An orb of light struggled to keep pace with the raven-haired girl. Her disheveled hair trailed after her as she ran with all her might. The brick walls at her side kept her from evading the danger that lurked in the dark behind; shimmers of slimy tendrils that hovered on the edge of the darkness, almost teasingly. Bloodstained the walls around her and the remains of her fellow students lined the floor – Their faces staring accusingly at her as she passed.
Why are you alive…?
You abandoned us…
Their ethereal voices lashed out as she passed. No matter how fast she ran, they still came back. Over and over. She ran for what seemed like miles, but their faces still appeared from out of the darkness, still against the walls. Still accusing her of their untimely demise.
Her legs burned from the effort to escape this narrow hell. Her lungs felt like thousands of daggers were pricking at her, and just when she thought she could slow, a tendril would nip at her heels to spur her onward. Minutes? Hours? Days?
She did not know. There was only darkness as she tried to call for help. Tried to call for her Prince in shining armor, Randol. He was the prince of her dreams, but he was nowhere to be seen. A logical thought would be that he was safe and sound because only the dead were haunting her. Only the dead accused her. Only the dead came to retrieve her.
Her heartbeat was a chaotic martial drum on course into battle, but her mind screamed for her to flee. So flee she did. Yet, the tendrils and the dead still chased her. Just when she was about to lose hope, just when she thought she could no longer run, the stone floor gave way to dirt. Now, darkness and trees.
Now, the tendrils were everywhere.
She didn’t stop, and she noticed that it was not in fact tendrils but thin trees, that rose all around her. The moment she thought she was done, a tendril slashed at her feet behind her. That was enough motivation for her to take flight through this lightless forest. As she ran, the shadows danced around the trees. She felt some respite that the dead was no longer here, and she only had to contend with the black tendrils that slithered eerily behind her.
That was her mistake, believing that the nightmare was fading…
Now, the bodies hung upside down, supported from the unseen branches above. None of them impeded her flight, but they all hung at eye level. So, she could the friends she had forsaken. Each one had their chests had been ripped open, their entrails spilling out, and their arms dangled lifelessly; Each face frozen in a mute scream.
Then the trees began to turn darker, and darker. The dirt forest floor, littered with leaves and other things, became barren. More and more faces were seen out of the corners of her eyes. Soon, the trees disappeared altogether. The floor became just a mass of darkness and she was now falling. The orb of light dimmed momentarily as it nearly failed to stay within the boundary of its caster.
She slowly rotated end over end. The first rotation, nothing had been above her. Just a mass of darkness. She noticed the light dim just as she turned away.
On the next rotation – The bloodied face of her best friend, Serina. Her eyes dull and her mouth opened, and a tendril flew at her and –
Priscilla screamed, her voice shrill and full of fear. Hot salty tears streamed from her eyes as she tried to find the tendrils, tried to find the dead, but nothing was there. Nothing but two golden suns in the darkness. Two suns that looked and… and her friend’s dead face overlapped with it…
The darkness was suddenly chased away, light exploded around her, and the Serina’s dead face evaporated along with the dark. In her place was the most beautiful woman she had even seen. Her fair complexion was framed with her pretty snowy hair. The molten drops of gold were Cyril’s eyes, filled with nothing. Her expression was blank as if she wasn’t actually staring at her but through her. Her feline eyes were narrowed, her pupils a faint black vertical line.
“What happened?!” Randol’s voice pulled her from her little world.
She had now noticed that everyone had their weapons drawn, yet, all of them looked at her in confusion… and fear. She stammered, unsure of what to say. A nightmare? Randol looked at her, his face pale and sunken. Black rings framed his eyes and he looked pitifully tired.
“Nightmare.” A soft voice that seemed to smother the flames that had been lit in Randol.
Priscilla felt her body drop an inch from the ground. She had just registered that Randol had held her up by her right arm when he asked that. She finally felt the pain from his vice tight grip. She looked to where he had held her. Thick red marks burned brightly in the white magical light.
She didn’t know how to react; she didn’t know what to say until she felt a soft hand rubbed her back. She looked up and found Cyril knelt by her. Everyone else had backed away and started sheathing their weapons, but still, they all glared at her.
“Do you feel better now?” Cyril asked as if she was trying to soothe a newborn.
