Long after the man named Animus left the dark alleyway--after he left the char-faced Marshal to his own, painful cries--a man dressed in black, his face shrouded by a hood, entered the dark alleyway, whistling a happy, upbeat tune. He walked toward the crumpled Marshal, threatening to trample him at his cheerful pace. He proceeded to take a step, but halted, his foot hovering ever so slightly over the blackened face of the man that had once had too warm of a smile. All that was there now was a twisted, gaping mouth of agonizing pain.
"My, my, my," the man said, his voice a soothing angelic melody that sounded right, but also horribly, horribly wrong. His voice trailed off into a light purr that sounded inhuman. The man clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth twice, mimicking the sound of the swaying pendulum of a clock. "Had I not noticed you but a few seconds later, the bottom of my shoe would have firmly been placed onto that thing you once called a face. How fortunate you and your fates must be." The man tittered a twisted laugh, something one would hear from the most cruelest of monsters. "However, given your recent run-in with those keybladers, I suppose 'fortunate' is a fairly inappropriate term. Yes, in fact, I believe it may have actually been unfortunate, as putting you out of your misery would be an act of kindness."
The man drew back his hovering foot, placing it beside its twin. He repositioned his feet then squat down next to the Marshal, both his knees letting out a loud, unified pop. Like a child tracing the outline of a picture or intricate lettering, the man ran his finger along the black, charred skin of the Marshal.
"Who are you?" the Marshal managed to whisper, the very act of moving his lips seeming to drown him in pain. "What are you?"
"Me?" the man asked, almost as if taken back. He tittered his chilling laugh again. "Why, I'm just a man. A happy man, a joyful man. A laughing man, a smiling man." The man pulled back his lips to reveal his pearly whites, smiling like a shark who had found dinner. "I like last. You may refer to me as such, if you so pleasure. I mind not."
The Smiling Man wrapped his fingers around one of the chunks of burnt flesh and quickly pulled it away, a harsh ripping sound accompanying it. The Marshal let loose a cry of agony as blood poured from the fresh wound. The Marshal brought his hand to his face, trying to cover the growing warm spot on his face. The Smiling Man pulled another chunk of flesh from his face and drew another bout of blood and screams from the man. He tittered yet again.
"Come now, it hurts now, but it fades quickly," he said, his smile weakening a bit. He offered his hand toward the Marshal, like a devil offering his in an agreement for the soul. "Rise, friend. Time is short (tick-tock goes the clock) and we've still much to do with you. Our friend the king would be quite disappointed to see you sleeping on the job, so he would. Quite.
"No time for rest now, friend. Now is the time for revenge and the preparation leading up to said glorious moment of sweetness. Now quickly, let us go. You've doddled on for quite long enough. Quite. Yes, quite quite quite quite quite quite quite quite. QUITE! NOW COME ON! MOVE! WE MUST GO! NOW! QUITE! YOU'VE DODDLED ON FOR LONG ENOUGH AND TIME'S HANDS ARE EVER BUSY! TICK-TOCK! TICK-TOCK! GOES THE CLOCK WHOSE TIME HAS YET TO STOP! COME! COME! COME!!!"
The Smiling Man grabbed the Marshal's hand and pulled, dragging the man up with him as he rose. With his other hand, he steadied the Marshal's limp body, like a rag doll. Supporting the Marshal's weight, the Smiling Man dragged the man who had had the too warm smile away into the shadows from which he had came.
Darkness. Black, flowing; a sea of stagnant oil that encompassed everything. Time, space, existence; one and all folds to it and becomes of it. A virus, growing and infecting and growing and infecting and growing and infecting and growing...
A ripple. First small, insignificant even. But it grew. The ripple grew (growing and infecting and growing and infecting and growing...), assaulting the sea of darkness, which trembled beneath its power. A light pulsed from its center, a purifying (evil) light that chased away the darkness, pushing it to the edge of existence and beyond. It grew (and infected), encompassed everything.
Growing and infecting and growing and infecting and growing...
They are the same, aren't they?
If you believe it to be. What is and what isn't is all that is or isn't. Light. Darkness. Me. You. Anything can be everything and everything can be absolutely nothing. But that is unimportant. All that matters is that its growing and infecting and growing and infecting and growing...
