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Prologue: The Dream
His mind was foggy. The scenes encircling him seemed so unreal, no sound, no smell, only the horrifying sight. All around were mutated, scaled beasts of various sizes, covered in patches of unkempt fur, their fangs glistening with murder, and smoke billowing from them. The ground beneath the beasts became stained in their darkness. They slammed their heads, swiped their claws, and sunk their fangs into the soldiers surrounding him. He forced himself to look away from the pain of the comrades he had led to this horrid place. A puff of smoke seen out of the corner of his eye told him another had fallen, the pain of death gnawing at his heart as he realized he had broken his men’s trust in him.
“This must be a dream,” he thought, his vision flickering as a tear slid down his cheek. The loud snarl approaching him restored his focus, his sword suddenly swinging up, slashing the beast across its chest. The beast fell backwards, wriggling on the ground, gushing blood, and crying in a gurgle—the only sound to reach his ears. The beast’s life was snuffed out of existence when another larger beast stepped on its head.
He brought his large, elongated heater shield up, blocking the new attacker’s swipe of claws before piercing it through the heart with his sword. It too fell back amidst the carnage of the battle, leaving behind a cloud of smoke before vanishing into the throng of bodies being trampled beneath the battle.
“Captain! Captain Soulton!” cried a soldier from behind. “Where are you going? It is such a late hour. Surely you aren’t leaving?”
“That voice, I should know it… And what does he mean by a ‘late hour?’ How long have I fought on this battlefield?” The captain took a step forward, ignoring the cry, his foot sinking into the thickness of mud and blood left behind by the fallen. Another beast gurgled in pain as a sword sunk into its throat. The captain pulled his blade free.
“Captain! Wait!” The voice grew louder and more urgent before cutting off abruptly.
He grit his teeth, his dark, gray-blue eyes focusing on his next target. He lowered slightly, a crudely made axe of bone swiping over the top of his head. A few strands of his short brown hair scattered in the air.
The captain looked into the eyes of the shaken beast before him, its eyes staring above his head where its axe had swung, his sword buried deep within its chest. With only that brief pause, he threw the beast to the side, his sword sliding from its body and sending blood flying to the next beast.
Before him, he could see his new challenger expand its claws, feet planted, ready to charge. Its mouth opened and drops of blood from his sword landed on its teeth and tongue. The ear-piercing, screaming war cry of the beast echoed in the silence of the battle.
Another man called from behind him. “Arius, how could you leave this nation? The people will miss their hero!”
“Leave? But where did I leave from, and when was I a hero?” He cried out, another tear blurring his vision briefly before the glint of the sword in his hand caught his eyes. Gritting his teeth, he took a second step. The squish of mud underfoot sounded in his ear. His heart began to race faster, and his hands clenched sword and shield tighter.
The beast charged and found itself impaled on the captain’s sword, the blade sticking out the back of its throat. He watched in grim silence, its flailing form vanishing into smoke and blood, staining more of his once-gleaming silver and orange armor.
A grip tightened around his shield-bearing arm. He turned to see another beast, a toothy grin on its face. Its claws crushing the armor further, his arm started to bleed. He looked on with a grimace. “A traitor?”
He twisted his wrist, and the front of his shield hit the beast in the side. From the beast escaped a gurgle of fury that ended in a yelp of fear; its eyes were open wide as the point of the captain’s sword opened its throat. The beast crumbled before him in a smoky mass, leaving blood on the captain’s arm, the blood mixing with his own.
The captain dropped his shield and slipped the vambrace from his bleeding arm. The piece of armor fell sinking with the shield into the mass of gore beneath him. He looked up, his eyes exhausted. His free hand gripped the hilt of a dagger pulled from his belt. Dagger in left hand and sword in right, he took another step forward, his breathing growing heavier, his heart racing even faster as the battle progressed.
“I should have never sent you there to retrieve it. You lost it to her. A failure to the nation,” a third man said.
A beast stepped through the throng and prepared to attack him, its crooked sword aimed high to chop his head in half down the center. He stared into its eyes, could see the hatred and anger they held.
“She doesn’t even deserve you.”
A roar escaped him, the two blades brought up in a cross, blocking the attack. He spread the sword and dagger out, forcing the beast’s blade high into the air, unbalancing it. In a flash, the
captain’s sword sliced into the beast’s side. It roared in fear and pain and fell back, its own sword landing in its stomach, ending it in blood and smoke. “What did I lose?”
He took another step into the remains of the freshly-killed beast. Its blood added to his already-coated armored boots, the metal rusting away in the sticky muck.
“I have lived long, and never thought I’d see such a selfish act. Never,” another voice spoke up.
Two from the side and a third beast from the front approached, their tongues lashing side-to-side in hunger. The beasts’ tiny pupils scanned over him for a soft place to sink their pointed, bloodied teeth.
“A truly selfish, unforgivable act.”
He closed his eyes and let out a cry of anguish. “No! I’m not selfish!” Spit flew from his gaping mouth. The two blades swung out, hitting both flanking beasts in their neck. The captain released the blades, leaving them to sink in the gooey mess of what remained of the two beasts.
He took another step.
The third beast’s hunger vanished into fear at the sight before it.
“As the rucaern hunter, I thought you would have a heart for us.”
“I do!” He gripped the pommel behind his head and lifted a longsword from his back, its once-shining gleam of glory and battle now stained a sickly black.
“I guess I misjudged you, Captain Soulton.”
The longsword descended, a whistling sound of death echoing through the battle. The beast made no sound, only stared into nothing, its body cut down the center and left in ruins. “Misjudged me? What is this place… this tormented field of death…?”
A shuddering breath escaped him. He stared at the swirling mess of blood and mud beneath him. Looking up, he saw it.
Towering before him was an obsidian spike, its peak stretching beyond his vision. Its form tore through the clouded sky, a constant reminder of its dominance over this sickly land. In its brilliant pitch darkness, reflections formed across its surface, depicting the death of the land to all who could see.
His body trembled at its massive, overpowering aura. The great sword left his hands and found its resting place among the remains of the fallen.
He took a step towards the structure, his hands starting to reach out for it.
“I never thought you would do this to me…” a woman spoke in the far distance. Barely a whisper, vanishing with all the other voices. “I… I thought we meant something special to each other.”
“That voice, so familiar and yet…” More tears swelled up in the corners of his eyes. He fell to his knees before the spike. His hands touched the spike’s side, his legs deep in the muck, its gooey mass starting to consume his body. He gently laid the side of his head against the smooth surface, feeling its cool touch against his cheek.
“Please, reconsider? Stay with me!” the woman pleaded.
He looked up at the sounds of pain all around him. Through his tear-blurred vision, he made out white spheres slipping into the dark form of the spike. Looking over his shoulder, he could see beast and man torn apart, the white spheres exiting their bodies to flutter towards the spike. His heart was beating as fast as it could. He looked back toward the spike and could feel his head becoming lighter. “No, something pulls me elsewhere… but why? What have I done?”
“So, your love was all a lie, Arius…”
He fell onto his back. The thick sludge all around him slowly absorbed his body, a final cry of pain and suffering escaping him. “What happens now? Death? No… this isn’t the end, not yet… that pull… the feeling to return… Lunara.” His chest burst open, a white sphere leaving his body, heading straight to the spike. A smile crossed his face before he lost consciousness, his eyes left open to the beautiful sight of perfect white spheres filling the sky above. A final tear rolled down his cheek as the thick sludge took his body.