Glimpse of the Sun
Elana was lost. And she did not want to be found. Carefully, she crawled underneath the thorny undergrowth, careful as to minimise the blood drawn from the plant claws. Boggarts frolicked not far to her left, mindlessly eating her comrades down to the bone. The elf was silent, albeit at great effort, as she recognised the limbs and faces of her compatriots being bloodily stripped, exposing the bloody white calcium underneath. Twice did she fight off tears, of grief and fear, but then she felt light within her chest, soothing those emotions away. The light spread across her body, soothing also the pain in the joints and limbs. Under normal circumstances, Elana would have been most fascinated with this sudden radiance, but right then all she did was to be silently appreciative of this, and slowly did she crawl, away from her fallen raid partners.
A few minutes of continued, laborious movements, silence suddenly fell upon the boggarts, only the sounds of loud thumps being heard here and there. One moment, they were chattering, screaming, whimpering and making other noises as they violently fought for the best elven meat chunks, but then all of that ceased, as if something had whisked them away. Elana hoped with all her feeble might that they had not sensed her, had not gone into hunting mode and were now tracking her like wolves, as the thumps would suggest.
Sure enough, one of them fell on her.
“Bastard!” shouted Elana, no longer feeling the need to be stealthy, stabbing the boggart with her dagger as much as her blind rage guided her to, culminating in a strike that opened its ribcage, exposing the tumorous flesh within.
As it seemed, no goblin heard her shout, none came to aid their attacked clan mate. As her initial wrath subsided, she could clearly see why: it was already dead. It’s face, somewhat caprine, yet toad-like in some respects, was frozen in an abstract expression of pure horror, the terrified eyes frozen white, and most of the lower body missing, not as if ripped apart by a predator, but as if natural decay and necrosis had withered away everything beneath his upper abdomen, down to rather powdery spinal cord bones. Suddenly, another corpse fell on a nearby tree, breaking every branch until it ended up on the thorny bushes just a few meters to her right. Elana looked around, and while she was too far away to properly see the place where her comrades had fallen, she could clearly see the corpses of the boggarts everywhere around her, on the bushes and on the trees. All of them showcased the same withering, the same decay, each former devourer of elves now a misshapen, morbidly mutilated carcass. A few more joined in, falling from the sky, and although the pieces began assembling a puzzle in Elana’s mind, she did not bothered to look above.
” Such a pity, then “ said the fell, ghastly voice like fallen leaves, “I was hoping a true connoisseur would appreciate my work. You elves adore artistry, do you not ?”
“We’re the stewards of beauty. Your “art” is exactly the opposite of beauty: pure, ugly darkness like everything else around us.”
” Darling, you might desire to improve on your critique. Be constructive, not derisive. How else am I going to live up to your absurd snobbery if you do not help me improve? ”
“How about you kill yourself?” the elf turned to see her wasp-riding now-nemesis, displaying her golden, yet thickly blood-tainted dagger, “Or help me kill you. Either way, you’ll certainly improve.”
”I am very much not appreciating your tone, young lady. Maybe I should add you to my master piece.”
Elana prepared to strike at the rapidly descending menace, but instead she winced as her mind flared in pain, as if it had itself been stung. Only a brief moment of lucidity allowed her to jump out of the spectre’s way as his hymenopteran steed’s physical sting almost grazed her face. With some effort, she thought of her memories at Wilt Leaf, at the few truly beautiful herbs and flowers housed within its gardens, at the soft, life giving, almost water-like scent of dawn glove, at her favourite oak tree and the golden wheat fields she and her brother held so dear to their hearts, and hopefully so would her nephews and her brother-in-law. A final touch from within herself, and the flare stopped, the light within her chest now also within her mind, brighter and clearer. Even her vision seemed much better in the intense darkness, as if her eyes were spotlights.
” Such a pity, but I suppose I should be happy. Now you can see clearly when I begin decaying your flesh. ”
“Or see you die. That’d be truly an artful sight.”
The wasp rider descended again, now intending to use his staff, but the elf managed to jump her way out his grasp, grazing his flank with her blade, earning a pained wail and black blood on her dagger. In spite of her words – and a sliver of thought told her that she could stand her ground -, she instead settled for traversing the thorns as fast as she could, taking advantage of her opponent’s decision to gain altitude. Eventually, she came across a river, where a kithkin boat was being attacked by merrows. With a single jump, she landed on the boat’s prow, and stroke a merrow pirate’s back with her dagger. Another one had her skull repeatedly kicked and eventually cracked by Elana’s hooves, the teeth loosened from the actinopterygian gums and blood and jaw fragments falling on the deck. Another one yet had his throat slit, and with the threat of the approaching spectre clear, the surviving ones retreated back into the pitch black waters without a fuss.
