Arriving at Gwyn’s barrier, Drake was still deep within his stupor, the normal upbeat attitude he normally had was reduced to only small responses whenever Yami questioned him for more.
Drake walked in without a second to spare, leaving the two demons still outside the barrier.
Yami stayed outside, a fearful and worried expression clear on her pretty face.
Turning to Therion, Yami said worriedly, “Something is seriously bothering him. There’s been a constant pain in my chest ever since the battle ended, and he won’t tell me anything. What am I supposed to do…” Yami clenched her hair in her hands, shaking in midair.
Therion chuckled without a hint of humor, only waving the small imp over to him.
As she approached, the atmosphere around the Satyr grew more serious and intentful, a wise expression on his face. “Listen little imp, I don’t like you. But, you were of some help during the battle, more than I ever expected, and this is out of more concern for the master than you.”
Therion dropped the corpse at his feet, leaving both the crystallized doppelganger, and the strange, shadowy substance from his own enemy to merely sit at his side. He closed his eyes for a moment, concentrating on the single complete doppelganger corpse that was left. Suddenly opening his eyes, he stabbed deep into the chest of the doppelganger, ripping out a dark, swirling core.
Therion let out a frustrated breath. “Little imp, men often want to be left alone when they’re facing something. Your intentions might have been pure in trying to help him, but that’s exactly the problem. Master has become more and more sullen as we’ve progressed towards this location, and he needs time to process whatever happened during his battle.”
Just as Therion finishing speaking, Yami abruptly snapped forward, eyes full of hurt.
“But he is apart of me, just as much as I am him. We’re made to help one another. He can’t just leave me alone.” Her faint voice cried out, her voice trembling as she spoke.
The Satyr merely chuckled, and held out the mana core from the doppelganger, still covered in the grime and gore from its recently retrieved corpse.
“If you want to help, then you need to get that witch inside the barrier to examine this. I know their species is adept at such things, and with the cores of other Lord’s servants, there can be some backlash if the demon isn’t careful. Truthfully, I know well now that master is no demon, but we still need to be cautious.”
Yami took a deep breath. She felt as if a large stone was pressing down on her, suffocating her own emotions deep within Drake’s own. The darkness and doubt in Drake was only building as he made his way here, and it was truly the first time she had experienced such strong negative emotions.
She looked to Therion, before shaking her head in an attempt to clear her mind. “Fine. I may not be thinking well.” Staring at the dark, swirling core, she took it between her hands. As she began to fly off into the barrier, she stopped just short, and looked back to the Satyr.
The Satyr looked to the young imp, his eyes full of a faint curiosity and caution.
“Thank you for what you did during the battle… I wouldn’t have been able to stave off two at once, and thinking about what might have happened…”
Yami stopped speaking, her voice beginning to choke up as she thought of how helpless she would have felt if Drake begun to lose.
Turning away, she quickly flew inside the barrier, leaving the Satyr with a faint smile on his face.
“Strange, and here I would have thought that I would be feeling more satisfied with how I did.”
He looked back to the forest, and to the remaining traces of the doppelgangers to his side, before sitting down on the ground, a fairly peaceful look on his face.
“I didn’t think I would have felt this way again.”
Drake stared at the ground as he marched his way to Gwyn’s hut. Everything was so simple just a few days ago, but now he barely felt as if he had control over his own body.
Ignoring the increasing irritation he felt at the way he treated Yami, he ended up walking into Gwyn’s small home before he realized it. There, he met with a grinning witch who seemed to stare at him incredulously for a moment.
“I have to say, I expected you to be gone a bit longer than you were.” Gwyn laughed at herself, smiling as she did.
Drake looked up, and stared at the witch. He felt as if something was wrong with himself. He should be able to handle himself better, but he just couldn’t, and that almost resulted him in losing what he valued most. Control.
Sitting down on her small bed, he looked to the beautiful witch, his expression flat, “Gwyn, in the world I come from, it’s fairly popular for there to be enchantments, curses, those sorts of things. Are you able to do anything like that?”
Gwyn, who felt guilty for what had happened to Drake in the earlier incident, stared in response, trying to process what he meant.
“Why do you want such a thing, Drake? That’s fairly serious magic, and it’s not something that can be done lightly.”
Drake’s mind began to race. What he wanted was control over himself, but just what would give him that ability? If he did advance his core, would it make things worse? Seals for controlling mystical types of power were fairly common in mythology and other sources, but that didn’t seem to be something a witch would use.
Drake’s shoulders trembled, intentionally looking away from Gwyn. “I did it again. Not like before, but in a way, it was almost worse,” Drake mumbled.
Gwyn eyes narrowed. “What do you mean, what happened Drake?”
Hearing the slight hesitation when she asked her question, Drake laughed in a deranged manner, looking up at her with his hand outstretched.
