Falling Light Prose in Evenacht | World Anvil

Falling Light

Higher. Higher. Low, wispy clouds puffed away from him as he soared ever upwards, wind tingling across his skin. He ripped his gaze from the gold-washed temple below him and faced the midday sun, letting the heat pound his face as he sucked energy from the light surrounding him.   Revenge me, Qira.   He firmed his lips at the memory, tightened his magical grip on the bright beams he rode within, and pushed higher. Higher.   Resa had placed a gentle, blood-stained hand against his cheek and forced a small, melancholy smile before he continued coughing. More blood, and it dribbled down his chin, onto his white acolyte tunic, staining the gold collar, the gold sunburst design, blending with the wide, dark stain that marred his stomach.   Too much blood.   Revenge me, Qira.   "I'll destroy them all," he choked. His tears had flowed across his friend's fingers, and the crimson drips splatted onto his shoulder, wetting the pristine garment. Resa smiled at the promise, semi-hopeful but unable to believe the words.   They both knew only one hundred and eight of the previous Light-blessed had survived the final Light gauntlet test in the fifteen hundred years it had existed. They donned the jeweled crown that linked them to their Light-bound deity and swore their oath to represent him among the mortals on Talis. Only a handful of them had ambitions beyond those vows. They absorbed the power held in each blue-hued sapphire, each golden sunstone, each opaline moonstone, formed the spell of Cleansing Rays, and struck at the temple. Their obsession to obliterate the cursed seat of corrupt priestly power guided their intent.   All failed. The magic energy ripped them apart before they could complete their vengeance. Even those who survived the gauntlet could not endure the wrath of Light, so the temple remained standing while they perished. The smug priests sniffed at the moral failure, assured their deity had protected them from the ones who falsely embodied the divine, and turned to the new crop of red-haired, blue-eyed boys, searching for another with enough strength to pass the gauntlet's tests and ascend.   Ascend. His swollen lips parted in a wide, seething grin. He did not think the priests meant for him to take the oath literally. But ascend he did--the clouds flying past proved his worth.   The clerics expected the survivors of the gauntlet to accept the crown and ascend to the Light-sanctified throne, then bow to their religious manipulations and power hunger. They thought he, as a Light-blessed, would do as countless others had before him. They assumed he would follow the easiest path, grow fat on fake respect and deference, and die without accomplishing another important thing in his life.   After Resa's light had snuffed out on the pitiless, gouged tile of the whitewashed combat arena, he gave them no cause to believe otherwise. He followed the prescripts even as he rejected their wisdom, a complacent vessel outwardly, a shrieking denialist within. Of course no Aristarsian could embody the syimlin of Light, no matter how red their hair, how blue their eyes, how powerful their magic. His people's folly--not that they much cared. Every family wanted to produce a red-haired, blue-eyed boy because that would elevate them into the aristocracy. The priests claimed the gifts of land and wealth would equal the worth of the potential avatar they gave to the Light.   The titles, the land, equaled nothing. They sent their boys to the slaughter, knowing few survived the training, let alone the final gauntlet, but hoping nonetheless because a Light-Ascended would elevate their family to a Lightnoble's rank. The risk on their part was absent, the death of their sons absolute.   Fury reddened his sight. The lust to have their kin embody a syimlin outweighed familial love. His parents had tossed him to the temple before he was old enough to know them, and not once gave another thought to him. He was the price they paid for their nobility and riches.   Wind whipped past him, knocking him slightly to the east. He readjusted his grip on the beam of sparkling light he had thrown skyward to mark the Light throne, clenched his teeth, and corrected his path with a burst of energy. He must stay in the center, for if he missed his target, he would splat and the temple would remain.   He refused that legacy. Why else attempt the final gauntlet years before the priests deemed the typical acolyte ready?   