“Great, now you’ve lead us to our doom on the air!” shouted one of the kithkin, angrily.
“Of course I did” sighed the elf, sarcastically.
And that said, she grabbed the offending kithkin and threw him at the spectre, whose steed’s sting wasted no time to find itself a pleasant spot in the creature’s right eyeball, the necrosis quickly spreading from there to the rest of the face. The kithkin wailed and screamed, powerless against the insect’s clawed appendages, the sting stabbing him all over his body until nothing but dissecated, beef jerky like tissue remained on the bones.
”Your offering is most tender. I am willing to forgive you if you sacrifice them all to me. .”
Elana looked at the terrified kithkin, joined together in a defending circle around an old woman and a child, bearing kitchen utensils, harpoons, twigs and whatever they could find, a last ditch effort to spare themselves. For a brief moment, Elana thought of dismantling that defending circle and picking them one by one as an offering, but she decided against it, being far too cruel a punishment for their simple offense towards her. And their ugliness.
“On the contrary, I fight for them.”
”Wise choice. I do not feel like sparing someone with most rude criticism anyways.”
“He can sting the mind! Prepare yourse-”
And they did. Elana did not know who connected her to the mind weft, but she kindly reattributed by expanding her own enchantment. Now, she and the kithkin stood as one, shielded against the spectre, frustrated at his inability to affect them. Guided by the kithkin, Elana began to channel mana once again, this time from other places: shielded meadows within mouldy castle walls, open wheat fields where scarecrows roamed and desecrated pitiful boggart corpses, desolated moors under the pale moonlight and the grief of ten thousand cinders. The light within her grew further, and she could feel other lights within the kithkin, expanding like twilight’s brief bursts. Soon, an intense, blinding radiance surrounded the boat, burning through the spectre’s flesh as he whimpered in agony. The wings of his steed were lighten on white flames, and the wasp and it’s rider fell on the deck, pathetically trying to crawl away and they oozed necrotic pus from their burnt orifices. Elana broke the mind weft, and stabbed the spectre in the heart, killing him, before turning to the poor arthropod and smashing it’s abdomen with her feet, leaving it too die a slow, agonising death. She walked to the left edge, preparing herself to jump to the shore.
“That light you have inside…” said one of the kithkin, the old woman, “Do you know what it is?”
Elana paused, turning her head.
“No, I don’t. It blossomed within me without warning, not very long ago. That’s all I know.”
“Did it soothe your sorrows?”
“Yes. Do you know what it is?”
“More or less” the pensive woman sat, “Sorry if my uncertainty is… discouraging.”
“I believe in what you have to say, if only because it’s the only explanation I’ll have in a while.”
Elana sat down on a bench opposite to the kithkin’s. She noticed that the kithkin woman beared some deep scars in her fingers, akin to rather clean burns, in some areas even exposing bone. Yet, strangely enough, they seemed rather alive, as if the fingers were perfectly undamaged. The kithkin woman noticed her interested, and flexed her digits one last time, before staring into the distant void.
“You’re aware of the demigods, aren’t you?”
“My people still pray to the Oversoul, yes. I’ve never felt the need to do that. Truth to be told, I don’t know if she exists or not.”
“She does, child. Not only does she exist, but she affects our world, increasingly so. With each passing day, her light seems to shine stronger, seems to bless her children more than ever.”
“Did she bless you?”
“Yes, child” the kithkin beamed slightly, as if amused by Elana noticing her scars, “This morning, we were attacked by boggarts. Nasty things, with rotten teeth and everything. One completely wrecked my hands, and I almost lost them to rot. But her light shone through my fingers and mind, first clearing away my despair and pain, and then removing the rot. The scars remained, but the fingers are as if healed, I can use them fine. And then the boggarts fled, running away from her light. Just as they run away the light stopped shining, probably because I no longer needed it. But I knew, somehow, that someone else with her gifts would come to me.”
“My… gift, it still hasn’t gone away. Do you think it means something?”
“Well, I’m just an old woman with some lore on her head, but if I had to guess she’s probably chosen you for a great task. I advise you to go where her light has been historically strongest, to the east, where twilight starts. That’s where most of her sightings come from.”
Elana thought. She didn’t want to leave her stronghold in what could very well be a wild goose chase, not when her family still needed her. But if this was indeed a divine gift, it was far more important and expected of her to meet the Oversoul and understand the “why” behind her light. Worse things would certainly happen if she just ignored this, and curiosity did gnaw at the edges of her mind. Besides, she was already quite a few miles to the East of her homeland, so she might as well have taken the advantage.
“I’ll see what the Oversoul wants, then.”
“Wonderful indeed. Since you saved our lives, please take some food and water for the journey.”
