Roland’s voice was nearly a whisper, his mouth a halfhearted smile. “The mark you bear is one of demonic origin. It is the Sigil Immortalitas.” He held his daughter’s hand as his face grew more wistful. “Tyrannus’s magic. Aveline, how did you get this?”
“Before he died, before we were swallowed by the dark, Aurleon bestowed it upon me.” Roland’s harried expression worried Aveline. She had seen it only a handful of times before. The hope of his brilliant aura seemed to dim from moment to moment. The withered soldiers drew ever closer, pacified by the red light of the sigil. ”In those last moments, he seemed at peace. Like he had done some good. The truth, father. Please.”
“The Sigil Immortalitas grants the bearer corporeal immortality. As long as you carry it, you cannot be killed by physical injury. But its power comes at a price.” For the first time in their conversation, Roland turned away. A note of trepidation had crept into his voice. He gestured toward the gloom around them as he continued. “This ‘soul trap,’ as I call it – this void was created by Tyrannus. Linked to the obsidian crystals in which you were imprisoned, those here are neither alive nor dead. While their bodies rot in Valerius, their souls suffer here alone in the dark, slowly drained of the spiritual essence on which the primordial demon sustains itself.”
Aveline could barely contain her rage. “I suspected, but hoped to the gods it weren’t true. The people of Monticolus, my comrades… Their noble lives are but food for the fiend?” The Knight clenched her fists so tight her bones were on the verge of breaking. Around her, the shambling remains of those to whom she’d pledged glorious victory moaned incoherently. They had been denied the dignity of death. Melancholy waves of fury washed over Aveline. In that moment she felt more powerless than ever before.
“Aveline, it gets worse. This is hard for me to say...” Roland turned back toward his daughter, but hesitated. “The sigil you bear is linked to the primordial demon. So long as Tyrannus exists in Valerius, you are immortal.” As the Great Knight watched his words take hold, the weary spark of understanding caught fire and bloomed in his daughter’s eyes. “The truth is that you, too, are sustained by those trapped here.”
The Knight Aveline froze as if stabbed. Her rage vanished suddenly, like a match blown out by the wind. The void warped around her, the darkness beyond the dim lights at once overwhelmingly vast and claustrophobic. She collapsed to her knees, her breath caught in her throat. Silence filled the space between father and daughter.
Roland longed for a means to comfort her, but there were no words to assuage the cruelty of fate. He knew Aveline would need to make peace with this herself. He had tremendous faith in her resilience, but this...
Eyes closed, Aveline spoke. “As I watched them disappear one by one, I wondered ‘Why do I persist?’ Now I have my answer.” The Knight was quiet again, and thought to herself for a long time.
Many times, she had felt the weight of command, of responsibility, but this revelation felt larger, more overwhelming, than even the quest to stop Ixiel. The souls of those who perished in this place demanded she act. When Aveline opened her eyes, she stood, and a look of grim determination had transformed her countenance. “Roland, you came here of your own accord. How do I free myself from this prison?”
“You must know, Aveline… Outside of this place things have changed. Time holds no sway over the void. With Valerius in disarray and your army eliminated, Ixiel assumed control of the Kingdom at the demon’s behest. War rages. Ruthless, violent creatures stalk every domain, preying on the people. Torment beyond reckoning.” Roland grasped his daughter’s shoulders. “Decades have passed. I fear it may be too late to turn the tide.”
For the first time, Aveline saw despair in her father’s eyes. And as his aura continued to dim, the truth of Roland’s appearance was revealed. To her it had been little more than a year since last they’d met, but beneath the light, Roland was old, more battered and venerable than she remembered. The lines around his mouth, always before lifted with a sardonic grin, fell downward in a stony grimace.
“Move with purpose. Steel your heart. Guard against injustice. These are the tenets you taught me.” The young Knight touched her father’s hand. His grip softened as she stepped away, her posture dignified, her eyes flashing with serious purpose. “Tyrannus must be vanquished. Ixiel must pay for what he’s done. The people must be protected. This sigil may be a curse, but if hardship awaits, I could ask for no better a blessing.”
Aveline replaced her gauntlet and tossed her tattered blue cloak behind her shoulder. She clutched Durendal, the gleaming blade, and awaited the Great Knight’s instruction. “Hope is borne of sorrow,’ you said. Tell me, father. What hope did you find in the west?”