Chapter 104 = The Marble Altar
Disclaimer: All characters here are of my own invention, but the original idea of Yoshies, Birdos, etcetera, are copyright of Nintendo, and I make no money from writing this.
35th of Eira, CD 2156; Somewhere in the
Darkmark entered the tunnel before him. It was very smooth, almost a perfect oval. After only a few steps inside, the sounds of the outside world seemed to suddenly become muffled, then silent, leaving him only to hear a very faint humming.
The light before him was a faint yellow, getting larger as he approached it. Despite knowing both what was at the end of this tunnel, and what Karlo-Shin had said to him, he neither ran or hindered himself, simply striding at his normal pace, keeping his mind clear.
He wasn’t sure how long he walked when he finally reached the end, the tunnel opening into a cubic chamber. It was utterly silent inside the chamber, absent even of the natural sounds that seemed to inhabit empty rooms, the walls flat and pure white, a large slab of white marble placed in the center of the chamber, with nothing on it to indicate its special purpose.
And yet Darkmark could feel its purpose – as though it were emanating from the altar to say that it was a tool of the Gods. He stopped before it, and placed his right hand upon it, palm flat.
Nothing happened. Placing his other hand on elicited no reaction, and he climbed up onto the altar, but still there was no reaction.
“Hello?” Darkmark said, shocking himself when the sound actually came out of his mouth, though it seemed absorbed by the walls, not echoing back.
After a moment of thought, he placed his hand into his saddlebags, and took out the pair of Octagrams. They were illuminated by some kind of ambient light in the room, for there was not a single torch nor ball of light in the chamber, yet everything in it was lit to see. Hopping off the altar, Darkmark placed the Octagrams upon it, and slowly several other items in his possession.
First was his flail. The weapon he had used as a child to fight off animals with his friend Manny, he had not bothered with it after acquiring Karlo-Shin’s sword, for first he had needed it to fight that vampire wizard, and then its enchantments had made itself useful. But the flail was no longer of use, just a memento, Darkmark’s true name carved into the handle; Marcus. No surname was there, for he had not known it when inscribing his name.
Then there was the half a gem from under his saddle, the Orihalca he had received from Alziana on his fourteenth birthday… “There’s a legend that if a loving couple each takes one half of the same gem, they will love each other forever”. How nice it had been to believe those kinds of tales, to think he would have been with her all of his life, in that peaceful village on the shore. But, he told himself, one person of that couple is dead, and the other is no longer the same person he once was…
Next was the little ring he had taken from Alziana just moments before her death, along with the string of pearls Manny had taken just after. Both were now merely physical memories to her, a person that no longer existed. Marcus had cleaned the pearls, but no amount of water could wash away the memories associated with them, memories that came back as he let the two items fall onto the altar, burned forever into his mind; the sight at the very moment of Alziana’s death, the moment that had truly begun everything…
He rummaged a moment before remembering he no longer had the next item; the necklace that had once belonged to the elf he had travelled with, now in the possession of a little hatchling in Corvan. A relic from a race that now was no more, destroyed by the humans for petty, self-serving reasons… exactly what they are doing to us, and what they will eventually do to themselves.
He had nothing from the only other survivor of the Shoreside massacre; Karin had left nothing physical to him that night she had plunged to her death willingly to save the risk of taking others with her. What a waste… Darkmark thought. If only she had made it, then Manny could have been with her, instead of where he is now.
A small medal came next. What was it from? Oh, I remember now… for helping to liberate Lince city. Even though he had not done much, he had been rewarded with this item… but what good had it done in the end? It was merely a title, devoid of worth. Now, if Karlo-Shin was to be believed, that city’s inhabitants had gone to war. Darkmark dropped the medal with mild disgust, silently bemoaning how his efforts were coming to naught in the end.
Next… Darkmark ran his fingers up his arm, to the mark branded on there. Supposedly to signify his membership of the Dark Gods… but he hadn’t seen it on Karlo-Shin. Was that what Klashkna had used to possess Darkmark? Whatever it was, there was no way to get rid of it.
The Octagram was next, but it was already on the altar. By picking it up, had he sealed his fate? The fate now rapidly approaching him? If only he had left the shiny object alone, would things be different? Probably not… it was a symbolic piece of jewellery, nothing more. “You are naïve… even more naïve not to believe in us when the proof is right in front of you”. How true the Goddess of Luck and Fate’s words sounded to him now, so much further down the road.
He had nothing to remind him of Shiala. Not a single item of hers was in his possession, and he stared at a blank spot on the altar for a moment, as if trying to force the memories from his head. He left a gap there as he placed the final item on the altar: Karlo-Shin’s sword.