And, before the elf could protest, a kithkin appeared with a bag full of pastries and skin bottles, as if on cue. A part of Elana was rather unnerved, but she decided to take the offer, grabbing the bag and taking it on her shoulders. The boat then docked on the shore, prompting the elf to bow respectfully to the kithkin, and then leaving, faster and more hastily than she felt comfortable with. Though, knowing the small bastards as she did, they probably unnerved her on purpose.
The shore was a dense thicket, though nothing her dagger wouldn’t cut through. Much work wasn’t needed, however, since the dense scrub gave way to a more open field, a prairie with tall, sharply bladed grasses and occasional oaks, without leaves and with wicked, menacing, claw-like branches, looking as if making a futile attempt to strangle her from afar. She kept on walking, steering clear of these mean-spirited trees, something that became progressively easier to do as she ventured on into the plains. The trees decreased in number, and soon all that laid before Elana were vast, empty moors, no vegetation taller than the occasional bush. At first, the elf thought the landscape looked somewhat desolate, but she began appreciating the beauty of the grass and the open, fiend less terrains, where she could just walk without worrying for hidden threats. The cool air was nice, too.
All beneath the starlit sky was dark, but it did not bother Elana much, as the light still shone from her eyes like faint, yet far reaching spotlights. At any rate, wisps began appearing, first like distant stars, then increasing in number and floating around her, drawn to her like flies. She felt their golden light through her, touching her radiating gift, making her feel powerful and invulnerable.
Soon, though, other lights appeared, that were less pleasant to her. In the distance, it seemed as if the earth had spotlight, coming from small hills and mounds. As Elana approached, she understood what they were.
“Duergars…” she muttered, with disdain creeping into her voice.
The elves didn’t have much love for the subterranean dwarves, but Elana in particular hated them. They almost ended her brother’s life, and even today he had the scars of their ferrous withering. In normal circumstances, she probably could have stood to walk away in disgust and avoid them, but not now. Now, the wisps were surrounding her, flying with agitation and turbulence, increasing in number around the elf, drawn to her and casting their light on her. She felt righteous anger flow through her soul, her light kindled like flames feeding other flames, and she took out her dagger.
A deep breath, and she run towards the dwarven tunnels.
Mastiv struck the rock one last time, before grabbing his water skin. For several weeks he had excavated the fine limestone of the tunnel diligently, though not on any orders – that he could not bear -, expanding the subterranean galleries downwards and, unwittingly, to the east. Carefully, he crouched, examining the rock shards resulting from this last pickaxe blow. Within them were countless small crystals that reflected his amber lamp light in various brilliant glows, most of them barite, with a few calcite gems and what appeared to be a very small lapis lazuli, cluttered in manners that would drive a trypophobe insane. He took out his notes, cataloguing his finds, before putting the shards on his bag; two already full bags laid nearby.
“No bad, not bad indeed” said a smaller figure, holding his own, golden lamp.
“What do you want?” grunted Mastiv, not really in the mood to entertain anything other than his artistic and creative self-indulgence.
“To remind you that there’s more to the world than your little tunnel. Bjartr is looking for you. Now, he was in a good mood when I left, so I suggest that you report to him while we still can’t hear his shouting from here.”
“I’m sick of him telling me what to do. Tell him to shove whatever he wants down his pipes, because I’m doing a mighty fine job without him forcing me to dig where there’s less gems.”
Menô sighed, solemnly shaking his head in disapproval. This was the third time today Mastiv brought him grief.
“Don’t you think you’re a bit too old to act like that? To act like a petulant child who thinks a rebellious streak is all there is?”
“Not when my work is being jeopardised by a senile idiot who can get away with anything even though he’s clearly out of his mind! Now tell him to bugger off!”
Menô grunted. He pensively stared at the ceiling.
“I’ll see if a compromise can be reached. Don’t whine to me if he gets even more pissed off.”
Mastiv scoffed. He really disliked when Menô was in the right, and if he wasn’t practically family he’d be glad to punch him at the very least.
“I’d love to see him try, ‘specially now that I’m having success for a change.”
Menô simply sighed, and climbed his way upward through the narrow tunnel. Feeling a surge of rage, Mastiv grabbed his pickaxe and dealt a tremendous blow to a boulder, a shard cutting his right cheek. Calming down, the duergar sat, examining his shallow, yet quite bleeding wound, blood running down his face and the checking fingers. He searched in his bag for medicinal aids, when suddenly the wound began to glow in an orange, fiery light. It hurt quite a lot, feeling like it was being cauterised, and indeed, for all purposes, it was: the wound was healed, though leaving quite a scar. The light still lingered, feeling as if was sustained by something inside of him, like an inner fire, licking and pouring through the scar flesh. More importantly, he felt as if another light like this lingered nearby, above him.
