Darkness, the canvas of the universe. Light, the brushstroke of creation. Each mark setting life into motion. Each line connecting us to our history. And it is through these histories, whether legend or myth, remembered, rewritten, that we journey forward, hoping to free ourselves from the past. Light is the path we paint through the Shadow.
It was Prism who taught me that, among many a scripture and saga with which she graced this humble bard. Yes, that same Prism who turned to her books when the horizon turned to Shadow, who searched the lore of distant millennia for a glimpse of salvation. The tenacious Prism who studied day and night, a warrior of words no less brave, no less stalwart, than the knights fighting in Solana’s fields.
Having pushed herself to exhaustion, she laid her head upon the pages of a most particular book: the Legends of the Flow. As her eyes closed, her mind opened to a spectrum beyond the imaginings of even I, the most inspirited of Aria’s poets. Upon gossamer wings, she soared through a shimmering stratosphere. Another world stretched out below her like a vast, stained-glass window.
In that strange realm, she saw things most wondrous and terrible. Rivers of sapphire snaking through forests of emerald. Warm seas of ruby radiating against shoreline palaces of silver and gold. Beings that streaked across the landscape like shooting stars in the night sky. A molten landscape shifting and seething in a fever of metamorphic fury, dreamed into existence by a slumbering Aesir of incandescent rage. A desolate tract of rot and ruin, and a monstrous giant, fleshed with a thousand corpses, that tore open the veil between íArathael and Aria.
Alas, for the latter, this flawed narrator must admit some modicum of culpability. Yes, it was I, Yorick, who welcomed that execrable Embra to our fair doorstep. In my momentary ignorance, my fleeting vanity, I knew not the power of my own words.
I had cracked it, you see, the code of those ancient Yvorian texts I had so meticulously inscribed into my notebook. With promises most emphatic, I led the wisest man I know, Oldhim, Grandfather of Eternity, to meet the venerable and worldly Maela, sages of Everfest. As fortune would have it, Bravo had also chosen that moment to seek counsel with the Maela. I am not ashamed to admit that I struggled to still my beating heart. To have such a showman amongst my already esteemed audience was, frankly, a jewel in this jester king’s tawdry crown.
With all eyes upon my person, all ears attuned, I opened my trusty notebook and spoke those fateful words. Well, I barely made it through the first sentence. The eldest of the Maela, a white-haired matriarch with a lone, wild eye, rose with such a start that I thought her to be having an attack of the heart. Her fearful pallor certainly spoke of heartfelt conniptions.
“For Ollin’s sake, shut up!”
If only she’d been a tad quicker off the mark. For upon uttering the last word, something plucked our marquee from existence. Well, not entirely. As the astute Prism explained to me later, we were like the batons of a juggler, hovering on the brink of actuality. Neither flying nor falling, neither awake in Rathe nor dreaming in íArathael.
And we were not alone.
A cadaverous colossus placed its weeping foot in the center of our circle. The rest of the towering mort soon followed, accompanied by the most wretched stench it has been this storyteller’s misfortune to inhale. Still do I cough and splutter upon a chilly morning as my poor lungs struggle to expunge that lingering fug.
It seems nothing can surprise Oldhim anymore. While the rest of us reeled, he lumbered into battle, his great shield raised to protect us from the ancient foe. Yet with disbelieving eyes, we saw our staunch Guardian get swept aside, his shield knocked from his grasp; his stolid frame tossed into the air like a child’s figurine.
My bowels turned to water in that frightful moment for surely I was about to perish. So many tales left untold, so many songs unsung; my life cut short by my own misguided ambition.
Thank fate for Bravo!
Summoning the tectonic forces of the firmament, the Star of the Show smote the ground with his hammer. Such was the shuddering of the earth that it brought the giant to its knees.
Yet as he raised Anothos to clout the monster, another vision dazzled us all. Such splendor! Such beauty! Even the ancient Embra seemed momentarily awestruck.
