Phantammeron book one, p.3
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       Phantammeron Book One, p.3

           Mitchell Stokely
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  Deep in the blighted and black Realms of Oblivion, there had come another into this sad world—a lonely child named Agapor. He was born of a cold and cruel mother, and conceived by the seed of a father, yet unseen. Within the fearful and forbidding hallows of Oblivion was he born, crying out for the hands of comfort and compassion. Yet cradled in the cold arms of that being called the Nameless One was he cruelly kept. For no love was shown him as he slept.

  Within the frigid halls of her fallen fortress, the mother had heard the cries, not of her wailing child, but of a monstrous being hiding in the chasms that lay deep beneath her keep. It long had cried for the bastard child whose father had departed long ago. The aged mother then cruelly ripped her son away from her, casting him from her mountainous halls, down into the roaring depths below.

  Into a hidden land, bathed and bound in relentless fog, Agapor was thrown. Past the Gates of Eventide he fell, beyond whose portal neither dark nor light might tread, down into the timeless Not-World called Wendalia. Through the shifting shadows of gray mists, whose dim light cast a somber glow upon that formless space, he drifted, down into the cold and silent waste, until at last his little body fell upon the rocks below. There, he clung upon the lonely lip of a barren precipice, overlooking a yawning chasm, whose dark ether ebbed and flowed.

  Alone and abandoned, the frail child cried upon the windswept ledge. A frigid fog flowed down and around him, wrapping the child in its cold embrace, until it was itself ripped away from the face of the rock. Its vapors were then sucked down into the monstrous mouth of a violent vortex, which slowly spun about itself in the gray depths below.

  Here Agapor lay, cast away by his mother, forgotten by the world. His tears dripped down into that storm, until a black spirit awoke in the gloom about him. That being saw the suffering child and took pity on him, until at last it reached up with its great black hands and took the crying child with it into the chasms below.

  There in its dark bosom was Agapor nurtured, feeding upon the waste and refuse that fell from above. For many ages was he nursed within the black arms of that being, until in time he grew with strength and power, and awoke as from a dream. At last he opened his eyes, and looked into the terrible face of that grim spirit whose dead orbs stared down at him like shaded suns eclipsed by shadowed moons.

  The sinister being then spoke to Agapor, with words dark and yet divine, saying, “My child, the hand of cruel fate has delivered you unto me. For long ago your own loveless mother, who dwells in the hateful lands above, had cast you away into this lonely pit so you might perish alone in its cold prison. And so I found you as a baby, frightened and abandoned, taking you into my arms, and loving you as my own.”

  The spirit spoke again in a softer timbre, most beguiling, saying, “But my child, I too am a prisoner of this forgotten realm of Wendalia. In ages past, I was bound to the bottom of this chasm by the powers of another. Black manacles, forged by the forces of darkness, entangled and entwined within them, were placed upon my wrists. By unbreakable chains was I then bound to these rocks so I might be kept, ever after, from the fulfillment of my dreams. And so, like you, I have suffered, but with unending and torturous hunger and thirst, crying out in pain and agony, trapped and hidden from the lands above where once I dwelt among my kind.”

  Agapor then saw the full suffering of that being and took pity on him. He climbed out from the icy breast of that black beast, and rose to his feet upon the jagged rocks of Wendalia. He found the dark manacles of iron that bound the being to its prison and broke them. For unknown to Agapor, within his own hands lay the source of the strength that could unbind them.

  The vile spirit was freed at last, and rose up into the dark skies above, forming a vast and angry storm that filled the air with thunder and lightning. Agapor then heard the terrible roar of violent winds, and the malevolent cackle of laughter from within its great black orifice. Agapor climbed upon a rocky summit, and seeing his master’s monstrous force, called out to it in the gale. But the beast in truth cared not for the child, and came down upon him to consume him. For that being was evil and deceptive, and had used the troubled child to free it from its prison.

  Agapor stood fearlessly before it and spoke with bold words, telling the spirit that he too sought to escape his prison. He desired only to find his mother in the lands above, and to unleash his anger upon her for his cruel abandonment. He told the spirit he would also seek his father in that realm. And he too would know of his anger. By his own hand they both would suffer. Such was Agapor’s sinister plot, conceived by pride yet birthed by vengeance.

  The prescient spirit looked upon the face of Agapor with his callous eyes, and saw reflected within the boy’s spirit his own dark heart. And yet in the boy it saw too a strange fate, only partially revealed to it through the child’s words. For it had seen in a strange vision borne by haunting dreams that their two fates would be joined as one, and that through the boy would its will be done. And great evil against his brothers and their kind would be unleashed into this world by this child’s own hand.

  The dark being then spoke to the boy, telling him it would help him find his mother, if he would destroy yet another. For unto it had come many servants, telling it of a terrible ocean that lay beyond the Lands of Midnight, within whose cursed waters a creature of misery now slept. This creeping monster that dwelt beneath the seas had been born to command those strange waters, and by its powers drown this world in its dark and decadent seas.

  Agapor stood upon the rocks and listened to the spirit and its tale, until he at last vowed to help it consume the seas and slay the terrible creature that lay within it. The black spirit then told Agapor he desired to possess his form. And so could he travel to the lands beneath the Arch of Heaven unseen. But first he must place upon his wrists the manacles of iron that he had broken. For they contained fearsome spirits, which had been bound to them by the dark magic hidden within their metal. And the spirit of his own being could only be contained within Agapor by those dark bracers.

  Agapor thought upon the creature’s words, and the powers that would be bestowed unto him. By them alone, would he finally fulfill his vengeful desires. But he hesitated. For he heard in those black manacles strange whisperings from the spirits of the night that yet hid within their iron.

  As he placed the evil bands upon his wrists, the dark breath of the storms above him were drawn into his body, so that he and they were now bound as one. The energy of that spirit then flowed like a mighty river into Agapor’s veins, so that his eyes turned black as jet, and his heart pumped and burned with the same cruel passions and all-consuming desires it possessed. Into him had come an everlasting hunger and unending thirst, which no force created under Heaven could now satiate. He thirsted for the waters of the seas. And he would not stop until he had made them his own.

  Agapor fled the fringes of Wendalia, travelling its hidden paths about the bloodstained cliffs, until he found the twisted stairs that led up to the Realms of Oblivion. Upon their summit, he came across his mother’s ghoulish chambers. For their high-walled hallways were built of the bones and skulls of the children of the Primordial Ones who had fallen in the countless wars waged in those dark lands.

  Hidden in the depths of her mighty mausoleum, sitting on her ebony throne, Agapor found her. About her sat many vile servants, dire children born of her many lovers. From above, the twisted faces of the undead looked down from their shadowed heights, grimacing and snarling at the brave boy.

  This was the home of the Nameless One, the queen of that unliving land, who for many ages had ruled over the gruesome host that crept there. She had a twisted mind, born of madness and cruelty, most depraved. For she wielded her bony fists of iron such that none would challenge her. Nor could any being enter her house, living or dead, which was not soon perverted to her will and thrown into everlasting servitude to her. For she alone now ruled that horror-filled domain, its former lord having long ago been ripped away from it.
br />   At the first sight of the boy, she recognized him as her long-forgotten son. The cruel queen then smiled and walked forth to greet him. With knotted and aged arms outstretched, she sought his embrace.

  But Agapor came upon her swiftly, like a black cloud cast down from the Heavens. With the fearsome forces that now dwelt in him, he bore his full vengeance and wrath, rising up with inky and billowing clouds of shade and shadow, bearing the full tempest of his own black and betrayed spirit down upon her. Agapor then wrapped his misty tendrils about her throat and drew her form into him.

  In terror, she called out to her son, pleading for her life. But in her anguish, he only smiled down at her with cold and remorseless eyes. Yet, in the throes of her demise, she looked upon his face once more with a cold and cruel visage and laughed.

  Agapor then stood aghast at the words she spoke to him.

  “In you, my son, now dwells the spirit of the Limitless Void, he who was once ruler over this savage land. You are now bound to that vile spirit. And though by your own hand has he been freed, nevermore shall you be free from him,” said his mother.

  She told him that the Void was her creator and lover. He had drawn her evil spirit from his own, long ago. He had then given her a gift that altered her hideous form, making her desirable in the flesh, so she might go forth and seduce her master’s brother. By their jaded and carnal union was he, Agapor, conceived—a bastard child, born and abandoned by the parents of two worlds. He was thrown into the cold pit so that her master might find him and be freed by his hands. For by his birthright could he alone break those chains. And so, for this one purpose alone, was he conceived.

  Agapor looked deep into his mother’s eyes as she spoke. Into his mind now came many unanswered questions. Agapor then raised his fists in rage, shouting, “Who is this father who hath willed me into this fallen world, then abandoned me to my own doomed fate?”

  Then from within Agapor’s own spirit came billowing forth the great storms of the Limitless Void. The mouth of that all-devouring tempest, which had sprung forth from the boy, now widened and began to spin before them as a monstrous black storm.

  With a booming voice, it spoke boldly to the Nameless One, saying, “Surrender to me, my servant. Your labor is now complete. Yet, for your ignoble deeds must you now pay the forfeit of your life.”

  But the Nameless One cried out to the terrible spirit, saying, “Why, master, must I perish? Have I not served you as you wished? Have I not given you the child of the one you sought?”

  With swirling clouds and shrieking winds, the Limitless Void opened wide his great black orifice before her. Looking upon her with his dark and sinister eyes, he said in a booming voice, “Come to me.”

  The dark mother then closed her eyes and obeyed, walking forth into the darkness to meet her doom. As she was sucked into its depths, she cried out for her son. But her form and spirit were quickly consumed by the powers of the Limitless Void. Agapor could only look on in horror, and yet fascination, at his mother’s terrible fate. Her cries echoed out into the night, as her spirit disappeared into the depths of the Great Beyond, where awaited the evil that had crept there for all eternity. Like the deathless realm from which she had been conceived, nevermore would she be known in this world.

  So was the will of the Limitless Void enacted. The Void now sought to destroy the Dreaming Seas by the hand of the child he possessed. And the great eye of his storm turned towards Agapor. Seeing its wrathful shape gathering about him, Agapor knelt before the cursed spirit. The cloud of the Void then gathered into himself his true form, taking the shape of a noble man with a tangled beard upon his gray face, and a bejeweled crown upon his head, whose massive stone shone dimly its ghoulish light down upon their faces.

  He came before Agapor, saying it was done. His mother was dead. He then commanded Agapor to go forth under the Heavens, seeking the Dreaming Seas, so they might destroy them. Agapor obeyed. But as he looked upon his master’s face, he saw a mysterious and unspoken fear within the eyes of the Limitless Void. And he saw a hesitation he had never seen before. For the Limitless Void had sensed within that watery domain an unknown and mysterious power he could not yet comprehend.

  The Limitless Void then formed himself into a streaming cloud once more. And Agapor received his spirit back into his flesh. The icy veins of Agapor again flowed with the spirit of the Void. But he also held in him the cold spirit of his mother. He felt the curse of her blackened heart within him, as he thought upon her cruel words. But so too, an unbridled passion for revenge against his father still burned within him.

  As Agapor turned to leave his mother’s halls, a glint of something caught his eye. As he looked down he saw below in the black dust of his mother’s ashes a large ring carved out of blackest jet. By its dark enchantments, the Nameless One had tempted Agapor’s father with her seductive form, though it had devoured any love between them long ago. Enamored of its strange form and glow, Agapor placed the evil ring upon his right hand. And a spirit within it vaguely stirred.

  The baneful children of his mother’s house now fled before him in terror, back into the depths of the endless and twisted hallways. Agapor wrapped his dark cape about him, and climbed out of his mother’s cold halls, past cloud-covered chasms, and over the cragged cliffs that bordered that dire realm. Through the Halls of Time and past the Veils of Night he travelled, where the darkness that guards the Lands of Midnight break free, until he saw the dim twilit mist of the ocean before him. He then stood in awe of the beauty of the silver lights of the Mountains of Heaven as they shined down upon the seas.

  He gazed down from a windswept and rocky rim, looking with wonder upon the vast and limitless, watery waste of the Dreaming Seas below him. The ocean had slept undisturbed and quiet in the dim light of that twilight realm for many ages, filling the vast and limitless abyss, whose dark depths no eyes had yet seen. For the embrace of the impenetrable mist refused to reveal its secret child. And the Dreaming Seas’ gentle waves, though calm, were yet wild, hiding within their monstrous mass a vast morass of secretive waters which, conceived from some other world, had been thrown like him coldly into this crueler one.

  Their monumental presence appeared to Agapor both threatening, and yet strangely calming and familiar. Agapor knew not the measure of their immense power, nor the limit of their form. When he looked upon that ocean, he saw only the wind upon the waters. And he heard only the whispers of the waves. Yet within that boundless ocean he suddenly felt a presence of something mysterious hidden within their waters—something that stirred within him some elevated feeling of hope and happiness, yet whose source he could not see, only sense. For the abiding spirit of its being was concealed within its darker depths.

  He then heard within those waters a heartbeat now stir, pounding with a living force he had never felt before. But Agapor’s mind could not wonder upon its mystery for long. For the evil spirit of the Limitless Void that hid in him rose forth again. It now filled him with its great thirst and hunger for vengeance.

  The Limitless Void then spoke with its black tongue, saying to Agapor, “The secret beast of the seas lies beyond this shore, in the darkest depths of these waters. You have made a vow to find it and destroy it, Agapor. And to this vow are you still bound. With the powers I grant unto you, go forth and part the seas and slay the creature in its tomb. Then shall the oceans falter and fall before you. Nevermore shall they be free to fill this world with their cold and wasteful presence. For I shall summon up from the abyss great evil to consume them. And with their fall, I shall break the heart of their creator, and obliterate the blasphemous being who hath dared to make them.”