Before Mastiv could ponder much on it, a drop of blood fell on his forehead. He looked up, seeing a small red fountain flow forth from a small crack in the tunnel ceiling. The rock layer between him and the next cavern above – a massive ten meter high “hallway” – was about half a mile thick, so even though the rock had characteristic limestone passages for fluids all over the place, it would have required quite the blood bath to get that amount of dwarven ichor to flow in such quantities all the way down there.
“What the hell….”
Suddenly, he heard a thundering sound to the distance, the noise of falling boulders sliding through a tunnel, before getting stuck on the narrow most corner of the passage. A pile of smaller pebbles managed to reach Mastiv’s tunnel, and it dawned on him that something terribly wrong had happened. Picking his things as quickly as possible, the duergar charged, running up to the tunnel. Focusing raw mana, he stroke against the tunnel walls, breaking the rocks into fine sand that simply piled on him. Normally, he would have thought twice before doing that, as a lot of gems would have been lost forever, but the slight of bloody duergar corpses alerted him to something far more important. Among them was Menô’s twitching, moribund body, the grisly state in which his head was bringing the bile up Mastiv’s oesophagus. With a nauseous strike, the duergar ended his comrade’s misery, hastily walking away to empty his eyes and stomach of fluid contents. The feeling of the “other light” was gone, but his own glowing wound only radiated more fiercely, as if his newfound anger was a set of logs thrown into it.
Nausea and grief gave in to righteous anger, though, so he ceased his own misery and climbed up the tunnel, rough guttural sounds leaving his throat as rage produced incoherence, and the mucus in his sore, mournful throat dissipated more legitimate sounds like the wind amidst the waves. After a few minutes, he reached the topmost entrance of the tunnel, leading to the massive halls, which were in the state he feared they’re be: hundreds upon hundreds of duergar corpses, most of them mercifully with only cut throats or stabbed vital organs, instead of the gore in the tunnel. Mastiv’s eyes scoured the piles of dead dwarves, searching for a twitching movement, for some sign of life amidst the scattered, not yet decayed carcasses. He did find a hint of such: the exasperatedly crawling Bjartr. The older duergar, already cumbersome and frail, was in a rather dire state, several stab wounds indicating the grave state of affairs within the thorax, though Mastiv was indeed impressed by the stamina that remained in his fellow survivor, motioning franticly for him to come closer. He did so, temporarily putting aside his resentment for the sake of the only “family” he had left.
“Who did this?” asked Mastiv, searching in his bag for medicinal lotions.
“An elf” Bjartr coughed, blood piling within his lungs and flooding into his words, “An elf came here and slaughtered us like doves. Nothing we did affected her in the slightest. She was a monster.”
An elf? Mastiv had heard of them among the “surface tales”, dismissing them as irrelevant at best like with everything above ground. Obviously, Menô’s warnings were true, even if he never heard of the elves as such dangerous foes, as such pitilessly monsters.
“Tell me how it looked. I will avenge our clan, uncle.”
Bjartr nodded, dissolving away the resentment and anger accumulated between years. His eyes shone with a spark of hope, and he rose one last time, to whisper on Mastiv’s ear. His nephew reached for medicinal potions, but Bjartr was done, driving his hand away and gently laying on the ground, giving off his last breath.
Mastiv grabbed his axe, and nothing more. He would not survive in the wilds, as his fearful heart reminded him with fluttery, blackbird-like beats. No, this was going to be a righteousmurder, to retribute what the elf had done to his clan. He inhaled deeply, and run towards the exit.
He only hoped his fear made him run faster towards his prey, not denying his terror in the slightest.
The wisps still surrounded her, though her righteous emotional charge had by then quite faded. Elana was satisfied with the outcome, especially as even the deepest gashes and wounds were now regenerating at an astonishingly fast rate. The light truly was a gift, and in gratitude she poured all the water she had onto the ground, in an act of graceful libation. Her actions did leave her exceptionally tired, though, and in the absence of fellow elves, whatever place she picked would be extremely vulnerable. She decided to take shelter beneath a short, yet wide bush, the branches forming a dome that was almost perfect in height and length for her sensibilities. It was armoured in thorns, which didn’t bother her much thanks to her thick leather clothes, and which added to the sense of safety. With little ceremony, she laid and fell asleep, using her now empty skin bottle as a pillow. After her eyes shut, and their light stopped illumining her resting spot – though the wisps still floated above, flooding the bush with a thick golden light like ambaric sap -, it didn’t take long for the weary elf to fall into a deep sleep, a rare occasion in these last months, where restless nights were the norm.
