Nick had said he had not lived a day until the moment he met Minako, but he had been housed in the suffocating darkness for what he viewed to be his entire life. Brian had laughed at the comment, saying instead that he had lived many days before she had appeared in their world. And AJ had cried about living a life where he only ran away. It seemed that to each demon the meaning of life was very different. Did that mean that for each demon found a different meaning in existence as well? A personal desire to live fueled each demon, but a different force fueled his existence. The force that some called a golden destiny and others deemed a cruel fate: being a cardinal demon. The drive to claim powers sealed within the Holy box. The desire to protect the priestess that would hand them the Holy box. The drive to combat the other demons that would stand in the way of the Holy box. It was the same for all of them, their greatest desire in the world, whether they showed it or not, was to claim the Holy box for themselves.
As the box lay hidden away, that desire only deepened. When things were prominent, everyone took them for granted. The pretty necklace hanging from the ornamented frame of a mirror, the scarlet shoes that accented the scarlet trim of the tunic in the closet, the one person standing beside them every day. Each day, things sitting in their exact place radiated a comfortable warmth at their sight. Then, in one instant, the pretty necklace fell from the mirror into an undiscovered corner of the darkness, one of the scarlet shoes had been taken to an unknown location, and the one person that always stood beside them walked away. They could see their back, they could reach out to them, but in that instant, they could never reach them. In the darkness, they were left alone, to stare at the back of the person they adored, knowing that they would never turn around again. When those things disappeared, they become consuming.
That was the type of darkness the demons felt when they were separated from the Holy box. It was hidden in a place that they could never reach in an unknown and mystifying world. With no memory of what was sealed in the box, their desires became complicated and fervent. What did it hold within it? Hidden power, deep desire, or perpetual longing that they could only cling to desperately in prayer? Their desires came to the primitive distinction between property. The idea that an item could belong to one person and its disappearance meant theft. While cardinal demons were considered to be stronger, even superior to ordinary demons, their existence was structured around primal desires and instincts. Did that make their existence simplistic and unnecessary or merely stripped of any petty grievances normally associated with existence? To be fueled by one desire alone seemed cold and unfeeling.
Upon death, the cardinal demons were turned to stone statues, but were their living counterparts merely ice sculptures among the living? What did it take to melt the eternally darkened heart of a cardinal demon? Was the Holy box enough to satisfy their desires or was there something more important to them? However it was deemed… Cruel fate… Golden destiny… It had thrown the priestesses and the cardinal demons together. It seemed that any of them could escape their destiny, despite the fact that they were all bound by it and trudged forward, regardless of the consequences, regardless of what was shattered in the process. Each of them wanted something from their journey, but if their desires were so incompatible, their hearts would be volatile to each other. What was the one desire cardinal demons and priestesses shared? And more than that, was it even something they could achieve?
Renee stared intently at her feet as they journeyed through the path of endless darkness. Back in New York, I was so sure that missing a day of school was the greatest horror because my books were taken and I had to catch up on missed work while still following daily study habits. Minako always refused to tell me what I had missed until the day I came back. She was always so sure that I really needed the time to rest. At that time, I could have never imagined the unknown dangers and unnumbered hardships of a place like this. I’d never seen two men fight until they were both bloody. I’d never seen men openly carry weapons in busy streets without fear of consequences. I’d never seen citizens of devastated towns attempting to pick up the fragments left behind. And most of all, I’d never imagined that I would see the one person I loved the most betray me and then feign love...
“I’ll be waiting…”
Renee bit back her anger. They’re continuing to haunt me...
“Your Eminence…” Lance touched her shoulder.
Renee wrapped her arms around herself. “It’s cold…”
Lance pulled her closer. “We are surrounded by a catacomb of darkness.”
She tightened her grip on her shoulders. Not just the darkness, not just the castle, not just Rubiihoppou… This whole world. It’s clouded in darkness. Our world was always brighter because Minako’s smile lit it up. But she betrayed me, and now seeing her only makes my world dark... Why is the world not brighter with Minako far away?
In this castle, the demons were acutely aware of the rank stench of death, but in the world outside, they never noticed it. Had they become accustomed to their world smelling exactly like death and decaying bodies? Or was it because this rotting stench was that of their kinsmen? It seemed strange to call them that because the cardinal demons always claimed to fight for their countries with pride. Emerald demons were soldiers. Sapphire demons refused to give in. Truthfully, they were merely words, and nothing else. Emerald, Sapphire, what did it matter which set of demons got the box? The priestesses were actually the sole possessors of the Holy strength of God, the demons only had wishes sealed inside. What did the demons care as long as they received their desires from within its glittering golden sides? Wants and desires, those words must have been foreign concepts to them. Material things held little importance, they only desired basic things like food, a sword, a warm place to stay, perhaps family and companions. Other than Justin’s want of bloodlust, it seemed as though these demons lack nothing, or at least, nothing they mentioned in words.
