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Heart of Darkness - Begin the Eternal Night

Silence reigned in the ancient hall. Dust of centuries covered everything, the broken remnants of old paintings and furniture strewn across the room. A dark hall, only a few spots illuminated by the moon's pale light, streaming through what had once been beautifully coloured glass windows. One such spot sat high above the rest of the room. A throne made of rotting wood, sitting on a pedestal about two meters high. And on it, a still figure. Tall and thin. Pale, almost see-through skin stretching across the bone. A face that seemed human only at first glance. The head stretched abnormally, its features sharp like the edges of a blade, ears pointy and the hair a short white crest. Its head propped up by its right arm, the figure remained unmoving and silent. To the casual observer, the figure would look like a corpse. That is, until the massive wooden gate opened with a painful crack.   Scarlett red eyes snapped open. Ohrid, the Nightking rose from his throne. His partially broken armour jingled as pieces of chainmail were thrown about by the sudden movement. As he watched a robbed figure approach with slow, measured steps, he could not help but give a slight growl. His voice echoed through the hall then, a vile tone about as pleasant as that of a rusted harp.   "It seems Cor and Arud failed in their task. Either they were too weak or you are a bigger annoyance than I first presumed," he said. He knew of their failure the moment he could no longer feel his children. His answer came in the form of a bone-chilling cackle. The figure had stopped about halfway into the hall.   "How cruel to talk about your offspring in such a way. You have much greater things to worry about now. This time, I have come for you, oh Lord of the Night."   Ohrid's eyes pierced the shadows. To him, the night was as clear as day. He could clearly see the face beneath the robe. The long blond hair bound in an abstract ponytail. The soft face, blue eyes and manic grin, stretching across her entire face. She was the annoyance that terrorized his realm over the past three years. The hunter of his kind.   "Are you so arrogant as to assume, that I am as weak as my offspring?" His face hardened, a cruel smile revealing sharp fangs. "A Mage you may be, but do not think for a second that you stand a chance here. You have come seeking the King of the Dead," his muscles tensed and claws sprung from his fingertips, "You have found him. Now DIE!"   In an inhuman burst of speed, Ohrid charged forward, the ground beneath him exploding in a cloud of dust and rubble. He crossed the hall in a flash, his right hand drawn back for an attack. He struck and the ground where the blond woman stood shattered. A powerful shockwave tore the wooden doors apart and a storm of dust filled the hall. Standing in a crater over five meters wide, Ohrid paused and listened. The mage had managed to evade his strike. The dust thrown up by the impact obscured his vision, but his other senses worked perfectly. He felt his skin itching. A charge in the air like before a storm. Spellcasting!   ERODING BLAST!   The second he moved, a lance of sickly green and purple light shot past him and hit the other end of the hall. The remnants of his throne and the wall behind evaporated, stone melting and flowing down on the edge of a circular hole three meters wide. Ohrid paid it no attention, already preparing his next attack. The mage gave her position away. Within seconds he appeared behind her, right claw drawn back. But the mage was faster. In a single motion, she turned and threw her right hand upward. It was glowing the same sickly green as the lance.   PLAGUE SCYTHE!   A blade made of sizzling green fire cut through the air. Ohrid could barely move to his right, the attack missing by a hair's breadth, and cutting through the wall behind him. He did not halt his attack. Adjusting his aim, he struck. His claws pierced flesh or at least they were supposed to. Instead, they went right through her. Momentarily caught off guard, he lost his balance and stumbled forward. Catching himself, he turned, only to find the intruder's image flickering out. An Illusion. She must have left the hall shortly after casting that last spell.   Taking the momentary pause to compose himself, he let his senses spread out. She definitely wasn't in the hall. Nor on the grounds around it. There! Steps on the roof! Eyes snapping open, he crouched down before jumping upwards. The ground under his feet caved in, forming another crater. The hall was large, easily over ten meters high but Ohrid covered the distance in less than a second. The roof, a massive slab of stone over a meter thick burst. The entire expanse, two hundred meters long and thirty meters wide, bulged upwards as it was torn to pieces.   