The coast was clear. No shadow creatures roaming about for now. As they hurried their way out of the neighborhood, Bruno took one last look before finally running off. I hope you’re alright, Mom. I hope you’re alright, Tara.
They used only the image of the castle at the base of a lone peak against the horizon as their guide. That peak – the ancient site of the battle between the Kudzu and the hero. It was once referred to as Mt. Oblivion, but after the crusades that cleansed the mountain of darkness, the name long since changed to the much less ominous Hallowed Peak. A regal, fitting location for the largest stronghold in Allerstad.
The sky grew darker and darker as they reached the castle. The clouds drew over the castle like a lumbering beast engulfing what little light remained. And more shadow creatures were near. Like insects from a hive, they grew in number, swarming the land as they emerged from the ground.
Finally, the two of them reached a great bridge stretching over a moat that encircled the front of a castle. On the other side rose a portcullis with a single guard standing atop a tower wall. Behind the wall, the castle itself. Built of many spires as well as bastions carved out from the mountain that stretched upwards lined with catapults and ballistas. There was a good reason why the shadow creatures hadn’t taken the castle yet. It was the safest place in all Allerstad.
“Let us in! Let us in!” Bruno shouted.
The guard was initially hesitant, afraid that more monsters would seep in. But he obliged. The portcullis raised up, and the duo rushed past before the portcullis slammed behind them. From the courtyard, they entered a great door that led straight to the throne room, a spacious hall bigger than several of the dwellings back in the village.
It was not as majestic as they expected. The banners were torn down to create makeshift blankets for the refugees that had escaped into the castle. The walls were cracked and the floor dirty with tiny chunks of rubble. A young man, not at all a child, who was clearly more groomed and well dressed than everyone else waited at the throne.
“Your Majesty!” Bruno called out.
“I am not his Majesty,” the man on the throne said. “He’s gone outside the walls to join his fellow companions against this darkness that has conquered our lands, and I, Sage Zachariah, am acting in his stead.”
Bruno bowed to show his respect, and Eveline curtsied. “My name is Bruno, and my sister was kidnapped by a strange robed figure. And my mother…well…” the boy paused. It was very difficult to speak as worry clouded his mind. “She’s still in the village surrounded by shadow creatures…”
“And I am the Prodigy of Light, Eveline.” the girl added. “I’ve been travelling the land seeking the whereabouts of the shadow creatures. The mages at the Celestial Tower sent me here.”
“You’ve certainly found what you’re looking for, Miss Prodigy of Light,” Zachariah explained. “Fairy Mistress Nerida went mysteriously ill, and the walls of light that once protected Allerstad for centuries have fallen. Thus, the shadow creatures slipped in. Our own mages have tried to heal her for some time, but it’s some kind of dark spell that they don’t know how to break.”
“May I take a look for myself?” Eveline asked. The Sage nodded.and lead both Bruno and the girl down a set of stairs. Before them lay a small, dim chamber with grass growing on the floor with a small pond in the middle. A tiny creature shivered on small lily pad in the pond. It had a body like a child, yet it was only a few inches tall, and it had purple crystalline wings. A fairy, and one of the last ones left in the world.
“She’s been ill since last night,” Zachariah said. “I fear that it’s some kind of dark power. But I trust that the most gifted mage in all Sero Silva can help us.”
Eveline crouched down and leaned forward, reaching out her hand towards the fairy. Light glowed from her fingertips – she was reading the fairy’s aura, concentrating as she sifted through. But suddenly without warning, thousands of images flashed through Eveline’s head all at once like some sort of invasive creature. It was enough to force Eveline back away from the fairy.
“What’s wrong?” Bruno asked noticing Eveline’s terrified expression. For a few moments, she did not answer.
“I saw the affliction. It’s the work of a dark art known only to an ancient tribe my people warred with in a time of legend. The Necromancers of the East. They’ve returned.”
“Necromancers?!” Bruno exclaimed. He recognized the term from the stories his mother told him about the great hero Aller who according to legend, battled one of these Necromancers. “Warlocks that can command armies of undead?! Were they the ones that took my sister?!” Eveline did not respond immediately horrified at that name. Then, she took a moment to collect herself.
“I see now,” Zachariah lowered his head slightly. “We cannot do this alone. If we are to save our nation, we need to revive an alliance forged between the kingdoms of old. There are many things to do if we are to stop this darkness from engulfing the land once more, but we’ll start off simple. Miss Prodigy of Light, I need you to request aid from the Archmage at Celestial Tower.”
“I want to join the Guardians!” Bruno took a firm stance, clenching his fists. “I’m going to save my sister from those Necromancers.”
Zachariah paused for a moment. “I can’t make you one with no formal training,” Zachariah replied. “There’s not enough time.”
“Consider yourself a freelancer, servant of the people of Allerstad. Your mission right now is to ensure Eveline safely reaches the Celestial Tower.”
It was not quite what he was expecting, but he accepted. Bruno bowed, and Eveline curtsied. “Yes, wise Sage. I will accompany Eveline, the Prodigy of Light, to the Celestial Tower.”
“That wooden sword won’t get you far! Seek out the armory and grab a weapon of your choice!” Zachariah paused. “Castle Allerstad is our final stronghold. You must not fail!”
A lot of pressure. The fate of a whole kingdom in his and Eveline’s hands. Still reluctant, they hurriedly made their way to the stairs, following the signs to an upper floor. Eveline followed. He first came to a hallway with a long, torn carpet. Torches dimly lit the area, and cobwebs covered many corners. Undoubtedly, not as fancy as it used to be.
The two of them eventually came to a small chamber dimly lit by a single chandelier. A vast array of armaments, swords, spears, maces, many things. Suits of heavy armor and chainmail against the walls. All of them child-sized.
After sifting through many of the different weapons, Bruno eyed one particular sword. It was about as tall as he was, but the sword was of normal length for an adult. He grasped it. Quite heavy, but he gave it a swing. He smiled. This was the one.
“Eveline, why don’t you pick one?” She did not answer immediately. “With all those shadow creatures, we’ll both need something to fight with.”
The girl shook her head. “I don’t fight.”
“But I saw you take on those shadow creatures like it was nothing!”
“You don’t understand,” the girl explained. “I’m a pacifist. I seek out shadow creatures to ward them away, not fight them.”
The boy stubbornly held his ground. “They took my sister! They made my mom sick! What reason is there not to fight them?!” Eveline did not answer. Bruno looked around for a dagger, a weapon that she could probably use, grabbed and handed it over to her. “Just take it, please!” Hesitantly, Eveline grasped the dagger and sheathed it away.
“Fine. I’ll only use it if I have to.”