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Semper Fidelis

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[ Blooms in cursed red a spring child forlorn ]

[ Abandoned and forsaken, much ache to mourn ]

 

[ Stumbles he into a kindred soul’s embrace ]

[ Stolen away, a gleeful game of chase ]

 

[ Yet, upon crossroads is spilt the blood of the slain ]

[For -

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Sykkuno is seven, when the mark first makes its appearance.

 

The sheer existence of it doesn’t surprise him in particular; accounts of other villagers narrated by Jeremy during his visits had stuck like wet ink in his memory, imprinting over and over with an almost overwhelming curiosity.

 

Some civilians, Jeremy had whispered conspiratorially, described it most akin to an unfamiliar, scorching sensation, as if all limbs were caught in a grievous fire. He’d shuddered at the mere thought then, wondering why something as awful as this would ever be cause for celebration.

 

But then, some other days, when his parents would return with the necessities he required, he’d catch a short glimpse of the golden curves adorning his mother’s forearm, matching the intricate pattern that sat on his father’s bicep. 

 

He’d seen the way they got along - it was hard to miss -  the gentle murmurs, soft affirmations. It had touched something fragile within him. Delusions and hesitance gradually faded into a subconscious desire to know, to understand .

 

Jeremy had called him naïve for it, warned him how dangerous an unknown promise of destiny could be. And, truthfully, Sykkuno understood his caution; it was a natural thought process in line with Jeremy’s shrewd nature, and there was no lack of fair logic either. The warm, raw concern in his reprimands had touched his heart, but the thick anticipation stirring in his gut had quietened no more, and everyday, he grew hungrier to see it sated.

 

It all comes to a head, when the quizzical phenomena finally, finally, sets its gaze upon him.

 

Contrary to the tales he’s heard in poorly hidden stress, the symbol slithers onto his hand without much fanfare.

 

It takes him in the defenseless lull of sleep, olive-tinged vines curling sharp and swift around his skin while his eyes stay lidded, tendrils sneaking and pressing into the bones of his slim wrist in the darkness of dawn.

 

It is when he wakes up, however, when he yawns and cracks his shoulders in what has become a routine morning ritual over the years, that it registers; something was off - terribly off.

 

And it is this coherence that becomes his undoing.

 

Sitting within the cage of labored ribs, his heart is suddenly... alive, raging in a climbing fury, an unexplained mess of thumps against his sternum; a startling juxtaposition to the tranquility around him.

 

This deep in the woods, hidden among foliage of ancient descent, shielded by the mysterious powers of the age - old creatures that roamed its corridors, Sykkuno's tiny abode sits alone and quiet. Here, all sound, from the faint rustle of leaves to the howl of the worst predators, is eventually swallowed into the throat of the forest, replacing air with a deafening stillness. 

 

Poised within this withering landscape of silence, Sykkuno lay dying - or, at least, that is what it feels like. Blood floods his veins, red hot pain screams in his vision, washing the moment in an eternity of misery. He shouts, voice cracking, begs for help, fingers clawing into the raw straw mattress.

 

Alas, none can hear, for such is the law of these woods; and so none hear, as he hiccups and weeps and his nails bleed from their desperate struggle to anchor to the ground, find a grip on his steadily slipping sanity.

 

It is as if eons pass, before the sensation almost consumes his being, all thought and mind and breath, and begins to subside, as though pleased with the chaos it has left in its wake. 

 

Amid the awful cacophony echoing still under his skull, the words of the terrified villagers surface in some attempt at coherency. He can barely feel his chest rise now, air crackling in his lungs like poison even now. His feet feel like putty on the floor, and for long, long moments, he stays on the ground, quiet, thinking, looking.

 

Because past a few scratchy coughs and worrying splatters of red drooling out his lips, he finally sees it; the cause of the impromptu attack, of the pain seething in grudge in his muscles still.

 

It is the Mark -  his mark. 

 

-.-.-.-.-.-.--..--.-.-.

 

Once he feels stable enough - which doesn’t say much, really, but the world isn’t spinning as much now and that’s a win - he settles on the tree stump outside in his small garden, deciding to finally inspect the guilty misdoer.

 

For something that boldly threw him into unspeakable agony minutes within their first contact, the mark is deceptively harmless. 

 

Against the pale canvas of his skin, it looks back at him in obsidian glory. Thin stems break and merge in small curves, forming a crescentic sickle. The shape of what appears to be flowers - poppies, his mind murmurs - weave around the blade and entwine with its handle, petals falling upon a small hourglass lying askew at the bottom of the composition.

 

Absently, he drags a finger across its edges, tracing the symbols in a reverent repetition of disbelief and fondness.

 

This is all too much, too bizarre, for his seven-year old self to make much sense of.

 

Not an hour since this unassuming picture pushed its way into the mundane circle of his life, and Sykkuno is already hopelessly taken, having forgiven its crimes the moment his eyes fell upon the bewitching structure. It is seemingly impossible to not adore the insignia, when its beauty has taken so entirely over the reins of his heart.

 

He knows not, whom the symbol talks of, knows not the soul it is meant to call out to. Yet, in all this uncertainty he by nature avoids, but now finds alluring, the mark has irrefutably made a place within his identity, refusing to leave all waking thought.

 

Drunk in the brilliance of its sheen against the sun, at the thought of the excitable reactions of his loved ones, he quickly gets up, rushing with an eager smile towards the nearest canopy that leads to the village.

 

CLINK!

 

With a start he suddenly finds himself on the forest floor, knees scraped and elbows red, eyes trembling in confusion. It is when he moves to get up, do his feet catch up to sinking reality.

 

Silver chains lay shackled to his ankle on one end, and a stake on the other, bruising his skin as he gives his trapped foot a disappointed, half-hearted shake.

 

When will he learn?

 

It is still a few days before Jeremy, or his mother, are due to make the monthly visit. Till then...well, Sykkuno would just have to wait.

 

.-.-.-.-.-.-

 

“Are you certain you want to do this?”

 

The oracle shifts in her seat, nodding nervously with curled fists. “Yes.”

 

The priest nods once in approval, before chants in ancient tongue fill the quiet of the small, dark room.

 

Uttering the last of the almost incoherent phrases, he closes his eyes, waiting for the sermon to be delivered.

 

The oracles’ eyes go dark, glazed. Her mouth sits open slack. And then the divination pours out.

 

Words materialize, spoken into existence before they can be halted. The priest falls to his knees when the first of the prophecy makes it to his ears, staring up in petrified stupefaction, helpless as the rest of the accursed poem keeps spilling, bestowing curses upon curses on humankind.

 

The oracle chokes, falling to the floor, the last of the revelation escaping her lips as her heart suddenly ceases to beat.

 

The priest sits splayed on the floor, defeated and frightened, as any mere mortal would on witnessing the beginning of the very end.

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[ For the God of the netherworlds is reborn again ]

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