The sky glowed with streaks of colour, blazing blues, vibrant violets, proud pinks, and swipes of swarthy scarlet dashed across the heavens. Tiny specks of golden light peeked through in a million places. Below it all, the eternal city rested in its magnificence, Wonderwealth was a sprawling metropolis of twisting white spires, each one desperately reaching for the skies above. Closer to the ground, numerous thin canals, parks of lush vegetation, and clusters of smaller buildings had all found a place, all wrapped with intense neon streaks. The city seemed to worship colour and hue, and why wouldn't it? The resulting rainbow maelstrom was an intense beauty that others could only envy.
Panther thought that the people of Wonderwealth were obsessed with their glory, and that of their city. They hurried about from place to place, superior expressions were unanimously housed on their faces, and they wrapped themselves in the garments of countless long-dead cultures.
They named their children ostentatious, tactless things like "Blessing", "Radiance", or "Hero". Just like they had named their own city.
In Panther's opinion, all of this made for an irritating display of thoughtless opulence.
Panther was not from Wonderwealth.
He had left his own home long ago. The details were fuzzy and grey in his mind but Panther could vaguely recall a great mountain. Though his memories were weak and faded, such fragments were still enough to occasionally send him spiraling into despair, and despair always led to drink. Still, Panther always found more friends by looking through the bottom of a glass than he ever did by thinking of people and times long since past.
Friends. Panther smiled at the thought of them. Friends were fun. Panther looked to the friend to his right. They had just met, but Panther quite liked him. Couldn't recall his name, but liked him regardless. The same couldn't be said for the bar they were in.
Like the rest of Wonderwealth, it was a grandiose display of tasteless extravagance. His friend however, made Panther forget about all of that.
Too bad Panther had places to go.
He drew one of his twin pistols - it took his drunken mind a moment to work out that it was Thyrsus, the honey-coloured one that felt so clunky that he might as well be holding a pinecone.
He reluctantly pointed Thyrsus at his friend and pulled the trigger.
A lightning bolt the colour of white wine issued forth from the gun's barrel - wild and raw, like it was simply reveling in it's new-found freedom from the chamber. The bolt whizzed and cracked as it ionised the air around it, burning right through Panther's friend, and leaving behind a tunnel of scorched organs and flesh from the left side of his ribcage to his shoulder.
The man shook violently and collapsed onto the floor. Still, he managed to twist his neck and stare up at Panther, eyes desperate with a look of confusion and betrayal. Without words the man asked Panther a question, "Why?" Panther finished off his drink and stared at the dying man. Panther gave him a satisfied smile and replied, "I did everything, everything I wanted to." He knew that the doomed man wouldn't understand, the words were a part of a prophecy that predated Wonderwealth by millennia. A prophecy that Panther had been concerned with for centuries, and one that he had since found impossible not to quote every time he spoke.
Panther looked away from his dying friend and noticed the screaming. The other patrons of the bar had witnessed Panther shooting his friend and had reacted poorly. Of course, he'd once again forgotten that you shouldn't murder your friends in public. Sometimes the rules could be so hard to remember. Panther attributed that to his vague impression that there was once a time - a time long since forgotten - when he'd been above such rules. Panther wasn't sure what that meant, he just knew that he didn't like following rules.
Panther absently shrugged to himself and glanced over at his friend, who was miraculously sitting at the bar once more. The laser wound still wide and gaping, did not seem to faze him.
Panther tried to ignore the part of his mind that told him that the man he'd just murdered should be dead. Things often happened to Panther for little or no reason, and Panther's friend was only that: a friend. Why should he care what fate befell the man?
He hastily made his way to the exit. There was work to be done and his friend was now drunk enough that Panther would not be missed.
The cold handle of the door was in his hand now, but he felt like there was an itch in the back of his mind. Panther glanced over his shoulder and noticed that the screaming was gone. Pompous men and women sat in the bar, most of them accompanied by a drink of one exquisite colour or another.
Panther smiled as the itch in his mind subsided, and left.
Though it was the middle of the night, Panther was greeted by the sounds of hustle and bustle. Wonderwealth never rested, her people always had something to occupy their attention.
Perhaps another might have found the combination of a many-hued sky and the neon sparkle of the city a beautiful one, but Panther hated it. He remembered the days when the night sky was a black waste populated by only heroes and monsters. Still, it did no good to dwell on the past. Even if the contemptible people of Wonderwealth had perverted the night itself.
Panther took a silent moment to curse the populace of Wonderwealth before he began to journey to the centre of the city. There laid an enormous chunk of wilderness, known as Emperor's park.
It was a slice of wild beauty amongst a superficial mega-metropolis of neon lights and prideful culture-thieves. Panther noticed the scents of the forest. They were comforting compared to the scents of the city. Panther spared a second to appreciate the familiarity of those scents. He adjusted the wide-brimmed hat on his head, and gingerly placed his hand on Thyrsus.
