The darkness had cast its shadow far across the mystical world, beyond portals where the light still lay dreaming, and over a town in which time had no hold. It was the moon that shone now in the sky and its light was reflected on the earth by twin pools that were as haunting as will-o-the-wisps in their ceaseless journey. The owner of those starry eyes crested a small rise and suddenly the light caught his frill form. He was human, or had been once, before being consumed by darkness, and the name that still festered about him from his brighter days was Hilyr. Hilyr had, long ago, come often to the world of dreams, but then he had come with others and now he was alone. He still remembered them in some way, their faint images floating as wraiths at the fringes of a miasma of shifting thoughts. There had indeed been others, a woman in robes of crimson and pearl whom he had known well and another man, his greatest friend and ally. But he had long turned from them as they had turned from him, each drawn down separate paths. Now Hilyr had at last returned, alone, to seek out the child who was key to his greatest ambitions and who had just been received into the world of dreams a day ago. A powerful incarnation of power itself, the child would be capable of making him more powerful than even the most powerful magi. His eyes looked over at the town before him and his vision blurred, tears tearing out from behind the walls that held them. Hilyr moved forward deftly onto the path leading further on to where he saw his destiny. He did not look back at where his tears had fallen unseen to the cold earth.
Chapter 1: Village of Magic
The magi village stood at the edge of a vast sparkling forest that stretched out farther than the bounds of sight. The silvery moon was out in full and its light wrapped the forest and houses in faint silken fabrics. Houses of smooth stone and thatched roofs rose up from the earth like pinpricks on the land. The brisk night air swept around the magic had returned to rest calmly. He could feel the warmth of the air against his face and smiled with the feeling that the mountain itself was stirring again as, at last, Hilyr's chill had passed from it. He had seen few come out of the forest. A few broken souls who shambled out only to collapse in the dewy grass, unsure themselves of whether they were dead or alive. The night was in its fullest, with the moon shining brightly overhead now. He would need to leave soon to reconvene the counsel as they would be needing a new leader. Lynn doubted that the elder of the counsel, who had survived the assault, would be eager to return to her position after the ordeal that had transpired. As he turned his back to go, Lynn missed a brief speck of silvery light blaze up in the forest's shadowy canopy and the silent cry of one last tortured soul reaching up tranquilly to the moonlit sky.houses silently, leaving those who slept in blissful ignorance. The paths connecting each of the houses were lined with silvery stones which reflected the light of the moon and formed a cobweb-like tracery across the ground. The full moon shone among the stars which looked down with wonder upon the house that stood in the center of their maiesty. A newborn girl had just been found the night before, and she now lay asleep in the house at the center of the dark heaven's vigil, serene and peaceful. Outside the building two imposing figures in white robes stood conversing in hushed tones, their gaze occasionally moving to peer out into the pleasant night. "Why are we always picked to stand out here anyway," the female guard, Reya, complained in a thin voice as she looked up at the twinkling sky as if it was mocking her. The other, Ryn, heaved a sigh and simply shook his head with only a wry smile on his face marking the fact that he had heard her. Because Ryn and Reya were the town's ceremonial guards they had been picked by the village counsel to look over the mysterious child. An understandable action considering that the child was certainly closely tied to the magic that shaped their world. In the midst of his thoughts, Ryn's attention was drawn out to focus on a dark figure that had suddenly emerged from the night and was coming towards them swiftly. A quick inhalation of breath sounded a second later as Reya, too, saw the stranger, and then the night was still again with the tension that had arisen, unbidden, from it. "Who are you, I can't see you well. In any case leave now, no one is to be allowed near this house tonight," Reya spoke smoothly to the dark figure, but her voice carried a hint of wavering uncertainty. The stranger moving down the path stopped, and the air was strangely silent save for the buzzing of the small creatures flitting through the long grass around the path. No answer forthcoming, Ryn, a tall and wiry man, kneeled down and gently touched a stone at the base of the path. Suddenly the stone he touched began to glow, showing the golden tracery of runes upon its surface. Slowly light arose like a thin mist to touch the hooded stranger's disfigured face. Where soft human skin should have been, there was only leathery flesh, pockmarked by patches of festering black sores. Framed by this rotting fascade were two eyes that reflected the flickering light with a silvery brilliance. The mere sight of such a cursed beast caused the color to melt away from Ryn's and Reya's features. Ryn reacted first, drawing and throwing two daggers in a single fluid movement. The daggers flashed coldly in the moonlight as they arced out towards the monster's heart. With a clank of metal on metal the daggers hit dead on and then fell to the ground harmlessly. The scratches they had made in the monster's robes revealed a chitinous black armour that reflected the rune light in ghastly shades. "How did you enter this town! None pass