Light in the Darkness
That familiar smell hit my nose the moment I exited out my home onto the cobbled streets. The citrusy punch of gecko berries, the familiar salted aroma of meats likely shipped from Gohn. The fresh scent of the Delta River's soft, fresh water banks, the incense that was clean chipped wood and freshly crafted steel.
I, Sophie Burns, rejoiced at these senses, grateful this was always something to wake up to everyday. This was the Podun Gates, this was my home. Productive, fresh, and peaceful.
Reow. I looked down at my furball who was a white-furred cat, Fuzz. She laid cooped up in my folded arms, watching me with wide and curious eyes.
After two steps forward, I heard the door behind me open. Glancing back, I saw the man I had known my whole life. My father, Extren, stood in the doorway glancing out in my direction. His eyes were calm as they looked my way, but inside, I knew he likely felt that overprotective surge. He always did.
As if realizing I hadn't even walked six feet from our home, his eyes wandered, trying to think of some nonchalant inquiry to make.
"Fuzz is going with you?" I nodded. "Oh! Good... That's good. Company is safe." I saw his attire. A crimson robe, two vestments in his hands. On one sleeve was a massive marking of the sun. Of the Dawn Father. Appropriate, as he was the priest for the city's church.
"Dad, I'm not eight."
He gave a sigh, then a small laugh. "Yes, yes I know Sophie. Sorry, I'm doing that thing again." I noticed his grip on the vestments loosen. "I realize, even after twenty-two years, being a father is really difficult."
A smile escaped from my face. I always loved my father's willingness to admit his faults quickly. Always looked up to it.
"I'm just going to the market to pick up food for us. There and back. No time at all."
"I know that. I'm the one who asked you to in the first place." He joked. His form slacked, eyes now truly calm. "Be back in time for our feast of prayer, okay?"
"It's a promise." We both beamed at each other. He closed the door, and I turned around, falling in with the small crowds covering every street.
The feast of prayer. Me and my father did it every week for as long as I remembered. When you thought about it, it was basically a normal dinner. Just with candles and, you know... prayer.
I've always been told it was out of worship for the Dawn Father. But for my dad, I felt like it was a way to remember my mother.
Don't think about that. I shunted the thought from my mind quicker than a cockatrice knight. The last thing I needed was for people to see a slouched, depressed woman carrying a cat.
Even still, my rebellious mind stayed adrift on my dad. As far as I knew, he was born a faithful acolyte to the Dawn Father. He expects one day I'll take his place as a priestess over the church.
Mindlessly, my free hand fished around my side pocket, grasping a small pendant inside. Its circular shape was all too familiar, the cool grooves recognizable by touch alone.
If only he knew. If only I could tell him.
"Hey! Watch it!"
I stopped, clean in my tracks, mere inches from a man about my father's age pulling a horse-drawn cart. I had nearly walked in front of its moving path.
Jolted awake, I rapidly apologized before noticing the colorful canopy drapes of silk. The wooden table benches decorated with canisters, open boxes, and venerable goods. The vendors that stood behind each stall was loud, boisterous, and, for some, enthralling.
This was the Rainbow Market, colored a deep gold from the now setting sun. The district that knew nothing of the word silence. If there were any houses in the area, I felt bad for the people who lived there.
"Alright Fuzz, in, purchase what we need, and out."
"You always agree with me." I said, already scanning for the nearest food stall. If I could have one wish, it was that these stands didn't move around every dawn-damned day.
"Oi! Ms. Burns!" A voice whose tenor made Fuzz's ears perk up. To my right, I saw a good friend. As I expected, he wore the steel plated armor of Ravenna, a long sheathed sword brandished at his hip. Tucked under one arm, Iyalos Faren held his helm as he walked up to me.
His brown hair looked very baggy today. Likely because of the helmet. His stubble still looked very well-trimmed to my eyes.
"Good evening, Sword-Guard Faren."
"Ms. Burns, I've told you. Just call me Iyalos."
I leaned forward with a smile. "Then, you call me Sophie."
He bellowed a laugh and a confident nod that said, "Touché." When he finished, he glanced down at Fuzz who he patted on the head gently.
"You are out later than normal Ms. Bur- Sophie. Don't you and your father have a feast of prayer on this night?"
Our paces synced down the road as I continued my original mission. "Actually, I'm out picking up the food for that."
"Ah!" He said proudly, "Well, allow me to accompany you!"