Now when she looked into her eyes, she felt safe. She felt like this woman could have been her own mother. She felt Cyril’s arms embrace her now as her eyes welled with tears before they finally spilled over. Priscilla wailed into Cyril’s arms before she spoke of the nightmare, albeit, in broken sniffled words. The light dimmed around her, and for a moment, she felt that she had returned to her nightmare. When she looked up, she found two large white wings surrounding her.
“They can’t hurt you now.” Cyril said with a smile and motherly eyes.”Bad, bad things; Go away. Never to come back another day.” In singsong, she said those words.
The others no longer disturbed them, though, Randol felt a little unsettled. Now that the adrenaline had left him, the memories of his own nightmare returned. He felt bad for his outburst and just tried to keep himself level headed, despite his fatigued state. He looked to the couple next to him and saw that they too had looked worse for wear.
He looked over into the forest, a few large trees were illuminated around them. They had stopped for the night in a small glade. The forest itself was pitch black, maybe it was because it was a moonless night, or maybe the canopy was just too dense. Nothing changed that none of them could see. At least, none of the mortals in the group. Cyril was the only one who could see perfectly fine. That didn’t help them transverse the heavy forest terrain.
Randol quickly turned his head from the darkness. Things he didn’t wish to see. Things he would keep buried in his heart. They were not here, but he didn’t wish to see them. He felt happy that he did look away. He saw his brother and his lover cuddle up to the angel for comfort. They too must have seen what waited for them in the darkness of the hellish night. He felt a smile… Happy that their pride didn’t prevent them from seeking comfort when they could…
He didn’t let his eyes wander from the light no longer.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
Dawn had come.
A few of its broke through the dense canopy. All of them had taken to slumber around the angel. Her wings had been their small heaven for the rest of the early morning. The nightmares never returned, but only dreamless sleep. Randol felt uncomfortable with cuddling up to the Angel, though, he slept just behind her. Security was the excuse. He had nightmares for a while, of the dead. Of his regrets… Of the Ruins… Then darkness took him in an ironic respite.
When he woke up, Cyril’s back was pressed against his chest. She smelled of summer, warm and refreshing against the winter morning. She felt… small against his broadness. She was smaller than him by nearly two heads, but she felt like a titan at that moment. He didn’t feel repulsed by her touch, only comfort. Not in a sexual way, rather, like when one had entered their home. When you knew you were safe from danger and the outside world.
Yes, she felt like… Home.
The group trekked with renewed vigor. No one looked horrid as they had a few hours of safe sleep in them. Priscilla now clung to Cyril’s arm. It finally made it home to everyone how much younger she was than all of them. At the age of thirteen, she shouldn’t have been allowed on this expedition. She probably would not have come if Randol hadn’t either. Despite all that, she was here, and she was very scared.
Desmond knew what it was like and he had seen it plenty of times with the younger students. They knew that it could be dangerous, but as nobles, they never really understood the danger. What it meant; what it felt like. Now the poor girl understood it. She very much knew how it felt like. She knew death, and death knew her.
She had broken into a sobbing mess when Cyril tried to separate from her. Unfortunately for them, Priscilla had also wet herself after the nightmare. Everyone besides Randol had to bath. The poor young girl was fraught with embarrassment, though Cyril didn’t mind, the vixen in the group kept her distance as Desmond cast a few cleansing spells. It didn’t replace the need to wash, but it removed most of the smell and… liquid.
As of now, the group had found their original path after some time. With Cyril around, most of the monsters seemed all too willing to walk away, especially at the sight of her wings. The sudden lack of constant security allowed Randol to finally relax and decided to ask Cyril about earlier.
“So…” He said, trying to formulate what he wanted to say. “Those nightmares-”
“A curse.” Cyril cut him off.
“All of us?” He asked.
“Yes.” She said.
The conversation wasn’t… A conversation. He was hoping to get more information, but she seemed more interested in the girl that clung to her. For a moment, he wondered if it was sexual in nature, or if it was just a casual interest. He did not mind either, in fact, if would be good if she had a love interest in the girl so the angel would stay in their empire. The pres-
He stopped his thoughts. That was unbecoming of him. He shook his head and reprimanded himself for thinking like his father. Cyril was not some pawn, not a merchant, or a powerful individual. Well, she was that last part, but she was a divine being. Something above them. Someone that walked without being bound to borders to others – He should not think of her as he would another mortal.
“How do you know?” He asked.
Normally, he would converse with someone. If he found that they could be a benefit to him, he’d try and bring them into his faction. It was out of habit, something ingrained in him since he was young. Something Desmond never learned, thankfully.
