A Journey from Light to Darkness
– Father, will you tell me a story?
– Come closer to the fire, son. It draws stories like the dirt draws rain. Which story will it be today? I still have some time until guard duty.
– I want to hear a story about the Darkness! But not like the ones the Scouts bring home, I want one about what’s really hiding out there in the front lines!
The weathered soldier attends to the hearth with his wrinkled and dry hands, assuming his usual position with crossed legs and a tired expression by the time both of them are warmed up by the fire. He looks at his son and begins.
Oh, I have a true story from the Darklands, son, and I know it’s true because I was a part of it. I was there, as a young boy much like yourself.
The father touches his boy’s hair and brings him closer, keeping one arm over his shoulder as he continues.
– I was on guard duty that night, a night like all the others, north of the mountains in the farthest watchtowers. And if my memory still serves me right, her name was Normelia.
Back then she was deemed as the most elegant woman of her time, a quality only preceded by her talents as one of the Harbingers of Spring, their August flower. As she grew she only came to be more renowned and her name would ring across Fyera and the legends about her started to bloom, much like the very earth around Normelia; Trust me when I tell you son, that the Verdant Flame was not to be taken lightly, the title she bears was very literal. She was so peaceful and yet her presence alone filled the camp with confidence, her confidence. A presence that could not be matched neither by ally nor foe.
The Verdant Flame had devoted her very soulspark to the aid of her people and the healing of Fyera. She was unbothered by her renown and lived only for her cause, making no exceptions and ignoring all distractions. No leader among the Draesyr, even the stubborn ones, could bring themselves to disrespect her. When she finally took a stand, the very first strands of white hair had made their appearance, much like the first snow of winter far above us in the highest mountain peaks. I dare not guess what drove her to such actions, but surely if anyone could have achieved something as legendary as what she achieved, every betting man I know would bet it all on Normelia.
-What did she do, father!? Did she manage to slay any fire giant or banish a spirit of the third circle!?
With a smile on his face, the father hugged his son tightly and pondered at his childish enthusiasm and naivety.
Nothing of the sort, son. Quite the contrary actually, she decided that violence would only bring more violence and create an endless circle of bloodshed and war. She chose to believe solely in the light. A light so bright that it could overcome any darkness. All darkness would be washed away by its warm and loving embrace. She gathered what little belongings she cared for and began a long and arduous pilgrimage/journey to the Darklands with the sole duty of bringing both light and life as a herald of Fyera herself; Or as some would say, a martyr. She knew that even if her body fell, she would be one with the Soulmist as one of our guiding stars.
I was on guard duty that night, the very night we saw her approaching our defenses. I just stood there, stunned by my own sight. When she requested passage, a sudden awkwardness overcame the camp. My superiors tried to convince her otherwise, but her will was unwavering. It wasn’t long until all the troops were wishing her all the good in the world and celebrating her passage through those borders with cactus broth and blood. The camp’s morale had been rekindled and our hopes for brighter days reignited. I can still remember the sensation of that gut feeling that the Darklands would not best Normelia, that she would endure them, much like enduring a natural disaster or simply bad weather.
Lumen oracles verified what we saw, and even shared with us what happened to Normelia after she passed through our borders.
She walked through the entirety of the Serpent’s Spine, traversed the warm-watered bogs and finally reached old Oqar’dukk where she discovered a run down cabin that she decided to make her new home. Before even entering her new house, she first used up all the magic she had left after her journey to plant the first seeds that would bring change in the Darklands, carving ancient Draesyr ideograms around the grove for protection. She tended to her new garden until she could barely stand and only when she knew it was ready did she enter the cabin to rest.
It didn’t take long for the minions of darkness to find her. First she was stalked by animals whose spirits and bodies had been enslaved, then her house became surrounded, but most of her would-be predators dared not to approach any further. The few that did, learned a painful lesson when they were burned by the ideograms and the runes she had carved. They resorted to circling their strange prey with curiosity, waiting for an opportune moment to strike. Normelia didn’t know if she was going to make it, with her body exhausted and most of her magic used up she could never withstand an attack by so many beasts. She hoped only that Fyera heard her prayers and that at least a single seed’s root would dig deep enough into this accursed land and finally bring some life back to it. She knew that even if she perished, she would have given the world one more fighting chance.