Joila had not understood his fierce conviction to rush his ascension, and she mistook his passion. She grabbed his hand as they stood together in the seatless, white-walled waiting room, bouncy with enthusiasm that he had chosen her to pray with him before his ultimate test.   "You'll defeat the gauntlet," she said, her joy dancing around her. He smoothed the backs of his fingers across her flushed cheek.   "You seem certain of that."   "You've the Light within you." Her smile, as always, prodded the hidden depths of his soul and reminded him goodness existed in the blight of radiance. "We see it, the brightness glowing within. Resa always talked about it." She laughed and tightened her fingers around his, a tinge of rage tainting the sound. "The priests comment on it."   "Of course they do."   She slipped her hand from his and tapped the center of his chest, then smoothed the thin white cloth. "You do," she insisted. "Brighter than these acolyte tunics, brighter than their smiles when royalty visits. The prince will be watching, you know."   As if he cared what a pampered second son thought. The monarchy condoned the slaughter, and the prince followed his parents' lead because he refused to reject the expected.   "You have a chance to impress a royal family member. Not many of them visit the temple."   "Not true. They attend after an avatar's crowned, expecting blessings for their Light-drenched rule."   Her cheeriness faded. "Qira—"   He set his hands on her shoulders and squeezed gently. "I won't die," he told her. "But Joila, don't be here when I exit the Ascension Tunnel."   "Qira." Her disgruntled admonition tightened his chest. "How can I not be? I witness for Resa and all the fallen."   He could give no more warning than that. The stoic guards opened the waiting room door, the squeak of hinges bouncing off the bare walls. Joila gripped his arm in encouragement and waved as he followed the gold-armored men out the door and into the blinding, whitewashed hallway. He left her there, a blue-gowned woman with black hair bound in gold combs, shimmery with hope.   She wanted the gauntlet to end, and she believed his ascension would terminate the suffering. What need would there be to continue the parade of death, if a Light-Ascended sat on the Light Throne?   She was wrong. Tradition would ensure families sent their red-haired, blue-eyed boys to the priests, who would force them into the gauntlet training. It was all they knew.   It was all he knew. Twenty-five years of broken bones, bleeding slashes, and punctured organs, all suffered while navigating the training. Twenty-five years of watching his friends die, one by one, because they did not have the speed, the strength, the intelligence, the ingenuity, to pass the lesser gauntlets. Twenty-five years of stuffing agony and anguish into the pit of his being, because how else might he continue?   Twenty-five years of having Light gems embedded into his right forearm after each victory, a tally so that all knew when he achieved the right to enter the Ascension Tunnel's barred gate. A guard shoved a stained key into the stout rusted lock, and both strained to swing the dripping, black iron bars open. He stepped through and paused as the hinges groaned and the tumblers clicked into place. The guards pivoted and strode away, no concern, no encouragement, no words, no more care for him than a mud stain on their golden boots.   How many had they marched to their death? Had they lost count?   He sucked in a deep breath. Doubt flickered in tandem with the spitting torches on each side of the gate. He attempted the Tunnel a decade before most. He assumed his intense study would guide him through, but what if he mistook his power? His drive? His will? Panic tore through him, upending his stomach and his obsessive, crystalline yearning.   Revenge me, Qira.   His anguished dread died on the memory of Resa's words. He wiped at his sweating brow, spit at the gate, and forced his slippered foot to take the first step into darkness.   Darkness. The enemy of Light, the priests claimed. A misunderstanding, as deadly as their training sessions. He knew differently. Darkness cradled him in a softness that the Light never cracked. It drew him, embraced him, sucked away the heat and pain of day, and left a cool calmness in its wake.   He needed that insulation, so bathed in its chill. Ignoring the distant chittering of unknown creatures that echoed off the mossy stone walls, he planted his fingertips against the left side and walked into the lightless maw.  