  Agapor obeyed. Yet within his secretive heart there remained great doubt.

  The Limitless Void now summoned forth, from within Agapor, his violent storms and winds to assault the seas. Agapor felt those forces rising within him steadily, as a river flowing before a mighty cataract. He wrapped himself in his dark cloak, which swirled about him as he stood u
pon the rim of the world.

  The forces of the Limitless Void gathered as one within him. Then from Agapor’s own mouth billowed forth a terrible storm of dark clouds, booming thunder, and raging winds. Rising up from the depths, the towering thunderstorms gathered, black and foreboding above him. The peaceful seas trembled on the shoreline, until the surf grew still in fear under the growing shadows of the clouds.

  But the Arch of Heaven, in its quiet majesty, shuddered as it looked down upon the shadowed seas and saw within their quiet mass a malevolent force take shape.

  With the powers of the Limitless Void, Agapor summoned up frightening black mists and tumultuous clouds from out of the pits of the world. The mighty storm climbed up into the Heavens with great gusts of winds and spinning gales. From on high, he then commanded the storm to descend upon the ocean, assaulting it with wild winds and pelting rains.

  But the Dreaming Seas, seeing the approaching storm, gathered their watery might within them to meet the approaching tumult. Rising up from their twilight depths, their waves rocked and swayed in violent defiance before the storm. They then threw themselves against the mighty maelstrom, wherein the wind and water clashed in a fearsome display. The ocean’s waves were slung about, torn by the terrible winds and rains of Agapor’s wrath, until they summoned forth great powers born of some secret source, unseen within. They then drew the black clouds from out of the sky, down into their waves, so that Agapor himself was sucked into their dismal depths.

  Agapor was thrown about the waves until, nearly drowned, he was flung upon the black shores of the ocean’s rocky rim. Wounded, Agapor bled great billows of cloud and fog, until in his utter exhaustion he lay there alone, broken, and beaten upon the rocks. The troubled seas lay calm once more, as the storms retreated into the distant horizon.

  Agapor clung to the rocks of that forbidding shore, looking down with rage at the swirling dark waters below him. The sea had not parted, nor was revealed the sinister creature the Limitless Void had said would be found hidden therein.

  But as his dark eyes looked upon the surface of the seas, the ocean was cast aglow by the twilit mists that descended upon it. He then saw in their depths a distant light, beautiful and seductive. Like a silver pearl in the confines of a tiny shell, it shined with a warm and loving light. Within his black heart something new was now awakened.

  With curiosity, Agapor stood and walked to the farthest rocks of the shore and saw, hidden beneath the rolling waves, a creature of enduring beauty. There the lovely maiden An lay, her dark tresses unconfined, flowing freely in the brine. Like a tiny flower she seemed to him, which, blossoming forth in the dark corners of some hidden glade, shines forth clear and bright from within the shifting shadows its rare and radiant beauty upon some privileged eye. For the waves wove steadily her warm colors across the shadows of his cold and hardened heart, until it softened and fell away like the waves that now drew themselves apart.

  Yet Agapor’s passion for her was soon eclipsed by a dark obsession, born of the perversions of his mother’s lustful heart. And, like his father, he now succumbed to some strange temptation he could not resist. And the ring upon his finger seemed to dimly glow and burn upon his hand, as it had done when his parents had fallen to their own sordid desires.

  Agapor called to the child of the seas. But she remained silent. Nor would she be lulled from that dream-filled slumber by his calls. Her darkened eyes opened not, nor could he sense upon her lovely face what her inner mind outward wrought. So it seemed to him the cursed seas, like a prison, held her fast within their grasp. He could not part the maternal waves that bound her, nor break the spell of fateful slumber wrapped about her.

  Yet to him alone had the secret of the seas been revealed. She was not a monster but a maiden, whom the seas had long coveted. For this lonely child of the ocean seemed much like himself, enslaved to the will of a greater power, and tortured by it. He would free her. He would rip that precious pearl away from its watery prison and take her far away from it. His eyes grew black, and his dark lips twisted with a sinister smile from the lustful designs that now filled his mind.

  But his thoughts were soon broken again by the deep and booming voice that rose from within. The Limitless Void spoke to Agapor once more, reminding him that by his hand alone must the sleeping siren of the seas now die. And with her death would the seas then falter and fall before them, so that he, the Limitless Void, might have vengeance upon their maker.

  Agapor then felt within his chest the Limitless Void’s penetrating hunger. And the unquenchable thirst burned upon his tongue. Agapor fell to his knees upon the rocks, trembling. The Void then turned Agapor’s frail mind against the seas again, so that his possessed eyes glowed with a pale and ghostly cast.

  “Thy will shall be done,” Agapor said. But hidden in Agapor’s heart still burned a secret desire for the child of the seas.

  The Limitless Void granted to Agapor the last and greatest of his powers. He would summon the might of Oblivion’s greatest demonic armies. And to him would now be granted the evil servants of the Great Beyond, which the Limitless Void had once commanded as his own.

  Agapor rose to his feet again, and with renewed strength, called forth colossal servants from the bottomless spaces of the world. In endless streams, the Void’s most loyal servants came forth, riding the dark winds cast forth from the catacombs of Oblivion. Ghostly spirits and dark denizens of the underworld soon appeared, driven forward by black behemoths of monstrous force and might. Beyond these armies rose up vast storms of destructive power, summoned from the depths of Wendalia, so that the hands of their streaming fogs stretched their slate-gray fingers over the phantom armies, shrouding their masses in its smoky blanket.

  The undead servants of his mother’s house also heard his cry, rising up from the foul craters and chasms of the land in which they long had hid. They were abominations of form and flesh, born of some sinister creator whose sickened mind had at last surrendered itself to the horror of its own imaginings. They came in countless numbers, bubbling up and slithering out from the mindless unknown. These were the forms of the fallen flesh of corrupted demons—the bastard children of the Realms of Oblivion, whose lost and forlorn spirits had been denied the path to the Lands of the Afterlife.

  They flooded through the haunted Corridors of Darkness, past the Veils of Night, driven by the crackling sounds of barbed whips slung forth by grim lords of might, bound together as one by chains of ebony and iron. Agapor commanded these mindless flocks to gather upon the rocks below, until as one mass they throbbed and moaned beside the foaming and sloshing surf.

  Of all the beings the Limitless Void summoned, most feared were the servants of the Emptiness, the violent storms called the Magra. These were the spinning vortices, the Gray Ones, whose strange and monstrous forms now slowly spun up from the pits of Wendalia. They had come into being before even the birth of the world, formless and ephemeral, first collecting themselves into great gray clouds born of the very breath of the dying spirits of former worlds now lost. For they had gathered into them the pale dust of the cosmos, ground down from the bones of many worlds prior, which the Nothingness and Emptiness had themselves long ago consumed.

  The Magra were the devourers of dreams, which the Emptiness had cast out from the corpses of those countless worlds. They had hung themselves upon the corners of this universe, where their jaws eternally chewed upon its roots. Like their evil creator, they drew forth all form and matter into their blackened maws, such that none could avoid annihilation. The true Lords of Emptiness were they, such that by his will they alone could unbind the lights of the Spirit Divine from the Heavens, and thus return the Great Father’s many forms to formlessness.

  These huge beings now gathered before the grim spectacle, beyond the Mountains of Heaven, looking down with their many malevolent eyes upon the shining seas below. The oceans trembled as the Magra gathered their howling winds and twisted clouds about them, drawing forth into their black mouths the sil
ver lights from out of the Mountains of Heaven, until only the Twilight Mist remained to shine down its somber light upon the trembling waves of the sea.

  Agapor looked upon the dire armies that had gathered below and was pleased. But as he stood upon that cliff, he gazed upon the black manacles on his wrists. And he heard from within them weird whispers, and the flickering of mysterious lights. For in those forged manacles had been placed the spirits of the children of the Endless Night, the beings named the Shadow and the Shade.

  Agapor called forth the spirit of the Shadow from the black manacle upon his right wrist. And he called its sibling spirit, the Shade, from his left. Their dark and sinewy clouds streamed out from his hands, climbing forth into the skies, until the winged forms of those two dark angels stood before him on the black rocks that lay above the swaying seas. Agapor then looked with curiosity at their strange forms.

  The Shade was the daughter of the Endless Night, and beautiful beyond words. For she had her father’s noble face and form. And so the power over the nighttime skies and airs were hers alone. Her long sable hair wrapped about her voluptuous form. And her hypnotic eyes of jet none could resist. But her crimson lips could only smile, as she drew her black feathered wings about her seductive form, and looked at the frail figure of the pale boy that stood before her.

  But the towering form of the Shadow, her brother, was black and threatening. Of these twin spirits, the Shadow was most powerful. For he was the first-born child of the Endless Night. Into him had been cast the spirit of the Night’s infernal darkness, whose shadows first stretched out from the feet of the Mountains of Heaven. His powers were of the lightless mantle of Midnight, which his father had placed within him. Yet he held not his father’s greatest gift, the Glourun. Nor had he the Wings of Night. For they yet remained with the Endless Night, his father.

  The Shadow’s ebony skin drew all light into it, as his long and muscular form stretched its leathery, bat-like wings above Agapor. The Shadow grinned and bore his black teeth to him, as he looked upon his small frame. And his large red eyes burned with a secret fire born of an ancient hate, which caused Agapor to step back from him.

  Agapor looked again upon their towering forms with fascination. He then said to them, “The lavender lights that lie upon the oceans before you must be extinguished. And the skies above must be turned to blackest night. Go forth and do as I command.”

  The dark angels looked at their new master, with faces cold and unmoving. They then turned away, flying up into the Heavens. Before their master their darkness took shape as a huge ebony dragon, whose great wings stretched across the skies, gathering beneath it a vast sheath of impenetrable darkness. The monstrous form cast its dark shadow down upon the seas, so that where the mist had gathered, its dim light was now hidden from its surface.

  Agapor laughed with delight, as he saw the last lights of the seas diminish, and the gathering of the Magra grow near. He then sent the Behemoths from the Realms of Oblivion to drive the infernal armies down around the shores of the seas, so that the oceans, now separated from the paternal lights of twilight, grew grim and fearful. For they could not see, only sense, what terrors gathered about them in the darkness.

  Agapor gathered the Void’s vast storms above him in the Heavens and, encircled by his demonic host, descended upon the seas again. Fearsome winds and the boiling rage of that tremendous storm slung the waves of the seas back against themselves, so that its waters were thrown up into the clouds of Heaven in fits of foam and sea spray. The embattled waves at first resisted the seething mass, drowning many of their denizens in its dark waters. But in the fray, the waters of the seas were thrown back by the fuming ire the armies had unleashed upon them.

  Storms of savage winds and sheets of rain then beat down upon the ocean from all sides, until they and the shadow armies enveloped them in their mass. The giant hammers of the black behemoths then smote the waves, flinging their waters away from the rocks and shoreline, sending them bleeding away, back into the more distant hollows of the rocks. Demonic armies of great strength and might threw the remnant waters back before them with their brutal blows, until the very ocean split in two and was rent asunder.

  Dark demonic sorcerers, summoned from the underworld, then gathered as one to cast the waves before them with their spells, while the storms from above blew down upon the waters with their violent gusts and gales. There then came forth from the depths of Wendalia a vile gray mist. Before it fled the ocean in terror. For all it touched was devoid of spirit. The vast armies of Oblivion then drove the remaining waters before them, until the seas were beaten back at last, crashing down below, and falling away into the rocky abyss which the waters once had filled.

  Agapor called out to the Magra who, forming great whirlpools and cyclonic clouds within the Heavens, drew forth the waters of the crying seas from out of the darkness. The seas were then drawn up into the wide maelstrom mouths of the Magra Lords, and sucked down into the fathomless spaces that lay within the Great Beyond. For there the Emptiness had long waited to devour them in its colossal jaws.

  But the remnant waters of those Dreaming Seas would not entirely surrender themselves to that awful fate. For what remained of the seas had bled away in horror, down into the hidden depths of the chasm which contained them. For its rocky cup, like a wide cauldron, held the last of their doomed waters still in its grasp.

  As a silent fog drifted down into the darkness, the forces of evil descended into the muddy depths of the waterless canyon. Agapor, with a wary eye, looked upon the destruction he had wrought, and climbed down into the misty gloom. At the bottom of that chasm he drank deeply from a solitary pool of water that yet remained there, so that his own cursed thirst was vanquished.

  Then he saw, upon the ocean floor, the muddy tomb of An. He smiled with perverse desire as he approached its dreary opening. But as he entered it, the dark ring upon his hand glowed with a cold gray light. Down the tomb’s slimy stairs he descended, until he saw at last the guarded maid of the sea, lying upon her lonely bed. Beautiful and serene was she, just as she had appeared from above.

  Agapor removed the pale pall of the sea that had been wrapped about her gentle form and face. And he saw with his own eyes the true beauty of her countenance. She lay still, in deep repose, neither waking nor stirring. Agapor then removed his dark cloak, and lay with An in her hidden chamber. And with a passion that within him burned, he took her for his own.

  As he rose from her bed, he looked upon his lovely prize. He then reached down to take her in his arms. He would carry her away from her prison, and keep her as his own. For soon the spirit of the Limitless Void would come for her and seek to slay her.

  But as he reached down, he saw something strange shining from within her chest, something unforeseen reflecting out from deep within her like a light cast from the mirror of a pool. He reached down to touch the shimmering form that shone upon her breast. For he desired to know of it, and to possess it.