Panther was ready to venture into Emperor's park. It was very contrary in appearance to the rest of the city. Dazzling lights still coiled around gathered branches and towering trunks, but the darkness here was so prevalent. Those twinkling lights were now far from obtrusive. In Emperor's park the darkness seemed to strangle the light, hugging at the glow instead of shying away.
Panther scratched his chin. He was unnerved by the pull of the darkness. Everywhere he looked the void seemed to press against him, primordial and undulating. This was no mere shadow, as befitting of a city of scintillated beacons like Wonderwealth. This was true Darkness.
Panther saw himself growing fearful, ragged breathing, shambling footsteps, and eyes that could not help but flick from point to point.
He tried to stop those haphazard footsteps to no avail, tried futilely to stare straight ahead, and gave up on attempting to prevent his hands from reaching down and drawing both of his pistols. Now he had both the clunky Thyrsus and the sleek Liberator at the ready.
It took Panther a moment to notice that he'd stopped moving. His feet were planted firmly against the rough cobbles of the path that he was supposed to be following. Even his arms lowered themselves, though his prized weapons remained tightly within his grasp. But why had he stopped?
His heart filled with dread.
Slowly, like the offspring of a glacier and a snail, he looked up. He'd come to the very centre of the city. It was a small clearing where a number of pathways converged, and in the middle of them, was a statue. Panther froze. Without his consent, the words spilled from his mouth, "To the centre of the city, where all roads meet." He stammered. He looked closely at the statue. It was made of polished white marble and was shaped like a pair of embracing lovers; One, a man with vines, flowers and thorns entwining his body, a wreath of interlocking, metal octagons sat on his head and his gaunt face stared down at his companion, a gorgeous woman, who seemed lithe despite being made of stone. A cloak flowed behind her, and spikes of jagged metal protruded from her body. Shards of gleaming bronze that had torn through her stony flesh in numerous places.
The two lovers stood, each one gazing into the other's eyes.
Something behind him moved, and Panther jumped in fright. He turned and pointed his weapons at it. To his surprise, it was a haggard-looking man. He did not look particularly old, but his hair was discoloured, his eyes looked distant, and thick golden chains wrapped around his frail-looking body, before trailing off into the unknown.
Still there was a flicker of life within him, he smiled widely, as if preparing to laugh. In his hands, he carried a blazing torch. An old one made of wood and oiled cloth, not an electric one.
Panther narrowed his eyes. Was the man a friend or a foe?
The man approached, slowly. His smile growing wider as he got closer to Panther. "You are wondering if I'm your enemy or not?" he asked, his voice was too strong for someone who looked so weak. "I'm no enemy of yours, Young Lord." He bowed his head, and though it may have been sincere, the man's manner just made it seem mocking in nature.
The strange man took a small step forward, putting him just out of arms' reach.
Panther pulled Thyrsus' trigger, a white bolt hurtled out but it never reached it's target. As the bolt approached the man, time seemed to slow and an umbral sarcophagus appeared around the man, blocking the bolt, which dissipated on contact with the cylinder of darkness.
The shield collapsed, turning into smoke as it fell apart. Panther stared at him, horrified, but all the mysterious entity did was shrug. "My apologies, Young Lord. You've been led into a trap." He sounded almost apologetic. Almost.
Panther tried to run, but something grabbed his shoulder and held him in place. He twisted his neck and found himself looking at the male statue. Only, instead of marble, He was flesh and blood. The crown of octagons glimmered on his head, but his eyes were nothing more than two pits of vast blackness.
He spun Panther around, making sure that Panther saw Her.
The woman was also stone made flesh. Her hair and cloak were smooth and sable. The jagged points of metal looked all the more horrifying now that they were tearing through real flesh. Ruby rivers flowed from these spikes, and when she moved the spikes simply seemed to rip more of her open. She approached Panther, seemingly ignorant of the multitude of wounds that covered her body. Once she was close, he could tell that her face, which did not have any disfiguring spikes, was gorgeous. Her eyes, unlike those of her partner, resembled the skies of Wonderwealth. Tiny lines of every colour swept across them.
She smiled gleefully, parting her full lips. "Hello, Panther." she said, though her voice was strange, like a sultry whisper with an electronic undertone.
Panther tried to say something back, but the only words in his mind were the same ones he'd been saying for years, the words of an aeons-old prophecy. He gave up, and settled on glaring at her.
She giggled, in a way that was not cute nor hearty, but was certainly sincere.
"Oh Panther, do not look so hurt!" she exclaimed.
Then her partner spoke, "You wonder why we have captured you, Prey?" His voice too, was odd. Deep and thoughtful, yet the sound of it made Panther despair. It made him want to flee.
He tossed Panther to the ground. "Go, then." He said, as if he had read Panther's mind. "Run, if you wish to do so. You will only extend your suffering."