Suddenly, her predators left an opening in their formation, creating a path towards the entrance of the cabin and a strange figure, barely visible in the darkness, started to approach. Its physique was slender and a little less than 5 feet high, you could barely notice the pale and rotting skin that was still attached to its brittle bones, creating a skeletal visage. His clothes could better be described as rags and covered its entire body, his feet were naked and it held a makeshift rod that reminded her too much of a human spine that it used as a walking aid. What little hair it had left on its head was long and withered, while his facial expression was otherworldly like the very Darklands were staring back at you when you looked straight at its face. Its very existence was gushing with an unsettling aura, and the grayness surrounding it gave off a feeling that it was and at the same time wasn’t. Even the inquisitors found it difficult to describe what exactly they saw, their eyes told the whole truth.
With a sudden move, the shadowy figure waved its right hand and what was supposed to be the door burst right open, breaking into even more pieces. Normelia raised her head and prepared herself for the coming doom. With steeled resolve, she was ready to confront whatever that was coming for her. There was not a single hint of doubt or fear in her eyes. She knew that she was exactly where she was supposed to be, at the forefront of her destiny. A playful emerald flame danced around her, shedding light in the dark cabin and revealing the hideous nature of the figure before her, as if she was challenging its presence. She towered over her opponent, with her feet dug deep in the ground she stood as a beacon of light against the darkness.
Who are you and what is your purpose here?
The voice could easily be mistaken as a quiet whisper, its volume erratically changing in tone and volume while it reached Normelia’s ears as if more than a single creature was speaking, each word ending as a shrieking scream, like sparks of life that are finally snuffed out.
I am the Verdant Flame, a daughter of Fyera and a herald of life itself. Who are you to question my presence here? These were the lands of my ancestors, my people long before you and your ilk came here and it will be as such long after you are gone. You are the one who answers to me. What is your purpose here?
The beasts could barely contain themselves, growling and gnashing at each other. Their saliva dripped on the ground, burning it as their sharp teeth, like daggers made of blackened steel, were eager to cut flesh. The few beasts that had a semblance of sentience were confused by the sight of their master being spoken to with such insolence. What was strange was the figure’s calm and unbothered attitude.
I barely smell fear on you, Fyera’s daughter. Do tell me, did you come all the way here just to have your flame extinguished or did your brethren finally banish you due to your arrogance?
– I love life with all of my being and that is exactly why I do not fear you, why I do not fear death. I’ve led a full life, with few regrets, more than what I had asked for and more than those brave soldiers who resisted you and your rot by sacrificing their own lives so that light can prevail! I came here only to share that same light with you, to share life with you so that you can finally feel its warmth. Then you will learn to appreciate it for what it is. The seeds handed down to me by my ancestors will find their roots here and they will keep away the masters of this darkness and all who serve it. You still have a choice!.
The two powerful entities clashed both mentally and spiritually. Their soulsparks reacting to each other fighting their own strange battle with their flames. The figure was the first to make a move, turning its back to Normelia waving its hand once again while walking out of the cabin.
I like her, she’s off limits for you mutts! That is my decree and you will all heed it. Normelia, her flowers and whatever else she considers “family” are my honored guests. As long as she remains in my domain, no creature of darkness is to harm them.
She could not have expected such a reaction from the figure and found herself dumbfounded. She pondered on what to answer but soon she realized that arrogance was always her worst guide and even if she didn’t fear death, it didn’t mean she should chase after it. After all, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was small when compared to the mysterious figure, a feeling she hadn’t felt in a very long time.
Her predators departed soon after, following their master back to whatever hole they crawled out of. Even if she had lost the first battle, she endured it. We do not approach life as a conflict meant to be resolved, but as something to be endured. Normelia embodied that quality better than most. With newfound vigor, she meditated on this new experience and asked Fyera for guidance on the matter. At no cost would she abandon her duty.
While waiting for her magic to be replenished and her seeds to begin blooming she gathered wood from the ruined cabin to make a resting place next to her grove. After all, she deserved a good night’s sleep after such a hard encounter.
