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Burning Bright

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It’s a night like any other, dark, quiet, and he’s trapped in what they call his bedroom, but he calls glorified prison cell. He had feared much more, that Medusa would punish him or force him to do things her way, like she’d forced the Kraigeri, but after a failed attempt to escape on his part, she’d laughed and had him locked up.

The guards change, from time to time, keep him fed but must’ve been instructed not to talk to him because he’s called them all the names the kids on the street used to call him and there hadn’t been any reaction. People wear him out, but he’s been locked in the room for long enough that he feels like climbing up the walls with the lack of stimulation. That’s why, hyper aware, he hears a whisper and passes it off as the wind, until the whisper turns into words and he distinctly hears someone calling him grandpa.
“Yeah, you, with the white hair.” He hears again, and his ears twitch, searching for the sound. He hears a sigh and finally catches the sound as coming from above, looks up and sees an indistinct mass leaning over the skylight, high above him.

“What are you doing over there?” Soul asks, “And who are you?” He adds, on second thought, because he’s fairly certain no one he knows would ever risk being caught just to get him out of imprisonment.

“It is a shame that you don’t know who the almighty Black*Star is.” The voice replies, sounding disappointed, in a mocking manner, before he disappears. Soul has half a mind to worry, and realizes he had been right when the figure reappears and makes a move to smash the glass in.

He barely gets the words out of his mouth, asking him what the hell he thinks he’s doing, but there’s glass shards raining on him so he takes cover, under his raised arms, and braces himself for the impending arrival of the guards, alerted by the noise. And then, Soul hears a loud thump, like someone had jumped down from the roof, and hurries to look because he realizes that’s exactly what happened. He’s expecting anything but the man standing below him, barely reaching his shoulders, and grinning like he’s just heard the best news he could possibly have.

He cackles, and Soul realizes he’s laughing at him. “Close your mouth, old man, you’ll dislocate your chin. I know it’s a lot to take in, but from what I’ve heard of you, you should be able to take it well.” He says, sounding almost too nonchalant, and Soul sees the glimmer of a threat in his eyes, that’d he’d missed before due to the dim lighting.

“Why are you here?” He asks, gently, lowly, like his mother taught him he should if approached by a wild animal.

“You’re the talk of the town. They say you’re her greatest weapon.” Black*Star, as he’d called himself earlier, says, smile fading with each word. “I’ve seen what that God forsaken Shadow can do.” He’s saying, and his eyes are cold, like metal, like a blade ready to cut through him. He takes a step back.

“I’m not on her side.”

The man starts laughing again, hits him in the arm forcefully, and pretends to wipe a tear from his face. “Do you think we’d be having this conversation if you were?” Black*Star asks, and the question hangs in the air for a second. “She’s keeping you here until she can control you. I hope your joints aren’t as bad as your hair makes me believe, you’ve got an awful lot of running to do.”

Soul’s still thinking about his words when he hears them, as if on cue, the footsteps of the guards, carrying down through the corridor that leads to his cell. He looks beside him, for guidance, but the man is missing. Something causes him to look up, to the man who’s already halfway through the skylight. He briefly wonders at how he got there, but upon realizing he isn’t waiting for him, he shouts. “What should I do?”

The man grins, he can see it from down here, shouts back something about not trusting strangers and leaves. Soul is frozen, unbelieving, waits for him to pop back again as the footsteps grow closer. When he realizes he really isn’t coming back and moves towards the door, it’s too late. The footsteps have stopped, they’re right outside his door. He braces himself, for the impact, the pain, but when it doesn’t come, opens his eyes and tentatively reaches for the door. It’s been locked all this time.

It swings open.

Outside, he finds a pile of armored bodies, guards, seemingly-lifeless, but he doesn’t stare long enough to find out if they’re dead. He runs towards the end of the corridor, the window, and only realizes his mistake once he feels a presence behind him. He whips around to find the same man, with strange blue hair and stranger green eyes, a bulging tattoo on his shoulder and a smile so wide it must hurt.

“South.” The man says, and before Soul can react, winks at him and shoves him backwards.

It’s liberating, Soul thinks, falling through air, the wind howling in his ears. In a moment, all thoughts drain out of his head, all his worries, and all he can feel is an immense whiteness.

He screams when he hits the frozen water, but his plea is swallowed by the water that now threatens to fill his lungs. He kicks his legs, tries to reach the surface, his lungs ache and it feels so far away, the water drags him with her and when he finally breaks the surface, he takes a few grasping breaths and tries to stay afloat, all the while fighting the strength of the river current.

It’s only when he’s on dry land, laying on his back and panting, that he gives some thought to the man, Black*Star, who’d risked his skin to save him, but who Soul wasn’t sure had known that the river was right beneath the window. He gives the man some credit, although the glint in his eyes had him doubting, and settles with thinking that he’d known the river was there, but was hoping Soul got at least some bruises and scratches out of the trip.

