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The crimson flamed portal opened and hurled immense heat packed with indisputable winds. For a fallen, even he could barely resist its powerful waves of confoundment. Talon held the portal open and with his free arm, motioned with silence for Luna and the rest of the spirit guides to jump through. His red-skinned profile heated, and his left eye squinted tight as he bore the heat.
The roar of the wind continued as the main speaker as the group toggled through to the grand portal. Each took a deep breath and looked back over their shoulders after their first steps in. As they dragged their feet with dread, the audible crunching of the hardened dirt opened the floodgate of memories that filled their minds from the first time they visited the dark realm.
Moral was low and left only hope for each one to make it back from the dark realm. As they trudged through, the scenery remained as it had before, when spirit guides had their first encounter with the dark one and the demons. The same howling winds and a crimson atmosphere. Every bat of an eye to shield from the grit was like sandpaper to their eyes as they pushed through the heavy sulfurous air. With only a distant light to guide their way in through, it was nearly impossible to continue.
Fear for what they all anticipated spread from one to the other. Without the quiet confidence of Caius and his calming words, collectively the group ambiance was grim. The guides’ thoughts ran away from each of their minds, they each relived the first time a demon’s riddle was presented to them when they arrived with Meridian in the dark realm. Without her and the aid of her gifts, the tension grew thicker with each stride.
The group continued to push through the high winds and dust that showered them, giving each spirit guide a dusky hue. The dim light they pushed toward soon became a bright spot to focus upon.
“Why aren’t the demons swarming us?” Pramlee asked. “The last time we were here, they were relentless in their psychological warfare.”
“I can’t say, that was the first thing I was expecting,” Talon’s amber eyes were suspicious.
The group tightened their circle, reaching their arms across to one another for protection. As they continued to move through the dark realm, the winds died down. Their vision was restored and the landscape appeared to be the same place from before, on their first trip where Relic was the first to take punishment for his sarcasm.
Pramlee stood close to Luna, taking her by the hand. Luna returned the gesture giving a nod accompanied by a comforting, firm squeeze leading Pramlee in their steps.
The dark and sinister voice spoke, echoing through the realm from all directions. Shivers traveled down the spines of the unwelcomed visitors with every word from the dark one.
“I see that you have returned without Caius who has taken his journey.” The dark one brought out his guttural laugh. “What of Meridian, your special one? I would love to see that ethereal being. What has ever happened to your dear Meridian?” The dark one laughed once more in provocation. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your company? What are you willing to provide for my gracious sentiments?” his voice held notes of pleasure.
Discomfort increased amongst the group. Answering the dark one came naturally to Talon, though with hesitation. “We value your graciousness and it did not go unnoticed that we entered without challenge. I come to you again in need of your assistance.”
Relic’s discomfort ironically did not mirror his trusted friends. He stood, a half-cocked grin on his face, in the same place the dark one’s fury had descended upon him not long ago. His memory of his last visit didn’t seem to be a point of tension for him now. Scratching his head, he whispered to Luna, “Did he say gracious?” He leaned further into Luna who was nervous, however, she rolled her eyes and sighed without a verbal response. Relic continued. “So, sentiments? Really? I didn’t think demons had all that.” Luna gave a quick jab with her elbow into Relic’s side. Stumbling as he grabbed his side, he straightened up his demeanor as the dark one answered Talon.
“Well, the last time you and I spoke, Relic seemed to want to offer entertainment, as he appears to want to again. You fled with him during the prior visit. You disappointed me stealing what was mine.” The dark one’s voice shifted as he recounted their prior visit when Meridian and Caius accompanied them into the dark realm. It was light in tone, like an attorney leading the opposition on the stand, waiting for an opening or an excuse to pounce, as though the lord of the dark realm needed an excuse.
Talon’s confidence was fading. Admonishment flashed in his eyes as he cut them down at Relic. His shoulders stooped leading his head to follow suit. “I couldn’t just leave Relic here. We answered your riddle, and we escaped. We deserved to leave if we could, and we did.” Talon tilted his head slightly looking up into the red sky continuing to speak out to what he could not see with his own eyes.
“Yes, you did. You seemed to have forgotten the other riddle that has gone unanswered. It seems to me that a witch from your world called upon one of my demons from the high court. The humans have yet to answer that riddle.”