without our permission into this realm," Reya spoke again hurriedly as she grasped her ceremonial long sword for whatever good it would do. "The how is as unimportant as my name to ones such as you. There is magic incarnate hidden in this house and I, Hilyr, have come to claim it. Now stand aside, for I am here for a cause greater than anything your pitiful minds could handle." Hilyr spoke in a thin voice that seemed to echo through the air and tugged at them to let him through. "There is nothing here," Reya stammered again bravely but her whisper was drowned out and lost. Smiling sickeningly, Hilyr moved forward, like a floating spectre advancing towards them. Fighting the stranger~ s voice in her mind, Reya lunged blindly at the shadow, her sword slashing through the air at the invader. Then, in an eye blink, Hilyr flicked out his arm and hurled five glistening poison needles from his hand. They hit Reya mid-swing and she fell to the ground limp and quiet. But before she had even hit earth, Ryn was already yelling upward to the skies, crying out in words of magic for a ray of light to bring the others and banish the darkness. With a rush of concentration he summoned a powerful light rune above him, one that would flare like a sun in the night skies. With a flash of power, Ryn sent it hurling up into the heavens with his will alone, to beckon help. With a surge of hope, he looked up to where he had sent the light rune, but he saw only the same star bejeweled sky. Then he felt a rush of extreme emptiness, as if some great shadow had passed over him, and whatever power he had was suddenly puny and drained. Ryn's eyes gazed with horror again at where the monster had stood, but Hilyr had already gone. Turning quickly around, he burst into the house and went running up to the second floor where the child was sleeping attended by the keeper of the house. Pushing aside the redtapestry at the top of the stairs he entered the room where the child had been laying under the caring watch of the aging houseskeeper. Upon coming in, he saw that the bed for the child was empty and the keeper was lying prostrate on the floor. Looking wildly around the room he saw nothing else, but just as he went to examine the keeper, a soft whisper, such as of robes being tossed by the breeze, struck up behind him. Wheeling around, his sword at the ready to take on the deadly stranger, he found nothing save the red tapestry hanging still against the opening in the marble wall which he had just come through. Ryn traced his gaze upward at the vaunted and shadowy ceiling and then he caught sight of something in an open window near the roof It was Hilyr's tattered robes, fluttering in at the edge of the window as if the embodiment of death was there, crouched and leering down at him. A tiny squeal of a baby came floating down from the window where it was swathed in the folds of Hulyr's robes. Ryn's face again trembled with fear and rage as he looked up, his fists clenching until they went dead white. Then, without a sound, Hilyr turned and leapt out of the window to the outside grounds. A monster had the girl, the child that he and Reya had been given to protect. Furious, and fearing the monster would hurt the child, Ryn tore his face away from the now empty window and ran back down the steps and out into the enfolding night. He was swallowed up in fear and rage as he ran blindly away from the house, still expecting the same needle pricks that had taken the other two to come for his life. Tears ran freely down Ryn's face as self disgust fed his anger to heights unknown to all but the darkest souls. He did not even feel the silver needles that came out of the night to pierce into his skin. The raging poison of his spirit that gripped him was such that not even death's venomous messengers could cut him down.
At the fringes of the town, a broad arch of stone stood by the edge of the forest near the town. Its smooth surface was etched with a multitude of runes that, when activated, formed a gate between the world of dreams and another far removed place. It was nearly dawn when the portal at the fringes of the town suddenly came alive with a piercing buzzing. It was awakened by the inhuman creature that came barreling out of the village clutching the very essence of magic incarnate. The gate shuddered as it again let through the benighted Hilyr, who's cold eyes caused inquietude even in its ancient bones. Hilyr had passed through to some other world and place unknown to the portal, but it could not close yet. A strange tingling had came over the sentient portal and disturbed its return to blissful ignorance. Another was running towards it, this one a guard the portal recognized as Ryn. As he passed through the gate, the light of Ryn's normally ocean blue eyes seemed to have an eerie quality that gave the portal cause to tremble yet again. Then Ryn too was gone and lost to the world of magic and dreams. Slowly the portal's buzzing finally ceased and the air around it returned to normal as it began to slide back into its eternal slumber. In that void it would seek refuge from the nightmares it had set loose, it could do no more.
Chapter 2: Spiral Into Night
Grey clouds had begun to sweep across the skies, dipping the early dawn in sepulchral tones. Between the trees of the vast canopied forest below, a shadow moved, cutting through the darkness and the rain as it began to pound down through the shifting trees. Ryn's eyes burned a smoldering quicksilver, staring out and seeing nothing but the fuel that fed them. Around him the vast trees stretched up to the sky, clawing at the clouds and rending their roots in earth. The forest was silent with his presence and those things that caught sight of him fled. None, not even the simplest of animals, could see in his otherworldly eyes a trace of peace or comfort.
