The Depths of Demons Chapter 1
Fire flooded his senses. There was burning, and there was a crack, like thunder, through his hearing, sudden and deafening. Confusion swam within that fiery flood, filling him.
The wrenching pain, when it started, began in one leg, then spread devastatingly fast throughout the rest of his body. He wanted to curl up into a ball, be rid of that misery, but he could not move, could not cry out for help.
Breathing was a terrible effort, and he could not seem to open his eyes. Even the slight act of moving the smallest of his fingers was too incredible a task for him to complete.
What if I die here? There's so much more yet to be done. Don't let me die. Oh don't let me die, he thought, trying to breathe in deeply, but receiving only a small amount of air, air that was on fire.
It was said that he would see his life, just before he died; every mistake he had made would come back to haunt him, torment him, so that he left so much behind, undone, that he would never have peace. But he did not see his past. For a small, fleeting instant, he'd had a moment of clarity, where thought was unnecessary and simply being had been enough. That moment left him, though, in a state of anguished confusion.
What happened? How did I get here? What...happened?
Each thought came with infinite slowness, each word separated by an eternity of uncertainty.
Suddenly, motion came to him. He was able to open one eye, to slide from the blindness of the dark into light. But something polluted his vision, and he closed his eye quickly as a sharp pain shot through it, and through the rest of his body. His head ached and it felt as though a thousand tiny bumblebees had pierced the flesh of his eye.
Still, he had to dare. He had to dare to see. Once again, he opened his eye, though the struggle was great and the pain yet greater.
His vision was still clogged. This time, however, he knew what it was that prevented him from seeing. It was his own blood.
Darkness overcame him, and all sense was lost.
"Don't move him like that, Mylar."
...There was a feeling of motion. The back of his neck felt tingly; small sensations ran across his hands and arms, but still he could not move his lips to speak. But he couldn't decide...
"I know what I'm doing, Father. I've done this countless times before."
...why he wasn't dead. Something inside of him told him that he should be dead, should be sleeping the sleep of those who lacked breath. He deserved death. All he'd done until then was wait for death, because he knew that he belonged to the dead. He had seen and done too much...
"Sure you've done it before. You drag home every wounded animal you find, and insist on treating it, and nursing it back to health, then keeping it."
"But this is different. This isn't just some little animal I found. This is a man."
"That is exactly my point, Mylar."
...to live any longer. In dreams, the dead came back to haunt him, to tell him that they were waiting for him, because of who he was. Because who his father had been.
"Not...dead?" His voice sounded coarse, and cracked. Pain shot through him, and he wished he hadn't spoken.
"Aye, not dead," a male voice told him, contemptuous. "But ya right ought to be."
"Father!" The girl sounded genuinely angered, her tone conveying a reprimand. "You're going to be all right," she told him, but he felt like he was sinking.
His eyes wouldn't open. Darkness came again. Time surged past.
"You're not going to be able to save that one."
...He felt cold all over, and he couldn't breathe. He longed to scream that he couldn't breathe, but sound eluded him. Again, he was...
"I can do this."
"Ya willn't be able to."
"You have to let me try."
...at the mercy of things not of his control. A deep knot of frustration, anger, grief was tied within him, restricting thought. He didn't know where he was, or how he'd come to be there.
"You'll be all right."
...But he wouldn't be all right, and he knew it. He could never be all right, and...
"You're going to make it."
...he didn't want to.
Kneeling, she looked at the young man who lay upon the mattress in the center room of her home. She tucked her dark hair behind her ears, took the cloth, wet with warm water, and dabbed his forehead slowly, gently, taking care to pull back his reddish-blond hair as she did so.
He made a soft noise, a moan, and his eyes clenched shut suddenly, then slowly relaxed. Startled, she kept one hand on his forehead as she replaced the cloth in the bowl. The cuts there were only beginning to heal, and looked more painful than she could even imagine.
Mylar had found the reddish-haired young man some distance from Midgar, bleeding heavily, wearing tattered pants and a torn white coat. As always when she found something wounded, her first instinct was to help.
Because she'd been on her way back to Junon, and running like hell because of what had been happening, she hadn't thought it best to return to Midgar and find help, though she was closer to that city than to her home. So she'd stopped the bleeding by tearing his coat into strips and binding the wounds as best she could, then waited for someone to happen along and help her.
She had waited until nightfall, when a man with long dark hair driving a chocobo-pulled carriage had come her way, stopped, and helped her bring the fallen man to Junon, where she lived with her father.
Although her father had been upset when she brought the young man home with her, as always, he had allowed her to help. When she was younger, she'd brought home small animals that she found and nursed them back to health using herbs her mother, who'd died a few years before, had taught her to find.