Talon watched to Relic and Kieren who stood silently during the exchange. Relic lowered his head without eye contact and whispered as they would not hear if his voice by the dark one. “I was there for that calling. Raina, the witch. She called upon a demon for answers who could break Meridian’s curse. It made not a bit of sense.”
Relic shook his head and nodded to Kieren. Talon was silent with his thoughts as his eyes were carefully surveying the ground at the hardened dirt beneath his feet. His yellow eyes darted back up into the red and gritty atmosphere. “There was not an answer to that riddle!” Talon shouted.
The dark one laughed. “So, you think you are smarter than you appear to be?”
Talon continued, “Why would I trust a demon that was called on by a dark witch to answer a riddle?” Talon’s rhetorical question struck a chord. Pacing back and forth, he continued to look upward for a response.
“A glimmer of the truth within a riddle remains, it is the answer to the riddle that sets the truth in motion. The fact of the matter remains you may not have the ability to make those distinctions, fallen!” The dark one grew louder and quick with his speech. He recounted the riddle.
“The being whose work is dark can only be stopped with the twin soul.
The being you seek is hard to hold.
Spirit guides who engage with a mortal are not pure of heart in that act,
but in the face of true love all remain intact.
Meridian does not trust herself in her choice.
She will not listen to her inner voice.
So many can enter her mind;
Her greatest challenge in the true find.”
“So fallen, have I brought you back to the memory? What was the answer to the first riddle? Who would be responsible for finding her own twin soul? What is it Meridian lacks? You see, it does not matter who you call upon for help. In the end, it is only she that has her fate in her own hands,” the dark one said.
Talon’s anger rising, he shouted back to the dark one, “Who was the demon Raina summoned?”
The dark one laughed. “Why does it matter?” he continued to laugh and shake the entire dark realm. The deep baritone laughter struck their ears and coursed within their bodies, setting in motion a flurry of emotions.
“Who was it!” Talon shouted.
The dark one’s voice shifted. His speech quickened, lighter, and aroused from deep rage with a venomous hiss. “The demon that was called upon was Pyro!” he hissed back.
The guides and Talon fell to the ground as it shook. The dark one’s anger was unstoppable; he was on a journey of torment. “I am finished with your questions. What gifts have you brought this time, fallen? Your soul is banished, and a banished soul does not bring a benefit for me here.”
Talon and the guides were writhing in pain on the heated crusty ground, barely able to speak. The dark one continued. “I do see that you have brought a fairy. I believe this is the first time I have had the chance to see a fairy.” Luna froze with fear hearing the dark one speak of her, calling her out individually. She crawled holding herself in pain, making herself small as she reached for Relic, who remained motionless with fear. As she drew closer to Relic, her posture loosened and she slowly stood upright, drawing as close as she could to Relic while helping him to his feet.
“Oh no, I have been here before, with Lahash.” Luna unlocked her tight jaw.
“Ah, yes, Lahash an up and coming favorite of the court. Yes, but your nymphs managed the distraction, didn’t they?” The dark one asked. “I can summon Lahash for another try. I don’t see your nymphs here. You are not as powerful as they. Is your fairy my gift, Talon?”
“We have not brought gifts, we have nothing to offer you.” Talon was quick to his feet and moved to stand in front of Luna.
“Very well, I have other alternatives to appease me and bring pleasure. But first, what is it you desire?” the dark one asked.
“We have come for Chance, Charity, Janus, and Cora. We were told they were in Etheria. We also need to find out what has happened to Meridian and why the guides cannot communicate with her anymore.” Talon begged his questions.
“Those are some grand requests and unfortunately, without gifts, I cannot help. Although I have been gracious, I will accept Luna to stay with us. We could use her gifts here in the dark realm. She would be a treat.” Relic froze with fear, afraid to speak. “Or how about you, Relic, we started a game that we could not finish?” The dark one continued his psychological warfare.
“I will stay,” Talon announced.
“Unacceptable. Your soul is already dark. I want something special. Something that will come in useful as I can see where things will be. I accept Luna here. Do we have an accord, fallen?” the dark one asked his question.
“Why do you want Luna?”
“Quiet! My reasons are not your concern. I accept your gift, Talon,” the dark one said as Luna floated into the air, suspended and incoherent. Wisps of her hair brushed her blank face, her eyes turned black as she remained in suspension. The dark one laughed as her companions trembled watching their friend stifled before disappearing.
“Great! What are we going to do!” shouted Kieren. The laughs of the dark one grew into a crescendo. The ground shook beneath their feet once more. Stumbling to maintain