WOOD. IF SEBASTIAN HATED ANYTHING, it was wood. Every single day, from six in the morning to six in the evening, he was out there, hot or cold, sunny or rainy, sick or healthy, chipping away at the ancient trunks surrounding the village. Since he was about eleven, he was told to swing at the persisting trunks. He had no clue how many of them he had downed in his lifetime, but that didn’t matter to him. All he knew was that his father was a hard ass, and if he didn’t chop down a tree, he wouldn’t be eating supper that night. In his village, he had to work for food, just like everyone else, so it called for everyone to develop a good work ethic.
Sebastian would always find himself being deep in thought, guessing what life once was, wondering about the struggles and experiences humanity had dealt with. He couldn’t imagine anything more difficult than his current situation, where chopping trees was his only pastime, but he always attempted to squeeze out some ounce of imagination when his loneliness crept up on him, since he would probably go insane if not.
“What if there were these things that ran on their own to help with cutting down trees?” He was able to mutter under his breath in between swings. However, he just chuckled and exhaled, “Yeah, right. God forbid anything would be easy in life.”
And there it was; the next trunk finally gave way to the axe’s wrath, and the wood frayed, creating a weakness that allowed it to tip over. The roar as the massive titan fell to the ground could be heard for miles, and with that noise, Sebastian knew it was an indication that the day was over. He averaged about ten trees a day, and this was his tenth. He went to check the position of the Sun, using one of his few and rare breaks to do so, and it was at the approximate position in the sky for him to finally head home.
The main village had some wind up clocks, but those were very rare and expensive, since the intricacies of the gears were too complex for most to deal with. Sebastian would usually just rely on the position of the Sun to tell the time, and with several years of working outside, he had memorized all of the Sun’s positions in the sky to be able to pretty accurately do so.
He always wondered, though, why the Sun moved all over the sky as the year went on, other than going its normal path in a set line. It was weird, and it made it a lot harder to tell time, especially during the winter when the days were shorter. Good thing it wasn’t winter, though. Dealing with a constant fear that his fingers would fall off from numbness caused him to slow down a lot when cutting down trees, and his father wasn’t too happy with that either.
It was nearing the end of spring at this point, and the calming breeze that coated him in a layer of protection was beginning to become rarer and rarer, so he was reintroduced with occasional beads of sweat making their way down his face or back. It wasn’t too bothersome, but he wanted to not get distracted by some random droplet of salty water getting into his eyes. It burned at times, especially when the kicked up dust made contact with his scalp, forming a darkened liquid with every strenuous activity he did. Wiping sweat from his brow probably slowed him down about one tree every day, which acted as an annoyance, since he would definitely hear it from his dad.
Sebastian, after letting himself wind down, decided to pack up and head back home. His dad would probably be pleased with ten trees today, but no one could tell. Sebastian looked down at his hands to check for any new blisters, which were extremely rare at this point, since his hands were pretty much callouses themselves, but there were the occasions that he exerted himself to that extent.
It was about a twenty minute walk back to his house, which likely could have been shorter if he didn’t look at the scenery, but Sebastian was a curious person, so it couldn’t be helped. Everyone in the village always complained about him being too curious about things, since they equated that with him endangering himself with every moment he stopped and smelled the flowers. It didn’t bother him, though.
What bothered him the most was that these people were so adamantly against exploration and innovation. It was like it was some mortal sin doing anything that might make life a bit easier. He even made a few suggestions to some of his coworkers (the very rare ones who’d run into his territory), and they were totally against any change, rejecting each and every thing he brought up.
Sebastian learned about this reluctancy throughout his life, and it seemed like an unspoken rule that he just couldn’t understand. It was as if everyone was reading each other’s minds without his knowledge. That would probably explain this tight knit community that he was never able to fit into. It’s like he was born in the wrong century, except he felt like that century happened before he was born. Weird, right?
This time, Sebastian was feeling extra curious, so he decided to go down a path that wasn’t explored much. Had he even seen that path before? It looked new, but maybe he had looked it over before that day. Even so, he was bored of his normal path, so some new exposure would do him some good.
