Axel was determined to find the cause of Bellacoste’s misfortune. He knew if he could source it, he could solve it. The adventurer would go down in the history books for his work-- but not for the reasons he’d hoped.
Icarus reaches for the sky, fire licking at his wings. Oh, stars, how success burned.
The fire rages through him, inflaming his joints and charring his nerves. It takes him by the throat and pins him to the sand, white hot glass bubbling and spreading from his jaws, wide open but soundless. The ocean swallows Axel’s tracks, and the sky takes him somewhere else.
The fire doesn’t stop, tendrils reaching deep, deeper, grasping his heart and choking out his sobs. The corruption envelops the vespire who silently weeps for endless possibilities in endless realms colliding together.
Axel doesn’t move for a long time, the sea of possibility swimming in the corners of his eyes. It hurt. It hurt more than anything else he’d felt in his entire life.
The things he saw didn’t make sense. The things he saw weren’t real. Yet they were, weren’t they? There was the Arbiter in Banelaire-- the day she was crowned? There were his people, piled upon each other, a mountain insurmountable. Oh no. Oh no. Oh no…
But that wasn’t real, was it? Or was it? It didn’t matter-- the uneasy threads of fate whip past, gone, forgotten. The vespire reaches, clawing, struggling, lurching to his feet. A light lunch burbles in his stomach before he loses it, corruption slopping from his mouth.
Vertigo washes over him and he shuts his eyes, flashes of what was and what would be still assaulting his mind. It was wrong. All of it. Where was the beach? Where were the mountains? Where was…
The vespire collapses again, a splintered sky swirling above. Glimpses of a hundred different realities, there for the taking, but so, so far out of reach.
Avalon didn’t know where she was, but she knew that no matter what, she had to keep going.
One moment she’d been in the smoking crater at the center of Goldfair, a concerned neighbor doing everything she could to keep her own safe and happy. Now she was here-- and where that was, well, she was just a humble farmer, so how could she say?
What she did know was that there was nowhere like this on Bellacoste. At least nowhere she’d ever seen. It wasn’t how it looked, exactly-- but how it felt. Eerie, ominous, still-- nothing growing, nothing breathing. Fine ash stirs around her hooves as she runs, billowing into dark clouds only to cascade again.
Old, rusty weapons were everywhere, dull blades laying openly or jammed deep into the ground. Something happened here. Something awful happened here. She could feel it in her teeth, the same dull ache that they’d all felt the night the sky shattered.
And the sky-- oh, the sky. It was shattered alright, and no piece of it felt like home.
Limbs churn as the pouflon runs, the burn licking at her heels. She’d seen the corruption at work and was doing her best to fight it back, magic searing through her veins. She wouldn’t last forever, but if she just kept running, maybe she could find help before it overtook her.
Everything looked the same, here. Everything felt the same. Musty and stale. A plume of smoke rises on the horizon, and with a tearful cry of hope, Avalon runs for the only lifeline she can find in this desolate place.
The premonitions keep coming through rolling blackouts. He couldn’t think. Couldn’t move. Ash settles on Axel, dark tendrils bent on drawing him down further. He coughs, sticky inky black. How long had it been? Minutes? Hours? Days? He couldn’t tell anymore. He’d seen it all. His demise. His rescue. The day he hatched. The vespire he could have been on another path. The world, revolving, and around it a million more.
The only thing he couldn’t seem to see was how to get up. How to help himself.
In the growing darkness, an apparition appears before him. It was like so many of the other visions, indistinct and formless. None of it was real. It would be gone soon, replaced with something else. His mother, perhaps? That would be nice. He missed her.
But it doesn’t. The visions roll on, colorful renditions of how things would end for him here in this alien place. The darkness creeps closer, its shape shifting as he looks through bleary eyes. Four legs. Four wings. A single, prominent horn.
No, Axel tries to say. No, no no no no no no no no no--
The Old King smiles at him as the vespire tries to drag himself away, a jaw full of far too many teeth reaching for him.
“Don’t be afraid. Poor little creature.
It’ll be over soon.”
Axel curls in on himself, away away away, a desperate mewl of pneumir all he can muster. No. No, not like this. He fell long ago, how could--
As the jaws, so cold, close around his neck, he squeezes his eyes shut. Would the pain end? Would the deluge of sights stop? Would… would they remember him?