  The last of the storms and winds had chased the remnant waters away from the rocky cliffs above. In the rising sea-fog, upon a lonesome precipice, stood the Shadow, his oily wings wrapped about him. Below him hid his faded sister, the solemn Shade.

  Watching the destruction below with eyes of burning coals, he looked into the depths of the chasm, until he saw the form of his master beside the creature that slept there. With the inner eye of the Nightmare Unending that dwelt within him, he saw now the cursed temptation of his master by that child of the Dreaming Seas. And he grimaced with disgust and loathing.

  For he now knew the true heart of Agapor. And the source of his own doom was revealed to him. He and the Shade then fled away on their ebony wings, back beyond the drapes of night, deep into the Lands of Midnight. For the Shadow alone saw that soon the vengeful sea would return to inflict its full wrath upon them.

  As Agapor reached down to touch the heart of An, she awoke, startled as from a dream. Then was heard in the farthest corners of the world, a pitiful cr
y—the screams of the waking An. From the ravages of the savage passions unleashed upon her, she awoke in terror from her tortured sleep. Her cries of pain and suffering echoed out into the seas’ cauldron, until they shook the firmament of the very Heavens. And the waters of that wide ocean trembled in the darkness, as the black armies and storms in the skies were stilled.

  But the paternal Mist had heard his child’s pitiful cries. He then gathered his violet clouds upon the summit of the Heavens, sending down upon the host below great torrents of rain, born not of tears, but of anger. They fell into the depths, where the fearful waters had gathered to collect them. For the Dreaming Seas’ heart was now broken, seeing the suffering of her only child. She then was freed from her own nightmares, such that they were now released upon the world.

  The ocean, now wide awake and fed from the mist above, gathered and grew once again in the quiet gloom, seeking to save her daughter from her doom. For as a child of the seas, separated from her mother-ocean, would An soon perish.

  An opened her eyes and looked into the face of the heartless Agapor. But Agapor, meeting her gaze, felt within himself a strange pity for the girl, born of compassion and shame. And yet there was something more.

  Agapor spoke to her, saying, “Look upon me now, but do not fear. For I desire to free you from your watery prison and the curse of this strange and endless sleep which haunts you.”

  But as An looked upon Agapor, she called out in fear, “Father...why, why have you returned? I see your face...the face of the Twilight Mist. Is it you?”

  Agapor then recoiled in horror. But as Agapor looked upon her again, he saw his own visage therein. And like her, he too felt her spirit somehow connected to his own. Within his corrupted mind then returned the cold words of his mother. Agapor now knew who his father was. This maiden of the sea was his sister. And the Twilight Mist his father. He then realized that she, like him, had been thrown into this world, imprisoned by some cruel fate, in which they were but pawns of a higher power.

  With fearful and yet knowing eyes, An looked upon her brother’s face one last time. She then fell back into the swoon of her dark slumber, leaving Agapor alone in horror and shock to think upon their strange fates. The black ring upon his finger glowed with a savage light, fierce and bright, and screeching with a sinister delight.

  Hearing the cries and cruelty inflicted upon their daughter, the Twilight Mist and Dreaming Seas gathered their forces again, as one. The Twilight Mist descended from the skies, his torrential rains falling down into that hollow abyss in widening sheets and wind-wrapped columns. The Dreaming Seas that had hid in the depths drew her remnant waters to her breast again. Fed by her lover’s rains, she poured her widening ocean into the empty gulf, flooding it with her wrathful waters.

  The angry seas, ravaged and raped by the servants of Agapor, drew all their might and force against Agapor’s violent host, flinging their waves upon them from below with great foaming ire. Monstrous walls of waters of unequalled force soon gathered about the fleeing hoards, so that they were pushed back towards the rocky rim of the chasm above.

  Within the tomb of An flowed the seas again. For the rising waters rushed in from below, flooding her bedchamber, until their icy waves shook Agapor from his trance. He was then awakened to the truth of his horrid crime. And he fled from that tomb in terror, leaving An behind, as the waters embraced their precious daughter, once more.

  But the waves soon encircled Agapor. Alone, in the cavernous bottom of the ocean, Agapor struggled to escape. But he was caught within the ocean’s watery grasp. Thrown about in their cyclopean waves, he cried out in terror, as he was no match for the raging seas.

  The waters grew quickly, as the rain poured down from the skies, until even the skies were pushed up and out, and the walls of Heaven itself were drawn in and drowned in the mist and rain. The last of the shadows that had clung about the surface of the oceans had flown away, so that the shining mists again cast their mottled beams about the ocean floor. And the storms that had beat down upon the seas, flew forth high into the skies to escape them. But the waters quickly rose up to drag their trailing clouds down into their depths.

  The last of the great Magra, the horrid children of the Great Beyond, descended upon the terrible seas with even greater force and strength. Their wide mouths, now agape, began to suck the seas down into the cyclones and whirlpools which they had spawned. Their coal black mouths cast up a sickly gray fog, as they devoured the raging seas into them. The oceans groaned and moaned as they fought to defy that horrible fate. But the Magra were all-powerful and unstoppable. For their vast orifices were joined to the devouring will of the Emptiness, whose many mouths no matter, living or dead, might ever escape.

  As he drew himself out of the sea’s deadly grasp, Agapor regained himself upon the shore. Climbing out upon a rocky peak in the midst of the crashing waves, he rose to his feet, commanding his demonic host to assault the oceans and drive them back. But as he looked below, he saw no sign of his armies. He then looked to the oceans and saw no sign of his sister beneath the waves, or her shimmering sepulcher in the depths. And he cried out to her.

  The returning winds and storms of the Limitless Void now gathered, black and ferocious, swirling about his head. But the rains of the Twilight Mist had poured down with even greater fury, so that the seas rose ever higher, filling the abyss with towering wave and foam to defy his brother.

  As the Magra sucked down the seas from every quarter, the pillars about the very Arch of Heaven shook, and the rocks of the abyss themselves trembled with the great rocking of the embattled seas. Agapor looked, and saw with horror that the ocean’s waves had nearly reached the summit of Heaven’s heights. Then before him, he saw in the fog a towering wall of water, rising up from the angry oceans below.

  Agapor stretched out his arms, summoning forth the remaining powers of the Limitless Void. He called forth vast storms of thunder and lightning from out of the skies, whose bolts splintered the waves about him, tossing their foam and spray high up into the skies. But seeing the massive wall of water approaching, he cried out in the confusion.

  In one great mass of water the seas crashed down upon the rocks, pouring their swelling volumes over the rocky rim of the abyss, breaking through its lip, and crashing down into the bottomless pits of Wendalia. The seas poured through the Lands of Midnight, and into the Realms of Oblivion, flooding its many bottomless chasms and pits, and casting up a dense cloud of salty mist and spray.

  As the ocean’s waves collapsed upon them, the last of the servants of Agapor fell before the seas, thrown to their watery doom. For they were hurtled into and over that mighty cataract, until their broken bodies disappeared into the depths below.

  The force of the falling wall of water cast up great clouds of sea-smoke and fog so that nearly all of the land and sky were consumed by water and mist. It seemed that water itself would devour this world. But Agapor had remained. For he had clung to a rocky prominence that yet stood above the seas.

  Enraged, the Limitless Void drew his dark spirit out of Agapor. And the terrible gray face of his cloud hovered upon the heights of Heaven, looking down with boiling fury upon him. With a commanding voice that shook the ocean, the spirit of the Limitless Void then commanded the Magra to descend into the very heart of the ocean, telling them to devour the maiden that lay there.

  The violent Magra Lords now turned their black orifices down upon the bulging seas, as Agapor called out to the spirit of his master, crying in pity for his sister, and begging for his mercy upon her.

  But the mother-ocean would not surrender up her beloved daughter so easily to that evil. For the Dreaming Seas had now borne fully the suffering of her child, whose pain none might know but her. She then drew all of her waters about her into one great towering column, until they filled the skies and broke through the very Arch of Heaven.

  With vengeful violence, fully unleashed, the oceans crashed down their tremendous mass upon the Limitless Void and his Magra
servants. The Gray Ones were then drowned in that vast mass of cursed water, until they were thrown back down into the cold and empty realms whence they came.

  But in that last great tumult of sea and spray, the broken form of Agapor had also been drowned. For he was washed over the rim of that chasm, cast down past the ruins of his mother’s house, and into the silent spaces below, where he as a child had once been thrown. Past the gates of Eventide again he fell, through the dim shadows of that land, until he lay again upon the precipice of his former ruin. For in Wendalia he had long ago been imprisoned, bound to that cursed pit. And once more to it was he so enjoined.

  In those lonesome depths, no sound was heard, nor voice cast forth, save the roar of the waterfall that now cascaded down into the haze and smoke below. From within that sad place was then heard the wailing and crying of Agapor.

  As he slept in that hollow space, endless nightmares came to him, born not of the wreckage he had wrought, but of regret for the evil he beget. Like his sister, he awoke in fits of terror and despair. For in his dreams he saw the face of An, hidden forever beneath the waves. And he thought upon the father who had abandoned and forgotten him so long ago.

  He too thought long upon the lies of the Limitless Void, and how so many in that cursed world had used him. But his own savage acts upon the maid of the sea had fashioned doom upon himself. He cried out in the throes of his suffering, until his pitiful voice echoed out across the skies, and through the Lands of Midnight.

  No one heard the cries of Agapor, save one. For that being, alone of the dark hosts of Agapor, had survived the tempest and turmoil. He was the Shadow, that foul angel of darkness, who had returned to the lands of his father that lay beyond the Veils of Night. In a secret cave upon the edge of that land he sat unmoving. Like a grim phantom, the Shadow cloaked himself in his own dark dreams, embracing them wholly, as he had done many times before.

  But upon hearing his master’s cries, his gruesome eyes now opened, and unblinking, stared into the dusky gloom of the twilit Heavens. Long did he listen to the sad wailing of Agapor from afar, and the howling of the vengeful seas below, which had now sought to drown them out.

  The Shadow then climbed upon a lonely perch. There he looked down with jaundiced eyes from the roof of Heaven, and saw the wreckage wrought by those merciless seas. He thought upon the ruinous fate of Agapor. And his disdain for his master grew within him.

  But no greater was this scorn than that which he now bore for the Dreaming Seas and their terrible temptress, the child named An, who lay hidden once more in the seas’ now impenetrable depths. Yet strangely, the seas now seemed to shine forth anew, like the poisonous wine from some cup of death, brimming with a sinister delight. And the meaning and purpose of its cursed waters even the Shadow’s own penetrating mind could not yet fully comprehend.

  The Forest of Twilight

  The Dreaming Seas now lay calm and peaceful again. For they slept once more, returning to the enduring dreams in which they had long been immersed. Across a wide abyss, this vast ocean seemed to stretch forever, having filled the empty spaces of this ravaged world with its cold and watery waste. Torn by strife and violence, the wreckage and ruin of this world’s former splendor would now lay entombed and forgotten, buried beneath the timeless waves.

  It seemed as though this doomed world would be utterly consumed by the savage seas. And in its ocean grave it would have remained. But by a strange and incomprehensible force was its flood restrained. For the wild waters that now filled it were somehow bound within a rocky cup, whose wide cauldron the Great Father had forged to contain them. By the mighty grail of his merciful heart were its tides now held back. For he alone had known this time would come.

  Upon the farthest shore of that sea stretched a rocky rim, whose shattered cliffs looked down upon a gray and gloomy pit. Here the seas could not flow. And so a part of the realm of Wendalia had yet survived. Upon its rim the ocean waters had gathered, until with great force they flowed forth as a wide waterfall, over the lip of the canyon and down into its yawning chasm. Its waters fell forever into the darkness of that endless space, until the roar of the falls above was heard no more in the showering mist that fell below.

  Such was the power of the seas that its great cataract ever after flowed ceaselessly into those terrible depths, crashing down onto the heads of the dark beings that now clung to its cliffs. For its falls, fog, and spray held at bay the dark denizens of that foul pit. Yet it was the memory of their former ruin that would ever after haunt them, such that the powers of darkness and destruction would never again challenge the supremacy of the seas.

  The rumbling tempest of the skies, which had torn the seas in two, now departed. For the winds had died as the clouds drifted away. Above the fringes of that watery waste there now appeared a lonely prominence, whose solitary and shining presence stood proudly against the angry torrents of darkened sea and sky. Its phantasmal form in the half-lit mist stood like a solemn and silent specter, unmoving, above the tranquil sea.

  As the pale sea-clouds melted away, its black head pierced the skies above and looked down from the dizzying heights of Heaven upon the gray waste below. It then reflected its dark shadow upon the cold waters in rigid defiance. This isle of gloom, alone among its rocky brethren, had survived the violent tumult of sea and storm. For when the oceans had broken through the ancient rim of the world, there remained a small piece of its rocky cliffs and peaks that had yet survived.

  This was the last of the noble earth and rock, which long ago had been imparted to the Immortal Clay, fourth-born son of the Great Father. For the Immortal Clay, in both form and spirit, had been made from the very Mountains of Heaven. And by the great hands of his father had his mighty mold been cast.

  Over the rocks of the earth was he king, the sacred realms of the Impenetrable Depths. And in a second land under these was he lord, the Darker Deeps of the underworld. But yet was he ruler over a mysterious third realm which lay beneath the Dreaming Seas, who alone guarded its one mysterious gate. And this, his one true labor, would be granted to him by the Great Father, yet only revealed to him upon his death.