He would just go down the path a good mile or so and come back, which shouldn’t have taken more than thirty minutes. With that reasoning drilled into his head after some self convincing, he placed his stuff down behind a tree and took a swig of the remaining water in his canteen, which had inevitably heated up as a result of the persistence of the Sun beating down on it. Even with that thick layer of foliage, the rays managed to maneuver around to reach his water, as if it were their daily goal. After finishing up the water, Sebastian took a few bites of his potato and beef mixture and put it back in his bag.
He always had a knife on him, something he packed to defend himself against forest animals; such threats were rare in these parts of the woods, but there was always that looming threat.
He strapped the knife on his belt and went down the sketchy path. The lighting didn’t change, and the ambience of the forest remained the same, but there was something, some sort of feeling, making him uneasy. Maybe it was the idea that he was going somewhere he didn’t know about, or maybe he sensed something out there, but he didn’t know. He wasn’t going to act like the rest of the people in his village, so he just decided to swallow his nervousness and persist.
This place wasn’t explored, by the look of things, and the forest was much thicker than the usual scenery that he would frequently pass by.
After a good six minutes of walking, he looked back to see that the main path was completely out of sight. Maybe stopping there was the best idea, but Sebastian had a commitment that he was going to follow, and he was going to make sure that he would walk a mile out, and no less.
Even though the pit in his stomach was becoming increasingly deeper, he felt like he was attached to a string, which pulled him closer into the woods. The foliage, as well, was getting so deep that the Sun could barely make its way to his face. He knew that it was in the evening, but there was no way that six minutes would allow the Sun to creep away so quickly.
Despite the fact that the unease was pushing against his chest, something in the woods, down the path, compelled him to persist. About four more minutes had passed, and Sebastian knew that he was probably deeper into those woods than he would have liked, but he still had to go for about five more minutes until he was eligible to turn back.
Focused on his own thoughts, he hadn’t even realized that the ambience around him had completely stopped, and the sound of his steps echoed across the entire forest. It was actually quiet enough for him to hear his own heartbeat, and he could swear that the sweat running down his face would make an infinitely loud noise whenever it crashed into a leaf down below.
Continuing down this path, Sebastian had finally lost track of time, but his curiosity took precedence over his cautiousness. Since no one had ever been down the path, he thought that he might have been able to find something cool, maybe an old scrap of metal, which had been found in other parts of the woods. No one had known what their origins were, but such rare finds would usually go towards luxurious items, like clocks. Since this part of the woods was essentially unknown, he could get some new things for the house. Too bad he had forgotten his bag, or he probably would have been able to bring more, but he was no idiot about inflation, so it was best to have some sort of control on the trade of this metal. He wasn’t in a rush to dry up his funds.
After what seemed like about two more minutes of walking, the sudden thought that maybe nothing was in these woods came to his mind. Not only would he come back empty handed, but he would also be about thirty minutes late. His optimism, however, told him that he was in for a real treat, even if it were minimal at best. If that were the case, though, he would just have to go deeper into the woods. Surely, then, he would find something.
Come to think of it, it was getting harder to breathe. The air was as pure as ever, but it seemed like it had become heavier or something of the sort. That time, it was actually dark outside. The leaves, regardless of how many were obscuring the sky, always had some sort of light intruding in on the forest floor, but he couldn’t see a single ray.
Alongside that, there was something he felt watching him. Sebastian, since having chopped at trees for six years, had grown to feel the forest and its energy. He could feel the trees around him, but he could also sense when something else was in his vicinity. It was something he couldn’t explain, but it was definitely apparent.
This thing that was watching him was getting closer with every second, and it didn’t help that with every second, as he got closer to his destination, the passage of time felt as if it were moving at an increasingly slow manner. As the destination got closer, more presences——otherworldly was the best explanation for them——approached, and he knew that he was outnumbered. He picked up his pace and went farther into the woods. To his luck, it seemed like these presences were beginning to be a thing of the past, but he was still skeptical.
