The words echoed around the walls of the ancient’s temple, sounding both terribly frightened and horribly concerned. It was torn from the throat of a male, fighting valiantly against a group of centaur-ish creatures, determined to see blood staining the floor of broken stone. He was strong, fast with earth-colored hair spilling over broad-shoulders as his weapon, a shuriken in each hand, sliced at the creatures that out-numbered he and his companion by far too much.
At his side, his companion growled fiercely under her breath and darted forward, slashing with a particularly vicious looking claw. Her opponent’s arm splattered across the stone and the creature howled, rage darkening her eyes.
“I refuse,” she snapped, shooting him a warning glare as her hair, the color of fire, flopped over her shoulder in a thick braid. “Don’t think I need to stand here and be protected.”
There was no time for argument however. He reached forward and grabbed her shoulder, yanking her out of the reach of a gore-stained spear. She nearly tripped on the rubble beneath them, stumbling at his side. The roars and cries of the monsters echoed around them, ringing in his ears.
“There’s too many of them,” he gasped, stepping backwards away from the beasts. One leg was already limping where a tail had whipped into it, cracking bones beneath his flesh.
Her fingers clasped about his as she nodded. “Then we both run!”
She grabbed his arm and turned, sprinting down the stone hall. He was dragged along with her, pausing only long enough to scoop something he had dropped off the ground. The howls of their opponents followed after them, the scratching of claws signifying their pursuit.
It was dark, difficult to see. The torches were few and far between, flickering and making eerie shadows on walls covered in ancient markings. It was a warning against a future evil, a mountain from the sky raining down to cause havoc on the planet. There was no warning for the monsters that surrounded them, hungry for their flesh.
Caught in his musings, he didn’t notice the claw heading for his head. A form slammed into his body, tossing him to the side and hit the ground hard, knocking his head against a piece of rubble. He coughed and gasped, ears ringing and stars dancing front of his eyes as he struggled to rise.
Metal struck carapace, the noise reverberating around them and he looked up to find his companions squaring off against an oversized scorpion. She was bleeding from a gash in the forehead, one arm dangly limply at her side. It was she who had pushed him out of the way. Her tail flared brightly, the fire at the end displaying the truth of her fury.
Tolkan pushed himself to his feet, swaying unsteadily. The chain around his neck rattled, swinging heavily and flashing in the dim light. He ignored the usual weight, casting his glance around at the surrounding creatures. His breath was ragged in his throat, hope sinking quickly when his senses suddenly prickled, raising the hairs on the back of his neck.
Raising up an arm, he blocked an incoming attack, the metal of his chakram clanging loudly with the solid tusk of some monster. He twisted to the side to avoid another blow, lashing out with his foot in retaliation. Tolkan caught his opponent in the gut, sending it careening to the floor in a crumpled heap of wheezing breath. There was a flash of crimson and suddenly she was there in front of him, concern and maybe even fear in her eyes. But it was fear for him and not herself. The same echoed in his own heart.
The Wutaiian male dispatched the creature to his left with a tossed Ice Crystal, the chill wind wafting through the air to shiver at his heated skin easily ignored. Pain crept up his spine, buzzing annoyingly. He pushed that aside as well. Tolkan’s eyes met that of his wife’s, conveying all of the emotion in one look, when a keening, throaty growl reverberated down the hall and abruptly snagged their attention.
Tolkan whipped his head towards the darkened tunnel, face paling an unnatural shade. His eyes couldn’t see it, but his ears recognized the roar of that beast. Neither he nor Kairi were in any condition to survive against that thing. Even some of the smaller beasts were cowering and trying to slink away. And with his ankle twisted, there was no hope of out running it either.
“A Gatekeeper,” Kairi breathed, confirming his suspicions as all color bled from her face, making her sun-kissed skin – already spattered with all manner of bloods – a sickly shade.
He nodded reluctantly. “So it seems.”
Naked worry flashed over her face before it hardened into clear resolve. “It won’t have both of us,” she hissed enigmatically, one hand going to the pendant at her throat that was a near match to his own. It seemed to twinkle in agreement.
