Chapter 43: When the Earth Tilts
“They’re coming. Move it! I said, move!” Canin yelled. He pushed past the other three that was running ahead of him, and dashed through a clearing and back into a staggered group of trees, the canopy hiding the silver light of the moon.
“Ah!” A boy behind him screamed.
Canin glanced back.
Like silent specters, dense black gas roiled through sky, followed by hundreds of black wispy demons.
“Damn it! How are there so many? And they were so quiet. How have we not heard them?” Canin rambled to himself. He was panting and sweating, the night sky not dampening the humidity that caused him to perspire and sweat through his undershirt, now laid bare after his student jacket was torn days ago.
The three others that were in his group were running after him. Canin and the others were relatively weak. That made joining larger, and more powerful groups harder. If you were weak, you would only slow down everyone else. No one would allow that. Besides, despite the dangers, this was still a competition. Luckily for Canin though, he was not the weakest. Before he would constantly complain how weak the other three were. But now, seeing as how they were being chased by wraiths, and the others falling more behind and into the jaws of death, he was secretly delighted. Yes, be useful. Stall for me!
He could hear the footfalls of the others; their yells and the panting of their breath; the occasional cough as they gasped for air.
But suddenly it was silent.
Canin did not dare to stop running, and kept forth, bursting through the woods for as long as a mile. But as the eerie silence continued, he finally looked back. And as he did, he saw nothing. Only the dark night with the occasional silver slither that broke through the dense crop of leaves up above.
And it was at that moment that Canin stopped.
He took out his wooden half-staff strapped to his side, and gripped it tight within his hand, the smooth wood that always seemed to calm him, not doing so in the slightest now. Sweat dribbled down the tip of his nose and welled up to a fall.
Canin licked his lips.
He did not say anything, secretly hoping that whatever was chasing had long-lost him. But that was surely wishful thinking. Canin did not stop because he had heard nothing for the past three minutes he was running, but because doing so was too foolish of a move! A strong sense of danger swarmed his senses. Something that said going forward would be his end. If he could not go forward, and he could not go back, then he would not go anywhere!
And it was then that the night which had grown so quiet and still began to boiled in turmoil.
A whirring sound echoed in the distance, the leaves rustling under the moonlight. “This… Not wind; what is this?” A nagging feeling sprung up within Canin. It was telling him he should know what it was. The sound was soft at first, but it grew louder and louder. Can’t be. It suddenly dawned on him what that sound was. So much so, it scared him to death. And that was because this sound was not the wind, but… Canin shuddered, “Spirits!” The sound was called Ethereal Wind. It was a movement within the spiritual plane that caused a phenomena that could simulate the sound of wind. Only, for those who were more keen on their sense, they would be able to tell the difference.
Canin was such a person. There were not many averati clans still around that focused on the spirit domain as most of the problems the averati world faced for the past few centuries did not involve the need for it. And in fact, many alternatives to solving certain problems that needed someone who understood the spirit domain were present. This caused clans whose main power focused on the spirit realm to the decline. One of which was the Ruach clan. One of the six major clans of the averati world. And now only remnants, and a hollow name remained as the clan later collapsed, decades ago, due to the pressures of their enemies and rivals as their resources dwindled. That was where the Ruach clan became no more. A clan once known for their flaming hair and tattooed skin.
Canin just happened to be from a clan that used to follow the Clan of the Ruach. Their clan was small and did not focus so highly on the spirit domain, nor did they have as many enemies, and thus managed to survive until now.
“But it seems growing up in such a clan has it’s perks.”
Being wary of the surroundings, Canin chanted a few words. Suddenly flecks of blue began to draw from around his half-staff. They appeared seemingly out of nowhere, and filled his body to the brim. The light blue quickly crawled up his arm and spread across his body, filling him with energy. But Canin was not done. He focused a bit, and the half-staff began to light up in a new way. Squirming alongside its surface, deep light blue lines etched into the wood, and began to glow. And then, a transparent, light blue barrier erected around him.
