Authors: Christopher De Sousa
He roamed about the yard, not once letting Katherine drift from his sight. His gaze came to rest upon a bluish ball of fire that writhed within the air up ahead. As both he and Katherine cautiously approached, he found that it was himself, or at least a copy, enveloped inside the blue flames, and confronting two additional figures fused with embers of a similar ghoulish colouring. What he also witnessed upon closer inspection, was the gryphon engulfed in fire stood before the corrupted pair as if he were unaware of their presence.
This is the past
, he thought to himself,
those are events as they'd last night occurred.
He witnessed the masked corrupted struggle before the gryphon to maintain his footing, the porcelain mask cracking about the void of his eyes.
This Corrupted is the reason why they were able to escape
, Anzu thought,
but what is the secret to his power?
He looked on as the masked Corrupted floundered with hands about in the air as if he were a conductor before an orchestra. He also came to recognize that the cover of darkness, which had surrounded them and rendered them momentarily blind, had now fractured. While both his copy and Katherine were impaired, Anzu saw the events of their escape as they'd truly transpired; for the horned woman had grabbed this masked Corrupted, and darted toward the property's perimeter. He observed as the pair pounced over blue blotches of fire that spread out and across the nearest sidewalk. Once the pair had left the property, these bluish flames that lined the perimeter soon faded, swallowed whole by the shadows of night.
Anzu looked on as new flames soon emerged, replacing those older ones, and as they approached the property within columns.
This is a celestial energy most sinister
, he thought to himself,
and there is little doubt he is a Corrupted forged from elemental shadow.
As these new flames drew closer, they assumed human faces. They were officers, operatives of Project Indigo. Amongst their ranks Anzu spotted Lance, Blake, and even Kulullu. He scanned about as numerous officers encircled the perimeter, and took up position about the property in search of the Corrupted pairing.
It's no longer surprising that these operatives appeared just as weary and confused as Katherine and I
, he considered,
for we were all blinded by this masked Corrupted's magic; a magic I suspect which manipulates one's perception of both the physical and visceral plane.
He followed as his doppelganger dashed over to a faint cluster of blue flames, which lay against the concrete pathway leading toward the front porch. Upon his approach, he saw the blue flames assume new faces; one face was that of Duncan, and the other belonged to that of his new master. It was a sad sensation to experience this moment once again, and to share in his master's anguish. But this pain soon became even more personal; for a nightmare that had tormented his very being, and which resided deep in his past, thereafter surfaced. The lifeless body of Duncan, the blue flames having now petered out, had been instantly replaced with the outstretched wings of a most familiar and cherished creature.
“Why must I see this? I have already relived this very moment a million times over,” he murmured beneath his breath.
The creature that lay before his clawed feet possessed giant red feathers, and a dark navy mane of fur. With a ragged eagle head and the shattered body of a once powerful lion, this gryphon was sprawled within a lifeless state on the hardened soil. The landscape had also undergone a drastic change in the space of this dream, to a place he knew all too well, and of which he'd never forgotten. Atop a rocky precipice was where he found himself, home to an event which had continuously plagued him throughout the years. And precisely when this dream could not have wound him more tightly, he saw a smaller gryphon flutter up to the version larger, and rub with its little beak against the navy blue and red gryphon's rib cage.
Moreover, there was another idle before the body he'd yet to acknowledge. For dressed in a dark navy cloak, and kneeling over the fallen guardian, was a young woman for whom he held the upmost admiration. He gazed at the long locks of black hair which hung low from her cowl, and at the printed project's insignia upon her shoulder.
If only there was more I could have done back then
, he reflected,
but I was so feeble and stunted in growth.
As his gaze lingered on the body of this deceased gryphon and cloaked woman, he soon felt a strong gust of wind, both bleak and intense, press heavily upon him. The air had grown cold and dry, he could see his breath float and glide before his beak. Even the ground itself had become difficult to maintain his footing, and an icy sheet was now resided beneath his numbed talons. An overwhelming sense of fear soon came over him. He now felt a presence of one who had terrified millions of times over the course of countless millennia, a soul most foul and cursed.
