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Into My Shadow: Dark Beginnings

[Content Notes: swearing, non-graphic torture.]

Another lightning spell ripped through him, forcing Dira to tense and thrash uncontrollably in his narrow cage. Wooden bars all around left him with an audience as he tried to brace his four arms against the sides to keep the bruising light. If any one of those mages felt a speck of remorse, he wasn’t feeling it from their flat stares or plain indifference. It wasn’t ‘til the spell dropped that he got that control back and coiled his tail around one leg. An old habit for comfort that, funnily enough, wasn’t quite cutting it in the underground chambers of wherever the Union brought him.

Though he was getting the impression these weren’t regular Union mages, but some rotten group festering inside their ranks. That tended to happen with an organization already corrupt up to its eyes. Dira pushed himself half up, leaning a shoulder against the wall of his cage.

“I keep’n tellin’ you people,” Dira slurred, panting “’S not how it works.”

Some mage walked by with a clipboard and approached an odd crystalline-powered machine. Bad news for the crystal-bound entity trapped in the enclosed, clear cell next to him. Its usually spritely smoke had sunk to hover close to the crystal deposit, and he could barely hear the soft hum it gave off. Better than the others there who never seemed to hear a thing from it at all.

“Because you’d be honest.”

A nameless mage prodded him with some magic staff, precharged with a lightning spell if he had to guess. A hard task to do, what with his screaming blending with a resonant thrum, rising and falling like a stormy sea thrashing against an imposing cliff. No one was getting anywhere. Not the mages, not him, and definitely not the entity living in that glowing crystal.

He must’ve struck a chord because that zap pressed on past the point of Dira enduring it that time around. His grip on the wooden bars as he shook would probably leave him with splinters once he could feel his hands again. Problem was, whatever they had trapped down there bonded with him and that made it all worse. It felt his pain, which he felt it feeling. The shock in his muscles bounced around the facets of its plain crystalline form. When Dira could catch glimpses of the entity there with him, he could see the smoke swirling around it and almost pressing against what had it smothered and powerless. All with a low and faint gong sensed more than truly heard. Whether in sympathy or pain, or some combination, Dira didn’t know from the short and miserable weeks he’d been there.

But kindness was kindness, especially in a place so likely to be his last. The spell eventually faded from that awful staff, and Dira took that rare chance to put his hand on the bars closest to the crystal. He heard someone step closer and crouch down but didn’t bother to move. Whatever they were going to do next to test this connection they couldn’t have or understand, he didn’t want to see it.

At least he wasn’t alone down there. He’d been getting pretty tired of that.

“You pity it.”

Slowly, Dira turned to look at the elf studying him. He’d seen him before. Sometimes, Stefan snuck him extra food when he knew no one else would be around. Being the least terrible person in the forbidden magic den didn’t exactly get him any awards. Dira squinted, bringing another arm to the bars and wrapping his hands around both. Might help to have those in place for whenever someone came back with a new staff.

“I’d pity any creature’n a place like this.”

He stared at Stefan meaningfully and wondered if his half-assed morality would let him see that he was more pitiful than Dira or the crystal’s entity had ever been. The kind of pride or delusion that let a person do this to anyone else didn’t encourage Dira’s hopes.

“Creature?” The sharp confusion in his words, now that was a surprise. Stefan looked back to the crystal and used the bars to steady himself as he stood.

Dira, he just laughed until tears come to his eyes. What else was there to do? All these mages, creating banned weapons like those staffs and inventing crystal-powered devices in secret… And they didn’t even realize they’d trapped an ancient magical entity in their midst. Whatever it was living in that crystal, it was there before them all and it would be there after. Tinkering with such a thing was asking for trouble, but trapping and tormenting it without bothering to know what it was first? Laughing was all he could do over something so empty-headed.

“You don’even realize what you got here, d’you? An’ you lot calls yourselves mages.”

Stefan’s frown barely registered before Dira felt it—a fog in his mind, heavy and rolling in. Somehow, it came as a comfort. Like pulling up a warm blanket and forgetting the day’s doings. The delicate jangle that came with it told Dira all he had to know.

He closed his eyes, hardly noticing when he got to his feet and grabbed at the bars with all four of his arms. His own voice was muffled and far-off, the mages’ startled expressions something on a distant stage he didn’t care to see. The words he did hear from his mouth came in layers—half himself and half something more. The voice of one or the voice of thousands, it was impossible to count or to know.

“You do not yet know the vastness of magic and all the twisted paths contained therein.” He saw the rod go through the bars and felt on some level that it should hurt when it jabbed into his torso. Their torso? He felt nothing but the thump of it against his body, this vessel they now shared. More prominent was the white-hot glow of his hands that made the wooden bars smoke.

“No, not quite yet, little carrion,” their voice continued. “But you shall.”

——

Author’s Note: 

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