Knowing that they could attack at any time, Sebastian had to do something quickly, so his plan was to scale one of the trees for a better look. Much to his misfortune, all of the trees surrounding him were about as thick as his arm, so he knew that they would break or bend under his weight. These things were still behind him, so it was still vital that he do something.
About twenty feet ahead and to his left, there was a tree of sizable diameter, so he immediately bolted to it. He didn’t even care if those things around him would speed up if he did, but all he knew was that he had to get up a tree and do it quickly. At that point, it was seriously dark outside, and his vision was becoming increasingly worse, which was alarming, since he knew that he had been out here for about only fourteen minutes. When he got to the base of the tree, his first action was to get his knife out and leap to stick it into the bark so he could pull his way up.
He wasted no time to get to the top of this tree, and when he found a secure branch to sit on, he finally decided to drift his attention from climbing to the forest floor. At the top, Sebastian could see a good distance around him.
That terror-inducing feeling that he had moments ago washed away when he realized that the presence disappeared. He could usually feel where something was when it was within a certain distance from him——five hundred feet seemed to be his limit lately——, but it was like the things had completely disappeared from the woods. There was no way they were so fast as to leave the vicinity that quickly.
On that note, the ambiance of the forest had returned, and he was back to being able to see the Sun in the sky. He knew it didn’t get dark that quickly naturally.
Maybe he was just seeing things. There were reports of some flowers that someone would walk by and have some sort of hallucination, and after about five minutes, the effects would wear off.
After a good minute of convincing himself that it was just that, Sebastian made his way half-way down the tree. Doing one final check around the woods to make sure nothing was there, his eyes caught a glimpse of something in the distance; however, that time, he knew that it wasn’t living, but it definitely had an aura of its own. Being the curious devil that he was, Sebastian knew that he wouldn’t be satisfied until he saw the thing that called out for him.
He was so fixated on the presence that he didn’t realize his foot shifting, inches at a time, under him, until it was too late. Sebastian could feel his heart instantly become enveloped in terror as he made his way to the ground. It was as if it were staying in the air, and his body was pulling it down to the ground. As if it weren’t terrifying enough, the whole experience was being played in his head at about one fifth the speed than it should have been.
Before he knew it though, his body slammed against the ground, and he could feel his entire skeleton rattle before his head followed suit. He reached out to the sky, trying to grab onto something, anything. Nothing was there——
There was nothing in particular flooding his mind. It was more of a peaceful bliss shrouding him. He didn’t even know long he had been out for, but his mind was luckily shifted away from his pain, which he was sure would instantly shock him into being awake at any moment. With every second, his senses continued to return to him.
First was the sound, which was minimal. If anything, it was just white noise that crept into his ears. Then was the smell, the soft and soothing aroma of the forest, making its way to his nose. That seemed to help calm him down, so he could focus on getting up.
His taste, which was normal, returned, but it wasn’t anything spectacular. As he lay there, a tingling feeling finally made its way to the tips of his fingers, which traveled through his arms and to his chest. As the feeling spread through his body, he could feel a dull pain where it was supposed to be. He had to have hit every square inch of his back when he slammed into the ground, so he was expecting something like that. After a bit, the dam of pain finally had burst, and a flood of agony washed over his head and back.
‘This. So this is what it feels like to be hit by a truck. Was that the saying?’ His grandfather had always said that for some reason. He didn’t know what a truck was, but the elders had always had an affinity for odd sayings like it, so he had picked up on them and decided to put them to use.
That’s right, eyes. When the flood of pain finally settled, still lingering a bit, his eyes flew open, and he sat up. The shock of his movement rattled his spine, but that was the least of his worries. It was dark again. ‘Shit.’ He was a bit dizzy, but he could feel those things again. They were close. Barely having his balance, probably due to the blunt trauma dealt against his head, Sebastian struggled to get up, but he wasted no time getting on his own two feet. He noticed that his knife was about five feet to his right, while the otherworldly presence that drew him within the forest’s path was to his far left.
