On a day no different than any other, one where the sun's light shone bright upon humankind and peace was present, the world had begun to break around Loque. He was speaking to his mother, exchanging pleasantries after returning home for the first time that month, when a flicker of light caught his attention through the door, left slightly ajar.
“Sorry, I need to go check something,” Loque interrupted, rising from the small stool he was sitting on. Opening the door and stepping outside into the sunlight, Loque spotted it again. It was a sliver of light, shapeless and almost imperceptible, dancing around the shadows cast upon the worn path.
Bursting out from beneath the ground, another small light jumped around Loque’s head. It spun freely, dancing through the air. Backpedaling, Loque winced as the image of a man, covered in his own blood and dead at Loque’s feet, sprung into his head. The memory twisted, vanishing as Loque swatted the orb of light away, watching as it formed the haunting face of the dead man.
“No, not now,” Loque murmured to himself, feeling a growing sense of energy swelling in his chest. The feeling sparked a thought, a sliver of memory, as a single word bore itself into Loque’s mind: Breaking. Gasping for air as panic set in, Loque stumbled, falling to the ground and clutching his head in his hands. Silent screams, pleas for the feeling to go away, fluttered across his motionless lips.
But the pleas went unheard, whispered reminders of what Breakings were echoing through Loque’s mind:
Breakings rarely happen, but they are dangerous.
They always mention spirits of the dead returned to haunt them.
Once it starts, I heard that it’s impossible to stop.
“They aren’t really there, I’m just hallucinating,” Loque muttered to himself, slamming his eyes shut and covering his head. For a moment, there was complete silence. Then, out of nowhere, an explosion of maroon light made its way through Loque’s clenched eyelids.
Opening his eyes a fraction of a centimeter, Loque saw a dozen small spirits spinning around him, dancing to music only they could hear. Terrified by the image, Loque clutched his eyes with his hands, continuing to mutter as he ignored the whispers of the spirits.
From nothing, another image came into his head. This time, it was a small girl that he’d been unable to save. Wishing the image away, Loque opened his eyes, as tears trickled down his cheeks, and began swatting at the spirits. Even so, the memory clung tight, the girl’s final words echoed through his ears: “Is mama going to be ok?”
Around him, the spirits multiplied as he grew more and more frantic. The faces of those that he had killed, or seen slain before him, swam through Loque’s mind. Glowing a red, a reminder of the blood that Loque had spilled, memories of those he had left behind surfaced. Silent tears, mourning over all that Loque had done and all that he had forgotten, fell from his eyes as the spirits began to climb over his skin.
As his tears drained from his eyes, Loque could still feel the tingling of the spirits, cold and light to the touch, bouncing across his skin. With a renewed energy, Loque tore at the little spirits, digging his nails into his skin as he shook fruitlessly trying to get the spirits away. But, they only clung tighter against his body.
Feverently scratching at his arms and face, the spirits only moved as small drops of blood drew to the surface of his skin. Leaping away from the blood, the spirits spun through the air still swirling around Loque.
Fighting through the blood storm, Loque pushed his way over to his horse, stabled next to the house. Lifting himself onto the saddle, Loque shivered as a stream of little spirits bounced from his hand, exploding through the air.
“What was that sound?” Loque heard his mother call out, coming to the door.
“Nothing,” Loque responded, attempting to keep his voice level and natural. “It was just a rock.”
“Are you alright? You sound nervous.”
“I’m fine, though I need to go before they arrive,” Loque replied, his voice trailing off to a whisper. “It’s all falling apart. Everything is breaking, breaking faster than I can fix it.”
“Before who a-” Loque didn’t wait to listen to the rest, kicking his horse in the side and spurring it forward. The gallop of his steed, strong and trained to ride days on end, thundered over the conversation. Loque offered only a single, sorrowful glance over his shoulder, the last glimpse of his mother left alone on the empty road.
Turning his attention forward, Loque ignored the unpleasant sensation, that of warm, palpable anger and malice, growing in the pit of his stomach. Each galop, each jostle, sent a wave of terror, mixed with deadly warmth, across Loque’s body as the energy lurched under his skin.
Losing track of everything else as Loque strained to keep a level head, his mind was far too deep within his own body to notice as his horse stumbled over a small log as they entered the woods. Forever caught up in the power growing in his body, Loque didn’t feel anything else as he was flung into a shallow stream, the cool water turning his skin blue. Blinded in his focus, Loque didn’t notice as a metallic taste filled his mouth and the sky darkened into nothingness.
Time spun around Loque, a stream of energy bleeding out as darkness crept softly upon the lands. Cracking his eyes open, Loque found himself staring up at a star-stained sky. His mind was unusually empty, the cold breeze stirring life back into Loque.
Sitting up with a grunt, a small spike of pain tearing through his ribs, Loque looked around. To his horror, not only had the day passed him by without a second thought, but the forest around him, once filled with an abundance of life, was dead. At that horrific moment, the realization that the pressure on his chest had faded struck Loque, a realization dawning upon him that it was his fault.
