Gin’s Journal, Day 42, Page 115
We rushed up the stairs with Balor leading the charge. With fury in his eyes, he bellowed out a war cry and hell followed him. Balor was lost in the dark seas of devastation, satisfying his lust for blood and slaughter; Tamar boiled with righteous fury of the angelic demons; Sasha slithered, pounced, and snapped like a devil with purpose; and Theren danced around the foul creatures, keeping them at bay as he released bolts of destruction from his crossbow of death. Even Merrill took part in the festival of annihilation. Tentacle heads exploded in gore all around us and the shambling ghouls fell to their final death.
The giant tentacle head, in the center of the room, hovered towards us and had nearly grappled me in its vise of tentacles. But not even the Umbra could stand against the trio of deathly retribution that stood before the horrid head and it fell to its demise.
“The Sentinel must die?!” Tamar shouted as she fought on. “What’s the Sentinel?”
“You heard it too?” Balor yelled out as he split another tentacle head in two. “It was like before – in my head.”
“Never heard of the Sentinel,” Theren said, leaping back away from another tentacle head and releasing a bolt to pierce the thing in-between its eyes.
I had heard nothing and my ring twitched on my finger.
“What is that thing?” Theren shouted as he pointed to the black shrouded skull with tusks. Its body was made of purplish-black smoke. It had no legs but long, ebony skeleton arms that ended in long, clawed hands.
“Another undead that will meet its final end,” Tamar roared.
“No,” Theren retorted. “That’s no undead or any I’ve sensed before. That’s something wholly different – something that shouldn’t be.”
The shrouded skull flew towards Tamar and swiped at the half-orc holy avenger with its claws. She parried and took a step back to guard herself and studied her new opponent. The creature turned and locked eyes on me. I had never seen such an abomination before but it felt disquietly familiar and I was afraid.
In that moment of fear, I summoned the power of the Umbra and released its arms of oblivion upon this realm. But something went wrong – horribly wrong. Nothing happened. Something had prevented me from using my power, as if I had been denied my curse of the Umbra from the source. I looked at my hands in shock. Why was I denied?
“Who’s Daciana?!” Balor yelled. “I’m hearing voices again!”
“Never heard of her,” Theren yelled back, firing his cross bow at another head. “But I heard it too.”
“Daciana’s kin will suffer in death?” Tamar said as she swung her great sword at the shrouded skull, but did little to hurt it. “Who’s Daciana’s kin!”
The shrouded skull flew toward me.
“Gin! Watch out!” I heard Balor shouted, but it was too late. I was caught unawares, still perplexed by the denial of my spell, and the shrouded skull hovered behind me and impaled a clawed arm through my chest, lifting me off the ground. I looked down and saw the bony claw twitch as pieces of my flesh and clothes dripped off from its bony tips. I felt cold and wet and all went black.
‘The time is not yet,’ I heard a woman’s voice. ‘You must live and finish it.’
I awoke with my head in Theren’s lap, him looking down at me.
“Well, this is embarrassing,” I moaned.
“While I think you’re an asshole,” Theren said, “I don’t think you deserve to die. We need you. Now, get up and move.” Theren stood up and shot a bolt at the shrouded skull.
I was weak and in pain. I tried to pull myself up but only slipped on my own gore. I heard the Trinity of Destruction battle the shrouded abomination. Again, I tried to force myself up and succeed, but the shrouded skull took notice of me once more. It ignored the Trinity of Destruction and sought only me.
I had no time to move or react and all went black once again.
‘Boy!’ I heard the voice again. ‘What is the meaning of this? Enough of this! Stop trying to die and fulfill your destiny! Trust your friends and they will be your savior and in turn, you shall be theirs. Now WAKE UP!’
My eyes opened and I saw Tamar’s wide-tusked grin, her face covered in black blood.
“Hello, sweetie,” she said.
“Tamar! That was awesome! You took that thing out in one hit!” Balor bellowed out in laughter. “Again, you’ve outdone me, but next time, it’ll be me.”
“What happened?” I asked as I pulled myself up to sit and leaned against the wall. I felt my chest and the gaping hole was gone. My clothes were in tatters.
“Oh, nothing much really,” Tamar said. “That thing tried to kill you and nearly did, but I had enough. I took it out by the vengeance of the fire god. And then I healed you.”
“So we won?” I asked, rubbing my chest. Even though the wound was gone, I could still feel the phantom pain in my chest and wondered if it would ever go away or if I had to bear another pain in life – first my eyes and now my chest.
Balor let out a loud belly laugh. “Ho, ho, my friend! We slaughtered them like bugs. I haven’t had that much fun since my wedding night. Ha ha ha!”
“Gin, this is important,” Theren said as he kneeled next to me. “Who is the Sentinel? Who is Daciana? I believe you know.”
