Darian sat at the table, a glass in his hand full of some kind of alcoholic beverage he didn’t particularly recognize. He glanced through an open window that led to the outside world. It was complete darkness outside. It wasn’t that it was night. Night suggested stars, the moon, or some other form of light sources that suggested a living, breathing world.
There was none of that. It was complete, impenetrable darkness. As far as Darian could tell, there was absolutely nothing outside the small tavern he sat in, the only light coming from the presence of a single candle that sat in the table in front of him. He feared to crowd the candle. It might go out, or its’ light might inadvertently be blocked, giving the darkness outside the opportunity to come in.
He sat there for some time. He never took a drink of the substance in his hands, but somehow just holding it comforted him. He quickly began to wonder what he needed to do next. It felt like he was waiting on something, but he could not seem to recollect what.
The door suddenly burst open, and a black form immerged out of the darkness. Darian jumped to his feet before he realized that it appeared to be a person garbed in black robes. He sat back down but watched the man carefully. The darkness had seemed to cling to the man as he emerged from the nothingness outside. It had almost appeared as if the darkness itself had made the man.
He wore a hood up over his head, and shadows completely covered him, preventing Darian from seeing any details. The robes ran down the entire length of his body, leaving his entire body without any definable form. The man had immediately noticed Darian and walked up to him.
“May I join you?” The voice asked gruffly.
The dark man’s voice was old and decrepit. Darian now noticed that he walked with a hunch, and was clearly a man who had seen many years. He nodded to the old cloaked man, motioning to allow him to sit.
The man graciously bowed before sitting down next to him, grabbing a second glass that had been sitting there. Darian had not seen that glass before, where had it come from? The man picked up the drink and swallowed it, quickly downing the dark liquid with noisy gulps. When he put the glass down, he sighed.
Darian raised an eyebrow noticing the glass still appeared to be full of liquid. Even now that he sat across from Darian, Darian seemed unable to make out any features on the man’s face. The shadows under his hood almost seemed absolute, unyielding to the light of the candle. Maybe that was what happened to everyone who went outside.
“Where are we?” Darian asked, leaning forward towards the man.
The man looked from side to side around the tavern, as if trying to assess his own location, “It would appear we are in a dream.”
“How did we get here?” Darian pressed for answers.
“I don’t know…” The shadowed man said, a bit of mirth in his voice, “How does one get into a dream? Sleeping, I’d imagine.”
Darian sat back. Stupid question.
“But why a tavern?” Darian pushed on.
“This is your dream, why don’t you tell me?” The man laughed.
“But the darkness-“ Darian looked at the windows and grimaced.
The man turned and looked at what Darian could see. The darkness seemed to roil just outside. There didn’t appear to be any windows, but the darkness didn’t seem to be able to come in either. Instead, it waxed and waned, pushing against the light like a constant pressure.
“Oh, that.” The man sighed, his head seemingly weighted by an indefinable pressure, “The darkness is always there, in our dreams. That’s where it can find you. Where it can see you. It’s the gap between the light where it can creep in. I imagine the darkness is particularly interested in you, Darian Starchild”
Darian frowned. He didn’t understand what the man was talking about. The fact that the man seemed to know a name he himself had only just thought of also unsettled him a bit. Then again, everything about the man unsettled him a bit.
“Can it-” Darian cleared his throat, “Can it hurt me?”
“In your dreams?” The man seemed to perk up a bit, “Well, there are some. Some who decide to talk to it. Some who decide to embrace it. There are also those with no light, to begin with. The darkness can reach them. However, for the likes of you and me, as long as you keep that candle burning, you should be safe enough.”
The man reached out, taking his thumb and forefinger and closing them around the flame, snuffing it out. Darian made a sound of protest, moving towards the now burnt-out flame between the old man’s fingers.
It took him a moment to realize that the light in the room had not diminished a single bit. It still resonated as if the man’s fingers were not even there, even though Darian could not see the flame. The man removed the fingers, and the flame burst back into life as if it had never gone out.
“The light is not so easy to put out. Yes?” The old man continued to sound amused.
