It was late, in the early, dark hours before the approaching dawn. The once lively crowd had lulled. Most of the partygoers either had left the club on the lower east side of Paris for the night, or had fallen asleep wherever they could rest their heads. The band played a last song, as workers swept the floors while preparing to close. The trumpeter blew the loudest notes, his cheeks ballooning with redness, purposely waking the sleeping heads, rousing them to go home.
Of the handful of patrons remaining, one young man in particular, had left his slumbering girlfriend inside for a few extra minutes of rest before stumbling out into the dark street to clear his own head. With a few deep breaths of briskly chilled air, the young man began to wake from his hard nap. He looked up at the sky, what was sunny and warm earlier, was now black and unusually cool for a night at this time of year. He watched his breath crystalize upward, mixing with the air, forming clouds of fleeting vapor. He automatically glanced up and behind his shoulder as the club preemptively shut off the all the lights out front on the street where he stood, yet still, the music blared throughout the club and filtered into the mostly abandoned city lane. A worker closed the front side windows to the club, muffling the loud trumpeter’s horn. No longer feeling warm air from behind, the young man huddled his shoulder, flipped the collar of his jacket up against his neck, covering a black scorpion tattoo outlined with red ink, which stretched from his earlobe to the top of his shoulder. He vigorously rubbed his hands together, and blew warmth from his breath into them. He peeked in through the window of the door at his girlfriend, but her head remained unmoved on the tabletop, so he turned and shivered as the cool air gradually woke him.
Across from the club, past the broad, main road, in the shadows of a long narrow street between buildings, he saw a large pile of trash move without cause. He looked back into the club once more at his girlfriend, and then trotted across the street to investigate. He crept slowly as he neared the trash pile. He paused stilly whenever it occasionally shook, nonetheless curiosity inched him forward. On the tips of his toes, he stretched his neck out in order to catch a glimpse. However, the pile of trash was heaped up, stacked too high and wide for any view around or over top. Closer he quietly shuffled his feet, stepping to the side for a full on view. The murky night, along with the shadows cast by the alley, made it nearly impossible to see, but something slouched and recessed in the dark corner on the other side of the bags of garbage.
He looked back at the club, now at a distance behind him across the street. A deep foreboding rot in his bones and uneasiness filled his chest and stomach. He readied himself to silently back away from the dark alley and toward the safety of the club. But at that moment, the clouds in the sky parted, allowing the moon to rain scattered beams of ghostly light upon the alleyway, revealing a sight so foul, his body seized and grim fear held his breath. A grotesque beast of legendary urban myth, feasted on the remains of the day’s garbage. Spiny vertebrae protruded from the beasts back. Grayish green, waxy, glossed skin gave the beast an oily appearance. It was boney and bare, with the exception of a loincloth. When the darkness parted upon the alley, a thin sliver of the moon descended in a sideways slant upon the creature’s eyes. They were large saucers, dead as coal, and devoid of emotion, as the young man saw his reflection in the beast eyes. The unworldly beast held a stare at the young man, each sized up the other. The young man’s eyes widened, as the creature’s eyes narrowed. One was prey, the other was a predator, and for a brief moment, each knew what the other one was thinking.
The beast growled with a low pitch and angled its body, springing back in a pouncing position. The young man panted heavily, refusing to blink or look away. Time seemed to slow, with each subtle movement magnified in the tense alleyway standoff. When the beastly creature growled again, the young man backed away in nervous expectation, stumbling, his feet tangled, but he remained upright, collecting his calm. However, when the monster spoke words to him, he recoiled backwards, straight legged, his body jerked off the ground, and his color blanched, draining him until only the hue of terror remained. Unconscious survival turned him around, while pure adrenaline propelled a burst of swiftness toward the club, were the boisterous music continued to play. He could still see people in the windows, sweeping, stacking chairs, and playing music.
For a moment, all he could hear was his own heart and the sound of his fearfully labored breaths. Then he heard an ominous voice from behind, yet he resisted the temptation to look back. He kept his eyes fixed on the club where his girlfriend slept. He had to make it back to her. There was no choice, nor doubt he could and would make the short distance from the alley to the club, because only a street separated them.
“Where do you think you’re going?” The creature soared like a puma with speed and power well beyond that of any human.
The young man ran from the alley. His heart thumped rapidly as he felt the beast’s nostrils huffing warm, foul breath down the back of his neck. A fleetingly smile crossed his face, for he had made it out of the alley and onto the street, but the creature pinged from one wall to another and bounded down on top of the young man’s back with ease.