The sword had been the one to avenge the deaths of Darkmark’s loved ones. It had slain the vampire who had ordered the destruction of his village, and sliced the flesh of the assassin who had murdered Shiala and his unhatched son. And now it had a new target, the ruler of the human kingdom…
“Both the gods of Light and Darkness want the same thing, but look for different means to do so… and the fabled one will bridge the gap between them, and make it happen”. Miyala’s words suddenly came to Darkmark’s mind.
It’s all making sense, it’s falling into place… with me in the middle holding it all together.
He cast his gaze over the items on the altar, and spoke again to nobody in particular. “This is it… this is my life. The things that I have lost, and the things I have yet to do…”
Placing his hand upon the ring and necklace, he lowered his voice. “I have tied up the loose ends from Marcus’s life… almost all of them. I am… I am ready to become Darkmark, the Saviour, the Fabled One… ready to face my destiny… ready to die, should it come to that… if… if I can just do one more thing.”
Darkmark wasn’t sure whose voice that was, but it was one of the Light Gods.
Turning around, Darkmark saw that the tunnel appeared to have vanished, the chamber connected directly to the outside of the mountain. A path of light wound upwards, shimmering softly in the night sky, spiralling out of sight. He exited the chamber and moved to the edge of the rainbow path where it touched the rock, and placed his foot upon it, finding it surprisingly solid.
While a trail of colours leads up to the sky…
Again, as Darkmark walked along the path, he lost track of the time, not knowing how many times he put one foot in front of the other, feeling neither fatigue nor anxiety. Was time even passing? He continued to walk, Chyrus becoming smaller and smaller beneath him, the road under his feet slowly turning into a path of the stars themselves, still going onwards, upwards…
Darkmark lifted his head. The road of stars came to an end of sorts, just tapering off, and there before him were two ghostly figures – one pink, one red; one normal, one feral. As he watched, the images before him seemed to flicker occasionally, revealing a flame-like entity during each flicker. The pink one’s was more sedated, burning gently, the red one’s flickering high each time it came into view.
He reached out his hands to them, but neither moved to accept the hands.
“No…” The ghostly Alziana murmured. “You’re not Marcus any more.”
“What happened…” Shiala thought aloud. “Why, why did you become what you are…”
Darkmark let his hands fall to his sides. Perhaps he should have expected something like this to happen. “I…”
“There is only a little bit of the Marcus I knew left in you…” Alziana said. “I think… it is time you let him go, so that he might know peace.”
Shiala spoke after. “I’m sorry… but it’s time to say goodbye… for the final time.”
“Alziana, Shiala…” Darkmark pleaded. “I love you…” But his words no longer carried the feelings he could feel when he once spoke them. They had returned to being merely words like any other, without a driving reason for being spoken.
Oh gods… it’s true…
“Loved… I… loved you.” He corrected himself sadly. “Marcus still loves you…”
“But he’s as dead as we are.” Alziana said softly. “Clinging hold of his old body… it’s time to let him go.”
Darkmark could feel tears forming at his eyes, and wiped them away swiftly. “I know.” He mumbled.
Shiala spoke. “We’re sorry. But the past has been written and cannot be changed… the knife has not yet reached the future, has not carved it down, and can still be altered.”
“It’s time to say farewell to the past and move onward to the future, Darkmark.”
How strange it seemed to hear Alziana say that name… as though it truly did not have any reason to come from her mouth. It was almost as bad as if his old self’s sweet, innocent girlfriend had uttered a profane and disgusting curse against him. Looking back up to them, he took a deep breath, feeling a heavy weight on his chest, one that he was ready to discard.
“Then… I suppose we part here… forever… my memories of you, and my self… I’ll let them go.”
It took him another few moments, met by silence from the ghosts.
“Goodbye, Alziana. Goodbye, Shiala. Goodbye… Marcus.”
And with that he turned around and started to walk, but the ‘floor’ beneath him was no longer solid. He felt himself falling, falling, plunging back down towards the surface of Chyrus… then he suddenly found himself slumped over the Marble Altar. Had he been dreaming? Was any of that real? How much time had passed?
Standing back up, he looked down. Of all the items he had placed down, only three remained – the two Octagrams, and the sword. Nothing remained to show that the other items, nor their owner, had even existed. The message was clear – he had his destiny to face, a mission to carry out, before he could write his own future.
Returning the Octagrams to his saddlebags, he picked up the sword, turned around, and left in silence, focusing his recently-cleared mind to determine which direction was west, and spreading out his wings.
“Farewell, Marcus.” He spoke aloud into the falling snow. “That altar you searched for is your grave marker. May you rest in peace.”
“As for me, my name is Darkmark… now, and forever.”
To be continued…