"Oh no, I couldn't." I waved off with my one free hand. "You're on duty and should stay focused-"
"Rubbish! I'm assigned to this district tonight, so it wouldn't be a bother at all."
We had already come up to a meat stall where I had made my exchange. I didn't even notice until then that Iyalos was holding the sackcloth with the meat. "If anything," He continued, "I'd be knocking out two jays with one stone, as they say."
"Well..." I thought for a moment. "If you are confident, then I suppose my father would appreciate a strong man was at my... side..."
My speech slowed as I noticed the streets, no, the whole city had become eerily quiet. Iyalos saw my face and realized it too.
In the distance, shouts began to ring out. Shouts that sent me, among everyone else around me into a confused panic. The shouts came closer, before one civilian in my crowd roared one single word that I never heard with more fear.
To the sky, I looked just as a faded shadow emerged from the golden clouds of evening. A wyvern. Atop it, a soldier clad in Tenelean blue as it dove downward. Toward the city. Toward, I swore, me.
In its feet's grasp was a massive ball of flame, a boulder that had been ignited in some way. It was released, and it tumbled downward. I just barely saw the swarm of other shadows appear as Iyalos' body moved to shield me.
"Take cover!" He shouted at the top of his lungs, but was likely drowned from the screams that erupted.
I stood there in shock, barely noticed as Fuzz leapt out of my hold. I did nothing as it careened into the ground, letting loose a massive shockwave.
My body became a throw pillow. I felt myself lurched upward from the blast, stone and wood turned to rubble. It just so happened that one of that rubble, in the form of a big wooden beam, knocked me upside the head, sending me instantly into a deep darkness.
Everything hurt. Not, my head ached. Not, my leg cramped. No, everything hurt.
Swallowed up in this weightless void, I drifted with the pain that never left me. I did nothing else, for though I could feel my body, I had no control over it anymore. It was just a shell.
In this one space, this one moment, time didn't feel any different, yet still seemed to fly by.
Then, I saw a faint spark of light. It came closer, and closer, its dim white glow manifesting into many shapes. I saw a family, saw their small living room with generic furnishings. I saw their smiles, saw their familiar faces.
This was a memory. My memory. Of my father and my mother.
Then, the memory flashed, becoming entirely different. Suddenly, the room turned from its stoic quiet to a burning inferno.
There I was on the floor. Held in my father's arms, I saw where we both looked. The pale, lifeless eyes. The spattered blonde hair that covered the floor around her. The sword run through my mother's abdomen by an armored soldier in blue.
I saw myself let out a terrible scream, one that filled my ears.
In that instant, I felt myself sucked eons away, and I jolted upright as I snapped back to cognizance.
I gasped for air several times as my hand went over my chest. I barely noticed another hand when it cupped the side of my face.
It turned me to the right, where I met a man's gaze. Iyalos' gaze. Several burn marks were plastered on his face, chunks of his hair was gone, and the armor he wore looked severely dented.
That's when all my senses came back to me. I smelt all of it. The charred, fiery scent. The staunch iron of blood that hung in the air.
I saw all of it. I sat against a wall of a secluded alleyway, with Iyalos. But out in the streets, was destruction. Plumes of black smoke like an evil factory's rose high up into the air. The colorful drapes of the market were now tatters, shards of devastation that flowed in the breeze of the now night sky.
Injured stumbled among themselves looking for any sign of reassurance. But many more lied on the ground, unmoving.
Oh god. Fear sank in. The sheer feeling of death that was like a killer clenching your throat.
Iyalos must have noticed my panic setting in, because he turned me to meet his eyes again. "Sophie, Sophie, come on girl. You're safe."
"T-That's... That's not-"
"I know." He shook his head. "A lot of us are hurt, but those wyverns are gone now."
Umph. A heavy ache pulsed at my forehead and I pressed a hand over it. "What... What happened?"
"A beam got you good. Got you to the alley here as quick as I could." He took a glance back at the open streets, jagged pockets of stone and pot holes. "Though, there is only so much one man can do."
It was so much to take in. How can someone even comprehend an event like this? How should I even react?
I looked down at my abdomen, and then the realization hit me. "Where's Fuzz?" My eyes searched the area frantically.
Iyalos followed my action briefly before he responded. "If you make any assumptions Sophie, it had better be that Fuzz is safe and well."
Safe and well. Safe and well. I nodded.