  The Immortal Clay had stood strong and defiant before his troubled brothers, until their wars had unleashed great fury upon him. There upon the heights of his realm, beyond the Arch of Heaven, he had fled with the last of his children to the safety of his mountain halls. For though he had proudly withstood his brothers’ endless wars, and alone remained victorious at the end, he was most harmed of all his siblings by their violent struggles. Much had been destroyed by them. And great were his losses upon those battlefields of sorrow. For in those terrible wars, all his children had perished, but two. With great despair, he finally turned away from bloodshed and violence. And the hatred he felt for his brothers was replaced with deep regret for that which he himself had done.

  Of the children that had survived, first of these was the proud son, he who was named the Rock Eternal. From the mountains that lay roofed above the Heavens had he been cast. A handsome child of great fortitude and strength, he alone had stood as guardian of his father’s fiercest lands. But in the terrible wrath the Limitless Void had wrought upon that world, were all his siblings lost, save one. From that final conflict had he alone returned to his father victorious. But seeing his son bloodied and beaten, the Immortal Clay hid his son away from the world, for fear he too would perish.

  The Immortal Clay then spoke in secret to the Rock Eternal, saying, “My son, I shall place within you my own mighty heart, so that you shall know of my love for you the rest of your days. With it shall be given unto you alone the many hidden treasures of the earth, so that you might gift them to the children of the world, yet to come.”

  But he told the Rock Eternal, “The time will soon come for me to leave this world, my son. Yet shall I remain in the Lands of the Afterlife to guide you. Go forth now, into the dark world that remains. Do not wage war, but forge anew its fading spirit with your gifts of earth and rock. For ma
ny children, both in flesh and spirit, will soon come to dwell therein. You shall then be bound eternally to them, not by chains of iron, but by the bonds of love. And so shall you remain in this world, alone ever after, to guide and protect its many children, until the time of your own passing and the passing of the world.”

  And so the Immortal Clay gave his only son as a gift unto this world. But so too had he sought to spare his son the terrible pain and loss which he had suffered. The Rock Eternal bowed before his father, saying, “Father, I am grateful.” And they embraced. For his son’s respect and love for him was great.

  But there remained another child of the Immortal Clay, the girl-child who is named the Secret Spring.

  She was born from the Rock of the Well of this world. For within her dwelt the crystalline waters of the earth. And the blood of her father’s noble essence flowed in her. She was of the water cast forth from the rocks, and which flows throughout its many forms. And so was contained in her the earth’s life-blood, and the springs of the Eternal River which flows throughout.

  But so too was her spirit born of a kind and loving heart. She would give forth her waters unto the earth, freely, surrendering her own life for it. For unlike her brother, her own essence could not flow forever and would in time be depleted. Like the mortal children of the world would her essence then be spent. And so, because of this, were her gifts more precious.

  Yet her father had given her another strange gift. For in his youthful days, the Immortal Clay had roamed the Mountains of Heaven, upon whose slopes he had seen a strange glow. Within a mound of earth and stone had shone forth the bright beams of the Sacred Light, which had for many ages lain hidden from the eyes of evil.

  But its source none now knew. For the Immortal Clay had found the light beneath a mighty stone, which marked the grave of an unknown spirit that had perished there upon the mountain. The Immortal Clay had kept it burning within a shining lantern upon the summit of his mountain, so that his brothers could see and feel its candle of hope reflecting upon their faces, long after their father’s loving fires had ceased to shine within their hearts.

  Seeing the evil twins rise from their prison, the Immortal Clay had turned his golden beams upon their spirits, burning them, and driving them back down into the hollows of the world. And so, by its spectral flame had the world been spared a terrible fate.

  Fearing its final abrogation by the servants of those sinister spirits, this light he took and gave to his youngest daughter, the Secret Spring, so she might carry it, hidden within her hair, and surrender it unto the world at a time of her own choosing. For she would someday grant its warm spirit to her own children, and thus the children of the world, which the Immortal Clay had long foreseen would come into it.

  Only the Rock Eternal and his lonely sister, the Secret Spring, had stood with their father in that dire age of the world until, unseen by them, the Dreaming Seas had risen up to wage war against Agapor and his terrible armies. They were then sundered from their father, tossed about by wind and wave, storm and sea, until thrown upon that ravaged shore they stood apart from him.

  Trapped within that boundless ocean, they dwelt alone in their fear and grief, separated from their loving father by the Dreaming Seas that wrapped about their desolate isle. Their father, the Immortal Clay, had called out to them from his peaks, with pitiful cries, loud and mournful. But the spiritual lights of the silver summits of Heaven had long ago dimmed, so that nevermore could the Immortal Clay find his children in that dark and dismal world of rain and mist.

  But the brothers of the Immortal Clay had heard his cries, and so were awakened. However their servants could not find the last children of their hated brother, nor even the lonely isle where they now dwelt. For they were now secreted away, deep within a new and unknown land, hidden from their all-seeing eyes.

  Yet the Immortal Clay had given his children the last of his many gifts and powers to guide them in this world. So was contained within them, the indestructible spirit of the earth, and the ephemeral spring of the rock into whose forms had been left the last burning cinders of their father’s Creative Flame. And so by these would they endure.

  Weak and sorrowed by the loss of his children, the Immortal Clay was near death. He climbed to the summit of his mountains, and there laid his giant form within a tomb he had long ago prepared for his keeping, deep beneath the highest peak of Heaven.

  But his spirit would not completely leave this world. For he now dwelt in the Lands of the Afterlife, the Avredd, whose ethereal plane the Great Father had created under the Arch of Heaven for the spirits of the fallen children to dwell therein.

  By the Great Father’s own tears, drifting down into the great gulf of the world, had that undead realm been formed, until the Dreaming Seas had poured forth over its rocks, hiding it forever from the world. The Great Father had then granted the Immortal Clay lordship over the spirits of this ghostly realm. And so, as Lord of the Dead, was fulfilled by him, his one great labor. So was he to remain bound to this strange realm between rock and sea, long after his brothers had departed that world.

  Over Avredd was the Immortal Clay now lord and king. Upon his own death, he travelled to the lands beneath the Dreaming Seas, where he prepared this unliving land for the spirits of the children, yet to dwell there. So were all the children of this world, born of the earth of the Rock Eternal, now made his own in spirit. And so both father and son would become their stewards. For they now sought to protect and guide the spirits of the children from the devouring evil that had come to dwell therein—the Nothingness and Emptiness who had long sought to annihilate their spirits, and devour the flesh of the rock of which they were made.

  By their own choosing, upon death the children could now safely return to the Lands of the Afterlife by way of the Dreaming Seas, where the Immortal Clay would await their return. And so were they freed of the curse of flesh, and of the cruel undying destiny that awaited their spirits at the hands of the Limitless Void. For by the powers of that evil being had so many of the children of the Primordial Ones been denied their spirit’s release, becoming lost in his pathless lands. They were then cursed to be his demonic slaves, bound to his evil will and trapped in the ill-fated Realms of Oblivion forever.

  The Immortal Clay now held the keys to the many secretive gateways of Avredd. There, within the three planes of his realm would he keep the spirits of the world until, through their own willful incarnation, they would seek their return. Yet, by the loving hand of the Immortal Clay would the spirits of the children be held apart from it, until such time they would be gifted back into it by him.

  Their memories were then stripped from them, and their spirits washed clean. They would then set sail through that ethereal realm, borne by ghostly ships sailing upon a silent sea, until they returned once more to the phantom shores of this world, to live again. They were thus reborn in new raiment at a time and place of their own choosing—their spirits now housed in flesh anew, and through his son’s earth, revived, refreshed and renewed.

  None would ever know why the dead should return to the tragic stage of life, nor what part the risen spirits would have in the great play of the world. For these secrets would remain with the Spirit Divine, until such time as the last of its many acts had been played, and the final curtain had fallen.

  After many ages, the assaulting oceans retreated from the rocky isle that had stood defiantly before them. Yet, deep within its rocks had hid the Secret Spring, safe within the heart of her brother’s lands. She then had walked out upon the shore and knelt upon the rocks. And there she wept alone for her father, and for the fate of her siblings who had perished long ago.

  But far across the ocean the Twilight Mist had awakened, hearing her cries. And so he had gone to find their source. It’s then he first saw the golden lights of the Secret Spring, her beautiful face and hair, shining from afar. And he felt sadness for the wreckage wrought upon her by the wrath of the unforgiving seas, which he himself had made from his
own anger and sorrow.

  The Twilight Mist then formed a great cloud upon the summit of the isle. It first gathered as a peaceful mist, and then a soft dew, falling as rain about the isle’s many peaks and valleys. Small streams and rivulets then formed, carrying those waters down through its rocks. They gathered together in raging rivers, pouring over the cliffs in great floods, and falling away into the gloom of the seas that splashed about the feet of the lonely isle.

  And so the Twilight Mist had given the Secret Spring the last of his rains, casting them down from the Heavens above, to feed and sustain her. These were the waters she would long covet, gathering them in her dress, her tears becoming one with the rains and rivers of that land.

  Up from the dismal depths of the abyss, beneath that island mountain had risen the waves of the raging seas in anger. Hearing the clamor of the streams and their cataracts falling from above, they gathered about the rocks to assault them. Surrounding the isle, the jealous seas roared below the rugged cliffs, crashing down upon the rocks with ferocious surf and spray, until the island’s feet were buried beneath the waves.

  Yet the towering cliffs above stood defiant before them. For the form of the Rock Eternal would not be destroyed. Within him lay his father’s great heart and spirit. And so by his will did the last rocks of that earth stand resolute before the envious tide.

  For many untold ages the seas swirled and churned, grinding away at the rocks and clay, until their mountains of stone at last gave way. The rugged heights, now battered and worn, tumbled down into the sea and surf. A gentler tide then returned, until all that remained between the two realms was an endless beach of sands and sea-gravels, which ever rolled beneath the rhythmic waves.

  But not all of the sands that were stripped from the rocks had drowned beneath the waves. Nor had the last of its rocks given way to the might of the seas. For much of its earth had been thrown back upon itself, forming a vast mass of soil and clay. There between the two lay a limitless shore. So was first formed the uneasy truce between land and sea that for eternity would bind them as one, and remain unbroken.

  For an age, there remained above the sands an endless landscape, mysterious and proud, that would not weather, nor wear away. This new land stretched back into eternity, beyond the reach of the seas and shadows. For the lonesome isle was now an immense and impenetrable mass of earth, one whose strange domain filled the empty spaces that the seas had forsaken. Its dark earth had pushed beyond the misty spaces, until it tumbled forth into the narrow Halls of Time itself. And so for many eons had the lands of the Rock Eternal slept in peace beside the rolling seas, whose mournful cry could yet be heard in those distant halls.

  But within the heart of this land still hid the Rock Eternal and the Secret Spring. After many ages, the Twilight Mist returned, seeking to find the golden maiden who still slept deep within the rocks. His lavender mists had drifted out from the darkened seas across this strange new land, to find the beautiful damsel he had seen standing beside the shore. Her golden hair had beamed forth in the dark of night, like the shining of a thousand suns. For within her hair had dwelt the Sacred Lights her father had given her.

  But it was the warm light of her heart and the aura of her youth that had glowed upon the surface of the seas. And by her shining presence was renewed within the heart of the Twilight Mist an abiding and sustained hope for this sad world, which had long ago faded within him.

  The silent fog of the Twilight Mist had drifted, deep into this dark land, seeking to find the Secret Spring, until his mists stretched far beyond its borders. But not finding her, he had become lost in its wild expanse. And so he was sundered from the seas. It was then he found his father’s mysterious chamber once more, hidden within the Halls of Time.

  Deep in the heart of this land, the Secret Spring had felt the presence of the Twilight Mist return to her, and had risen from her earthen bed to go to him. For the loving rains he had given her so long ago she still held close to her heart. Far from the cold shores of the seas, she now walked alone to look for the Mist in the depths of that new realm. But there had appeared above her spring, perched upon a high rock, a dark form, shadowy and unseen.

  This was the Endless Night. Long ago, upon black and decrepit wings, he had flown into that realm, where for many nights he had stood upon a lonely cliff beside the Mountains of Heaven. His wide wings had carried him beyond the Veils of Night, seeking his lost children in the farthest corners of the world. Still bleeding black blood from his war-wounds, he had sat alone, peering into that strange new realm of rock and clay, pondering its mysterious nature.

  He had then seen a strange light cast from afar, which had nearly blinded him. Yet he wore upon his shoulders the sable Wings of Night, which no light could touch, save the stars of Heaven. Seeing the radiant and golden form of the Secret Spring walking upon that lonely shore, he became enamored of her. He followed her to the heart of her lands, where she lay hidden in a rocky grotto. He then called out to her in his shadowy tongue, professing his desire to see her, and to know of her.

  Hearing a voice calling in the shadows of the rocks, she climbed out from her bed, thinking it was the Twilight Mist calling her from afar. But as she came before his presence, she looked in horror at his dark and grotesque form. She then ran in terror from him, hiding far away from his shadows, which had fallen upon the cliffs and rocks that lay beside the sea. There she roamed, forlorn, for many ages along the shore, until she became lost upon its farthest cliffs, wandering far and away from her brother, who still dwelt within the heart of the land.

  For many ages the Endless Night had remained in that barren realm, seeking his lost love, the Secret Spring. He then returned to the barren hill where once the golden maiden had roamed, until his shadow stained the very rocks with its shade. But the Secret Spring would not return, and he grew weary. He flew down upon the mound, seeking the place in which she had slept, until he found her dry and empty well, lying dark and cold, before him. Seeing now that all he had loved had finally left him, he thought again upon his lost children, and of the Essence Eternal, his generous and loving Father, whom he had betrayed so long ago.

