, no mountains and no cities. Not even the concrete wall or Toz. There were only nets of islands surrounded by seas of burning coal and fire.

He looked above, confirming his thoughts that he must have been in a hellish realm. There wasn't a slightest hint of the sky. Instead, he spotted thick black veins that locked the sun out, intertwining in an impermeable tangle.

"Help me!" he heard somebody shout all of a sudden.

He glanced around in order to find the speaker. It took him a while to notice. A soldier holding onto a sharp tip of the edge of the island, hanging in the air and about to fall into the steaming mould.

What was the boy supposed to do? Help him and risk being chased by the man? Or leave him to his fate? The black substance within his body and mind was silent as it had been blocked. His humanity and reason were the only things that influenced him now.

The risk of being captured and examined again was horrifying, but he doubted that it would happen. Gratitude would overcome xenophobia, he concluded as he reached out towards the unfortunate individual.

Yet the soil couldn't support the soldier's weight. It crumbled before the boy could help and the person fell to his doom, fires consuming him swiftly afterwards.

Realizing there was nothing more to do, he set out to find a way back to reality. Grabbing the book from the ground, he noticed that every page was blank, becoming aware that it wasn't going to bear fruit.

And so he traversed the barren wasteland where fog limited his view to few feet. However, it didn't mean that he or others who were trapped there as well couldn't see. Another soldier spotted him and began shooting.

The boy felt terror. His instincts were racing, rallying him to sprint. Thankfully, the confused and scared man missed. That realm was a terrifying experience for him, his hands shaking out of fright, preventing him from aiming properly.

Fortunately for the boy who was on the run, his swift movement allowed him to slip away from the field of sight of the armed individual.

There was a gate to the surface already on the horizon. Although it wasn't that near, its bright light shined through the haze like a knife cleaving through butter. It made the boy rejoice.

However, he was being pursued by the mad soldier that believed everything around was evil. The barking of a gun was echoing within those dreary chambers, drawing dangerously near.

There he was. The devil himself was standing by the exit, sporting a devious grin on his face as he spotted the approaching boy.

"Hold it right there, whelp," the being shouted, positioning himself straight into the tunnel so that nobody could escape.

"Please, I need to get out."

Although the boy knew the words that were spoken in the fairy tale and led to outsmarting the despicable creature, there was no time for games. Not when there was a crazed man rushing to get him.

"Quickly!" the boy yelled as he attempted to pass through, but the monster grasped him firmly, not granting him passage and bellowing hellishly. Yet he went silent rather abruptly. Suddenly, the grip fell limp as he collapsed to the ground, his head pierced with a bullet. Its laughter had been so loud that it had deafened the shooting. Nevertheless, the path was open now. The soldier was nowhere within sight, but that only bought the boy some moments.

Chapter Forty

He couldn't tell how long he had been sprinting through woods. He didn't even know where he was, for he didn't notice the transformation back to normal. Distant rustling reminded him to carry on whenever he thought of stopping. The murderous man was still on his tail.

However, he couldn't run like that forever. He exited the forest after minutes of his endeavour, entering a ravine that was winding towards the unknown. How much time did he have?

"Where are you?!" he heard a voice bellowing from afar. "I've come to end this madness! I've come to end you! Come out!"

The boy's false heartbeat picked up. The so far calm insects suddenly began twitching inside his body. He had to double his effort.

Rushing through and exiting the gorge, he sprinted as fast as he could in hopes of bridging the gap between the rift and a coniferous forest. He constantly glanced behind to reassure that the pursuer wasn't right after him, but when he turned to face the woods, he saw grim horror.

The soldier was there, aiming at him.

"Game over," he said.

Chapter Forty-one

The bullet left the chamber and it pierced the boy's chest, but the bugs swiftly allowed it to pass and only a single stitch was torn off.

He felt rage building up in his thoughts, but he shrugged it off, jumping back to his feet much to the horror of the soldier.

"You live?!" he screamed and took aim again.

"I mean no harm! Don't shoot!" the boy attempted to calm the enemy.

"You're a monster. You killed my friends. You deserve to die."

"I didn't kill anyone. I just need to get out of here. Lives are at stake."

"Lives that you take?! That scorched land is your doing, isn't it? Who are you? A demon?! Where did you come from?!"

"Listen to me," he spoke, his eyes glowing black. "I have to stop it from spreading and engulfing entire planet. But if you murder me... it will win and everyone will die. If you let me go, there might be a chance."

"How do I know you aren't fooling me? You can survive being shot! You can survive anything! You're the devil! Hell is real!"

"Can you hear me at all?! I'm not the devil! I'm like you! You haven't seen what that black substance is capable of. And now, it is within me like a parasite. If you continue hounding me, if you continue your murderous intentions, we will pay for it."

"No," the soldier still wouldn't be reasonable and pulled the trigger. His hands were shaking tremendously, however, and he missed. He didn't realize that though, believing that the boy was somehow immortal.


The soldier was consumed by madness. Concluding that he couldn't defeat the child, he aimed the weapon at himself and shot his brain out. Then he tumbled to the ground motionless.

The boy didn't want to end it that way, but at least he was alive. He was unsure what to do next though. Where to go? Lord Garrigard was the enemy, yet where to find him? What was the place?

He couldn't think of anything else besides the book. It had led him to his goal in the past, so why wouldn't it do the same again? Curiously, he opened it and was sucked in instantly.

Chapter Forty-two

Before he could have read a single line in the suddenly filled book, he emerged into a dreary vision of contemporary Earth. There was a siren echoing in the ghastly wind, there were fighter jets darting in the skies only to end in one of many ruptures in the clouds where the void was twitching with madness.

The ground was covered in black as the old roots dominated it and cities were rotting in front of him as he stood in an emptied wasteland. He could see people ensnared in a tangle of the substance, being gnawed at slowly whilst the sole thing they could have done was to scream in agony. The world was dying before his eyes.

One of distant skyscrapers crumbled on occasion, its rumbles so loud that they reached his ears. The sun had long since been blotted out and the only source of light was the insanity radiating out of every hole.

He wondered whether this was the future that awaited him, but he wasn't given much time to wonder as he witnessed none other than Lord Garrigard himself. He was floating in his black armour above in the air, laughing like a senseless psychopath.

"Hey!" the boy yelled at him in order to gain his attention.

It seemed to work for a moment, but then the dark man dashed away, prompting the boy to follow him.

He rushed through mazes of rubble patiently being consumed by the encroaching old roots, he followed smoke that his nemesis had left behind. Yet he wasn't fast enough. He arrived at a hole in the ground that had been formed violently. His enemy must have passed through there as the settling ash was creating a trail.

Fluorescent blue light allowed him to see in the dreary tunnel, showing him terrorizing underground scenery. Burnt torsos were chained to the walls, caught in agonic moments when they had been attempting to set themselves free.

Some of them were hanging from the ceiling, their hands reaching forth almost as if they were alive and wanted to snatch him. He didn't pay any attention to that even though his human instincts and fears were prevalent in his head now.

He walked along a subterranean river where the black substance flowed, humming with laments of souls it had corrupted. Although the stream continued, the tunnel ended soon afterwards and he emerged in vast plains where every bit of soil was dead.

He glanced around the grim land, spotting his target rushing towards a chasm in the distance. He picked up the pace to catch up, but he was hopelessly slow in comparison to Lord Garrigard.

Eventually, he arrived at the pit that revealed itself to be a quarry where the old roots had been mined. The place had been abandoned long ago by the workers. Possibly those unfortunate people in the cavern had been the miners.

The river ended rather abruptly in a pool that rained upwards into one of the ruptures in the sky. He heard voices beckoning him to come close and his curiosity made him obey. He extended his hand, disrupting a portion of the rain.

Suddenly, a vision flooded his mind. A giant black worm drilled its way through the crust of the planet, emerging from beneath and grasping each of the unsuspecting people in the quarry, towing them away as it descended into the soil, roaming below the surface, and dropping the captives along the road.

He shuddered and the dreary images faded away. But his surroundings didn't stay quiet for long. Instead, they started shaking like mad as the ground collapsed and he fell down into a vortex of darkness.

His effort to climb back was desperate and futile, yet this time he wouldn't let go of the book. The struggle was lost even before it really began. It engulfed him completely.

Chapter Forty-three

It felt like death, but he was very much alive. Surrounded by darkness on every side, he didn't know where to go. Having been flushed out into the unknown, he was blundering in the void.

He tried to follow a wall that he managed to locate, but it seemed endless. However, there wasn't anything besides persistence for him. Wherever he was and whatever was the path to freedom, he couldn't tell.

Suddenly, he spotted a distant blue glow, but he couldn't be sure what it was. Perhaps it was a dim light at the end of the tunnel, perhaps it was a flame. Whatever was true, his resolve was strengthened and he marched forth.

Unfortunately for him, it was neither. As he was approaching, the contours of it were getting wider and wider until he finally saw. His surroundings consisted of nothing but the old roots and this particular bluish section was a steaming flow almost like a waterfall, but slower like lava.

He didn't dare to cross it, but he wondered what was its purpose and origin. It was a strange realm, but maybe there was an explanation to it. Maybe Lord Garrigard was near and he just had to locate him.

His alert senses caught wind of a distant sound as if pickaxes were to blame for it. But there wasn't any valuable ore, he thought. Only eternal darkness. Or not. He made the grim realization fast. Whoever was there, their desire was to extract the old roots. A mistake of so many civilizations in the past.

Fuelled by greed and having witnessed the amazing and unsurpassable power, they pursued their wish like a dog chasing after a bone. Yet he knew that nothing good could come out of this, but perhaps it was within his ability to warn them. However, it might have been too late already.

He was rushing to the source of the noise and it was becoming increasingly louder. Until he finally found one of them standing by another stream. Impoverished man bound by a chain made of the old roots connected to the walls, a pulsating vein wrapped around his leg.

The individual looked fairly normal, omitting his smut-covered face and tattered rags. He actually seemed exhausted and overworked, but some notion within his head kept him at his job.

The boy wondered whether it was safe for him to speak, but as he realized that he was deep underground and the direst threat were the old roots, he lost fear. Lingering or relying on his own could prolong his effort, he reasoned.

"Is there a way out?"

He waited for a response patiently, yet none came out. The miner's jaw was closed shut, his eyes firmly locked on the darkness before him.

"Hello? Can you hear me?" the boy didn't give up just yet. Perhaps the man was simply short of hearing.

But no. He was unsuccessful this time as well. That is why he chose to wave his hand in front of the person's eyes, yet it was to no avail. It was as if the slave was completely blind and deaf.

Or worse. He might have been brainwashed to this state. The power of the old roots was immense and not to be trifled with. It could transform the mind against one's will and without one's knowledge.

The boy was aware of that, but he was unaware that his horrific nature that made him susceptible to the old roots was subtly at work. With their presence, their energy resonated with his, the bugs forming his body slowly dancing. He felt uneasy, but he didn't realize that it was their doing.

"Can you hear me?!" the boy repeated again out of desperation.

He wondered whether it was worth trying over and over, but he concluded that it wasn't. The sound of pickaxes was abundant in the underground tunnel and he had plenty of places to look into.

He left the miner to himself and approached another one. However, as he spotted an apathetic grimace on his face and his nearly machine-like precision and timing, he figured out it would be the same.

Still, he decided to give it a chance. "Hello. Can you help me? Is there a way out of this hell?"

There was no answer. So he was on his own. Maybe he was trapped in the unknown forever. Or maybe his resurrected body could command the surface of the black substance and bend it so that he could escape.

However, he felt light-headed and weak after the procedure that had temporarily freed him from the grasp of the old roots. Only a notion had been necessary to stir maelstroms into life, yet now he could barely produce an angry thought and it did little than flicker in his blocked mind.

It was as if there were floes of ice encasing the darker nature within his head. And even though it would surely be helpful in this moment, he simply couldn't use it to do his bidding. But that didn't mean it would always remain like that. In fact, his evil core was waking from its slumber, albeit sluggishly.

In desperation, he opened the book and despite the light being dim, the bluish glow allowed him to witness that all the pages were devoid of letters and words. He was denied its aid.

He recalled that the experience was similar to the one of its first usage. He had chased after Garrigard as well. He had descended in a way into a mine. Only this time, it wasn't abandoned and was rather sinister.

There wasn't any dwarf that would lead him outside and straight to the king. The girl wasn't anywhere to be found either. But perhaps she would reveal herself to him soon enough.

His human nature was prevalent at that moment, making him come to a grim realization. He recalled the events prior to his imprisonment. Torture. Execution. The latter was the single most horrifying memory in his whole life and he could still feel the impact, its echoes gnawing at him even now.

He shuddered, but managed to bury the horrid thought within the depths of his mind and focus on getting out. He closed the book and glanced around, his eyes stopping at a worker, or rather his shackles.

Whatever was his intention, he couldn't tell. Something inside his head was driving him. Instincts that slumbered deep in the nooks and crevices of his inhumanity. The old roots were weak at that time, but their resonance with the tunnels was undeniable.

He touched the pulsating chain and it suddenly withered like a raisin. However, he could see that it wasn't exactly like that. Instead, he felt that he was sucking in dark energy, causing his hand to turn coal black, almost as if it had been burnt. The sensation was sickening and evil, but he persisted partly because he was confused and partly because his instincts drove him.

As he was absorbing the old roots, silent wails and laments resounded in his ears and he did his best to ignore them. Yet they were growing stronger. The appendage holding the miner was undone, but the flow wouldn't cease. The whole tunnel started shaking and it soon evolved into a tremor as his body swallowed more and more of the darkness. He tried hard to make it stop, but it was overpowering him and his mind, overriding his reason and logic. His humanity was squeezed like a lemon, blacking out his vision and sentience afterwards.

Chapter Forty-four

Waking up was a particularly painful process, but as soon as he regained consciousness, he rose up in shock, recalling the recent ordeal. He was alive, but he didn't fell alright. Jumping as far away from the spot of his fainting, he attempted to shake off the darkness that he had gained.

Alas, it was too deep. He feared what it might have done to his body, but it was strangely silent. He even felt that his humanity was in command and not the old roots. However, what if that was a convenient lie, an illusion? What if he was unable to discern, his thoughts hazed by an impermeable fog?

There was a new and large hole in the tunnel, most possibly created by him. He had absorbed mass at least a hundred times larger than him. How come it had happened? Was such a thing possible?

Absolutely everything was possible with the old roots. Their ways were inexplicably evil and twisted beyond any understandable reason. Whatever he had achieved, he was sure that it wasn't a good sign.

Yet there was nothing to do against what had transpired. There was no turning back, no undoing it now. He could only hope that he was shielded by the painful procedure, though he couldn't help but to fear.

No path outside had been opened and no useful thing had to be gained from the event. Was it even worth it? He attempted to trace the rails his train of thought had taken, but he couldn't remember anything besides unknown feelings.

Perhaps he had wanted to free the miner. Yes. That was most likely the reason. But where was the man now? He glanced around himself in expectations of finding the person, yet there was nobody in the vicinity.

The pickaxes were still hard at work, but he simply couldn't spot anybody. However, sometimes it was meant to be the other way around. He sensed heavy breath eerily caressing his stitched skin.

He turned around instinctively, but there wasn't anyone visible to him. Terror grasped him. He almost reached panic. A state of emergency that would make him run away, but the remaining drops of his sanity commanded him to stay.

Where was he supposed to escape? The place was practically the old roots and he was at their mercy. He recalled the words of Marie, speaking about horrors that avoided him. He was the chosen of the black substance and its twisted sentience. A champion of horror that demanded nothing but utter annihilation of everything and everyone.

But what if he had outworn his welcome? What if he had failed it and now it chose to hunt him down? What if he had become rogue and inconvenient to it? He didn't dare to let his mind tread that path any further.

Instead, he had to get out as soon as possible. But he was an animal trapped in a cage. There was darkness everywhere and the hope of seeing the sun was dim. Yet he realized that there might not even have been any sun outside. With the old roots surrounding him on every turn, it was possible that the whole world was merely a step away from being torn apart bit by bit.

He was supposed to prevent that from happening. He may have been the chosen of the black substance, but he was also the champion of expectation for everyone standing against it. However, he was a pawn most of all. Used by the girl from the very start.

Although he had got over the initial stage of betrayal and shock, thoughts of rebelling once again appeared in his mind. But supposing that he tried to do her bidding, would his blundering in the dark make any difference from being passive?

He hoped for an answer, but none came. Instead, the sinister breath turned to a gale.

Chapter Forty-five

He barely remained on his feet as the oppressing wind battered him, but he managed. It stopped much to his confusion, making him wonder what was going in. He expected that it wasn't the last.

And he was right. The sound of pickaxes suddenly ceased, hinting at the danger. He stood there in anticipation, not knowing which way to go. There were but isles of dim light and the rest was darkness.

There was no hiding from fate. Thunderous steps echoed in the tunnel and they were certainly approaching. With each tremor, the strength of it grew stronger. Panic was slowly grasping his mind, but he was unable to tell from which side it was coming. Perhaps it was both.

He was terribly afraid, but it was nothing in comparison to what was to come. A deafening roar went out, paralyzing him in shock. And then he spotted it. A monster so horrifying that he abandoned all hopes. There was no avoiding it.

It was as large as a dinosaur and was barely able to move through unhindered. As it walked forth, it widened the underground passage, crushing the walls and leaving gigantic footprints in the ground.

It had at least twenty powerful and thick legs and it resembled a huge centipede. It had hundreds of antennas and as it opened its mouth to let out an overwhelming growl, he saw the void itself. He saw turbulent winds coursing in madness of moulded souls collected in aeons past.

He looked the other way, thinking that he could run away, but there was another. He was trapped and they were drawing near. Lying down wouldn't help as they would stomp on him. Hiding in the hole he had created was useless too as their large bodies were bound to reach him even if he leaned against the wall.

The only other option was thus simple but terrifying. Embrace his fate. He could sight the insanity oozing out of their jaws that were so close now. And the he felt something tingling. One of their antennas had touched him.

Both creatures suddenly stopped. They were possibly blind, but their other senses were strong. They were aware of his presence and they just had to find him. He shuddered, but what was he to do?

The book was empty. His mind was weak. His hands were shaking and unable to leech the walls anymore. Was death really the conclusion to this? But what about his unearthly essence?

No. There was no hope. They marched on. He could feel the void almost embracing him, he could witness it in front of his eyes. The madness was unforgiving, leeching his soul out into oblivion and making his darkened skin dissipate, revealing bugs that his body consisted of.

It was tearing him apart. He couldn't defend. He couldn't move. Ensnared between two deaths, unaware which one was truly pulling him in. Vivid and indescribable colours were constantly shifting as the winds pervaded his head, crushing his reason and drowning his thoughts.

He couldn't see his arms anymore. No. He was reduced to ash. To nothingness. His consciousness was waning and it was only a matter of time until he would be dispersed into the oblivion.

However, it got even worse. The remaining drops of sanity in him were flailing in the open, desperately trying to grasp the last hope, but a conforming belief was taking over fast. His brain seemed to desire this death, this fading away. Almost as if he had never wanted anything else. Almost as if it was the fate of all. Yet then he woke up.

Chapter Forty-six

It was a dream. An illusion. The tunnel was exactly the same as it had been in the nightmare, but there wasn't a trace of the monsters whatsoever and despite the grimness of the underground, the situation was calm.

"Are you alright?" an unknown, but human voice spoke. He wouldn't have expected a sane word in this insane realm.

"I... I think I am," the boy answered, attempting to stand up.

His whole body hurt, but he managed to get to his feet. He observed his surroundings next, witnessing the miner he had freed in front of him.

"I didn't think you were alive... you're different. But I won't discriminate. Not after you saved my life."

"Is there a way out?"

"I don't know. It's been so long since I've last seen the surface that I can barely remember anything."

"Surely they must have brought you here somehow."

"It's been so long," the man repeated. "I vaguely recall being thrown in and enslaved. But that is all. It must have been decades ago."

"Thrown in? By whom? Who is responsible for this?"

"I don't know his name. I remember he is tall and his skin is pale. That's about it," the miner replied.

"Hmm," the boy wondered. Although he couldn't tell whether Lord Garrigard was pale or not, he was certainly tall. Could it have been him? Or was it some greedy proprietor bent on making profit?

"I know it might be too much to ask, but could you free my friends as well? There are at least three around here somewhere. I'm aware that after years of blind work, my consciousness could have been blunted and I could have forgotten my humanity, but it feels like yesterday. Like I've been in a trance."

"I..." the boy stuttered, wishing to avoid doing so. The process was painful and he didn't want to repeat it. He didn't want to risk experiencing another vivid nightmare that could be real next time.

"I understand. You're different. No problem then... I..." the man showed hints of sorrow. "Well, this isn't a particularly easy age. We should find a way out of here and seek help. It is the best we can do."

"That's reasonable, but who can tell whether the land didn't change? Is someone alive out there?"

"I'm sure of that. Our slaver is certainly alive. He comes every day and collects what we have dug."

"Why do you dig this?" the boy wondered although he had an overall idea. People were blinded by the power of the old roots, but what exactly was the notion behind it? The wind in the sails?

"Our master forced us to do it. Trapped us somehow. Kept us under a spell... it's ironic that only now do I start to realize how dreary this tunnel is. We have to get out of this. It gives me the creeps."

"But you don't fear me?" the boy asked in curiosity as most men that came in contact with the old roots and were terrified by them were also downright hostile to him. However, this miner exhibited different behaviour. The youngster credited it to the fact that he had saved him, but perhaps things were about to change.

"Hmm, since you mention it, yes. You're the very reason of the onset of my fright, but... again irony at it, you don't mean any harm. You actually freed me from years of mindless slavery."

"You spoke of the slaver collecting what you've dug. So there must be a way out. Do you remember where the miners gather their ore?"

"I didn't say it doesn't exist, merely that I can't remember."

"So you can't trace the path to it? Surely there must be something inside your head, a memory about carrying ore and dropping it somewhere."

"Let me concentrate," the man replied and silence ensued for a while. The boy followed although he didn't know where they were going. It was his only hope of emerging out of the underground.

They navigated the maze the tunnels created and at least half an hour must have passed, yet they were still within the depths of the land. However, it wouldn't last long and the miner was aware of it.

Just a turn in the right direction and they stood in front of a blinding, yet mesmerizing light of shifting colours. From yellow to brown, from blue to green and from red to grey. It was the void.

Chapter Forty-seven

They finally were on the surface. Ashen wasteland consisting of the black substance and nothing more, curled and twisted into various shapes. Nevertheless, there was something that caught the boy's attention. A tall spire rising towards the unbound emptiness above in the skies.

Despite the void reaching out to him and subtly gnawing at his thoughts, he managed to ignore it completely. The same didn't apply to the man, however, as he was quite anxious, biting his lower lip rather violently.

"What is this thing?" the boy wondered as he pointed to the tower. It's odd and unusual contours amazed him although it wasn't anything as bizarre as the oblivion itself. There were spires curling and joining, there were pillars formed from the old roots flowing upwards and there were overgrown thorns with impaled corpses on them.

He approached it with caution, but he was also propelled by curiosity. The miner followed him, having been silent up until now. "This is the abode of our slaver," he spoke with his breath held.

"But how to get there?" the boy contemplated aloud. He didn't know why, but he simply had to confront the boss around here. His senses were seeding his mind with the idea that it might have been Lord Garrigard, but whether it was really true remained to be seen.

"I recall something," the miner replied as he walked forward.

They arrived at one of the upward streams surrounded by mutilated cadavers that were so twisted that they were hardly recognizable.

"I think I remember this place," the man said. "But what... what is this? I can't seem to remember."

He went forth, disappearing within. The boy was hesitant at first, yet he followed the example. It was foolish to do so, he reprimanded himself deep in his mind as darkness surrounded him.

However, he didn't die and no harm befell him. He emerged into a room where boundaries consisted of a sulphuric cloud, even the floor that he threaded and the ceiling as well.

Strangely, the miner was nowhere to be found. Instead, there was an individual sitting in the air, wrapped clothing made purely of the old roots. It resembled its earthly counterparts, only that it was flowing like water and pulsating like veins.

He glanced at the person that was looking back at him with a suspecting glare, noticing an eye open on the dark linens, followed by a whole bunch of them. They were blinking, they were gazing. At him.

"Am I right to assume that you have freed one of my workers?" he spoke in a pungent voice as evil oozed out of his every word. He pointed to the side and the boy spotted the miner being decomposed, reduced to nothing but the haze itself.

"Never mind," the devil continued without waiting for an answer.

"Are you Lord Garrigard?" the boy was rash, but it was the only possibility of ensuring. The youngster didn't recognize him, but that didn't mean the vile noble's demonic nature was incapable of changing faces and appearances.

"Lord Garrigard," the man seemed amused. "I'm amazed to hear this tale survives to this... particular day. Strange. I overestimated you. A person capable of tampering with the dark ore yet still a child. What an irony of fate."

"Why should I wish to tamper with the dark ore? Something that almost unmade this world?!"

"It matters little," the devilish individual dodged the topic, choosing to continue with the mockery. "You must be here for a reason. Seeking Lord Garrigard, you say? An arch-villain from a bedtime story. The kidnapper of princesses. It is kind of funny to idealize this world and imagine there was a simple lord behind the state that most survivors call absolute darkness."

"This is no jest, he is clearly responsible," the boy spoke with conviction. It wasn't his idea that Garrigard was the enemy. Perhaps it wasn't his true name, perhaps it was merely a nickname, or simply an embodiment, but it still was someone and he had sighted him. He had even killed him or so he had believed.

"No man is responsible for the coming of the dark ore. It was always here, slumbering deep within the land."

"But there must be a way to put an end to it! Can't you see your madness? You are actually making it stronger, feeding its power in blindness and allowing it to spread in its conquest of the world!" the boy was angered by the unshakable greed of the person in front of him.

"Put an end to it?" he was amused and laughed aloud. "Oh yes. After so many years... your words are so naive. Do you realize it? You don't know a thing about the dark ore. Nothing at all.

Why fight? Why struggle against something that we can't beat? And who says we have to fight it? Who started the notion of this dark ore being evil and intent on swallowing our civilization? It's actually a boon! The power it wields, the possibilities it opens! You are proof to that! You alone know best what it is capable of! It granted you its strength! It is an undeniable part of you!"

"Yes, I know what it is capable of! And that is exactly why I believe it must be stopped before it is too late!"

"Never mind," the man seemed disappointed with the boy's answer. "Look about you. Do you think it isn't too late? Who can stop it now? Armies have tried. So many bombs were dropped. Bombs and guns that signify the greatest extent of man's destructivity. Yet the dark ore remains adamantly defiant of humanity's attempts.

Still, you wish to put an end to something that is unstoppable?"

"I don't want to see the world die."

"Who says it will die? No. It will merely be reborn as it was before. Yes. We are not the first ones to stand on the edge of a razor. I don't know your origin, but I am a man. I am mortal. And I am aware that I will die long before the dark ore has succeeded with its mission. At that time, I won't care."

"Selfish words," the boy uttered in contempt.

"Hmm, maybe you're not as childish as your supposed age hints. I was mistaken about you. You certainly show maturity. A burden of having to grow up fast due to circumstances."

"Yet you show nothing but greed," the boy replied more calmly than before, but nowhere near placidly.

The man sighed prior to resuming to his baleful tone. "What do you want from me? That I give up the marvels I command now and live piously until the dark ore consumes me? No. You know, there are two kinds of people in the world. Those opposing it and those for it. As you can see, I live in prosperity, but those who struggled are bloody and broken. Isn't the choice obvious?

You. You are going to fail if you continue to question me. Not me. You are going to regret not siding with the dark ore despite having been granted the power to do so. And don't deny that. Only a person skilled in its use could free a miner from his bonds. Besides, your visage can tell you from miles away.

Yet let me go even further. What about the others? The world you so eagerly defend. About its inhabitants. Do they welcome you with open arms? Tell me, do they greet you? Or is persecution more appropriate a word for the treatment they give you?

Honestly, I don't understand your motivation. If I were you, I'd embrace the gifts given to me instead of trying to hide them and being a practice dummy for narrow-minded fools who fear anything not of their own."

"It's not about people. It's not about hospitability. It's about survival. People like you, blinded in greed are what truly helps the dark ore to gain strength. You exploit its power and it feeds on your meddling. Each tampering makes it increasingly more powerful. At the expense of so many lives that you can't even count. If there weren't the likes of you, perhaps there would have been a chance."

"Chance?!" the man burst in laughter. "You speak of chance? Oh my, you must be completely ignorant to the truth! I... never mind. Words won't convince you. Only the bitter, raw truth."

The boy wanted to object, but before he could voice his thoughts, the person just waved his hand and the fog became a large screen.

Chapter Forty-eight

The realm before his eyes was different. It wasn't a barren wasteland. It was a world teeming with urbanized life. Cities were dotting the landscape and everything seemed fine. Until the view depicted a familiar village. Toz.

It was like cancer. Black dot that spread like consuming flames turning paper into ash. The vision shifted towards a news broadcast, depicting the advance of the old roots whilst scientists obtained samples to study the odd substance.

"This strange new mineral of unknown origin defies all chemical and physical laws of known science. Its composition remains a mystery to prominent researchers across the globe. However, the public is more afraid of its potentially unstoppable expansion.

Where will its reach stop? Politicians speculate to allocate a special force determined to curb the progression of the invasive mineral. Whether it would prove effective remains a question."

The images left the newscaster and focused on smokes rising from a series of burning spots while new sources appeared as one explosion went out after another. It was a remote location somewhere in an abandoned industrial park.

Within a while, darkness consumed every building and piece of heavy machinery. The old roots reigned supreme and uncontested. People came and ran back, rigging the place with explosives, bombarding it from afar, pouring arrays of different chemicals over it, freezing it... to no avail.

It rolled like a leviathan, slowly but confidently. It had plenty of time and it was aware of it through its unfathomable consciousness.

Suddenly, there was a calm and cosy room of white walls and red carpets in front of him and a seriously looking person was standing before cameras. His stern grimace hinted that he was about to deliver a speech.

"Fellow countrymen, I address you today as the leader of our nation. As a man that is responsible for the wellbeing and safety of the country. And I assure you that the incidents regarding the dark ore are not unnoticed and will not go unanswered. As I say this, armies await my command and soldiers expect my order."

His words were powerful and bold, uncompromising and strong, yet they lacked one thing. Facts. As he went on, the vision shifted even though his voice remained. It showed darkness in its true light again.

"I assure you that no city will fall to the encroaching nature of the dark ore," he continued, yet the aerial view on various megalopolises uncovered hopeless struggle and eventual demise.

The old roots advanced like an avalanche and no matter how many uniformed men stood against it, no shooting and experiments would stop it. Every boundary created to contain the horror was useless as it was consumed.

"No human will succumb to the darkness," the man carried on whilst the vision focused on people ensnared in deadly grasp of the black substance, twisting them in agony as they screeched and desperately tried to get out.

"And last but no least, no monstrosity it may spawn will drive us into retreat because our hearts are brave and just. No devilish creature can stand against the might of our resolve and our righteousness will banish them as they cower in terror!"

There was applause, but who exactly was clapping? Where were the individuals celebrating an expected victory? They were the ones cowering in terror as insane entities emerged from the void itself. Bloats of morphing goo with slim appendages ended with saws, spikes and needles. Energies consisting of decayed souls, manifesting in Jungian archetypes of nightmarish shapes. Giants resembling slender ghosts with millions of sticks instead of each limb, creating a tangle of pulsating webs like breathing lungs.

Whole rows of soldiers were slaughtered in a single swipe, entire battalions were erased from existence and complete squadrons of fighter jets fell prey to expanding madness that was the void.

Armies were routed. Those proud and brave warriors that weren't supposed to retreat were running like never before, propelled by their instincts of survival. Darkness itself was hounding them and they didn't stop to fight. They didn't face it and present their supposedly unquestionable resolve.

And what of the speaker? The one that vowed not to lose a ground to the invading old roots? He squeaked like a rat as the black substance crushed his feeble mind and absorbed his body, making it swell from inside until his chest burst with steaming dark liquid.

It didn't matter how large the gun was. No shell or bomb was strong enough to unmake the overwhelming enemy and no experimental weapon was too powerful for it. Its only flaw was that it was unable to laugh as it effortlessly erased the opposition.

There was no speech anymore. Merely a layer of chatter placed atop screeching white noise. However, the latter was growing louder and louder. It was a matter of seconds until the voices ceased to be.

Earth was but a withered raisin of a mould of colours. And then, it popped like a bubble, sucking in its surroundings like a black hole. It was so vivid. So unlike the nightmares and past visions. This felt disturbingly real. The message had drilled deep into the confines of the boy's mind, sending an overpowering shock through his whole body as the screens went back to being a sulphuric haze.

Chapter Forty-nine

"There is your chance. Nobody could beat it, so what makes you believe you can make a difference?"

"The likes of you wouldn't understand."

"Then why do we lead this debate?"

"Because I have a chance. I need to find Lord Garrigard. Evil man in black armour. He is even more crooked than you, surpassing your greed at least thousandfold."

"Hmm," the man thought and grinned at the same time. "You clearly are different. Perhaps a little mad, but back in the day, none would believe this dark ore was to become standard.

As for your search, Lord Garrigard does not exist, sorry to break it to you, kid. He is a fictional character in a fairy tale. So if that is all, I suggest you move along. You have exhausted my hospitality. Otherwise, I might be tempted to exploit this marvel of nature that you represent. Perhaps you hold the key to immortality, an aspect that I would gladly wish to understand."

"Does your blindness know no bounds? Why are you so stupid? Can't you see what's going on around you? How can you be so cruel? You are so mean that it wouldn't be a wonder if you enslaved your family."

"Family, you say?" he paused for a while, showing hints of uncertainty. The boy had hit a soft spot apparently.


"Well... they're dead."

"And you killed them," the boy pressed on.

"It was an accident," he replied, closing his eyes and turning away for a moment. "But I don't regret it a bit. If things didn't evolve the way they did, I wouldn't be here. I would be dead and this marvel would never see the light of day."

"Is no price too high for you?" the boy was seething with disdain and hate towards such a despicable individual. "Murdering your own kin to get this twisted kind of comfort. How can you live with yourself?"

"I'm afraid that I can't help you," the man didn't even flinch, "and you're beginning to annoy me. Whatever it is you truly want, I'm not going to aid you. I was willing, but now that you hurl insults at me, there is no point in politeness."

"Just tell me where to find someone like you, but much more powerful."

"I'm telling you nothing. You should go away."

The boy somehow felt that the evil person was lying, choosing to carry on with his demands instead. "Not until I hear what I came here for."

"Pathetic," was the response in laughter. "So be it."

The man rose up and in a second, his hands extended. The fabric of his clothes shed whole sections of itself, gathering in his palms and shooting a volley of scorching liquid that spread like a web, intent on trapping the boy.

The youngster's humanly instincts were sluggish, but not those dark ones. He didn't realize it as his anger culminated. A mere step forward sent a lash of wind that formed an impermeable but transparent layer of energy. As it darted towards his adversary, it absorbed the attack and swiftly pinned him to the foggy ground, crushing him.

He tried to break free, but with every twitch he made, it squeezed him even more. He was defeated and he was aware of it, his eyes connecting with the boy's for the last time. "Maybe you've won, but know that you have used the dark ore that you so abhor with determination. And the ore resonates stronger than before within you now."

Unable to withstand the enormous pressure, his skull cracked open afterwards and blood combined with the black substance poured out.

The muscles in his face were shaking in a futile attempt to say something, but his mouth was split in half and his broken jaws couldn't move. The pain he was experiencing must have been overwhelming.

The rest of his body wasn't unscathed, however. Each snapping sound meant another bone fractured until his corpse was flattened and then mulched into the hazy soil, leaving no trace of him whatsoever.

As the boy stood there, he wondered what to do next. The implications that the old roots were on the rise in his mind were untouched. Those thoughts were paralyzed by their power, allowing him to pursue the dreadful Lord Garrigard.

But where to go? He sensed that this abode was ready for his use, but what use? The fog was apparently an all-seeing device. A marvel meant to peek into distant spaces and timespans.

He didn't know why, but he walked towards the walls, ignoring his memory that the miner had been decomposed inside. Perhaps the black substance within him was at work, tricking him unbeknownst to his senses.

As he stepped in, he felt a tingling sensation growing into a burning ache. Yet there was no turning back. The pain deafened shortly afterwards though and his body was no longer there. He could still see although his surroundings consisted of nothing but sulphuric clouds flowing back and forth.

Until his vision weakened and the blur became a clear and sharp hallucination.

Chapter Fifty

His spirit was hurled into a maze where walls were made of a layer of the old roots. Veins and thorns were not uncommon, but the tunnels were thin and translucent, allowing the boy to witness the outside and that the labyrinth was floating somewhere above the barren wasteland that was Earth.

He wandered around in confusion, perhaps aided by hidden notions and impulses of the black substance. Eventually, he arrived at a hole in the floor where a transparent stream of liquid poured down like a waterfall.

However, the more he gazed at it in confoundment, the more he realized there was actually an undertow flowing upwards. It was hard not just for the mind, but also for the eyes, like an optical illusion. Like a wire model of a cube and the inability to tell which side was in the front and which in the rear.

Yet the twisted wonder didn't cease at that. As he listened to the hum it emitted, he heard silent wails of people. His ears couldn't believe it, but as he sighted liquefied moulds of women and men, he realized it was true.

They were forming the very ground he was on. Their agony was allowing him to remain standing and prevent him from falling through. It was a horrifying fact, but there was nothing he could have done about it.

He glanced further down and spotted explosions and lights. There was a battle ongoing, but the maze was situated so far above the surface that almost everything seemed like ants and dots. The exceptions to that were monsters and creatures spawned from the horrors of the old roots.

Although his dark instincts were inspiring his every recent move, it was his humanity that prevailed soundly now. He had to stop it. But even after so much trouble and ordeal, he was unaware how to do so. Yet his determination was the strongest at that moment. If the girl was right and Lord Garrigard was responsible for the hastened advance of the black substance, reaching him was of highest priority.

The conclusion made him wonder. Why had he arrived in the labyrinth? How had he got there?

His subconsciousness must have taken over the fog and transformed it to the location of his goal. He had no other explanation. She must have been around and it was his task to locate her.

He scanned his surroundings for a hint, for a hidden clue. Yet he got more than he bargained for. She was there at every turn, in every corner and crevice. She glared at him in a reprimanding manner, almost as if she wanted to scold him for tarrying and being sluggishly slow.

He ran. He had to save her. Not because she had been a friend in the past, but because Lord Garrigard was drawing power from her. He rushed as fast as he could, finding her presence stronger each second.

Until he spotted her. She was chained by the old roots and although he couldn't see it, he felt that tremendous amount of energy was being leeched off her body. Her eyes were closed and she was unresponsive, but deep inside she was screaming and he knew it.

He approached her in an attempt to sever the shackles binding her, yet the whole labyrinth began crumbling before he could even start. The quake was so overwhelming that he was thrown aside. The vision ended shortly afterwards and he was flushed out of the fog, sitting on the ground where he had duelled with the slaver.

Chapter Fifty-one

He was confused. Where to look for her? And the prison? Where on this barren wasteland could that place be? He felt unsure. He ignored the dark notions gnawing at his soul and wondered.

The fog was a powerful tool, but his human senses were unable to tell how to do what he wanted. His instincts were strangely silent and he was left to his reason that couldn't figure out a thing.

Suddenly, a crazy idea occurred to him. What if he ran forth and attempted another entry? His sanity frowned upon that blasphemous thought, but his curiosity encouraged it. What harm could befall him?

He did it. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and dashed. Yet he bounced back as if the wall was a trampoline. So this path was fruitless, he concluded as he considered his options.

Had he exhausted its powers? Had it been bound to the slaver and with his death, its fleeting strength had been all that allowed him to witness the prison? Was this a dead end now? Was there no getting forward?

However, before he could figure out his next move, fate decided to do it for him. The whole structure began shaking. He had to evacuate, yet he didn't know how. It was the time when his silent instincts rose to prominence again.

He circled around the room searching for an exit. His eyes couldn't see anything resembling it, but his steps were leading him towards a certain spot. He felt drawn to it. As he stopped, sensing that he was close, the fog revealed an opening within, allowing him to pass through.

He got out at the last second when the dark structure crumbled. As the eerie building fell down, the rubble got consumed by the dead soil. Within a while, there wasn't even a trace of the spire.

The boy was confused though. He may have escaped a death trap, yet he didn't find a way. It was as if he was left on his own and without a clue. He briefly glanced at the book he held in his hand and wondered.

No. It was of no use again. It seemed to be a means of transport into various parts of existence, yet it only worked from reality to the unknown and back. And of course, under such hazy circumstances that it was hard to tell when it would be ready.

However, his inner thought was put to an end when slaves began emerging from the tunnel. They were like bodies without souls, wandering the surface in confusion. They must have been so dazed that each of their moves confounded them greatly.

Their gazes were converging on a single person. The boy. Had his actions saved them? Or had his actions led them to this bizarre state? He couldn't say what was beneath those eyes. What odd notion propelled them?

Were they grateful? Or were they completely out of their minds? Did they perceive him as related to their slaver? Would they perceive him as threat? Demand revenge? Would they attack him?

They were walking forward. Their steps were leading them dangerously close. The boy could only back away, unsure what to do. The darkness in his head was eerily silent, but there was no time to realize that.

Suddenly, they all stopped. These terrifying glares didn't end though. Maybe the exhausted looks on their faces twisted their true emotions. Perhaps for the better, perhaps for the worse.

"Thank you," they spoke. "Thank you for freeing us."

"You're welcome," the boy replied.

He didn't have expected such a culmination of events. He thought he would be forced to defend himself, but it didn't go the wrong way this time. He was glad for it although he couldn't help but to fear something inexplicable.

Their gratitude was the only thing they were sure about. They had been out of the ordinary for so long that they were disoriented and didn't know what to do. Much unlike their friend that the boy had freed earlier.

Still, he couldn't resist the urge to ask them despite being aware of the answer beforehand. "Have you seen something in the skies? A strange formation? Very different from the slaver's spire. Partly transparent."

They gaped at him with uncertainty, then shook their heads. At least he tried, he soothed himself. However, the ground quaked suddenly. They fell down like apples from a tree, but the boy withstood the short-lived tremor.

The former slaves were notably tired from years of forced labour. They were slow to get up and do anything. Instead, they were recollecting sluggishly as if they had been slumbering. Until it struck again and knocked them to the floor along with the boy.

Chapter Fifty-two

Chaos was the only word that could describe the situation. The shaking was so overwhelming that everyone jumped up and fell every second. It was hard to see anything at all.

A rupture in the soil was torn in an instant and a giant monster emerged. It lacked mouth yet was full of holes that contained the mad void itself. It had four strong spider-like legs and its body was roughly cylindrical in shape.

It didn't make a sound, it just flew upwards until gravity overpowered it and it darted towards the ground, taking a dozen of slaves along with it. They didn't even scream in their confusion.

It was a horrible sight, yet the boy couldn't have done a thing. He could merely try to maintain balance although his effort was nearly futile. He seldom managed to get on his feet, but the quake swiftly kicked him back down.

The creature rampaged, taking a person after another into the void. It wasn't long and it did away with every freed man and woman. The boy was the only one remaining. He struggled to survive and not get crushed, yet as the being flew by him, it missed him. It had no eyes, but he felt as if it had observed him.

Strangely, the monster ceased with the rave, deciding to stop its insanity. It burrowed deep under the ground and silence ensued. The rifts in the soil filled themselves, leaving no trace of the assault whatsoever.

He was alone for a while, allowing him to recover and recollect. What had just happened? A giant creature had attacked and after satiating its hunger, it had departed. It had deprived him of possible sources of information.

Yet before he lamented some more, it reappeared, this time a little bit farther away from him. The epicentre of the tremor was distant enough for him to withstand the reaches of its power.

The boy gazed at it. It darted through the air and sank beneath the black substance. Calm followed afterwards, confusing him. And then it took place again. It was closer than the previous.

He didn't know for sure, but it seemed to him that it was beckoning him to go after its trail. He walked at first, yet as the creature accelerated, he had to run. Eventually, he was sprinting.

He could have left miles behind his legs already, but the single thing he had witnessed was the wasteland. A barren realm where everything was dark and devoid of life. Where every hint of structure was an inexplicable tangle of decay. Transformed rubble and debris, sections leeching energy off others' torment.

However, he wasn't there for sightseeing. His goal was to follow the monster wherever it was leading him. He didn't stop to think about the fact that it had spared him as the only living person.

Yet it was too fast. He had been able to chase it before, but now it was so ahead that it became a mere dot on the horizon. And in the next moment, it disappeared completely, leaving the boy alone in the middle of nowhere.

Although he had attempted it many times in the past without plausible results, he opened the book again. There was nothing much to his dismay, yet as he browsed through the empty pages, he arrived at one spiralling symbol. It was the single thing in the whole book.

It flashed blue and then it vanished. What was its fleeting purpose? The answer to that question eluded the boy during the first seconds of his pondering. Yet the ground in front of him shook.

A tall spire began forming before him, rising up from the old roots. He didn't know what was going on, but he stood still and watched. It was a structure full of ruptures that led to the void, a tower with a narrow platform winding around it towards its top. It wasn't particularly upright, instead it curled and twisted like a poisonous snake, reaching as far as the dim and dreary skies.

The overwhelming tremor ceased shortly afterwards. Whatever was the function of the newly emerged construction, he was aware that it was ready for use and it was there specifically for him.

He went forth and set foot on the colossus. It wooed him up, whispering to him silently. Madness was calling him. And he didn't know whether he heeded it, his confusion or his reason.

In fact, he wasn't even thinking anymore. He let himself be bathed in the wall of eerie sounds gnawing at his mind. His legs did the hard work and he felt that there was no need to be alert.

And so he was ascending towards the top, blindly marching to the unknown with open arms. The book had never failed him in getting forward, why should it now? If he had been a little bit more aware and sensing, who could tell what would happen? Perhaps he would have to struggle against the temptation to jump inside the nearest hole and join the void.

Chapter Fifty-three

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