The tale of
Rise of Darkness
Darkness consumed his vision. It was as if he was dreaming, slipping away into a transcendent realm filed with pulsating light of varying colour.
The cave that encompassed him was large, hollow save for a bridge that reached out into the indefinite distance, and magnificent. It seemed to be made of a purple mineral or stone, as the walls of it were jagged and raw, and emanated a vibrant and intense plethora of light. The light captivated him. He was drawn to its vibrancy, its rich colour, the way it rippled as if living. He had never seen anything like it before. He wanted to reach out and touch it, caress it, do anything to become closer to the fluid-like nature of the pulsating light. And then he saw it, what lay beneath the bridge.
Horrific fire and dark light erupted from deep within the chasm, spiraling malevolently upwards as if at the command of the embodiment of evil. Where it hit the bridge, it engulfed it in a sheath of flame and wrath, eerie green light forcing its way into his eyes. Tortured screams filled his head, forcing him to kneel in submission to the dark power. Yet, somehow, his mind absolved the darkness. Straining his neck, he witnessed at the zenith of the cavern a further eruption of light, however, this light was bright, as bright as a thousand burning suns, and streamed forth to do combat with the dark light of the Under-realm. A sphere of intense light and energy materialized before him, and a shockwave reverberated throughout the cavern. He had only one option.
Setting out across the bridge, he became aware of a red orb materialising before him. It seemed to draw energy from the sphere, consuming particles in the air to feed the fires of its creation. Despite its ominous appearance and colour, he approached it without even a slight consideration of potential danger.
He followed the orb tentatively towards the mass of power, still in awe of his surroundings. The light, still pulsating, took on a bluer colour, and he thought he could smell a sweet, honey like, fragrance in the air. Idyllic beauty and fairy-tale sights and aromas bombarded his senses in a wave of pleasure, and he was taken into its comforting hold.
At the end of the bridge, which he seemed to have crossed in no time at all, he came to a door. It was tall, set in a dark stone laced with an intricate golden thread, and gave off an oppressive, immanent sensation. He figured he must have entered the sphere, and looking at his body, which was wreathed in flame and light, he knew that he had indeed done so. The orb hovered patiently in front of the door, inviting him closer.
In the back of his mind, something told him to open the door. He could not be certain if this was his own thoughts, or the voice of some being in the cave, or even the orb, but regardless of who it came from, he reached out and twisted the handle of the door. It clicked gently in his hands, and the door swung open on oiled hinges, revealing what he had always expected. But before he went through it, he paused and looked once more at the cavern and the kaleidoscopic display of light versus dark that surrounded him. The flames and light that had engulfed him dissipated, or rather, melted into his being, combining with him. He allowed himself a small smirk of satisfaction and took a step forward.
Then, a flash of searing white light pummeled his senses, and he was stunned. A burning pain penetrated his skull, shutting out his thoughts. Without so much as a word, or brief hesitation, he passed through the door and was brought into the world.
Wulfbän awoke with a jolt of pain ringing through his head.
Fighting through the haze of his injury, the light cleared and he gazed upon his surroundings. He was in a forest or wood, its size he could not determine. As consciousness fully flowed back into him, he remembered that he was in the Wood of Tún, near to his home village.
“What… the…fuck just happened?” Wulfbän groaned as he tried to stand. Once on his feet, he breathed in deeply, drinking in the mid-morning air, fresh with the scent of spring. His axe lay on the ground; his shield had been cloven in two. Picking up the axe, he trudged on towards his home town, trying to remember what had happened to him.
Despite his pleasant surroundings, Wulfbän could not help feeling pessimistic. He barely remembered what had happened. He could only guess that something had attacked him and knocked him out. More disturbing still, was that all his possessions, apart from his shield, had been spared. His axe, knives, water pouch, rations pouch and chainmail suit were all still on him, and unscathed.
Pushing these thoughts out of his mind with a swig of water from his flask, he trudged on through the wood in a quick stride. The sun was just about setting, and warm, red light flooded trough the canopy of foliage. Following the old dirt road, Wulfbän walked on through, eager to get home. Taking another draught from his water flask, he pressed on with more haste.
With footsteps muffled by a thick layer of soil and wild grass, the orchestras of the forest rang loud and clear for Wulfbän to hear. The chirps of swallows, the hoot of the wood-pigeon, the rippling of a stream, all stirred with the whistle of the wind, conjoined to ease the traveler’s mind. Pausing at the stream, Wulfbän sat a moment on the bank, gazing into the horizon. Opening his ration pouch, he found inside some dried meat and bread, and a few tea leaves. He quickly stuffed food into his mouth and ate noisily; such was his hunger. Using some dried reeds laying on the river bank, Wulfbän quickly had a fire going. Pouring the tea leaves into his water flask and leaving it to boil, Wulfbän sat a moment on the bank, thankful he was still alive.
