DUST. Everything was covered in dust and ashes.
Nádúr Noc, the main city of Terra, was once beautiful and full of life. Not like that night, the night the darkness descended from the far land of Ifreann.
Now, the round city of Nádúr Noc was dark, burned, and destroyed.
Trees were no longer big and full of different bright green and golden colors. The river Enosi, a stream that surrounded the city with its calm crystalline water, was now a rapid of blood and death. As for the sky, once bright and blue, it was now filled with dark smoke so thick, it made it nearly impossible to see the remains of the Zansèt Palace; a magnificent castle in the middle of the city made of pearls, flowers, rocks, and vines.
On that night, there was no music and laughter. The only things anybody could hear were screams and the desolate pleas of the inhabitants. Fear, pain, and unimaginable loss.
This city wasn’t the ruins of any ordinary war; it was the ruins between the light side of nature and the darkest of evils. Beasts and other horrendous creatures destroyed everything that they came across, killed everyone in sight. Soulless creatures who lived to torture. Answering to no one, no one except Him, the one who owned the darkness. The one who hell itself was afraid of.
On the outskirts of Nádúr Noc, across river Enosi, four of the elite warriors of Terra stood above the city on a grassy knoll. They watched as their sacred city burned to ashes. One of those men was Hans; a tall, muscular, man with electric blue eyes, bushy blond beard, and a bear’s claw scar down his neck and chest. Hans was no ordinary warrior. At the early age of twenty-seven, he was an outstanding earth wielder and the youngest leader the Elder Clan ever had. He was also the one in charge of ensuring the survival of their one last mission.
That night, Hans carried a brown forty pound bundle. The cargo’s value was far greater than all the riches of the world, as it was the world itself that depended on its survival.
“We are late,” cried a taller bald warrior.
“We are, but we can still make it,” said Nobu, a shorter, more muscular Asian man with two Koi tattoos on his left shoulder.
“Look at it.” The bald warrior pointed out at the ongoing war.
Houses burning, people running, beasts and fire destroying everything at their will. His body might’ve been rock solid, but his hand was shaking. “It’s impossible to reach the palace. There has to be another way.”
“There isn’t. Our only hope is getting to the castle,” Nobu explained.
Hans looked around in all directions. In addition to surrounding the city, the river Enosi had ten equally spaced creeks that flowed from the river’s bank, inwards, to the central plaza. “We’ll go through one of the river’s creeks to reach the plaza. From there we’ll have a short distance to the palace,” he said. “Get ready.”
As the warriors prepared to cross the waters into the city, the fourth warrior asked, “Is it true? Is He really here?” Each syllable trembling with fear. There was a moment of silence. The answer was obvious, as was the dread of speaking it out loud.
Finally, Hans stared at his entrusted cargo. “He was the first to arrive. He needs to make sure we don’t succeed.” Hans gave Nobu a nod. The soldiers descended the hill, and in the stealth-like manner they were trained for, ran through the tall grass until they reached the Enosi’s river bank. Nobu walked to the water’s edge and raised his hand in the direction of the thrashing bloody water.
The water began to churn, eventually opening to create a hollow circle between the bottom of the river and its surface. Once the waters were under his control, Nobu walked down the water cave into the river followed by Hans and the rest of the warriors.
As they walked undetected inside the water tunnel, the beasts continued shattering the bodies of all in their sight. The thick smell of iron and blood clung to their lungs as they choked their last breaths.
With a calculated pace, the group of men arrived at the base of the central plaza. Nobu slowly moved his hand through the air allowing a small portion of water to leak into the tunnel around their feet. Hans checked to make sure the dry bundle was cradled securely in one arm, preparing himself for his swimming ascent. The creek flooded, lifting the warriors up as the water levels rose towards the plaza’s ledge.
With the water almost at the top, Hans and the rest climbed up to the central plaza. A place where there were once dozens of jewels encrusted on the floors, smiling people, and flowers all around, was now replaced by corpses, blood, ruins, and stench. A place that separated the bank of the ten creeks and Zansèt Palace. Halfway between the creek’s bank and the castle stood a burnt tree. Engraved in its trunk were a mix of symbols from every culture known to mankind.
This was known as The First Tree.
With silent ease, the men crept onto the dry land and darted behind some nearby ruins. In the market, the screams were louder, the smell of death grew stronger. People ran in every direction but it was useless, the smoke was so thick, and the beasts were so used to the darkness that their prey never stood a chance.
In the middle of the chaos lay the decaying castle. Its flag, half burned, still waved Nádúr Noc’s emblem of the four elements etched on the First Tree.
Out of nowhere, a twelve foot tall, black spider jumped from one of the ruins and landed a few feet away from the group. In all the universe there had never been an abomination like the Skuggor. With red eyes that could see movement even in the darkest place and three scorpion tails so hard and thick they were almost impossible to penetrate, Skuggors were nasty creatures of darkness preying on every living thing. They enjoyed ripping apart their victims and were so fast it was said they could outrun any being ever created.