At first, she did not dream. Or at least she thought she didn’t. It was a black void, as always, unconscious and unfeeling, leaving no awareness to be had. But, suddenly, there was a flare. A bright, intense whte light flooded the void, destroying the void of the mind with sentience. Elana was now conscious, but not real. She was part of that light, a stream where consciousness and sentience was possible, but individuality wasn’t. It was very bizarre a sensation, to be but a small voice in an ever chanting chorus, to be there yet not there, to be one yet separate, not a single being but a multitude of beings, a comforting, welcome one. If she had her way, this would be her eternity, “dream or not dream” being an irrelevant issue. There was only that light, and only that light mattered, expanding in all directions like a tree.
But, eventually, the growth and expansion stopped. The light began to condense, to fill the gravity with itself, and it became a sphere. A massive, ever burning sphere throwing off radiance and life in all directions, filling the coldness of the void with existence, with heat, with waves upon waves of itself, ever giving and receiving nothing in return. Elana, or at least what she thought was herself, liked that a lot, revelling in its – hers? – selfless, life-giving purpose, although she felt a despairing urgency in the horizon, like a really awful gut feeling, predicting disaster to come.
Out of the void, a large hand touched the light, followed by another, reaching it from beneath, the finger forming a rotund cage around the radiance. Elana felt a tremendous soothing sensation from those hands, almost like motherly love, but it only aggravated her urgency. No, you can’t do this! she tried to shout, but she had no voice to protest with, and even the thoughts to form that phrase seemed almost impossible to conjure, as if she wasn’t capable of thinking and wording at all, yet remained perfectly conscious. She tried to scream, to be let out of this limbo, progressively growing number and number, until her own sentience and sapience died…
Elana screamed her away back into the real world, the shock enhanced by the sudden dissipation of that mental degeneration. Unlucky as she was, her awakening was met with the thorns of the thicket grazing at her face, drawing blood from the variety of cuts. Most of them were regenerated by the light, though a few kept bleeding, red running down her face and forming droplets on her chest. Around her, the luminous wisps had further gathered, illuminating her bush like a bonfire, flooding the plains with bright brass tones. Although their vigilant, healing presence was welcome, the progressively increasing numbers began to seriously unnerve her. It was seldom a good sign when flying things gathered in large numbers around a body, after all.
So once again she set foot, leaving the bush and continuing towards the East. As she left the temporarily safe sanctum, she saw distant smoke coming from the desolated duergar holes.
“Maybe the cinders have finished what I started” she mused darkly, grim as she recalled the fiery filth and their petty, murderous ways, though content that the dwarves got what they deserved, and were thankfully paying for their sins in the most horrible, tortuous way imaginable.
Alas, there would be time to rejoice later. This dream had made Elana more alert towards her current predicament, towards her so far hypothetical duty, and so she increased the pace. A glimmer of orange permeated the distant horizon, beginning the usual hour-and-a-half or so of twilight that was the plane’s closest thing to day time. Here, though, it was different: although no Sun emerged above the distant line between earth and sky, the light emerging from the East was brighter and stronger than anywhere else on the plane. It went beyond just the distant orange dawn glow like a massive bonfire, there was a rather intense white illumination of the sky, as if the very essence of light was erupting from the distance. More importantly, a pulse of life and mana could be felt in that light, like a subtle heartbeat.
I’m close, Elana pondered. The landscape around her was now vast moorland without a hint of trees, rocks emerging here and there like ill made graves, but otherwise a covering of grass that hugged the earth surface as tightly as possible was the predominant feature, a sort of blandness and simplicity that the elf appreciated very deeply. Sometimes the most grandiose beauty was in the blank, in the uncomplicated and uniform. Certainly not in random carcasses spread everywhere.
The wisps, then fluttering and hoovering in circles, began to form a line, extending in a luminous corridor pointing towards the rising dawn, like lamps around a street. The elf proceeded right in the middle of the spectral constellation, following the trail as it passed through craggier and craggier terrain, the soft, almost sandy earth of the plains giving rise to harsh ground and rocks. At some point, the moor hills had formed a ravine, rising on her left and right like small mountains… or maybe the path just sank into the earth. It was never a very deep rock corridor, at most only 3 meters between the V shaped end and the rock tips.
The wisps suddenly disappeared, dissipating without warning like candles dying, but it didn’t matter to Elana. There, the light was at its most intense, radiating as brightly as the morning Sun in other worlds, focused in thick white beams that moved in waving, ribbon-like motions right above the ravine, like low-dwelling silver and gold aurorae; as the ravine progressed, they became lower and lower, until they filled it’s space, obscuring it’s end. It seemed as if the radiance was water, flowing fourth and shaping the ravine, and Elana was walking at the bottom of this strange river. She felt safe and serene in this ravine, her group’s ambush by boggarts in the crags now a distant memory, and kept going, feeling her gift intensify in power and radiance.