Survival in such an inhospitable place is exceptionally hard, but not impossible, even more so for the sons and daughters of Fyera. Every few sundials, the beasts would visit her home to intimidate and harass her for they couldn’t restrain the thirst for blood that was in their souls. Not a single one of those “mutts” dared to defy their master’s command however, so their presence eventually became a mere annoyance for the Verdant Flame.
The first seeds started blooming, and with them the rest of the dead ground around her home started coming back to life, showing signs of resistance against the corrupting tendrils of the Darklands. The ancient remedies and rituals of the Herbalists were working. Her soulspark was able to feed the plants all the light they needed to thrive.
On a night when the azure star and the full moon danced in the night sky, a humanoid figure approached the herbalist’s home. A deeply wounded Yildrasyr warlord fell on her doorstep, drifting in and out of consciousness. As she tended to his wounds, his pursuers finally caught up to him and demanded that the old crone hand their prey over to them or they would take him themselves. In a moment of ingenuity, Normelia remembered the words of their master and recalled them loudly: Normelia, her flowers and whatever else she considers “family” are my honored guests. As long as she remains in my domain, no creature of darkness is to harm them.
He is my husband and I, his wife. As per your master’s decree, you are to leave this place at once.
The demons hissed and growled at her, throwing insults and curses at the herbalist, however they left empty-handed once again. For the first time in the Darklands, she finally found a reason to smile for.
As time passed, she managed to make an actual home for herself there and the surrounding dark creatures stopped disturbing her. The area around her new house was avoided altogether by the forces of the Darklands. She and the warlord bonded in the time they spent together despite their initial differences. They now both understood what it means to be a Draesyr. Foraging, farming and handiwork was now achievable albeit still not without its difficulties. Darkness leaves wounds not only in the body, but the soul as well. Her Yildrasyr companion was not as impervious to the Darklands as she was… and eventually everything started to fall apart.
The warlord’s muddied and bloodstained soul became too heavy for him to bear. First came the anger, then the violence and when a disease sweeped their field and ruined most of their crops, the warlord became overwhelmed by the cruelty of it all. He was determined to have his way with her, he unleashed all the darkness in him on Normelia, blaming her for everything. She resisted his advances, she knew that a single seed was all she needed to stop him once and for all, but her inherent kindness and desire to help others reigned supreme and she simply restrained him by lashing out with some venomous vines from her garden, forcing the warlord to fall asleep.. She meditated deeply on her next steps and came to a realization that a new life and the light it brings with it should be birthed in the Darklands. An inherent spot of light to drive back the Darkness. To appease the darkness in him she began indulging in his behavior in an attempt to slow down its corruption. She pondered if it was worth fighting for both of them if it was going to be like this, instead of just for herself, but the decision was already set in stone when she found out she was pregnant. Despite the hardships of life in the Darklands, she managed to give birth to a lovely daughter. For the first time in decades, if not more, the cries of a newborn babe were heard across the Darklands, like a rattle in a large boiling cauldron.
Tears of joy overtook Normelia when she held her daughter for the first time, something that hadn’t happened for her since her childhood. She thought that if life could prosper and grow here, then anything is possible. Her mission may have taken unexpected turns at times, but she never lost focus, not when it mattered. Her daughter was her duty given life, flesh and bones and Normelia was prepared for the worst.
It wasn’t very long until the second child came and soon after, her small home and garden had grown to be much larger, able to provide shelter to lost adventurers and scouting parties alike, clean and purified food & water as well as protection from the terrors that hide in the dark. The very earth had begun resonating more and more with the whiteness of her soulspark rather than the bleak blackness of the Darklands and she was not the only one to notice this. Her grove stood as a beacon for the side of Fyera, a beacon that not all is lost.
Normelia knew that in the Darklands, every moment of peace and calm was a bad omen for what was to come. Every time the azure star met with the moon in the night sky, she had nightmares but the 7th time that it happened, it was more than that. It was a premonition. She saw the shadowy figure that once visited her home and exchanged words with her, which granted her the right to live in his domain. She would have woken up after a nightmare like that even if it wasn’t for the voices and the noise coming from her garden.
