Author : Phro Metal

A chill autumn breeze blows through the trees lining the old, cracked cement path. Their leaves whisper like the fragmented cries of an artificial intelligence trapped on a dying CPU. Save for the weary pale glow of a single, distant skyscraper light, the midnight sky is blacker than a disconnected monitor’s lifeless stare. Homeless, nearly feral cats wander between the tree trunks, playing dismissively with terrified field mice.

A lone man treads down the path in heavy, wooden geta. His even pace clacks, clacks, clacks rhythmically on the cement. Twin swords rattle quietly with his every step, though he pays them hardly any notice. The beauty of his slow, steady march is marred by the jerking of cybernetics running desperately low on power. He would be a pathetic figure were it not for his quiet, burning gaze.

Not far ahead, a lonely street lamp glows like a once-brilliant firefly slowly dying of radiation poisoning. Drawing closer, a small crack splits across the man’s stoic countenance and relief is writ large in his eyes. A few more steps and he finds himself under the lamp, bathed in its yellow hue. As he tosses his head back to expose his face to its rain of photons, steel glints in his neck and shimmers from his right hand. Bathed in the light, his once-labored breathing slows to a low, monotonous rhythm like the mournful melodies of a Noh play. As the light pours over his body, his guard slips and he finds himself tumbling back through memory.

Twelve hours earlier, the man was not alone. His companions numbered five, all dressed in the somber colors of the warriors who lived under the clouds of eternal night. Charged with a mission to dispel those unchanging shadows, to turn back the onward roll of environmental decay, they had headed into the Dark Realm where none of their kingdom dared venture.

Hour after hour, they had marched silently, their cybernetic eyes and composite legs guiding them over treacherous terrain and through forests of mute horror. The deeper they had journeyed, the tenser they had grown, but neither the shriek of a Darkling nor the howl of a Nightwolf had been heard. They all were springs clamped down tighter than physics should ever allow. Numerous times, snapping branches had brought their swords from their sheaths, but never were there enemies to strike.

And then the attack came. It was silentmore silent than the emptiness of space. And quickquicker than Mercury’s orbit of the Sun. With his companions dead before their heads hit the ground, the now lone warrior let his blade fly. Through steel, flesh, and bone, it cut deep and strong. Like the perfectly-placed steps of a wild cat, the man flew through the Darklings hidden amongst the shadows. When at last there was nothing left to kill, the man lit a tiny candle, said a silent prayer over the deceased and set off yet again.

Ten hours of ceaseless marching had brought him here to the first source of light he’d seen in days. As the light washes over his body, his dark brown eyes begin to glow, turning green as they grow brighter and brighter. After some minutes pass, his eyes are as bright as a full moon. At last, with a few blinks, he lowers his face. After seven deep breaths and a moment’s pause, he takes a step forward and then treads back into the darkness.

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