Constant and all-encompassing, the piercing howl of the abyssal wind was interposed with the meek, stuttering crackle of a dying fire. Tar blinked, looking upwards. The sky was deep and dark, clouds of a sanguine red streaking across it at a rapid pace. He inhaled slowly, the air was heavy; the miasma enveloped him as if a shroud.
Her voice was soft, subdued, and like the sounds and sights that surrounded him, familiar. She was standing before him. Her eyes, glowing softly, were one of the few bright spots in the murk. Flowing, intricate stripes marked her back and arms, long hair whipping in the vicious wind, arms wrapped around herself tightly in defense of it.
She was looking aside at a wide ring of embers, the flames growing and flickering steadily back to life, carefully etched symbols becoming visible in the blaze and bleeding out into the centre of the circle.
She took a few steps away from the fire, reaching out toward him. "Are you ready?"
The blaze grew in height, tongues of flame reaching up toward the sky. Its feeble crackle grew to a deafening roar, though not a spark was to escape from the circle that had been drawn. His name passed her lips, though her voice was drowned out.
Tar took her hand and pulled her closer, "yes, but
Uncertain she was able to hear him, he bowed his head, speaking close to her ear; "I am
worried. We can't know where we are headed."
"Somewhere else. That's enough." She replied quietly, placing her free hand on his shoulder, "right?"
Tar ground his teeth, looking away at the ground that was visible due to the light from the circle; ashes and dry dirt over rock. Fragments, dust and debris were carried on the breeze, giving the illusion of some form of life as they moved in twisted, battered swarms.
"Yes," he finally responded, returning his focus to the female before him, "but I am
" he sighed, unable to think of any other way to word his thoughts. "I am afraid to leave you here."
"You make it sound as if this is goodbye," she responded after a brief pause. "If it was possible, Tar, we would cross together. But it isn't. You know it can't be too long before I'll be able to leave, as well."
"But we have no way of knowing where either of us will end up, Möd."
"Tar," she wrapped her arms around his neck, looking him in the eye and speaking in a more urgent tone. "We can't survive here much longer, it's still" she shook her head. "We can't stay here. And I know we will meet up again, it may sound
naïve, but I can feel it." She smiled slightly, trying to look reassuring, but the confliction and worry on her face was still rather obvious to him. The smile faded, she leaned against him. "
You know as well, right?"
He wrapped his arms around her, resting his chin against the top of her head. In his mind, he completed her half-finished sentence. "It's still our best option."
The fire roared, arcane symbols now visible in the unnaturally white flames themselves. The passage from the other side was complete, and his to open.
"I know." Tar muttered, trying to ignore the flames that beckoned as long as possible.
But the incantation wasn't to last for long, and he wasn't the only one who was aware of this.
Möd's arms slid free from his neck, her hands rested on his shoulders. "It's time," she whispered, her voice holding no illusion of cheer.
Tar slowly released her from his embrace. Möd touched her nose against his before stepping back. Biting her lip, she brushed away strands hair that had blown into her face.
He made his way to the circle, raising a hand and brushing away the curtain of flames, feeling nothing but air at his fingertips as he did so. He turned, facing the female.
"It will be alright, Tar," her voice was raised enough to be just audible over the blaze, "I will see you soon."
Yes. I'll see you soon." The words felt unnatural as he spoke, but he didn't want to cast any more doubt by speaking further. Tar bowed his head and turned away.
Stepping into the centre of pulsing embers, he heard her voice once more, but it was too muffled to make out what she had said as the flames closed in around him.
The world went black, and all at once, he was aware of the overwhelming fatigue that wracked his body. The next thing he noticed was that the world had gone silent. Tar opened his eyes and, for a few brief moments, was uncertain of why he was lying on the ground, staring up at a starlit sky. Then his mind began to clear, and the years that passed between his dreamthat memorybegan to fall into place.
He inhaled sharply, clutching a hand to his chest.
In the time that had passed since his crossing, he had prayed that she would leave the area, away from where Möd was to follow. But his master was always to return to the wastelands, for she could work without fear of interruption. No one in their right mind ever came out there.
Why would they? There were demons about.
His thoughts inevitably fell to the last moment he held Möd, his mate, in his arms.
Not the moment in his dream.
Tar shuddered, his breath hissing through rows of teeth and chest tightening as he relived the moment in which whatever desperate hope he had clung to was ripped away from him. He dug his claws into the earth, strained eyes opened wide, unwilling to risk seeing what his master had forced him to dowhat he had doneupon closing them once more.
The endless canopy of stars and barren lands that enveloped him served only to be the gnawing reminders of how different this world was, and that it still was no better than his had been.
And now, there truly was nothing left for him. The only reason his broken body and mind still remained on Atma, the only reason he still drew breath and endured the days and nights of anguish and remorse, was that he was truly unable to stop. She wouldn't let him.
She wouldn't let him die.
She wouldn't so much as let him as pause.
The sound of his teeth grinding together became muffled as the thick, bitter venom began to seep from between them. A soft growl escaped, deepening and becoming more ragged as he sat upright. He turned his head, glaring aside at the only structure visible among the dust and rock of which the barren lands were composed.
A tent in which his master slept peacefully, never troubled by the biting cold that came at night, nor the knowledge that a being's life had been taken for her own gain.
They call her a hero.
That's what she told him.
The Great Warrior, the slayer with unmatched skill in finding and dispatching demons.
Her people mustn't be aware she was the one who brought the demons over.
Nor that she, like any common summoner, had complete control over each being by doing so. A simple series of words prevented him from leaving this spot until she awoke and ordered him otherwise. A simple series of words prevented him from ever speaking to another individual, prevented him from behaving as anything more than a violent beast, should he ever encounter another native from Atma.
His own thoughts mattered nothing to the contract spell; he was fated to follow her orders until the contract ended, and it was very clear she would not be one to sit back and let the incantation simply run out, fade away. She certainly wasn't one to use it for its original purpose.
She would break the contract herself, before it was to fade.
He wiped away the venom that had managed to ooze out of his mouth, breaking his glare to look down at the viscous black dropletsthe reason she had kept him alive and in her control.
The venom remained a dark spot against the starlit sand, unable to seep into the ground or to reflect any of the pallid light.
Wearily, he shut his eyes. Momentarily, there was only darkness, but he couldn't prevent his mind from taking that solace away and once more forcing him to see their faces, the brief struggles, and the fear that gave way to expressions of blank indifference once his poison took control.
And with Möd
She was supposed to have crossed shortly after he did, but many months passed. He had wondered if she had formed a contract with a different summoner, and turned up somewhere else on this world's surface. He wondered if something had prevented her from following.
Occasionally, the thought crossed his mind that she may have simply changed her mind, or had never planned to at all. But that was nothing more than a nagging feareven then; he'd have preferred it to her simply being delayed for whatever reason.
He had no way of knowing whether any person, any place in Atma would be better. But, her only chance of survival would be to be far away from that woman, and from him.
But, one day, there she was, called over on his master's crude altar.
He choked, flooded with the memory her face once more, remembering the look of confusion that gave way to betrayal.
Neither of them had the opportunity to speak, he never got to find out what delayed her.
She never fought back when he bit into her neck.