  Splat. Splat.   Bugs smashed against his shields. He grimaced as the carcasses slid away, leaving goopy yellow smears. Splat. Splat. A terrible end, and all his fault. He hoped they forgave him, in whatever afterlife they entered. Insects entered the afterlife, didn't they?   BAM.   He jerked back as a pudgy bird bounced away before its limp black body plummeted towards the ground. Regret tore through him. He had not meant to harm another creature when he devised this scheme. It never occurred to him that a rush into the air would interfere with animals going about their every day. Not that he cared much for the flies and beetles even if he wished them a better afterlife, but striking a bird?   Joila loved the sweet songs of birds. She could sit in the grass outside the temple all day, listening to the frolicky voices dueling for supremacy. She would be so disappointed in him, for harming a bird.   He shoved his hands against his cheeks and smeared the tears across his blood-crusted skin. No time for sorrow; he could wallow in grief in the evening lands—if they existed. He had doubts, just as he had doubts that syimlin wandered the skies and walked the earth.   No. No. He had to survive. He had to make certain the temple disappeared in a rage-fueled magical explosion that would take every simpering priest with it, and he could not do that if he were dead.   Why else ascend into the midday sky, sucking up Light power as he went?   Higher. Higher. The air cooled, the clouds became puffier, darker. Did they anticipate his end? He soared through one, and raindrops slid down his shields.   Tears of the heavens would not stop him. Just like the traps had not stopped him in the gauntlet.   So many of them. Trip traps. Thought traps. Trick traps. Only the cleverest could pass them unscarred—he plowed through instead, blowing hole after hole in the exit doors.   His momentum paused as his seething ball of glowing Light rebounded off the last puzzle, a two-story stone wall of colorful levers and pulleys accessed by remembering uncommon scripture. A shower of molten Light magic poured from the glass ceiling in response to the mistake, and by the gleeful shouts of viewers sitting on benches above the room, they expected him to die in a sizzling spectacle. He disappointed them as the ball snuffed upon impact with his shields and he reabsorbed the strike, then sucked in the fiery energy, leaving nothing to splash onto the floor.   They thought him amateur. He would prove them wrong by sending them to their graves.   With a snarl of hate, he formed a more potent glowing Light, pitched it at the wall, and blew the stone into finger-sized shards that tinkled against the pitted tiles. He should have saved some of the power, for the enemies further on did not care about fair fights.   As he walked through the half-collapsed doorway, he chuckled at the scrambling priests attempting to flee the crumbling floor. Too bad, he refused to play their games.   They like the games. They liked watching young boys miss a cue and end up splattered across the grimy floors when their shields failed to protect them. The head priest, Vicas, especially laughed, his small dark eyes glinting like onyx, his indulgent grin wide and perfect, as he flung his white-gloved hand around and made comments about how this batch of kids did not live up to the last, and such a shame. Maybe the next year's would have stronger candidates. Only the best could embody the divine Light.   After Resa died, Vicas had pranced into the arena, a flock of head-bowed followers in attendance. His layered white robes danced in an invisible wind while his gold gorget and crown gleamed with unnatural brightness. Smiling, he opened his mouth to bestow a selfish benediction on Qira. Clutching his friend to his chest, rocking, sobbing, he had paid no heed to anyone or anything until the meaty lips smacked open. He looked up and Vicas hesitated. His smile faded and he stepped back, realizing something had changed in the boy he held such contempt for. Fear crawled from his juice-stained lips and into his gullet, and he scurried away, his confused followers trailing behind.   The High and Mighty priest, the sanctified head of the Aristarzian Light Temple, refused to speak another word to him. Just as well; pretending His Arrogance had a holy bone in his body grew tiresome. As all Light-blessed, he had grown into a credible actor to hide his feelings, but even he could not disguise his hatred when in the presence of Light's Voice.  
  He blinked as his sight wobbled. His thoughts fogged, and he fought to retain focus, to breathe. Too high.   He slowed his momentum and arched backwards, tipping his head to peer down the sparkling rays of magic linking him to the minuscule dot of a temple far below. A simple act, to retrace his flight by way of the spell, the first one taught to the boys when the priests introduced them to the initiate's gauntlet. The labyrinths played with minds and confused senses, they warned. The Light-blessed must always keep the link to the entrance, or their only reward would be to wander until starvation destroyed their bodies.   He thanked them for the oh-so-thoughtful lesson that would lead to their ruin.   His body hovered at the peak, an ethereal vessel. The blue sky enveloped him as he indulged in the sight of sunlight glinting off the tops of puffy clouds. Warmth from the rays caressed his body as frostier air tickled his nose. Scintillating in calmness, a silent acceptance of his presence in the heavens.   His back cracked, pain shot through his chest and into his left shoulder, and he screamed as his hair fluttered against his face to signal his descent. The final gauntlet test had not ended him, but his body wished it had.   The last fight was against the Immortal Skerezahn. Nymph mafiz held magical ability greater than the elfine whizan, the priests told the Light-blessed. When facing the Immortal, expect spells backed by power beyond what infused the mightiest legendary hero. Only those with Light's eternal favor could survive the battle.   They lied, and they let the lie play on young minds so when the boys reached their teen years, they had already internalized their lack of power and the mafiz's Light-bestowed skill. Doubt murdered so many of his brothers.   Disgust at the deception sickened him as he centered within the trail of light. Not that he had anything left to throw up, and he snapped at his innards to remain stout for one last, Light-driven dive. He threaded the energy he snagged on the way up into his shields, strengthening them for the plunge.  
