The clearing moved into a new, different kind of land. The grass turned to a darker green and the sun became shrouded in dark, low hanging clouds. Leafless trees dotted the woods and there were large, dangerous-looking plants all around the trees. Chelle was nowhere in sight, but Caviere seemed to be right on her trail. “What is this place?” Emily accidentally thought in Lucelle’s mind.
“This is the Haunted Woods. It’s just a nickname for this place because of Der’Jak’s spells. He tends to distort life around him and makes it much more unnatural. Don’t worry, though, he won’t be that dangerous when we get to him.”
Emily began to get a headache. “Ugh, I don’t feel so good again...” Emily could see Lucelle talking to Caviere, but wasn’t sure of what she was saying to him. Mm... maybe it wasn’t good for me to come along. I’m just getting in the way like I thought I would. She began to feel upset and felt the waterworks starting up again. I’m slowing down the group and ruining the perfect plan. It is my fault Chelle got away. Chelle... what is your real name? Why didn’t you let me know what it is and instead just let me make one for you? Who are you? Why would you betray me like that?
“Emily, listen.” Lucelle had been trying to get her attention and was looking right at her. “You need to stop thinking about Chelle. I can hear, you know. It wasn’t your fault, let’s just go.” Emily wasn’t sure of what to say, so she simply nodded and kept going with Lucelle. The woods became foggy, like a miasma of thin clouds began to drop down to the ground. Emily could swear that some of the trees she ran by had distorted, morbid faces on them. Some of the trees’ branches were swooped up as if in the middle of an eternal screech. If she hadn’t known any better, Emily would think that she was able to hear the muffled screams within the fog.
The grass was almost nonexistent at this point, a finite layer of gray dust in its place. With each footfall, the dust shot up into the air, which only added more to the fog. As the fog got thicker, Emily felt her other senses become stronger. While still unable to hear nearly anything, the smell of freshly burnt wood lingered in the air. Smoke seemed to bite at her tongue, but there was no visible smoke nearby. The fog didn’t seem to sting her eyes, but it did play tricks on them. The shadows in the fog looked like there were people running away from whatever the three of them were walking towards, yet each shadow turned out to merely be trees.
“This place is freaking me out,” Lucelle said through her mind. “I’ve been here before, but not through this way. There’s an unaffected path that runs all the way up to his tower.”
“His tower? Der’jak?”
“Yes. Some say he uses it to get away from what he has done at the ground floor. Then again, others say that only the most trusted of his allies are allowed to see what is in the top room, so many people believe there are horrible acts of witchery going on, each one worse than the next.” Lucelle was clearly a bit strung out, and she kept talking to Caviere who was a constant few seconds ahead of them at all times.
“What are you two talking about?” Emily inquired.
“Just figuring out our plan to deal with Chelle and Der’jak.” This response was good enough for her, but Emily felt like she was being talked about. She knew that it was her fault they had to slow down. She knew that she would have to come face to face with that message she got the other night. She wasn’t ready, though. Her best guess that either Chelle or Der’jak were going to meet their fate, yet she didn’t know who. She was angry with Chelle, but didn’t want her to get hurt any more than she already was.
After a while, Caviere stopped. Then, Lucelle stopped. They both continued and she sent a message back to Emily, “Stay as quiet as you can. There’s something nearby that we don’t want to mess with.”
Emily was a bit on edge at this point. She tried as hard as she could, but she wasn’t able to see anything more than a few yards around her. She couldn’t even see the huge tower as they got closer. Its looming presence appeared when Emily was within arm’s reach. The base of the tower had the thickest fog and it seemed to be the origin as well. Caviere and Lucelle rounded the tower as if it was nothing, but Emily couldn’t stop looking up it. Above her, the walls disappeared into the fog. There were no visible windows, but she was now able to hear quiet sounds. Accounting for her hearing loss, the sounds were probably coming from nearby and were moderately loud. The walls rounded for what seemed like half an hour before the three of them ended up in front of a small metal door.