  In the depths of his despair, the Endless Night then fled that place. But as he did, the tears he shed for his forsaken beauty fell upon the base of the great hill where she had slept. From his tears grew forth the black roses that are called the Murgala. These dark buds would be the first seeds sown in that strange land. And by their presence would this world be cursed to remember the sorrows of the Night and his unrequited love for its golden spring.

  But there also came into those sickened roses a part of his own shadowy spirit. For by his dark blood were they also sown. Through their enchanted blooms would the Children of Darkness know of the Glourun and be healed by it. By those black roses might they also seek to find their way to the strange well of the Secret Spring that would soon come to dwell beneath the hill. And so, like him, were the Children of the Night forever after drawn by mysterious forces to the Murgala, following the many dark paths that would lead them to the ghoulish roses growing within the heart of this new land.

  Yet to all others, but the Children of Night, were the thorns of the Murgala poisonous and deadly. Those that smelled of their sweet fragrance would be bound to a wicked sleep of unending nightmares and terrors from which they might never awaken. This was the hidden curse left by the Endless Night upon that hill and on all that would come to dwell therein.

  Alone and fearful, the Secret Spring had roamed far and away from her abode of rest, far from the heart of that land. For she had become frightened of the shifting shadows that had come to haunt it. But the Twilight Mist, in his many forms, had left a trail in the form of purple mists for her to find. These now snaked their way through the barren land. By his twilit fogs he had hoped she might be guided, and so eventually find her way to him.

  She had seen his alluring cloud floating above her as she slept. And so she followed the mist, as it floated beyond the fringes of
her brother’s realm, deep into the grim Halls of Time where the dark earth had poured forth into its crumbling hallways. She wound her way within their corridors, until she found the Twilight Mist kneeling beside his father’s bed in the lonely chambers of the Essence Eternal.

  There, in that hallowed place, the Secret Spring first saw the handsome form of the Twilight Mist. But she also saw great sadness borne upon his face, as he had knelt before his father’s barren bed. But as her presence neared, the golden light of the Secret Spring glowed forth into the room, so that he looked up and saw her beautiful form standing before him.

  He then ran to her and she to him. And she was overtaken by his gentle heart, as they kissed and held each other in a tender embrace. But as the Twilight Mist looked into her eyes, he saw reflected therein the miraculous glow of her golden light, cast upon a relic hidden in the depths of the chamber. The Golden Hourglass of Time had shone out from the corners of the room. For it had long ago been hidden there by the Great Father for his son to find.

  The Twilight Mist held it in his hands. And they both were drawn to its strange and radiant beauty. But he saw that its sands shined but by her light only. And so he gave it to her as a gift. They then walked forth together, hand in hand, through that land for many ages. Their bodies lay entwined in the hollows of the world, so that they as one burned bright with the undying lights of their shared passion. Their hearts now beat boldly with the Birth of Love, abiding and true. So was this world renewed by their sacred and loving union.

  The Twilight Mist then shared with the Secret Spring the knowledge given him by the Essence Eternal, his Father. For in its tale lay some hidden truth he had at last discovered. He told her of the prior world through which the Great Father had passed. And he spoke to her of the new world they must now prepare for the children, whose blessed spirits would soon come forth into it. She treasured his words as a gift granted unto her, most sacred and profound, as she now knew the purpose of all things and that which was to be.

  But the Twilight Mist looked with sadness upon the Secret Spring, saying, “I must leave you now. For my Father hath given me one last labor, which I must now fulfill.”

  The Secret Spring then came to him and held him close to her. And she said unto him, “Let me return with you. For my heart desires to be with you, always. Take me to the seas or the skies, wherever you might go. But do not leave me to suffer here alone in endless longing.”

  The Twilight Mist then kissed her gently. “You must return to the heart of your brother’s realm, my love”, he said. “For a tree shall soon be planted there. And beneath it a silver pool shall issue forth. But to you shall come a brave child of the oceans, one who shall bless this fallen world with an enduring gift. You must prepare a place for this child in the heart of your brother’s land. For in her alone shall reside our renewal and the hope of a better world. But do not fear, for in time I shall return to you.”

  The Secret Spring understood, yet knew not the meaning of his words. But to her love for him was she still bound. And so her heart was conflicted by his departure. They embraced one last time. She then wept as she watched the Twilight Mist leave her side, walking forth into the darkness, and disappearing beyond the shores of the Dreaming Seas.

  The Secret Spring returned to the great hill of her brother where she had once slept, carrying the hourglass given her by the Twilight Mist. She then laid herself in a sepulcher beneath her brother’s mound, which lay in the heart of that land. And there she dwelt for many ages, undisturbed, in peaceful solitude.

  But within the depths of that mound the Secret Spring bore children of her own, twin daughters, born of the bonds of love with the Twilight Mist. To these children were then given the gifts of their mother and those things given to her by her father so long ago.

  To her first child she gave the waters of her essence and the mighty rock of her heart. And so by this child’s spirit would the rivers of the world always be guided, and the mythical voices of the rocks and earth be known to her.

  But to her other daughter was bestowed the Sacred Light, which she had closely guarded. For through its radiant beam, like a guiding light, would its signal fire shine forth to chase away the encroaching shadows of the world, and bring new life to the darkened lands where only death and decay had once been known.

  But unknown to all others had one of the Secret Spring’s two daughters died at birth. This child she carried forth to the top of the hill, where she buried her in a secret grave upon its height. And there grew many poppies about its grave, born of the tears she had shed for her fallen child. There its spirit dwelt, forsaken and alone.

  Strangely had the Sacred Light once more rested within a hollow grave, awaiting some unknown fate. But with that child’s death would the golden heart of the Secret Spring shine no more. And so this world again returned to darkness and gloom.

  But as the Secret Spring sat beside her grave, the spirit of the fallen child returned to her, bearing strange words, saying, “Mother, I have returned to you. Do not be sorrowful for my passing, for I bring good tidings.”

  The Secret Spring then looked in amazement at her child standing before her, saying, “My beloved child, you have returned to me!”

  But as she reached up to touch her face, she saw that she was but a ghost. Smiling, but with tears in her eyes, she said, “Know that my love for you endures, my child, though your form has left me in this world. I had feared your spirit had been taken by the evil that creeps about the fringes of the world. And so, in my deep sorrow, is my heart also overjoyed. For your loving spirit has returned to me.”

  The smiling child then said to her mother, “Mother, know only that it was not my destiny to remain here. For it was my will, and fate, that I should perish and leave this world. With my passing, I have left behind the light of my own spirit, and the light of the world, within my grave. These twin fires the children of this world shall someday find. By their many graces will this world soon be saved. And by their guiding lanterns, shall all those born anew within the world be granted the power to chase away the darkness that fills it, and the shadows that fill their own hearts, if they so choose.”

  She then looked into her mother’s tearful eyes, saying, “Mother, do not cry for me. Nor be fearful for my spirit. For I shall now go forth to the Lands of the Afterlife, thy father’s house that lies beneath the rocks and sea. For the dead may easily follow the ethereal paths that lead to him, should they not stray. I hear him, even now, calling for me, as he blows upon his mighty horns. For there he has waited with great patience for my spirit to return. It was set by our Creator, long ago, that I be the first to dwell in the house of the dead. Upon those solemn shores I shall now stand for all eternity, welcoming the many spirits that come to me upon their deaths. I shall be their guide, as they board the many ships that set sail for those timeless lands. And so I must now depart. But know that we shall meet again.”

  As the child disappeared from view, she reached out to touch the hand of her mother. The Secret Spring cried as her child’s spirit fled away into the night.

  In her anguish the Secret Spring had fled to her hidden chambers within her hill. There she mourned for many nights, until in her suffering a great flood of waters rushed forth like blood from her form. And so were released the springs of the world, to feed and nourish its earth. These crystal waters rose up from within the rocks. But they also carried her surviving daughter, the river-child that had yet resided with her in that tomb.

  The brother of the Secret Spring, the Rock Eternal, seeing his sister’s child floating in the flood, guided her and her waters through the rocks, until bursting forth upon the surface of the mound, they fell away, down into the landscape. Here, upon the hill of the Rock Eternal, had the first waters of life bubbled forth from his sister’s silver spring. Plundering the warm soil about the hill, her waters had spilled over its lip, down into the valley below, where its wide river wound through the somber landscape, making its way towards the awaiting se

  So were released the waters of the Secret Spring, born of her sadness and loss. Yet were those waters clear, bright, and pure. For in time would they feed the many living things born into that world. But when the Secret Spring had fallen, the Golden Hourglass had been shattered. And so were the Sands of Time released into this world, carried forth by her waters, and spilling into the valley below. They would then become both a blessing and a curse.

  As the mighty river formed beneath the hill, the Secret Spring’s last living child was carried upon its waters, cascading down its many waterfalls, and into its pools, where she disappeared beneath the waves. There she would remain in hiding, unknown and unseen, for many ages.

  The river that had formed in the valleys below was now one with the flesh and blood of the land. With its unceasing ebb and flow it had withdrawn the Golden Sands of Time from out of the timeless rock. It then had deposited those temporal sands about its muddy banks in great heaps and hills of soil. Filled with those strange sands, Time would now shape the destiny of that land and the rhythm of its life.

  But the river had also worn down the lands of the Rock Eternal, its waters made from the tears of the Secret Spring. By her sorrows were her brother’s lands thus reshaped. Its rushing waters had sculpted the land, such that it alone bore the mold upon which it was cast. And so was that land’s fate intertwined, ever after, with the wild and wandering river. Yet no one saw or heard the strange child that now hid within its depths.

  Yet the river was not like any force known in this world. For it was not born of timeless dreams, like the seas. Nor was it entirely bound to the mother-spring that rose up within the rocks above it. It flowed free and untamed, bearing the Sands of Time within it. Yet as a living being, it remained wide awake to the knowledge of its mortal and aging nature. Its own waters slowly trickled away with the ticking of time, flowing through the hidden halls from whose sands that house was yet conceived. Thus was created the River of Time, whom some named Avalyr, the shining waters. For the golden grains that hid beneath its waves were, ever after, borne upon its timeless tides the sparkling sands which the Essence Eternal had made in the youth of the world, to measure it’s ebb and flow.

  Never ceasing in its endless march, the noble river flowed valiantly onward through the eons. Gathering its liquid essence from distant realms, it drained the watersheds of those vast lands. Forming one great artery, Avalyr travelled downstream, carrying the shining sands within its flow, until rushing forth with great force and power, it fell headlong into the timeless waters of the Dreaming Seas.

  By waterfalls tall and proud, the river then cast its noble seed, the golden sands borne by its wild waters, into the drifting and shifting sands of the seas. Falling away into that widening gulf, the Sands of Time filled the boundless beaches that stretched before the seas. And so the long-denied dreams of love—of joined destinies and of time’s passing, long shared between the two troubled realms of land and sea—were finally consummated and made whole upon the shining shore of their joyous union.

  The great cataracts of Avalyr’s crystal-clear waters would, ever after, pour into those sleeping seas. The Dreaming Seas, fed by those waters of Time, drew those golden sands into her bosom. Continually fed by it, they had then grown to know the rhythmic beat of Time. And so were spawned the time-filled fates of this world’s children, who would be woven into its sacred loom of sleep.

  Yet that ocean would never know the true boon or bane, blessing or curse, of Time itself. For the Dreaming Seas, though bound by Time, were in timeless dreams still entranced. And so the seas could never awaken to the glory and the grandeur that is life. Though the lands above the seas, bound to those cursed sands, could birth and give flesh to the living children, their destinies the seas still controlled. For though the river’s own turning wheels had foreseen their troubled fates, their lives the mother-seas alone had dreamed and destined, long ago.

  By the slow turning of the timeless tides, it seemed the living and their immortal spirits would yet live on, forever. But the River of Time would thrust cursed age upon all that would be born into the living lands that lay above the seas. For it had been the design of the Spirit Divine that the sands and waters, borne by their flesh, should return again upon their death to the sea’s cold embrace. And so, like its sands, the river would slowly drain this world of its life, until all things that had come to dwell therein would someday perish.

  And yet, in the youth of the world, had the earth of the Rock Eternal remained untouched. Avalyr had flowed fresh and vibrant within it, such that no living thing could come into this realm that he alone now nurtured. The purity of the river and the beauty of the earth had thus remained untarnished. Fed by the river and guarded by the seas, this solemn land of life and death, of earth and clay, had lain hidden beneath a blanket of shadow and mist until after many lonely ages, long forgotten, there grew upon its shores a vast forest called Phantaia.

  None remember when the towering trees of that timeless wilderness first sprang forth from the blackened soil. For in the midst of its youthful splendor, the thirsty roots of Phantaia had first pierced the mold of that primeval earth, drawing up from below the waters of the Secret Spring that flowed throughout. The trees had also penetrated the warm earth of the Rock Eternal until, drawing forth his nutrients, the towering trees thrust up into the sky, thick with trunks of leaf-laden boughs.

  The groan of time moaned on into the countless ages, until Phantaia’s great elder trees grew hoar beyond their time. Black and bent, many fell back into the earth, crashing before the feet of their brethren, and leaving an empty place against the sky. Here, in time, the saplings born of the children of the dead would gather again upon their parents’ fallen flesh. Growing forth from the rich decay of their rotting logs and corpses, their dark trunks clamored and crowded within that lonesome space for the empty light of a black and vacuous Heaven.

  Yet many of the greatest trees could not, or would not, die, but lived on into the ageless night as pale, twisted, and hulking phantoms, standing side by side like sentinels in the lonely depths of that wilderness, undying and immortal.