As he reluctantly made his way to the knife, he knew that something was staring him right in his eyes, just out of his view. It was terrifying, but whatever it was would not stand a chance to him if he had a knife. His reluctance led to urgency.
The thing was inching towards him, and he had to act quickly. Despite his condition, the adrenaline acted as a balancing agent to sharpen his mind. He knew the thing was about to pounce, so Sebastian dove and quickly grabbed the knife, rolling into the dark. The thing was staring him down, and it began to strike, but Sebastian swung his knife with his full force, and he could feel it snag the body of whatever the hell was watching him.
The knife, however, made a clean cut through the body, and as it finally made contact with the air, the loudest blood-curdling scream pierced his ears. The noise was horrifying. Did he hear it correctly? It was like he cut through a girl, and the girl’s scream was mixed harmoniously with that of a bear.
Sebastian could feel an intense pressure in his chest. The sweat pouring from his head was beginning to burn his tear ducts. His whole body began to shake, and his hand felt glued to his knife. That thing, as he felt, was pushed back a few feet, since whatever he did to it likely hurt the hell out of it. The sweat made its way down to his cheeks, seemingly not wanting to pry itself from his face, and his eyes continued to feel that stinging pressure. That time was different from others. His sweat was heavier and hotter.
Sebastian made his way up to his feet and staggered towards the other presence behind him. Whatever he slashed, he didn’t kill, so he knew that he had to take refuge at the source of energy. Maybe that would scare the things off.
He couldn’t run, since the bolts of pain would remind him of his fall with every step he took, but he made his way to the source as quickly as he could. His vision was fading sporadically with every sudden movement he took, and the pain began to return to his back and head. It was moving again, slowly, but surely. Despite the shockwaves of pain radiating through his body, Sebastian knew he had to step it up a bit.
His whole body was shaking as each foot struck the ground. He knew he was impacting the ground with minimal force, but each time he did so, it felt like his whole skeleton was bouncing around inside his body. A few steps to the right, some to the left, heck, he was even going backwards a bit. However, the distance between him and the energy was getting shorter and shorter. Even so, he didn’t feel like he moved a foot, and whatever was behind him must have been mortally wounded because he could hear, with the limited hearing he had, it pulling itself on the ground.
With his senses slowly returning even more, something else was bothering him. That smell. The smell of iron, like that in the scrap he found in his part of the woods, was intruding on his nose. He had a great sense of smell, and he could tell that it wasn’t coming from behind him, where it should be from, and it wasn’t coming from his shirt that was likely soaked in whatever came out of that thing.
He was about ten feet away from this glowing energy, which he couldn’t see thanks to a thin layer of red film blocking his vision. With his remaining strength, he staggered his way to the source. Around him, he could feel about ten——no, hundreds of those creatures——surrounding him now. ‘Dammit!’ He was able to handle one, but cutting through it, which should have killed it, was not enough to stop it in its tracks. They seemed to have some sort of undying attitude that made them function until they croaked, which was scary, since a simple wound wouldn’t drive them away.
Sebastian was about two feet away from the thing now, and he began to wipe his eyes to see what he was feeling. As his vision was partially cleared in one eye, his gaze was met with a shining blade, giving off enough light to make someone think it was midday. Right behind the blade, he could see this creature fully, without darkness to obscure it, and if the mere presence wasn’t enough to shake someone, its appearance was.
He had heard stories of things like these, but he had never actually seen one. Once again, the only thing he could hear was his heart pounding in his chest, probably attempting to get a head start at getting out of here. Sebastian didn’t blame his heart, but he needed to leave too, so they would have to work together to escape the beasts’ wrath. Sebastian pulled out his knife, knowing very well that it wouldn’t hold a candle to their insane strength. Maybe he was hoping that he could ward them off, but he knew that wasn’t going to happen.