“Stay that mighty hammer of yours,” warned the winged paragon as she alighted beside Bravo. “I will aid in banishing this beast whence it came.”
“Whence?” Bravo laughed, covering his surprise well. “You’re not from around here, are you?”
“Prism of Solana. Please, allow me to help.”
“Bravo of Aria, and you’re most welcome.”
Together they fought the Embra in that place in between. Prism blinded it with beams of holy light while Bravo bound it with ice and struck it with lightning. Step by retreating step, they drove the monster backward. With rays of hope and enlightenment, Prism empowered the hammer stroke that sent the primordial pest back into the embrace of íArathael. Then, with soulful auras, she mended the rift behind it.
As one, the Maela rose to greet this Prism of Solana, and to congratulate our courageous Bravo. Oldhim, having recovered somewhat from his brutal defeat, bowed his thanks to this devastating duo.
When One Eye asked the Solanian how she had found her way to Aria, Prism warned of the waning barrier between that which was and that which might be; so weakened now that a mere dream might become a deed. She told of Solana’s plight, of a civilization under siege by the forces of Shadow. With illusions conjured from her memories, she showed these adventurers the demonic hordes and the horrors they had wrought. With open hands, she expressed her desire to find friends and allies -- those who would stand with Solana against the rising darkness.
Of course, then dear Prism had to mention the Embra she had seen escape into Aria. The Embra she had pursued hoping to help those it would surely endanger. When the glowering One Eye pointed to the inscription in my notebook like it was evidence in a trial, Prism’s lovely eyes widened with fascination. For she recognized those potent texts and the primeval secrets they surely contained. She held the Maela rapt with interest! Even from what little she read, her conclusions were startling.
“There is so much more I could decipher,” spoke Prism, “if only I could study this tome within the Library of Illumination.”
In a meeting of minds that would entwine the destinies of Aria and Solana, Prism and the Maela formed a pact. It would be a union not simply of knowledge, but of courage and strength. For the sages and the scholar understood, in that most pivotal of moments, that to understand Rathe’s future, they must first protect it.
One Eye rose to her feet to address Grandfather Oldhim, Bravo Star of the Show, and I, your humble narrator.
“Through timeless shroud the Embra tore,
Blackening mountains, bloodying our shores,
The vales echoed with souls in pain,
Wailing for suffering, weeping for the slain,
Until desperate times called desperate folk,
To cast out fear, to throw off the yolk,
With hammer and shield, the Guardians rose,
Rallied by the cries of Aria’s woes,
These Ollin brave, these Ollin true,
Terrors they felled, nightmares they slew,
Until Aria awoke to the break of a dawn,
In a realm made free, a land reborn.”
“I can’t speak for Aria,” answered Bravo, “but this is the calling I’ve been waiting for. From that day in the Fractal Scar, when I absorbed the Flow, I have felt the strife in this world. I have yearned to help Rathe however I can.” He knelt before Prism and offered Anothos up with outstretched arms. “I will aid Solana in its time of need, just as I know Solana will aid us in ours.”
“When the terrors return, so must the Ollin,” agreed Oldhim. “A new Ollin for a
new age.” He rested a gnarled hand on Bravo’s shoulder. “With a new champion
to lead us.”
All eyes turned to me, and of course I vowed my allegiance to Bravo and the Ollin reborn. Considering my folly, the summoning of an Embra that might have slain us all, I had rather a lot of making up to do.
I entrusted my notebook to Prism, and in the days that followed, continued to
play my part, spreading the call of the Ollin from forest to vale, from mountaintop to cellar. Before long, a host had gathered at Everfest, hundreds of Aria’s finest fighters, ready to march to Solana’s aid.
The Maela had long ago come to some spiritual agreement with the Korshem -- that great and inexplicable tree that has ever welcomed the wayward in its ancient embrace. Among roots like mountain ridges, they laid their runes and spoke in languages forgotten by most. The great tree answered with a creaking of boughs, a whisper of leaves, and parted the Flow before us. We, the Ollin, ventured forth, breaching our own fair borders for the first time in an age.
