The Souls of the Mithrarin
A comforting silence fell between the duo, broken only by the occasional hiccough. Eventually, Dust regained enough strength to stand, picking up his hat as he did so (Fidget made no complaint — in all honesty, she’d actually missed the hat) while Fidget began stretching her wings again. Still exhausted, the nimbat camped out on Dust’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry, Fidget…I really am,” Dust sighed, wiping the last of his tears away. “I had no idea… I didn’t realise how worried everyone was.”
“Why in Elysium do you think we wouldn’t be?” Fidget asked. “You’re more than just a hero, you know? You’re our friend.” Dust smiled in thanks — Fidget had been right. He really had gotten himself stuck in a rut. He was glad that he could count on her to snap him out of it. “Oh, and one more thing?”
“You know how you started yelling at me to leave?” Fidget grimaced. “Well…kind of impossible until you wake up.” Well, that would have made all the difference!
“Why the heck didn’t you mention that sooner?” Dust spluttered.
“Because you stuck a sword in my face,” Fidget pointed out dryly. Dust winced and apologised once again. Fair point. “Now, come on,” Fidget smiled. “Let’s not keep them waiting — what’s our next step?”
“I was hoping that you could tell me,” Dust frowned. “What makes you think I’d know?”
“It’s your Soulscape!” Fidget pouted. “I thought it would be a given!”
Dust decided to at least get out of the Cirelian Trials area — the place creeped him out nearly as much as it did Fidget. He also wanted to find a proper weapon — the one he’d used against Fidget had felt foreign in his hands and not because he was used to using Ahrah.
Exiting the caverns, Dust was able to get his first proper look at his own Soulscape (Fidget flopped on his shoulder in exasperation when he explained that he’d pretty much been stuck in that room since locking his souls away). The haze really was disorientating to begin with, as was the colours of the surroundings (a kind of lilac, blue and teal mix). Still, he couldn’t deny that it was nice to be out of the room he’d imprisoned himself in.
“This is really something else,” he remarked in awe.
“You can say that again…” Fidget grumbled. She sounded less than impressed. Before Dust could say anything more in reply, another voice sounded, this one echoey and far-off. It was nonetheless familiar.
“Master?” it said. “Master! Can you hear me?”
“Ahrah?” Dust exclaimed. “Is that you?” The was no sign of the floating sword, so it was deduced that it was making contact with the duo from the outside world.
“And where were you when I was getting my wings clipped by this maniac?” Fidget huffed. Dust pulled a face at her.
“Uh…you started that one,” he pointed out.
“Okay, maybe I did,” Fidget shrugged. “But you weren’t exactly holding back yourself.”
“Do I even want to know what happened?” Ahrah sighed dejectedly.
“I’ll tell you once we get back,” Fidget said quickly. “How come we can hear you?”
“Dust has unlocked a part of his soul, Fidget,” Ahrah explained. “This has allowed me to once again speak with him.” Fidget asked Dust quickly if he’d actually had telepathic conversations with the sword in the past without telling her but he declined to answer.
“Sorry about that, Ahrah,” he winced instead. “I…I didn’t know what else to do.”
“I do not blame you for the course of action you chose to take, Master,” Ahrah reassured. “I am grateful, however, that Fidget has succeeded in starting you on the path to awakening.”
“Starting?” Dust frowned.
“Still got Jin and Cassius to track down, Tough Guy,” Fidget said.
“Precisely. They form as much a part of you as your own mind and self do, Dust,” Ahrah agreed. “To free yourself from the Soulscape, you must unlock your twin souls as well.”
Dust let out a small reluctant sigh which Fidget, still on his shoulder, caught immediately.
“Don’t you dare go there again, Dust, or I will be forced to scratch your eyes out,” she warned. Dust shook his head.
“No…I understand,” he said. “Ahrah, you’re still with the others, right?” Ahrah confirmed that it had not left Dust’s side ever since the group fled Everdawn Basin. “Then…tell them that I’m okay, and that Fidget’s bringing me back.” Ahrah agreed to do so, but when Fidget asked the sword to pass on thanks to Lady Tethys, Dust instead asked if he could thank the deity in person once they awoke.