Around him, the concentration of the beasts was getting overwhelming. It almost seemed like they were all one being. The way their auras merged confused and scared him. He turned around and looked at the one that had followed him from before, and it was standing there, as if nothing had happened to it. Its wounds were not only healed, but it seemed to be bigger than the others. Its aura was the only one that was distinguishable compared to the others. Was it always that profound? Before he cut at this thing, it was no stronger than the others. Then...how?
It began to walk closer to him, and, as if it were by instinct, his body moved on its own. He kept going backwards until he made contact with the blade. Next to his ear was something that caused dread to wash through his body. He could feel its jaws opening to strike, but Sebastian was quicker. He took his knife and buried it into the skull of the creature. That same familiar feminine and bear-like scream drowned his senses in a pool of noise. Sebastian was not quick enough to pull this knife out, and the creature fell back to leave him defenseless. This attack was not enough to make the others rethink their hunt, so Sebastian knew he was screwed. They were all so close now. He had no idea what to do. Finally, one of them snapped and jumped forward, and Sebastian’s body acted on its own again.
Without warning, he pulled the blade from the ground, and a booming noise washed the pool of screams away while being followed by a blinding light.
His senses were no longer overwhelmed. His whole body was no longer shrouded in the feeling of dread. The light, gone. The blood, gone. The pain, gone. Sebastian could still feel himself standing there.
Around him, there was a blue light filling his vision, but it was soothing, and it wasn’t obnoxious like the Sun or whatever came off of that sword. There was no sound, except for his breathing, which was also calmed down. Sebastian finally decided to look up, and the whole forest was transformed into a meadow, but the blades of grass, strewn across the ground, were blue, and the entire sky was void of any intrusive cloud. The moon was up there, as proud as it ever could be, glaring down at him, but he felt a sense of calm as it did just that.
About thirty feet in front of him, there was a tree stump with someone sitting there. However, he couldn’t feel their presence, which was extremely odd. Despite not being able to read this person, a sense of happiness collected around him and eased his nerves, so he decided to walk towards them.
Upon closer inspection, the person, as he could see, was a woman, and her beauty was beyond compare. Her soft eyes, coupled with her flowing, white hair and slightly dark skin, seemed to welcome his presence. A smile formed on her face as Sebastian walked closer, which seemed inviting enough. Sebastian continued to approach, getting closer and closer until he felt compelled to stop, probably because the presence of this person seemed to command his audience and ears.
A soft and delightful voice came from her mouth and entered his ears as she spoke: “Sebastian, I have been waiting for so long. To think it would take five hundred years for another human to touch this blade.”
She stopped, likely inviting a response, so Sebastian wasted no time to ask the obvious, or not? “Why can’t I feel your presence?”
She smiled and walked a bit closer to Sebastian, “You seem to have a profound talent, don’t you?”
He assumed she was talking about his ability to sense things, but his question wasn’t answered. He didn’t want to challenge this woman, so he changed the subject, “This place, what is it?”
Smiling again, the woman shifted her gaze to her surroundings, “It’s beautiful, is it not? I think the blues complement the night. Greens are nice, but blues and violets stand out. You know, this is natural, right? It was formed by the billions of years of universal clashing and crashing, and this beauty was created as a result of patience. I wanted to live here sooner, but I decided to wait it out.”
Once again, his question wasn’t answered, but the answer was sufficient enough. He didn’t feel angered by her presence, so he let it slide. “Uh, I’m sorry if I’m intruding, but I was just in a forest, and then… uh, so I’m kind of lost.”
“You don’t have to apologize, Sebastian. You didn’t come here on accident. I called you here. That sword you picked up, my presence is sealed inside of it, and I simply pulled you inside of it as well.” She looked around again.
“Inside of a sword, yes. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? People are always so scared of weapons, but I think there is a bit of beauty to them. Each sword has its own soul, but no one realizes that, and the swords are used to kill, when they should be used to cleanse. It’s a shame that no one realizes that. Your desperation, however, woke me from my slumber, and I thought you might want to be somewhere calm. I hope that’s alright.” The woman slightly tilted her head and smiled again.