Tolkan’s expression filled with confusion, lips forming a thin line, before Kairi suddenly grabbed his arm and tugging him down the hall. He gasped as pain suddenly shot up his leg, stumbling ineffectually after her.
“Kairi!” he gasped, growing nauseated. “I can’t run fast enough to evade it.”
Her eyes glanced back at him once, wide with fear. “I know!” she whispered fiercely, swinging her head to side to side as if searching for something. What, he could not say since he did not recognize this part of the temple.
A monster careened at them from the out of the dark, dull scales barely visible in the dim. Claws raked down Tolkan’s side before he could counter-attack and blood splashed luridly to the stone floor, seeping into the age-worn cracks. Tolkan snatched a few of his remaining chakram from the belt at his side, tossing them at the beast and wounding it in the face. He ignored the creature’s death cries, stumbling after Kairi with pain shooting up and down his leg.
The walls trembled around them, floor vibrating from the approach of a much larger creature than the small corridor could hold. Time was swiftly evading their grasp; the beast would be on them all too soon.
Kairi muttered a curse under her breath, only to emit another noise when her eyes finally caught sight of what she had been searching for.
“What? What is it?” Tolkan could see no sign of any exit. In fact, he was not familiar with this section at all. They hadn’t the time to explore more thoroughly before.
They drew to a halt in response to his question. In confusion, brown eyes turned towards his lover. Kairi threw both arms around him and kissed him fiercely, a faint trickling of warmth splashing onto his face. Her fingers gripped him tightly, as if wishing to never let go.
Tolkan was surrounded by the familiar scent and taste of her, the comfort of Kairi’s warmth. For the briefest of moments, it eased his fears and brought him a measure of calm. For that second, he believed that perhaps escape was in their future after all. And then it was gone as Kairi pulled away from him.
“I love you,” she declared fiercely, determination glimmering in golden eyes.
He frowned, confused by her behavior. “I’m not dying here!”
The walls shuddered as if to contest the fact. The sound of a shrieking creature and a sickening crunch echoed down the hall, the smaller creatures skittering in fear. Kairi’s eyes flickered to the approaching menace, likely seconds away before returning to him.
“I won’t let you,” she claimed and with a speed only those of her clan possessed, she shoved him with all of her strength.
Tolkan collapsed backwards, landing a good few feet away and heavily on his wounded side. Pain radiated through his body and delayed his reactions for a second. It was enough time for him to see the flash of milky white eyes and Kairi deliver a high kick to some strange apparatus in the wall.
Claws scratched across the floor, accompanied by the fetid odor of corpse and rotting blood. Stone grated and shifted, shrieking with blinding pitch as a wall descended from the ceiling between he and his lover. He could already see the sinuous, reaching arms of the Gatekeeper.
“No!” Tolkan jerked to his feet, ignoring his ankle which was now likely broken. He careened forwards, feet scrabbling for purchase.
Her eyes were nearly asking for forgiveness before she turned away from him, clawed weapons at the ready. “I’ll slow it down and find another way,” she said to him. “Please, Tolkan. Run.”
The wall slammed down in his face, his fists pounding ineffectually against hard stone. “Kairi!” Like his actions, his words were equally futile.
The corridor shuddered once more before everything fell still and absolutely silent. There was a roaring in his ears, pulsing and pounding through his veins. Shame blanketed his mind when his hands frantically searched the stones, looking for some sort of latch or button in the darkness. He summoned a fire spell, the flickering flame providing no further clues.
There was nothing.
Tolkan felt a sob rise up in his chest and he forced himself to swallow it down. Why had she done that? They could have stood together, faced the Gatekeeper side by side. She was strong than him but even so, he would have fought as well. He could have been some sort of aid!
The amulet around his neck flashed and he stared down at it, eyes wide with horror. It buzzed strangely, growing unnaturally warm against his flesh. It was so hot that it nearly burned, searing his skin. He stumbled backwards with a slight gasp, reaching to pull the smoldering metal away from his body when it suddenly fell dark, the warmth sucking immediately from the burnished metal. It was replaced by a chilly cold that stole his very breath. His heart skipped a beat in understanding, the realization clenching his insides.