How long had it been, how long since he had last felt the rain drop cooly on his face? Even the blistering heat of the desert sun and the freezing sleet that had driven against him were missed. Sensation was drowned out in the rush of thought, an onslaught of tides he could not fathom. Ryn had long since ceased to even try to remember why he was or who he was. He had only vague shapes and images to haunt his endless days and sleepless and infinite nights. His feet beat upon the ground wildly as he strove on, thorns and branches scratching at flesh puckered with the frost of death. The day had long been waning and it was in the flash of a moment that the last rays of light were shut out from the vaults of the earth. Ryn jerked to a stop suddenly, as if a puppeteer had dropped the strings that held him. He slowly fell to the earth, overcome with exhaustion, but he knew now that rest was never granted. He could only try to bury back the pain behind the walls of his mind, walls burning with a hunger all their own. But it was fruitless, his mind tore and was flooded with images that shifted beneath an infinite crimson tide of anger. Ryn pulled himself up to his feet slowly and, stumbling forward, pushed on again to a place he did not even know.
Chapter 3: Return to Night
A towering emerald mountain rose up from a desolate vale where only coppery fields of grass grew. The first rays of light had just begun to course over the sky, alighting on the few houses scattered at the edge of the vast amber fields. Even as this world beneath the mountain's shadow began to awake, an outsider came running through the fields, leaving a swath of broken stalks and barren soil. Few were awake and none took notice of this blight, who's name was unknown to them, and could not have been weeded out by any of their farming tricks. It was a mage and that was something they knew of only in rumors and legends. Hilyr was returning to his cavernous home within the upper reaches of the mountain. Fleeing with the shadows of dawn he passed the scattered homes, a stale chill lingering behind where he passed. Nearing the mountain, Hilyr materialized out of the fields and onto the mountain's steep slopes. If any had seen him though, as he darted up the mountain, they would not have known him for mage or man, much as he himself could not know for certain. His skin was slick as that of a lizard and razor talons covered in ebony ichor protruded instead of toes and fingers from beneath histravel torn robes. Hilyr knew what he had become, for he had once been human. But he would not have changed what he had become for anything, he had found a form which he could look at and see the truth in it. No longer was he cursed to live in the shell of a lie but instead cursed to live in a shell of his own making, a reminder of what dark power he had come to claim and revel in.
The morning sun shone through the clouds around the mountain's flat peak, making it appear as an island floating in a pool of golden radiance. Like crystals adorning a crown, around the broad based peak there stood marble towers that reached up to the open sky. The existence of such an idyllic place would have been impossible, yet it had existed, kept safe from prying eyes in the heart of a magical maelstrom. Few living things could pass through the barrier around the sanctuary of magic, save those who made the mountain their home. Within the towers, magi of other realms learned their greatest art away from their homes and the prying eyes of the world below. Before the magi had come, the mountain had reached up much higher into the clouds, but it had been leveled down by powerfiul runes and violent magics, the result of which was the swirling barrier cloud. In the center of the mountain plateau a dense forest grew, though its tranquil appearance was betrayed by a corrupt heart that constantly darkened as the magi drained its energy for their spells. Rune magic had always been dependent on the energy of living things and such leechery, though subtle, was becoming fast apparent to even the most steadfastly ignorant among the magi. Now, even the greatest magi avoided the forest in fear of it, for secretive whispers passed among their ranks, whispers of how the forest was becoming a focus of Twilight Magic evil. Dark and terrible creatures were even said to be seen slithering silently under its canopy beneath the cover of night.
A knock came sharply to the blue tinted crystalline door that lead into the guards' barracks. After a few moments and some shuffling sounds, the door was opened by the captain of the guard himself Like all the guards he wore a suit of hardened leather armorand carried a long sword at his waist, its blade etched with runes of power. "Sir Geron, something has pierced the storm. It's coming up towards the inner gates now." The runner was tumbling through the words, flushed from his running but the captain had heard enough. Yelling back, Geron summoned the other waking guards and, taking a nearby torch, he dove past the exhausted runner and down the marble hallway, heading towards the gates that lead out to the magic storm. The captain came to the open gate and stopped, drawing his sword and pointing his torch out at the darkness and the silent swirling of the storm outside. Soon a shadow parted from the fluttering shadows and resolved itself in the faint torchlight. Its black robes rustled about it like ominous clouds. But it was the two eyes that shone out from the hood like a pair of freezing stars, which transfixed Geron in their steady brilliance. And then a muffled cry reached his ears, drifting up from what seemed an infinity away. In the folds of the robes a child was clutched, only its minute face visible to the world. The dark figure advanced quickly, its form seeming to float ethereally over the ground. As it passed, the captain's blade fell from his hands, clattering uselessly to the ground.
