The Chronicles of Estiah

Chapter 3 : Memories

It started with whispers. Whispers became rumor, and rumor became open talk. Stories about villages attacked by demons that entered and killed a few people before running away. Soon, a large-scale panic spread. The creatures of the Shadow were reappearing, and they seemed unaffected by the Curse, as they had the ability to kill.

It finally came to the attention of the human kings that these stories were true, and they had no way to fight back. They were not able to forge weapons as they would disappear before completion, and they could not even train to defend themselves with simple tools or bare-handed as they could not keep that knowledge. Their only hope left was to try and study the demons to understand how they could do what they did.
Only the wisest scholars finally understood the bitter truth: During all these decades, humanity had grown used to shaping the world to their needs, while the scattered creatures of the dark were struggling to survive each day, hidden in the shadows. But doing so, they had developed a formidable adaptation skill. They had also been hit by the Curse, but they had been the first to find a way around it, and now they were taking their revenge upon the world, by slaughtering people that were unable to fight back.

What the demons actually did was abandon their individual consciousness for the greatest part. The few that kept themselves named themselves "demon lords" and commanded the other part, slowly instilling killing techniques to their very instincts. This way, the "lower" demons were able to fight without risk of losing that knowledge, while the lords made sure to use them as potent battle tools.

And it was very effective. As human towns were destroyed, the demons could multiply. A great human exodus started as people tried to gather into the largest settlements and castles that remained from the ancient age, while the wizards kept desperately researching a way for humanity to fight back against the demons.

Cities fell, and kingdoms were reduced to ashes. As all hope seemed lost, a solution to bypass the curse and use a weapon finally emerged:
Mages managed to entrap the very essence of a metallic weapon into a small item that would be called a "Charm". Using this charm, someone would be able to materialize the item trapped inside and use it for a few seconds before the Curse would make it disappear. However, the charm's power would be able to 'catch back' the particles of the item before it could truly vanish, and slowly regenerate it. This way, the Charm could be used again a short time later. Materializing an item from a Charm drains heavily on the spiritual power of the user, and only few strong willed people were able to use more than a dozen Charms before needing to rest.

This was a huge step forward. By carrying multiple Charms and using them one after the other, some warriors became able to fight in an almost normal way, materializing a new sword right after the first vanished.

The surviving humans managed to protect themselves for a while longer, their ability to fight back catching the demons off-guard. This was hardly enough to stop the war machine that the creatures of the shadow had become, but it was enough for the mages to make another major discovery: the ability to entrap knowledge in a Charm. Thus, fighting magic could be used again, as well as the most deadly weapon techniques.

Upon understanding the humans' ability to create Charms, the demon lords decided to go with an all-out attack on the last humans remaining. Furious and bloodthirsty monsters soon assaulted castles where experiments on Charms were carried out. Unprepared, defenders with the newly created Charms resisted with the power of desperation, but were still no match for the shadow creatures.

That was not an epic battle but a one-sided slaughter of weakened humans by murderous monsters. Shining under the crescent moon, silver rivers were tainted with blood, as if they were crying alongside the fallen castles where last screams still echoed. The army of the Shadow ravaged everything in its way, leaving only mutilated corpses and burning ash. It was said that humanity suffered greater losses even than when wars between humans had occurred.

The last human bastion was the fortified city of Zeal, the birth place of spell-charms and also the center of the greatest magical discoveries since the age of legends. Its fall would also most likely bring the final doom of humanity. As the heart of the demon army was known to be slowly gathering around the city, the wizards were preparing for the final battle. They knew that it was possible to devise spells much more powerful than the ones they had, but this kind of development under the Curse required huge amount of resources and time.

To create a spell, a skilled wizard must release unto himself the knowledge of two or three spells of the same type. During the few seconds that this knowledge could remain in him, he must be able to perform a stronger version of the spell, and entrap it in a blank Charm.

This operation is extremely exhausting for a mage, and the Charm recipient that must be used for potent spells have to be pure gems.

Some have tried to release more than three charms on themselves, believing this would allow them to create stronger spells. However, the amount of knowledge released at once in their mind drove them mad, and they died shortly after.

The city was ruled by four wizards, called "High Councilors". They were supervising the creation of new spells, managing the reserves of charms and the training of apprentices. They were also making the citizens work in building defenses to have the best terrain advantage possible when the demons would attack.