“The static.” Cyril said.
She pointed, without Priscilla seeing it, into the darkness of the forest. While the sunlight had broken through the canopy, it had not done so with much success. Most of the forest remained in large inky patches. They could proceed with enough light not to fall into a hole, but they still had to tread very carefully.
Randol looked to where she pointed and saw a ghastly face. Blood covered them and he noted it was one of his personal knights that had died in the ruins. He felt cold inside, he felt guilt and fear as well. Before the feeling could take hold of him, the face faded away into the darkness. Something that hadn’t happened before.
“It took me a few hours. “She cut Randol off again. “But I figured out how to deal with them, well more like I remembered. Curses were something that happened at low…”
Cyril went off on a tangent about levels, skills, and something… Yes, Early game. He didn’t understand much of what she was saying. He, however, understood that there were several levels of curses. This he was aware of, but someone of Cyril’s level, they were just groups of small black and white dots. She could see where the curse was materializing.
She also said this meant it was not a mental curse, as a mental curse would just have the static around the target’s head. It was an Area of Effect spell. She figured it’d wear away eventually. She also ordered to just have everyone keep their eyes forward where she could dispel the effects. Something she had learned to do while they slept.
Randol couldn’t help himself though. Knowing that he was cursed, curiosity and pride welled in him. Logically, he knew he should listen to her and he’d be okay. Yet, the prideful part of him wanted to define it. It told him he was not some babe to soothe. He was a warrior, a killer; a prince.
Yet, after an hour of seeing the dead all around them. Some moving in the distance, some no more than a few feet from his sides – his pride crumbled.
Thus, they went on in silence as Cyril dispelled anything in her sight. She kept Priscilla’s young curiosity from peaking in any direction but forward. It wasn’t hard, after the first ten minutes of her becoming petrified by the apparitions in the distance. Afterward, she had become quite the docile child. It also stroked something in Cyril, a desire she could never have fulfilled before. Something that hurt her heart.
. . . . .
Smoke blotted out the sun as they approached the burnt Northern Keep.
Built into a large mountain at the end of a half-mile manicured stretch of field, it was attached to a large stone curtain that crossed to the east, over a large river, and to a mountain. Both of the mountains were steep and created the perfect chokepoint for the empire’s Northern Keep to stem the tide of monsters from entering the nation on its northernmost point.
Yet, it was this very same keep that had been blacked and plagued with fires around on some of the turrets. Parts of the wall missed large chunks at the top, but for the most part, it had stood whatever attacked them.
A born blew from somewhere in the Keep and Cyril saw a small blackened part by the last tower by the wall part. It was a gate. A large group of battered soldiers and stepped out with spears.
“Who comes!?” One of them yelled out.
He was dressed in armor that Randol recognized as one of his own knights that he had left at the fort to ensure safe passage.
“The First Prince, Randol, of the Dragon Empire!” Randol yelled back.
The soldiers relaxed until they finally reached the gate at the foot of the keep.
“Where is the rest of your group?” The knight asked in confusion. “Did the Dragon get them too?”
“No.” Randol said, with a more regal demeanor than when he spoke to the others. ” The ruins were a death trap. We lost most of them, but we-”
He wanted to say they had brought back an angel, but Cyril’s wings were no longer there. For a moment, he thought he may have dreamed up that the girl had them. Until she winked at him. Cyril didn’t want to show them off. Was it not customary to hide when in a new world? It was actually customary to just hide in general. These three knew what she was, thus she could not hide from them. She could hide from these people though.
“- We’ve gained but a few treasures.” He quickly changed his words.
“Forgive us.” The man bowed. “It has been a time of sorrow indeed. Come in, My Lords; I shall fill you in on the happenings here.”
. . . . . . . . . .
The presence was gone…
Rynnaid, Lord of Southern Skies; Guardian of the South Forest of Angels, had been spooked by the presence that had appeared in the night. It felt like a God, but much more powerful. He was sure the Humans could not feel it, but they were heathens that deserved death.
Yes… Those unholy pests… Defiling the Holy Lands… He thought.
He had sensed that humans had crossed through the lands and he had failed to sense them until they had long passed his territory.
They would pay for their transgressions. He, who has lived many moons, would not allow this to go on challenged. He knew of their fancy stone Keep on the southern end of his land, but he could not touch them without being provocative.