Through the ripples of the stream, he admired his reflection. He had a chiseled, rough face that looked more like it had been hewn from stone rather than made in a mother’s womb. His hair was long and straggly, a deep brown in colour, as were his eyes. An untrimmed beard adorned his chin and neck until it fell into a single braid that rested against his chest. Over his tunic, he wore a chainmail shirt, and a leather cuirass inlaid with silver. His axe was a single headed weapon of utmost cruelty and darkness, imposing fear and submission amongst all. He was a vision of brute force, mannishness and strength, yet his heart was not an icy, desolate wasteland. He was a passionate man, one who stood for justice and truth. However, he was unaware of his destiny, and so lived a rather dull life, serving as a mercenary for the King of Trúdj. He tore his gaze away from the stream to tie his shaggy mane into a single braid, and scanned his surroundings.
There, in the distance, could he see the mountain of Sreazón, tallest peak of the realm. Its lofty height soared into the sky, bursting through the clouds to reach the sun. It was said in tales of Old (ones that Wulfbän believed in) , that a mighty dragon had once inhabited the mountain, ruling the land as a deity of harvest and craftsmanship, maintaining a peace the world has not seen since the coming of-
A splash broke Wulfbän from his thoughts. An otter had dived into the stream beside him, chasing a dart of salmon through the waters before dragging its flapping carcass to the other side to feast upon. The last of the light faded into darkness as the sun slipped below the edge of the world, and with the disappearance of the sun came a cold wind. Irritated, Wulfbän wrapped his cloak around him tighter, stood up from his perch on the bank of the stream and hurried on.
Following the stream towards its source, Wulfbän battled through the biting wind, wrapping his cloak tight around him to defend himself from the wrath of the frosty air, blowing in from the East. Leaves broke free of their bonds, escaping the clutches of the hand like branches, and fluttered before Wulfbän’s chiseled face. His long mane was soon littered with them, yet he cared not. He had always shown an admiration for nature, and being one who walked down the Olden Pathway, it was expected of him. He gazed up at the moon, a slither against the carpet of darkness, and whispered softly to himself “Íl afja tré Jallari, tré Jallari da Altári, gjla heffjun Íl hram, gjila heffjun Íl sjaff…” He paused for a moment to reflect upon his prayer, and then continued onwards through the night.
As his recollection of what happened prior to his attack slowly came back to him, Wulfbän soon realized what his being in the forest was for. He recalled how the King of his town had sent him to the village of Tún, a farming village under the Kingdom of Trúdj, Wulfbän’s hometown. He was tasked with scouting the region after a report of Sorcery had reached the King’s ear. Being a kingdom worshipping the One, sorcery was seen as a condemnable offence, and thus, any report of it being practiced had to be acted upon swiftly. Wulfbän had often wondered whether the King was afraid of sorcery, and didn’t really understand what it was capable of. But he had not time nor place to address these thoughts to his superior. He had a position of trust within the King’s stronghold, a bond he did not want to severe so hastily, given the advantages it brought with it.
‘Oh yes, there were many advantages,’ he thought to himself, ‘weaponry, provisions, comfortable positions, and most of all… seeing Zoe.’ Zoe, the king’s daughter, was the object of his desire, the manifestation of his one true love. Beautiful, graceful and eloquent, she was coveted by many, but her affection was directed only at this shaggy haired, bearded warrior. Quite what she saw in him was a mystery beyond mortal comprehension, but then again, Wulfbän reflected, the very essence of love is something incomprehensible. He was glad he was able to fathom it enough to understand the privileges of being held in its bosom. And that’s not the only bosom he had been held in…
Stars ruptured the sky above his head, beating back the darkness. Gazing towards the Firmament, he instantly bore witness to the brightest star, Elfjaré, the light of the North. Knowing that his hometown lay in this direction, he set of, guided by the light of the celestial orb.
The forest was quiet now, tranquil and relaxing. Wulfbän’s pace slowed a little to allow him time to absorb his surroundings. It was dark in the forest, yet he saw as clear as he did in day.
Somewhere in the distance, a screech perforated the still quiet, its sinister sound freezing Wulfbän where he stood. Eyes wide and fixated, his earlier thoughts of Zoe’s ample bosom were disintegrated by the dim lights that shone that through the trees. Shadows moved in the night, and for the first time in his life, Wulfbän was petrified.
Crouching low behind the shrubbery, his breath became rasp and quick. He observed a dark procession advancing through the forest with some haste, heading northwards. Spirits, he concluded, spirits of the forest had awoken and were streaming through the forest in a harrowing display of pure fear. They seemed to be as if at the very whips of their transcendental masters, for a purpose Wulfbän could only conclude as being some strange and cerebral ritual. Terrible screeches rang out again, penetrating deep into Wulfbän’s skull and tainting his mind with dark thoughts. Images of death, shadowy figures and evil voices coursed through his head, spiraling like a tempest. He summoned enough mental will to tear a length of cloth from his tunic, and stuffed it into his ears to drown out the horrendous screaming.
He rose from his hiding place and gripped his axe tightly, thankful that it was there. Running through the forest with hair billowing around him, Wulfbän gave chase to the spirits. He bellowed loudly as he ran; ancient war cries from times long gone. Still the spirits streamed forwards, unreceptive to his cries. The head of the forest was nearing; soon his hometown would dominate the horizon, its mere presence absolving these spirits of darkness. Suddenly it appeared, rising into view before the dark host. Wulfbän saw the spires and buildings of his town… and was once more held to the earth by an icy claw.
His hometown burned.