The intruder was thrown into the air as well. But even in the storm of dust and debris, Ohrid could still locate her. Appearing next to her, he struck once more. His claw met a scythe, a real one this time. They exchanged a few quick blows in the air, but gravity soon took hold again. The mage landed on one of the halls outer walls. Ohrid quickly followed, using one of the pieces of rubble as a launchpad. Before she could balance herself, he struck again. He missed, merely ripping her cloak. She jumped back, landing a few meters away. The insane chuckle was back.   "My. There is more fight in this corpse than the others, As expected from the King of Vampires. The first Lord of the Night." He saw no fear in her eyes. Only insane glee. Step by step, he began to close the distance. He would remove this pest and find himself a new resting place. Her next words, however, would stop him in his tracks.   "Vampires. Legendary bloodsuckers. Most think you some demonic spirits or otherworldly abomination. But you aren't. Strange? Oh certainly. But in the end, a human, even one mutated by Mana remains a human." His eyes widened, and for the first time in centuries, Ghorid found himself speechless, "Surprised? Thought you would be. After all, you took so much care to remove any trace of your old life, didn't you Theodoric?"   Seeing him frozen another chuckle escaped her dry, sprained lips. "A human born a thousand years ago, with a strange pale complexion. A mutation caused by Mana created a hunger satisfied only by Human Mana. A mutation that made you into a living corpse. Dead but alive. A monster that tore apart its own village-"   With speed twice as fast as before he rushed her. Slipping to the right, she evaded his strike. He hit a pillar, a pedestal for the statue of a long-forgotten king, turning the stone to dust. She jumped to the opposite wall, but he was faster. Appearing before her, his right fist cocked back. The scythe fixed to her right arm shot up. He felt the blade pierce his cold flesh but did not care. In a single strike, he ripped her arm from its socket. Looking into her face, he expected pain and fear but only saw her grin madly. Too late, he noticed the tiny orange flame in her left hand.   PYRO BOMB!   A fireball several meters wide lit the night. Ohrid was thrown from the wall. Landing on the ground in front of what had been the hall's gate, he took a second to compose himself. Light burns and scratches were all he had taken in that attack. His eyes moved rapidly, trying to pierce the smoke and flames still spreading above him when a sound behind him caught his attention. Two figures with stretched, pale faces and scarlet eyes stood a few meters away. Two figures, he knew very well.   "Arud? Cor? You live! But how is that possible? The bond disappeared, you should be dead!" The two hastily recalled how they had never even found the mage, but Ohrid wasn't even listening. The mage had managed to block his strongest sense. She had known that he would only fight her if he had no pawns to throw away anymore. She had purposely drawn him out! As the realization slowly crept into his mind, he began to feel a lake of ice forming in his stomach.   Her laughter called him back to reality, cutting into his ears like shards of broken glass. Above the broken gate and surrounded by flames and smoke, she stood. Her blond hair flowing wildly behind her, smoke and wisps of fire casting an eerie glow about her face, blue eyes shining brightly. Pools like the ocean, filled to the brim with an insane gleam. The cloak she had worn was a mere rag, revealing singed leather armour. The blood gushing wound that had been her arm didn't seem to bother her. Gaze fixed on Ohrid, her grin stretching even further across her face.   "Wonderful. You arrived just in time." Ohrid couldn't help but growl at her gleeful voice so filled with confidence.   "You have lost mage. Even someone as insane as you has to realize that. Whatever mad scheme you had planned has failed."   "Oh, my dear Theoderic, you are mistaken. My plan is nearing completion. All thanks to you." Her remaining hand had taken on a silvery glow, strange symbols dancing across its surface. Ohrid ignored the confused calls from his servants, ready to react at a moment's notice.   "For years, I have scoured this damned Kingdom. Hunted your offspring and drained them of their soul, not their Human soul no. That was lost the moment you turned them. Their essence, the cursed Mana that you gave them. But it wasn't enough. Something was missing. A drop from the source. The blood of the first Vampire." Her left hand held a small blade and only now did he notice the cut on his right cheek. And the streak of dark-brown blood, clinging to her weapon.   "The energy that fuels Vampiric Kind. And will now fuel my ritual!"   Before Ohrid could even blink, she had raised her hand. And from it, a beam of silver light shot into the sky. Circles of the same light appeared around her spreading further and further out. In the far distance, he could make out their faint glow covering the mountains. An ethereal howl rose around him, tearing at his mind as the pale moon turned a scarlet red. And even in the storm, he could hear the screams. Looking behind him, he saw Cor and Arud collapse to the ground faces distorted in agony. Their eyes turned white as wisps rose from their bodies. Then they lay still and for the second time, he could feel the bond break. But this time there was no doubt of their demise.   