Fear surged through Geron's mind as his heart burst rythmatically in his ears. The darkness was eating away at his vision and he felt himself falling away into a void of nothingness. Geron strained his mind, shutting his eyes tight and trying to force himself back into the moment but he could not concentrate. Thoughts poured out of his mouth in an incoherent murmuring of rage as he snapped his head back up to face the monster again, but it was gone. He leaned down for a moment and gathered back his breath before straightening back up to look for the beast. Geron held up his hands as if to push back the night and whispered a rune of light magic which flared momentarily in the darkness. He turned fully around with the light illuminating the night but he saw nothing, even the hall behind him was abandoned once more to the shadows. Then a soft creak echoed through the hall from another door being opened farther down. Moving swiftly, he charged blindly down the empty passage towards the opened door. When he at last emerged from the hail to the inner grounds there was no one around, merely the arched walkways leading to the other marble buildings, and the vast untamed forest that the moonlight twinkled off of mischievously.
Chapter 4: The Shades of Magic
Deep under the flesh of the earth a solemn figure sat, his hands clenching together as if holding in the darkness around him. "So you have returned to us at last my friend." he spoke out to the enfolding night. Only the frozen shadows could respond to the words, but whatever they whispered was lost in poois of their own darkness. "I never left, did I, friend?" Hilyr's disembodied voice arose as a midnight breeze summoned up from some otherworldly plain. "Do not play your games with me," a small smoldering of light catching in the eye of the darkling man, Lynn. "For the last year I have not heard your whispers in the darkness. I actually got used to sleeping again if you can still remember what that is. No, you have returned, the flow of your magic stands out as a rotting corpse among us. Indeed, I would be very surprised if the others won't catch you before I get around to mentioning you at the counsel." But the disembodied voice of Hilyr was gone again, passing away as it had come, and leaving the short hunched man again to sit in his chair alone. For a moment he clenched his hand into a fist as if to strike down the frightening portent of Hilyr's return and his own fear. But again he relaxed his hand, the darkness was greater than even he could fathom, and to destroy any part of himself he would have to know that malign piece of himself Lynn had long ago, much like Hilyr, given himself to the nightmarish powers of Twilight Magic, but he had lacked the strength to face his own weakness, and that is why he was cursed with the lie of his flesh.
The child lay silent and alone, supported by an obsidian pedestal that raised it up above the damp stone floor of the cave. Around the pedestal stretched a shadowy cavern covered by black crystals that jutted out oddly from all angles. The crystals stood in silent vigil of the child and filled the air with a chill from the dark and secret light they emitted. Softly through the mausoleum of stone strode the dark figure that had brought the child to its home. Hilyr, a shadow walking among shadows, came to look down at the child's face, his features melting out of the darkness such that they appeared to be of the night itself His hand went over and brushed the child's forehead causing her to smile up innocently at him. "Hello great child of magic. Welcome, welcome to my...your home." The plain looking newborn girl looked up at the looming shadow with some hint of earnest curiosity, its eyes opening wide with wonder. Hilyr recoiled as sadness filled his silver eyes and, for just a moment, he wavered in his resolution before the brilliance of the child's glare. "No! Stop this. I know you child of magic, I know your kind. But here I am stronger," a fierce flame of triumph flared in his hollow eyes, "A champion of forces all other magi have forever disdained and looked down upon. Now it is I, Hilyr, Master of Twilight, who shall escape this world." Hilyr's frenzied words slowed and he drew his fey eyes down to peer straight into the child's eyes. "And you, great lady of magic, shall be the one who helps me." Hilyr reached back down to touch the child's forehead again, his long spidery fingers tracing with casual ease over the taut flesh. The crystals around the child began to beat stronger with their powerful light, and Hilyr began to call up his magic. He let his hate and rage boil up and wrap around him in the crystal's warm embrace. Soon his power incarnate began to coil out from him like an invisible tendril, spreading out from him to the child. With a whispered word from Hilyr, darkness, called from the depth's space, swept over the already enshrouded cave. Yet in the darkness each crystal took on a new life and suddenly lay in a brilliance of light. "Soon child," Hilyr whispered, his mind lost in magic's eyes, "you will see the wonder of the magic that is mine to command. It is so.. beautiful."