“This happened before I met all of you, you know. Back before the “Creators” made all of you guys appear. I was fighting a group of humanoids, and I just… lost it.”
Drake put his head between his hands, not bearing to look her in the eyes.
“I was attacked before I lost control, if that counts for anything.” Drake laughed, shaking his head as he did.
“But then, after that, it just all seems sort of hazy. I remember that my mana just started to go out of control. I remember they seemed afraid of me, and then they started to talk about killing me when…”
Drake paused. Thinking back to that day, he realized that even then the Draconian inside of him had influenced his thoughts, although to a much lesser extent.
He continued, “My vision seemed to turn all red. The amount of aura… it was almost overwhelming, especially compared to the amount that I control now. Then a young fox girl, probably not older than twenty ran out in front of me. That’s when I came to, and I just ran.”
Drake paused again. It wasn’t long after that he first met Yami, and truly started down the path he was on now. When he made his first contract.
“Gwyn, what happens to a demon’s aura as their cores grow stronger?” Drake asked, a clear hesitation in his voice.
Gwyn slowly walked over, and sat next to him, a serious expression on her otherwise beautiful demeanor.
“As a demon grows stronger, their cores do as well. So it stands to reason that there is a symbiotic relationship between their aura. The stronger the aura, the more powerful the core, and vice versa. Although…”
She put her hand on his shoulder, Drake stiffening up as she did.
“That’s not what you want to ask about, is it?”
Silence. Moments passed between the two, with Drake finally breaking the tension.
“Will I lose control completely if I go to the next stage. Will I still be… me…?”
The silence returned, however, this time Gwyn broke the tension.
“Drake, to be certain, I’m not sure. Your situation is unique, especially given your considerable power. The increased power may give you the ability to suppress such urges, although given how when you lose control, your mana goes wild, I’m not sure. But…” She trailed off, thinking over what to say next.
Then, Gwyn took Drake’s hand, causing Drake to look up.
“I believe I do know a way that can help, although it may be just as dangerous as advancing to the next stage.”
As Gwyn spoke, the faintest of movements, near imperceptible to even Drake’s enhanced senses, closed in on the door, hiding just around the corner.
“My magic has no ability to do what you wish. While I have heard that there are those who are capable of such things as enchantments, it isn’t something that I wished to study or work towards. However, what you need is simply to control the monster inside of yourself, so to speak.” She said, a sense a purpose in her words.
Drake laughed as he felt his skin began to crawl, and a deep anger rose up within him. He pushed the feeling down, and asked, “So what do I need to do?”
As Drake sat within various runic circles, Gwyn was finishing her preparations for Drake. The solution was fairly simple. Gwyn’s lesser form of study was mind magic, as it was quite useful. An example, if mundane and rudimentary, was the connection of cores between creatures. The translation of language took place as a result of a solid connection between two creatures, but the source of the magic itself came from Gwyn’s study in that field.
Drake looked up at Gwyn, a serious expression on his face as he calmed himself. His entire body was writhing in protest as the aura within him swelled and attempted to seep out. One of the runic circles she had made early in the process kept the Draconian in check, separating it from Drake’s consciousness temporarily. Keeping it in check as Gwyn finished whatever process was necessary was proving to be an excruciating experience as the Draconian had been fighting more and more often when Gwyn shut it out.
“Gwyn, how much longer?” Drake said between clenched teeth.
“Just a moment longer.” Finishing a final glyph, she smiled, satisfied with her work. Even if it was… experimental, to say the least. She had never attempted anything like this, even if everything looked perfect.
Nodding to herself, she looked to Drake. “Alright, now listen very carefully. Whenever I activate this circle, you’ll be thrust into your inner world. How it looks, and how things work will be up to you, as each individual I expect has some differences.”
Drake’s eyes widened slightly, and he cocked his head to the side. “You expect?”
“Hehe.. Oops.” Gwyn gave a cute look, before returning to her more serious expression.
“Are you ready?”
Drake closed his eyes, and responded.
And with a final flash of light, Drake sunk into unconsciousness.
Opening his eyes, he looked around, only to see a deep void surrounding him on every side. Raising his hand, he noticed he was human again. His nails were no longer black and sharpened, and the feeling of human skin under his fingertips certainly seemed novel after such a dramatic transformation.
Looking past his old body, he looked back out. It was an inky, black darkness, utterly lacking any semblance of shape or light. He laughed, and scratched the back of his head.
Is this what my unconscious really is? Just a huge void? He imagined that it would be similar to a wide, open area, filled with various memories of himself, but this was entirely different.
Then, just as he was getting accustomed to his surroundings, Drake noticed something. It was a faintly slimy feeling, as he felt himself began to sink downwards, the slow, steady feeling the only distinct sense he had in the dark void.
As time passed and Drake continued his descent, a faint light appeared. It was steadily growing stronger, but as he approached it and it started to come into focus, it seemed to fade away again, leaving him in darkness.
