Part 105: Episode XCVIII: RêveEpisode XCVIII: Rêve
Kainé listened to the sound of crackling firewood and stared at the black object on her plate. She'd been pushing it around the wooden disc for a good ten minutes, ignoring the bemused stare of her grandmother. Finally, she summoned her courage and gave the object a brief sniff. A sharp, bitter scent flew up her nostrils and made its home there, causing her face to twist with disgust.
"Grandma, I can't believe you want me to eat a bug."
The old woman threw some more wood under the cooking pot and snorted.
"It's no bug, you fool girl! It's a berry. Why in the hell would I be feedin' you bugs?"
"Yeah, well, it sure looks like a bug!" said Kainé. "And I think it's burnt or something, because it smells terrible."
With that, Kainé held her nose and threw the berry in her mouth, chewing as little as possible.
"Oh, yeah. That's terrible, all right."
"Why, you little brat!" laughed the old woman. "Look at the sass on you! You've been spendin' too much time with me, and that's a fact."
Five years had passed since the moment when Kainé's grandmother saved her from the bullies. As is often the way with two stubborn people, their relationship had grown in fits and starts, but moved forward all the same. Meals that used to be somber affairs were now filled with laughter and hurled abuse in equal measure. Kainé could not remember a time when she had been happier. As the years went by, Kainé started to shoulder more and more of the daily responsibilities. Her grandmother's legs grew weaker by the day, and she could no longer do many of the chores she used to take for granted. And so this morning found Kainé lacing up her work boots with a breakfast of burned berry rolling through her belly.
Music: Shadowlord ~ Memory
"Where are you going today?" asked Grandma suddenly.
Kainé looked up, surprised. The old woman rarely asked for specifics anymore.
"Well, I was gonna check out the kelma trees and see if they were ripe. I thought we could make some jam or something. Oh, and I'm going to pick up some flagstones, so I need to take the wheelbarrow."
"...Flagstones? What in the hell for?"
Kainé stared at her grandmother, then held out an arm and swept it around their home. Constructed mostly of cloth, rope, and rubble, the old place sagged like a boxer in the final round.
"Grandma, a dying cat could chew through this house. I'm going to build a stone wall so we have some protection."
The old woman laughed, exposing her toothless grin to the world.
"Goddamn girl, if a buncha thieves want to ransack this old place, let 'em come! We got nothin' worth stealin' anyway."
"I'm not worried about thieves! I'm worried about Shades. People saw one west of the village yesterday."
The old woman tilted her head and stared at her granddaughter.
"Well, shoot. I don't know why you have to do it today. We can worry about it some other-"
"Grandma, no. If I don't go to the kelma trees, we won't eat tonight. You know that!"
A confused expression passed across the old woman's face, and for a moment she was a small child lost at a carnival.
"Y-yes," she said after a bit. "Yes, of course you're right. I'm sorry, Kainé. Lately it seems my mind is..."
She didn't finish the thought, instead walking over to her nightstand and gently taking the wreath of Lunar Tears from the drawer. The flowers' petals had aged to a brilliant whiteness, and Kainé thought it was more beautiful now than the day she first received it.
"You're gonna be a true woman soon," Grandma said as she placed the flowers in the girl's hair. "So that means less chatter about Shades and buildin' defensive walls and more talk about how beautiful you've become!"
Annoyed, Kainé reached up to remove the garland, but the look on her grandmother's face stopped her hand.
"You're a beautiful thing," said the old woman, "and there ain't another like you in all the world. I'm very proud of you."
"Okay, Grandma, that's enough goddamn compliments for one day."
"Such a mouth on you! Where did that come from?"
"Gee, I wonder."
"I'll teach you to sass me, girl!" yelled Grandma. Suddenly, she lurched forward and grabbed Kainé by the ears, pulling her around the room with a crazed grin on her face.
"Grandma!" yelled Kainé in a quaking voice. "Grandma, stop it! What the hell!?"
The old woman stared at her and blinked, then slowly held her wrinkled hands out as if it was the first time she had seen them.
"Oh! Oh, I...I don't know what happened there. I'm sorry, girl. Sometimes my mind just..."
Kainé thought the look on her grandmother's face was the most heartbreaking thing she had ever seen. "Listen," she began, "maybe I should stay home after all."
