To Love and Lose
By Tom Foster
“You’ve many questions my young charge, this I know. But I must tell you this, you are not ready.” Tyler snorted at the woman’s words, shaking his head as he looked out upon the endlessly rolling waves, seeking the serenity that had eluded him for the past month. His life and those of his friends had changed in such radical ways that it was hard to imagine this wasn’t all some sort of demented, macabre dream that would end sooner or later. His body and mind were in agreement that it wasn’t however, no matter how much he wanted it to be. This was the reality he and the others had been given, and this was the world they were now forced to adapt to. If only it weren’t the same world that had once been a haven for each of them, maybe it wouldn’t be such a daunting task.
“So then what makes you think I was ready for all this?” Tyler asked, spreading his arms as though to take in their surroundings. He sincerely hoped that the woman knew just what he meant, though he was fully prepared to elaborate if that were needed. He already had a few choice words in mind, though even they wouldn’t adequately convey the full scope of his emotions.
It had been hardly two months since life had changed, yet it felt like years had passed. So many thoughts had run through his mind that Tyler felt as though he were about to burst under the sheer pressure of the mental burden. He was just a teenager, a high school student that had been looking forward to graduation, moving on in life, simple as that. But for some reason the woman that stood only a few feet away had seen fit to disrupt all that, and what was worse was that from what she’d been telling him it didn’t seem as though life would be returning to an even keel anytime soon. It was almost too unreal to accept. In fact he didn’t want to, but it appeared as though he had no choice.
“It was time for you to emerge my young warrior, your world is about to change, and it was necessary that you awaken before this happens.” Tyler didn’t understand her words and to be honest he didn’t want to. He wanted to wake up and realize that this had all been a dream, to feel it fade from his mind even as he rolled out of bed. That would be his idea of fair, of what should happen. But he’d already figured that this wasn’t going to be happening, the thought of being normal again was the dream. Reality was the horror that he and his friends were forced to live through now.
“And so who made that decision, you? What gave you the right?” The woman smiled thinly, her strange, dark eyes boring into him as Tyler stared defiantly back. He wasn’t afraid, though his skin was tingling slightly. Shaking his head he looked away, his anger rising slightly as he cast his gaze out upon the waves.
“It was time my First.”
“Quit calling me that!” Tyler replied as he turned around to face her again, “I’m not your first, I’m not your warrior, and I’m not interested in this little farce you’ve created!” He wanted to say more, but the words were choked off in his throat as he felt a deep welling of emotion threatening to emerge, a sob that he would not show this woman no matter how much it wanted to come out. He was stronger than that, he was not going to break down in front of this stranger!
“No matter my Champion, this is your path, and you must travel it.” Tyler wanted to lash out at her, he’d never struck a woman in his life without due cause, which had happened only once, but now he was sorely tempted. The woman was quite slender despite her elegant look, he could no doubt snap her in two if he was truly enraged, but Tyler felt that it was as at least a bit justified. This woman had somehow taken away the world he’d known, replacing it with a nightmare that had replaced what had been real, a frightening, fog-shrouded landscape that had washed away the normally peaceful semblance of this place.
“Calm yourself my warrior, there is no need for-“
“Just leave us alone!” Tyler roared, his blood boiling as he felt his face grow red. “Everything was fine until you came and screwed it up! Just put everything back the way it was and go away!” Tyler knew he was acting childish, that no matter what he said the Lady would do as she pleased. But at least it felt good to yell at her, it felt like he was at least in control of himself. And that was good.
Tyler turned around as he began to storm away, realizing this was a dream but not caring. He’d walk along the stretch of beach until his body decided it was time to wake up for all he cared, it was better than having to listen to the dark-haired female behind him. As he walked off, his footprints showing the heaviness of his step, Tyler didn’t bother to turn around to witness the Lady looking after him, nor did he hear her words. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
“If I could, I would.”
* * *
1 month later…
“You have become the animal, you’ve let the darkness in.” The thing in front of her that wore the form of her Champion snarled in response, his dark eyes shot through with the silver mists that had been a part of his body since his birth. He still did not know how special he was, how important his life was to this world. As she looked upon the warrior Aliyana knew that he was still there, that all was not lost, but he had allowed the darkness within his soul to blossom, to overwhelm him in this time of strife.