But it came too soon. One very dark night, the patrolling guards realized that the ripple they could make out on the plain around the city was not caused by the wind on the grass...
As a moon ray pierced through the clouds, the Zealians realized that they were surrounded by hundreds of thousands of eyes glowing in the dark- a black uniform mass. The alarm was quickly sounded and the defenders rushed to their posts, but the color drained from the face of each man looking at the size of the demon army. They had realized that even if every single man was able to defeat a hundred demons, they would still be outnumbered...

While the first screams of the battle echoed on the outer walls of the city, the councilors gathered in the dungeon tower to discuss their possibilities. A violent argument started and one of them vanished, never to be heard of again. The remaining others finally agreed on a "plan". They came out and relayed new orders: Every mage was to return each of his spell Charms to the central room in the dungeon, where all the unused charms were already stored. It was not an act of suicide or despair, but a real plan that could bring salvation to them all... or so they said.

The outer wall was eventually breached, and the demons quickly flowed inside like a torrent of black water, ravaging the city and slaughtering every single soul in their way. The remaining fighters retreated into the fortress to make their last stand, while the last mages that had given their charms left the storage room. The councilors quickly explained that they would now perform a ritual that only they knew and locked themselves inside the vault.

The light inside the room was dim, and the floor was covered with huge piles of gems and other small trinkets. Inside each of these was entrapped the essence of a spell or a knowledge. Most of them did not even hold something fitted for battle, as they were part of the first knowledge charms ever created, and were used mostly to test the entrapment process. Nonetheless, the number of all accumulated charms in this room was massive.

Silently, the councilors sat in the middle of the room. They knew what had to be done, and no words could have made it easier. Their so called plan would have been seen as pure insanity, had they given the details.

They intended to release unto themselves all the charms of this room at once.

What they hoped was simple: in the split second between the time where they would receive this extreme amount of knowledge, and the time where they would die from it, they believed they might be able to devise a new spell that would allow them... to destroy the demons. Were they really trying to find a way to save their people? More likely, they had used their influence to offer themselves the best end possible, by fulfilling the most inner and secret desire craved by every wizard: a grasp on power and knowledge in amounts that far exceed the limits of human beings.

They did not even hear the muffled sounds of people being killed in front of the vault door. They closed their eyes... and started.

A few miles to the north, a man emerged from a cave concealed in a hill. All the effort involved in having this underground passage made and kept secret had finally paid off.
He stood there, his face void of expression, and watched. The night was dark, but the burning city was easy to make out. It was hard to tell how many demons were still outside and pressing to enter, but the only sure thing was that they never stood a chance in the first place.

Then, it all seemed to happen at once. A blinding light robbed him of his vision and brought an intense pain in his head, while a mute brutal sound made him lose his balance. As he started to fall, he was pushed even further back by a wind of incredible strength. Once lying down, he started to feel the heat... burning, searing, suffocating...
He was curled in a white hell. His hands instinctively went to protect his face from the fire, but it could not prevent the heat from entering his lungs and consuming him from the inside as well.

He was certain he had died, but still the pain would not go. On the contrary, it was becoming even more real... The ground- he could still feel the ground under him, and it was no longer shaking. It seemed the wind also had stopped, but his skin was still burning. So he had survived? But for how long? The pain heightened, but his vision slowly turned back from white to black.
Hands shaking, he could not help opening his eyes and trying to see. After a few seconds, he could make out the sky. The night was clear, a very bright full moon illuminating a sky full of stars. As he started looking down, he realized that he was staring at a wasteland. A flat dusty ground void of vegetation or signs of life. As the memories of what happened were flowing back in his painful head, he looked at were the city should be standing, but he could not find it in this desert.

A movement finally caught his attention. In the sky, a huge black mass was floating. Was it the remains of Zeal? It seemed indeed that the whole city was floating in the sky, a small new moon standing still in the air. Yet, something else was moving... It was not alone, there were two... no, three of them. Three smaller masses circling around the floating land.
The burns on his body started to pulse harder, forcing him to close his eyes. An ocean of pain on each heartbeat...

The young man under the tree was feeling the same pain. Alone, in the darkest part of his mind, the pain was maddening. Never before had he endured such things... Death would have been a relief.

Maybe it was for the best that this pain quickly exceeded his limit of perception, and his consciousness started to fade away, wandering in the lost places of his mind. Time stretched, each moment lasting an eternity. He started to recall past episodes of his life, casual moments that he would never have remembered but his subconscious did. It was as if a part of his soul was still trying to bind him to reality in some way, or trying to make him understand something? It seemed a lost cause. All he could do was let his mind drift away... All of this was so distant that he did not even remember these things as if he were himself, but rather an invisible shade following a body that was never his.