Forest of Visions

Move, Wraith thought to himself, his vision slowly clearing, Just move. Do that first, then worry about what comes next.

The  samurai clutched at his side as he walked. In his single-minded motive,  he took a heavy step, causing the grass to crunch beneath his feet. He  flinched, such a loud step was nearly foreign to him. He couldn’t judge  himself too harshly considering how lightheaded he felt.

It was  only then that he heard himself breathing harder than he was used to,  and he stopped. Reaching with a hand, he moved the top part of his mask  upwards, away from his face. Wraith blinked a few times, his eyes  adjusting to the dim light within the forest.

Rubbing at his eyes,  he gazed at the scenery around him. The trees towered over him, many  taller than the buildings he had seen in the great city Meridian, and  their trunks thicker than any tree he had ever seen, ‘monolithic’ hardly  did them justice. Their equally great branches stretched throughout the  skyline, only letting whispers of sunlight through. Yet despite this,  the forest scenery was not especially dark. On the contrary, it was as  if a dim light emanated from the air itself, softly blanketing  everything in an otherworldly glow.

Wraith groaned and leaned  against one of the trees, taking a few measured breaths. He grasped at  his side, then brought his hand in view. He had expected to see the  crimson stain, but was pleasantly surprised to see how small it was. It  seemed he had escaped with only a glancing blow. Why then, for such a  minor injury, did it feel so much greater at the time?


The  memory was so recent and clear, Wraith could easily imagine himself  surrounded by the incomprehensible and unknowable architecture of the  City of Glass. The reflective surfaces of the buildings, adorned with  lights that radiated of their own will, each window and wall perfectly  flat and angled. Despite being buried within the surface of the planet,  the buildings stretched up, defiantly grasping at the sky. Many  theorized that the city had been buried in its tomb for millenia, yet  you would never believe it when you see it. Aside from a layer of dust  and stray gravel, the city had no signs of age, no crumbling ruins or  dysfunctional technology. It was as if everything was simply frozen in  time.

Information about this wondrous place might has well have  been non-existent, as none of it could be proved. Some said it was  formerly a residence for the spirits, but no spirit that could be  reached had any memory of it. Besides, what use would the spirits have  for a physical city in the human world? Others said the two gods  themselves built it, but they were no longer able to answer that  question either way, and if they had built it, why did they  leave it? Still, others said it was the remains of a civilization that  fell to ruin suddenly, with the people living here suffering a similar  fate. Although if that were true, where were the residents’ bodies?

The  city was littered with corpses, to be sure, but given their state of  decay and dress, they were not of this place. Wraith recognized the  clothing and features of the people here from cities and settlements he  had visited. Some were soldiers or reconnaissance troops equipped with  armor and weapons, while others looked to be especially desperate  looters seeking new technology or information. It had always been a  tempting proposition, to raid the city for its ancient yet unreal  technological wonders. A single piece of technology here could drag the  technology of the world above by dozens or even hundreds of years. It  had done so multiple times already with the Great Leap Forward.

Yet  all these current corpses, soldiers and seekers all, had met the same  grizzly fate, one that Wraith himself nearly met more than once. In his  most recent expedition into the city, Wraith encountered it yet again,  and it stole his breath in fright each time: the Shinigami.

Stories  of it had spread quickly, told by rattled soldiers and citizens around a  campfire or hearth. A figure so monstrous, so the stories told, that it  rent the soul itself into pieces, snapping up the unfortunate in four  sets of jaws. Other stories told that it claimed entire battalions with  dozens of arms, stealing the limbs of others to add to its collection.  Yet more stories told that the Shinigami had no form at all, and was  instead a wind that cut intruders to pieces.

They were all amusing  or terrifying stories depending on your disposition, but Wraith knew  the truth of the Shinigami was far simpler. Rather than a monstrous or  inconceivable form, the Shinigami more closely resembled a man than  people may have realized. It had two arms, two legs, and physically,  while it stood a good two or three heads taller than the average man, it  looked quite ordinary. It was other factors that made it terrifying.

It  was a figure cloaked in shadow that seemed to adhere to its form, like  clothes made of smoke that perpetually moved even as the Shinigami stood  still. Even though Wraith could make out a figure beneath it, the  shadows around it hid many of the creature’s finer details. Among the  only things Wraith could see, its fingers seemed sharp as talons, and it  peered out through glowing eyes. The first time Wraith had seen them,  they had been red, but now they looked green. Was his memory faulty,  were his own eyes playing tricks on him, or had they truly changed?