She knew that the young man was as susceptible as anyone to the hidden and unknown secrets of his being, but this was not the right time for this. There was little to nothing she could do however, once one had allowed their inner darkness to take hold it was entirely up to them to return, if such was their desire. She could not reach her Champion now, no matter how much she wished to. He would be forced to fight his own battle, his own inner struggle, though she feared for him.
Aliyana knew too well the resistance that her First among the Chosen had shown, and she knew that there would be much, much more to come. Ever had those who had become Chosen been willful, almost seemingly dedicated to defying her in whatever way they possibly could. Of all of them though, this young man was the only one among them that would truly threaten the stability of his world if he were to remain so obstinate. She could not force him however.
Free will was not an illusion, it was a reality that could not be circumvented, an intangible thing that could not be stripped unless the will was weak. And Tyler Ferris was anything but weak. He was young, and thus his defiance and headstrong manner were quite normal, but Aliyana had to impress upon him the importance of who and what he was. He would not accept her, he would not step willingly into her embrace, but he would use the power that she had bestowed upon him, if only to keep himself and others alive.
He was a soul unlike many others, a true light within the darkness that was to come, but he was also capable of great violence, the truth of who he was a bane as well as a boon to those around him All that remained was for him to choose which path he would take.
“You must awaken my warrior, you must take your place among the world, and you must do so now.” Her words did not seem to penetrate the dark mien of the creature in front of her, Tyler’s face contorting into a mask of absolute rage as his body tensed, his fingers hooking into claws. In that moment she could see the shadows that dwelled within him, the uncertain darkness that he’d unleashed more than once in his life. It was a reflex action, an uncontrollable act that he had never desired to happen, but had been powerless to stop. She knew the truth of this young man, of how he had come to be, and the truth made her shudder.
As Tyler attacked Aliyana could feel the waves of crushing shadow reach out for her, fading away only inches from her form as she called forth the power within her body, batting away the darkness as she twisted aside, faster than even this being could move. Tyler was a blur as he struck at her again and again, his martial prowess proving great enough that Aliyana was forced to utilize every last move and hint of power she held within her body. He was powerful, there was no doubt of this, but he was also young, inexperienced in the use of such power, and as such his strikes were just that fraction of second slower, allowing Aliyana to keep ahead of him as they danced upon the gray sands of their home.
She wondered idly if he would remember this once he awakened, though she doubted it. Tyler was somewhere far away, this dark, chaotic thing that attacked her now was him only in flesh. The calmer nature of this young man, the true essence of who he was, did not exist in this moment. As she evaded a lunging strike Aliyana lashed out in turn, though was surprised when Tyler moved almost instinctively, evading her just as easily as she’d moved aside from his blows. Avoiding another blow aimed at her head Aliyana backed quickly away, seeking to gain some distance between herself and this vicious thing, but it was not to be.
Tyler followed her step for step, his face locked in a mask of such rage that Aliyana felt sure it would have intimidated even the most fearless of opponents had they looked upon him. The mists within his gaze swirled madly with each punch, each kick, as though his anger had agitated them in some way. She knew this young man better than he knew himself at this moment, though she highly doubted that her words would be welcome to the deranged creature he’d become. She could only hope that he awakened soon. Aliyana did not want to harm this man, no matter what he might do to her.
Tyler attacked again, and again, and again, each blow coming closer to Aliyana’s body as she ducked and dodged, twisted and moved aside, just barely avoiding being struck with hits that might well have pounded her into the sand. She didn’t doubt the power of this being, that he would be her end eventually, but it was not time, not yet. So thinking she continued to move, not striking back as she evaded the many strikes executed by the young man that would one day be her end, that would one day balance the whole of this world once more, that would walk the lonely road of immortality. She had to do something, but she knew that any action taken against him would be futile and, quite honestly, fatal for one of them.
As she continued to move Aliyana gathered to herself the energies of this place, feeling a slight tingle as they gathered within her body, circulating throughout her veins with the familiar rush she’d become accustomed to so very long ago. She was a Shaper, the blood of a race that had once been the most powerful within this realm ran within her veins, and she would not fall this day. Unfortunately, the same energies flowed within the young man that now attacked her. She could only hope and pray that he would succumb to her touch, or she would be lost.
Tyler came ever closer, his fists and feet still seeking to connect with her flesh as Aliyana felt the burgeoning power within her body seeking release, demanding to be set free as was its wont. She did not deny it any longer, waiting only a matter of heartbeats until Tyler gave her just the right opening. As his left hand flashed over her head she struck, reaching out with her right to lay it gently against his chest.
The power flooded from her instantly, flaring between the two of them in such force that it should have easily planted Tyler on his backside. Aliyana felt herself forced back several steps as the force of her shout slammed into her as well, causing her to lower her head as she ground her teeth together, tasting blood as she felt the inside of her cheek split as she felt her jaws clack together over the tender skin. She didn’t cry out, nor did she open her mouth as the gray sand beneath her feet was sent flying in small sprays of dry grains that were almost immediately caught up by the constant winds that blew along the coast.
This was a dream state, a world within a world where none truly held absolute power, but she had learned long ago how to control the energies of this place, to harness them as she would the real world this place emulated. Raising her head Aliyana felt her breathing grow a bit heavier as she kept her eyes closed, shuddering lightly as she felt the taxing quality of the energy she’d just summoned taking its toll. She would not suffer unduly for this, but she would require at least some time to rest. Dream it may be, but the price to be paid was the same as within the waking world, no matter how the power differentiated between the two.
Tyler was frozen, held immobile by the force of her attack, though she could see that this would not be so for long. Even now she could see that he was fighting against it, his body trembling as he sought to reach her again. She was powerful, of that there was no doubt, the blood of Shapers was hers by right of birth, but it was his also. No matter that he had been born to human parents, this man was to be the one who would bring balance to this world once more, to usher in a new world where anything might happen. Aliyana felt another shudder pass through her body as she thought of the trials this man must face, wondering just how he and his friends would weather the storms that were to come. For they would do so, and the Creator help them if they failed.
“You will be powerful my First, but you must awaken. You must take your place within the balance, or this realm will be lost.” The wild look in Tyler’s eyes suggested to her that he was not listening, that he simply wanted to rip and tear her to pieces, to feel her flesh and bones give under his hands. She knew that somewhere within that maddened form was the young man she had awaited for so long, the one who had been prophesied over for eons before his birth. Aliyana wondered if he would ever come to realize his importance to her people, or if he would choose to walk away from his destiny, to leave the world to ruin.
The world would go on, she knew this, though it might never recover unless the Champion were allowed to claim his mantle. If he were to walk away, the entire realm might well fall to the Dark, never to return. That could not happen.
She knew very well what it was like to love and lose, the war between her people had seen much loss, much that had once been so beautiful torn asunder. Thus she could easily understand his pain, the grief and sense of despair that had gripped this young man and those that stood with him. There was much more to come.
* * *
1 year later…
The DarkFall had come. Aliyana had known even as the blade of her student had entered her body that it had begun. This world would suffer once more for her weakness, as it had done before. This time however was much worse. Sivis had escaped before the Chosen were ready to confront him, gathering his power and even managing to subvert four of her warriors for a time. Never before had this happened, that her Chosen had become so divided, enemies before they were allowed to realize their true power. Perhaps that too was her fault.
She had as a necessity spread the energies of the Chosen far and wide, so that she might not repeat her past mistakes. There had been Chosen selected after her worst mistake long ago, though never had they been as powerful as the second gathering she’d assembled, requiring her aid to vanquish Sivis once again. To this date there had been five different incarnations of the Chosen, souls she had deemed pure enough to harness the diminished power she had bequeathed to them for a short time. Each time she had come to retrieve the power however, she had been forced to do battle with her own warriors, who would not relinquish the power so easily.
Power was to a human mind a terrible burden, a thing that was so badly desired yet could turn even the most caring individual into a monster. Only a few among her past Chosen had willingly relinquished what she had given them, spared her wrath as their fellows had fought against her with every last ounce of energy within their bodies. Those who had resisted had been left broken and beaten upon distant fields, unable to fend for themselves any longer. She had been their savior, and she had been their end.