“As you wish,” Ahrah said. “In the meantime, I will project my power into the Soulscape for you, Dust. You will need a weapon.”
“Did I not mention five minutes ago that he nearly sliced my wings off?!” Fidget shrieked.
“I don’t know what that sword was, Fidget, but it felt wrong using it,” Dust winced. Fidget shrugged — fair enough. As long as it wasn’t that spectral sword from before she was okay with it.
There was a shimmer in the air around Dust’s hand — as it cleared, a glowing silhouette that matched Ahrah in appearance appeared in his hand. Dust visibly relaxed and gave the blade a few practise swings, and it moved so naturally he might as well have been moving his own arm. With a final farewell and wish for Dust and Fidget’s safe return, Ahrah’s presence vanished from the Soulscape. Armed and ready, the duo set off, ready as they ever would be to face the challenges of the Soulscape.
“That is the last time I ever want to face a demon from another dimension!” Fidget snapped as they took down a somehow-even-ghostlier-and-spookier-than-before version of Demon Kane. Dust wiped his brow and grunted in agreement. “Your mind is messed up, Dust.”
“So you’ve said ten times already,” Dust grumbled. “Given everything I’ve ever been through, can you blame me?”
“Eh. Guess not,” Fidget shrugged. It would be unfair to do so. “Let’s keep moving — wherever we end up has to be better than the Sorrowing Meadows.”
“I won’t disagree with you there,” Dust said. “Except Everdawn.” Again, Fidget couldn’t argue with that. The duo stepped forward, past the last mansion of the Sorrowing Meadow and, just as expected, the scenery changed. This time, it brought them to a village covered in snow. Surprisingly, although it wasn’t in ruins, it was recognisable immediately as Zeplich Village.
“Nice to have some place in here that isn’t in tatters or downright creepy,” Fidget mumbled. Dust nodded in agreement but didn’t make a noise — he seemed drawn to the centre of town. Following without question, Fidget hovered behind him as they moved onward. In the centre of town, just outside Ginger’s house, was a fox Warmblood with the same red hair and deep blue eyes that Ginger had. Like Dust had been in the Cirelian Trials cavern, this man had chains shackled to his wrists, but they seemed less foreboding than the ones that had bound Dust. Upon seeing Dust and Fidget, he smiled in greeting.
“Well, look who finally pulled himself together,” he remarked jokingly. Fidget blinked a few times, remembering that face…that smile…from the photograph in Ginger’s ruined home.
“Hang on a second…” she exclaimed softly. “Isn’t that…?”
“You’re…Jin,” Dust realised. For the first time, he was having a face to face conversation with one of the souls that had created his very being.
“That’s me,” Jin smiled. “It’s nice to have a chance to actually meet you, Dust. You too, Fidget.”
“Pleasure’s all ours,” Fidget grinned back. Ginger hadn’t been wrong when she’d told them how nice Jin was — Fidget couldn’t help but like the guy. “Ginger’s told us a fair bit about you.”
“I dread to think,” Jin gulped with a modest laugh. Dust pulled his hat up to reveal his face, eyes of pale blue meeting deep azure. Despite the difference in colour, the two pairs of eyes were almost identical.
“No, no. It was all…good things,” he contradicted. A smile crept across his own face. “It was pretty much the same from the Moonbloods who knew you.” To Dust’s surprise, Jin’s face fell and the smile left his eyes to be replaced with regret.
“That’s what I thought,” he sighed.
“Huh?” Dust blinked. “What do you mean? And how come you sound sad about that?” Jin sighed again before answering.
“Being a part of you and all that, I heard the Elder’s explanation about who you are,” he explained. “About how I’m the Soul of Innocence and Goodness counteracting Cassius’ Strength and Power. It’s…” He trailed off, as if trying to catch his own train of thought for a moment. “Let’s just say that it’s not as clean cut as that.”
“How do you mean?” Fidget asked. Jin made direct eye contact with Dust again.
“Dust…You share my memories,” he pointed out. “You know why I left home that night.” Dust nodded.
