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A Flicker of Light in a Dark Place

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Map 1

 

 

Ed woke up with a strangled cry dying in his throat, cool sweat covered his body as he clenched his hands so hard into the bedsheets that his knuckles on one hand were turning white, and his automail hand had ripped a few holes on its side, a pounding all too familiar headache itching the back of his skull. It wasn't abnormal for him to wake up like this from nightmares, he'd gotten mostly used to them over the last fifteen years.

Last night was different, most nights he dreamt of losing his mother and brother but the one he'd just experienced neither, it was new, and it wasn't even someone Ed recognized. A demon, it had to be a demon, one with pitch-black eyes and hair parading behind a porcelain-skinned face of a beautiful young man in agony and screaming Ed's name, calling for help with all his might.

Settling back into the bed Ed stared up at the ceiling to the Inn he was currently staying at and took in a few deep breathes to calm his nerves. Lifting his metal hand over his head Ed clenched the hand a few times before resting it on his stomach, "Just some nightmare, I just need to forget about it...I've got a job to do today."

Before getting dressed Ed munched on a small bit of dried jerky and pulled out his journal and flipped through it, no one in this day and age seemed to care about keeping history or information like they used to. He couldn't quite blame them, there were a lot of other important things people had to do nowadays, like avoid demons and make crops grow in half-dead soil.

Ed didn't have much else to do with his spare time so keeping track of what he noticed with the world changing around them felt like a good enough hobby, he flipped through until he landed on his hand-drawn map. Part of it had been copied over from an old world map just for the basic landscape, most else had changed.

Personally, he had only traveled in the western area of his map, there was the large green forest that surrounded the village he was in currently called Strathe and towards the west there were several other small settlements and the further north you came towards the Red Desert the more remnants of demon-trampled towns became apparent. In the south the land became more field like and perfect for farming, many people had fled from the smaller villages to gather inside of the larger town that Ed was more familiar with called Centuria, and the villages to the south mostly lived off of fishing from the ocean.

"I'm headed just north of here today....how cliche a fucking church in the middle of the woods?" the hunter muttered as he closed the book and got up to get dressed, then slung his pack over his shoulder and headed outside. Looking up at the sky Ed couldn't help but sigh, he'd grown used to the consistent forecast of clouds cluttering the sky for the last fifteen years but every morning he still found himself hoping to see the sun peeking through. It was easy enough to tell the difference between daytime and night, so the sun hadn't disappeared, but the cloud cover was so thick you couldn't see the blue sky, the sun itself, or the moon when it was out at night.

The only time you could see something different in the sky prominently were eclipses, those were a sight to see but were far and few between.

Then again this world was nothing like the one he briefly remembered from his young childhood, all of that had been ripped away from him and the world and no one had been able to explain just exactly why on that fateful day. He remembered the sky turning blood red and dark figures swarming the skies and soon the ground, his mother shielding him from their attacks and screaming as she was torn apart on top of him.

Ed would never forget that day nor would he forgive the beasts that killed his mother and began to crawl the Earth from then on, changing the world in its entirety. Society had taken a huge toll at the beginning when demons had easy access to the stupid unknowing humans.

Nowadays the world looked like a medieval post-apocalyptic setting from the old movies that Ed remembered. Villages or small towns, everyone had fled the large cities to live together in closer-knit communities that were easier to maintain. Not many still used electricity and life had gone back to a more simpler time, places in the early days that had tried to keep their civilized sense of lifestyle always had been targeted first for demon raids.

Ed himself didn't rely too much on technology other than his metal arm, which family friends had installed for him and repaired when it wore down. Other than that he hunted, cooked on a fire, he'd learned herbs and medicines for when he was sick, and he worked hard to get the things he needed with coin or bartering.

 

 

Some of the more well off folk back in Strathe had quickly figured out Ed's occupation in demon-slaying and offered to pay for his services, pulling together a small amount of coin for a down payment and offering supplies upon his return and vanquishing their demon problem. Money was an odd thing, no everywhere accepted coin anymore so it had become the very lowest of low type of payment, Ed still wasn't sure how this type of currency hadn't died out yet but humans were stubborn about the simplest of things.

Trekking through the thick woods with a lantern strung to his hips and lit low Ed preemptively pressed the lever on his automail and let all of the gears whirl, changing from a hand to an extremely sharp and heavy sword that was coated in silver. Silver didn't help so much with corporeal demons but the ones that were almost ghost-like, usually very weak, but impossible to get rid of if you couldn't get rid of them.

"Seems pretty quiet out..." he muttered to himself, the townsfolk had told him there was a church out this way with nuns and priests that had been caging a powerful demon inside for the last decade or more. As of late they had stopped coming to town for supplies and the first demon hunter they had sent up to check on them had never returned, they weren't sure if he had chickened out and left with their coin or slain by the demon.