Everywhere around him, the wisps rose into the air. He could see trees and grass decay. Could feel the lives of his human subjects wither and finally disappear. From all directions, the strange smoke began to arrive, steaming to a spot above the mages hand where it coalesced into a black, convulsing sphere. Then it collapsed upon her in a swirling vortex as the howl reached its climax and the moon's shine grew in intensity to the point it seemed more like a sun. After what seemed like hours, the vortex began to disappear, the howl vanished and the moon returned to its normal state. The mage stood in the same position as before. She looked about the same, a bang of her hair now covering her right eye. Ohrid eyed her warily as she jumped to the ground a few meters in front of him.   The grin had disappeared, a small satisfied smile sitting in its place. With an angry snarl, Ohrid charged her. Within the blink of an eye, he was in her face, ready to smash her head with a single strike. But a sudden burst of power halted him in his tracks and threw him in the opposite direction. Landing several meters away, he could not help but stare in shock. An aura began to form around her. Purple, green and black flames dancing in the air as power emanated from her in waves. It chained him in place. Never before had seen or felt anything like this. For the first time in over a thousand years, the Nightking felt fear. The mages mad grin reappeared. Hair dancing in the storm of power surrounding her.   "Awe-inspiring, isn't it? And yet you have no idea of the true magnitude of what you just witnessed. For I have become something much greater than you could ever imagine." On cue, the wound on her shoulder begun to convulse and bulge. Slowly but surely, the flesh began to regrow. As Ohrid watched in utter disbelief, her arm reformed. Casting a satisfied glance at her new arm, the mage began to speak again. Her voice turned otherworldly, echoing from seemingly everywhere at once.   "Mana drenched in death, fed with the life essence of an entire nation. The impossible is what I have accomplished. For I have tamed death itself! Behold!"   Before he had even time to process the sheer insanity of her claim, he noticed her hands take on a silver glow. A small circle with strange symbols appeared under her feet. Then a single word. A command he could feel reverberate inside his very core.   RISE!   Shuffling behind him made Ohrid turn around. To his utter horror, both Cor and Arud rose, eyes a blank white. This was impossible! Resurrection was impossible! The dead could never be brought back to life. A rule that even Mana could not circumvent. But as his mind despaired at the sheer impossibility before him, he began to notice more movement in the night. All around him figures emerged. Men, women and children with the same white, lifeless eyes.   "Beautiful isn't it." He turned again to find her a mere arm's length from him. The sheer power she was emanating was unbearable. But for the first time, he truly looked at her face. If not for the insanity oozing from her, one could have considered her good looking. A thin and soft face, her pale skin marred only by a few scars under her right eye and her left cheek. He recognized them as pockmarks. Her left eye was still a pool of endless blue, but the right one had turned scarlet red, gleaming with an intensity that drove his mind wild with fear.   "Death. The only true constant. The final equalizer. It has surrounded my entire life. Turned everything and everyone I knew to ashes. And now its power belongs to me."   "W...Why?" It was a hoarse whisper. A desperate, unconscious attempt to get some clarity.   "Why? Because Death has failed. Be it Mages living centuries thanks to Mana, Humans trying anything to claw more years for themselves or creatures like you sitting on the boundary between life and death. You all defy it. Dare to act against the most natural of all aspects of existence.   But no longer. A new age is dawning. One where death is fair and impartial once again. One where no one dares defy their fate. One where the fallen will act as an instrument, to keep the natural order intact.   The great mages in their temples. The noble kings in their palaces. Gods and peasants alike. All will bow to me! They all will bow to the new avatar of death! For I, Ceres Vikara will not rest until all of creation is once again brought to order. Let lose the legions of bone and rotten flesh! Let despair the sinners and rejoice the faithful! For the Eternal Night has begun!"   And the last thing Ohrid saw before being consumed by darkness was her scarlet eye.

Cover image: by Cyril Labranche

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