Yet, Justin had asked me for a wish. What sort of thing was he looking for? He was a general, greatly respected, and wealthy, there must have been little else he desired. He had all of his basic needs fulfilled, right?
“Pandora...” Joshua fell back beside her and Lance.
Renee turned to him with a grimace. Why is he interrupting my precious thoughts with his wavering voice? “What?” Her tone was haughty and sharp.
He gulped and clenched his bow. “Can you sense the box?”
“What am I? A fortune teller?” Renee scoffed and turned back to the path in front of them.
“Actually, one of Pandora’s powers is divination.” Joseph placed a hesitant hand on her shoulder.
“Divination… A premonition about something that is going to happen…” She turned to Joseph. “So you believe it is my duty to tell you what I sense about the precious Holy box?”
Joseph nodded slowly, but stared at the ground and fiddled with his sleeve.
Christopher glanced back, then walked slower to join their conversation.
She glared back toward Justin walking at the head of the pack. How dare he open his mouth at this moment?
He continued to walk forward, never glancing at her as he spoke. “Your followers have implored your powers as a priestess, perhaps you should respond.”
She growled and laced her fingers. They want a presentation of my powers as though I am unworthy? What claim to superiority do these creatures have? They are inferior to me in every instance of the word. She shut her eyes slowly. Hopefully I can see something without my anger and disgust clouding my judgment. Darkness… Is there only darkness everywhere? No… In the corner… A brightly shining box… If I reach toward it, can I discern its exact location?
She pulled back quickly. A splatter of blood covered it and cascaded down the sides of the previously beautiful golden box, then it suddenly burst into flames.
Fire? Why? I can’t stay, I’m falling deeper into this illusion… I have to… Her hands began shaking and she pulled back from the illusion. Her eyes flashed open and she choked as she ripped her fingers apart from each other.
“Priestess?!” “Pandora?!” The demons surrounding her froze and crowded closer.
“Your Eminence!” Lance thrust both arms around her.
Renee raised her shaking hands to her face. “Darkness… Blood… Fire…” Her body convulsed as she wrapped her arms around it, trying to calm her frantic heart.
“Lance…” Justin stopped and glanced back at him
Lance furrowed his brow, then glanced up at him.
“You are a man of spiritual power, won’t you translate?”
Lance looked down at Renee again, and clenched her tighter, his face covered in concern.
“Forget her for a moment and answer the question.”
Lance slowly released Renee from his embrace, pulling his hands along her arms as he stepped back. Then he laced his fingers and emitted a burst of ki, causing a warm emerald glow to surround him. “The box is surrounded in darkness. The battle for it will be unending and filled with death, but, in the last moment, there is a deep anger and…”
The emerald glow subsided and Lance placed his hand on Renee’s shoulder again. “Her Eminence shut her heart to the vision. I do not know its outcome, only that one exists.”
“No…” Her voice shook.
“No!!” She ducked under Lance’s hand, then pushed past the three demons surrounding her before dodging Justin and sprinting into the impending darkness.
I was fine before that vision, but now my heart is wracked with pain! Why? Why now? It’s not just a bloody battle, it feels like that blood belongs to someone very important! That fire is piercing my heart! Lance said it was anger… Is it mine? Is someone angry at me? Is someone angry for me? Who does that blood belong to? Who will die? There’s a small part of me that wants to see it still so that I could find out, but even thinking of the blood dripping down the box makes me want to cry… It was such a pure red color… Blood that shines even within the darkness of the catacombs of this castle… No, blood that shines even within the darkness of this world.
Her running slowed when she reached a large archway looming above her. A new entrance? All the previous entrances along the narrow path had led to a battle. Is this a battle for us? Do we have to fight? What is the purpose of having these battles before that culminating battle? We’re only wasting our energy and draining our strength. Minako should suffer, since she’s the only one who followed her priestly duties impeccably. She had gathered her demons on her own by traveling and searching for them. She had delivered them to the castle as asked. She had completed every task to finality and had arrived at the castle using the most convenient of her demons’ powers. She was the ideal priestess, the one that completed each task with precision. She also entered the castle first and that should have been enough to ensure her suffering.
Renee turned back toward him slowly and gazed at him with blackened and empty eyes.
“Why? Why is the world so dark? Why is there so much death?” She raised a hand to her face as tears began streaming down her cheeks.
Lance wrapped his arms around her. “Your Eminence…” He leaned against her ear, his voice brushed against it in a low whisper. “The sapphire priestess…”
Renee choked back a sob and hid her head in his chest.
Lance leaned his head on hers. “I see… Later then, when this is all over…”
Renee gripped his tunic tightly. When this is all over?
“Lance!” Justin bellowed as he caught up to them.
Lance turned to face him swiftly, but still tightly clenched Renee.
“You have your sword, correct?”
“General--” Lance stared back at Renee.
Justin drew his sword from his scabbard as he furrowed his brow. “I see. I will take this first battle then as I am bound to duty over something so meaningless.”