He falls asleep, wakes up when the sun is already high in the sky but the clouds, the mass of dark clouds that perpetually hovers over them like a dome, stops the sunlight from reaching the ground, everything is still covered in shadows. He still isn’t used to the lack of sun and heat. He’ll admit that he was never the biggest fan of the Summer, of the long, hot days that took over for about half a year, but he certainly misses the sensation that the sun hitting his skin caused him. More so because he’s shivering, wet clothes dripping as he makes his way inside the blighted forest.

He hasn’t been in the forest, out of civilization’s reach, since Medusa took over. It’s different, so much different from what used to be. It seems like the madness affected the air itself out here, because he can’t help but feel paranoid, looking over his shoulder, looking for threats that aren’t there.

The animals are deadly quiet, only until he passes them, because when he does, they hiss, and growl, and when a squirrel bares his teeth at him and almost bites his hand off, Soul starts walking faster. Even the trees seem to speak to him, cast him out, laugh at him, and he isn’t so sure about his own sanity anymore. The trees don’t cackle, and they certainly don’t mock him, and yet he hears them, sneering giggles, insults thrown his way, animals that seem to outright laugh at him.

As he delves deeper, a sense of dread starts settling in his bones, unwelcome and unpleasant, and he starts walking faster, to get away, but to go south, like Black*Star had said, he needs to go deeper, and not out of the mad forest that is intent on driving him nuts as well.

Soul remembers the man’s words, not to trust him, and the voice in his head tells him he shouldn’t have and Soul relaxes a little, because there aren’t the trees that are laughing, but the little voice in his head. The voice laughs, disappointed that Soul had found out about his game, and Soul relaxes, because this he knows, he’s been living with the demon for years now.

He questions his sanity again when the voice makes his journey easier, not harder, because no one should be comforted by a voice that invaded their head, but Soul is. The demon won’t leave him, he’ll always have it to remind him of normalcy.
The demons jeers at him because he doesn’t have a plan, asks him if he plans on walking until he dies of exhaustion, and Soul almost answers that yes, that sounds good, before he catches himself and decides to stop to catch his breath.

Only once he stops does he notice just how tired he is, and decides to sleep, in a hollowed tree trunk, because that was what his mom had told him to do, if lost in the forest, because the trees would keep him safe.

He stares the hollowed tree down, at the gaping dark hole on his trunk, big enough for him to fit, but not to move too much. It doesn’t look he’ll be safe there, but he still prefers it over sleeping out in the open, so he steps in, and immediately loses his footing.

Only it isn’t just a hollowed tree, and he falls through a hole, into a cave. Fear catches up to him when he realizes that the cave is filled with light.

He’s in a tunnel, he realizes, looking as abandoned as an underground tunnel can look. The walls have caved in, in some places, and the rest of them seem to be held up only by the countless roots that cling tightly to them. He stares at the light, far away and in front of him, and then looks behind him, to the rest of the tunnels, filled with a darkness so thick that he fears they’ll eat him up. Decides to take his chances and starts walking towards the light, because Soul will not admit it to anyone, but he’s terrified of the dark, and finding whatever is shining will probably not be as bad.

The light gets stronger as he gets closer, and the tunnel gets narrower, until Soul feels like he wouldn’t be able to hold both of his arms out without hitting the walls. And then he stops, because he feels something, a wall that seems to hold the light inside, even though he knows that’s impossible. He’s cautious with his steps, getting closer, and then holds his hand out, it’ll be okay if he touches it gently.

The air gets knocked out of him as he is knocked backwards, through the air, and when he hits the ground, he sees that he’s been engulfed by darkness. There’s no light anymore. He panics, doesn’t even notice the pain, caused because he’d fallen so hard he’d be bruised and he still hasn’t recovered from the river. But the thickness of the air, the absence of light all around him, won’t let him think; he’s sweating, he can’t breathe, the darkness is suffocating him.

He sees the white orb, floating someplace ahead of him, and immediately calms down before he panics again. The orb is moving. Around, as if someone is using it as a lantern. Up, as if someone is getting up. Towards him. He scatters backwards, on instinct, and the orb stops.

It’s silent, for a few seconds.

“Who’s there?”

It’s a high voice, much different from the growl or death threat he’d been expecting. He doesn’t answer, anyway, just does his best to quietly get up so he can get away.

“I can hear you, you know? There’s no use being quiet.” The voice says again, and Soul’s heartbeat quickens because he can see the shining orb getting closer, faster than he’d like.