“You were seeking out Cassius,” he recalled. “The man who killed your parents and led the destruction of your home.”
“There you have it,” Jin said sadly. “I was out for vengeance. Does that sound like an innocent act to you?”
“Now you mention it…” Fidget mumbled. She guessed that Jin wasn’t exactly the squeaky clean angel they’d heard about.
“There was a darkness inside me that led me to abandon the only family I had left,” Jin explained painfully, the regret of what he’d done etched into his face. “It’s a side of myself that Ginger never knew about…and one I didn’t want her to know about.”
“That’s why I…I mean, you left without saying goodbye that night,” Dust realised, quickly correcting himself. Having so many sets of memories really did get confusing.
“Yeah, and I’ve regretted it ever since,” Jin nodded. “But how could I let my sister know that I was out for blood? I was no better than the assassin that killed our parents.” Dust begged to differ — Cassius had killed indifferently and without mercy or remorse.
“That might be the case, but everyone’s got a bad side to them,” Fidget pointed out. “And from what we’ve heard…from both sides, mind you…Cassius sounded way worse.” Case in point. “Don’t compare yourself to him.”
“She’s right,” Dust smiled softly. “I mean, Taka’s a great person, but she’s not exactly what I’d call a saint.” His smile broadened at the thought of his friends in the outside world. Taka hadn’t exactly gotten off on the right foot with the group, but Dust couldn’t deny that she was a valuable ally and friend, despite her thievish tendencies. “I have to keep my eye on the Blade of Ahrah constantly because she keeps trying to pinch it.” The example got a laugh out of Jin, who looked thoughtful before he spoke again.
“It’s not just me,” he said. “Cassius has a few…let’s say…unexpected traits of his own, I guess.” Of course. Spending an extended period of time in the same body as your enemy had to mean you’d learn a thing or two about them whether you wanted to or not.
“You’re saying he has a sense of humour?” Fidget asked. “Because that’s the last thing I’d expect from a cold-hearted assassin.”
“Nah, the guy’s about as funny as a dull whetstone,” Jin shook his head. “But…as much as I hate the guy…”
“Which is a lot,” Dust deadpanned. Jin looked surprised.
“Wait, you can tell?” he exclaimed.
“Trust me,” Dust sighed dryly. “Of all the memories that have been coming back to me over these last few days, the ones of you two getting down each other’s throats every time I made a decision are not ones that I’ve missed.” Jin grimaced and rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly in apology.
“Ah…umm…sorry about that,” he winced. “I didn’t realise you could hear all that.”
“You’re kind of hard to ignore,” Dust smirked until Fidget cleared her throat loudly to get the conversation back on track. Jin got back to the topic at hand.
“As much as I hate Cassius for what he did, he’s a loyal guy,” he explained. “Pretty much to a fault, now that I think about it. Also, I found out that when it comes to people he’s close to, he actually does care. I guess he didn’t want others to know that he could, though. Apparently even Gaius thought he didn’t have a heart.”
“How’d you work that out?” Fidget asked. It was Dust who answered.
“It was when I tried to save Gaius in Everdawn fifteen years ago,” he realised. “I felt Cassius talking through me then.”
“I was surprised you let him considering you spent the entire fight telling Gaius not to call you ‘Cassius’,” Jin remarked.
“Even when we were facing the King, when I was trying to get control of myself back…” Dust continued. “I could feel what Cassius felt. He…he felt betrayed, like he was horrified someone he considered a friend would do something like that.”
“So Cassius was friends with the King?” Fidget exclaimed in amazement. “Dang, guy had connections.”
“That was more or less the impression I got when Ginger woke me up,” Jin agreed, ignoring Fidget’s comment. “But that’ll be something to ask him when you see him, though,” he grimaced, lifting both hands pointedly. The chains clinked together. “We’re both a little…tied down at the moment?” he said. Dust winced and nodded quickly
“Oh, right…uh…give me a moment.”
There was the slightest of pauses before the chains around Jin’s wrists dissolved in a ribbon of cyan light, disappearing into the fog of the Soulscape. Jin rubbed his wrists and smiled warmly at the duo.