He walked toward the open archway. With his endless combat experience, marching toward a battle had little meaning to him. New soldiers cowered because life and death hung in the balance of the outcome, yet, to a veteran, this was not frightening. After an endless array of battles, it seemed that they could walk toward death without cares, that their confidence was so unfaltering that they would live even in the wake of loss. Throughout his entire military career, he had only lost a few battles, all were recent and only to the damned demon of the darkness. He paused in the entryway, but continued gazing forward. “Won’t you call me back, Lady Renee?”
There was no answer.
He chuckled under his breath. “You always stare at my back and cry. Have these catacombs and shadows scared you into submission? Will you never cry for me again?” His quiet chuckle became a sardonic laugh. “Of course, the condescending bewitching beauty already appeared in Rubiihoppou. Even the Sapphire priestess seems to have her own weak, but defining characteristics. You, Lady Renee, must be a sham of the others.” He walked into the room, his steel boots echoing against the ground.
Renee’s emotionless and expressionless black eyes stared after his footsteps.
Lance released Renee from his embrace, then pulled her toward the room. The other three demons followed.
As they entered, fire instantly ignited a large ring of colossal candelabras that surrounded the room.
Justin growled. “Demon, show your face.”
An explosion of fire burst in the center of the ring. As it subsided, a black figure emerged from the smoke and soot covered in deep red spherical armor down to his iron boots. He opened his eyes slowly, revealing their dancing red sear. “General, I enjoy your haughty pride.” The glow smirked and flickered.
“Haughty?” Justin chuckled. “I had no idea pride was comparable to arrogance.”
“Comparable and equivalent.” The demon responded with a sadistic grin.
Justin clenched his claws around the grip of his sword. “Let me guess, no one passes without victory.”
“Generally speaking, yes.”
“What if I were to give you a wager?”
“Wager?” The ruby demon licked his lips slowly, his eyes sparking with delight.
“I am certain that our battle would end in your death. Let us pass and you may live.” Justin lowered his sword toward his sheath.
“Is that sword your only weapon?”
“Of course.” Justin smirked.
The ruby demon let out a laugh that began as a low chuckle, but became increasingly maniacal. “A sword against the element fire? Don’t you realize that fire forged your precious sword?”
Justin held it in front of his eyes as he examined its flat face. “True, fire did mold the metal into a tangible form.” He twisted it to examine the sharp edge. “However, can fire truly melt it?”
“Metal is metal, the eternally weak element that is strengthened with aid from fire. Or, do you no longer possess an understanding of the nature of our world when you rely on a sword?”
Justin smirked. “I understand that perfectly…”
“I must admit, I heard the sapphire demons were headed this way and assumed I would get no entertainment from their small and weak fighting style. This should prove amusing.” He licked his lips.
“Are you saying that we are weaker?” Justin held his sword in guard.
“Not comparatively, equally.” He smirked. “But at least you have offered me some amusement before your imminent death.”
Justin chuckled. “Yes, that is indeed my offer.”
“Well? Then battle!” The ruby demon raised his hand and thrust it toward Justin, shooting a stream of fire from his hand and knocking Justin against the wall.
“JUSTIN!!” Renee began running toward him, but Lance pulled her back
“So, she does indeed speak.” He pulled himself from the ground and brushed off his armor at the black gash on his chest. “And I thought she had begun to change her demeanor.”
“You care about me while you’re getting killed?!”
Justin chuckled again. “Killed? Hardly. This is merely a singe.”
He pointed to it with the tip of his sword. “That is my own doing.”
Renee clenched her fists, “Don’t--”
“Don’t?” He smirked.
“You don’t have to fight!” Renee’s hands shook. “Only worthless demons need to fight to prove their bravery and use!”
Justin thrust his sword toward the ruby demon, “Thank you, Lady Renee. You are too kind.” He lowered his head slowly and a deep emerald glow surrounded his entire form. His wings unfurled from beneath his deep emerald cape and his clawed hands tightened their grip on the hilt of his sword. He flapped his wings and positioned his booted foot into a springing lunge. He shot from the ground like a catapult and aimed his swing toward the ruby demon.
“A surprise attack?” The ruby demon cackled and shot a fiery blast toward him.
Justin swiftly darted through the fire as though he was the wind, parting the flames. He drove his emerald sword into the ruby demon’s breast plate causing him to cough as blood spurted from his mouth with his spit. Streams of blood poured down his chin as gasped for breath, then collapsed on the ground. As his eyes grew black and heavy, he gripped Justin’s cape and stared up at him. “Too ruthless… Not worthy…”
Justin smirked as he pulled his sword from the demon’s chest. Blood spurted up at him. “Not worthy am I? Which of us is still living?”
“Cardinal demons exist for their precious Pandora…” His hand weakly released Justin’s cape as his body became encased in stone. “That was for you alone…”
Renee put her shaking hands to her face as she gaped at them. They do become statues!
Justin wiped the blood from his sword and thrust it back into its scabbard as his demonic form subsided. He stood in the pool of blood, his pride emanating from him. “That hardly matters.”