The church wasn't hard to find and standing in front of it he couldn't help but scoff, "Cliche." he grumbled, "A church in the middle of the woods?" God had never helped Ed and he was quite cynical at the thought that just being in a church, a normal building, could hold a demon just because a few people prayed enough. If that were the case a lot of villages that Ed had passed through would have been spared their fate instead of being covered in dried blood and destruction.

On that thought Ed sniffed the air as he grew closer, it was thick and heavy with the scent of blood and bodies, he'd smelled this stench before. Readying himself and his weapon before slowly pushing open one of the large doors Ed was hit with the same smells at ten times the strength and a dark church that he could only see an outline of pews and objects from the small light filtering in through the windows.

A sound caught him off guard, chains rattling around and dragging against the wood of the church floor. "Who's there?" a crackled voice called from the dark, Ed jerked at the ready to attack but his shoulders began to relax just a little, this didn't feel quite right. He knew what a demon presence felt like on his skin, knew what the tickle of being near one felt like on the back of his neck and this was similar...but not quite the same.

A pair of black eyes gave off a gray light in the darkness, "I asked who.is.there?" the irritated voice called again and the light from those eyes quickly shot in all directions to the hung lanterns and candles scattered throughout the church and lit them to fire brightening everything.

"So you are a demon," Ed muttered more to himself than anything else. Stepping closer, sword still ready to strike, the blond frowned at what he saw, "You..." It was the young man from his nightmare last night, pitch-black eyes and hair, pale skin, his voice sounded the same but tired. In his dream the demon had been clothed and looked healthy while the one in front of him was naked and chained heavily to the floor of the church with his arms twisted painfully restrained, hair ragged, and he looked half-starved to death.

Ed was left almost stunned and frozen by the sight in front of him more so than the trick with the lights had, it was easy to ignore that and the church painted with dried bloody and gored bodies of nuns and priests that were cast around the room missing limbs and intestines spilling out of their bodies.

"What are you?" Ed asked as he stepped closer, only a few feet away from the demon and lifting his sword threateningly. He'd known demons to take human form before but once caught in their act they usually shed that skin for the comfort of their true form.

"Isn't it obvious?" it dared to smile dare Ed to think it, handsomely. "At least partially...are you a hunter come to kill me?"

"Yes but before that, I want some answers." Ed thought he'd seen most tricks that demons had by now but this one had him baffled, he needed to understand. "Are you in that form to try and trick me like with those dreams, to lull me into a sense of lust because of how you look?"

"Oh." the demon chuckled almost sweetly and its smile widened, "You think I'm attractive then? I'm afraid it has nothing to do with your preferences hunter...this is simply what I look like, this is my body."

"Are you part demon, even then I feel like you should be more...grotesque?" he questioned, "I didn't think it was possible for demons to fully take over a human body like this, so you must be made of a coupling between a human and demon."

"Neither but I suppose you're on the right track with those thoughts. I'll tell you how I was made but in return I want something."

Of course, no demon would give something for free, Ed should have guessed. "I won't sacrifice anyone to you or free you from your shackles."

"Water." It said easily then and when Ed looked confused it repeated himself, "I want a drink of water, I'm parched."

Sure that it had to be a trick Ed pulled out his waterskin and stepped in closer, his nerves twitchy and ready to kill but he messily poured water for the demon to have a few large mouthfuls before pulling away. "There, I held up my end."

The demon sighed and looked relieved to an extent, "Let me tell you my tale then, have a seat." he said dramatically and shuffled around to a new position as best he could with the chains holding him so securely.

 

 

"Fifteen years ago it wasn't long after that day when hell broke loose on Earth, the people at this church decided to perform an ancient ritual from some old text they'd found. They were desperate and I can't say I really blame them, well my mother was part of the prayer circle in the ritual and I was playing in the corner of the church—" his dark eyes glanced over towards the other end of the room as if replaying that day in his memories.

"I must have been two, maybe two and a half. This ritual, at least as far as I understand it, was to seal enough demonic energy together inside of a human person to create a type of metaphorical key that could close the portal or door to the other realm, permanently they'd hoped I'm sure. It sort of worked, but their chosen host couldn't hold the energy and it went crazy killing most everyone in the ritual and the energy itself fled to the next viable host it took a liking to...me, for some reason." the demon smiled cheekily and tilted his head.

"But this is just stuff the priests told me so I have no idea how true any of that is, all I personally remember from that day is suddenly being in excruciating pain for a long time before coming to and the priests deciding the ritual was a terrible idea and that it was a better idea to suppress me instead of using me like the fucking key they'd made." the demon said, sounding quite bitter about that.

"That...I've heard crazy stories about people attempting different rituals like that but never seen or even heard of any that succeeded." Ed's eyes went wide, "You're telling me that the demonic power that I feel from you is all of that energy merged into you and can be used as a lock and key to seal away the demons?" Where such a door was Ed had no idea but he'd heard rumors of more distorted changes in the far east.