Looking at him carefully, she traced one thumb across his eyelids, which had stilled, and down his cheekbone, halfway across his lips, and to his chin. There was a wicked, jagged scar just below his chin that looked as though it had been there since he was a boy. She guessed that, when he stood and walked, it was impossible to see the scar; it was placed in such a way as to be shadowed as much as possible.
There were other scars on him, too; upon his back were the marks of a belt, or perhaps a chocobo whip, varying in age. And there was one scar that ran from his left shoulder all the way down his arm, to just above where his wrist started. Clearly, this young man was no stranger to pain, or to blood.
Mylar wondered what had happened to him, how he had come to be there, staining the grass outside of Midgar with his blood.
There had been a trail of bloody footprints leading away from him, which had at first made Mylar believe he'd been attacked by some large animal. But that didn't make sense. The wounds he had were not made by an animal; she'd had experience with such matters, and knew that. She simply did not know what had.
"Mylar!" her father shouted, stomping into the room, his face red, lacking breath.
Jumping away from the young man as though she'd been struck, Mylar rose to her feet and gave her father a slight smile. "What is it?" she inquired uncertainly, tucking her hair behind her ears once more. No matter how often she did that, strands of brown hair worked their way forward, tangling in front of her eyes.
Her father, like her grandfather had been, was a fisherman, and he was built for the job. Tall, strong enough to weather almost anything, he rarely exerted himself enough to be rid of breath. It worried her to see him in such a state. Immediately, her mind ran through possible afflictions, and their cures.
The only cure for age is death, she thought, wincing. When he'd married her mother, he'd already been a fairly old man. He'd been married before, and had had a son. Both perished in a fire three years before he'd first laid eyes upon Meirs Iysian, Mylar's mother, who had once lived in Nibelheim, but had been traveling and, arrived one night in Costa del Sol. His son had been fifteen.
"Are you all right?"
He gave her a bewildered look. "Of course I'm all right. No, no, girl, some," he paused, taking a breath, "Shinra man arrived in town to..."
"...day. Some high rankin' man."
"So? There are Shinra people here everyday. Junon..."
Her father cut her off, saying, "It's different, this time, though. They say the president of Shinra is dead, and...you know. That young feller you've got there kinda looks like 'im."
"The Shinra man?"
Waving his hand quickly in impatience, her father shook his head quickly. "No, no! The president of Shinra. Tha's who 'e looks like."
The young man on the mattress moaned again, momentarily diverting Mylar's attention toward him. After checking to make certain he was all right, she turned back to her father.
"You've never seen President Shinra," she told him, tightening her lips and kneeling again by the mattress. His face was completely washed of color.
Her father shrugged in admittance. "But anyway, My-My girl, I'd prefer it if you stayed inside tuh-day."
"Mmm-hmm," Mylar murmured in assent. Her father grunted, mumbling something, then left the room again.
The young man on the mattress blinked rapidly without opening his eyes, then said something unintelligible. Mylar wondered if he were dreaming, and, if so, what he was dreaming of.
"Nooooooooo!" the young boy shouted, rage, and terror, filling him, running like rivers through his blood. "No! Stop it! Stop it! Leave her alone! Mamaaaaa!"
The back of his head was hit from behind, and he went sprawling forward, his jaw connecting with the cold, hard surface of the floor. Suddenly, the tangy, metallic taste of blood entered his mouth. Opening his lips slightly, he let the blood spill out, then looked at the dark substance that had come from him.
Something hit him in the back, with great force. His breath was abruptly taken from him, and for a moment he just lay there, feeling nothing, not even pain. Then air moved into him, and pain entered with it, paralyzing him. The horrible, wicked sound of his father's laughter entered his ears.
"That'll teach you. Take her away, dammit! Now! I won't have her here!"
Though in great pain, he couldn't let them take her. "No! Mama, run, Mama!"
"You'll behave, damn you, or I will make you!" his father shouted at him. Someone grasped his sides and pulled him to his feet. Shaking, wobbling, he tried to run after the two men who were dragging his mama and younger sister away.
He made it only a few feet before he collapsed once more. Unable to pull himself to his feet, he tried crawling.
"RUFUS!" his father shouted, his tone conveying utter, terrifying, anger.
"Mama. Saieo," he choked out, lifting himself to his knees. Rufus barely noticed that he was bleeding. He had to get to his mother. He had to get to his sister. "SAEIO!"
"GET MY WHIP! No son of mine is going to behave this way."
Someone snickered behind them. "If 'e didn't look so much like ya, I'd think maybe 'is mother'd been playing 'round on ya that time, too."
While his father's rage erupted on the man, Rufus tried to make his escape. It was useless, though; after killing the man who'd made the comment, Rufus' father ran after him, pulled him up by grasping the back of his neck, and glared angrily into his eyes.