As she walked, she felt like her soul was expanding from her body, extending from her eyes like rays, then metaphysical branches or feelers, touching the flowing lights and fusing with their glow. As she walked, worries, fears and emotions left her mind, but she remained herself, though she wondered for how long even that would last. As she walked, her vision began to be whitened by the intense radiance, her eyes not hurting but just as blinded as by the brightness, the ravine disappearing from her sight, as did anything but the light. As she walked, all her other senses disappeared, one by one, until she could no longer hear, taste, even feel her balance and equilibrium, though she did not fell, just kept walking.
Elana’s vision and mind were now alike a blank, pure white state, a void filled only by light. And in it, a voice vibrated, no sound of any sort, but ripples of green and gold light in the white whole, moving in eldritch tones as if to convey speech.
My child, you have arrived. I feared you would not listen, yet you have heard my pleas and followed my light. I am proud of you.
“Mother…” Elana exhaled, hoping to convey what she wanted to say, but she was deaf now, so anything she said would only be an approximation of what she wanted to say. But Mother listened all the same.
Hush, my daughter. You are here, that is what matters. Mother needs you, Elana, Mother needs you to help her restore the light to this dark, woeful world, to help your brothers and sisters. That’s why I gave you a bit of my light, just as I had given your kithkin sister. But she could only help by guiding you to me, while you have to do so much more.
“The dream, M-mother….”
Yes, Elana. That was long ago, when the world was young and the dark held no sway. We were all together, Elana, even after my children were born in the flesh. We were all united by that light, the Sun.
“What happened to the Sun?”
I had to hide it. I alone in the powers of Shadowmoor am impervious to harm, the other great spirits cannot wound me. So in their envy and pettiness they struck against my children, to make me feel pain in the only way they could. The Demigod tore at the sky and flesh alike, the Deus tore the earth and the foundations of the world, the Ghastlord caused death and decay in the flesh and the Divinity death and decay on the soul, the Nobilis incited war and the Dominus hatred among them, the Godhead oppressed all with her gaze and the Deity with his fear. Only the one who is the Mother of all did not harm my children, she just watched their suffering, pleasuring herself to the pain they endured and to my grief. I had to hide the Sun to save my children, to shield them from the eyes of the great spirits in the dark. Yet they still found them, and grief now overwhelms the world. I was a fool, Elana, and now Shadowmoor pays for it.
The Sun still shines, and it overwhelms the darkness when the Aurora shifts the tides. Yet only the Fae can see this happening, and all my other children flutter about in the darkness, never knowing what Shadowmoor actually is. A tide is coming, Elana, and this is why I need you, to free Shadowmoor from the darkness.
I have given you light, but you can only hold it permanently because you have light of your own inside, a spark. It glows faintly, it is not ignited, but it suffices. I can use that spark to charge the Aurora and purge Shadowmoor from the night forever, to destroy every single cell of shadow that exists encrypted in the plane itself. I can even destroy the other great spirits, and end their cruelty.
But you will not need to sacrifice your light. Another one is coming.
Following the elf had been much easier than Mastiv thought it would have been. In the horizon, brilliant lights flooded the sky, the luminous spirits of the dead that were distant tales to the underground dwellers. They were truly awe inspiring and beautiful, almost as gorgeous as the gems he found in the tunnels, only somewhat less colourful but definitely far more blinding. Wasting no time, he run as fast as he could towards them, hastily avoiding the few shrubs and large rocks in his way. The surface was full of eldritch sounds like the calls of nightjars and owls, sounds that made his heart beat faster and his legs move more rapidly, carrying his bulk as quickly as possible across that alien landscape.
Suddenly, he heard hoof sounds, equally a foreign to him as the nocturnal bird songs, and just as quickening to the blood flow. He cumbersomely hid in the bushes, awaiting the pursuers, though the tension building in his hardening tendons and mind made it very clear that he wouldn’t be hiding for much longer, let alone very well. Smoke filled the air, a thick black smog as if it was ink in vapour form, hard on the nostrils and making Mastiv’s lungs burn, making his already flimsy camouflage all the more stressing.
“I know where you’re hiding” said a malicious yet quite mournful voice, bearing wicked delight and painful resentment with each word, “Such cowardice will only rot your fate further. Not that it was ever that
Mastiv secured his axe more tightly, trembling viciously in a mixture of terror and anger. Suddenly, a black dagger cut through the bush branches from above and struck his right shoulder, making him scream in agony as he felt an incredibly powerful surge of pain, descending from the shoulder girdle all the way to the tip of his fingers, like a lightning bolt. The flesh of his arm began to bubble like scalding water, melting into a bloody paste and exposing the blackened bones.