He does it on an impulse, starts running away from the light and the person, blindly, arms outstretched in front of him so he’ll have a warning if he’s about to hit the wall.
He doesn’t even notice the footsteps growing closer, until something slams into his back, causing him to fall and the person to fall with him. He tries to get up but is turned around and straddled, as the very shiny orb is practically shoved in his face. He winces and curses quietly, trying to shield his eyes to no avail, it’s too close, and then he just lays back, surrenders, he is at their mercy anyway.

“Who are you?” They ask, and this close, he’s fairly certain it’s a girl. He thinks about answering, but he doesn’t know who he is talking to, and they’re sitting on his belly, still sore from being slammed on the ground. “Why won’t you answer? I’ve got you under my control.”

He wheezes out a laugh. “I know. You’re kind of hurting me.” He says and instantly regrets it when she presses harder. “Alright, alright. I’m Soul.”

She stays quiet for a moment and when she speaks, her voice is almost shy. “You’re a soul?”

“No?” He asks, and opens his eyes, straining to see who is holding the light, but it’s too bright. “I’m Soul, that’s my name.”

She sounds like she’s made a discovery and then forcefully presses the light closer.

“Maybe I’ve asked the wrong question. What are you? And why are you here?”
He almost feels offended, he knows he doesn’t look like the usual elf, but he doesn’t look like anything else. “What do you mean what am I? An elf, of course.”

“You don’t look like an elf.”

“Maybe you don’t look like an elf either and I’m not trying to blind you, am I?” Soul says, unable to abandon his snarky retorts, even if faced with an unknown threat. “And believe me, if I’d had it my way, I wouldn’t be here. I fell through a hole.”

She scoffs, like she doesn’t believe him and gets up. “Alright, show me.”

It’s not a request, it’s a demand, and only when Soul is up does he realize that he has no idea where the hole is. “How would I know where it is?” He asks, pretty sure that she’ll force him to show her the hole regardless of everything.

The orb grows, in size and brightness, illuminating the ceiling of the tunnel, and well as the girl who’s holding it.

“There,” she says, and stares him down and he stares at her.

She’s tiny, much tinnier than he is, and also several times leaner. Had he not known how much strength she had, he’d have mistaken her for a defenseless elf, but she’d slammed him to the ground with the strength of someone at least three times her size.

Her features are delicate, feminine, and she has big, round eyes, whose color Soul cannot tell because the orb casts an eerie blue glow on everything. He’s noticing her dress when she clears her throat and he looks up, at her eyes and her expression, not a very pleased one.

“The hole?” She reminds him, and he turns his back on her, ashamed of having been caught.

He starts walking forward, eyes strained towards the ceiling in search for the tell-tale hole, the girl trailing behind him, holding the bright orb up so he can search the ceiling. She’s a light elf, he’s sure of that, because he remembers the kids in his class, once their powers started showing and everyone was sent to different classes, depending on which side they fell upon. Light elves are nearly extinct, he knows that, but he has a feeling that she doesn’t know, something tells him she isn’t aware of how threatened her life is. Even if she seems like she’s trained for war.

He’s so caught up in his thoughts that he almost misses it, but takes a few steps backwards and excitedly points at the ceiling, to the hole that he’s sure he’s fell through, mostly because the soil underneath seems to have been pressed down by something.
She huffs, eyes the hole questioningly and asks, or rather, demands, that Soul hoist her up. He stares, gaping, much like a fish, as she explains that she wants to make sure it really is a hole. He caves in and holds his hands out so she can check the hole, although he’s sure she’s just being stubborn, because had she not trusted him at all, she wouldn’t have asked him to help her.

She seems to be satisfied with the veracity of the hole and Soul wastes no time in thinking up a plan on how to get out of the tunnel. “Think we can help each other climb out of here?” He asks, hopeful.

She laughs, shaking her head. “We’re not climbing out. We’re walking out.”

Soul stares at the dark tunnel behind him, outraged. “Through there? Why?”

She doesn’t answer, shines the light higher so he can see an arrow, on the wall, pointing towards the darkened tunnel, with a neatly written “This Way” underneath.

“Are you really going to trust some old writing on the wall?” Soul asks, unbelieving, but also aware that he can’t climb out on his own. And she has the light.

“I trusted some old elf that was lying on the floor.” She shrugs and starts walking, Soul trailing behind her because she has the light.

“That’s the second time I’ve been called old today.” He grumbles, slouching and walking behind her, glad that she’s walking slowly.

She laughs, a clear laugh that rings pleasantly in his ears. “You look like you are at least two thousand years.” She mocks and he feels like slouching more.

He doesn’t tell her his real age. They keep quiet, walking through the tunnel that doesn’t seem so chilling anymore.

“Can I know your name?” He asks, tentatively.

“No.”

And they keep walking.