The Darke choked the sky, clawing at the lungs of the palace folk in their desperate attempts to escape. Smog hung thickly in the air, blocking the light of the Suns completely. Avery ran, dashing madly through the marble halls, away from the sounds of screaming Sylves and triumphant cries of the Darkened Goblins. He cursed his luck, for had the Suns light not been drowned away by the thick smoke, perhaps he could have aided in keeping the Darkened forces at bay. His power thrummed beneath his skin, begging to be released, but the smoldering embers of his home would provide little assistance now.
The town had been taken, the creatures had forced their way into the castle despite the Royal Guard’s best efforts. No one among the Sylph race could fight against a Darke poison. Sylves were beings of life, and so the Darke could only do one thing to them. They had rushed through the halls, eviscerating everything and everyone in their path. Be they noble or servant, it seemed all the Redcaps cared about was shedding blood.
All that was left of the royal family were himself, his older sister Alathede, and his brother, Caldevir. Caldevir was a strong young man, standing taller than even their father had. His golden hair peeked out from a leather cap. He’d dressed in his armor quickly, fitting it awkwardly over his nightclothes. His wings were the large wings of any High Sylph, possessing a soft golden hue that matched his hair perfectly.
“Keep up with me Avery, we mustn't stop!” Alathede struggled to contain her sobs as she ran, leading Avery behind her by the hand. Many had attempted to gain her favor in the past, with her soft features and fiery hair. Her wing’s feathers were as red as a robin’s, a rarity among the Sylves. However, Avery was a far more rare occurrence. A White Sylph, pale as salt with small wings like a hummingbird and two long, ribbon-like tails. All of which were hidden by a heavy cloak.
Avery’s last two Night Sylph guards urged them on. His guards did their best to shield the fleeing royals from the massacre behind them. Vallis, the head of the Night Sylph Guard, stayed close to the royals while Batherie hung farther back. Their large, and imposing forms were a comfort to Avery, as they had always been. Blessed with six powerful, bat-like wings, purple-grey skin, and an affinity for Shadow or even Arcane magics. Forms of magic that other Sylves simply could not draw upon.
Avery struggled to keep his focus as they fled, his attention pulled to and fro by the constant fear. Flashes of panic, pain, and sudden calm jabbed into him like daggers. No matter how hard Avery tried, he could not shut out the suffering of his people out. So many had been lost, every friend and servant he had ever had. Three of his Night Sylph guards had already fallen, one of which had only started two or three days before. Avery hadn’t even learned his name. The twins, Bartok and Baron. Their eldest sister, Queen Ambergris, her wings savagely torn off. Catherine, missing or dead they could not be sure.
Their Mother and Father, run through by darkened swords. Avery shook himself, he could not think of them now. Mourning for him could come later. For now, he could not crumble. Not as they fled for their lives in what was quickly becoming the ruins of their home. Caldevir led them down many winding staircases, deep into the bowels of the palace where no sunlight ever touched. They stopped at an ornate mural lit with sunstones on either side, filling the hall with, weak yet warm, yellow light. Vallis felt around the mural for the right stone.
“Avery,” Alathede said, concern lacing her voice, “are you hurt? Did they see you?” She knelt to look at her younger brother, only younger by two years but still so small. His snow-white skin and hair shined in the low light, even partially concealed under the heavy cloak.
“No, I-I don’t think so. The cloak held. But they are of the Darke, they may sense my presence.” Avery, pulling on the edges of his hood.
“All the more reason to hurry. Vallis, how’s that passage coming?” Caldevir inquired, worry and fear creeping into his voice. Avery could feel his pain, his heart was breaking and clawing for comfort of some kind. Avery wished desperately to offer it, but could not find the words. Vallis went from stone to stone in a hurried manner, blunt claws leaving shallow scratches in their wake.
“Nearly have it, sire.” He replied, his voice steely. Avery could feel his heart aching too, Vallis had lost as much as he had, possibly more. The stoic guard too wished for comfort but seemed overcome by duty. Despite their pain, their fear, Vallis and Bathrie were by his side even now. Batherie, who had been keeping watch, suddenly spoke in a hushed tone.