Yes… The rules of Engagement must be always kept… He thought.
All the Guardians knew of these rules. Given to them by the Goddess of Light, long gone from these lands. He had only known their Goddess for but a few moons before she perished at the hands of that unholy Demi-god. That was when he had been a hatchling and he had been given this land.
Yes… They hurt our goddess. Killed her... Taken her… Now is the time for retribution. He gleefully thought.
His forked tongue tasted the air, tasted the death that hung in it as he flew silently in the cloudless sky.
Rule one, monsters should not be attacked, unless for food. Rule two, all sentient beings are to be killed once found. Rule three, to not attack those who leave my land. Rule four, should they transgress you, only then may you strike those on your border if you feel they will do such again…He recited the rules in his head.
Yes. Rule Four was his reason. He knew humans would take this small victory and do such again. He had watched them spread like a disease across the southern lands and watched many forests disappear. He had seen the fall of many nations and the rise of new ones. He knew… They would have to feel his wraith for this transgression. The transgression of crossing his lands.
And he would do so with immense pleasure. Kill the ones who killed his patron. Kill the bugs that greedily eyed the Forests of Angels.
Rynnaid bellowed his war cry. As lord of the southern forest, he could assemble all those who lived in his boundaries. Rynnaid believed himself of those stupid guardians elsewhere. He was smart enough to contact all those who wished to live in his lands. Aside from giving him tribute, they would also fight when he called, or face decimation once whatever crisis had been dealt with.
All of them assembled in the forest below. As a Greater Dragon, he had an amazing memory, far beyond the likes of those lesser races. He remembered all those who have taken his blessing. Only a few groups who thought they could escape his call to arms had not arrived. He could sense them leaving his western border, he would not deal with them now. Doisicrurth was not as smart as him and would eat them all. Griffins were stupid, lesser races, and did not need the respect of beings such as him.
He flew lower, appearing below the cloud cover as the sun reached its zenith. As a Dragon of Flames, made him feel good. He did not like the night as the sunlight was not there to warm his scales. His volcano was further north. Rynnaid was snarled with pleasure as he looked over the burnt fortress off in the distance. He felt powerful now, not that the sun had an effect on him. Using magic made him feel… slow. The sun, however, made him feel great. Now that he was warm, he would bring down divine wrath upon those
The Goblin war-drums beat, the howls of wolves rose, and the march of trolls began. The monsters began to move at his call, careful not to ruin the trees, but Rynnaid wasn’t worried about the thickets and other small plants. All of them had value, but in this conquest, so long as no humans ever came back – he didn’t care.
He flew past the march, over the unnatural field, and flew over the charred keep. He rammed the tower had he weakened earlier. He felt the force like he rammed into a mountain. The feeling lasted for a split second as the tower gave way to him and he flew past. His chest hurt, but it would be tender later. He had to destroy them. Destroy everything.
He circled round as a few more of their pathetic contraptions that rests on the other towers. Wooden poles tipped in iron flew at him and missed. It wasn’t until one grazed the bottom of his tail did, he understand… Those had to burn. His tail had been defiled and they would pay.
He had planned to circle around back to the forest, but he changed his mind. He dived low. The machines went out of view and thus, they could not fire at him. He nearly grazed the ground until he leveled up and smashed into the tower that had attacked him. The tower crumbled into thousands of stones in light of his impressive weight. He could now hear the cries of those pests below as they scattered from his sight.
He did not bother with them, instead, chose to attack the opposite tower.
He felt his throat swell with fire, once he felt the bulge, he unleashed it onto it and everything disappear in a flowing mass of reds and oranges. A wooden pole cut through the fire, whistled through the half a hundred-yard distance, and struck his shoulder. He bellowed in rage and pain as he reeled backward. He stayed on his perch, the remains of the tower he had knocked over, and glared at the tower that crumbled under the might of his flames.
He turned to the next tower as the humans began to turn it towards him. They didn’t live long as he reeled back, sprung forward, and the tower crumbled under his weight as he grabbed one of the two humans with his jaws. He split the man into and throw him towards the field – still alive as – as his entrails unwound in the air. He tasted the man’s insides and it tasted like filth.
He roared once more, a call to arms now that the insufferable human machines had all been destroyed. In the distance, the tree line came to life as hundreds of goblins, wolves, trolls, and kobolds stepped out into the open and began their charge.
The terror the humans felt gave Rynnaid pleasure – their demise would give him more.