Determined not to let the man win, Rufus didn't flinch, didn't blink, but stared right back at him.
With a growl of rage, his father flung him onto the ground, barking orders. "I'm going to take care of that woman. Take Rufus into Hawson's room. Have the man talk to him. Lord, he works wonders on all those worthless heaps of...and someone take care of this thing."
As he was led out of the room, struggling, Rufus tried not to look at the body. But he looked anyway, and instead of seeing the dead man, he saw his mother.
"They're going to kill her, aren't they?" he asked, suddenly calm, no longer struggling.
The soldier who led him said nothing, but his silence was answer enough.
Tired of fish, Mylar made herself chicken broth for lunch. Taking the bowl, she sat in front of the young man once more, looking at him, trying to unlock his secrets.
"Who are you?" she asked aloud. "What were you doing there, waiting for me to find you? What happened to you?"
The young man remained silent.
Mylar took a sip of broth as her front door burst open and Priscilla entered, her face flushed with excitement. Or fright.
A look of concern and irritation upon her face, Mylar questioned, "What are you doing?"
The expression upon Priscilla's face turned urgent. "Mylar, you have to go stop him. If he goes, you'll never see him again."
"What? Slow down. Priscilla, what are you talking about?"
"You have to go stop him. It's a suicide mission. It won't work. It won't work."
"You're father. The Shinra...but I don't think they're actually the Shinra. They don't seem right. They've asked for volunteers to go fight that thing under the water. You're father..."
Before Priscilla could finish speaking, Mylar was on her feet, spilling the broth onto the floor, but ignoring it, and out the door. Barely noticing that Priscilla had followed, she ran out into the streets, rushing through Junon's empty alleys, trying to reach her father.
She couldn't possibly be moving quickly enough; every action seemed terribly slow, drawn out. Her breath rushed past her, away from her, and she continued to run. "Where?" she called behind her, to Priscilla.
"By the Shinra..."
When she reached it, she knew without asking that she was too late. She could see the ship in the water, slowly submerging, disappearing from sight.
Priscilla's breathing was loud in Mylar's ears, though the girl was some distance from her. Terror spread through her when she thought of her father, what would happen to him.
"When will they be back?" Mylar demanded of everyone nearby, but no one answered.
"Your father said to tell you to take care," was the only response she received.
Hawson was a short man with beady eyes and a long, dark beard. In impatience, he paced about the room, eyes darting from Rufus to the soldiers who had brought him in, then back to Rufus.
"Leave us," he commanded, and was instantly obeyed. "You know why your father asked me to speak with you, Rufus, don't you?"
He kept his silence.
"Your father is a good man, Rufus, and he only wants what is best for you. You know that, my boy, right? Yes, you know that."
Rufus stared at the man, his face expressionless. Again, he said nothing, because he felt nothing; a strange, cold, emptiness had spread through him, leaving him without emotion.
"Let me tell you something, okay? You miss your mama, right? Right. But your mama was not a good woman. She didn't want you, Rufus. She only wanted Saieo. Your father wants you, and he wants me to help bring you up well. You can help me do that." When that failed to get through to him, Hawson bent and moved closer to Rufus, whispering in his ear. "I'll tell you a secret, my boy. This secret will help you in life. Don't trust, Rufus, and don't care for anything. It will only get you hurt. The only way you will get anywhere in life is to take what you can. Take what you want, and give nothing back. Don't give any inch of yourself to anything or anyone but you. That'll keep you safe."
Shaking his head, he sat upon the cold, hard ground and pulled his knees to his chin. "Mamaaa," he said in a hoarse whisper.
"You're mama didn't love you, so don't love her. She didn't want you, Rufus. You know that, right? Your papa, though, he cares for you. He wants to give you the best life he can."
"You said not to give," Rufus retorted instantly.
"You're a smart boy, you are. Yes, I said that. But I didn't train your father, and that's why you'll be a better man than he is. He cared about your mother; that was a big mistake. One day, you will take your father's place, and you will be much better than he is." Hawson knelt and put his arms on Rufus' shoulders. "You don't have many friends here, do you?"
Rufus shook his head, but said nothing.
"I'll tell you what. I'll be your friend Rufus, okay? Yes. I'll be your friend. And I'll help you be a better man than your father. You want that, don't you?"
"Good. Whatever anyone does or says, don't care. Don't care at all." Hawson stood as Rufus' father opened the door and strode purposefully into the room. He glared down at Rufus, gray eyes like sharp, cold steel.
"Your mother is dead," he stated with a sick satisfaction clear upon his face. "Your mother is dead. Did you hear me?"
Rufus glanced at Hawson, then turned back to his father. "Yes."
Nodding, the old, portly man turned toward Hawson. "Good work," he said, then turned and left.
"Don't care about anything," Hawson told him when his father had left.
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