“Ah!” The young man screamed as the band played the last note of the final song louder to wake the few remaining patrons before the club closed. “Help me!” He wailed, his face down, his stomach touching the ground. He reached toward the club where his sleeping girlfriend stretched and yawned, pulling her head from off the table. She looked from side to side and around the club for her boyfriend, but she did not see him, so she sat and waited.
The creature leaned on top of his back with heaviness, making simple movements impossible. Nevertheless, the young man slowly propped one elbow up and then awkwardly the other. He struggled as he crawled toward the club on his belly. Yet soon the beast easily dragged him by the ankle back into the alley. Screaming and flailing his legs, the young man frantically clawed at the street’s cold ground. Icy hooks sank into his flesh, taming him by penetrating deeply into the muscle fibers around his spine. The young man rang out a shrill cry that was accompanied by a gush of red fluid from his back. With the last of his strength, he ripped his leg from the beast’s hand and freed himself. He shouted at the club, waiting for help from anyone who might possibly hear him.
The creature ground its fangs back and forth, irritated by the young man’s resilience. It aggressively thrust a hand of razor tipped, black talons again into his back, and with one more violent push, it twisted until the young man was subdued. The young man’s head and limbs flopped down, but his eyes remained open, blankly staring at the club. The beast pulled him by the leg back into the alley, leaving a trail of bright, freshly smeared blood, disappearing into the darkness as the last song softened into silence.
Acuumyn turned his back and summoned an opening between distant places. A colorful vortex appeared, hidden to the world in among the Grecian ruins, and he readied himself to return from where he had come.
“Wait!” Revekka grabbed his shoulder. “Before you go through the aperture, I just want to say…” Her eyes briefly shifted downward, then back up at him, as his aguish became hers. You shouldn’t think of yourself as a failure.” She gently slid her hand off his arm.
He turned toward the vortex, glanced over his shoulder at her, giving a saddened smile, and said, “I was supposed to be the Acuumyn who established peace, security, and a utopia for earth and Eruditus, and I did fail.”
More words felt wrong, as she cradled her hands together, close to her chest, and with her neck and head downcast, her long, flowing locks tumbled slowly forward from off her back shoulders, covering her face from dispirit.
Maximilian, already flustered, advanced toward Acuumyn. “You must not lose faith now.” He shook his warlike fist.
The aperture swirled before them. Revekka lifted her head, smiling forcibly. Acuumyn turned, facing both of them one last time.
“Yes,” Revekka exclaimed joyously, waiting on encouragement. “There is always hope. I feel it with all that I am.”
“I will deliver this with power and speed.” Maximilian squeezed his hand, holding his scroll high in the air. “And then I will protect the halfings from the Shroud. I will prepare the children who were chosen by the Artifex to free this realm forever from evil.” His chest raised, he tightened his teeth and focused his eyes with uncommon resolve. “I will finish Benoit’s training as a knight, so he may lead the likes of Appollos, and Aurielle, and the precious few other Galinea that are left from the knighthood for earth’s sake.”
Acuumyn perked up. His face shined with pride, as he looked approvingly upon Maximilian before turning his attention to Revekka. “And what of you?” He asked.
“I have been gifted a vision by the Celestial Pyre,” She said. Maximilian gasped. He kneeled before her, bowing.
Acuumyn’s demeanor did not change. He wrapped his hands behind his back and reverently nodded. “The Celestial Pyre speaks to no one, or at least it has not in hundreds of years.”
“But it spoke to me,” she said, with sincerity.
Maximilian slowly lifted himself off his knees, kept quiet, and inquisitively gazed between Revekka and Acuumyn.
A tense moment passed, and then Acuumyn shook his finger at her. “You have Empathic abilities, so it stands to reason you are more sensitive to the Celestial Pyre. It is the flame that burns day and night underneath the castle, for it is the spiritual source of all life, and its symbol has given you a sign with meaning greater than what we know.” Acuumyn rubbed his chin, looking at her, while tilting his head from left to right.
“It told me to…”
Acuumyn abruptly held his hand up and stopped her. “What the Celestial Pyre showed you was for you alone.”
“Then I must give its message before I deliver this scroll.”
“Agreed,” Acuumyn simply said. “Which way does the Celestial Pyre send you?”
“To the south.”