He  couldn’t spare a thought for that question now, as Wraith hid behind a  corner of a glass building the moment he saw the Shinigami. It was a  stone throw away from him, but with the technology he wore, Wraith’s  form was rendered invisible, flawlessly blending in with his  surroundings. Yet even knowing he was hidden from sight with both  terrain and tech, why did this specter stir such terror in his heart? It  could not have been the very real threat of death, Wraith had stared  that down countless times. The Shinigami did not look  especially terrifying, yet it inspired terror all the same, as if it had  weaved every nightmare he ever had into a cloth and draped it over  itself.

It did not seem to notice his presence as it walked with a  slow methodical pace, staring off into the distance. Was it patrolling?  Like other times, Wraith had come here to gather information about both  the city and the Shinigami itself, but he did not want to stay this  close to it for longer than he needed to. Never taking his eyes off it,  Wraith took a step away.

Then he heard a crack beneath his foot.  Wraith looked down. In his fixation on the Shinigami, he failed to see a  pebble scratch underneath the ball of his foot. In the endless silence  of the city, it resounded like a charging army. His eyes went wide, and  instinctively he ducked down.

Just as he did so, he heard a  terrible whistling above, the song of a blade passing over him. Looking  ahead of him, he put together that the Shinigami had dashed and sliced  where Wraith’s torso was a moment ago. Had he hesitated for even a  fraction of a second, Wraith would have been cut in two. The building he  had been hiding behind suffered little damage, only one clean cut  through the glass, yet it did not shatter. Now the Shinigami stood,  elegant blade in hand, barely fifteen feet in front of him.

It  looked at its blade, perhaps checking for blood that wasn’t there. Its  expression was unreadable, even as it turned around to look at where  Wraith crouched. He was still invisible, Wraith was sure of that, but  the Shinigami still looked at his position. Could it see him?

Moments  passed like days, and Wraith didn’t make a sound, not moving one single  muscle even if the Shinigami did. Though it was looking in his  direction, the two did not make eye contact, and Wraith came to the  conclusion that he was still hidden from sight.

Yet his heart sank a moment later.

Both  Wraith and the Shinigami noticed it at the same time: three strands of  Wraith’s black hair drifted daintily down inches from his face, severed  from his head by the Shinigami’s blade. In the emptiness of the city,  they were plain as day.


The samurai and the  specter moved simultaneously, the former leaping away to the side while  the latter lunged forward with inhuman speed. The Shinigami thrust the  blade forward, missing Wraith entirely, but he could not relax. Without  missing a beat, the Shinigami effortlessly grasped an ankle of the  still-airborne Wraith. Twisting its body, it tossed Wraith like a  ragdoll. He slammed into the ground and kept rolling, the impact forcing  a grunt from his invisible form.

Using the momentum from his  roll, Wraith quickly recovered and leapt to his feet, but the Shinigami  was already upon him. Thrusting out its blade once more, it scored a  hit, slicing his side. It was a shallow wound, but cut through his armor  with unsettling ease. A few drops of blood began to fall from beneath  the armor, but Wraith’s adrenaline kept him from noticing.

He continued to retreat and evade attacks in a desperate dance. Even if the Shinigami could not see Wraith, it could certainly discern where he was given the accuracy of  its attacks. With grit teeth and wide eyes Wraith nearly lost a limb or  his head dozens of times as he kept moving backwards and away from the  danger. Each of its attacks flowed into the next without a moment’s  hesitation, never affording Wraith an opportunity to counterattack. Not  that Wraith would want to, having witnessed the Shinigami nonchalantly  butcher scores of trained swordsmen in the blink of an eye. All the  while no sound escaped from the Shinigami itself, no voice or cry of  effort. Yet Wraith knew that it did make sound, he heard it  with his own ears the first day he saw it. Why then, was it so quiet  now? He had no time to ponder this.

Suddenly, just as quickly as  its attack began, the Shinigami abruptly stopped chasing him. Wraith  didn’t cease his retreat quite as quickly, his steps echoing in the  city, yet the Shinigami only stared at him as it held its sword at its  side.

Wraith could only stare back, dumbfounded and petrified.  Neither moved immediately, but he was positive that the Shinigami had  not simply forgotten his existence. There was no question now, it met  Wraith’s eyes even as it towered over him. He looked down at the space  between them, but found no obvious divide or boundary that would have  stopped its advance.

He broached the space with a hesitant step,  and the Shinigami’s eyes narrowed. The shadows around it flickered like  candlelight, growing steadily in intensity. Wraith couldn’t help but  gasp as he retreated back three steps further. The Shinigami’s ire  didn’t abate, but remained steady, watching the intruder intently. Its  gaze was as heavy as a landslide, and Wraith couldn’t move at first.