Chapter 5: Counsel Meeting
The hallway outside the council chamber was filled with a cloying breeze thatwafted in from the forest. The students and elders of the great temples of magic floated down the passageways placidly, their airy robes fluttering around them like wings of porcelain. Many of these magi began to converge in a domed temple that stood like a somber pink pearl adjoining the open walkways. The building held the counsel chambers where a meeting had been called to deal with the new threat. None of the magi had to ask why they were summoned, they merely knew that the darkest among their number had returned. It was approaching night and already the light of the setting sun had enveloped the monolithic temples of the mountain in a golden outline of radiance. Inside the damp coolness of the chamber voices could be heard carrying over the cool afternoon air, even as the day waned ever further in strength.
Lynn stayed in the cool shadows listening as the meeting grew more heated. He might not even have been paying attention, his eyes were drawn to the forest and the shadows within that were lengthening as the sun fell. "I feel, as I am sure many of us feel, that we should go in now before it is too late," a voice implored from somewhere in the scattered crowd, which was now seated on the marble steps of the room. Other voices raised in agreement which the two heads of the counsel silenced by calling the room to order from their table, which was wedged up in the front of the room. "My sisters and brothers of magic," the woman who was the eldest mage among the counsel spoke up when the room had quieted. "While it is true that even now a child of magic is being held by one who's treachery has long haunted us, immediate action would be ill advised in my opinion. Also, as I'm sure many of you have already sensed, the forest is shimmering with the cursed Twilight Magic as it has never before." Lynn stined and straightened up slowly, the shadows still concealing him from view. The elder continued her rambling statements, as his thoughts went back to the way she had been before the founding of the mountain peak temples. It was she that had been hit hardest by Hilyr's "betrayal" and as a result, had been deteriorating in spirit ever since. No matter how much she would try to fool herself and others by ascribing her decay to another, Lynn knew that all the same her spirit festered.
The sun had passed far closer to its final destination overhead and the forest was silent as Lynn finally was called to the center of the counsel forum to speak. He stepped up on the marble platform and looked around at the others, a slight curl to his lip marking his disdain at being dragged out onto the platform to speak, and away from his studies. The elder council head turned to address him, "Lynn you have been called here to suggest how best to go about overwhelming the dark one. Be aware that you have only a few moments though, for we have already agreed to gather by the forest's edge, to seek out Hilyr and stop him." Her eyes went out to the few sparks of light gathering near the forest shadows, marking the meeting place. Lynn spoke after a moments hesitation with a cordiality he reserved for such meetings. "Like me. the thing awaiting you is a master of magical forces, forces which are unknown to lesser disciples of other magics. Hilyr, his name if you remember it, will be hard to stop, even with your combined forces. If he is absorbing the innate magic of the child, which I believe he is, I would sincerely suggest letting him be, the power he seeks is far too great to be contained long in that mortal flesh of his for long." Already the chamber was emptying, only the older and strongest magi lingering behind. Lynn knew that they were sure of themselves, so sure that they would be able to defeat one who had always been levels beyond anything they could have dreamed. The head of the assembly nodded absently and with a brief motion of her hand to dismiss, a formality, she was gone along with the rest, all walking out in a column of light down to the forest.
Chapter 6: Night and Day
Lyrin could see the forest becoming speckled with torch light and heard the faint cries of searchers looking for the source of the Twilight Magic that ran through its veins. He turned and walked out of the counsel chamber and went down the marble halls towards the gate captain's post, a short tower that overlooked the forest and the swirling clouds around the peak. The captain, Geron, was getting on in his years yet he still had the fire of youth in him. As Lynn came up to the door leading to the watch post he caught sight of Geron looking out from it at the forest. The captain was framed by a ring of flickering torches around the tower platform and Lynn sighed, for he saw only his own sorrows reflected in the aging man, Geron.