His Kairi was gone.
A mixture of uncontrollable rage and consuming sorrow filled him to the brim as he slumped against the wall that separated them. The cursed under his breath, berating himself for ever suggesting that they conduct their research in the thrice-cursed temple. His many wounds throbbed and a treble of danger still tainted the air but he couldn’t find it in him to care.
It was then that the sound of low growls made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. Tolkan whirled around, pressed against the stone wall. He found himself cornered in by a dozen more creatures, likely drawn by the scent of his fresh blood.
He whipped three shuriken through the air on instinct alone, taking out a few of the smaller beasts easily. But more were approaching to fill in the gaps. He had the briefest moment of fear and panic before Kairi’s face, loving to the last, flashing in his mind.
Anger quickly replaced everything within him. His hand went to the amulet around his neck as he activated its inherent power. Almost immediately, his body was engulfed in a yellowish-crimson light, blinding him from view.
The pain was fleeting when bones shifted and muscles expanded. He could feel the flooding of power and strength in his veins, changing him. Where a male human once stood, now towered an enormous brown wolf. Tolkan bared his teeth angrily, displaying fierce fangs. He howled, a sound both brutal and sorrowful.
Then he pounced, the battle becoming a flurry of activity. His claws rended, his teeth tore flesh, and his howls echoed down the darkened corridor. He could feel their returned attacks, more talons and spikes digging into his flesh. Rivulets of sweat and blood intermingled down his body as he fought.
Nothing mattered anymore but that he slay each and every beast he could wrap his teeth around. Even if to do so, he became one himself.
Nanaki jerked ungracefully out of sleep, nearly tumbling from his bed. His heart thudded loudly in his chest, almost painfully, and his eyes were moist, still holding faint trickles of tears. The demi-human sat up, sweat streaking his body while he struggled to understand anything of the dream.
His bedding was rumpled around him, tossed in many directions. Some of it was even slashed by his own claws, bad enough that they were beyond the point of being mended. He belatedly realized that his body was trembling as though he had just emerged from a fierce battle of his own.
Nanaki swung his leg over the side of the bed and swiped a hand over his sweating forehead. The floor was cold beneath his bare feet. He scarcely noticed, completely distracted by the images playing over and over in his mind, like a broken projector.
It was the first he had ever dreamt anything of the amulet, especially in such vivid detail. And the names seemed so familiar.
Frowning silently, Nanaki reached for his amulet, always present around his neck. Holding the emblem, he flipped it over and reread the inscription on the back. Yes, they were indeed the same names as in the dream. And despite the similarity between the designs – with subtle differences – he could tell that his most closely resembled Kairi’s. Of Tolkan’s fate, he could not even begin to guess.
How and why had that dream come to inflict him? Did the answer lie solely in the amulet or were there other forces at work? What bearing did the fate of the two lovers have on Nanaki’s life and future? The clanging feeling of foreboding drizzled down his spine and despite the heat of the room, he shivered.
Sighing, the demi-human let the amulet slip from him grasp and thump against his chest where it warmed quickly in contact with his skin. He raked a hand through his hair, vastly in need of a good brushing after his tossing and turning, and rose from the bed, suddenly feeling parched.
Minutes later, still deeply troubled by his inexplicable dream and finding that Yuffie, at least, was resting soundly in her room, Nanaki returned to his bed. He ignored the state of his covers, planning on changing them later. It was not yet three in the morning, which meant he had been asleep for scarcely two hours. The fatigue tugging at his body sought to remind him of this fact by causing him to yawn broadly.
Nanaki flopped back on his bed and closed his eyes, attempting to return to his earlier sleep. He could still hear it, however, the screams and the cries, the sorrowful anguish. The smell and taste of blood was on the tip of his tongue. His body throbbed as if he had been the one to transform and fight to the end.
It was a long time before he was able to relax enough to slip into an uneasy sleep, the remnants of the dream proving to be unfortunate bed partners.