“Thanks, Dust,” he said kindly. “Say hi to my sister for me when you see her next.” Dust nodded and promised that he would do so, with Fidget vowing to hold him to that promise before they set off to find and unlock the final soul residing within Dust’s Soulscape.
“Dust…from now on, you are not allowed to speak,” Fidget grumbled as they left Zeplich Village to be greeted by a scene of glowing orange only made worse by the haze of the Soulscape. Dust tugged his satgat back down over his eyes…of all the places they could have ended up, this was the last on his list of where he’d wanted to end up.
“Shut up, Fidget…” he groaned back. “Let’s just hope that Cassius is around here somewhere, this is last place I can remember us ever going except the Plains and Falun.”
Cutting through the spectral hordes of Remnants, as the duo had found out the monsters within the Soulscape were called, Dust and Fidget fought their way back through the volcanoes of Everdawn for the third time. The path they carved through the basin was almost identical to the one they’d trod fifteen years ago, down to the very spot where Gaius’ throne stood in his camp on the summit of one of the volcanoes.
“I swear…if Gaius shows up again…” Fidget mumbled.
“Wait, again?” Dust frowned. Fidget was about to explain what had happened when she’d first entered the Soulscape when the air shimmered again, and a ghostly apparition of General Gaius appeared.
“EEK! WHY?!?” Fidget shrieked. Dust glared at his nimbat companion.
“Fidget?” he glowered.
“From now on, you are not allowed to speak.”
The resulting battle with Gaius luckily was over before Dust found himself falling into a lava lake again — the scenery changed before he had a chance to do so. No longer were the duo within the fires of Everdawn Basin, but instead a courtyard, one that Fidget sure didn’t recognise but there was a faint glimmer of recognition in Dust’s face.
“Where do you think we are?” Fidget wondered aloud.
“This is where I…I mean, where Cassius trained,” Dust replied. “This is the courtyard of the Royal Palace.” He walked forward without waiting for Fidget to respond, as if exploring a place from his distant past. Fidget knew that it was like the time they’d entered Zeplich for the first time, and quietly followed him. If there was any place in the Soulscape where they would find Cassius, it would be in a place from his memories, just like they’d done with Jin.
Sure enough, there was a grey wolf warmblood standing in the centre of the courtyard, dressed in dark grey, wearing a satgat, and with chains hanging from his wrists. There was no smile on his face, merely a cold gaze coming from two crimson eyes.
“So, you came after all,” Cassius spoke in acknowledgement of the company he was now receiving. Dust stopped in his tracks and stood firm.
“I know I wasn’t exactly striking confidence in people with my behaviour,” he said bluntly. “You have Fidget to thank for snapping me out of that.”
“Uh…hi?” Fidget squeaked from behind Dust’s shoulder. Cassius grunted before responding.
“Dust is lucky to have friends like you,” he remarked. “While I agree that putting us all on lockdown was a good idea for an immediate solution, in the long term it will do nothing to stop Julius.”
“Uh…did you not try telling that to Dust?” Fidget asked with as much courage she could muster. The very air felt cold around the assassin, and it was giving her goosebumps. “It took me smashing his face in to get him to listen.”
“Tell me about it…” Dust grumbled, rubbing his nose as if to check that it wasn’t broken. Cassius folded his arms, his expression hidden by the shadow cast by his satgat.
“The child and I both tried talking to Dust, but no doubt you took notice of where you found him?” he said. Fidget shivered.
“Yeah…and I thought the Sorrowing Meadows were creepy,” she gulped.
“Okay, I get it,” Dust huffed. “My mind’s messed up. Can you blame me?”
“No, but I am definitely taking you to see a psychiatrist once this is over,” Fidget said firmly. “This is…it’s not normal!”
“I’m not normal!” Dust pointed out. “We’ve established this.”
“Anyway…” Cassius cut across impatiently. “Such areas are impenetrable by those already chained within the Soulscape,” he explained. “I assume that because you do not originate from here you were able to find and communicate with Dust.”
“You see how difficult you made it for everyone, Cone Hat?” Fidget pouted.
“Okay! Alright! I get it! I said I was sorry!” Dust protested.