“I knew wraiths were dark creatures, but to actually find out they were so heavily involved with the spirit domain… In fact, from the roaring of this ethereal wind.. They may just be spirits themselves!!” Canin gulped. Even though he had some training. Spirit related techniques were not stressed as much since the decline of the Ruach. So not only would fighting them be hard, but his lack of knowledge he had, similar to the general public, on spiritual/dark creatures put him at an extreme disadvantage.
“Damn it! Maybe I should have stuck with that Ruach kid.” Canin thought back to when they first entered the stalagmite realm. The one who entered first was a slightly older boy with red hair and tattoos. He had the hallmarks of that of the Ruach. At first Canin was thinking of joining his group, but changed his mind when he saw how many were watching them. Now, he regretted. He probably knows more about the spirit domain than I do.
Then again, with his skill against spirits and dark creatures, albeit he was weaker against other creatures by a large margin, he would have been accepted into a large group. But he did not, and hid his skewed capabilities because he simply was not stupid.
When they first set out, the number of individuals whose skills were extremely detrimental to dark creatures were few, but enough to not be too rare. Many probably couldn’t, but Canin could point them out by looking. There was a unique presence around those involved in the spirit domain. And as Canin, being cautious and wary of others at first observed, he quickly realized that these people were gradually wiped out. Some instances involved them being alone and wiped out by wraiths, other instance by rival groups that wanted to remove others of an advantage.
Canin chuckled to himself. But now I’m regretting. If there were ten more with me, we could probably escape this. With me at the center adding support, Canin heaved a sigh.
As the sounds around him grew more and more, Canin input more energy into his staff.
“Oh? He’s quite strong.” A large wraith said as he looked at the boy far ahead of him in the wood. Glancing back, he stared at an old man a ways behind.
The old man looked haggard. Not many of the other wraiths could see it, but this wraith could.
The old man was leaning over a sleek silver casket. The top of the casket was made of a thick glass. And as the old man placed his hands over the glass for the third time today, the large wraith saw a common sight. Green intangible energy spread across the glass like a web, and slowly sifted through the glass itself, turning into a green gas that filled the inner chamber.
“She’s getting weaker. And soon she will die. I can barely hold on as it is. Finish him, and let’s go.” There were tens of wraiths all around them, and several times more behind. This was a procession.
“You have to hold longer, old man. If the construct can’t be complete-”
“Don’t tell me what will happen!” The old man snapped. “I of all know. I’ve dedicated too much of my life on this endeavor. We must succeed. So far the bodies you’ve gotten for me are unsuitable. But… that boy from before. The one that got away. I’m sure he would be perfect for her.” The old man seemed to ponder a bit, but as a wraith came from the shadows as the group proceeded forward, and glared into the old man’s eyes, he broke from his thoughts.“It seems the scouts have found a weak point. And it’s past right ahead of that boy.”
“It always surprises me how you can do that.”
“Speaking to us while being human and all.”
“Forget about it, and go!”
The wraith chuckled to itself as it turned into a wisp of smoky black gas and disappeared deeper into the forest. His words traveling to the old man before he left, “Just don’t let her die, or we’ll never leave this place.”
Silently and quickly two dark arms exploded out from the darkness. Sharp, spear like fingertips stabbed at the barrier. The entire transparent shield shuddered.
Canin looked pale. If he had not erected the barrier anytime sooner, he would have died. That attack was so fast, so fierce… He shook his head, his shirt soaked through. Rather not think. Just keep your guard up!
Bam! Bam! Bam!
Another attack happened behind him. Soon attacks were swarming from all around him.
It was dark and he could not see the origin of these arms and other attacks, even with the light emanating from the half-staff. They came fast and hard, and left just as quickly, the moonlight not enough to illuminate the canopy shrouded forest floor.