  Qira never believed Skerezahn was immortal. Nymphs, as the longest-lived faelareign, existed for thousands of years. No mystery in that, though the priests declared it so.   The asshole loved the conceit. He raised his chin and regarded him with nostril-flared revulsion as he limped under the spiky ends of rusting gate bars and into the blood-stained, circular stone arena. Unlike the previous fights, this one took place under glaring lights; not only did Sherezahn need to see, but so did the raucous audience.   "Only through me will Light bestow his favor. Only through me, will you ascend to the Light Throne and become Light's Avatar."   The crowd cheered but for the small group of Light-blessed led by Jare, who acted as Joila's honor guard. They longed for his victory, but doubt kept them silent. Joila clasped her hands under her chin and smiled at him through her tears. He returned it, a reassurance for them both.   She should have listened to him. Good thing his brothers would protect her, even if she did not see a need for it.   "Come, Light-blessed." Annoyance laced the nymph's words. "Let us see, if you have the perfection to attain divinity."   Qira's smile died. He clenched his hands and his teeth, hissing blood through the gaps. Skerezahn was a wicked monster puffed up by ending generations of human lives, no one more, no one less. His success was not Light-born; he observed his victims at practice, learning weaknesses before the boys even realized they had them, and used their flaws to his advantage. He snuffed those of greatest potential before they reached their teen years, and then tsked at the remainder as worthless. He publicly asked the priests why the Aristarzian did not have grander champions while he gloated over his machinations.   The nymph tried that with him when he was seven. A random encounter in a dark, brooding hallway, him attempting to slink away, his enemy flashing teeth in a rage-fueled smile as he vowed to take his life. Resa and a handful of Light-blessed unwittingly burst through a doorway, loud, obnoxious, saving him, and it was Skerezahn who slunk away, a deadly promise in his glittering eyes. Qira learned the value of distrust that night, and he kept his guard constant, remained always in company. He never forgot, just as he never forgot his dearest friend and the pledge he made.   And the haughty mafiz stood in his way.   Revenge me, Qira.   Skerezahn held up his hand, a violent spell of hissy green lightning snaking around his fingers and growing fat on his power. He smiled with malicious smugness, expecting to take his lesser opponent out in one strike. Qira smiled with pain-enhanced hate, and the nymph's expression faltered.   True, he had not escaped the previous parts of the gauntlet unscathed. His left leg had slammed into a spike in the obstacle course, which tore a bloody gash in his thigh. He really should have expended more energy on shields rather than reserving it for his ultimate enemy. Too late to alter that mistake. Then he had slipped off the spiraling, water-slicked, unrailed pathway leading to the gyrindi's pit. He landed on his back and knocked breath, sense, and health from him. Only the nibbling of insects on his exposed fingers got him disgusted enough to rise from the sloppy black sludge, shake them off, stomp them into oblivion, and stumble to the next fight.   He took his pain out on the giant cat. Poor gyrindi. The animal snarled, hunched; he struck, leaving nothing but a smear of blood and fur behind. He dry-heaved in the exit tunnel because his act reminded him that the priests held him and his brothers in a similar regard.   As did Skerezahn. Vicious pleasure welled. He would enjoy leaving nothing of him behind but a smear of blood and hair.   Acting casual, Skerezahn cocked his arm, slowly blinking before throwing lightning-tinged water at him, its purpose to sear him inside and out. Qira knew the attack, knew the outcome, as so many of his brothers had reached this arena, faced the spell, and fell.   And fell, And fell.  