Undetected by the group, an unusually large Skuggor leaped and grabbed the fourth warrior tearing him into pieces with its tails and teeth. The team ran without looking back, but the beasts were faster. Another creature jumped out of the ashes, only this time, Nobu opened his palm and water flew from his pores. The water spouted and formed three pointy solid daggers. Nobu flicked his hand and shot the daggers into the beast’s eyes.
A chilling hiss flew closer to them. “Draak!” screamed the bald warrior with gushing terror seconds before he was taken away. The Draak were horrifying beasts which preyed from the sky. At the height of twenty-five feet, the dragons were made of bones with spikes on their arms, tail, and at the top of their enormous bat wings. Draaks were the most feared creatures. They were also known as death’s whisperer since the last thing their victims heard was a soft whisper right before the Draak’s claws punctured their skin and took them away.
Hans moved away, lifting his hand and summoning two thick roots from the earth. The roots grabbed the Draak’s leg, smashing it against the ground. The beast stood up as if nothing happened and attacked a villager.
“Stay on route!” screamed Hans as he sped up the pace towards the castle.
The warriors’ lungs filled with ash, their feet were drenched in blood, but they kept running to the castle.
A third Skuggor ran in their direction and jumped, aiming for Hans. The Skuggor was about to reach him, when SLAM, a ball of fire hit the beast throwing him off target. The Skuggor turned its focus to a young villager with his shaky palm pointed at him. Its red eyes glowed with molten fury as he growled and ripped the young villager’s body apart. Another life lost, a willing sacrifice made to ensure the survival of their precious cargo.
With the extra time given by the sacrificing villager, Hans stopped and passed the brown bundle to Nobu. “Whatever you do, don’t let them near.”
Nobu took the bundle. There was a moment of hesitation, then Hans placed his left hand on Nobu’s left shoulder. “Agnosco,” he said. Nobu placed his right hand on Hans’s right shoulder creating an X and repeated the same words, “Agnosco.”
Hans smiled and moved his hand away. “Run, my friend, run.”
As instructed, Nobu ran. Hans waved his right palm in both directions and smiled at the beast. The ground cracked until vines and roots climbed out and reached Hans’ hand. With a slight movement of his wrist, the vines lifted, creating a tall, thick wall between the warriors and the beasts. Nobu hugged the bundle and ran faster until he heard the horrifying whisper of a Draak followed by the gushing screams of Hans. The vine wall came down with a loud crack, and Nobu knew it was over. The blood in his veins went cold, and his feet stopped moving. There was no way to escape the Skuggor. No one ever had, no one ever would. Not in that realm.
Defeated, Nobu knelt down and unwrapped the bundle. A small six-year-old girl with gray eyes and tangled bright red hair blinked at him.
“Hide here. I’m going to go the other way to draw the Skuggor away from you. When they are gone, you run as fast as you can to the castle.” Nobu passed his hand over the girl’s hair. “Do you remember where the special entrance is?” The girl nodded. “Good.” He smiled, but his eyes remained sad and worried. “No matter what you hear, do not stop running.”
Nobu kissed the girl’s forehead. “And when you see her again, please tell my daughter I love her,” he whispered in her ear before hiding her between the bodies of two fallen villagers.
After quickly making sure the girl wasn’t visible, Nobu stood up and ran the other way luring the Skuggor away from the little girl. Once all the creatures were gone, the girl raced toward the castle. Within minutes, the Skuggor had killed Nobu and went on the hunt for her.
She could see it, the secret entrance to the Zansèt Palace, but there was no way to reach it in time. She sat on the ground letting the roots of the First Tree reach out of the concrete to create a barrier around her in order to shield her. She knelt down in the protective fort of roots and caressed one of them. “Thank you” she whispered.
She cleaned the dust off her face with her fists so she could focus better. She was only a child, but there was something about her that felt like an old spirit. To keep herself undetected, she concentrated on her breathing. It was as if she understood everything around her; she was calm and steady, ready to fight if it came to that. She wasn’t afraid, she knew what she had to do and acknowledged the fate she would face if discovered.
Pounding footsteps startled her. The sound came from the castle’s direction and grew louder and louder as they neared the girl’s hiding spot. The First Tree’s roots grew bigger to provide her with more coverage. This is it, He found me, she thought. She raised her left palm at the intruder’s direction and narrowed her eyes for a better aim.
Shining on her wrist was her birthmark, a Five Fold symbol.
At the moment she was about to attack, a nine-year-old boy, with fierce green eyes and messy light brown hair, stopped her. “Watch it, kiddo! It’s me.” The girl lowered her hand. Edan knelt in front of her. Trying to calm her, he covered her eyes with his hand and pulled her into a hug with his other one “I'm right here." Edan moved his hand from her eyes, allowing the girl to look up at him. Her strong cold features vanished leaving a scared child who needed someone to hold her.