Darian sighed in relief. For a second his heart and climbed up his throat. He watched the flame as it danced around, the flickering light continuing to keep the roiling darkness at bay. What was it though?
“What about you?” Darian asked instead.
“What about me?” The man asked innocently.
He wasn’t going to make this easy for Darian.
“Well, who are you?” Darian asked, a bit of annoyance entering his voice.
The old man seemed to chuckle at Darian’s impatience, “I’m just an old man. I’m an old man at the end of time trying to make a difference.”
Darian didn’t really understand that answer, it wasn’t exactly enlightening. However, as long as the man kept answering, he would keep on asking.
“Why are you here, in my dream?” Darian leaned forward once again.
“I’m here for the same reason the darkness is, to get a look at you.” The man said nonchalantly, “Although I do have other reasons as well.”
“Which are?” Darian asked, steadily becoming increasingly annoyed at the man’s unwillingness to be clear.
The old man sat for a minute, staring at the candle flame as he contemplated his answers. Darian was about ready to ask again when he finally spoke up.
“I have some advice for you,” The man finally answered, “Go straight.”
Darian blinked. Go straight? This almost felt like Devin’s right and left promise from before. Was this some kind of vision or intuition? If it was, it was unlike any of the ones he had had before. His previous dreams, nightmares, and prophecies had all had an emotional attachment to him. He saw the possibilities and saw what would happen each path he went down. Never before had someone just approached him and told him what to do.
“Excuse me?” Darian asked.
“There is a man you must meet. Your friends will want to turn, but you must continue to go straight. He will be there. He will help you. Tell you what you need to know. I’d listen to what he has to say if I were you.”
“Who is he?” Darian demanded.
The shadowed man grinned, “Just old man, like me. Although he is not nearly as old as I am, I’m afraid. He is the place you need to be. I’m sorry that is all I can say.”
The old man pulled out a handkerchief, rubbing his face. Darian hadn’t noticed before, but the man looked like he was sweating quite a lot.
“I’m sorry, it’s quite hot, and this is quite strenuous,” the old man said, his voice sounding increasingly tired.
“I need more, you need to explain to me why-“
The old man was already shaking his head, “I’m sorry, I’m out of time. Out of time, and strength, and power. The universe has already changed with what I have done. You have bought me more time. I will try to help if I can, but I’m afraid you will be on your own for a while. Just listen to him, he will tell you what you need to know.”
“Wait,” Darian cried, reaching towards the man.
The shadowed man disappeared. It was sudden. At one point he was there, the next he was gone. Like an apparition, leaving you wondering if he had ever been there at all. Darian was left in the tavern alone with nothing but the candlelight and the darkness. Darian was pretty comfortable with the temperature in the room. It certainly didn’t feel hot to him. He looked down at his glass. It was the only glass on the table now that the old man was gone. He drank it deeply, and his eyes opened.
Darian looked around. He was back in the camp on the planet of Paris. Beiromon noisily snored a few feet from him and he lowered his back down, rubbing his temple. That has been the weirdest dream he had ever experienced. Go straight. That is what the man had told him. Could he trust the man?
He had trusted Devin, and that had helped him escape. Devin had been a close friend though. This man was a stranger, one who wasn’t even willing to show his face to Darian. Darian continued to ponder this until he noticed a rustling sound. He lifted the head and looked. Berret was up, sitting near the portable heating unit in the darkness, warming his hand and stump near the coils.
Darian pulled off his bedding with some reluctance, moving into the chilly night air and sitting across from Berret on the other side of the coil. He warmed his hands as well. The radiant heat felt nice on a cool night like this in a comforting way that body heat and blankets could never really match.
It tugged at his memories. Sitting around a campfire while joking and telling stories. Then it disappeared, much like the old man had in his dream. He tried desperately to bring back the memory, to try to see the faces of the people that had been around that campfire. He wanted to remember the smells, the sights, the stories. No matter how hard he tried though, the memory eluded him. He had come so close.
“We had been close once,” Berret spoke up suddenly.
Darian looked over at him but otherwise remained silent. From the years being with Devin locked in a small room, he had become very familiar with giving others their space. Berret would say what he wanted to say on his own terms, and Darian was simply there to listen.
