Chapter 28 - Path to Darkness

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The high parapets of the City of Light commanded a full-circle view of this universe. The corroded paradoxical walls immediately around the near-spherical city were surrounded by thick bands of Darkness, like black rings around a planet.

Jaylina stood atop its highest point in wonder. She watched as ribbons of shadow from the blackness linked up with the outermost rings that pulsated with growing force. Unconsciously she began to calculate velocities and angles of approach. All the energy of this city would soon be depleted. Nothing would remain but a stubborn immortal clutching his pillar in the middle of cosmic nothingness.

Almost nothingness.

A fist of moonstone jutted out from the City and hung over the black. Her eyes followed a fragile-looking stair-bridge made of translucent tiles, suspended by some unseen force, that wound from her vantage point to an impossibly distant cloud of darkness so large it threatened to engulf the City. The stair-bridge twisted like a corkscrew, connecting the City of Light to the black nebula like a thin umbilical cord.

The thread-like structure swayed as it stretched out across a sky of infinite stars. Far away at the opposite end of the stair-bridge lay pools of dark pavilions tiered together into a seemingly impossible construct as beautiful as it was terrifying. The Citadel of Night. Entryway to the Underworld. The Isle of the Dead. Domain of the Shadow Queen.

Afunakwa had warned her not to go there.

"The Citadel of Night," said Jaylina to her soul mates. She held the essence of Aiden's hand. "Do you see it?"

Aiden nodded.

Above them in the distance, a line of island-like soul catchers trailed off into the black, dragging their tremendous tentacles as they carried their precious cargoes to the Underworld.

"Will you tell him?" said Grandmother Yatokya.

Jaylina sighed. She didn't know. What was more important? The truth? Or purpose? Did the failure of one define the shape of the other?

"I need to go there," said Jaylina. "To the Citadel. Maybe if I could talk to the Shadow Queen."

"Night is a jealous lover," said Grandmother Yatokya. "The path will be unkind to light from any universe, but especially yours. What about your little one?"

Jaylina watched Aiden as he peered over the side in the way of curious young souls. Suddenly, emotion struck at the core of her being, as if she had been hit by lighting. She knew at last what a mother's love felt like. She would do anything for this child's soul. She would die for him if need be. Over and over again.

Inside she wept with momentary joy. She offered a silent prayer of thanks to the Light for that moment. There was no other feeling like it in any universe. But she had a purpose that would not let go of her. Her purpose might make the difference between whether his young soul continued on or perished. She had to follow her intuition.

Jaylina's next words ripped at her own heart. "Grandmother Yatokya, you must take Aiden. Hide him somewhere, anywhere far from this place. I must confront Her. I see no other choice."

"I will guard him with all my essence," promised Grandmother Yatokya.

***

Grandmother kept her promise after they parted from Jaylina, when the shades came for them as they tried to flee the City. She fought with all her essence, annihilating the Darkness and its shadows and shades with all her strength until in the end even she was overcome by the unfathomable weight of their endless numbers.

Oblivious to this battle, Jaylina made her way to the Citadel of Night to face the Shadow Queen.

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