Then, "Father!" Another revelation struck me like that wooden beam. I grasped both of Iyalos' arms. "I need to get home now!"
I was up on my legs before he could protest. My right leg vibrated with pain, but I dragged it at a limp as I exited the alley.
Instinctively, my hand shot to my pocket, for my keep sake. I felt around.
It was gone. How was it gone?
Later, Sophie. I thought to myself. Family first. A hand rested on my shoulder. I looked back to Iyalos, certain he would tell me to wait for whatever reason.
"Let's get you back home."
If things weren't so disastrous, he would have seen the most heartfelt eyes I'd ever mustered. Our feet moved as one, and I did my best to ignore the chaos the city had become.
You've never experienced terror until you've walked the streets of the heartbroken. To see the fear in the eyes of those who still hid. To watch a son or daughter kneeling over a loved one, sobbing. And worse, to find the opposite.
The blood, the death, the suffering. It all made my stomach churn, made me want to keel over and hurl.
Thankfully, Iyalos was by my side at every step, his hands reassuring and a much needed calm. I wondered how this was affecting him.
We turned one street after another. They were barely recognizable anymore, I was surprised we still knew where we were going.
Still moving, I turned to Iyalos. "You don't need to assist me further, Iyalos. I am not as injured as many others."
His face almost went blank. "I am only one man, Sophie. Plus, Sword-Guards are trained to prevent harm, not undo it."
I stared. He continued. "Unfortunately, for all of us, we get to deal with being in a lot of pain right now."
We didn't speak any other words for the time that followed. Made no other noise aside from the sounds of our feet against cracked cobble.
How could life be so unforgiving? How could it allow people who looked just like me to bring such misery?
I didn't ask for any of this. And judging by the others around me, they didn't either.
It just didn't make any sense.
What was the point of all this?
"Sophie." Two hands grabbed my shoulders as I came out of my thoughts. Iyalos stood in front of me, face serious. And solemn. "You're... home."
He moved out of the way and never had I felt the life leave my legs like I did now.
There was my home. Or half of it. On one side, the wooden frame still held but looked burnt. On the other, it was completely caved in by a boulder nearly half the size of the house itself.
Even more life left my legs and they buckled, sending me to my knees. I felt the water well at my eyes in an instant.
"No." I choked. "No, no."
I heard Iyalos' voice in a similar, sorrowful tone. "We need to check your house."
"The front door is still unharmed."
"He's already dead Iyalos-"
"Shh, shh." I felt Iyalos wrap around me as my tears let loose in a flood. "Assumptions, Sophie. Remember what I told you about assumptions."
My whimpers were all I answered with. "Your father is alive, and he's still inside."
"We're going to go in there and find him."
I clutched Iyalos tightly. Buried into his armor, I nodded against him. Then, I felt him raise me up as I stood back on my feet.
I could barely look at the house. It was like looking at a pile of death, like trying to withstand the stench of true terror. But, he guided me forward. Before I knew it, we were at the front door, broken, but open.
My father had to be okay. Extren needed to be okay. And Iyalos was right, I needed that to be my assumption. I did my best to swallow all of my doubt, and I pushed ahead of Iyalos.
"Dad!?" I shouted, without hesitation.
There was no response.
I shouted again, this time louder, all the while moving through the house. The second floor was completely collapsed, and the living room was the new resting place for the giant rock. The only other place that was left was the dining room.
But there was still no response. I felt the hope leaving my body.
What if he wasn't even in the house when this happened? What if he'd followed me out of protectiveness anyway? What if he was underneath that rock now? All these questions rushed me like a siege army.
At one point, Iyalos had taken the lead again, and guided me into the dining room. At first, the central table looked unharmed aside from the candles that were knocked over. Bookshelves were toppled and dishes shattered.
Until we both eyed the far corner where an end table stood. A single, lit candle burned dim next to a quill and ink jar while a body in crimson robes sloped against the wall beside it. My dad.
In that instant, I would have forgotten all of the evil of the world, rejoicing my father was still alive. Until I looked to his chest.
Where a splintered wooden frame pierced him all the way through. Made his eyes glossy and pale. Dead.
I didn't remember how I had moved closer, but I was kneeling down in front of my father in an instant. My body had lost all feeling. My mind became a blurry mess, consumed only by one thing. Dread.
I saw my hands reach out, touching his face. The moment they grazed his textured cheek bone, I immediately felt an uncontrollable wave wash over my eyes.
