“In times of pain and sorrow, when the light scorches your eyes, it is only natural to aspire for the darkness of the shadow and relish its embrace.” -Vareth, last knight of Lotheria.
The Valley of a Thousand Streams. It’s a calm and serene place found in the west. Following its name, hundreds, if not thousands of streams flowed from the icy heights from hidden springs deep within the heart of the mountains. A flowing life-giving substance that blooms into lush forests, green pastures, and colorful flowers hidden among tall grasses.
Before the times of war, hundreds of people ranging from kings to farmers would visit this exhibit of nature to see it’s wonders with their own eyes. Another reason for their visit would be for the Starfall that occurs every other year. During this event, a great darkness spreads over the stars for a short period of time. Right after, hundreds of meteors would crisscross and shower above the already majestic valley.
Here there was a large town called Havan, a town filled with merchants, taverns, inns, and other luxurious businesses trying to attract these many tourists. They had an irrigation system often found only in large cities along with many well paved stone streets and stone buildings. Not having any easily accessible farmland nearby, they mainly relied on travelling traders and merchants for their supplies, and often made contracts with skilled hunters from nearby towns and cities for their game.
However, that was before…
Now these lands were barren of almost any life. As war erupted and destroyed the eastern kingdom of Lotheria, merchants were scarce and men from all over the continent were conscripted by their kings and lords to prepare for the much-anticipated bloodshed. As such, this formerly flourishing town crashed down like a bird shot by an arrow.
After its inhabitants joined the newly created village of Lato to find a new way of life, the city was soon quickly overgrown by mosses, vines, and grasses as if it was supplemented by some unknown force. Soon this came to be known as the Ruins of Havan, a fallen glory.
However, the one thing that has never changed was the majesty.
The green meadows were still ever so serene. The streams continued flowing down the mountain. Trees were littered along the meadow as if to form an endless maze. Hundreds of small animals, from the hare sleeping in its burrow to the nocturnal birds singing their birdsong, brought a colorful life into the beautiful scenery. It was almost perfect…
…if not for the strange ripples in the nighttime sky.
The sound of an object ripping past the skies at frightening speeds radiated all over the valley. Like a knife through softened butter, a roaring flame ripped the clouds to shreds while falling towards the old ruins. About the size of a large house, this gargantuan structure was on a collision course with the overgrown town.
Suddenly before it crashed, a flame surrounded the vessel which soon turned into ice, stopping it. Even as the ship was stopped, as if with a will of its own, the ice continued creeping into the cracks of the hull and eventually freezing most of it…
…Most of it, but not everything.
During half of the time I spent asleep, I had been dreaming of the past that could have been mine. I remember dreaming of azure skies and soft clouds. I dreamt of dancing in the middle of the aurora, described by the data of rebel databases. I could have had a lover, a family, maybe some close friends, but we all know that the truth is dark and grim.
The other half was of this truth. Unbreakable chains were tearing me limb from limb as I tried to wake from these despicable nightmares. Families, children, innocents, I watched as I culled the life from them, unable to do anything about it. I remember crimson rivers and bleak graveyards. I remember the empire tearing my brethren, limb from limb to teach us a lesson.
We weren’t free men. We were manufactured. With serial code, color coding, batch number, and everything. I was worth little more than an android servant. I was the byproduct of an experiment, a puppet made only to enforce the ruthless will of the Imperial Family. Nothing more…
…’Nothing more’ my ass!
I will rise and get what’s rightfully mine. For now, however…
Why aren’t I dreaming?
…Nothing but the echoes of my voice. I was in the void, no doubt about it, but I noticed that something was off. I was on an old road, wearing my 2nd generation combat exoskeleton and armed with what’s left in my sidearm along with several knives. I was surrounded by faint lights and broken islands, floating and giving color to the bleak void. All these little islands made up what looked like the remains of a once beautiful ancient city.
Walking around I noticed that some parts of the city were lively with lush green vegetation and well-maintained pavement and brick. On the other hand, other segments looked like they were raided by savages and beasts, judging by the burnt buildings and numerous claw marks that dotted the city ruins. At the center was a castle that was reduced to rubble.
The one thing in common between all of them were the faint images of people, from toddlers to knights and merchants. They all looked to be conducting their day-to-day business whether it be patrolling the streets or promoting their businesses and stalls. Once one would cross the border of their island, they seemed to vanish while others appeared.
There was a strange blood trail across the islands. How was it strange? From the blood emerged dark wolves as if they were coming out of a lake. They came out of the sinister looking trail seeming as if they were starving. Their fur was pitch black, coated with patches of dried blood. Wearing deep yellow eyes adorned with slits rather than pupils, they roamed around the strange place. They looked at many of the specters of people, judging them like wolves normally do their prey. As soon as they spotted me, they began to howl which caused the specters around us to drop everything they were doing and flee in terror. Dozens more arrived and began to surround me until there were around 40 of them.
“No matter where I go, I guess trouble always follows closely behind. I almost feel sorry for them.”
I unlock the safety on my pistol, a modified magnum I got from a rebel corpse from the early days of my deployments. With my other hand I unsheathed a large bowie knife the size of a man’s forearm. Within the oversized knife was a neurotoxin powerful enough to kill an elephant but was ineffective against me. However, as if realizing my intension, these wolves began charging at me. As they charged me, they opened their mouths revealing a dark mist which they launched at me.
Dodging by instinct, I watched as the mist hit several of the wolves. As the mist made contact the wolves began crying out in pain as it started to devour them, leaving nothing but the mist which soon dissipated.
My instincts soon began to take over me as I sliced one wolf across the jugular and shot another in the head. I began to hear it, after all this time. The ballroom music of battle, I had to tread lightly but also with precision. I was dancing between the borders of life and death, of sanity and insanity, of happiness and madness. And dance I did, for what seemed like an eternity.
However, I soon notice that most of the wolves were already dead. The last of them were grouped together in a corner, wounded and trembling in fear. They knew I wasn’t going to back down now. Looking at myself, I then notice a large amount of blood staining me a dark crimson color. Around me lay the rest of the wolves, all dead and ripped to shreds by either bullet or knife. How I missed this.
How long has it been, death, my dear old friend.
‘So, you intend to become a puppet of rage huh? Another mindless avatar of destruction.’ Suddenly I hear a voice say in my head as a burning pain assaults the base of my neck.
I remember now. The rage, the despair, the emptiness, the coldness, the endless abyss…I am different now.
“…no more.” I whisper as I sheathe my weapons.
The wounded wolves, which seemed bewildered at my action took the first chance to escape. With determination, I tell myself:
“This madness, it shall end now. Now I am a free man, no longer slave to the empire.”
All the sudden, the world around me begins to warp and distort and I soon find myself within the ruins of the castle. Looking in front of me I find the decayed corpse of a knight within a terrifying set of black armor impaled by several black spears. Instead of eyes, it had yellow flames that began to glow. A voice that sounded like rotted instruments, then began to speak in my head.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for someone like you to come here.”
It’s eyes then took on a blue hue as it began leaning towards me.
“Mind giving up a part of your flesh?”