Ch. XI, p.4

The ground seemed to fall out beneath Maria, dropping her into Hecen’s world to feel what he had felt, see what he had seen. Her body kept on in the black, walking, steadying itself, careful not to trip… She could see it if she chose to, as if hovering behind herself, endowed with a sense of what lay in the darkness. But she was thoroughly engaged and didn’t question what was happening, assimilating what she could.

“Adenae left and months passed. I could feel his energy in the forest, growing darker by the day. The townspeople thought of him often, some feeling that we ought to remind him of where he was from. Ultimately though, it was determined that it was best not to intervene, staying in full recognition that whatever path he had chosen was the right way for him.

“Little by little, his energy grew until it became something other than him. He was subsumed by the beings from other dimensions, at first in energetic form and then…”

Hecen slowed his energy, doling out the ideals at a rate he was sure that Maria could understand without being overwhelmed. She felt this previously bright world shifting, much like hers had. And just as it started its downward decline… The memory stopped, replaced with a sense of nothingness intermingled with displacement and chaos. Then, like a gunshot on the starting line, everything was back and running again, the whole of the world and its people suddenly returned to existence.

All the world’s people came back… she thought, astonished. All at once...

For once, Hecen didn’t seem to notice her thought, instead adding the final piece to the ensemble—the world had returned whole, but with dark patches, blemishes upon its landscape, suffusing the land with energies both foreign and dangerous. And the people had taken it upon themselves to heal the earth.

“Of everyone, I was in the greatest position to set things right. Whatever Adenae had done, I knew that I had the perspective needed to reverse the effects... So while my kinsmen prayed in the town, I came into these woods, determined to chase away the darkness sapping at its bright heart.”

He had meditated, she saw, causing the darkness to focus upon him, imperturbable to its corrupting tendrils. However, there was one thing he could not contend with…

Her stomach seized and her muscles grew tight. She felt his death as he had; claws tearing open his throat; jaws flaying his soft belly. She fell to the ground, crying out and gasping.

“I am sorry. The memory is potent, and I have difficulty containing it within myself. Much like you and the memory of your friend’s death.”

My friend… Frank… I wanted to ask about… She realized something was ‘off’. “You’ve been…” the answer stirred in her chest, “suppressing my thoughts?”

“I had to… Your questions would have been too much all at once. You are now unburdened.”

As the being intoned its feelings, a dull sensation lifted from her brain, and she remembered that she wanted to know why Hecen had done nothing to help Frank. She would have felt betrayed, but she was off balance; unable to cling to learned emotions to interpret her current situation.

“The creatures that attacked him and me were abominations,” he replied. “Twisted meshes of nature and metal. I have no domain over such vile specimens. Yet, I am still to blame for his death.”

She sensed that it was the truth. Or at least that Hecen felt it was the truth.

“I caused him to have the same dream you did, and I believe it brought him to leave your safe haven. That cave you slept in was once used by—” (and here, Hecen indicated something that caught her off guard, her closest word for it confusing her immensely) “a goddess as she pursued the sense of connection and self knowledge upon which our world was founded.”

A goddess… A woman of immense, unrestrained power, she could sense; yet still equally as human as she was. Paradox in form.

She relaxed a little, asking, “A goddess? Is this a legend?”

“No. She left a very distinct energy in that cave, intimately detailing her experiences there to those who are aware. If you went back, I’m sure you would be able to see that now… But we haven’t the time. The city is drawing near, and we must press onward.”

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