"No! I won't have you stay here to keep an eye on an old codger like me. You go get your fruit and your wall and whatnot. I'll be fine. And when you come back I'll have a nice grasshopper dinner waitin' for you."
Kainé rolled her eyes, then kissed her grandmother on the forehead and made ready to depart, trying desperately to ignore the worry that was gnawing at the walls of her heart.
Kainé could feel the old woman's eyes watching her as she moved down the path. Don't turn around, don't turn around, she told herself, but in the end the temptation was too great. She spun on her heel for one final look and saw a small, bent woman standing in front of a ramshackle hut with a sad expression on her face. Gods, she looks so old now. It's like the wind could reach down and just carry her away.
Kainé worried about her grandmother all day, causing her work to suffer. What little fruit she could collect was tossed carelessly into the wheelbarrow, and she only found a couple of stones before losing interest in the project. finally, as dusk approached, she decided to call it a day. Cursing herself for the lack of focus, Kainé pushed the nearly-empty wheelbarrow back down the path.
As she crested the final hill, she suddenly froze in place. The wheelbarrow fell from her fingers and collapsed on its side, sending a few pieces of wrinkled brown fruit rolling back down the hill. Her gaze was transfixed by a thick black cloud that hovered just ahead. Tracing its path with a finger, Kainé suddenly felt her stomach knot in on itself.
No! Oh, gods, no!
Music: Shadowlord ~ Roar (Instrumental Ver. 2)
Her grandmother's house was ablaze; the flames licking up as if trying to touch the sky itself.
Kainé ran then, faster than she had ever moved in her life. Once she tripped on a stone and went sprawling into the rocky ground, but she leapt to her feet and continued running, unmindful of the blood that spilled from her wounded hands and knees. As she got closer and closer, Kainé's mind began to race in time with her footfalls.
It's too dark. It's too dark. Not just fire. Can't be fire. Too much smoke. Gotta save her. Gotta save her.
She burst into the front yard and came to a sudden halt, her worst suspicions confirmed. The smoke from the fire was mingling with the thick inky blackness of an enormous Shade. The massive creature supported itself on three twisted feet, and achieved balance through means of a large, armored tail. Scales, horns, and claws sprouted from its body in a random, chaotic pattern, giving it the appearance of a lizard designed by some insane god.
Seeing Kainé, it let out a roar and flicked its tail, sending small whirlwinds spinning around the yard. For a moment the creature retreated into a shimmering inky blackness, as if her mind was unable to comprehend that such a thing could actually exist. But then the smell hit her-a blend of rotted meat and excrement-and the horror became real once more.
The creature bellowed again, and this time Kainé responded with a scream of her own. All right, you bastard, she thought as her scream echoed off the high cliffs around them. It's you or me. Let's go.
The Shade eyed Kainé with bemused interest. Then it began looking from her to the house and back again, as if urging her to look at the destruction it had so gleefully wrought. With dread building in her heart, Kainé glanced toward the house. Through the smoke and flames, she spotted a small figure struggling to escape the ruins.
Shadowlord ~ Roar (Slow)
At the sound of her voice, the old woman began waving frantically. She's alive! thought Kainé. She's alive!
Kainé's legs sprang to life as she raced across the yard toward the flaming wreckage of the house. Before she could advance more than a few steps, the Shade opened its mouth and let out a roar powerful enough to uproot trees and send them flying. The blast sent Kainé tumbling through the air before smashing her against the rocky earth. Stars danced in front of her eyes as she tried to remember how her legs worked.
Get up. Get up! Get up get up get up get up NOW!
As Kainé struggled to her feet, the Shade stomped toward the house and pinned her grandmother to the ground with the tip of a claw. The old woman struggled to move the claw from her stomach, but she might well have been pushing a mountain. She coughed briefly, sending a small spray of blood into the air, then collapsed to the ground, her energy spent.
Music: Shadowlord ~ Roar
Kainé lurched to her feet only to fall back to earth with a gasp. Her ankles where on fire; one or both of them were surely broken. Ignoring the pain that screamed through her body, she began dragging herself across the ground, leaving a drunken trail of dust and blood in her wake.
G-Grandma... Hold on... Just a...little longer...