He gasped, his golden eyes transfixed upon the subject of his torment. “Namtar.”
A wraith, donning an oily black cloak and cowl that smelled of death, glared down at him through pitiless sockets wielding smouldering balls of blue smoke. And when he sensed this demon was about to strike, piercing at his heart and charring his flesh, the ghoul had turned his back on him, and walked along the floor frozen by his own creation. But then this ghoulish figure abruptly rose, and once high up in the night sky, he spun round and generated a sphere constructed of shadow in his open palm. The fiend soon struck, hurling the ball of darkness toward him, and against the chilled rock below.
“Master, wake up,” he pleaded, his head averted from the imminent peril above.
He soon heard a shrill scream of terror that filled the air. He watched with relief as his surroundings returned, for he once again occupied space within the physical realm of existence. He was back in the organisation's infirmary, whole in both body and mind. Having left Katherine in the night, he had been laid out on his chest atop a steel bench with a thick blanket wrapped over his wings.
“That scream,” he mumbled to himself, “I must return to my master's side at once.”
He leapt down from the table, his body heavily bandaged.
It was nice of them
, he thought to himself, but he sensed his wounds were now fully healed. He tugged at the fabric with his beak, tearing it from his limbs and about his waist, and headed for the door.
As he hustled down the corridor, back toward where he'd parted from his new master, he continued to see and think about what Katherine was currently experiencing. He quickly came to sense that she was in a distraught state; although not with regard to the dream, rather panicked by the realisation she'd not brought any belongings with her. She was stressing over having no toiletries, no make-up, and no change of clothing. Such worries in turn came to Anzu as a welcome source of relief. This even led him to laugh.
These compulsions to worry over such things are rather vain and unnecessary given her current circumstances
, he had pondered
, but it might just serve as a healthy distraction from more poignant events.
He soon saw as she did. To the shelving before her bed, and what was available inside a nearby closet. In the closet there was a column of elaborate and militaristic jumpsuits hanging, uniforms with which he was quite familiar, but he couldn't keep from chuckling when she put one on. Through sharing in her thoughts and feelings, he found great amusement at how ridiculous she believed she looked when she stood before a bathroom mirror. He too had never been fond of the uniforms' appearance, and he contemplated what it would be like to wear such attire if it were âgryphon' shaped. But as he enjoyed her dissatisfaction of the uniforms' styling, he soon sensed her focus stray to the recent loss of her father. Questions flooded her mind as she wondered about her parental lineage; whether she was in fact her father's daughter, or if he'd merely been assigned to her protection by this organisation. What's worse, she now dwelled upon the notion that she was to blame for his death.
He saw her, blindly staring deep into the mirror. She was examining herself thoroughly, at each feature that made up her face. Then she collapsed into a crumpled heap onto the bathroom floor. Within her, he could sense feelings of extreme conflict. The insult in thinking these thoughts in the first place, and that it was no way to honour her father's memory. But what Blake had uttered continued to swirl about in her mind.
“That boy; so perpetually arrogant and condescending,” Anzu grunted to himself with disdain. “If only he'd taken the time to think about how she might be affected by such words. Or did he simply not care?”
It tore at Anzu's heart to hear his master's thoughts; she was now questioning her own life. Her very existence. He feared she might do something rash.
What of my memories, my experiences, my family, and of love?
He heard her mull over within her mind's eye.
Did none of it carry any real meaning?
Now that Anzu had finally reached the door which led to her bedroom, he found himself unable to proceed without the necessary lock's combination.
“Anzu, what are you doing here?”
“I need you to open the door,” said Anzu, as he glanced over at the approaching Lance. “My master needs me.”