"Yes that's exactly what I"m saying." the demon nodded, "I kept telling the priests and nuns that if they had time and energy to pray and keep me locked up here then they should have put that to use finding that door and using me to close the fucking thing as soon as possible but noooo they knew what was best!" he sneered and tugged at his chains but settled down after wincing, clearly in pain and discomfort.

"So you killed them?... And not too long ago by my guess." Ed said back bluntly.

This time the demon paused before saying, this time softer, "They weren't listening to me...I don't have much time left. This power inside of me is only growing and I can't prove it but I can feel it bubbling and wanting to do something...awful. It feels like...like right around when I turn eighteen it's going to be too late and I won't be able to contain it inside of my human body anymore, it'll tear me apart like breaking out of a cage and do as it pleases. Which I would assume is not some very kind things."

"The fools," Ed muttered glancing at the bodies of the holy men and women scattered around, they had tried but in their fear of the unknown and lack of action could doom the world to an even worse fate than it already had. "Tell me why I shouldn't kill you right now then if you're so dangerous."

"I would say you should, but the energy and I aren't exactly one being at this point. I can control it to a point because it's decided to stay resting inside of me so it can grow stronger. If you manage to kill me it will release off to somewhere, but likely it will backlash and attack you...that's what happened here." this time the demon looked around eyeing the bodies around and scrunching up his face at them, "One of them decided he wanted a life outside of this place and tried to slit my throat, then everyone in this place died in a very brutal and painful manner."

"Almost sounds like you want to die, demon." Ed shifted from where he sat before the demon and crossed his arms, looking the creature up and down trying to decide the best course of action.

"Believe it or not I am mostly human, I don't want to hurt people. If...If I'm a lock and key then I should be used for what I was more for, that's what I'd decided a long time ago. It's better than letting me sit and rot in these chains."

"Then seal a blood oath with me," Ed said perhaps a bit forcefully and sitting forward a bit, "If you're telling me the truth then make a blood oath with me and I'll find that door and protect you along the way, we'll close it and be rid of these abominations forever!"

Black eyes stared into him for a long moment, "...You're serious." the demon stated impressed by Ed's suddenly determination, "You know that blood oaths can't be broken easily right? We'll be bound to our oath or we die." It was dark magic but so was most kinds nowadays and Ed knew that demons were tricky and had found ways to slink out of their oaths with loopholes before, surely this one would try to do the same. But he was willing to chance it with the hope of a kinder world.

"I understand what it means, now how are you being held here? If the power is that strong surely you could have broken the chains and left when you killed these people."

He nodded, "It's the diagram on the floor, it's the same one from the original ritual and it's been tweaked to hold my energy signature and suppress it inside of the sigils. Though the priests decided to take extra precautions with good old fashioned heavy chains....and starving me, can't say it didn't work." he said nonchalantly and tugged at his chains making them rattle.

"Easy enough." Ed stood and searched the bodies until he found the kye to the chains and used it to release a single one of the demon's arms. "We swear the oath and then I'll release you completely, you go first."

Quiet for a moment the demon held out his hand for Ed to slice the oath sigils into his palm with a spare knife, "I swear to uphold my side of this bargain, to search with you to find the demonic doorway and seal it with the power inside of me." the blood dripping from his hand began to glow.

Ed wished he could add another list of other conditions to this bargain like not killing humans or playing tricks on Ed himself, but this sort of thing worked best when kept simple. The spell wasn't stupid and could almost think for itself but getting too intricate could weaken its energy.

Carving into his flesh hand Ed stated, "I swear to uphold my end of this bargain, I'll set you free and protect you, search for the doorway to the demon realm so that we can use your power to close it." his own blood began to close and they shook hands, a power surged between the bloody palms and as the light bursts blindingly between them and was gone just as quickly.

Blinking away the light spots in his eyes Ed looked at his palm, half of the sigil was left healed but carved in permanently and the other half on the demon's hand signifying their oath together had formed.

Unlocking the other chains and scuffing off the ritual design from the floor it was like an illusion disappeared from Ed's eyes, the demon still looked like himself but his body was shaking as he tried to stand up. He looked so weak and disheveled, so utterly human that it tugged at Ed's frozen heart. Clicking his tongue Ed pulled off his light coat and pulled it around the demon's thin shoulders and helped him zip it up to cover himself at least somewhat modestly, then yanked the demon fully to his shaky feet.

Wobbling out of the circle for the first time that he could remember the demon smiled softly and genuinely as he looked from his bare feet up to Ed, so happy but after another step he collapsed into Ed's arms when his feet wouldn't carry him any further. "Apologies...my body is quite sturdy but I'm still human, it might take a little time for me to recover properly."

"How irritating." Ed murmured and slid one arm behind the demon's shoulders and the other under his bony knees to scoop him up into a carry, "I'm Edward by the way, Edward Elric...demon hunter."

Snorting the demon didn't complain while being carried out of the church and into the fresh air outside but started to look ready to pass out, eyes beginning to close and his energy temporarily drained after just leaving the circle. "I'm...I'm Roy," he said before losing consciousness.