– Defeat –
The voices—they were always there. They grew stronger in his mind with each passing moon. He gently squeezed the bundle resting in his arms. The orb was still there—cool to the touch even through the cloth. His leg twitched. An involuntary spasm in response to a distant sound he thought he had heard. Was there something out there, or was it all in his head?
He peered out under the thick flap of the blanket he was hiding under and pressed his body flat into the moss. If he lay still, no one would find him.
“Just the wind,” he exhaled after holding his breath.
But it was never just the wind. Deep in this mind, Thorn knew they had found him.
Something breathed down his neck. A soundless laugh from a restless soul.
“That’s it,” It whispered. “Sink into the dirt where you belong.”
With every broken word it spoke, the spirit grew more agitated—frustrated with its own effort to remain calm. The light from the heartstone was like a burning star to its eyes. Their star—no—their heart, that this elf had stolen from them.
Thorn curled up, pulling his knees to his chest and covered his head with his arms. He felt the anger building around him. Soon the screams would come—then the pain. Then…then what? Death? What death would that be? The spirits’ torment would remain even if his body perished-forever—or until he did as they demanded.
There was no scream this time, only a silent lash of rage followed by another. Again and again the fists and claws of the spirit pounded and clawed at his back. No blood, no torn clothes. The wounds were not physical, but they hurt just as much. How much longer until they could harm him?
He dared a look at the orb that had slipped its covers and now lay glittering in the sun. Beautiful and white. Pure, perfect, and powerful, but oh so cursed.
The enraged spirit let out a heart-wrenching cry as Thorn shot to his feet and scooped up the heartstone back into his arms.
Without looking back he started to run.
He came to a stop by a river, his muscles and lungs burning. Crouching by the riverbank, he sank his hands into the cool water. One summer ago, he had been a revered scholar, sharp in mind and strong of body. The reflection in the water told him he had become frail and his demeanor skittish. His eyes were empty, save for the gleam of fear in them.
He had become what he had so arrogantly thought himself above. A cursed soul. A heart thief. He had thought himself worthy to possess such a powerful artifact, but the price to pay for such a thing was one’s mind and soul, and it was no different for him. Thorn shook the sad vision from his mind and quickly washed his face.
His dark brown hair was a tangled mess and he struggled to smooth it out when suddenly a cold wind brushed past him. He nearly fell flat on his back in shock seeing a figure other than his own reflected in the water. He had waited too long.
The spirit was back. It stood beside him, its fingers flexed like claws. They looked at each other, motionless. Thorn was not sure what had happened, and the spirit was equally confused about what it had accomplished. A streak of red colored Thorn’s robes at the collar and a dull ace throbbed in a thin line across his throat.
It was blood…real blood. A real wound. He felt all heat drain from him as sheer terror took hold of all his senses.
The spirit smiled. It seemingly shivered with excitement. Finally, such fear! This he could work with. This his brothers could feed upon. Blood, vengeance, death—it all could be brought down on this wretched thief. Like a wolf, the spirit pounced at Thorn who still sat frozen, his mind flooded with thousands of thoughts at once.
He realized the full danger he was in. Countless voices screamed at him from beyond the veil, demanding justice and peace. They wanted their light back. Without it, they were in darkness, and they would drag him into the void for what he had done.
Thorn let out a groan. He could not hear his own agonized screams amidst all the screaming damned. There were many clawing at him now, shredding his robes and drawing blood with each furious scratch.
He grew dizzy and tired as his energy drained out of him. Unable to sustain themselves much longer, the spirits withdrew, biding their time for the next assault.
There was blood everywhere, the wounds no deeper than an inch but in numbers beyond what Thorn could bother to count. He could no longer stand up, so he crawled.
“Alright…” he sobbed. Trembling with his every move he dragged himself to where he had left the heartstone. “I’ll bring it back to you…all the power in this world is not worth your wrath.”