Finally feeling the blood begin to move in his body again, Wraith departed from the scene without a second glance.


His  mind bringing him back to the present, Wraith glanced up at the trees  above him. ‘The Forest of Visions,’ they had called this place. Despite  the occasional decaying shrine or moss-covered bridge over a river,  there were no settlements here, and it was not often people traveled  through it. It was entirely possible that Wraith was the only human for  miles, which he would prefer given the circumstances.

Finally  deciding he had rested enough, Wraith put his mask back on and pressed  onward. However he still could not quell his mind. Why had the Shinigami  let him go? Why didn’t it follow him? An idea flickered within him.

Is it possible that...that it’s not guarding the whole city, but just a part of it? But why? He sighed, She would know…

A  twig snapped behind him, and Wraith spun around, unsheathing a blade  from his wrist as he did so. Unlike his confrontation with the  Shinigami, his head was clear and focused, his arm steady as a rock.  From beneath his mask he studied the area before him, finding nothing.

Just  as he believed that it was nothing, he saw something moving. It  appeared to be the back half of an animal, large and feline in form,  with black fur and an unearthly green glow. It was walking behind a tree  and out of sight just as Wraith spotted it, its long elegant tail  lingering for just a moment before vanishing.

It was unmistakably  familiar, and Wraith’s eyes widened. With barely a thought he chased  after it, whirling around the tree the animal disappeared behind.  However he found nothing but more of the forest, without a trace of the  animal anywhere.

Wraith lifted the top part of his mask again, “Chausi---” he whispered, but was unable to finish the name.

“Dyrus?” a voice inquired behind Wraith, “Are you alright?”

Wraith  turned around, finding another individual standing in front of him. He  was a young man, barely passing the threshold of a full-grown adult,  with shoulder-length black hair. He had an alert light in his eyes, but  seem completely approachable despite the knives sheathed along his  waist. Around his neck, he wore a scarf of a dark silver which fell to  the middle of his back.

“Ren? I…” Wraith brought a hand to his  forehead, as though succumbing to a headache. Once he recovered, he  looked down at himself. His clothes had changed, his technology-laden  armor replaced with gear that was effective but far more rustic. He also  had a silver scarf around his neck, tied more tightly than Ren’s to  avoid drifting in the wind. Wraith’s face had changed slightly as well,  with his features softened slightly as though he were a few years  younger.

But despite all of these changes, Wraith didn’t appear to  take notice of it, as though he had always looked this way. He simply  looked at Ren and smiled a weary smile.

Ren raised an eyebrow, “Are you alright?” he asked, genuinely concerned, “It’s not like you to be staring off into space.”

Wraith looked back the way the animal retreated, “I thought I saw...nevermind. Are we ready to move out?”

“I hope so,” Ren laughed, “Takashi’s getting antsy.”

Wraith sighed, “When that guy’s focused, he’s a force to be reckoned with. But he’s gotta stop getting distracted.”

“I  don’t know, I kinda like that about him,” he countered, staring into  the distance, “We’re all staring straight ahead all the time, it’s nice  to have someone around who just enjoys taking in the scenery.”

“Believe me,” Wraith began, cracking a smile, “There’s one part of the scenery he much prefers.”

Ren looked back, grinning himself, “Shut up.”

No  sooner had the two started to chuckle with each other was there a  metallic screeching nearby. Just as they stopped laughing to listen, Ren  looked at Wraith with widened eyes, and a blade suddenly impaled him in  the chest from behind.

Wraith reached out to his friend  fruitlessly as the blade lifted him in the air off his feet. Ren could  only look at the blade in shock, gasping out a few breaths as blood  began to pool beneath him. “R-run,” he choked out, and then was suddenly  pulled away into darkness.

Running in the direction Ren was  stolen, Wraith’s heart began to drum in his ears, drowning out all  sound. He only stopped when a massive flame erupted in front of him,  blocking his path.

He looked in every direction, and Wraith’s form  once again changed. Now he was no more than a child, lacking armor and  weapon, but again he did not seem to notice his changing form. He could  only watch powerlessly as the wall of flame began to circle him. Just as  his confusion turned to panic, two hands gripped his shoulders sternly.

“Dyrus,  You must listen to me!” a woman ordered, kneeling down to get to his  eye level, “Grab tightly to her fur and do everything she says!”

“M-mom, what’s happening?” He asked, his voice cracking with fright.

“Say it to me!” she demanded, doing her best to keep composure even as the flames crept closer, “Say what you’re going to do!”

He looked at her, mouth agape in fear. Finally, he spoke, “I’m g-going to hold onto her fur...and do everything she says.”