“Say…umm…Mr Cassius, sir…” Fidget said, ignoring Dust’s mini tantrum. “You tried fighting against the King’s control out there, right?” Cassius made no reply, but made a small noise that rang of betrayal.
“He was someone you saw as a friend, wasn’t he?” Dust said. “And what he did violated that friendship.”
“I trained as a Royal Assassin from a young age…younger than you are in the outside world, Dust,” Cassius explained. “Gaius was a few years my senior, and the King…who was the Crown Prince at the time…even more so. He nonetheless trained in combat with us, and was somewhat a mentor of mine.”
“Must have been a good fighter,” Dust figured.
“He is,” Cassius confirmed, the first trace of what Dust could only describe as nostalgia echoing in his otherwise cold voice. “He was close to General Gaius, who in turn was my friend. In time, they were the only two people I ever gave that title to.”
“Just a question, how good a fighter are we talking here?” Fidget cut in. “Because Gaius said that you could never beat him in a fight, so what about the King?”
“He was the only one that Gaius could never win a fight against,” Cassius remembered, almost too fondly for Dust and Fidget’s liking. That…wasn’t exactly good news for them. “When Julius was crowned King, I swore allegiance to him. I trusted his judgement. For as long as I knew him, he was a good ruler, and treated his subjects justly…”
“What of the Moonbloods?” Dust interrupted, perhaps a little sharper and colder than he might have meant to have sounded, but his disdain for the actions taken against innocent lives was nonetheless made clear. Cassius seemed unfazed by Dust’s tone.
“I know you share my memories, Dust,” he said calmly.
“That does not mean that I understand,” Dust retorted cooly.
“Can’t say I do, either,” Fidget agreed.
“And I doubt that you ever will,” Cassius said simply. “You side with the Moonbloods. I doubt there is anything I can say that will make you understand the viewpoint of those who oppose them.” It was clear that Cassius was going to make no attempt to either explain or defend himself, Gaius or any other Warmblood who actively sought to wipe the Moonbloods from the face of the earth, so Dust decided it not best to dwell on the subject. It was true that he knew Cassius’ reasons for fighting against the Moonbloods…and along with them, Gaius and the King’s reasons too…but he could never bring himself to understand them.
“You’re right. There probably isn’t,” he agreed. “But why would the King steal the Eye of the Life Thread and use its power in such a way?”
“Yeah, last time I checked, snatching souls from the Life Thread and raising the dead was a major taboo in terms of magic,” Fidget frowned.
“It is,” Cassius confirmed. “Although, by that logic that would also make Dust’s very existence an abomination.” Fidget instantly bore her fangs and claws, her paws glowing brightly.
“HEY!” she snapped angrily. “Say that again and I’ll…!” Luckily, Dust grabbed the nimbat by the scruff of her neck before she could cause any damage.
“Fidget! Calm down!” he exclaimed. “He’s got a point. Both he and Jin should technically be a part of the Life Thread. They…don’t belong in the mortal world anymore, yet they live on through me.” Fidget was still fuming.
“That doesn’t make you an abomination!” she argued.
“Cassius, I’ll repeat my question,” Dust said firmly. “Why is Julius doing what he’s doing?”
“I can only guess that he sought out a way of efficiently and permanently wiping out the Moonbloods,” Cassius speculated. “By raising an army that would never run out of soldiers…with the Eye of the Life Thread, he could bring them back as he pleased and they in turn could not be destroyed by normal means. With the Eye of the Life Thread, he would also have complete control over his army, and any soul who dared to defy him…if they even had the power to do so…would be subjected to the same trance that he placed me under.”
“That’s…barbaric…” Dust hissed, clenching his fists and his jaw.
“Julius is ruthless in war, and forever determined to achieve his goals,” Cassius said, no longer with nostalgic remembrance but a sad one. “That much, I have always known. But I never dreamed that he would stoop to such a level, nor commit such a crime against nature. Tampering with the Life Thread in such away…soon enough it will tear existence itself apart.” The pain of betrayal and disappointment cut through the assassin’s cold voice like a knife, Cassius being unable to hide emotions from someone who was practically himself in a new life. He paused for a moment as if in thought before he raised his head enough that his crimson eyes could be seen under his satgat.