The wooden door leading into the room opened softly and Lynn entered the marble platform looking out over the forest. With his gaze centered on the forest he moved over to stand near Geron who, unaware of his presence, was carefully examining the wave of activity centered around the forest. As Lynn moved closer, the captain heard his steps and tilted his head to look sideways at the intruder. Recognition filled Geron's eyes but he merely turned back to the forest and, when he spoke to Lynn, he was quiet and solemn. "Good' eve Master Lynn. It is good to see this night." Geron was, among all the magi, one of the most accepting of Twilight magic and held nothing against Lynn for practicing it. "Good eve, and my thanks Geron for the title but I doubt that I will have it, even in form, much longer. In Hilyr's absence, the counsel has built up their courage it seems and now plans to rid itself of him once and for all," Lynn paused for a moment while looking over the dark and secretive forest for any signs of activity, but there were none and he continued. "They have never understood Hilyr. To them he is but a monster, one corrupted by evil and who taints the very essence of magic with his powers. I would almost agree with them if I had not known him so well before we came to know Twilight Magic." Lyrin's resigned voice left a brief silence which the captain answered in kind for a few moments while he pondered over what the night would bring with it. Geron soon broke the tedium of silence with his thoughts, "It is a sad day for magi when we hunt down our own, especially when that one is a tortured beast such as Hilyr. How can the counsel, or any of us, even judge him after what he has been through? His entire family died when he was still a young apprentice here with you. Indeed, he was a just human being and a purer man than he was does not exist in this world. He is not to blame for his actions anymore than you or I are, how can the others doubt that?" Lynn sighed heavily at hearing Geron's words and looked back over at the trees that were now almost entirely concealed in shadow. "You are right in saying that he was a good man, though I cannot see how anyone could think that now. Even I, at times, am disgusted at what Hilyr has become. When he stole the child from the other world he proved himself dedicated to the hate that had consumed him. How ironic that the Twilight Magic, that we both came to know so well, feeds off of our raw emotions, and that there is no stronger emotion than his hate." Lynn continued to speak coolly and resignedly to the captain, "I believe that a few others among the magi here are aware of just what Hilyr is and what he was. They do not seek to destroy him but merely wish to help him escape the magic that his rage has poisoned and caused to grow malignantly. But those few understanding souls are too repressed, as I too am, in the counsel to do anything. Their peers look on them as being "tainted" by the influence of Twilight Magic, something which they know nothing of and only use as a tool to discredit their opponents' views. . . What is that?" A blast of blue flame had leapt up from the green canopy near the center of the forest, catching Lynn's attention. "Beacon flame, they must have found an entrance to the tunnel system... Master Lynn?," the captain turned back to face Lynn directly, "How much longer will we wait here inactive while our comrades go to face Hilyr alone," the captain spoke with solemn passion. "Whatever his true purposes, Hilyr will be twice as powerftil and half as human with the child absorbed into his being, which I think is very probable with his magic never having been stronger than I sense it now to be. Shouldn't we be down there trying to help the other magi, they will need all the help they can get and I don't think I can live with their blood on my hands." Lyrin frowned as an involuntary ripple went down his spine at the thoughts of the inevitable blood that was to be spilled and how it would fi.tel the furnace of Twilight Magic. The captain caught the motion and flashed Lynn a suspicious look, he had always been skeptical of just how different the two masters of Twilight were, though he kept it to himself "The counsel goes forth because it believes Hilyr is incapable of absorbing the child. After all, an immortal incarnation of magic, such as the child, would normally be immune to merging with a mortal, even if it was a strong one, but Hilyr has transcended those restrictions. Let them go alone there to see the greatness of that which their own hidden hate has formed." The captain thought he saw something glistening in Lynn's eye, in spite of his harsh words, but once again Lynn averted his face towards the forest. Geron wondered silently, as he looked up into the deepening sky, if the night that had crept upon them would ever lift now that Hilyr's shadow was soon to rise up against the world.
Chapter 7: The Final Victory
The cave entrance to the underground passages of Hilyr's home had been hidden in the heart of the forest. The sun was already setting but the damp entrance still had the cloying scent of a dewy morning. In the darkness of the cave the traces of nature trailed off into well polished grey slate steps. Guarding these steps a dark entity hovered, lingering in the shadows of the cave. Its mouth was formed ofjagged nightmares and from its obsidianlike face shone empty silver eyes. A twig snapping underfoot echoed suddenly and the eyes vanished into the darkness. Moments later a figure in flowing blue robes swept down from the trees. It was an aging man, with eyes that might once have shone with light but were now little more than muted puddles to the shadow's keen sight. His approaching steps echoed like thunder through the cave and a soft hiss escaped unheard from the cave's mouth. The shade saw the man raising his hands, preparing to signal the other magi that he had found the entrance to the cave of endless night. The mage was so focused, though, that he missed the shifting shadows of the cave. The shade smiled ferally, presenting its wicked teeth as it emerged from the cave's darkness. It moved silent as a whisper along the damp ground towards the man. The mage had just finished tracing a rune of light into the air with his gnarled hands and was watching it as it exploded upward in a spectacular brilliance. Having only now to wait, the man looked down from the skies smiling and suddenly his eyes widened as he came face to face with a giant hissing shadow that overwhelmed his vision in emptiness. The shadow smiled, savoring the fear and living in the look it found that only inferiors had. It moved slowly closer, its shadowy form attempting to ensnare the mage who was helplessly shaking. The man looked straight at the shadow's eyes, things which bore no trace of hope, no human mark. The shadow's hazy form touched the flesh of the man's face and then stopped abruptly as its silver eyes brightened. With a choked gurgle the mage's body thumped to the ground lifeless, and the shadow moved back, waiting for more prey, more victims. It's eyes came alive again as it saw itself reflected in the eyes of the converging mages. They were all so naive of what power lay in the magic of twilight that had been breathed into its form and created the very stuff of life from shadow.