Her grandmother's face was turning blue, her eyes rolling back until only the whites were exposed. Kainé pulled herself across the ground with maddening slowness, the distance seeming to increase with every second that passed. The Shade glanced between the two women and flicked out its tongue, its giant mouth turning up at the corners. Short, panted breaths belched from somewhere deep inside its core.
Bastard... Laughing at us...
She had no idea how such a mindless creature could experience emotion, but there could be no doubt that the Shade was taking joy in their suffering.
Yeah... I see your plan...
The Shade moved its claw slightly, allowing Grandma to breathe again. It was clearly keeping her alive only to snuff out her life when Kainé was close enough to touch her.
I'm gonna kill this bastard...
Summoning all her strength, Kainé rose to her feet. There was a sickening snap from her right ankle as the foot twisted backward, but she forced it from her mind and began to hobble toward the monster. Pulling a small knife from her pouch at her waist, she leapt on the foot that pinned her grandmother and plunged the weapon deep.
"Give her back!" she screamed. "Give her back to me!"
It was like stabbing a rock. After a few swipes, the knife broke at the hilt with a dull snap. The Shade panted laughter again, then raised its tail and sent it rushing through the air toward the young girl that was latched to its foot.
Music: Shadowlord ~ Memory
Kainé never had a chance; the tail struck her square in the chest and sent her crashing into the burning wreckage of the home. As she lay on the ground with blood pouring from multiple wounds, a small, weak voice spoke up.
Kainé's vision blurred, but she forced herself to focus on the sound. Finally, her eyes cleared enough for her to make out her grandmother's hands reaching out to her through the smoke.
"K-Kainé... You've gotta...run... You can't...defeat him..."
Kainé grabbed the hands and held on with all her strength.
"Grandma... Come on... We have to go..."
The old woman coughed loudly. One of her hands, slick with blood, slipped from Kainé's grasp and thumped to the ground below.
"Grandma, no... No!"
"I said run, goddammit. You have to...have to live... You have to get through-"
The thought would stay forever unfinished. before she could say another word, the Shade's clawed foot descended, smashing through the remains of the roof and down upon the shattered figure of the old woman. Blood oozed thickly from gaps in the creature's toes as the terrible, putrid smell assaulted Kainé's nose once again. She stared at the foot, dumbfounded, convinced that what she was seeing could not possibly be real. When the creature finally lifted its appendage, all that remained underneath was a twisted, unrecognizable mass of rubble and red. ...Her grandmother was gone.
Kainé blinked, trying to feel the hands which had been in hers just a moment before. For a fleeting instant, she could remember the warmth of that embrace, the trembling of the fingers, but then the sensation drifted away on the breeze and was gone. Memories flashed through Kainé's mind, one after the other, faster and faster, until they became a meaningless jangle of noise.
Music: Shadowlord ~ Roar (Instrumental Ver. 2)
Kainé screamed then, a thunderous sound that echoed off the cliffs and seemed to roll away forever. The Shade eased forward, black ichor pouring from its mouth and dissolving into smoke on the ground below. The earth shook with every step as it crept toward its prey. Kainé's body slowly rose as if controlled by a mad puppetmaster. Her arms and legs were bent at impossible angles; her head lolled dangerously to the side. Yet somehow, she managed to stand. Staring at the Shade, her eyes began to glow with a deep red fire. The creature, so confident just moments before, took a slow, hesitant step backward, trying to discern if this broken human could possibly pose a threat. Kainé seized the moment. Laughing like a madwoman, she leapt into the air and plunged the shattered hilt of her knife deep into the leg of the Shade.
The Shade shook Kainé off like a fly, sending her crashing to the earth once again. Her chest rose and fell slowly, as if a great weight were resting on it. Moist sounds of pain echoed through her mind. Something warm and thick oozed from her ears.
Is that blood?
...I think it is. Think I'm bleeding to death.
...No. Can't...can't die. Grandma told me to live...
Deep inside Kainé's mind, something finally broke. The sound, the pain, the smoke, and flames...all of it faded away until all that remained was a single incantation repeated over and over again.
Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it! Kill it now!
As the spark that was Kainé slowly began to flicker and die, she felt her desire to kill and her desire to live blend into one. The distance between heartbeats grew longer.
Music: Deep Crimson Foe
"The beast approaches!"
"Oh, I got it."
Music: Shadowlord ~ Roar (Instrumental Ver. 2)