  These ancient trees of Phantaia had themselves come from a secret source, which none had known. For in ages past, before the seas had fully formed, there had fallen into this world the Sacred Seed, the fifth-son of the Great Father.

  But this seed had come into this world, not from him entirely, but from another—the last child of an unknown tree, whose primeval form none had seen. The Sacred Seed had hung upon the dying branches of that timeless tree, in the gloomy emptiness of space, hidden within a dying world unseen by living eyes, until the foam and waves of the Dreaming Seas had drawn this last child of that aged tree down into its waters.

  This final seed was cast about in the waves and foam, until it found its way to Phantaia, thrown ashore onto the warm sands of that hidden realm. There it lay dormant for an age, until the breezes of the mother-ocean, by her breath, woke it from its shining dreams.

  Before the birth of the river itself, that lonesome son of the Immortal Clay, the Rock Eternal, had roamed the shores of that land, until he had come upon the Sacred Seed hidden in the sand. He carried the golden seed into his realm, on a sojourn most mysterious, until he had come to the secret hill where he and his sister had dwelt. There he planted the seed atop the golden mound, beside his sister’s shining pool.

  From within its rocky depths, the silver waters of his sister’s spring had poured forth, feeding the Sacred Seed, until its tender sapling took root in the warm earth and rock. It grew in time into a towering tree. Its first fruits then fell down about its feet, where they were carried by the waters of Avalyr, far and wide. And so from these seeds was birthed the forests of Phantaia. The dense growth then spread out across the land, filling the hills and valleys with countless forest children, whose voices filled the endless glades with the laughter of their swaying boughs.

  But the mighty tree that had grown upon the mound had sent its th
ick and thirsty roots into the grave atop the hill, piercing the corpse of the fallen child of the Secret Spring that had lain buried at its feet. The tree then fed upon the Sacred Light that dwelt within her heart, transforming its own life-giving force, so that the great tree’s leaves and bark shone forth with a mysterious new radiance.

  Its warm beams then drifted out across the landscape, brightening the very edge of the shining shores that stretched before the seas. The many hungry children that grew about the hills and dales fed upon its enchanted light, growing ever taller and more magnificent in their beauty, until Phantaia was but a mighty forest fortress of colossal trees, impenetrable and vast.

  The shining light of the tree then turned its salient fires upon the black eyes of the dark servants and denizens that had crept there. And the monsters of the Limitless Void that had come to haunt that realm in the youth of the world fled before its blinding light in terror, fearful to enter its domain ever again.

  So by powers of the great tree, and the sacrifice of the fallen child, were the merciful beams of the Sacred Light reborn. And they shined through the depths, revealing as the Great Father had done, the hidden beauty of the Heavens once more.

  The Sacred Seed was the first Vatar to be conceived in this new world. For all others before had dwelt but in spirit alone. By that living form was this youngest child of the Spirit Divine given the greatest of his gifts. For the tree’s purpose was to renew the life-giving force of the world through its flesh and spirit, its many seeds sowing a new heavenly forest, and its merciful light nourishing the spirits of those born from it.

  But with its fruit-laden limbs, the tree would also sustain the true children of the forest, the Manna, yet to be born. And by its sweet ambrosia would they be drawn together, given the strength to endure many trials, and forge anew the great works of their Creator.

  Yet another mysterious seed did this tree now bear. A curious child had come forth into this world from its great golden acorn. He had been sent to guard the tree and the vast forested realms over which he was now lord. But few would know of the purpose or meaning of this hidden guardian, the great Son of the One Tree, until the last shining age of the forest was spent.

  But the Sacred Seed and its source would remain hidden from the eyes of many. For the seed had come from a tree beyond this world, one which the evil twins of the Great Beyond had sought. They had tried to find the seed and destroy it, so that a new tree would never grow in this world, nor a light shine in it. With its death would this world and all others finally perish, withering away and falling into unending decay and rot, never to rise again.

  In time, the Nothingness and Emptiness had found them all. Yet the last seed had been cast into this world and somehow survived. And so had Phantaia been born anew, with a new tree, and thus a fresh hope.

  For many distant ages Phantaia had grown, alone and apart from the eyes of that evil, beyond even the Dreaming Seas, whose waves roared in the darkness along its forbidding and forgotten shores. Wild and free, the forest had thrived over many eons, tangled, cobwebbed, menacing, wrapped in mist, and drowned within the darkness of its own shadowed past, until its massive trees of tremendous girth and height, growing splendidly within their solemn shade, at last pierced the inky skies. Their twisted boughs had scaled the heights of Heaven, with crowded and haughty umbrage, until they looked down with a menacing scowl upon their sister seas below.

  The trees of Phantaia had clustered upon that shore until, forming a great bulwark of trunks, they stood like bearded warriors, guarding the dark gateways to the tangled glades and secretive lands that lay beyond them. No sea or storm, light or dim glow of night, would or could now enter there. So Phantaia remained a timeless place, a forest paradise, forever free of the waxing and waning of seasons, the changing rhythm of moons and suns, the churning and turning of the stars and seas, and the lights of Heaven, which had yet been born to brighten the lonesome depths of that wilderness.

  Nothing could ever enter or leave Phantaia. Nor had any being known its secretive paths, save one. For the vast forests of Phantaia had stretched far beyond the shores of those seas, back into the farthest spheres and mazes of eternal space and time, into an limitless landscape of black boles, twisted roots, shattered stumps, and shifting shadows whose reaches none could ever grasp or fathom.

  Past the Lands of Midnight, beyond even the echoing Halls of Time, that unending wilderness had grown, until Phantaia’s tangled and rugged waste, nightmarish woods, and maddening mounds and mountains of thirsty growth had spread themselves throughout the farthest fringes of this world. At their farthest frontiers Phantaia’s ghoulish trees seemed to disappear, into an unknown realm filled with strange blue fog and yawning catacombs of darkening depths. There upon a misty and rocky precipice, Phantaia’s black and hulking trunks, trembling with terror, clustered upon its farthest cliffs, and looked down into the frightful gulf that fell away, into the hate-filled abyss of the Great Beyond.

  But unseen by all, one had returned to haunt the dark woods and gloomy glades of Phantaia. For he had come on a mission most mysterious, seeking to protect the secrets of the forest from the terrible powers that yet hid in the shadows of the world. For the forces of darkness and destruction had awakened within the fringes of that wood, seeking to do Phantaia great harm.

  The Twilight Mist had seen the anger and violence of his son against the seas. And by Agapor’s works, he had seen the wrath and evil of his dark brothers return to haunt the lonely woods of Phantaia, seeking to obliterate the last living works of their Great Father.

  He had seen Agapor’s storms boiling within the skies, gathering about the fringes of the seas. For their ghostly specters and winged shades lingered still within the darker corners of the world. So had the Twilight Mist remained behind to protect the sea and land, and guard the precious secrets that yet hid within its hollows.

  But the Twilight Mist had felt, within the world, a new and unseen presence come into it. With his thick mists, he had drifted out across the fringes of Phantaia to hide the hidden wonder of its birth from evil, and prepare a path for its blessed arrival. He would covet this secret as long as he could, hiding it away from the world, until such time as sinister forces finally discover it, rising up from the dark depths, seeking to destroy it.

  The Twilight Mist had left the skies above the realm where An, his daughter, slept in peace, seeing her and the seas now safe from harm. He descended from the Arch of Heaven onto the silent shores of dark Phantaia, where once he had roamed in search of its golden child. There his spectral mists silently collected above the roots of the trees, taking refuge near to the shore, and fleeing the remnant storms born of that earlier war.

  Hiding there among the limbs, he stretched his violet tendrils out into the silent canopy, wrapping about the boughs above, and curling around the dark trunks of trees. His lavender mist, like a ghostly shroud, filled the haunted woods, until they lay entombed within his dense, purple cloud.

  But the Twilight Mist had also come to dwell beside his love, the sleeping Secret Spring. Seeing her sad fate, he wept for her beside her pool. Then was heard by him a strange song, rising from the river below. It is then he first looked in wonder upon the river-child, his lost daughter, seeing her from the river’s bar as she played within its wild currents. He made his presence known to the shy and secretive child, guiding her in her course by his mists and fogs, and singing to her softly as she slept in the depths of that emerald river.

  Eventually, the fatherly Mist had embraced the entirety of the woods and rivers of Phantaia, filling every corner of them, and hiding their hidden beauties from all eyes but his own. With his dense cloud, he now guarded the last of the lonely gates and gloomy paths leading into that paradise, so that none could ever enter or leave it, seeking to hide the precious child that now lay hidden within its depths.

  But he had cast the forest aglow with a strange spectral light. For his pale glow was not of the boundless and perpetual darkness of the nig
httime skies, nor of the bright light of the shining sun. His light was of the preternatural glow of dusk and dawn combined. And so the shifting shadows of his changing mists gleamed with an eerie light that burned from within its fog. By way of his dripping dews and gentle rains, the trunks and leaves of Phantaia were now transformed, glazed over with a soft lavender sheen. And the somber shade of his purple mists shined down upon the earth and sea below with an almost ghoulish light.

  Ever after were those woods named for his mist, the Forest of Twilight. For his lavender clouds and fogs would remain there, curling about the trees and valleys of Phantaia, bathing that weird wood in his protective mists, long after his own spirit had left it. By his essence, Phantaia would be a foreboding and fearful place, trapped in the strange space that exists between sunlight and shadow—an alien world where the translucent mantle of Heaven’s sheen and midnight’s shade had once dreamt and crept.

  Yet neither light nor shadow had dared to dwell in the Forest of Twilight, or ever would again. Only the somber glow of his perpetual gloam, cast by his phantasmal fogs, would yet remain behind to haunt the gloomy forests of Phantaia, long after its brighter days had past.

  It was in this misty forest primeval that the strange imaginative will of the Twilight Mist would, ever after, hold sway. So unlike the undreaming thoughts of the awakening river, the forest in perpetual but broken sleep would lie, awakened by light, yet still dreaming by night. And so was it cursed, a domain locked in unfulfilled and half-seen visions, trapped between land and sea, the living and the long-dead, the undying and the undead.

  The wilderness of Phantaia, now bounded by sea and bathed in mist, lay quiet for many ages after, save for the soothing sounds of the roaring surf, where the Dreaming Seas and the Mists of Imagination mingled upon their endless beaches. For where the wilderness met the sea’s broad belt, the peaceful dreams of the forest and the ever-awakening seas had mixed. And upon those beaches the lurid visions of An would soon be made real.

  Phantaia now slept undisturbed. But upon an overlook, above the seas, the manly form of the Twilight Mist had taken shape. The crowned prince of that land looked down from Phantaia’s lonesome cliffs, into the gray ocean abyss below. For in his heart he had felt the presence of his lost son, Agapor, hidden in the gloomy realms that lay beyond his own. He knew that soon his son would awaken and come looking for him.

  The Rise of Agapor

  The wooded gateways of Phantaia had remained guarded from all eyes, encircled by the seas that raged below their windy cliffs, and bathed in the ominous mists and dews that had enveloped them. Unmarred by the violent hands of wind and wave, Phantaia had remained pristine, its dense trees standing in sublime grandeur before the silent shore.

  But the darker woods, which had lain beyond them, had for many ages slept in their quiet shade, dreaming alone. Even the winds of evil had not yet stirred their virgin leaves. For no one but the Mist had penetrated Phantaia’s strange and haunted pathways, nor walked within its gloomy and tangled wood. The aging wilderness had thus endured, long after the quieting of the warring seas and storms.

  But far away down the beach there lay about the sea-bound shores a line of black cliffs, whose broad waves, cold and gray, still crashed against the barren rocks. For the storms of older conflicts continued to ravage both land and sea upon that shore with their angry clouds and whipping winds.

  Beside those misty cliffs, where the seas themselves met the land, there poured a glorious waterfall from high above. For untold eons, the river of Avalyr had carried the shining waters to that shore, drawn themselves from an idyllic source that none had seen. By shining streams, swift and bold, deep and cold, twisting and turning through the interior of that land, the river had swiftly carved itself a great vein within that realm. Gathering all its waters together from distant arteries, it slowly drained the land of its waters until, upon those stony heights, it at last poured its plunder, with great fury, down into the Dreaming Seas below. This mighty cataract then cast up great billows of fog and dew upon the damp cliffs and trees high above it.

  But beneath these falls, upon the troubled shores of this broad borderland, lay another cataract, the wide waterfall of the Dreaming Seas. Here the oceans had gathered before its rocky cup where, like the river, they themselves at last fell away, over the rim of the world in one last monumental wall of sea and spray. Down into a bottomless pit the waters fell, into the gray depths, until all sound had been silenced by its monstrous roar.

  In the fog-enshrouded caverns of Wendalia, Agapor had slept, broken in spirit and body by the vengeful violence of the seas. The dark forces he had amassed within himself had long ago diminished. And the servants he had summoned from the hollows of the world had fled far and wide. He had lain broken and battered, for untold ages, trapped in dark nightmares born of his anguish and anger. Yet somehow he had survived.

  Many unanswered questions and visions had entered his awakening spirit. He thought about his sister An, who now lay imprisoned in the depths of the seas. The sound of her cries continually echoed in his mind, like the cursed continuum of a nightmare he could not escape.

  It is then he had a vision, in which he saw his father, the Twilight Mist, looking down from a cliff, high above. He was a dark figure, tall and proud, with a crown upon his head, and a great beard trailing from his face. With shadowy eyes, his father stood staring at him, surrounded by a dark, lavender mist which seemed to hide the outlines of his face and figure.

