Chapter One | How It Began
"When the world was but a dark nothing, a spark buried itself into the soil. Steadily, the spark grew into a bright tree, lighting the dark world. As it grew, it spread its light through the invisible current that filled the sky. It continued to grow until it reached the edge of the land it stood on, touching solid blue for the very first time.
Realizing how alone it's been all this time, it carved out a friend from its trunk and called them Vir.
Vir was instructed to create friends of his own.
A seed was buried into the very soil the tree grew on and named them Solum. Another was cast into the sky, taking hold of the invisible current. They were named Anima. The last was bathed in solid blue and was named Unda.
One day, when Vir was not looking, Solum had cast a light of his own. The tree dropped a seed into Vir's hand which was cast into the thing that blazed. Ignis was then born.
It is said that the creation of our world rapidly flowed thereafter."
Hollowed faces encircled a crackling fire, waiting for rest that would not come.
They looked quite tattered not only physically but mentally and emotionally from the events of only a few hours ago, though it seemed like a century.
"Today, the light remains in every one of us."
A young girl, around her teens, scoffed at this.
"And we must believe that the Lighting Tree has bigger plans for those of us who have survived."
"Light is a blessing," the teenage girl interrupted. "It is only given to those who are worthy."
Her words fell onto deaf ears.
"As a Seed, I should know.” She ignored their disrespect and continued, “we are special. Not everyone has light bestowed to them, your Eldership."
Still, no one cared.
The Eldership looked away, towards the sky, "Babu–"
"Lady Tyna," she interrupted the Elder.
Elder Monik visibly sighed softly.
"Yes, Lady Tyna was it, we of the people of Damyanov have a different belief. This land, in which we are currently imprisoned, is a land blessed by the Lighting Tree. We are under the belief that light magic is present not just in yourself."
Tyna chuckled mockingly.
"We who are truly blessed are not killers." She turned to the many faces riddled with guilt and sorrow. "And we are not tempted by the dark."
This time, she looked at a man whose face was marred by a battle from the morning before.
"Then why do you not heal us?" A child poked their head out from behind their mother. "Why do you cower like the rest of us?"
Tyna had no viable response.
It was true, she was afraid of the things that had crawled and gnawed on their neighbor's flesh. She could not wrap her head around the notion of losing one's agency as this was all so very new to her.
"The Lighting Tree has left us, truly," a man in armor murmured. "It left us half a millennium ago, Elder Monik. You cannot make us believe that the presence of some measly young Seed can save us."
Tyna was taken aback. She was no "measly" young Seed. She was powerful in her own right.
"The presence of the young Marquess does little to console us."
A comrade added soon after. "No offense, m’lord."
"None was taken," a young lord nodded in understanding.
His dark features blended with the night, but as he continued to stoke the small fires that lit the makeshift hold in the middle of a blessed forest, the embers of the fires lit his eyes and reflected the burning red strands of his hair.
"I am afraid to admit that I have no knowledge of what these beings are. No more than you, but I trust in my advisor."
The young lord turns to a man half asleep.
"Are we going to die, mother?"
There was one child amongst the peering eyes of young adults and adults alike.
"Kaipo, my dear," his mother whispered. "The Lighting Tree will not leave Hempholme to its knees. We will rise, you shall see."
Tyna wanted to say otherwise, but she hoped deeply that the lying mother was right.
None but one could muster the courage to sleep during the first night in the makeshift hold. When the second night arrived, most of the knights were reaching their end.
"It's better to sleep now than to be killed by the enemy."
The one woman who could shut her eyes in peace turned to face those who'd gathered around the fire. Her eyes continued to be as unyielding as they had been in battle. She was like spring fighting to release itself from the clutches of winter.
"Lady Asena, it's not as easy as you say. We cannot all sleep at peace like you."
"Shall I put you to sleep then?"
"And pray, tell us, sister, how do you propose we sleep?" Her brother half chuckled.
"I will knock you out. That is the easiest method for a restless mind, though I've never had a restless mind. I have read that it is helpful to stop the brain from overthinking. It is best to cut off the supply of thoughts by rendering you unconscious."
Her brother swallowed an imagined pain.
"The unconscious mind continues to dwell, my dear," Elder Monik informed her kindly. "We think even when we are not aware. They are what we call dreams."
"Yes," Asena nodded, "but not everyone vividly or lucidly dreams. It is not guaranteed that they will remember their dreams and therefore, will have gotten the rest necessary to travel out of Hallerbos. We cannot stay here forever."
"Why not? We're safe here."
"For now," the young lord interjected. "For now we are safe. We cannot be certain of tomorrow or the day after. We must get to Haerford soon."
"Darkness is overtaking us. The Lighting Tree has forsaken the world!" A man rambled in spontaneous shouts. "We will die in this prison! They mean to kill us!"
It was a man with a marred face. The fear was eating at him.
"How long before the infection turns him too?"
"We must flush out anyone who is infected before we leave."
"And how long would that take?"
A long discussion erupted between the higher-ranked knights and their young lord. Asena turned away from the irrational behaviors they were exhibiting. It was clear to her, that no one else would be turning any time soon. Such was what she had learned from the short interactions she had with those who'd been affected. Yesterday was not so long ago.
1. "Babu" is an informal name used to address someone out of affection. Elder Monik calls Asena this.