“Here we are. No telling what we are going to find in here, so keep your wits about you.” Lucelle relayed Caviere’s words to Emily as he put a gloved hand on the door. He turned it and it creaked open with almost no resistance. It seemed like no one was home. He opened the door wide and ushered them inside. Inside, the tower was dark. It wasn’t nearly as dark as would be imagined, though, as there were candles around the sides of a winding staircase that lined the curved walls.
“I have a sickening feeling in my chest,” Emily complained in her head. Lucelle didn’t respond and followed Caviere in the beginning ascent of the stairs. They were narrow, slick, and covered with dust. Going up them was no easy feat, especially for the exhausted, malnourished, and ill Emily. She slipped a few times, but managed to stay on her feet. After having ascended the steps for a while, the tower was becoming very condensed. It was as if it would meet at a point soon. Was there even an evil mage in this tower, or is it just a ruined myth? The answer would soon come to Emily, very soon.
The steps flattened out at the top where the room had about a five-foot radius. Being very small, Emily didn’t expect much to be in it. There was only one item and that was a candle atop a stand. It stood in the center of the room and was lit. It looked like the candle had been burning away at the wax for a while as well. “What is this? Where is Der’jak?” Emily could very barely hear her own voice.
Caviere glanced at the two and then went up to the candle. With a press of his fingers, he snuffed out the flame. The smoke left withered, but then began to expand. It filled up the whole room and then completely obscured their vision until they were all coughing. Once it seemed like the smoke couldn’t expand anymore, it began to completely fill their lungs. From Emily’s perspective, her world became light and gray. She lost consciousness of the tower around her and dropped to her knees. The smoke left her lungs and dropped to the floor. She could no longer see the floor at all no matter how much she tried to push the foggy smoke away. Her entire world became just smoke and fog.
Emily looked over and saw the other two. They were both disoriented by the change in environment as well, but both seemed to understand what was going on. They stood up just fine, yet then whipped around to look past Emily’s right side. She heard nothing, but turned to see what she feared would be here- Der’jak.
Der’jak is... a woman? What she saw was what looked like a tall, elegant being with beautiful long, silver hair. Next to... it was Chelle, who was crouched over, like she was bowing to the wizard or witch. Chelle, no, but it was no use trying to talk to her. Der’jak’s eyes were closed and its facial structure was like an Elf’s- exquisite with a longer chin, pointy ears, and thin lips. Its hand held a staff that looked to be made of a twisted, gnarled dark willow branch. The end held a dark gray sphere, like a crystal ball. It wore a single robe nearly just like Chelle’s but it was pure white with a dull, light gray rope. One of its feet were planted firmly on the ground while the other, though she could only see the toes, was lifted up onto the ball of the foot.
Behind Emily, Caviere had lifted his crossbow. Der’jak in return melodically waved its free hand like it was being pushed around in water. The world, once again, slowed to a halt. This time, however, Emily could not move. She began to hear a voice, one like a man and woman’s collective voices synchronized together. It was soothing, but made Emily feel very, very off put. “Welcome. I expected your arrival. Did not want to say hello to an old friend, Merjin?” Emily would look around to see who Der’jak was talking about, but her muscles were frozen stiff.
Caviere stepped forward, now in the corner of Emily’s view. He spoke loudly and confidently. “It has been years, Der’jak. I no longer go by that name but I have not forgotten you. We need your help.”
“Our help? After you bitterly left us to die in Helm’s Reach?”
Caviere gestured to his side and then said, “I had no choice. We already thought you were gone.”
“I recall crying out from the fire. You do not remember my pleas, Merjin, because you locked away that memory.”
“We had no choice!” His voice became angry. Emily was now able to hear much better than before, yet she still felt like there was something off about Der’jak. “If we stayed, we would have died.”
“You lived, but for what? I perished, Merjin, but not for your sake. Not for anyone’s sake.” The smoke around the mage began to rise in a pillar. “No, I died for the flames.”
“You never died, Der’jak. You’re alive right in front of us. Living and breathing.”
“You cannot understand this because you do not see the true beauty of the Flame, Merjin.”
“What are yo-” As Caviere began to speak, the smoke around him lit up and he became wrapped in an engulfment of fire. He thrashed around and yells from pain escaped him, but the embrace would not let up.