"That’s more like it,” he said with a reassuring smile. “Now let’s go. She’s waiting for you, and we don’t have much time out here.”
Edan picked up the little girl. He held her steady, her face gently pressed against his chest and he ran as fast as possible. Four of the Skuggor noticed the movement and changed direction. Even at top speed, they couldn’t catch up with Edan. They couldn’t sense him either.
Edan wasn’t running straight; he was bolting in different directions and changing his route as much as possible. It wasn’t until he stopped stone cold that the girl knew something was wrong. She prepared herself to fight the beasts, but there were no beasts attacking them. It was Him; the feared one. He stood in front of the thin, muscular boy. The dark figure talked, but the words were muffled since the girl’s ears were covered by Edan’s chest and arms.
For the first time in her life, the girl couldn’t understand what was happening. She’d heard the terrible stories about Him, stories that could send chills of terror to the bravest warrior. And yet, Edan was there, standing without shaking or even blinking his eyes. By the rhythm of his heart and the movements of his body, the girl knew Edan was affected, but it wasn’t fear, it was something else, only she couldn’t tell what.
Edan whistled a high pitch note. A nearby Skuggor lost control and charged them. Edan grabbed a small crystal with a black powder out of his pocket, back-kicked it towards the Skuggor and, without letting her go, he ducked.
The crystal broke on impact releasing the black powder into the Skuggor’s eyes. The beast leapt over Edan’s stooped body and attacked Him, giving the boy a small window of time to escape and run to the castle.
Speeding up his pace, the boy arrived at the main gates of the Zansèt Palace and closed them before anyone or anything could get in.
Unlucky for the boy, it took Him a matter of seconds to snap the beast’s neck and take off after them. Edan hid behind a column and placed his finger against his lips. The girl remained quiet as instructed. Edan moved against a wall and opened a secret compartment between a series of branches and trees.
They walked between roots and dirt, eventually reaching a room that was not yet touched by darkness. It remained pure and utterly breath-taking. The place was made of petals, vines, precious stones and water. Screams of the torture and death happening outside could not be heard; blood could not be seen. It was the true essence of an intact Nádúr Noc.
“Tanya?” Edan called out. A woman with soft flowing black hair and wide gray eyes came out of one of the doors, ran to the girl and hugged her. “My baby!” She covered the girl with kisses. “My beautiful girl. Thank you, Edan.” She smiled and kissed the girl’s forehead for a second time. “You are finally here; you made it.” Her face changed from happiness to a type of pain so strong that only a mother who’d lost a child could understand. “You made it, but we won’t. I’m so sorry.”
Tanya moved her hand and branches grew out until they reached her hand. Out of the branches, a small box fell into her palm. Tanya opened the box and took out a vintage silver locket with an engraved "G" in the middle.
Tanya walked behind the girl and opened the chain. The girl moved her hands in circles, and a small gust of wind made her hair curl up into a bun. Tanya clasped the necklace and caressed her neck.
A loud thump was heard against the wall. The screams and cries were now audible inside the room. That only meant one thing: He found them. He was getting closer. “Edan!” Tanya gasped. “Quick!” The little girl’s hair fell back down her back, and Tanya lifted her into her arms.
Without wasting time, Edan moved his arms in circles, creating a beautiful bubble of blue fire. The girl clung to her mother’s neck. “Sweetie, let go,” begged the mother.
“I can’t. I don’t want to.”
“You have to, for all of us.” The little girl lowered her arms, and her mother kissed her goodbye before she placed her inside the fire bubble. A heartbreaking moment between a mother and her child, knowing that would be the last time they would see each other. Tanya kissed the girl’s nose and gently pressed the locket against the girl’s chest. “Never take it off,” she said while the fireball closed up.
Once it closed, everything went dark; everything went silent…
Everything…until an alarm clock blared like crazy.
TWELVE YEARS LATER (Present Day, Earth)
THE ALARM BOOMED and sounded until a hand with the Five Fold symbol birthmark reached out of a big blue bundle of blankets and slapped it off the nightstand. “Shut up!” whined the girl inside the bundle as she moved around to unwrap herself, revealing a red-headed eighteen-year-old. Her pale skin contrasted the deep blue sheets, and her wavy bright red hair fell like a waterfall over her shoulders down to her waist.
Her name was G, or at least that’s what everyone called her. For twelve years she had been living in the Truckee children’s home in Northern California. She had no memory of who she was, where she came from, or how she got there. She only knew that, for some strange reason, she had the same nightmare every night and that no matter what she did, or what she tried, she could never take off her necklace.
The girl opened her gray eyes and stared at the ceiling as she caressed her silver necklace. Her finger ran over the engraved “G” on the locket over and over again.
Sometimes it’s dangerous not knowing who you are, what you’re capable of, and what future awaits for you, especially when the darkness that slaughtered your entire family and world is about to find you.