“Tsk tsk, you shouldn’t have felt that much fear. It only makes it spread faster. Oh well.”
The cinder removed the blade utterly effortlessly, the meat that had embedded it no longer surrounding the blade. It looked at the fallen, crying duergar with a hint of pity, but mostly enjoying the crawling, tortured mess beneath it with a wicked grin in its carboniferous skeletal visage. It kicked Mastiv in the head, briefly considering using him as a punch bag or a toy for a while, before settling on grabbing him by the neck.
“You’re not worth my time, dwarf. Say something memorable before I cleanse the earth of your inanity.”
Suddenly, Mastiv’s exposed arm bones and sinews began to glow in an orange or golden radiance, as if they had been heated up to the point of ignition. And, as far as the dwarf was concerned, they had, feeling an intense, forge-like heat from his damaged arm, then a searing burning pain as the flesh was returned to his limb. His eyes glowed white hot like miniature supernovas, making the screeching elemental release him and fall to the ground, its face dissolved and turning to dust. Mastiv felt a sudden surge of strength and euphoria, grasping the air and feeling the creation of an immense whip of fulgid plasma, extending in spirals around him into the sky. He felt every inch of the fiery weapon, an extension of himself awaiting to stretch and strike, tension and energy vibrant in every atom within and around him.
Suddenly, Elana felt a change in the white void, ripples of chartreuse expressing a distress in the otherwise emotionless expansion.
It appears my brother has claimed your sacrifice, fusing with him just to spite me.
“I will battle both, then. We shall all die and our lights will fuel your cause.”
Indeed, you will battle your prey. However, I have a strategy that might avoid your bloodshed. Let me purify your flesh and spirit fully, so that I may guide you without failure.
A hint of fear and nausea skimmed through Elana’s otherwise perfectly blank mind. Her instincts told her that this would be the end of her as a separate being, as an individual, as nothing beyond an empty vessel for the Oversoul’s power. She thought of her family, of her clan, and how she would never see them again, because she made her choice, and decided to obey the light that flooded within and without her. Tears run down her luminous eyes, eerily losing their passion as the light clenched the emotions as if it was extinguishing candles. She took a deep breath, and pushed the memories of her loved ones aside, allowing the blank to expand once again in her rational self and far beyond.
Hush, my child. Your love and devotion makes me proud, and it is what makes you the true vessel of my will. Align yourself with your memories, but without grief or passion. We will be united as one.
Elana wiped her tears away, and did so. She welled up her thoughts, bringing up the memories of her clan, of her wise great-aunt who taught her the mysteries of the wilds, of her grandfather who showed her the importance of beauty and why it must be preserved, of her friends and clan mates who had died not so long before, of her brother and his own partner and children, of the steeds and their elegance under the Wilt Leaf radiance, of all the pleasant moments she had spent in those gardens. She examined her happy and bright thought she had ever had, revelling in the images and scents and touches as her rational mind followed her emotions, her experiences becoming her present and any awareness of her predicament dissipating, until it didn’t even register in her mind at all. Soon, even the memories began to grow number: first, her sense of taste began to evaporate – something not particularly noticeable as it wasn’t very strong to begin with -, followed by her sense of smell, scents dimming progressively until they did not register at all. Touch began to be destroyed more gradually, first going the ability to feel textures, then general numbing until only temperature extremes were present, and then dying altogether. Sounds became lower until only absolute silence remained, and finally colours began to grower dimmer and drabber, washing away like paint under corrective fluids, until only ivory whiteness remained.
The void returned, only this time it was absolute.
Fire surrounded Mastiv. The surrounding grassland was now devoured by orange and white flames, spreading in a rather neat circle around the exhausted duergar. Wisps began to gather, but they stayed outside the circle of fire, not breaking past the tall, flowing tongues of plasma and the thick smoke that once used to be dry vegetation. He worried that this progressively wider circle would attract the attention of other cinders or worse nightly terrors, but as it stood it seemed like a protective ward, a wall of heat and light between himself and the wider world, so he simply took the opportunity to rest his sore muscles. Heat still greatly radiated from his bones, as if his flesh was attached to waning, yet still vivid coals, and all the while the orange radiance still shone through his eyes and other holes in his body.
He never fully felt asleep, though his body was immobilised under sleep circumstances, and his mind was scrambled in a mild trance. Thoughts flashed through his mind like lightning, sometimes nothing simpler than orange or white rapidly flooding his eyes, sometimes split second gruesome visages of battlefields and gore. Nothing lingered more than a few seconds, but in the dim awareness it disturbed him greatly. His slow, deliberate heart beat made him feel especially heavily and nauseous, even though he could muster the ability to release his stomach of the bile.
