Chapter 2

Out of Darkness, Part 1

The Knight Aveline sat alone in the void. A vast plane of darkness stretched out endlessly on every side. Within that darkness, Aveline could hear the cries and lamentations of all those soldiers imprisoned within the black stones of Ixiel.

They had failed. She had failed. And together they had been exiled to a listless fate, cast into the gloom to waste away. From this prison, there appeared to be no escape.

Whatever hope Aurleon had bid the Knight in his final moments, it had been in vain. To think of the King and his death racked Aveline with guilt. She wanted to say something to those who suffered in the dark with her, but bold words would not come. She thought of her pledge to the army, before their assault on Ixiel’s stronghold. Blind arrogance had doomed them all and it seemed that the Archwizard was right. The Azure Knight was not worthy of legend. Despondent and silent, she closed her eyes and pulled her legs to her chest. The magic sword, Durendal, lay abandoned beside her.

After a time, Aveline felt a cold, burning sensation on the back of her left hand. She opened her eyes, and to her surprise, was able to see a soft glow emanating from beneath her gauntlet. She removed the armor, then her glove, and gasped. There, emblazoned on her skin, was the same sigil the once immortal King Aurleon had brandished on his hand. The demonic symbol glowed brightly in the darkness.

For those who held onto their sanity, Aveline became a beacon, a keeper of the light. Her sigil lit the darkness and restored some small measure of hope. Like moths, the weary soldiers gathered around and pressed together in the dark. When one would succumb to depression and leave the circle to sit alone, others would move in close, all to find a way to the light. They swapped stories of times gone by, of those who had departed. Despite her guilt, she resolved to lead them for as long as she could. She hoped her fortitude would give them strength.

“Don’t be afraid,” she said. The demonic brand pulsed red, illuminating the faces of those nearest to her. She struggled to find the words of encouragement, but again she came up short. Optimism seemed disingenuous in the oppressive vastness of the void. The best she could offer was a respite from fear.

But the soldiers’ spirits were broken. Whatever magic made this prison, it altered the natural flow of things and suspended the reign of time. Men need not eat, but wasted away all the same. Some lost their sanity and disappeared raving into the dark, while many others simply expired, waiting for their time to run out. All semblance of hope having fled, their bodies withered. Only Aveline remained young and strong, as fixed a pillar of outward fortitude as she had been when first confined.

An immeasurable stretch of time passed. The number of survivors began to dwindle and with their sanity, the bonds of fellowship slowly evaporated. Their fleeting victory against the shadow beast of Aurleon faded in their memory. None called the man “King.” All that remained was the bitter disappointment of defeat and wild speculation over the fate of Valerius, the land they’d loved. With the combined forces of Valerius defeated, what would become of the people? Who would oppose Ixiel and his foul scheme? The soldiers cursed themselves, cursed Ixiel, cursed the gods and even sometimes cursed the Knight Aveline.

Soon, only a handful of soldiers remained. They had been the most stalwart in life, among the Knight’s most trusted and reliable warriors. A solemn calm had descended on them all as they waited to disappear. Aveline wondered what would become of her once the last had withered away and she was left alone.

Out of the darkness, an incandescent figure bathed in white light appeared, only steps away from Aveline. Its armor resembled her own, but the man was unarmed. The tall man exuded confidence and were it not for the harsh light, his presence may have been reassuring. Despite their courage, the remaining soldiers were frightened and withdrew, their mouths agape. Having seen abominable horrors, they expected the worst.

The Knight Aveline stood and replaced her gauntlet. For the first time in a very long time, she smiled.

“Hello, father.”