“Oh, yeah. I wanted to thank you. Before I got here, I was about to be killed by these weird dogs, so thank you.” He scratched his head.
“You’re most certainly welcome. Those dogs, you say. They are called Hellhounds. Your planet seems to have a large concentration of them. Don’t worry, though, because when you wake up, they’ll be gone.”
“Why so? They were all over the place when I blacked out.” He retorted.
“Because you cleansed them. Every last one of them when you drew this blade.” Her soft voice returned an answer.
“What? Every last one of them? But how?” Sebastian’s eyes widened.
“Because you thrusted your will into that blade, and it deemed you worthy enough to answer. Its light gave you the strength to cleanse all around you. That sword…” The woman stopped, “This sword has chosen its wielder. I have chosen you. Sebastian. This is your lifeline. Your savior. From now on, our souls will be intertwined and forever bonded together. I will lend you my power and knowledge so you can cleanse this universe of the evil that plagues it.”
What in the world was she talking about? Sebastian was reluctant, but saying no to her didn’t seem right. Besides, she saved his life. “Alright. I’ll do it. I will cleanse this universe. But, how will I be able to do that if I am confined to this forest? It seems to go on forever.”
“If you go far enough, and if you follow your soul, you will feel the spirits guiding you through the labyrinth of this world. Azure’s Edge will guide you everywhere.” The woman relayed.
“Azure? Is that your name?” Sebastian asked stupidly. Of course it was. Why was he asking if he already knew the answer?
As if she had read his mind, she reassured him, “You don’t have to worry about asking me a question. I chose you to wield this sword, my temple, so you have gained my respect and loyalty. Yes, my name is Azure. I hope I answered all of your questions, Sebastian.”
She paused for a second, and with that, she suddenly interjected once more, “Actually, though, when I was younger, I was known by some as Zuri. But people are so formal, calling me Azure. Sebastian, if I may…I don’t like formalities much, especially if we’re going to be working together.” A polite smile formed on her face. “My mother was named Zuri, too, because it was a name of great significance where she came from, but she and my father agreed upon calling me Azure, for my blue eyes. Sometimes, for the most special people I meet, I want them to call me Zuri. It makes me know that I mean something to them.”
Sebastian stood there for a moment, taking the information in slowly, mesmerized by her words. “Zuri, huh? I can definitely call you that!”
She appeared to be elated by his response, and as her hands clasped each other with a swift motion. “Excellent! But I don’t want to leave you out on this. Would you mind if I gave you a nickname, too? I was thinking something along the lines of…Bash.”
Sebastian’s eyes widened, and he suddenly felt a tingling wave in his stomach. That was what his older brother called him when he was younger——the only one to do that. Everyone else would call him Seb or just plain Sebastian. With a warm smile of his own, Sebastian kindly nodded, his eyes meeting Zuri’s. “I’d like that.”
“So then, we’re in in this together?” She grinned.
“Against all evil.” Sebastian smiled.
Zuri laughed, and she then spoke, “To cleanse this universe and make it a better place.”
She paused and then said, “Bash?”
Sebastian looked up, “Yeah?”
Sebastian was taken aback, and he could feel the world around him disappearing. He was confused, and then he called out, “Will I see you again, Zuri?”
She smiled and replied, “I’ll always be at your side, Bash.”
That wasn’t the answer he wanted, and it seemed like Zuri knew that, so she said something else. “If you want to summon me, just say my name.”
And with that, his vision blurred, and he woke up again in the woods, that time with the light slightly poking through the leaves, which left him to believe that there were still a few hours of daylight left. In his hand, Azure’s Edge was firmly gripped, and it gave him a sense of peace. Everything around him was as peaceful as it was before, so he got up, and to his surprise, the red tint in his eyes had disappeared, and his balance was returned. Did the sword heal him? He didn’t want to call upon her and bother her, so he just assumed that it did.
He had to head back and get home before his dad got pissed off, so he started towards the path.
“Save the universe. How can I do that when the forest is already so vast? I guess a little at a time, starting small, would be the best strategy. Yeah. That should work.”