“Would you have done that to us?” Tyler asked. He’d been made privy to many of her secrets, of how Sivis had escaped her clutches, how she had gathered to her side Chosen throughout the many years, and he had remained silent until now. There was nothing to hide from this man any longer, no reason to not tell him the truth of who she’d been, who she was, and why she could not pass on to the other world just yet. She had a duty to this man, a responsibility that still rested upon her ghostly shoulders.
“Only as a last resort,” Aliyana replied, her voice hollow as she stood upon the water-darkened sands of her home. She could not feel the winds that blew by them, though they still affected her transparent form. Her time upon this world as a living being had ended, though still she remained. She could pass on towards the clearing at the end of path just yet, Tyler and the Chosen still needed her, or rather, Tyler did. Powerful he was, wise he would be, but the man was still a boy yet. He needed her so much, yet he would never admit to such a thing.
“I see. And do you believe you would be successful?” Aliyana closed her eyes as she turned away, not wanting to discuss this right now. She knew the answer deep within her heart, but she did not want to admit as much to the Champion. He no doubt guessed at least what she might say, for she was as bound to tell the truth as he was, though she was not nearly as adept at the subterfuge he was. He wasn’t a liar in any regard, but he knew how to omit the truth when it suited him, a trait that came from the darker side of his heritage.
“I do not know.” That was enough of an answer for Tyler as he nodded, realizing in that moment that the Lady knew she would not have been victorious. He knew in his heart that he and his friends had grown powerful within the past year, but there was much still to learn.
“Is this the way the whole world looks now?” Tyler asked, his gaze taking in the decimated remains of the port city of Astoria. The strange, rubbery-looking tentacles that he’d fought so hard against upon his return to the peninsula had somehow spread, growing in number and even size as they had attacked the city, climbing the steep hill and working their way further as he could see the swaths of devastation left behind. It was too much to believe that they’d continued forward, enveloping other stretches of land and perhaps even entire cities as quickly as they’d done to this one.
“The DarkFall has indeed come Champion,” Aliyana replied, her toes wriggling within the wet sands of the sandbar they stood upon, “This time it has stretched far beyond the imagination of its creator.”
“Answer my question please.”
Aliyana grinned slightly as she heard the calm forcefulness within his tone. He was indeed growing up, becoming more accustomed to his place within the world.
“Yes, the world has fallen.”
Tyler lowered his chin slightly, his dark eyes taking on a hint of sorrow as the silvery mists that swirled within them seemed to leak from the corners. Aliyana wanted to embrace him then, to tell him that it was his destiny to set things aright, but she could not. He would not accept her even now, after all they’d been through, but he had thankfully accepted his place among the Chosen, becoming their leader in both body and spirit, if only to keep his friends safe. He was the one that she and her kind had been expecting for so long, the one soul who was neither born of the Light nor the Dark, but of something in between. He was the son of Chaos, the Champion of Order, a being infused with both Light and Dark, the only one who could hope to withstand the unfettered power of each. He was the Champion, the one to whom the energies of this realm would bow to eventually. And he was his world’s best hope of reclaiming its lost glory.
* * *
Four Hundred years later…
Much had changed, as it always did. He was still here, though many were gone. He had remained, to walk the long, hard road of immortality that had been set out for him so long ago. His birth had been foretold for longer than the race of mankind had been upon the world, longer even than his people could remember. He’d not asked for this, he’d never wanted to be anything other than what he had appeared to be, a normal human being with normal problems. But that hadn’t happened.
Nations had fallen, the darkness swallowing them within its enveloping folds as those who had fought against it had withered and retreated, seeking haven where only death remained. He’d fought against the darkness, he’d wielded the power of the Light, the fury of the Dark, and he had failed. The power of his heart, the strength of his arm, none of it had been enough to save those he’d loved.
It is not your fault, this was fated to happen.
He didn’t respond to the voice, he didn’t want to any longer. The voice had brought only pain and anguish to those he loved for so long. He was done with the voice, done with the woman it belonged to. He was done with the world.
It could get by without him.