“I had trusted the man with my life,” Berret said, appearing to be speaking to himself as much as Darian, “You know, the first time I had ever met Deiron, he had been such a pompous, self-righteous noble, I just knew that he needed someone to mellow him out.”
“I always thought I was that. I thought I gave him something. I believed that I brought him down to earth. Exposed him to the reality of lesser nobles and civilians under him. He was the man with political strength and power, with the capacity to make a difference and the desire to do so. Every time he spoke up for civilian rights or outer colony privileges, I always thought it was just a little bit of me in there.”
“Maybe I’m just as pompous, self-righteous noble at heart myself. To think that I could make a man better just by association, I was arrogant. Even after everything, I always thought he was a better man. He betrayed all of us. His own daughters were betrayed. Danelle would still be alive today if it wasn’t for his actions.”
Darian’s eyes looked up, and he spoke despite himself, “I ended up killing Danelle. She would have made it if I hadn’t have been there.”
Berret shook his head, “I don’t think you believe that. I think if you gave Marideen a choice, she wouldn’t blame you either. “
Darian looked over at the bedding that bundled up Marideen. She laid farther away from the heater than everyone else, keeping herself apart from the group. Darian thought he could see her shivering a bit under her sheets.
“I only met Deiron once, but I was given the impression that he was a fair and just man,” Darian said.
Berret shrugged, not seeming to have anything to say to that.
“I’m sure Deiron had his reasons for doing what he did. In more ways than one, he paid for his choices. I think he regretted his actions, in the end, at least some of them.”
Berret continued to keep silent, so Darian continued.
“There is only one thing both of us can do now. Honor is a memory. Do the things he had wanted to do, even if we don’t do them in the same way he wanted to do it.”
“How so?” Berret finally asked.
“You know how?” Darian responded, looking over at Marideen.
She shifted in her sleep, trying to wrap her blankets around herself tighter and letting out another shiver.
“She’s the one who killed him,” Berret responded indignantly.
“If it had been him or her,” Darian responded, “Who do you think he’d pick? I think Deiron was stuck. His pride, his honor, and his desires all conflicting against each other. He would have done exactly what the Lord Regent had wanted. Then he would have hated himself for the remainder of his life.”
Berret raised an eyebrow, “What do you propose?”
Darian responded without hesitation, “We protect her. We guide her. Most importantly, we bring back the Marideen from Vanderra. We help her trust again.”
Berret covered his mouth with his hand, leaning on his elbow deep in thought. He remained there for some time, and Darian was tempted to say more but decided that silence might be the best option. After a few more minutes, Berret finally lowed his hand, straightened his back, and looked Darian straight in the eyes.
“Alright, it’s a deal. We save Marideen. For memories of old. For Deiron,” Berret declared, holding out his hand to shake.
“For Marideen,” Darian added, clasping his hand.
It felt like a contract. It felt binding and important. This was something the two of them had agreed to and it would remain a part of them for the remainder of their lives. The sat in silence for a while longer, not quite sure what else to say to each other. Berret eventually dismissed himself making a small spot near the heater with his bedding to lie down.
Darian looked back at Marideen again, always apart from everyone else, and sighed. He went over to the heater and started moving it. It was surprisingly heavy and dragged with a rather loud whine in the quiet of the night. Maximil had carried this brick the entire way on his back? Darian was mildly impressed.
Berret looked up watching as he continued to drag the heating element away from the camp. The noise caused Maximil to twist and turn himself in his sleep. Beiromon simply continued to snore loudly and uninterrupted. The heating element stopped just a few feet from Marideen, now leaving all of the men’s bedding away much farther from the element.
She shivered again but seemed to relax a bit as the heat touched her blankets. Her eyes had not opened though and she continued to breathe deeply in the throes of sleep. Darian turned and walked back to his bedding. As he walked by Berret, he noticed a small smile on the man’s face and he lowered himself back down on the cold earth.
Darian lowered himself back down and covered himself in his bedding, now significantly colder after putting himself some distance from the heating element. He shivered unconsciously as he tried to make himself as warm as he could, curling into a ball. Whatever it takes, For Marideen. And for Danelle.