Is this what Gwyn had planned? Just slowly advancing through this darkness? Drake had expected something different. It seemed this magic of hers was still very experimental.
As Drake endured the slow descent through the darkness, another light began to appear, this time coming closer, just letting him see what it was.
It was an image of a small boy, riding a bike. He looked very unsteady, but as he gained speed, he was able to right himself and stay stable. Right until he smashed into a tree. The small boy began to cry in place, his arms and face cut up from the impact as his parents rushed over to help him.
Drake smiled, finally realizing what those small windows of light were. Ah. It’s memories of my childhood. That must be what all of this is.
As the light began to fade away again, he smiled sadly, and watched the small beacon of light disappear, leaving him in darkness.
This happened, again and again. He would see his old memories float past him, becoming more clear as each one passed by, only to leave him plunged back into darkness when it left.
Then, after seeing countless memories in the darkness, and inexplicable thing appeared.
A small ball of light, only the size of Drake’s hand suddenly appeared in the darkness. It closed in on Drake, spinning around him energetically before settling down in front of him, hovering slowly as it dimmed and brightened.
What’s this? Drake thought.
He slowly extended his hand towards the light. Strangely, it didn’t attempt to run, instead, it seemed to nuzzle against the palm of his hand as he touched it.
Then, just as soon as it appeared, it moved away from Drake, as if attempting to lead him away. The light circled in place, coming towards Drake, and then away again. A small, ethereal light followed it, stopping Drake in place and lighting a path through the darkness.
Drake was curious. He didn’t know how long he had been in here, and he seemed to have just gone through his life, seeing it pass by. This was the first sign of real change, and given how persistent it seemed to be in trying to lead him through this darkness, he didn’t have any reason to reject its offer.
Moving his foot forward, he stepped onto the glowing path. The light bounced up and down in an excited fashion, and continued to light a path for Drake. As Drake moved along the path, he noticed something distinctly different. The darkness was changing, and indistinct shapes were beginning to come into view.
In short, what came into view was magnificent.
Like a scene out of a dream, the whole area was covered in a slight sheen of red mist, with towering crystals of red mana in all directions. They jutted out in seemingly random directions, but all seemed to come together to make a greater whole, creating a visually stunning tower.
Just what the hell did I stumble into? Drake thought. As he stared in shock at the tower, the small ball of light seemed perturbed at Drake’s sudden lack of movement and quickly moved over to hasten him to the structure.
Strangely, as Drake moved closer to the castle, he began to feel different. The soft patter of his feet as he walked on the crystal ground, and the overarching crystals instilled in him a feeling of utter wonder, and this feeling only strengthened as he walked closer.
Is this something that I’ll be capable of one day?
On the outskirts of the tower that seemed to be putting out all of the red, mist-like mana, Drake noticed something. There were large groupings of some sort of fruit, but as he got closer to the strange plant, he realized it was something else entirely. It looked like a plant, at first glance at least. It resembled a lantern, with a soft glowing crystal inside, making up the core of the strange thing. The cores were unlike any of the crystals he had made before, and were instead taking in the mana surrounding them very slowly, as if a void was sucking in all the surrounding matter around it.
He looked very carefully, and intrigued by the plant, went to try to pick it. Just as he was about to touch the plant, the ball of light quickly flew in front of him, letting out a high-ringing tone as it did.
Stumbling back in surprise, he narrowed his eyes, “Hey, what was that for? I just want to see what it is.”
Drake felt a faint warming glow run through his body, and quickly fade, with a clearly recognizable voice answering him in that short moment.
“Unsure. Don’t touch.”
Yami’s voice rang out from the small ball of light, with Drake’s eyes widening in surprise.
“Wait, is that actually you Yami?”
The small ball of light bobbed up and down vigorously, with the same high ringing tone as before. Thinking harder, Drake recognized it now. It was the same bell-like tone that her voice usually carried, just without the words to accompany it.
He held out his hand again, stroking the small form. There was a soft glow of warmth coming from the sphere that calmed Drake immensely.
“Why are you like that? And how are you in here with me?” Drake asked in a questioning manner.
The sphere stopped moving for a second, as if deep in thought, then with the same soft, momentary glow welling up in him she said, “Too complicated. Kindred.”
Drake smiled, conflicted over his feelings. He had been so caught up in his own feelings that he had brushed off Yami completely, going so far as to get caught up in Gwyn’s strange spell without a second thought, yet didn’t tell her what he was attempting, or how it might go wrong.
His tendency of thinking only of himself during times of stress was a bad trait of his, and one that had carried over into this new world. Yet, even regardless of all that, she was still here, literally in his head still helping however she could.
“Right. Thanks, Yami.” Drake chuckled.
Glancing away from Yami’s form to the tall, spiraling tower above him, he looked to the tower with determination.
“Let’s finally finish this.”