He can feel sharp points all around his neck, squeezing tightly. Then, as soon as it started, it stops, dull vibrations pulsing through his body as the apparition blows away like smoke. Slowly he opens an eye, light blocked by something with… four legs… four wings…
“HEY,” Avalon huffs, lowering her head and sucking in a breath through her nose. “Oh, stars… you’re alive… thank goodness, I thought I was alone…”
Axel opens his mouth to speak but no sound comes out. It wasn’t real. It couldn’t be.
But it was. A moment later her magic envelopes him, and with it comes sweet, blessed relief. The corruption melts away. Oh, he felt small, he felt frail, but the pain, at last, comes to an end. Tears wet his eyes as he looks up at the pouflon, gasping softly. Avalon stares at him with self satisfaction as the corruption clears before glancing back and swearing.
“Quick, help me out, it’s catchin’ up to me,” the pouflon urges as corruption licks up her legs. She’d stopped focusing on it for just a second.
When Axel doesn’t respond she snorts and tosses her head. “HURRY! Please!”
With his remaining strength, Axel scurries to his feet and reaches for the pouflon. He envelopes them both in a cool mist in a panic, claws burying themselves in her mane and proving, at last, that she was completely, totally real.
And right there with him.
“I’m Axel,” he mumbles around the pneumir spilling from his mouth. “...Thank you.”
“Avalon,” the pouflon sighs as the corruption recedes. “Didn’t think anylon was out here… thought I was on m’ own.”
As the mist fades the plucky takes a step back, looking past them. “But then I saw the smoke. Y’see it over there?”
Axel blinks, hard, pulling his claws towards his chest to straighten the fur there. “...Yeah. I see it.”
The closer they got, the more obvious it became that the source of the smoke was a fire. Closer still, and they could see a figure curled by it.
“Corrupted,” Avalon says after a moment of squinting at the distant figure. “Come’n, Axel, let’s go see who it is. See if we can help’m.”
“...Yeah.” the vespire scratches absentmindedly at his throat. It still hurt. Did it happen? He really couldn’t tell.
The pair approach the fire and the vespire takes a moment to really take in his surroundings. All of these weapons-- the splintered sky-- what did it mean? “We aren’t on Bellacoste… at least, I don’t think,” he murmurs, glancing over at the pouflon.
“Nope,” Avalon snorts, “I don’t think we are.”
“...You’re real, aren’t you?” Axel responds quietly.
“...Well, yeah, I sure hope I am,” Avalon laughs softly. “Shh, though-- we’re gettin’ close now.”
The vespire lowers his eyes for a moment, wings settling uneasily on his back. The pouflon forges ahead, though more carefully now, squinting at the figure bathed by the light of a modest fire.
They weren’t on Bellacoste, and whatever this was certainly was not of Bellacoste. The unusual figure twitches and convulses as they reach the fire light’s edge. Axel frowns and glances at Avalon. It looked like a cherub, would the pouflon be upset?
“Poor thing,” exhales the farmer, and Axel sighs with relief. “Come’n, let’s help them.”
The two step into the firelight, and together their magic sweeps over the figure. As they cleanse it, something small escapes its clutches. A little creature, not unlike a pippet, chatters and dances around the cherub.
“...Teeny?” croaks the figure, green eyes opening slowly. “Teeny, it’s okay, I have you… don’t worry, they won’t--”
The cherub gasps and claws themself backwards, sitting up abruptly. Avalon and Axel look on, the latter glancing at Avalon before clearing his throat. “...We won’t hurt you. Are you…”
Avalon cuts in, brows furrowed. “Sugar, where are your wings?”
“...Wings???” the cherub asks, sinking into their own shoulders. The little creature squeaks and leaps into their arms. Actually, the longer they looked, the less the figure looked like a cherub.
“...Are you an ursuki?” Avalon asks, head tilting.
The figure swallows uncertainly. “...No?”
“Wait…” Axel mutters under his breath. “That’s…”
“I’m Tiny,” the figure says quietly. They hold out their hands and reveal the small creature again. “...This is Teeny.”
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