What is? The light?
The infection. But not yet. The infection comes second. First comes the wound. From the wound will rise the infection. Growing and infecting... But not yet.
I don't understand.
Don't worry. I'll help.
Ogen's eyes fluttered open. He was greeted by the sight of the dull, overcast sky of a world enslaved by the Eclipse King. A bell rung and startled a flock of birds, which flew from their perched location along the the bell tower in hastened surprise. They flew over Ogen, white specks across a canvas of grey. Ogen hated them.
As he rose, his body heavy like bricks, an intense, sharp pain stabbed at his chest and forced him to double over, grabbing at the pain. The boy looked down and saw through the large hole in his shirt a large, black wound across his chest. He touched it (tentatively, fearing the pain to undoubtfully ensue) and winced prematurely, the ensuing pain not occurring.
The boy pushed himself upwards, hissing a painful cry through his clinched as fresh pain rushed his body. Once on his feet, Ogen staggered forward twice before catching his balance enough to stand still. He looked around and saw Quel'loyen, unconscious, on the ground near where he had been. Animus was nowhere to be found.
Ogen walked--staggered--around, trying to get an idea of where they were, but not wanting to wander off too far from Quel'loyen, should something happen. He reached the side of a building and struggled to focus on a small sign, his eyes still trying to regain focus after the darkness (growing and infecting and growing...) of his sleep.
A Mr. "Honest" John
Ogen knew there was more, but in his weary state, the rest of the words jumbled and blurred together into a massive mess that the boy was forced to look away from. He turned and staggered again, throwing out his left arm to equal out his balance. His next few steps managed to get him back to his unconscious friend, afraid he might stagger forward and step on him. He leaned forward, drawing breath in through clinched teeth, and placed his hand on Quel'loyen and shook him lightly.
"Quel'loyen," he managed. "Quel'loyen, wake up."
When dawn--at least the time of dawn, the overcast skies of the Eclipse King's rule still firmly blocking out any light from the freshly risen sun--came, their party had set out. Archimedes had been sent by Merlin the night before to search for the gummi ship, but came back with no sight of the ship. Black Bart solidified the owl's claim, stating he had seen the floating chariot fly away shortly after the dim, overcast sky turned to the black of night. As such, Merlin suggested they take the road to the crossroad city (or what was left of it, he murmured) and make their way to the next world on their path, adding: "Whether you call yourselves allies or enemies, you all face a foe that none of you can survive alone. There is strength in numbers and silly squabbling should not interfere with what must be done. My young friends, you would do well to stay together."
With that, the group set off, leaving Merlin to find his books and the inhabitants to their usurper king. Though it sounds cruel and heartless, their group had done all they could for the world at that time and trying to do more than their abilities would allow would simply end in death. Merlin knew it, Vanessa knew it, and the others (assuming they didn't already) would know it soon enough as well.
They walked along the empty road, with nothing but grass to keep them company, for what must have seemed like days, yet were but hours. Vanessa held Galom--Wolfscraps--around her shoulders, carrying the still unconscious man across the vast, empty lands that tie the worlds together, the other girl (Cal, was it?) walking next to her. The woman held a great deal of power in her reserves, but with the passing time and weight of the man, her reserves were quickly deminishing, and it showed. But she carried on all the same.
As what could only be judged as dusk began to set on, the party arrived in the crossroad city or, as Merlin had accurately pointed out, what was left of it. The buildings that stood were nought but husks, brittle and threatening to fall at the slightest breeze. The streets were bare, save for a random piece of trash that inched by.
Upon Vanessa's insistence, the group set camp in the middle of the abandoned city. Except it wasn't abandoned. She thought it might be at first, but after seeing something move within the shadows of the ruined buildings, she thought--knew--otherwise. The woman figured they would be left alone, but slept with one eye open just in case.
When the sun's light brightened the overcast skies enough to see, the group set off once more, taking the southern route at Vanessa's lead. With the man still on her shoulders, Vanessa and Cal put the ruined city behind them and set out again for the great, empty lands. They continued on for near an hour before Vanessa felt the man stir and set him down (at her relief) to see if he would awake.