  And fell faster. Faster.   The wind rushed past him, the light sparkles dancing through him. Magic tendrils spanned out from his sides, sucking energy from sunlight as he plummeted, then shoving it into the gemstones of the crown rammed low on his brow. The jewels vibrated under the strain. Would the Light-blessed stones burst from Light-blessed power? They better not, until he commanded it.   He dug his working arm into his side, smashed his legs together, pointed his toes, and dove. He grinned with the same glee-tinged fury he bestowed upon Sherezahn after the water magic crashed into his shields.   Frozen in the throw position, the nymph continued to blink as his lightning sizzled and faded and left Qira standing on dry ground in the center of soaked stone, defenses cracked but his body untouched.   He, in turn, shoved his Light magic into the small puddles; brilliance reflected off the surfaces. His opponent threw up his arms, protecting his eyes. The audience shrieked and cowered as he fused with the light, his grungy, bloody uniform as bright, the grime-splattered gold hems as glittery. He zipped from one shining spot of light to another, increasing speed.   Faster. Faster.   "Your tricks will not save you!" the mafiz shrieked. Qira laughed. Enraged, the nymph formed bolts of sparking energy and threw them at the dry space he had occupied, at the walls, at the corners. Erratic, desperate, just within the first few moments of their confrontation.   He dodged and dodged, then his leg buckled. A bolt shattered his shields, and the punch of power slammed into his shoulder. Bones cracked, and he did not know which ones, only that pain ripped through his chest and breathing became agony.   He stumbled from concealment. The nymph honed in on him and flung larger bolts in quick succession. He pulled his fluctuating energy together and formed Light's Hammer, as a shield, as an attack. The final lightning strike sank into the center and fractured his spell but did not destroy it, so he pitched it. He doubled over, unable to stand straight as his left shoulder crumpled and his hand numbed. Fighting to remain conscious, he shoved his remaining power into his protections.   The Hammer wobbled between them and exploded, sending showers of stone bits in all directions, shredding their defenses. The forward momentum spiraled the remaining energy to the mafiz, and he snagged it in both hands, eyes wild, grin wide. He absorbed the wisps and formed another lightning-infused waterball.   Skerezahn threw, and the sizzling mass rebounded off Qira's magic; such an inspiration, that puzzle room. The hit shoved him back and he went down; stray shocks bit into him, shredding the last of his protections before bouncing away. The remaining magic burned his skin, pounded his muscles, dug into his head, but denied more energy from their source, the sparking fingers fizzled and puffed into vapor before he burst like ripe fruit.   The nymph screamed, then exploded into silence.   Silence continued but for his agonized cries, as he struggled to his knees.   Jare rushed Vicas, tore the crown from the high priest's limp fingers, jumped the arena railing, and ran to him. He shoved the crown onto his head, the edges slicing his skin, and stared into his eyes as fresh, overwhelming power filled the void, blunting pain.   "Obliterate them."   "Run. Get Joila away."   Jare hesitated as Vicas leapt to his feet, screaming, pointing frantically. The crowd burst from the stands, howling. "There's no time for that."   Damn the LIght. "Do it anyway."   Jare shouted at their brothers as he crawled across the uneven floor to the exit, past a black smudge of thick ash that once went by Sherezahn, keeping his head down. He refused to look at Joila. He had a promise to keep, one she could not share.   Light-blessed flocked to him, helping him to stand, to walk, fighting guards and frantic priests lobbing terror-filled spells. His brothers blew out walls rather than open doors, leaving rubble and death behind as they aimed for the adjacent building and Light's Throne.   Alone, Qira struggled into the soft, silent room while the Light-blessed guarded the entrance, and shattered the golden cascade of sparkly Light that surrounded the sacred chair. Snagging the released power, he created arrow-like rays. Driven by crimson rage and midnight-black hate, he fell on the seat, looked above, heaved the quivering projectiles through the roof, and entered the beam they formed while the ceiling rained down on his head.   Nothing, not building debris, not his failing body, would stop his ascent.   Faster. Faster.   Rain splattered against his protections, forming cracks, but not breaching his Light-infused shields. The crown vibrated in time with the gems and tipped back. He grabbed the pointed spikes on the front, forcing the object back down. A disaster, if it slipped from his head before he reached the jewel-encrusted throne.   Hot blood oozed from the edges that dug into his flesh, blinding him. He smeared the runny crimson with his palm, cursing. The wind ripped layers of shields away in the moment of lost concentration.   Focus. Focus.   He passed the limp bird's fluttery body, a black blot to his left.   Splat splat. More bugs, larger bugs. Their impact destroyed more shields The gems gorged on more Light.   Was he still in the beam's center?   Faster. Faster.   He flashed through the hole in the ceiling.   The gem-encrusted throne, each jewel filled with a paradise's worth of divine power. Divine power striking divine power, a blaze of death.   Revenge me, Qira!   He kept his promise.   "QIIIIIIRAAAAAA!"   Joila?!   BOOM.  


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