A roar echoed down the corridors and the ground shook from the fighting as the second wave of magi collided with Hilyr's shadow guardian. Small dislodged rocks plucked down into the puddles that stagnated in the cavernous room in which the Master of Twilight now sat, alone. Hilyr's eyes swirled with light, light that was almost at home in the corrupted darkness of his flesh. Damp rags lay over to the left of him, tossed in among the crystals, no longer needed to warm the child. The wraithlike mage smiled, he had merged with the child, an eternal soul now floated within him, strengthening him, making him more of a god than a man, or perhaps just a stronger demon. All that he had done to reach that point of perfection floated in his mind haunting him. He savored it. With an abrupt silence the fighting above stopped and he felt a soul touch his ear before departing onto some other plane of life and death. The shadow he had raised from the abyss of emptiness to guard his home was gone, he had sensed its passing, so finely was his mind tuned to the flow of Twilight Magic. Hilyr's thoughts wandered back to how he had made the shadow, in the back of his mind he was aware of approaching strangers to his home but he put them aside. It could have been any shadow that he forced his power into and he had picked his own. Hilyr smiled at how he had taken his own power and not stole power from nature and life as did the other magi, he had always been proud of that. How strange he thought though, that he should feel no emotion at the passing of his greatest creation. He shrugged unconcernedly as he raised himself and walked towards the cavern entrance which was already outlined by the approaching magi torches. Why should he be worried about his creations, what need had a superior mage for the trappings of inferior ones. The kind and simpering emotions others so freely used had never helped him, only the darkness that filled his mind lent him power. If he had lost something along the way what did that matter now to him? The first cowled head passed the corner and with a hurried whisper the woman mage shrank back in fear from the darkness, vanishing as she had come. "I wonder what I will do after I have proven my victory here?" another question came again unbidden as he focused his will to attack the invaders. Another face appeared from behind the shadowy entrance, a woman this time, who had shown foresight enough to ready a bolt of runeflame to launch at her opponent. He watched the searing bolt as it neared him, saw the dawning of hope in her eyes and then for a reason he didn't know he reached up his hand and lashed out with his mind madly at her. The triumphant look in her eyes, he could see it all so clearly in his darkling cave, turned to a look of utter despair and remained frozen like that as she hit the ground, the last remainder of misplaced hope. "How could you do that monster? She had hopes just as you did. Would you have done that to yourself as well?" The dark mage whirled, lost in his own thoughts, this new one caught him off guard and had come from an unseen other. "Who else invades my temple? Is it you Lynn, or is it some other creature of Twilight Magic. Has another of my dark kind surfaced to confront me now as well as these weaklings?" He turned, his vision lancing into the shadows looking for any trace of another master of Twilight, but all that greeted him were darkening shadows. Still lost in the throes of rage he didn't even see the flare of light as many more magi let loose runes traced in flame. He roared in anguish and fell, his back still smoking from the wounds. The magi at the door filtered in to finish him, they were about a half dozen in number now and more were walking in, looking down at the prostrate form. He lifted himself up on one hand and looked up to see the eyes, filled not with fear or malevolence but disgust. Mumbled words whispered around him sounded strangely out-of-synch as once more light flared in the long dark cavern. He hit the ground with a thump and darkness, true darkness, found him. He squinted his eyes open against the pain but could see nothing other than tiny pin pricks of light marking where the next attack would come from. Pounding his fist onto the cold stone he called up once more from his corrupt powers. He delved deeper and deeper into the ocean of his soul, not seeking out the pure power of the cave's crystals but his own energies. Hilyr drew his mouth into a twisted smirk, it was far better to fight the other pretentious magi by himself than have to rely on lechery and crutches such as the they did. With a roar of determination he raised himself up and faced his aggressors blindly. The mumbled words and whispered incantations were lost to him and he focused past them, focused on the words of his own spell, words crafted by his mind in the fire of his spirit. He cried out and suddenly the others' voices rose from a whisper to screams, screams that were drowned out in the din of the now trembling cave. The cavern was tearing itself apart with Hilyr's own rage; large boulders began to crash down upon the cave floor, smashing apart the crystals that had glown so cruelly and strangely since the dawn of dreams and darkness. In the chaos that tore around the cavern's denizens it was Hilyr who first saw this destruction, the tinkling shards spreading out around his feet. The shattered crystals had lost their inner hue as they hit the ground and now lay empty and barren of light. They that had been created by magic users' recklessness had long formed the core of Twilight Magic but they were now useless and hollow. Hilyr was above caring for their loss, he had achieved his potential to become a true embodiment of power, and power needed no others. He