Canin gritted his teeth. The energy he was using was something not common among the averati in recent years. Usually only cultivators could use spirit energy, but those who delved in the Dominion of the Spirit Dimension could use some alternative methods to grasp a tiny portion. And that portion was different from the spirit energy that existed all around them. It was the energy of death, of the afterlife. Something that could only be drawn out by making a gateway to the Plane of the Afterlife.
Currently Canin used his half-staff. The symbols acted as a way to summon a small gateway, just enough to draw that energy out for his use. But there was a limit to how much he could draw as his strength was just not enough. But… Like this I can still hold out for another hour. As long as I don’t attack. Canin told himself.
But who was he kidding? It was not that Canin did not dare to attack as to not waste his energy, it was that he could not attack. There were too many. And the attacks were so many, so fierce, and sofast, that he would die just from energy expenditure alone from trying to kill two, much less them all. But what would holding out do? I would have to wait for sun up… but by then. His thoughts drifted to what lay ahead.
He and the other three he was traveling had been following a larger group a ways away. Life was easier that way as they could pick leftovers such as materials and food from the abandoned camps along the way. They could also obtain information from any passerby scouts. But as they woke up morning, before even the sun came crawling out, the group was gone.
If from what he last heard was true, the other group probably found a way out. And if they did, and he continued to stay here, he may be left in the Stalagmite Realm for at least another ten to fifteen years. And that’s if Crawfield even decide to use it again.
Canin sighed. He felt his energy slip away as the attacks on the barrier grew even more intense.
And then the attacks stopped.
Canin’s heart raced.
Before he was on edge. He was shocked when the wraiths came out from the darkness quickly and attacked him, but he was never out of sorts. He was a fighter. Raised to be calm in such situations. But now as the attacks waned to nothing, not only did Canin not sigh with relief, but he grew even more agitated.
An intense nagging of danger roared in his mind. So much so, he took a step back.
The barrier was not very stable when he moved. If it was, he would run with it on. He had not been strong enough to do so. So as he stepped back, the barrier shuddered.
And then it came out.
Amongst the blackness out there was a small patch where moonlight spilled through. Canin could see a dark gas float passed. It roiled, and then closed in on itself. It grew more compact and then began to morph. Soon there were limbs, and there was a head. The gas calmed and it was no longer gas.
Standing in that small patch was a dark figure. Head to toe was black, and it’s body was structured close to that of an averati. Only, it had no face.
The figure moved.
Canin could hear the crunching of grass as it walked towards him.
Canin gripped his staff. He drew out more energy from the gateway, so much so his head began to hurt, and his body started to feel physically drained. But… This one’s dangerous. I can’t hold back!
The figure stopped.
On its blank face, tearing light tearing sounds rung in Canin’s ear.
He gulped. And as he looked, he could see the teeth protruding, ripping apart to reveal a wide gaping mouth.
And then a nasty roar came.
The air hummed. The ground seemed to tilt. The had shaken Canin to his very core, and the barrier around him began to crack.
Canin lifted up his hands to feel the wetness by his neck. Blood.
And then the barrier broke.
It was quick.
All his energy seemed to sap out of him like it was never there to begin with.
Canin jumped back. I need to run!
But it was too late. The figure vanished, and Canin’s eyes widened. Within the moment the figure disappeared from sight, he appeared in front of him, and a giant pressure bored down on his chest.
But Canin had not moved. He just stood there, gaping. He looked at the thing in front of him. And then looked down.
Coming out of his chest was an arm as black as the night, but more of a metal-type sheen.
Blood spewed from Canin’s mouth, and his vision went dark.
It wasn’t until he felt cold, and the world began to ebb away when a wispy voice echoed all around him.
Author’s Notes: Sorry for the delay. I’ve been sick for quite some time. I thought I could bear through it, but it just got worse till even when I was unable to do anything. And then I had issues with the site. Anyway. Everything should be up and running, and the release schedule should be back on track.