I sighed and closed my eyes.
“Gin, are you the Sentinel that thing spoke of?”
“It spoke?” I asked.
“Yes,” Theren replied, “in our heads. So, are you the Sentinel?”
“What does that mean?”
“Nothing. It’s a dead title that means nothing anymore. It’s all dead and meaningless now,” I spat.
“Enough of this, Gin!” Theren yelled. “What is the Sentinel? Who is Daciana? What is going on here? You know and we need to know. Why are they here? What did they want with you? Tell us the truth.”
“Gin,” I felt Tamar’s gentle hand on my arm, “those things use tentacles. You use tentacles. Are you related?”
“Gods, no!” I sneered.
“Then why are your powers like theirs?” she asked.
“Try us,” Theren said.
“Think of me as a thief in the light, permitted to steal from the entropic system a source of nothingness and to use it for my own means to in order to stop its means, always being watched.”
“I don’t understand,” Tamar tilted her head.
“Of course you wouldn’t. But it’s the only way I can explain it.” My chest tightened in pain and I moaned.
“Gin,” Theren interjected. “Tell us who you are. What does any of this mean? You owe us this.”
“I am Gin Okami, last of the Okami and last of the Sentinels of the Umbra and last of the bloodline of Daciana. My people were the Sentinels of the Umbra, small and secretive peoples who were the wardens against the Umbra, an ancient and unknowable being that dwells beyond the fabric of all Creation.”
“I’ve never heard of your peoples before,” Theren said.
“Of course you wouldn’t have,” I said. “It’s not like we advertised ourselves. You may have met my clan once before, but to you, we were mere traveling entertainers and performers – bards, actors, painters, dancers, storytellers, and the like – wandering the countryside bringing joy and pleasures to any who sought it. It was our protection, our disguise. If the world knew who we really were, all the greedy and power-hungry of this realm would seek us out and demand our servitude, to use our grave power to their own ends, something that could never happen, lest the world would end.”
I paused for a moment and thought on what I had just confessed. Sighing, I shook my head and continued.
“And yet, through our arts, that is where our power came from. For the Umbra was contained through our stories, songs, dances, and other arts, or at least for a while. But my family is dead now, gone, slaughtered by a roaming herd of undead, and there is no one to sing the door shut against the Umbra. ”
“You? Being a bard?” Theren scoffed. “I can’t picture that.”
“The flute was my weapon of choice. But as I was saying, I was to be the new leader of my clan. I was to go through the dark ritual of bonding and begin my training as a Sentinel and its head. But before I could wear that mantle, we were attacked. But during the attack, my grandfather forced the bonding of the Umbra upon me and helped me escaped, but only I was able to live that day. A week later, that is when you met me, Tamar. Remember?”
Tamar grunted. “But with this fight, we can stop this Umbra thing and send it back!” she roared cheerfully.
“My clan is gone, Tamar and only I remain! Don’t you understand?!” I spat. “The taint of the Umbra courses through my veins and I am cursed. It slowly eats away and distorts my body, mind, and soul. It corrupts me with each waking moment of my existence and I cannot stop it! I don’t know how. My family is dead! The Sentinels are gone forever! There is no one to teach me the ways and I stumble along in this world – alone, afraid, and in the dark.”
“You are not alone, Gin, my friend,” Balor said.
“You still don’t understand,” I sighed. “The more I fight and resist its encroaching embrace, the more I feel it taking me over! This is its true curse of my clan. You see the world in colors, lights, and hopes, but I can only see in shades, darkness, and nothingness. And when I see people, including you, I see nothing more than a mere appetite for the Umbra. And what frightens me more than anything else is that there is a part of me, a small sliver of darkness in the deepest recesses of my soul, which relishes the idea of you disappearing in that nothingness and never existing.”
“No, Gin,” Balor said gently, “You do not understand. You are not alone. You will never be alone in that dark because we are your friends and will always stand by you, holding up our light to fight back your darkness. You will never be alone as long we breathe.”
Tamar grinned and grunted.
“Oh,” I moaned, touched and sadden by Balor statement. “You do not know what you are saying, my friends. It has always been with us, always surrounding us. It is there to welcome us at our birth and numbers our days of light. It travels with us, watching us, creeping beside, behind and in front us, but always at the edges of our sight. It hides within our forgotten dreams, whispering to us our greatest fears. It lurks behind the letters of a text, waiting to corrupt the mind of the reader. It lingers within the off note of a song, ruining the bliss of joy. It resides in the shadow of a tombstone, relishing the painful tears of a crying mother. I see it everywhere. Through it all, it has always been the Sentinels that held the Umbra back, preventing a full scale embrace. And I realize now, if the Umbra had anything to do with the calamity of our world, then, without the Sentinels, we are all doomed.”