The  woman embraced him, kissing his forehead before scooping him up. She  set him on the back of an enormous panther, her black fur contrasting  with her green glow that radiated even in the powerful firelight. The  woman embraced the panther, speaking in a low whisper as she bowed her  head.

“Great spirit, Night Mother and Protector,” she began in  reverence, then raised her head to look at the spirit,  “Chausiku...please keep my boy safe.”

Chausiku nodded, then  solemnly but affectionately pressed her forehead against the woman’s.  Without another word the feline took off, the boy on her back nearly  losing his grip. “Mom!” he cried as she disappeared from sight.

Barely  a moment passed when he began shouting at the spirit, “Chausiku stop!”  he pleaded impotently, “Stop, we need to go back! Chausiku, please!”

While  Chausiku did not look back, the boy gazed at the flames behind him.  Inside the inferno, he could see a figure turn to face him. Even in the  dancing red and orange around them, their eyes were clear as day: human  in appearance, but with irises of bright yellow. The boy recognized  them, clinging to Chausiku once they laid their sight on him. Now more  than ever, he wished for Chausiku to turn around so they could face the  yellow-eyed individual.

Before he could plead further, cracks  began to appear in Chausiku’s back, as if she were made of glass. In  another moment, her form shattered completely beneath him, rendered into  fragments of black and green stained glass.

The boy fell, the  ground replaced with a seemingly endless black abyss. He fell for what  felt like hours. At some point, his juvenile appearance gave way to the  rustic armor of when he spoke with Ren, and in turn to his modern day  appearance, mask and technology with it.

Finally after an  eternity, Wraith hit an unseen ground with deafening force. Groaning in  pain, he pushed himself to his feet. As he looked around, all he saw was  a darkened void, without a speck of detail. He was alone, at least for a  moment.

Then in front of him, the impaled form of Ren lay  prostrated with a shadowy blade in his back. “Dyrus…” Wraith heard it  whisper in pain. Before Wraith could run to his aid, flames licked at  his back, turning him around to witness the familiar blaze.

In  moments the fire coalesced into a figure, staring at him through yellow  eyes. Older now and hardened by battle, Wraith drew his blades, their  green glimmer reflecting in his armor. “Dyrus,” the flame-wreathed  figure called. It gave Wraith pause, he hadn’t expected it to speak, but  he did not drop his guard.

However to his right, a familiar green  glow caught his eye. Turning to it, Wraith’s eyes widened as he beheld  Chausiku smiling at him. However, she was not how he had last seen her,  sporting cracks all over her body. She was so damaged that significant  pieces of her were outright missing, as if she were a broken window.

She  said nothing, but behind her Wraith could hear his mother’s voice.  “Dyrus!” she cried out in fear. A shadow flew over her, landing on the  side of Wraith opposite to her. Even before he turned to it, Wraith knew  what it was, and his blood ran cold.

He was now surrounded on all  sides: the corpse of a friend, slain in front of him; the yellow-eyed  person, who stole his life for a purpose he couldn’t comprehend at the  time; the shattered form of his protector, a shadow of her former self;  and towering over all of them the Shinigami, its terrible presence  devouring what little hope still remained. Through them all, the endless  cacophony of sounds continued, all speaking his name in every emotion  he knew.



Wraith clasped his hands over his ears, shutting his eyes as he tried to drown out the sound. “This…” he whispered to himself.



“This  isn’t…” he whispered again. As the sounds beat him down, a force began  to emanate from his body. It began to manifest as flames, inky black and  deep emerald, which swirled around his form.


He opened his eyes, as if forced open by an epiphany. “This is not REAL!”

With  a cry of effort, the flames erupted from him, wiping out the images  around him and eventually the scenery of the forest returned. As the  multicolored flames began to shrink and fade from his body, Wraith  sheathed his blades and took several deep breaths. Eventually he brought  a hand to his face and closed his eyes.

‘The Forest of Visions’  was the name they called this place, not oft traveled through and for  good reason. So the stories went that many foolhardy travelers would be  lost to things the forest would show them, most often people. People  they loved, people they hated, people they lost, and people they would  meet again.

Some legends are true… Wraith  thought. It was not a conclusion he had difficulty digesting. In a world  like this, all manner of impossibilities were on the table. If he had  to travel through here again, he would have to steel himself twice as  much.

When he finally brought his hand away from his face, he found a drop of water on his finger. That did take him by surprise, and he quickly rubbed his eyes. Taking one more  deep breath, he brought a hand to his neck, where a silver-colored scarf  was tied tightly to him.

Looking ahead of him, he began to walk forward.

Move, Wraith thought to himself, his vision slowly clearing, Just move. Do that first, then worry about what comes next.