Tears fell to the floor like rain and I found myself gasping for air time and time again as I mourned. And mourned was an understatement.
"Dad..." I barely wheezed. His emotionless face stared back, devoid of any consciousness. "Why..?"
Pain ripped at my chest, like a tightened rope enveloped in flame was wrapping around my heart, threatening to strangle it. My hands grasped at my chest as I fell back, breathing very quickly.
I felt the presence of Iyalos still behind me. He wasn't in my vision, which even now was filled with tears, though I could tell he stood solemnly.
And I refused to hate him for that. Because what could one say in a moment like this? No amount of words could make this pain go away. There was only grief, and in my head, I thanked Iyalos for not sugar coating anything.
Slowly, my breathing calmed, but my tears still fell. I looked over every inch of my father. He still held the vestments in his left hand. And in his other, I noticed a small page of parchment, folded in half.
My eyes shot up to the table next to my dad, where the quill and ink jar still sat, and I snatched the page in violent anguish.
Please let it be some sort of divine scroll that can restore life.
I thought. Or even a path to an evil witch that grants double-sided wishes.
I opened the folded page, wiping my eyes so that I could see what was on it. As I thought, I saw writing on the page, and a small medallion of the sun resting in the middle of it. It was the holy symbol of the Dawn Father.
Dawn Father be damned, I moved it aside, focused more on what my father had written.
I am so, dearly, sorry. To think my life would come to an end so suddenly. Even after we promised...
This will be a painful time for us all. Once again, pointless disaster strikes our lives, threatening our souls with damnation and abandonment.
But this I write to you, please do not fall prey to it. I have raised you in the light of the Dawn Father since you were an infant, and I have never faltered in promising his protection over our deliverance from evil.
I now leave this life, but I plead, continue to trust in him, knowing we will one day forget this wickedness.
I love you dearly, my Sophie.
I placed a hand to my mouth, stifling a whimper. I felt the change inside of me, the transition of one sadness to another.
Before I could think further, I felt a faint pitter patter of the wood floor next to me.
My eyes darted left to see Fuzz just as he sat down. His fur was ashy and gray, but he felt completely unharmed as I scooped him into my arms in a flash. "Fuzz!"
I hugged him tight, trying to imagine he was my father. However, that intense twinge of despair towards my dad still sifted within me.
I held out Fuzz and saw a glint come from his mouth. He was holding something. I gazed closer, and saw it was a circular shape. My pendant!
I grabbed it and held it tight in my hand. It still held its shine, undamaged unlike everything else I saw. Its grooves were still fine and the detail still there.
Then, another wave of dejection hit me as I glanced back to the letter now on the floor, next to the medallion of the Dawn Father.
Because this pendant I held, was not of the sun, but of the moon. It was the holy symbol of the Moon's Veil.
"Even to his death," I muttered, "I never told him." I had never devoted myself to the day, but to the night. It never made sense the promises foretold of the Dawn Father.
Sit idly by and wait for help? If they were a god, why not come now?
What the Moon's Veil promised, I clung to much tighter. Stand up and make a change.
Face the problem. Defeat the problem. Grow from the problem. That was her mantra.
And that was when my thoughts went back to my home and this city that was laden in destruction. There was something to it. There was meaning in it all, somewhere.
"Sophie? Is there anything I can do?" Iyalos' voice was soft and consoling.
Fuzz hopped onto my shoulder as I stood up, turning to face him. Tears gone.
If there was anything he could do, I wasn't sure. But in this moment, I knew there was something I
needed to do. A place I needed to see.
"Iyalos, I'm going to take a journey."
His face flushed with bewilderment. "A journey? Now, of all times?"
I simply nodded. "But what about your father?"
"I've already buried him."
He looked at me in confusion. "Well... How long will this journey be? Where are you going?"
We had slowly made our way to the front door. "There is a monastery I must visit, for it is the only place that will show me the way to move on."
We were walking down the streets now, still covered in rubble. But this time, injured were being nursed back to health diligently. Rock and wood were already being scooted and cleaned away. The night sky had lost all its clouds. Not a single wyvern in sight.
"A monastery? Where?"
"In a place stories only tell of, Iyalos. On a mountain told be taller than any other."
I saw his feet stop as I continued walking. Behind me, I breathlessly heard his realization. "The Heartened Soul Monastery..."
More specifically, the Duskar Order.