Scarred trees bent away from where Loque sat, grasses and flowers had wilted around the stream, and the once-clear waters were murky with lifeless bugs. Fear crept into Loque’s mind, thoughts of the damage he had caused. Yet his Breaking was far from done with him and, as a reminder of his past, three red spirits danced out of the lifeless forest. The light of the spirits was all that was left in the night, offering an ominous solstice against the endless, foreboding darkness.
Rising to his feet, Loque slowly hobbled after the spirits. Each step he took sent a wave of pain through his chest but, as he leaned against the trees, Loque managed to push through the pain, ignoring it as best he could, and stay on his feet.
The spirits moved slowly and randomly, drawing paths across the ground and sky as they bounded through the forest; however, they all were moving in the same direction, leading Loque onward and into the depths of the midnight forest.
Stumbling his way after them, Loque couldn’t make out his path as the trees grew denser and denser, blocking out all other light. Over the uneven ground, Loque managed to keep his balance as he slowly trailed after the red spirits.
As he was entering a small cove within the sea of trees, Loque tripped over a protruding branch and collapsed to the ground. Laying there, Loque didn’t move as a soft panting noise neared him, a sudden burst of warm, noxious air blew into his ear. Crying out in surprise, Loque pushed himself over on his stomach coming face to face with his horse.
Heaving a sigh of relief, Loque, ignoring the spike of pain through his chest, lifted himself to stand by his loyal steed. “I’m glad you’re okay, but I suppose now isn’t the time for rest,” Loque softly whispered, pressing his forehead against his horse’s chest. “We have to find Wendol before he leaves for the isle.”
Slowly dragging himself onto his horse’s back, Loque tapped his heel against the steed’s ribs and the two were off. Wisps of red light spun through the forest, trailing behind Loque and cropping up just visible in the corner of his eyes. Ignoring the spirits and the gnawing pain in his chest, Loque rode South through the densely packed forest with little variation in his path, the moonless night dragging on in complete silence.
It was as the sun began to peer above the horizon that Kkimate, the longest standing mortal city, came into view. Tucked carefully behind the cliff of a mountain, the East half city was faintly lit by the golden light of morning.
Riding up to the gates, made of stone and wood, Loque came to a halt. Sliding to the ground and rubbing his eyes, improbably amounts exhaustion having already taken a deep-seated hold within his body, Loque stepped up to the gate.
Bursting out of nowhere, a wave of excruciating pain washed over Loque. Every inch of his body stung, the molten blades of a thousand men tearing through his soul as Loque collapsed limply to the ground with a single, guttural scream. To Loque, the pain extended on forever, an endless cycle of death…
“Are you alright?” a concerned voice asked, the startling sound causing Loque to tear his eyes open. A man, dressed in a simple cloth tunic with a small patch woven over his heart, stood directly above Loque.
Stuttering and fumbling over his words, Loque shakily demanded, “Where is Wendol?”
“He left around midnight, something about a Breaking in the North,” the man explained with a frown. “Do you need help, is everything alright?”
Through clenched teeth, a fit of pain almost incapacitating him, Loque ignored the man’s own question. “When will he be back?”
“I’m not sure. He’s meant to head West for a job soon and isn’t expected back for a few month-” The man was cut off as Loque slowly lifted himself from the ground.
Softly, he murmured, “I’m sorry.”
Pressing his hand against the man’s chest, Loque could feel the man’s tissue twitch and bones snap. Back arching, the man silently doubled over, a huge gash torn through his chest. Loque looked at his bloodstained hand for a second before lifting it to his face, a slight sense of regret staining his mind.
Crouching down and clutching his eyes as blood dribbled from his eyes and nose, Loque sifted through the small pool of blood, searching. Finding a solid object, Loque lifted a small, smooth crystal coated in warm blood. With a shake of his hand, sending the blood splattering across the man’s stained tunic, Loque wrapped his fist around the Bloodstone. Inhaling deeply, a tight, grim smile grew upon Loque’s face as the pain vanished and his head cleared.
Opening his fist, Loque released a small pile of dust into the wind. Loque kneeled over the man and whispered a prayer to the Gods, “Oh Great Imikka, please bless the kindred soul of this man as he passes through the veils of life. For a great sacrifice and a truthful life, give him a pleasant passing.”
A slight breeze, warm and welcoming, stirred up around Loque, seemingly a response from the Gods. Loque bowed his head in silence for several minutes before rising to his feet and turning away from the man.
“We’re heading West now, onward to the isle. Maybe we can catch Wendol on our way, otherwise… who knows what will happen,” Loque said, turning to his horse and speaking to no one but himself. “Shall we walk for a bit, it’ll be a while before Wendol gets to the isle anyway?”
Slowly walking away from the city, leaving behind nothing more than fading footprints and a bloodied body, Loque and his horse began walking, heading away from the morning sun and into the clutches of the dark, dense forest ahead.