  With his angry fists held high, Agapor cursed his father from the depths of the sea. He hated him for the tortured life he had given him, and the heartless imprisonment inflicted upon his sister. But as he looked upon the dark cliffs where his father had stood, Agapor saw only a silver cauldron, floating in a dark fog. Its rim was lined with pearls. And its surface was bejeweled, reflecting many colors.

  A mysterious light rose from its inky waters. And the Heavens above seemed to open up, as a golden light cast from that cup was thrown down into the slate-gray waters about them. Within the lights he saw reflected upon the rolling seas the form of a baby floating upon its surface. He reached out to take the child into his arms. But as he did, a black spirit cruelly erupted within him. And Agapor awoke from his tormented sleep.

  Opening his eyes, Agapor called out to it in his suffering, “...Father...”

  But its black cloud had begun to climb forth from his frame, until its gray fog hung about the caverns above, casting an eerie light upon its walls and floors. Its vast vortex began to encircle him, its center forming a great black mouth that wafted a hot and putrid breath upon his face. Huge eyes then opened from within the cloud, and looked with anger upon the frail boy.

  But the Limitless Void now spoke with furious and fuming ire, saying, “You have failed to slay the child of the sea, and denied me my rightful prize. By her death would the Dreaming Seas have perished at my hand. And its creator would then have fallen before me, heartbroken, and in despair. By your failure, they have secured themselves a permanent place in this world, dwelling apart in the depths of the sea. Their unyielding spirits now lie permanently hidden and protected from harm, such that no force in this world will ever challenge them again.”

  But Agapor said in defiance, “You have deceived me, foul spirit. For you withheld from me the knowledge of my father, the Twilight Mist. And you used me to try and destroy my own sister.”

  But the Void only laughed, telling him, “It matters not, as your father never loved you. He abandoned you in this pit, just as your mother had done. You have now forsaken your own sister, leaving her alone in the depths of the seas. So has your family fallen by their own wickedness, widening the rifts that now divide you.”

  Agapor thought about his sister. And he felt great sorrow and shame. Yet by his act alone had she been spared certain death at the hands of the Limitless Void. For she now lay safe in her tomb, far from harm.

  The Limitless Void then looked upon Agapor with his black-rimmed eyes, saying, “Never
again will you see your sister. For no power under Heaven can now penetrate the cursed seas. She will lie entrapped for all eternity, bound to the watery prison that is of her own mother’s making. And there she shall remain, forever tortured by the memory of her brother’s cruel and savage acts inflicted upon her.” Agapor fell to his knees in despair, hiding his face from that truth.

  Yet, unknown to them both was An now bound to a strange and twisted fate. To a vast Wheel of Time was her mind now chained. For that wheel now turned about her in the seas, fed by the waters of the mighty River of Time, and bound to the turning of the world’s future events, which she alone now controlled. No force under Heaven would stop that wheel from turning. Nor would any power wrought upon those seas divide them, until their last drops had been spent.

  Agapor saw within the Limitless Void’s lies many truths too painful to bear. But they fueled within him even greater anger. And he stood before the Limitless Void in defiance. With arms outstretched, Agapor raised his manacled hands, commanding the spirits of the Shade and Shadow to rise forth from them, and drive the Limitless Void back into his prison. Agapor would then refashion the black chains that had once bound his spirit to the rocks of that chasm, remaking that which he himself had unmade.

  But the spirits of the Shadow and Shade had been released from those irons long ago in the war with the seas. And so had those dark angels betrayed Agapor, fleeing from him in his time of need.

  The Limitless Void then laughed at Agapor, telling him that those black servants had returned to their hateful father’s realm, where they now slept within its darkened catacombs. He told Agapor that his own father, the Twilight Mist, had forged those black manacles in ages past, so that the Children of Night might be bound to them for a purpose most foul. For in ancient days, the Twilight Mist had taken the children of the Endless Night from their father, imprisoning their spirits in those shackles, and enslaving them to watch over that which his cowardly self could not confront.

  Yet, unknown to Agapor, by the hidden powers that lay within the Shade and Shadow could the Limitless Void alone be bound. For the nightmare forces within them had enslaved his mind to their will. And this truth the Twilight Mist had somehow seen.

  But the Limitless Void told Agapor that, by a dark pool’s vision, he had seen how his brother’s own bastard child could be used to undo that which his brother had done. And with the rending of those shackles by Agapor, had the spirits of those bracers finally departed, and the son undone all that his father had made. With a wicked grin upon his face, the Void said that all he had plotted and planned was now complete.

  Weak and near death, Agapor collapsed to the ground. Hearing these words, he saw that he was but an actor upon a stage of a larger play. And in the bigger design, he had glimpsed his tragic part in its final dramatic end. He no longer cared to live in a world where all that he had hoped for was but an illusion designed to fulfill the will of a malevolent mind.

  The Limitless Void then gathered its clouds about him, and took form as a towering lord again, with a shining crown upon his head and a thick, gray cape that stretched forth behind him. Agapor then recognized the face of his master, as he had ages ago in the house of his mother. For this was the true form of the Limitless Void, which he had taken long ago when the world was young, and before the Nothingness and Emptiness had corrupted his form and spirit.

  Looking into his rugged face, Agapor beheld in the coldness of his eyes the callous spirit of the Limitless Void. Yet, just as An had seen in him, he saw a piece of himself reflected therein. The Void knelt beside Agapor, saying, “My son, I was freed by your hands. And for this am I most grateful. I will soon be the last of the Primordial Ones. For my brothers who still remain in this world are weak and near death. This world shall soon be mine alone to rule. For I shall go to the evil ones that dwell in the depths to reclaim my promised powers. By their merciful will and judgement, shall I be then granted kingship over the remnants of this fallen world. My unfinished works will then be completed. And by my dominion over this world shall it be remade in my image. Then shall I eat away at the roots of the sea and forest, until they are sucked dry of their essence. The last of the children of my brothers shall then come to me as willing slaves, before they themselves are sent to the evil ones, whose gaping mouths wait for them even now in the Great Beyond.”

  “Your role in the fate of the world now has passed, Agapor,” said the Limitless Void in a calming voice. “Your spirit shall be drawn into me, and sent before the Nothingness and Emptiness that dwells in the pit below us. There your spirit and flesh shall be obliterated from this world, forever. For I cannot lie. I have dreamt of the day I would see the last son of the Twilight Mist perish before me.”

  The Limitless Void placed his cold gray hands upon the boy’s face. But as he did so, the Limitless Void hesitated. For a part of him truly cared for the child, which he had raised and nurtured. And there had dwelt in his evil heart a tiny piece of the compassionate light of his father.

  With icy breath, he began to draw forth the dark spirit out of Agapor’s body and into his own. Agapor screamed in agony, as his ghost was slowly sucked into the mouth of the Void.

  But from the skies above there descended two dark and ominous forms. From the Lands of Midnight had returned the Shadow and the Shade, the dreaded Children of Night. They had fled forth from this world when the seas had risen up to destroy it. But they were still bound as servants to the cursed manacles upon Agapor’s wrists. For Agapor’s father had made them strong, and yet enduring, knowing the Children of Night would seek to free themselves and release their terror upon the world.

  The Shadow and the Shade had heard the cries of their master from beyond the Veils of Night. As they flew down into Wendalia, an ominous darkness was cast about the pit by their beating wings. With great vengeance, they dove down upon the figure of the Limitless Void, so that he was blown back by the force of their wings. Their gnashing jaws and teeth of shining jet then lashed out at him, driving him back from the boy, so that the Void cowered before their might.

  But the Limitless Void feared the Shadow most. For in him had been placed the spirit of the Nightmare Unending, which he had used to imprison the Void with the illusions of his own mind’s innumerable horrors. And by those night terrors had his shattered spirit been chained to Wendalia. Blown down and lying vulnerable on the ground, the Limitless Void looked up at the Shadow in terror. For he saw in his menacing eyes the many horrors that had haunted him before.

  Seeing the Limitless Void cowering before his servant, Agapor rose to his feet. With renewed energy, he went before the cowering Void, and said to him, “Your time in this world has passed. With the Children of Night, I shall now bring the powers of your world and theirs under me. No more shall the Night and the Void dwell apart. For the time of darkness and destruction united has come at last. By their powers shall I take what is mine in this world. I shall then go and find my father and, with these twin forces, destroy him, which you yourself have failed to do. Then shall the seas falter and fall before me. And at last, my sister shall be free from her cruel bondage.”

  Agapor flung his fist before the Limitless Void, saying, “Never again shall her life be threatened by you!” Agapor then looked upon that broken being with his own empty eyes, as he had looked upon his unloving mother, so long ago.

  But the Limitless Void pleaded with Agapor, saying, “Agapor, do not trust yourself to such a fate as this. These fading powers shall not last. For there dwells within this world an even greater evil, which yet haunts and tortures the Son of Night. This sinister being, which has long hid from the world, shall soon be unleashed, rising up through his servant to torment his heart and mind, until he is driven towards an even crueler destiny.”

  “Look upon the face of the Shadow. Do you not see the evil that stirs within him?” cried the Limitless Void.

  At these words, the Shadow looked upon Agapor’s fearful face and laughed, saying in a deep voice, “Master, he l
ies as a coward who stands before the doorway of death.”

  But in the depths of the black heart of the Shadow had dwelt such a spirit. For in the Shadow, the powers of the Nightmare Unending had grown unhindered, spawned by a sinister desire to pollute the children of the Primordial Ones. The Shadow had not sought to use such powers to pervert the minds of others, but to slay them by his own evil designs.

  So had the Shadow desired, more than Agapor himself, the death of the Limitless Void. Yet Agapor was unsure. But the Shadow could not hesitate. For he advanced quickly upon the Limitless Void, wrapping his ebony claws about his neck, strangling him. Agapor looked on in horror as the Limitless Void cried out in the anguish and suffering of his last breath, until he fell to the floor, pale and lifeless.

  The Shadow then laughed as he released the Limitless Void from his claws. Agapor looked upon his own hand, and saw the strange ring of his mother throbbing with a sinister blue light. The spirit of the Limitless Void then rose forth upon a dark wind, drawn up and out of his body, until it filled the cavern about them with its black tendrils, and encircled them with its eerie fog.

  Then was heard from the depths beneath Wendalia, the groan of the waking spirit of the Nothingness, rising forth from the bottomless depths. For it had sought to devour the spirit of the Limitless Void.

  But Agapor saw that the ring upon his hand now glowed with a fearsome white light. As he raised the ring before him, the light seemed to blind the Shadow and Shade, who hid from it in fear. With a great gust of wind, the spinning cloud of the Void was slowly drawn into its burning crystal, as Agapor was blown back by its gale.

  Opposing powers were at war over that spirit. For great clouds of dust and rock had spun about them, until those swirling winds were sucked down into the pit, then back up and around the black ring and its fog. Agapor saw the gray cloud of the Limitless Void flee before that power, as it was quickly drawn into the shining stone of the ring.

  The moaning and wailing of the winds from the depths beyond the cave finally died away, until the hollow groans of its sinister spirit were all that could be heard in the distance. As quickly as they had come, the winds were gone. And Agapor beheld the dark ring of jet resting, black and lifeless again, upon his hand.

  The dark servants crawled out from the corners of the cavern. Agapor then looked upon the curious face of the Shadow, whose evil and envious eyes stared at the ring upon his finger. The Shadow rose before Agapor, as darkness rises upon a storm cloud in the Heavens. He then demanded, “Give me the ring...”

  But Agapor, in fear, raised the right manacle that lay upon his wrist, commanding the Shadow to back away from him. And the great black beast fell to the ground, cowering before his master. The Shadow and the Shade were now his alone to command. And seeing them bowing before him, Agapor renewed his power and drive to use them to his advantage. But he also saw that they could, by their sinister nature, turn against him.

  Agapor looked down upon the sad form of the Limitless Void. Only the husk of his body now remained, a hollow corpse made of stone, appearing as a fallen figure carved from ashen stone. But Agapor could only look away.

  But as he did, the Shadow walked up to his statue and, with the terrible force of his angry fists, shattered the empty remains of the Limitless Void. The rocks and dust of the once-mighty Void now lay broken upon the cavern floor. Agapor looked back at the Shadow in fear, and yet anger. For he had done this terrible act though his own powerful will. But the Shadow could only smile, seeing with evil delight the final demise of the Limitless Void by his own hand.

  Agapor walked away, deep into the cavern, until he stood upon the edge of the pit. He looked into the mysterious depths below, knowing now a dark evil crept therein. He then looked about the cavern, remembering how once the cruel Void had held him as a child. Agapor thought upon the fate of the Limitless Void, and of his own life, seeing a new destiny for himself born of the terrible choices he himself had now made.

  He noticed a light cast about him, and looked with fascination at the strange ring upon his hand. For its large dark crystal had begun to dimly glow, burning with the phantom flame of a hidden spirit. Or was its strange light ebbing and flowing with the thoughts and emotions that now filled his conflicted heart? As Agapor’s mind calmed, the crystal of the ring also dimmed, glowing with a paler color, yet flickering and smoking with the strange essence of the Limitless Void, whose cursed spirit remained trapped within its crystal. Agapor felt hypnotized by its lights, as he watched their ghoulish wisps and shadows play upon the cavern walls.

  Agapor sat upon the rocks and pondered the ring’s many mysteries. He then rose to his feet and returned to the Shadow and Shade, who stood alone in the midst of the pale fog that wrapped about them. Their evil eyes glowed with eerie red embers as their master approached.

  Those black beasts seemed to have grown bolder and more prideful. For with the death of the Limitless Void, they had tasted their long sought freedom. Yet had they known they would remain enslaved to Agapor, and by his strength of will alone, his to command.