“Sire, I think I -” His words were cut short as he fell, a black arrow protruding from his throat. The Darke arrow worked its accursed magic on the Night Sylph, and not even his Shadow magic could save him. It crept through his veins, invaded his amber eyes. Avery could not shut out the searing pain his guard felt, the Darke seeming to override the White Slyph’s control. Batherie turned to Avery in his last moments and crumbled away to shimmering black dust. Body, hair, and even the large leather wings of the Night Sylph crumbled into blackness. Batherie’s gemsmithed armor clattered to the floor with a deafening, musical, chime.
“Batherie!” Avery cried, anguish filling his heart, for Batherie had been a friend and guard alike. The cold fear of his friend silenced so suddenly left a hole in Avery’s chest. Caldevir jumped before his siblings with shield and sword at the ready and his large feathered wings flared out. The Darkened Goblins were upon them, bright red and purple eyes glowed from the darkness. The horrid creatures, twisted from their true forms, with ashen skin and wicked claws. Some had blackened cracks on their faces, from which the Darke seeped like a thick fog. Others dragged heavy and club-like arms behind them or hobbled forth with horrid pustules of Darke malice riddling their bodies.
“Any time Vallis!” He shouted, blocking an arrow with his shield.
“There!” Vallis shouted as the wall behind them began to open. Alathede reached out to Avery, ready to run with him through the opening. There was a zipping sound by his head and a wet thunk. Alathede stood in shock for a moment, a black arrow protruding from her chest. She reached towards Avery just as she crumbled before his eyes. Her fiery hair, her vibrant blue eyes, her beautiful russet wings. Nothing was spared from the Darke. There was no fear in her heart as she faded, there was only sorrow and pain, which lingered there until nothing was left.
“No!” Avery wailed in despair, falling to his knees at his sister’s dust-covered dress. His pain, his sorrow, his loss, these were all vague notions in Avery’s mind. Now, replacing them was rage so hot it seemed to burn his insides. Caldevir had seen it too, he had seen the death of his Sister. His anguish was too great to comprehend, but for now, he had to keep his last sibling safe. He kept his shield steady, blocking the Darke beings’ view of Avery.
Avery, in desperation, called out to the light around him and the voices of nature answered his call. The dim light of the sunstones behind him suddenly began to brighten. Avery allowed the light to wash over him. If he had not been engulfed in rage, Avery may have thought it odd that these stones intensified their light. But at that moment, he could not think of anything but vengeance for his family, his friends, his people. The heavily cloak fell from Avery as he himself glowed slightly.
The yellow light surged up his tails and flashed in a dazzling display. Avery’s wings grew and spread, resembling sunlight. His hair became as molten gold. Shining rings manifested around him, dotted with rage-filled eyes. Avery lifted from the ground, the eyes of his brother and the Redcaps fixed on him. This would not last, the light from the stones was far too weak, but it would be perfect for a single act of devastating defiance. Avery’s light seemed to repel the throng of deformed Goblins, but that would not satisfy Avery.
“BE GONE!” He screamed, in a voice that seemed to shake the stars in the heavens. A wall of sunlight erupted from him and forced back the Darkened Goblins with great force. Most were stunned into submission, falling from the walls and ceiling with wet thunks. Others were thrown by the force of Avery’s fury, slamming into the walls with sickening cracks. His light burned them in a way fire never could, it burned the Darke which had taken root within them. The oily smoke hissed and sizzled in the air, and Avery could faintly feel outrage emanating from it. His job was done, Avery fell to the ground as he reverted to his true form. His power was spent and the sunstones now seemed dimmer than they were before, but it would take the Darke at least a few precious minutes to truly take hold of the Goblins again.
Avery was dazed but could feel a certainty settling over his brother. He would not be able to register what exactly was said until much later, but the sacrifice must be told.
“Go!” Caldevir yelled to Valis, “Take Avery and run! Close the passage behind you! I’ll hold them off!”
“Just go!” Caldevir barked, before charging into the fray, his crystal blade tearing through the now-weakened monsters. Vallis seemed to struggle with himself, looking at the dazed prince before him. After a moment’s hesitation, he scooped Avery up as if he were a child and the discarded cloak, and hopped into the tunnel, closing it as he went.