Once Lance punched in the combination, Anzu darted inside and toward the bathroom. He found Katherine hunched under the basin, her eyes red and puffy. He slowly crept across the slippery linoleum floor; he crouched down at her side, and in a sign of affection rested his head upon her lap.
“What am I supposed to do,” she cried, her hand stroking through Anzu's head of feathers.
He glanced toward the door; where Lance was standing tall within its frame.
“Come, you must both be hungry,” he said, offering Katherine his hand. “We have made you breakfast.”
Anzu watched on as she slowly accepted Lance's hand. He followed after them both out of the bedroom, into the organisation's main corridor, and all the way up to yet another secure doorway. This time, rather than having to input a code, Lance merely swiped a personal clearance card across the panel. He guided them inside a large room where many operatives were already seated and eating breakfast. Upon their entry, all the operatives swiftly ceased any friendly banter, and shifted their attention away from their food. Much to Anzu's bewilderment, the operatives had only paused to acknowledge them, to welcome them, before resuming their conversations. He attentively observed Katherine claim a seat nearest the entrance, and watched as she reached for a piece of toast.
“Now Anzu,” said Lance. “I'm not really sure what I can offer youâ¦”
“An interesting predicament, for I normally prefer to go out on a hunt in search of fresh prey,” he responded. “If you have some fish, or any meat you can muster, I will be most appreciative.”
Over breakfast, and as he sought to digest a fillet of trout, he overheard such a varied, unusual range of subjects discussed all along the mess hall tables. Some were discussing the intricacies of a video game, others were debating pieces of celebrity gossip, and some were retelling the crude jokes of their favourite comedians.
I have been away a long time
, he remembered,
but I never imagined I'd be this far out of touch
It was all so strange for him to witness these people, who only last night were armed to the hilt and searching for demonic beings, now sitting casually before their breakfast and chortling together with such childish rapport. Mind, he could barely recall what it all had been like all those years ago; that is before it all had radically turned for the worse. For the wraith of Atlantis, or at least this is what they'd called him, had caused such destruction to their ranks - so many had been killed. He could still remember it all too well. Even the sky itself had been scorched with fire, torn by thunder, and smothered in ice.
“Where are Blake and Kulullu?” Anzu heard Katherine ask.
“They're already up and training,” said Lance, as he fetched a bowl of cornflakes. “I must apologize to you both for yesterdayâ¦for my brother's obnoxious and careless behaviour.”
“You too are brothers?”
“We were raised within the organisation when both very young,” said Lance with a sombre expression, and noticeably drifting thoughts. “He had great expectations of us back then, the director. Some lived up to them, but there were others who fell short.”
“You just don't seem at all alike,” said Katherine.
Anzu certainly agreed with Katherine's assessment based on the contrast in the âbrothers' demeanour. But they both also shared many similar traits - ones he knew well from his past.
, he took pause to think,
had they actually succeeded?
“This isn't the first time someone has said that,” Lance responded with a chuckle, as he grasped a milk bottle from the table top, and poured it over his cereal. “There are those however who comment on the obvious physical similarities we share, apart from the fact that I'm much taller.”
Now that isn't surprising at all
, he thought to himself,
it's impossible for me not see it; the short black hair, the dark brown eyes, and the slim builds. Although I do struggle at times to tell humans apart. Perhaps I'm not the right guardian to form conclusions on this matter, including my own curiosities.
During breakfast, Katherine rose from her seat and indicated an unusual bronze frame that lay on a nearby table's end. Following closely at her side, Anzu peered over the table top at a portrait. He quickly felt a spike of emotion surface within his new master, that of grief and despair. The portrait depicted her father as he'd once been in the organisation's hierarchy; his age and the date of his untimely death were also printed beneath in bold ink.
“We officers of the Project shall hold a memorial in his honour,” said Lance, his palm comfortingly placed on Katherine's shoulder. “It is important that we never forget him, and what he had done for us throughout his life.”