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A Mind Full of Shadow


by ade1

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     There was no sensation, no thought, no dreams, or even memories. The void stretched on and on, or it would have stretched on and on, if such words had any meaning here.

     Slowly, like sunlight illuminating the depths of a dark pond, awareness started to flood into the nothing. Anger, fear, confusion swarmed the...mind.

     That's what it was called. Mind. A mind was something that held thoughts and controlled a body. Body. That was something different, wasn't it? If a body was something that the mind controlled, then a body was...what was the word? Real!

     A body was able to move, to feel. Feel. It wasn't the same as emotions, but the two were somehow tied. Feeling was something that was exclusive to a body. It...it was no use trying to describe senses that could no longer be experienced.

     If senses could no longer be experienced, then they had been experienced in the past. Past. Memories, if remembered awareness of one's own body could be called a memory, flooded into the void.

     Instead of nothing, something could be felt. A body, a solid body, a real body that could dream, that could think, that could feel.

     He struggled against the darkness, limbs flailing through nothing. The creature couldn't tell if he was falling or rising, or both. Warmth spread across his back and prickled at his arms and neck.

     The world around him came into focus. Midday light spread over an unending stretch of grass, only broken up by a few sparse bushes.

     "Where...am...I?" the figure thought. Also, who was he and what was he? Somehow he knew it wasn’t normal to ask such questions, as the answers should have been readily apparent. But, they weren’t. He wasn’t even sure what he looked like.

     He got to his feet, and looked around, trying to find a way to look at his appearance. Mirror? He doubted he’d find one in a random grassy plain. There was a small pond a few yards away. Ah, nature’s mirror! Still, a real one would be better.

     He knelt down next to the pond, and slowly peered into its depths. The water was placid and still. A strange figure gazed up from the water. A Uni. The figure’s hair was long and white, and his eyes were red, slightly shiny but not glowing. He had a horn in the middle of his forehead and a pair of white wings stretching out over his back. He wore a plain brown shirt and pants that seemed brand new, as if it was the first time they’d ever been worn.

     The Uni stared down, a panic erupting up his throat like a volcano. That was not him! He finally managed to push up from the water, every muscle in his body screaming to get up and run as fast and as far as he could manage, but his limbs remained locked in place.

     He took a few deep breaths and tried to calm himself. His beating heart slowed down, and the storm in his mind calmed a bit, but no matter how much he tried, he couldn't get it to settle. There was too much going on.

     He forced himself to think, straining to keep his thoughts in some sort of order. First things first, where was he, and how would he get...home? Somewhere in his muddled thoughts, he knew there was something wrong with that statement.

     There was something missing, something that was just out of his grasp. Slowly, it dawned on him. He couldn't get home, because he didn't know where home was. The more he tried to search his mind, the more he found that it was as empty as the plains around him. Everything was shrouded in darkness, even his name.

     His thoughts were interrupted by a hand on his shoulder. He leapt a bit and spun around, staring face to face with a tall silver Bori with short brown hair. The Bori was wearing a loose red shirt and black pants. He had a pack slung over one shoulder.

     He glared at the stranger, clenching his hands into fists. He took a step forward, causing the Bori to lower his hand.

     “Who are you?" he asked the Bori. His voice was hoarse and didn’t sound right, though he had no idea what right was.

     "I'm Vinas," the Bori said, taking a slight step back.

     "You know what's happened to me, don't you?" He grabbed the Bori by the shoulder and pulled him closer. "What's going on? Where am I?"

     "Please calm down," Vinas said, a slight tremor in his voice. “I don’t know what’s going on. I saw you appear out of thin air and stumble around.”

     The Bori backed away and looked ready to run. Just great, the first person he met, or at least remembered meeting, wanted to run from him like a scared Faellie. He was in no shape to go chasing anyone and he needed help… and answers. Time to switch tact.

     He let his arms fall to his side, not completely voluntarily since he and his limbs felt exhausted. He stepped away from Vinas. "Look, I just want to know what's going on."

     Vinas sighed. "I don’t know. Magic isn’t my strong suit. Do you remember anything at all about what happened?”

     He put his hand to his cheek and felt the unfamiliar face that he seemed to wear. "I don’t remember anything before appearing here. I can’t even remember my name.”

     Wait, perhaps he shared a bit too much. Who was this Vinas, anyway? Friend or foe? He felt as if that was an important distinction to make but he had no clue why. He decided to keep the fact that his face felt like it belonged to someone else a secret.

     "That sure sounds like magic," Vinas said. "Memories don’t just vanish, at least not without a very good reason. Is there anything, however small, you can remember?"

     "No," he said, as the air itself seemed to whistle through his thoughts.

     Vinas shook his head. "Do you at least remember your name?"

     He tried to pull anything from his mind that would even resemble a name, but all was blank and dark. He didn't want to go around as ‘nameless Uni that appeared in the grass’, so he said the first words that came to him.

     "Dark Death." No! That sounded like the name of an evil ghost that lurked in the shadows, going boo to unsuspecting travellers.

     "Really?" Vinas asked. “It sounds like a stage name for an overdramatic singer who sighs way too much.”

     "It was the first name that came to mind," Dark Death answered, crossing his arms. “I can’t remember my name, so I had to think of something.”

     “Fine,” Vinas said. “But I’m a bit confused. Is it all said at once, or is Death supposed to be a last name, like Dr. Death?”

     ”How am I supposed to know?” he asked. “Though I think I’ll have Death as a last name and go by Dark. That makes it a bit less like I’m destined to be the lead singer in the world’s most depressing band.”

     “Good to meet you Dark.” Vinas smiled. “Come on. I’ll take you back to the city and see if I can find someone who can help us. It’s about a day and a half journey.”

     ***

     Dark’s limbs felt heavy. A continuous sheet of sweat rolled everywhere down his body, glueing his clothes to his skin. His mouth felt as if it were made of sand and even his eyes felt dry. Just his luck to be stuck out in a heatwave. Well, he assumed his luck was bad. It just felt like that when everyone was busy grabbing fruit from the luck tree, he had grabbed a worm.

     Vinas strutted along, whistling a high pitched tune and trying to converse about the various animals and plants they passed along the way. He was currently commenting on the dietary habits of Poppits, and how they slept while standing up.

     Dark placed his fingers to the bridge of his nose. "Will you just be quiet?"

     "Sorry," Vinas said and continued to whistle.

     "Don't be sorry, just be quiet."

     Vinas muttered something under his breath which almost sounded as if he was comparing Dark to the backside of a Poppit.

     "What was that?" Dark tried his best to glare at Vinas, but the bright sun made it more of a squint.

     Vinas’ lips curled into a smile. "Nothing."

     Dark felt rage bubbling up to the very tip of his throat. "That was not nothing! Tell me what you said!"

     Vinas shrugged. "Hey, you're the one who wanted me to be quiet..."

     Dark opened his mouth, but clamped it shut. He didn’t want to get abandoned in the middle of nowhere and raging at his only chance at help wasn’t the wisest idea.

     After a while, he spoke again, once he’d forced himself to calm down. Now he just had to come up with words that would hopefully keep Vinas from leaving. "Look, I'm sorry... I think the sun's getting to me. But could you please be quiet? I have a terrible headache."

     Vinas fell completely silent and the only sound was that of the scurrying of Cobralls and Tigermice. Small black smudges dotted the ground, and grew as they continued on, until the grass grew in sparse patches and the ground was blackened bare rock.

     Jagged pieces of grimy metal littered the ground, and the scent of baked in fuel clung to the air. Dark took a closer look at the metal fragments and saw that they were spread out, as if something had exploded. He bent down and picked a piece up, weighing it in his hand. A sticky tar-like substance that clung his fingers. He looked up again and saw that devastation went on for miles. He dropped the metal back down on the ground and rubbed his hand on his pant leg several times.

     He looked over at Vinas, who was watching the scene with slightly narrowed eyes. "What happened here?"

     "Sloth," Vinas said, his voice bitter.

     "What's Sloth?" Dark looked around at the scene again, and a chill ran through his body, sending tremors to his legs and arms. He didn’t know why, but something was very wrong.

     “Not what,” Vinas said. “Who. And judging from your eyes, you might be an experiment of his. That is not a normal eye colour for a Uni. And most Uni’s do not walk on two legs and even those that do have hooves for hands, not fingers.”

     Dark turned to him. “Care to elaborate?”

     "I’ll explain later," Vinas said, stepping forward. “We shouldn’t hang around here. All of this came from beyond the stars. The metal this close to the center of the damage may be toxic.”

     Dark stared at him. “Explain later? You just said that I’m an experiment! And why did you let me touch that metal if it’s toxic?”

     Vinas turned to face Dark. “I said, might be an experiment, and may be toxic. I’m a historian, not a scientist.”

     "Still, I don’t want to end up with a space hand!" Dark waved his arm over the charred expanse of land. "And is this Sloth going to spring up and turn us to ash like this ground here?"

     "I seriously doubt there is such a thing as a space hand," Vinas said. “And there is no danger from Sloth, not anymore.”

     "You sure?" Dark peered around the area as if expecting something to leap out at them. What, he wasn’t sure.

     "Positive,” Vinas said. “No space hands, or Sloth.”

     Dark rolled his eyes. “Enough with the space hand. I get it, it was a stupid thing to say.”

     The metal became denser as they walked along, crunching under their feet like brittle glass.

     "It doesn't seem right,” Dark said, "walking here."

     Vinas turned to look at him. "What do you mean?"

     "I mean, it seems, you know..." Dark sighed. "This seems like a battle. It feels disrespectful of those who fought to just go stomping across it."

     "There's nothing we can do about that," Vinas said. “If you want to get to civilization, we have to walk this way.”

     "Can't we just walk around it?" Dark wondered why Vinas hadn’t thought of that. It didn’t take a genius to figure out a straight line wasn’t the only way to walk.

     "It goes on for miles in every direction," Vinas said, sighing. "There's no way around it."

     “Fine,” Dark said, crossing his arms. “Traipsing through a battleground full of exploded metal it is, then.”

     ***

     Dark stared down at the lake from his perch atop a high ridge of rock. He dove into the water and splashed his way back to the surface, taking a gasping breath. He swam to the shore, and sat down next to a bush with orange leaves. He looked back up at the outcropping, and Vinas, who was stepping down a rocky path.

     The ash and metal stopped abruptly. Everything looked green and colourful again. Though Dark was happy that he no longer had to cough on mouthfuls of soot kicked up with each step.

     Vinas walked over to him. "You shouldn't have done that."

     "Why?" Dark ran his fingers through his hair and squeezed out the ash and oil that had settled.

     "Because lakes aren't always deep, and if you haven't noticed, your clothes are soaking wet." Vinas knelt down next to the lake and scooped up a handful of water.

     Dark crossed his arms. "Well, it was deep. And how are wet clothes a problem? It’s boiling out."

     "Just wait until night," Vinas said. “Temperatures drop when the sun goes down.”

     Dark seethed at his tone. “I’m not an idiot. I’ve had my entire memory wiped, so why don’t you give me a break?”

     ***

     Dark shivered next to the fire, a fine mist of steam rising off his clothes. He didn’t say a word. There was no way he’d let Vinas know he was right about the lake.

     Vinas got up and walked over to a tree. He plucked two yellow apples and came back. He skewered both onto a thorny branch and held them over the fire. They sizzled and popped in the flames, a bitter and sweet smell wafting through the air.

     "Do I know you?” Dark asked. “I mean, from before this happened. I feel… as if we’ve at least met at one point.”

     Vinas looked up at Dark, slowly turning the branch over the fire. "No, I have never met you before. Then again, if you’re an experiment, your appearance might have been altered.”

     Dark looked back down at the fire. That experiment thing again. But first, another question itched at the back of his teeth. "Why were you out in the middle of nowhere?"

     "You aren’t the first person to show up there,” Vinas said. “Many experiments have wandered into the area beyond the battleground. No one knows why, but we think there might be an old hidden lab somewhere underground. I try to help as many as I can."

     Dark shook his head. Something was wrong, he was sure of it. Deep in the haze of his mind, he could almost remember what. But it didn't matter. He'd still be stuck out in those plains without Vinas' help. And he still needed his help. Dark really didn’t have the luxury of doubt.

     He sighed. "Where exactly are we going?"

     "To Neopia Central," Vinas said. "It's the main city on this planet. In case you don’t remember the name, it’s Neopia.”

     Dark wrapped his arms around his chest and inched closer to the fire. He poked the logs with a discarded stick and stared at the flames, watching little pieces break off and travel upwards as sparks.

     "What happened to me?' he finally asked.

     Vinas pulled the skewer from the fire and placed the two apples on a boulder. "Like I said, I don’t know much about magic, or science. Both could explain why you just appeared out of thin air. I’ve never seen that happen before."

     For the first time, Dark didn't care about his missing memories. "Who did this to me? And why?”

     "Well Sloth surely played a part," Vinas said. “And unless you ran afoul of some unknown creature, he’s probably at fault for your missing memories and everything else as well.”

     "How do you know he was involved?" Dark looked up from the fire and into Vinas' eyes.

     "You were in the middle of a plain where several of his experiments have been found," Vinas said.

     Dark shrugged. "And?"

     “And?” Vinas laughed. “Use a little common sense.”

     Dark held his fingers to the bridge of his nose. "It’s hard to have common sense when my mind’s been wiped cleaner than a window. What’s with this Sloth guy, anyway? Why all the experiments, the battlefield?”

     "It’s a long story." Vinas turned his attention to the fire.

     “Then you should start it as soon as possible,” Dark said.

     "Yes," Vinas said, still staring at the fire.

     He didn’t say anything more, so Dark prodded a bit. “So, he likes to do experiments?”

     Vinas frowned. "He’s done countless experiments. Horrible, vile, experiments.”

     Something flashed through Dark's mind, but like lightning, it was gone. “I take it you don’t like him, then.”