Vallis ran with Avery held firmly in his arms until they reached the great caverns underneath their kingdom. He took to the air, his six leathery wings breating in a mesmerizing pattern and carrying them far away from their now-destroyed home. As Valis flew the caves, Avery slowly came to his senses once more. He had not quite expected that blast to take so much out of him.
“V-Vallis? Vallis where is Caldevir? Vallis?” Avery desperately asked, wrenching himself from Vallis’s arms and floating in mid-air with the aid of his tiny feathered wings. “Please tell me he’s right behind us!” Vallis could not meet the prince’s eyes, his own shining with grief. Avery was overwhelmed with shame and loss. Though, he could not be sure if it was Valis’ or his own.
“He told me to take you and run Sire…” Vallis said, his voice struggling to form the words he himself did not want to hear. “We must go. There is an outcrop just ahead. I-I will make doorways. They will be unable to track us if we separate.”
“What?” Avery asked, shocked. “What do you mean?” Vallis looked pained.
“Redcaps track with their noses. I will cast a charm to throw off the scent, but they will see through it if our combined scent leaves through one doorway. I can muffle yours for a while and send you somewhere else to throw them off.” The Night Sylph explained as he landed in the aforementioned outcrop of stone. “I will admit, this is a long shot, but it is the only thing I can think of.” Valis said, desperation flooding him.
“But what of you?” Avery asked, all fear and concern. Vallis smiled, trying to look confident but his grief was cut far too deep. Avery began to reach out, but Vallis suddenly dropped to his knees in the dirt.
“I will be fine, I will meet you at Ralbion. The Firbolg are the best allies we have right now.” Vallis said, drawing two sigils in the dirt with his claw. When he finished, he removed something from his pack and handed it to Avery. The White Sylph turned it over in his hands and found a smooth piece of Black Amber.
“Why would I need this?” He asked, concern creeping into his voice. Vallis took the cloak Avery had discarded earlier and draped it over the Prince.
“I am sending you to a realm they would never think to look for you. The Mortal Realm. Find the Rabbit Hole, they have a standing portal to a town close to Ralbion. Keep this Amber with you, it will help to ward off the effects of Metal.” Vallis explained, hurrying Avery into the center of one of the spell circles. Avery clutched the Amber to his chest, terrified at the thought of a realm so full of poison.
“How am I to find the Rabbit Hole?” Avery fretted, “My magic will be weak there.”. Vallis nodded gravely, placing a hand on Avery’s shoulder. Even the thought of the Mortal Realm sent a shiver up Avery’s spine. Magic would be far more difficult to use. But if he ran into issues with magic, so would the Redcaps. Valis squeezed his shoulder reassuringly, and Avery could feel the simple charm washing over him.
“You will know it, it is marked by a glowing sign bearing its name. I’m going to place you as close as I dare. Keep the cloak on and be careful who you speak to.” Vallis instructed, turning to put the last touches on the spell circle. Soon, Avery was ushered into the center of the circle, clutching the amber tightly. “Good luck my prince.” Vallis said as the circle began to glow and the world turned on its head. “I will see you in Ralbion.”
Avery spun through light and darkness, tumbling through existence. For a brief instant, he could see the ruins of his home, and the smoke in the sky. The image was like ink in water. It was soon swept away, and it seemed as though he could see all of the Underhill clear as day rushing away from him. The other realms zipped by him as he fell. Flashes of great trees impossibly tall and lakes of bubbling red water that went on for miles. For the briefest of moments, he saw the place between. It was vast, nearly endless, and empty save for the distant shimmers of light. Those were the doorways into the other realms, all guttering in every color imaginable.
As he tumbled through the realms, he realized that something felt off. The haste needed for Vallis to make this doorway was clear. Even more so as he was dumped like trash from the twirling colors to a place wet and dark.
A sharp pain shot up his leg as his ankle hit the ground at an awkward angle, he’d twisted it. Avery gasped for breath as he fell to his knees, one hand supporting him and the other still clutching the Amber to his chest. Rain pissed down from the heavens, and loud, cloying, noises raged against his throbbing head. Horrid smells that he had never even imagined accosted him, rotting trash to his left and right, and an acrid smell ahead of him. He looked up from underneath his cloak, and before him, he saw many different bright lights and strange carriages of steel zooming across a great, black, road.