The journey was as wondrous as it was wearisome, for none among us had witnessed a Rathe that was not Aria. Yet we had little time for gamboling and gawping. Prism set us at a cracking pace, and not one of us complained, for all could feel the nipping of dire urgency at our heels.
With anticipation rising to a fever pitch, it was almost a relief when, after many days of breakneck travel, Prism led us out on to a raised plateau. Where pastures and villages had bathed in the sun, only ravaged earth and scorched skeletons remained, languishing beneath a smoke-choked sky. Below us, the tides of Light and Shadow smashed against each other. The Hand of Sol, resplendent in shining armor, held a fortified town against a swarm of the Demonastery’s monstrosities.
While I literally quivered in my boots, Bravo took in the scene with a cool eye. Bravo called his orders, his showman’s voice cutting through the din of battle. He arrayed Lexi and her wayfarers, and any able to wield arcane forces from afar, along the rugged edge of the plateau. He gathered his shield-bearing Guardians into a V-shaped vanguard and asked Briar and her Rosetta to follow close behind the armored ranks, ready to leap into the fray and unleash a runic assault when the time came. Finally he looked to Prism as she rose above our fighters upon gleaming wings.
“Any last words of encouragement?” he asked.
She shook her head, fair locks shining like the sun through storm clouds. “On this day, my brave friends, actions shall speak louder than any ode or song.”
Bravo nodded his agreement and raised Anothos. With a roar of battle-ready bravado, he charged down the slope, the new Ollin thundering behind him. Naturally, I remained upon the ridge with Lexi and her wayfarers. A bard’s true fight is with the page, after all.
Arrows and spells streaked over the Ollin vanguard, reaping swathes of death through the close-packed demons. Our fighters plowed into the enemy’s flank. Shields held the slavering foe at bay while hammers smashed them to a pulp. Between timed gaps in the shield wall, Runeblades darted forth to cut the monsters to ribbons.
Some of us fell. Rough-hewn axes cleaved through our guardians. Jagged pikes skewered our runeblades. Claws tore our warriors apart. Yet Bravo led his resolute Ollin on, right into the foul heart of the horde. With earth, ice and lighting, Bravo struck down the Demonastery’s towering lieutenant. The horde howled in collective agony and broke before the Ollin’s unrelenting advance.
In the moment of respite that followed, the Hand of Sol pressed forward, cutting down monsters as they tried to flee. As the last creatures fell, three battle-worn figures emerged from the ranks of knights and crossed the carnage of battle to greet their unexpected allies. It was later that I found the names of these doughty heroes. Dorinthea Ironsong, Ser Boltyn, Breaker of Dawn and Shiyana, Diamond Gemini.
Dorinthea clasped hands with Bravo, Oldhim, and Briar -- a warm meeting of comrades in arms, already bonded in the forge of war. In a similar fashion, Boltyn greeted me, Lexi, and her rangers once we had descended from the ridge. With outstretched wings, Prism settled in front of Shiyana.
“You surprise me,” offered Shiyana with a sparkling smile that made my heart pound. “You are remarkably good at making friends... for a librarian.”
Prism laughed, Shiyana’s humor a welcome relief to the horrors of battle. “What good are stories if they cannot bring people together?”
I could not agree more.
Shiyana looked at the enemy in the distance, their shattered formation regrouping around a fresh lieutenant. “Then let us see how this story ends.”
And so, side by side, the heroes stood, ready to face the darkness to come, painting a future in the visceral hues of courage and blood. They charged as one, a legion of pure purpose, to snatch victory from the jaws of shadowed defeat. They fought for Solana. They fought for Aria. They fought for a world now balanced on a knife edge between the Dusk and the Dawn.
Written by Edwin McRae and Rachel Rees.
Directed by Robbie Wen, Sam Yang. Illus. by Jessketchin