  They were terrible to behold. For they stood like great horned and black-skinned demons, bearing upon their broad shoulders powerful ebony wings. The Shade’s wings opened to Agapor, as he approached. The black feathers of her gossamer wings shimmered as they fluttered in the winds of the chasm, revealing her dark and sensuous body. Yet it was her charcoal eyes that deeply penetrated his own. But her brother, the Shadow, was monstrous and tall, towering over Agapor, bearing shiny black skin that drew the pale light of the cavern into it, such that the illusion of his lightless presence seemed to shift about in the dim glow.

  They knelt before Agapor in servitude. The Shadow then looked with envious eyes upon his master, saying, “What you have long desired is now done. The Limitless Void is destroyed. But his spirit and his powers yet remain in this world. For he now dwells in the ring that lies upon your hand. By his great cunning, the Limitless Void has avoided eternal damnation and death at the hands of the Nothingness. For he must have fashioned it long ago for his spirit’s keeping, fearing his essence would be devoured by that which he had served.”

  Agapor turned his gaze upon the ring, as it cast its hypnotic glow upon their faces, saying, “He could not have fashioned such a thing as this. For it does not seem to be of this world.”

  But the Shadow looked upon Agapor, with eyes set aflame by the passion of his words, saying, “The spirit of the Limitless Void is now yours. For his powers are given to those who wear the ring. You may now summon the destructive storms of Oblivion, or command the wracked spirits of the dead to rise again. By your instruction alone, shall the directionless hosts that yet roam the wastes of Oblivion take flesh again, gathering as one to fulfill your dire will in this world, and inflict untold agony and suffering upon its children. For you are now their undisputed Lord.”

  Agapor’s eyes glowed with a fearsome light. And he thought upon the words of the Shadow, as he stared deep into the fading light of the ring. But the Shadow gazed upon the boy with a hatred that yet stirred deep inside him. For unknown to Agapor, the Shadow still looked upon him with much malign. This truth the Shadow kept from him. For Agapor was but the son of his enslaver. And the Shadow would bear, ever after, great animosity for his new master, who had so cruelly enslaved him like his father had done.

  But the Shadow had seen how easily Agapor could succumb to temptation. And he knew that he, like his father, would soon be consumed again by his heart’s yearning desires.

  Agapor looked at the remains of the form of the Limitless Void, as they lay scattered about the cavern floor. He bent down and picked up his bejeweled crown and placed it upon his head. And so was Agapor given the sovereign powers of the Limitless Void.

  Agapor had a renewed strength and determined will. He turned and looked upon the angels of darkness that stood before him and smiled. Agapor then summoned forth the magical powers of the black manacles upon his wrists. And the Shadow and Shade, still enslaved to
those irons, bowed before him, their heads held low to the ground.

  Agapor said to his servants that he was now the Ruler of Oblivion, the Lord of Destruction. And his voice roared up through the pits of that hollow earth as he spoke. With the sacred crown he now wore, he would reign over Oblivion, casting the shadow of his hand like a dark cloud across those barbarous lands. Unto him now would the demons of Oblivion bow in obedience, serving only him.

  Agapor then commanded the Shadow and Shade to carry him to the Realms of Oblivion. There would they seek the cavern in which stood the ghoulish throne of the Limitless Void. For it had stood idle and unused, alone in darkness, too long.

  The Shadow and Shade, with expressionless eyes, only listened, unmoving. They then obeyed.

  Taking Agapor in his black claws, the Shadow flew up and out of the cavern, the Shade following close behind. He carried him out of the pit and across the rolling seas, through the vast skies that lay beneath the Arch of Heaven, and past the Veils of Night that hung within the Halls of Time. Through the hollow Corridors of Darkness they flew, past vast arcades of arched alcoves, which hid in their towering heights the bat-winged servants of darkness. For these had once filled the skies during ancient wars, long forgotten. Through those shadowy and forsaken hallways they travelled, past dusty and rubble-strewn corridors, within whose dizzying depths no light or air ever stirred.

  Beyond the bleak Lands of Midnight they travelled, until they came to the borderlands that lay before the rocky remnants of the Realms of Oblivion. Below them, Agapor saw the sad and gloomy ruins of his mother’s keep, whose twisted and teetering towers and castle walls trailed off into the dreary valleys below.

  On they flew, between maddening mountains of jet, whose cliffs thrust up into the skies with rocks of obsidian, sharp as razors, then down into the fringes of Oblivion, which stood before the empty spaces of the gray and grim Great Beyond.

  Before that dire waste, there rose up from the mountain slopes a giant stone stairway, which some huge hand had carved in ages past. For the Essence Eternal had fashioned these stairs for the feet of his sons, before they had destroyed through their relentless violence the noble house that once stood above it on the mountainside.

  Down they flew, over the massive stairs and through the stagnant fog, until below him Agapor saw the ruins of a colossal city, rising up from a vast network of caves and caverns. Over the wreckage of that gloomy metropolis they flew, down into its frightening catacombs, and through its crumbling city of the dead. Its entangled causeways and towering archways had once connected a great matrix of cavernous tombs and towers in an enormous maze of decayed and rotting stonework. Long abandoned, that sprawling city of countless crypts now appeared as a never-ending cobweb of frozen rock and black ice.

  In the middle of that decrepit city lay a giant orifice, whose wide mouth stood before them like that of a great fish of the deep that tempts into its aching belly a long awaited and unwary prey. Into those trembling depths they plummeted, floating upon the cold and cavernous winds, until at its bottom Agapor saw a new dread suddenly rise up from the gloom before them.

  Beyond the shadows, a monstrous chasm stretched off into the infinite darkness. About its shores lapped a slimy sea, upon whose oily surface hung a vile green and gray fog that disappeared into its fathomless frontiers. Within this underground sea’s unknown depths slept horrors unseen by any eyes since the birth of the world.

  As they flew over its silent waves, Agapor thought he could see the amber glow of a gargantuan eye, lazily staring up at him from the slimy gray depths. Beneath the gray waves squirmed the lustful flesh of countless writhing bodies and perverse lovers, who in one orgiastic mass of strangers, seemed to pulsate as one in the depths of that great debauchery of the seas. Or were they but pale sea-worms, feeding ravenously upon the corpses of the dead?

  Through an eerie fog they floated above that phantasmal sea until, upon the farthest shores of that colossal chasm, there appeared a mammoth cave opening within a sheer wall of towering rock.

  Into its monumental heights stretched massive cathedral-like pillars, their twisted columns supporting the endless galleries, gothic hallways, and forgotten walkways that stretched back into the depths of that gruesome underworld. Towering statues of demonic lords, cracked and crumbling, peered with stony eyes, through the salty mist at the lonely travelers as they flew past. Upon the dense surface of every wall and railing had been carved entangled figures, grotesque faces, and the last carnal embraces and sufferings of the tempted, tortured, and dying. But though the macabre architecture had portrayed some perceived heroic time, it yet belied a tragic end.

  Great rusted cages bearing the monstrous skeletons of creatures, long dead and dust-covered, hung in the gloom from the vast ceiling above them, their bodies having long ago rotted away after unknown ages of torture and suffering. Giant tangled chains, collapsed ironworks, machines, fallen stonework, shattered pillars, and the skulls of beasts and strange behemoths rose up in great heaps and piles from the shadowy depths below them. Agapor then saw how ages of ruthless and decadent violence had transformed the majesty of this world into one of madness.

  From out of the decay and dust climbed a huge set of colossal stairs, upon whose dark heights lay a massive platform of rock that stretched back into the shadows of the chamber. There in its midst, sat a towering throne made of the ancient bleached bones of the dead and the long-suffering flesh of slain beasts, who yet had fallen in some forgotten and ancient war.

  This was the throne room of the Limitless Void, who in ages past had ruled this broken land of death and decay by his merciless hand. But from his perverse desire for complete and total power over the world had death come to his own kind, so that only the tragic remains of his former struggles had now remained.

  Unto Agapor had the Limitless Void’s haunted lands and legacy now been bestowed. And with the power and might of the corrupted Children of Night, and the possessed ring upon his hand, would he now be lord over this shattered and horrific domain of death.

  Agapor walked slowly towards the ghoulish chair. But as he sat upon the evil throne, Agapor looked down through the empty waste below and smiled. For though no armies knelt before him, he knew that this was now his domain. Soon would he forge it anew. He would keep to himself, hidden from the world, quietly plotting his revenge upon it. But in the catacombs of that vast underground city of secrets had yet been hidden much evil, still undiscovered, and even greater truths waiting to be unearthed.

  The Shade, sister of the Shadow, Agapor had summoned forth to tend to his wounds. But the Shade in secret had desired Agapor. Through his beguiling power over her, she became drawn to him. So tempted, she selfishly desired to possess him, and keep him for her own. Her grim shade fell upon his mind. And for a time, she drew away the shadows of his hardened heart, filling him with visions of her own body and form, its sensuous curves and salacious delights.

  But Agapor was wary of her affections. For his heart was still with An. So by false pretense, he used the Shade for his own purposes. He demanded she watch over the Shadow, her brother, and hide his wary heart and mind from her brother, so that the black servant knew little of his plans. For Agapor now looked upon the power and might of the Shadow as a threat to him. He was a force that had grown in power and knowledge beyond even his own.

  Through his sister’s prowess did Agapor control his own mind still, so that the Shadow remained unsure of his master’s motivations. But the Shadow had, long ago, looked deep into his master’s heart and saw that his secret love for An had yet remained true and undying. And this revelation stayed within his plotting mind.

  In time, Agapor was filled with renewed strength. He gained greater power over the Shadow and Shade, such that his own spirit was imbibed with new powers over Oblivion’s many dark denizens as well. To him came the lost servants of the Limitless Void, who had walled themselves away within the countless crypts and bedchambers of that forgotten underworld. And by the iron cro
wn upon his head, and his stern presence upon that throne, was Agapor revered by those dark servants as their lord and king.

  But through the use of dark enchantments, bound to the ring and manacles, Agapor’s own body became corrupted and changed into a fearsome form. His face grew distorted and wide. His skin became as a hide, thick, pitted, and scaly. His knotted arms and shoulders grew strong and wide. And his black-rimmed eyes ever burned in their sunken hollows with bewitching fires.

  Upon his head grew a short but tangled mass of horns, which grew more threatening and bestial over time, until they appeared as a woven crown of thorns, encircling his head. And so, by the powers that had come into him, was he a most formidable and fearsome lord, ruler over all the darker realms as he had vowed he would be.

  Sitting upon his throne of the fallen house of the Void, he continued to fashion in his mind a dire plan to destroy the seas. But he had begun to doubt that he alone could penetrate, or harm them, ever again. Yet in his silent hours alone, upon his throne, he still longed to know of his sister. And he thought long into the night of the odd disappearance of his father’s twilit mists, which once dwelt above the seas. But unknown to Agapor, his father now dwelt far away in the dismal woods that lay hidden beyond the farthest shores of the ocean. And so his father’s whereabouts had remained a mystery, which tortured him day and night.

  The Shadow had returned to Oblivion after completing the errands on which he had been sent. But learning from the Shade, his sister, of Agapor’s new designs upon the world, he bellowed with laughter to his sister in secret. For he knew all these machinations were bent towards the same futile desire to see his sister again, and rescue her from the ocean’s grip. And the Shadow saw that Agapor’s flawed desire still burned within his foolish heart.

  The Shadow then came before Agapor, and spoke bold words to him, reminding him that no force in this world would ever penetrate the Dreaming Seas again. For its daughter now held a strange power within its watery depths, which no force could discover or destroy. And she and her mother-ocean would be guided and protected by its sway, until the end of time itself.

  Over many nights Agapor thought upon the truth and wisdom of his servant’s words. He then called the Shadow to him once more, telling him he must now go on a new mission, into the mysterious lands that lay deep under the Arch of Heaven. He must fly far and wide, seeking to find the Twilight Mist, his father. For he perceived that his father lay hidden within the valleys of his lost and unseen lands, which lay beyond the edges of space and time.

  Agapor’s desire for revenge against his father had not diminished, but had grown within his heart. And he thought that through his father would he gain knowledge of the mystery of the seas, and his sister’s strange enslavement to them.

  But the Shadow told Agapor he knew not where his hidden lands lay. For though his eyes could look deep into the mind and hearts of many in that world, he could not penetrate the heart of the Twilight Mist, nor know of his secret dwelling place. For the Twilight Mist was a Primordial One, and a being of great power.

  But unknown to them, the Twilight Mist had hidden his heart and mind from all seekers, dwelling within the strange realms of Phantaia. For by his mists, he guarded those who dwelt there from the sight and knowledge of all others.

  But the Shadow bowed before Agapor, his master, and obeyed, flying out into the night on his strange mission of discovery. On he flew with his mighty wings, into the gray depths, seeking to find the homeland of the Twilight Mist, which was said to lie beyond the Mountains of Heaven. But this secret crystalline land no other being but the Twilight Mist had ever seen, or would ever find.

  But unknown to Agapor, the Shadow had in secret begun to plot his escape from the servitude of his master. For the Shadow had returned to the black Lands of Midnight, seeking his own father, the Endless Night. Yet the Shadow had not sought love or revenge, only to take from him the last of his noble powers that still remained. For his father had hidden the Wings of Night with which he had conquered and ruled the world in eons past. And by his father’s corruption of their powers, he had finally turned them against their truer purpose, using them to bathe the world in boundless darkness, and so consume it. These wings the Shadow now greatly desired.

  But the mystery of the fate of his father, the Endless Night, had not been revealed to the Shadow. