“We’re running out of time,” I whisper to myself. My steps are steady, my posture straight and calm, a carefully crafted facade to hide the inner turmoil eating away at me.
I can feel The Darkness creeping in, like iced covered hands gripping my mind, body, and soul. It plays at the edge of my consciousness… waiting for me to let my guard down. It becomes harder each day to keep the fragile grip I have on my sanity.
I step outside into the cold of the new summer, making my way to the settlement. The air’s become frigid since The Light disappeared nearly ten years ago. Seasons once humid and hot are now cold, desolate, and frozen. Each year seems to get colder. Even fire has become cold with its dull glow.
When Lux disappeared, he took with him not only The Light, but warmth too. At first it didn’t bother me. I was someone used to the cold, to The Darkness— was born into it. But as time has crept forward, I found myself unable to handle it. Each breath feels like a hard squeeze on my lungs and chest. The air stings my eyes and whips at my skin like the sharp point of a knife. The cold seeps into my bones, making them ache.
The dark sky is broken only by a small sliver of the moon that stays in the sky all day. I’ve forgotten what the blue of the daytime sky looks like. Ten years ago, the moon was a full circle. It cast its dull white light, barely making a dent into The Darkness. Still, it was a form of light, a piece of Lux left behind for the world. Over the course of these past ten years, the moon has become smaller and duller. The sky grows darker as The Darkness tries to consume it.
Time is running out for more than the moon. Something tells me that once the moon is devoured by The Darkness, I won’t be far behind.
“-ox!” a sharp voice shouts, grabbing my attention. I turn to seen the hulking figure of Pike. His shoulders are bunched up as he tries to stave off the cold. Even beneath the dullness of the moon, the blue of his eyes still shines so bright.
“… There’s something you need to see,” he states hesitantly after a long pause. A heavy feeling enters my gut. Pike is loud, gregarious, and blunt. He’s not one to hesitate with anything.
I follow him with trepidation settling into my body. With each step, the uneven ground becomes sharper beneath my feet. The air feels colder than usual, stealing my every breath. The moon’s light bounces off the white stones of the group of houses, casting sharp shadows that beckon me. There are a few people milling around, throwing greetings to us as we go towards the center house.
After Lux’s disappearance, we were forced to the edge of civilization. There was nothing but barren land for miles on all sides. It took us a long time to make this place home— to make it livable.
The unease increases as Pike leads me to the basement. I see Aedan waiting for us at the bottom of the stairs, his steely gaze locked on something. The stairs creak beneath our weight, startling him.
“Nox,” he whispers. A flurry of emotions flit across his face, worry and anger at the forefront.
“What’s going—” The smell hits my nose, causing me to trail off and stumble. The pungent metallic scent of blood is a familiar one. I become numb as I go to the source, my steps echoing in the air. A small figure lies on a single bed, her pained whimpering hitting me like arrows. Those familiar bouncy curls are flat and weighed down with sweat and blood.
Blood seeps through the bandages wrapped around her. Her usual fiery forest green eyes are covered, the edges stained red. With the dull glow of the fire, I can see the pale pallor of her skin. The parts of her body not wrapped are littered with bruises and scratches.
“We brought her down here so we wouldn’t worry the others,” Aedan tells me, voice stiff and full of barely contained rage.
My voice trembles as I ask, “What… what happened?”
I kneel in front of the bed as I gently take her hand, freezing as she shifts. Pike comes to stand beside me, the tension rolls off of him in suffocating waves. He rubs his hand down his face and spits out, “The Heralds.”
That’s all he says, but it’s enough.
The Heralds of the Light are as well known as The Light himself. Fanatic followers of Lux, they’ve made it their jobs to hunt my people down. In the past couple of years, they’ve gotten worse— bolder. No longer do they hide their intentions and hatred for me.
“They still think you had something to do with The Light disappearing,” Aedan states, finally leaving his spot. “They’re still hunting us down.”
Blistering anger fills me, lighting my veins on fire, as I lie her hand down. I can feel the eagerness of The Darkness as it tastes my anger. It’s cold hands scratch at my insides, trying to consume me. The air becomes colder, the fire dimmer. I try to get a grasp on my emotions, try to push The Darkness back. I can feel my surroundings disappearing as it sinks its claws in deep. Pike and Aedan’s voices become distorted and distant.
A clammy hand grips mine, bringing me back. I gasp as The Darkness recedes and the world becomes focused. That was the furthest The Darkness has ever come to consuming me— the closest I’ve come to losing the raging battle between us.
I look down to see Anika gripping my hand as tightly as she can. Her breathing is labored as she tries to sit up. I gently guide her back down telling her to stay still.
“It’s okay,” I tell her. “Sleep.”
It takes seconds for her to return to slumber, breathing still uneven. Quietly, we leave the basement. I see Mailyn, our healer, heading towards us with fresh bandages.
“Take care of her,” I plead, though I know it’s unnecessary. She nods with a sad smile before heading down.
“What are we going to do,” Aedan asks as we continue up the stairs.
“I have to find Lux,” I answer simply with a sigh. “It’s only a matter of time before they find this place— if they haven’t already.”
Silence answers my statement as they process. Everyone knows of my… tolerance for The Light. Before his disappearance, we had a stable but very distanced relationship.
“Why not just take out The Heralds? I mean, that is something you can do, right,” Pike asks.
Placing my hands in my pocket, I step forward as well. “I could do that. I could hunt them down and let The Darkness devour them. But… it wouldn’t solve anything. More would just take their places and I would be proving their terrible opinions about me right.”
Understanding fills their faces. “We’ll go with you,” Aedan states before I can say anything else, Pike nodding in agreement.
I can’t help but smile in gratitude at their willingness to put their lives on the line and help me. “I have to do this alone.”
Aedan comes to stand in front of me. “Nox, we can’t let you do this by yourself.”
“I have to,” I answer softly before looking at the sky. “This is about more than stopping The Heralds. Something happened to me when Lux disappeared. I don’t want to hurt any of you, and that’s a big possibility in my current state. Everyday it gets harder for me to stop The Darkness from taking over my mind.
I’m afraid if I don’t find him… I’m going to cease to exist, leaving behind The Darkness to consume everything like it’s slowly doing with the moon. ”
I can feel the quiet, albeit reluctant, acceptance from them. I’m thankful I didn’t have to argue to get them to understand. We spend the next hour coming up with a defensive strategy in case The Heralds make it here while I’m gone.
“If anything happens, I’ll come back right away,” I tell Pike as we step outside.
He sighs and asks, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“I don’t have a choice.”
He nods and steps back, fear painting his face. I try to give him a motivating smile, though I’m not sure if it works. I’ve never been one for a lot of smiling.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath, becoming one with The Darkness. Making sure to keep a tight grasp on my mind, I fully open myself up to the faint connection I have with Lux and let it guide me. I’ve tried finding him like this before, but I didn’t want to let The Darkness take over.
I don’t know how long I travel in The Darkness, sense of time and direction elude me. I can feel myself starting to slip, The Darkness waiting beneath me— waiting in eager patience to catch me.
Suddenly, the connection becomes clear and close. It feels warm, something I haven’t felt in a long time. When I open my eyes, I find myself in a familiar place. The cave were The Darkness originated.
The place were I was born.
The Darkness feels stronger here. I can feel it excitedly pushing at my mind, trying to claw its way in. With great effort, I push it back. I almost lose my grip on it a few times before I succeed.
Squaring my shoulders, I quickly enter the cave. I move as fast as I can, not wanting to spent too much time here. The Darkness is still trying to break free, and I feel if I take too long… it will.
The cave is deeper than I remember, though I haven’t been back here since I was a child. I wanted to put as much distance it and myself. Memories of loneliness rush through my mind before I can push them back down. Having to survive alone, with only The Darkness to keep me company. Being but a child and having adults reject you and spit at your presence. Not understanding why everyone hates you for something you can’t control.
I shake my head as though I can shake the memories away. That was long ago, long before I met the people I consider my family. I’m no longer that lonely, lost child with no one to turn to.
The cave continues for several steps before I feel warmth licking at my skin. Squinting, I can see a dim light at the end. The connection grows even stronger. Quickly, I make my way forward, the light getting a bit stronger with every step. I turn the corner only to freeze in shock.
Against the wall, with chains made of silver and shadows, is Lux… but he’s different. His once beautiful sun-kissed skin is ashen. His dreads, once the color of spun gold, is like a pale listless yellow. And his eyes, as bright and fiery as the sun, are dull.
“Lux,” I whisper in shock. His attention snaps towards me, a small spark entering his eyes. He tilts his head as he look at me, eyes squinting in concentration.
“What happened to you?” I ask hesitantly, walking forward. He flinches as I get closer, closing his eyes and making himself smaller against the wall.
I stop and slowly lower myself in front of him. Lux has never been someone afraid of others. He’s as bright as the sun and as wild as fire. I’ve never seen him like this, so withdrawn and afraid. He looks like he will break with a simple brush of my fingers.
“… Lux, it’s me. It’s Nox,” I tell him softly. At my name he freezes and looks up. Recognition fills his eyes as he sits up, that earlier spark returning full force.
“N-Nox.” His voice is scratchy, like he’s been screaming.
I can feel my chest tighten and my eyes water at the pitiful sight. Taking a calming breath, I reach for the cuffs. They react to my touch, falling off of him with a thud. Almost instantly, his skin and hair starts regaining its color and his eyes become brighter.
“What happened,” I ask him.
He sighs as he rubs the feeling back into his wrists. “I ran away and the Heralds locked me up in here.”
My eyes widen as shock fills me. Before I can say anything he starts talking again. “I love humans… I really do. I was created for them. They worship me, but they don’t see ‘me.’ They expect all these great things and I don’t want to disappoint them. So, I try my best at everything… even when it hurts me,” he tells me sadly.
“That’s why you ran away?”
“I swear, I only wanted to get away for a little while. I was going to come back…” he trails off.
“… when the Heralds took you,” I fill in. He nods morosely, his sadness rolling off him in waves. This shouldn’t surprise me, I don’t know why I didn’t connect the dots. The Heralds don’t love The Light, they seek to control is. This was the perfect opportunity for them to take control.
“We need to get out of here,” I tell him, helping him to his feet. I can feel The Darkness getting stronger the longer I sit here.
Lux looks almost back to normal, his skin is still a bit ashen though. I have to support him as he stumbles due to his trembling legs. As he leans against me, he’s feels as light as a feather.
“I didn’t think it would be you,” he tells me as we exit the cave, that familiar smirk on his face.
“I didn’t think it would be me either,” I answer with a smile of my own. He lets out a little laugh before sobering up as he looks at the sky. The moon has gotten even smaller since I started looking for Lux. I imagine this is the first time he’s seen the new world.
“This is my fault,” he whispers, tears in his voice. His body trembles as he cries, nearly falling as he loses strength.
“We can fix it,” I tell him with an unusual amount of confidence and optimism coursing through me. Something is telling me that everything will be okay. He looks to me with shock before nodding in agreement. I tell him to hang on as I become one with The Darkness once again. For some reason it’s easier to stay in control this time.
It takes less time than the journey to the cave to make it back home. The second we hover above the settlement, I know something is wrong. The smell of blood is thick and screams fill the air. As we step onto the ground, and The Darkness recedes, I see the familiar robes of The Heralds dragging my people into the center of the settlement. Pike and Aedan are held to the ground, bloody and struggling to break free. My body is frozen as I watch my family be held down.
“The Darkness has finally come,” the familiar dead voice of Ruven, the head of The Heralds, calls out. He steps out of the shadows, hood down, revealing those soulless black eyes of his. A cruel smile greets me as he stops in front of us, glancing briefly at Lux. “And I see you’ve found The Light.”
“What have you done,” Lux cries. The smile leaves Ruven’s face as he turns his full attention to Lux.
“I’ve done what needed to be done… something you refused to do,” he answers coldly, motioning towards my people. “These heathens are a scourge that need to be eradicated, along with The Darkness.” He steps towards us, a fanatical expression on his weathered face.
“I’m doing this for you, Light. With The Darkness gone, there will be nothing that can ever oppose you.” He reaches for Lux as he speaks. Lux steps back, making him freeze. Pure anger crosses his face briefly before he composes himself. “In time, you’ll see that this is the right choice.”
I grab his wrist before he can turn. The Darkness is beating against my mind harder than ever before, screaming to be let go. And for once… I let it. The Darkness surges forward excitedly, bursting out of me. I watch its shadowy tendrils wrap around Ruven, consuming him in one go before he can even scream. I watch as the rest of The Heralds are consumed as well, The Darkness rumbling in content.
It’s over in minutes, leaving empty shells behind. The Darkness is happy to finally be free. I try to reign it back in, but find myself unable to. The Darkness refuses to be put back into a cage. Now that it’s free, it will consume everything. My struggles are in vain as I watch it reach towards my people— my family. I can feel tears run down my face as they look at me, not with fear, but with acceptance.
Suddenly, warmth hits my back. The Darkness turns and is met with The Light. I see Lux smile at me, shining bright, and reach his hand out.
“From darkness, comes light. From light, comes darkness. We are one,” I hear in my head.
Without hesitation, I reach for him. Our hands touch and The Darkness screams as The Light grows and wraps around it. I can feel it receding as The Light gets brighter. Warmth fills me for the first time in my life, wrapping me in its embrace. I know it’ll be okay.
The last thing I see is the sky, a beautiful bright blue.