The garden she had worked so hard for, the garden she had sacrificed so much for. Her companion along with other drunken Draesyr warriors had stained it with their blood after turning it into some sort of makeshift arena for some silly competition amongst men. She reminded them swiftly what happens to those that abandon caution in the Darklands, but they wouldn’t listen. Her grove was being destroyed for no other reason than to satisfy their petty and selfish desires. Ignoring their vulgar insults, she demanded that they leave right away and that she would not extend her protection to them if they were to continue like this. They turned on her and very quickly the makeshift arena turned into a battlefield. The drunken berserkers, lost in rage and their mind clouded by alcohol and shadows murdered her spouse and then beat her, calling her a servant of darkness and a demon witch, among other vulgarities. If that wasn’t enough, they turned their attention to everything she had built for herself there. What couldn’t be broken they burned it, even her cabin. She rushed to save her children, but her assailants did not let her. Instead they forced her to watch the cabin burn down, leaving nothing but ash and death behind.
Her magic was unleashed suddenly and with a coldness to it. The two who were holding her down felt the first blow. The dirt below her started enveloping the area, eroding everything organic that it touched. How she used such dark magic she didn’t know, but the Draesyr scum would pay for their actions. When she was done, her garden was ruined, her home destroyed and everything she held dear in her life just vanished. She choked the last Draesyr with her own hands, his flesh and bones melting onto themselves by her mere touch.
She stood in the ruins of her life and mission, with nothing but the cold bodies of her children in her arms. She finally realized what this feeling was… the feeling that she had all along but couldn’t quite figure out, from her first night in this accursed place. She felt absolute despair. She took on the Darklands and she lost. The ground and the trees and the sky itself shed tears of red around her demolished home. They were mourning with her. A familiar presence approached her and she heard a whisper that she had hoped she wouldn’t have to hear ever again.
– Now, you understand. I admit that seeing you defeated, kneeling in front of the ruins of what once was your life is a more amusing sight than I would have thought!
– Why not just murder me when I first came here.. Why go through all this trouble?
– Why, it is quite obvious my little Normelia, isn’t it? I believed you back then, during our first conversation. You truly had no fear of death, you had nothing to lose. What about now? The hope that I allowed you to have and share with others.. I can’t rid myself of its taste.. I didn’t even have to do anything, just let you have everything you want and keep my toys away. All the rest just happened on its own. True despair can only be felt after you have known true hope.
Really, how does it feel to lose a child, two children? To watch as everything you have ever loved turns to dust just like that. To know that you are now in my absolute mercy?
His words were sharp like daggers and no matter how much she tried to ignore him, she despaired more and more. She could not hold it together anymore. She let out a primal scream and for a long time just lied on the ground, crying trying to make sense of what is happening, scratching her skin with her nails, and before reaching for one of the Draesyr weapons that lied on the floor before her in order to put an end to all this, she finally looked to the figure and asked:
– What kind of abomination are you, demon!? Who does this!?
– Your new master’s name is Quendyth, the Hopedrinker, Dark Saint of Despair. You are hereby banished from my domain, pitiful witch. Go back to your light, to your Draesyr brethren and know that darkness will follow you wherever you go. It is your turn to make them feel the despair that they forced on you! Their turn to be given hope only to have it stolen!
Let all of Fyera know that I, Quendyth, am the one who broke the legendary Verdant Flame and reduced it to this. It won’t be long until Fyera is no more, you should relish in that Normelia. Our time is coming!
The young soldier had already regretted asking for a true story from the Darklands and he soon realized that the shadows surrounding them and their small fire seemed more dangerous and threatening than usual, as if they were moving on their own. The father looked his son in the eyes with understanding as the last embers of the fire were burning hot.
I told you, didn’t I?
I was there when she returned from the Darklands. Even if I was older than when I first met her, I’ve never felt smaller than when she stood before me after her turn in my whole life. She spent the rest of her days spreading despair and death in Fyera just like her Master had heeded her to do. You are wondering why I told you such a tale, eh?
Remember, son. Never underestimate the Darklands and those who serve them, lest your hubris leads you down a similar path.