“Although there is a part of me that will always be loyal to the crown, even I can’t and won’t ignore the fact that what the King is doing is destroying this kingdom,” he said. “The one we all worked so hard to save…” He couldn’t exactly deny his participation in the events of fifteen years ago.
“You’re willing to just let us stop him?” Fidget asked.
“We must,” Cassius said firmly. “There is no other choice. I may bear no sympathy to the Moonbloods or their allies, no more or less than I did twenty years ago, but as Gaius said: the world we loved is gone. He told you, Dust…told me…to cherish this new world, and I fully intend to honour my friend’s wishes.” He took a deep breath before continuing, every word burdened by the gravity of the situation at hand. “Even if it means defying the wishes of my King. What the man has done means that I can no longer consider him the friend that I once knew.”
“You understand what we all have to do, then?” Dust asked.
“If it comes to that, I will make no move to stop you,” Cassius promised. “I will lend you my strength, just as I have since the moment you first breathed life. But, Dust…” he trailed off, as if afraid that what he would say next would be unacceptable. “It it is not beyond my place…I would like to ask a favour of you.”
“Depends on the favour,” Dust frowned. “What is it, Cassius?”
“I would like the chance to speak to the King,” Cassius requested. “The man I trained alongside and served my entire life was not a man without reason. If possible, I would like the chance to try talking him out of this madness.”
“First off, we tried that and look how well that turned out!” Fidget pointed out, gesturing to the Soulscape around them. “Second, you want to become the dominant soul just to have a conversation? How do we know that you won’t make Dust turn on the others? That’s exactly what we want to avoid!” Again, Cassius was unfazed by the accusations.
“Were I still alive, I would swear upon my life that I would not do such a thing,” he replied. “However, I cannot give you anymore than my word, and a vow to do whatever I can to make sure that Dust does not fall under the Eye’s power again, so that is what I shall give.” Fidget didn’t look entirely satisfied, but Dust could only try to defuse the tension.
“I can see what this means to you, Cassius,” he said simply. “Jin probably won’t like this…nor will anyone else…but I will give you the chance to talk to the King.”
“But if you make one move that looks like you might even make the tiniest scratch on one of the others, I will not hesitate to knock you out myself,” Fidget threatened, teeth bared in an angry snarl. The smallest hint of a smile appeared on Cassius’ face — it made Dust wonder if such an expression had ever crossed the assassin’s face in the years before he died, and if anyone had seen it.
“Thank you,” Cassius said softly. His voice was still cold and sharp, but the faintest hints of gratitude were still there. “And Dust, please…do what you can to save Julius from this madness.”
“I will do my best,” Dust promised. There was a moment of silence as the chains around Cassius’ wrists dissolved into the Soulscape in the same way that Jin’s had done. The Soulscape itself seemed to become clearer, with much of the haze lifting.
“I believe it is time that you woke up?” Cassius pointed out. Dust nodded, and Fidget made a statement of agreement — the sooner they got out of the Soulscape, the better, in her not-so-humble opinion. “Good luck out there, Sen-Mithrarin.”
Dust held Fidget closer as the courtyard faded to be replaced by the Glade. The haze had all but gone, although the lilac and blue colours remained. It made the place seem more like a haven, rather than the twisted dimension that Fidget had found when she’d first arrived. There, in the very centre of the Glade…in the very spot that Fidget had found Dust on the day they’d first met, was a gleaming portal, shining with a gentle white light. Through it, Fidget was ninety percent certain that she could smell the scent of a freshly cooked curry.
“Ready to get back into the field?” Fidget quizzed, glancing at her friend. Dust stood in place for a moment. “Dust?”
“Yeah…” he replied. “I think so.” Fidget comforted him with a paw on his shoulder, which he gratefully took. With a small smile, pale blue eyes met ones of brilliant green. “Thanks again, Fidget…for snapping me out of this.”
“I know you’d do the same for me,” Fidget smiled. “Now let’s go before I get too used to seeing you as an adult.”