Panther did just that. Scrambling to his feet, he strained his legs, ran as fast as he could. His duster flapped in the wind behind him. His hat flew off, landing in the dirt, he ignored it. He dropped Thyrsus and Liberator. They didn't matter. Only escape mattered. He reached the trees. Maybe he could-
-The trees disappeared. Melding into a wall of seemingly insubstantial blackness. Panther didn't dare touch it. He could only stare at the darkness in terror. His only hope dashed. He looked back at his two assailants, who were approaching at their leisure. Panther felt his breath catch in his throat.
Almost unconsciously, he said something. "As the assassins all grouped, ten-four..." he murmured, as he watched the pair casually strolling towards him. "...Lines dancing on the floor." Panther was searching hopelessly for any possibility, any chance, a sliver of a sliver of hope. Anything. But there was nothing.
The two stood before him. A pair of hunters admiring their catch.
Panther looked up, despairing. Despite the fear, he could not stop babbling. "And with cold steel-" A forceful blow interrupted his sentence. Panther fell to the ground, writhing in pain. He spat blood onto the grass. She knelt down next to him and patted his back, gently. "Oh Panther," she said those words so tenderly that he almost forgot his fear. "You are wondering why we toy with you so?" She looked at him expectantly. He nodded slightly, still reeling from the blow.
The woman stopped smiling.
The pair were silent.
"Don't you understand, who you are speaking with?" An incredulous voice called out from the darkness behind the pair. Panther squinted into the gloom. The haggard man in chains had appeared once more. "They are the primordial ones. Children of Kaos. Young lord, they are Darkness incarnate, and they intend to devour you." the man declared. He sounded almost reverent, but he had barely finished speaking when the chains wrapped around him went taut and he was dragged back into the abyss in an instant.
She glared maliciously at Panther. "As our slave so rudely revealed," She growled, "We are primordial, my husband and I, Spirits of the Void That Binds." Her voice grew louder, more proud. "What say you, young victim?" she sneered, seizing him with both hands and jerking him upright. Panther grimaced, but could not bring himself to speak. "Our victim is so frightened." He said. "Maybe we should make him understand the situation." He gestured lazily, something began to rumble.
Something under the ground.
Panther saw a huge block of black stone burst from the ground. Then She gripped Panther by the shoulders and dragged him closer to it. The points of some spikes dug into his back, surely drawing blood. As they approached, Panther could see that it was in the shape of a large octagon.
Then he was tossed unceremoniously on top of it.
Golden chains appeared from nowhere and bound his limbs, immobilisng him.
she looked down at him, smiling. A drop of blood landed on his forehead. "The universe is dying." She said. "My husband will survive it. He has the power. But I have not, mankind has perverted me, corrupted my form." She explained, a tone of sadness evident in her voice. She gestured up at the sky, which was still a celestial palette resting over Wonderwealth. "I am the Night." she declared. "And mankind has mutilated me..." Panther could feel his heart pounding. He could swear that it was beating in time with her every word.
He spoke next. "My wife, has been corrupted, weakened." He said, sounding forlorn. "Soon, everything will return to Kaos and if my wife is to survive, she must be purified. The Night herself must be reborn." He paused, looking over at his lover for a second. Then he continued. "So we created a 'prophecy': A trail to lead our prey on a journey through the Void That Binds." He leaned down, bringing his face closer to Panther's. "And behold, we finally have you. And what finer prey for us, than Dionysus, the twice-born?" He smiled and moved out of Panther's view. Panther looked up at the sky instead. What was happening? He was Panther, the lone vagabond. But these two beings, whoever they were, thought that he was someone named Dionysus.
Night didn't give him time to think about it any harder, she stared down at him with her mesmerising, multicoloured eyes.
"You will not enjoy this." Was all she said.
Then she grabbed one of the spikes on her chest, one that looked like some kind of demonic combination of a fishhook and a spearhead. She clenched it with both hands, opening more wounds, and pulled with all her might.
She screamed in agony.
Panther gasped in terror, trying to avoid the blood that was splashing onto his face.
Night progressed slowly, her screams became hoarse, but never any less tormented. Until after what seemed like hours, she finally managed to tug it free. Panther tried to blink through drops of blood and fearful tears.
Night took a deep, weary breath.
Then she raised the nightmarish piece of metal that she had just pulled from her chest.
She plunged it into Panther's heart.
Panther felt everything grow cold. Pain gnawed away at him without respite, but that simply failed to distract him from the feeling of intense emptiness. Night had stolen something from him, and now he felt hollow.
He saw something move in the sky.
The colours began to shift, sluggishly at first, but then faster and faster, they twisted and shifted. Until they began to merge together, and began to descend. A pillar of fused colours made its way downwards, leaving behind nothing but inky blackness in the sky. It reached down and hit the spike in Panther's chest like it was a lightning rod. Suddenly Panther felt his skin crawl. His head swirled with intense nausea, he was dying, but he still managed to look to the sky.
There was no colour. The heavens were an empty void. Night looked down at him. Her eyes were now as dark and empty as the sky, and the spikes were gone, her flesh now healed.
"Thank you." She whispered.