wondered though, in spite of that, what the crystals might have been like before they had turned into such bastions of dark power. What had it been like when they were still clear and pure? Had they ever been that way? Then for a moment he thought he heard another's voice, even as a large rock came down and clipped his shoulder, making him double over and fall to the ground. His right hand moved over to where the now sticky crimson ichors of his blood mixed freely with the cold ground. Other rocks began to tumble down around him more easily now. He could make out no other magi around, whether they were escaped or dead he could not tell. Already he knew that he himself was dying. Whatever great power he had could not halt that on the plane from which he was, even now, fading. Sighing softly he released his bleeding shoulder and let his lifeblood flow unchecked from him. A much louder crash jarred his still form and he felt something reaching towards him. He stirred from the ground and looked up at where the ceiling had once concealed the cavern, now laid bare and exposed to the outside night. How bright the stars looked, how peaceful he thought as something stirred in the recesses of his mind and his eyes widened. Softly he opened his cracked and bleeding lips as if to speak, but already he heard words being spoken to him, words that sounded so familiar, so distant. Then the moon rose up above the gaping cave roof and he was bathed in a pearly effiorescence as his own darkness parted to reveal him as he had been, standing proudly in robes of white. No, he could make out a human face, one that looked almost familiar. Was it he that had spoken before then or was it the voice of another weakling mage? His vision began to blur but he squinted up still at the stolid figure, at length making out a pair of silvery stars of light, eyes that he knew as his own or those that saw truth. Strange, he thought, as his mind began to float away and his muscles slowly relaxed. Not even the moonlight had been brave enough to venture into his cavernous home before, and yet the only one who would live to tell of it was someone who had never seen it in its dark and lonely majesty. And then with a final look of tired acceptance the Master of Twilight magic, Hilyr, collapsed again and fell into eternal slumber.
Chapter 8: Starlit Exit
At the edge of the crumbling hole in the cavern, a figure in muddy white robes sat quietly. Ryn had made it finally to the place where he was beckoned to come by Hilyr. He had whispered in the beast's air, the pent up rage within him seething into the pit of darkness as serpents. He looked down at the pathetic crumpled monster with eyes that had turned as cold as the light that had haunted him so long. Ryn thought of how he could venture down into the darkness to finish Hilyr. To totally remove the blight amid the reek of a greater malignancy, though, was meaningless. Ryn had lived in anger after Reya's passing, cheating even death in the throes of that hate, and dying all the same by giving in to that true root of Twilight Magic. He had won but a hollow victory in having lived only to kill. He looked down and saw the dead bodies, those Hilyr had caused with his final spell. Ryn's gaze drifted to where he saw Hilyr's body lying, still misshapen, in the spot he had fallen in final and peacefiul acceptance of his ultimate fate. He wondered what would happen to himself then, the hate that had strengthened him now had betrayed him and left him a shell whose heart beat ever more softly in its ivory cage. The final testament to his empty hate now lay dead and cold, and Ryn himself was soon to join Hilyr in that. Ryn heaved a long sigh that rattled in his lungs and lay gently down with his face to the near morning sky. He began to whisper, the soft and cloying words of a spell that would give back to the world what had long ago been taken from it. As Ryn weaved the words of a spell gently to summon his final rune, he caught sight of a pair of twinkling stars that seemed to outshine the others in the far corner of the heavens. The twilight forces that he had never faced within himself seemed embodied within these, as if Hilyr had become some being of more than flesh and magic and now looked down upon him. No, the light that had burned in Ryn's soul was his own, and Hilyr had no more claim to the world than he had when he was living. Hilyr was but a shadow that once had lived and now was gone. But Ryn was comforted in seeing some last trace of Hilyr in the sky, for though it was a mark of a shade, no shadow can exist without a greater light. Turning his eyes slowly he looked up at the calm moon and finished his spell in its pure silvery light.
Chapter 9: Light's Return
Lynn continued his vigil, alone, long after the fighting had ceased and the tides of magic had returned to rest calmly. He could feel the warmth of the air against his face and smiled with the feeling that the mountain itself was stirring again as, at last, Hilyr' s chill had passed from it. He had seen few come out of the forest. A few broken souls who shambled out only to collapse in the dewy grass, unsure themselves of whether they were dead or alive. The night was in its fullest, with the moon shining brightly overhead now. He would need to leave soon to reconvene the counsel as they would be needing a new leader. Lynn doubted that the elder of the counsel, who had survived the assault, would be eager to return to her position after the ordeal that had transpired. As he turned his back to go, Lynn missed a brief speck of silvery light blaze up in the forest's shadowy canopy and the silent cry of one last tortured soul reaching up tranquilly to the moonlit sky.
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