“The Flame will show itself to you the same way it showed itself to me. Let it join with you and you will see.”
Emily began to panick. No, this can’t be happening. She turned her vision to look at Chelle, who was now watching the scene. She wasn’t crying anymore and actually had a look of wonder on her face. I did this. I trusted her and she used me. She lured us to this place and it was ready for us. The path of fog wasn’t in a different direction, it was just gone because Der’jak expected us to come. Just like it said, we were anticipated. You tricked me Chelle. I can’t let this go on. Stop. Stop.
“Stop!” Emily screamed out loud. She lifted her head, now able to move. Der’jak and Chelle gasped. Caviere was dropped to the ground in pain, but Lucelle was still frozen in place. Emily stood up.
“H-How could you negate that binding spell?” Der’jak asked, clearly losing his cool. “There is no way a mere woman-”
“I am no mere woman,” Emily interrupted. “I am an Everlock.”
Der’jak stepped back, and then aimed the staff at her. “It is not possible! I killed your parents, you should not exist!” Caviere, who was on his knees now, coughed in a fit of laughter. Der’jak snapped its head back to him. “It does not matter. You will all die here tonight!” It sent a beam of flaming energy at Caviere that flew like a spear through the air.
Emily felt her Dark Magic impulses take over her body and she shifted through the fog. She nearly disappeared and then reappeared past Caviere. She reached out a hand and the two of them exploded into the misty fog. Der’jak let out a frustrated grunt when they both reappeared next to Lucelle who, in the midst of Der’jak’s fit, was unbound from the spell.
“Emily, don’t push yourself,” she pleaded. She wasn’t listening, however. As quickly as she was disappearing, she disappeared once more. Der’jak searched rapidly through the great expanse of fog until Emily appeared to the side. Her arm had become encased in a dark metal-looking substance. She jabbed at Der’jak, who backed off to not get pierced. She continued, slicing and jabbing at the wizard until he sent a beam down at her. She raised her bladed arm and the energy slammed into it, seeming to be absorbed. The dark metal now looked to have a heart of flame, much to Der’jak’s anger.
Emily went to stab at it once more, but was kicked from the side. She stumbled, and when she regained her balance, she saw Chelle had attacked her. “This is not your fight, Lady Everlock. You should not have come here.” She looked upset, but didn’t seem worked up about betraying the three of them that she was with.
“This is my fight. Now... stop.” The final word came out in a whisper. Emily’s magical instincts took hold of her control and the world veered to a halt. She got a good look at Der’jak’s staff before sending a kinetic blast at Chelle. Time slammed into full speed and Chelle was sent flying off to the ground. Emily looked up and blasted a beam of solidified darkness from her bladed arm at the end of the staff. Der’jak was not quick enough to move it as the darkness pierced the gray sphere. It took a large crack before the dark beam dissipated.
“No!” Der’jak shouted. “You are a monster! An otherworldly being! You do not belong here. You belong in The Void!”
“Fine, if that is what you wish, then let’s go.” Emily lunged and stabbed, now piercing Der’jak through the stomach. She pulled it in tightly and the two of them disappeared from sight, only leaving a few drops of blood. In seemingly another world, Emily still held on to Der’jak. “Give me what I want and you might get back alive.”
The wizard was completely panicked and horrified. Around them was a darkened and dull world. “F-fine! Anything you want!”
“Tell me all about Akan’s necklace.”
“Y-you just want to find him, do you not? I can tell you exactly where he will be! He will never leave that castle until the Everlockian resistance has been crushed. Until you have been crushed.” Its voice was quick and very much so to-the-point. It was sincere, however. Emily smiled, and then lifted her feet up to kick at Der’jak’s chest. She was separated from it and it began to slip away. “N-no!” It screamed. “I told you what you wanted! Let me go back, you witch!”
“Embrace the darkness, Der’jak,” Emily re-stabilized herself in the vacuum-like environment while talking. “Then, and only then, will you come back.” She closed her eyes and disappeared from sight. Der’jak, the snuffed-out flame of a wizard, began a long and lonely journey through the outer reaches of what most would claim to be The Void.