     Vinas looked at him, his eyes blazing. “I hate him. He’s destroyed countless lives. He’s a scourge on the planet, an alien from beyond the stars bent on the domination of our home.”

     "I can't remember any of that," Dark said, as he pulled himself even closer to the fire.

     Vinas picked up one of the apples and offered it to Dark. He picked up the other apple and bit into it, wiping his face with his hand. Dark took a bite as well. It tasted sweet, with a slight hint at something tart. He wondered if the flavour should be familiar, but it didn’t even generate a blip in his mind.

     "It's obvious you remember something," Vinas said."You wouldn’t be able to hold a conversation if you didn’t.”

     "I know what words mean," Dark said. "Like I know what fire means. But I can't remember it. I can’t bring up any memories associated with fire. Maybe I’ve sat at a similar fire before, maybe I haven’t. I just don’t know. It’s that way with everything.”

     Something tickled the corner of Dark's mind, and he tried to reach back and ease it out. The more he tried, the wispier it became, until it disappeared completely. His body tensed, and he gritted his teeth, before leaping onto his feet.

     "If I have to track him down and wring Sloth’s neck, I'm going to get back what's mine!"

     Dark had meant to yell, but his hoarse voice sounded more like the whistling of wind between trees.

     "Calm down," Vinas said, standing up. "You're going to get into a whole mess of trouble. Wherever Sloth is now, you don't want to go seeking him out. It's best if you just leave things be."

     "That's easy for you to say! You aren't half a person!" Dark glared at Vinas, fire coursing through his veins.

     "Memories are not who you are," Vinas said. "You are still you."

     "I have no idea who I am!" Dark paced around the fire, his apple crushed to a pulp in his fist. “Memories mean something! I’m a blank slate and I hate it. No, I despise it! I’m a black hole turning in on myself!”

     Vinas sighed. "I know how stressful things are right now. Believe me, I know. Please, just try and sleep on it. Things may look better in the morning."

     ***

     Dark wandered through his dreams, smooth fragments of meaningless shapes. The shapes sharpened until they became a clear scene.

     "You can't do this!"

     "It's already done..."

     Vinas stood over him, one foot pressed against his stomach. Liquid silver metal surged from the ground and crept up his body like ivy. An icy chill filled his bones, and a piercing scream echoed around. It took a few seconds for Dark to realize that the scream was coming from his own mouth.

     Dark sat up, his voice dying away in the red light of dawn. He scrambled to his feet, and whirled around the campsite but Vinas wasn't there. He picked up a large piece of wood from the remains of the fire pit and stomped through the ashes as he left the area.

     The Bori who had helped him, had fed him and kept him safe, was the same person who had put him through this whole thing in the first place! Rage circled through his body, propelling his limbs with an energy he hadn’t felt the day before.

     He found the Bori standing next to the lake, holding a dripping water skin.

     "Vinas!" His voice wasn’t hoarse anymore. It was loud and resonated like a drum filled with angry rocks.

     Vinas looked up. His face went blank and he dropped the sack with now shaking hands. He backed away, but his feet seemed almost stuck in place like the ground had turned to glue.

     Good. He was scared. He should be. Dark raced towards him, but Vinas turned around and ran into a field of tall grass that stood off to the side of the lake.

     The grass towered over Dark like trees, bending and waving and obscuring Vinas from his sight. He ran onward, pushing his way through the blades, catching glimpses of movement ahead.

     He smacked into Vinas just as he exited the grass and sent him tumbling. The Bori smacked into the ground like a boulder. Dark stood over Vinas, foot firmly planted into his chest.

     "I know what you did," Dark growled. “Seem familiar? This is exactly how you stood over me when you took my memories. I had a dream last night and saw what happened!”

     Vinas opened and closed his mouth a few times. “I… I didn’t do anything… It’s just… just a dream… It wasn’t me!”

     Dark pulled Vinas up by the shoulder, almost surprised by his own strength. This set off panicked flailing on Vinas’ part. Dark fell backwards and the piece of wood flung from his hand.

     Dark hit the back of his head on the ground. The edges of his thoughts grew cloudy and it slowly crept towards the center of his mind. In the time it took him to regain his senses, Vinas had grabbed some rope from his pack and tied Dark’s hands behind his back.

     "This can’t be happening," Vinas sputtered. “I… This just can’t be happening.”

     Dark struggled against the ropes and attempted to stand, but the fight had drained what little energy sleep had returned. Whatever had been done to him had left Dark with very little endurance.

     "What can’t be happening?" he asked with venom in his voice. "That I couldn’t have figured out who you are and what you did to me? I know who you are...Sloth."

     Vinas shook his head. “You’ve figured out nothing, but think I have. It was harder before, when you spoke so hoarsely. I don’t know how you changed into a Uni. But those eyes, that voice. I'm not Sloth, you are.”

     

 
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