He began to feel that strange pressure inside of him once again, feeling it coming from the East. Mastiv tried everything he could to rotate his neck, to be able to see what was happening in that direction, but the sleep paralysis kept his body bound to the ground, incapable of controlling his neck. Frustrated and angry, he tried to curse the heavens and the earth for his predicament, but found his mouth, tongue and even vocal cords very hard to consciously move. They did move, but only in basic, electrical contractions against his will, not forming a coherent sound. Tears run down his face, as he had nothing left but grief.
Suddenly, his field of vision began to detect an increase in light, and sure enough it seemed that something glowing very brightly was behind him. As the light increased, the sound of footsteps began to grow louder in his ears, until it was clear that whatever it was walked just a few meters away from him, and then that distance disappeared. A hand grabbed him by the nape, and turned his head towards the radiance. It was blinding, and the tears further obscured his basically worthless sight, though it did not matter, as he understood who it was. He wanted to at least be able to curse her name and spit in a final gesture of hatred, but he wasn’t granted even that honour.
“Mastiv, it is saddening that your life took a dark, fell path, disregarding the rules of your clan and indulging in selfish desires and indulgence. To make matters graver, you have attempted revenge against the noble act of Elana Leaf-Strider, who has atoned your clan’s ten thousand sins. Now you must pay your due, to give your light to fuel her noble cause against darkness such as yourself!”
Mastiv was furious. “Noble act”? To slaughter an entire clan, including children and other innocents? That’s what passed as “noble” for an elf? If he could, he would have torn her limbs off, smashed her face with his fists and done pretty much every single act of vengeance against that foul, inhumane creature, but his body did not answer him, did not even respond to the desire of violence. In fact, in that light, he felt it even more dormant and cold, nothing but his brain with any sort of autonomy, as if his own flesh agreed with Elana’s foul deeds.
Thankfully, his mouth answered him, and he managed to spit at her. Even as the dagger viciously pierced his chest, ripping sternum, ribs, lungs and heart in a hatefully triturating way, smashing instead of cutting, he felt nothing but absolute peace, peace that spread like light in the turbulence of his mind, gradually erasing it as life voided from his body, alongside his blood. He died knowing bliss, an almost irrational amount of happiness as if all his anger and hatred had left him, before everything else followed suit.
Elana – or, rather, the Oversoul in her body – flinched only during that spit. She was otherwise in a state of pity for the poor, misguided duergar, but his misdeeds eased her mind, and he had served his purpose well. His spark, now in the bloodied blade, would help her restore the part of herself that she had hidden, and with such Shadowmoor would finally know light. And it had come at no better time, as the Aurora was just beginning, the spirit lights flooding the heavens in the preparation for the world shift. Without further delay, she stabbed herself, transferring the spark to Elana’s body, joining both in a radiant ball of energy that pulsed with life and light, increased and sustained by her own ten thousand times. As the Aurora engulfed her, she expanded this radiance, touching her own self, the Sun she had so regrettably hidden, now more radiant than ever as it took its place once again in the skies, this time for good.
And then pain seared through her flesh.
Hello, sister. I must confess that I expected better from you, than to be fooled like this. But alas, the Aurora is upon us again, and this time I shall have back the light that you so pettily stole. Now may you die forever.
And, in a final scream, the Sun engulfed all of Shadowmoor-Lorwyn, it’s light fiery in orange and golden tones, devouring everything in its passage.
Elana woke up. Her mind returned to normal, her awareness regained, albeit somewhat “sore”, like sight after many hours in darkness. Cumbersomely, she poked around with her hands, trying to gain insight of where she was.
“We’re not home”, a voice whispered in her head, a hateful voice that she remembered dimly from her trance.
“So you’ve survived. What’re you going to do, haunt me for the rest of my days until I go mad.”
“That would be fair, yes. But we have more pressing concerns now. There’s a beast nearby.”
And indeed, a wet, reptilian smell flooded Elana’s mind, and she dodged. A hydra’s turtle-like beak had almost cut off her leg, but it was met with her blade. Two heads busted forth, but they were cut as well, this time not regenerating, simply bleeding rivers without coagulation. The other heads screamed and screeched, and one by one they were silenced for good. Soaked in the blood, Elana looked around, witnessing a vast Mediterranean glade under the Sun’s intense glare.
“So I’ve done it, there isn’t darkness anymore!”
”Are you deaf? I said we’re not home, we’re not in Shadowmoor, we’re elsewhere.”
“That’s impossible! You’re mad, like the rest of your kin.”
Mastiv growled, and decided to remain silent. The elf, basking in her tautological superiority, explored the surrounding area. It’d not be long until the duergar would be proven right, and thus began a new cycle.
Elana was lost, and did not want to be found. Because Mastiv would always laugh at her misery.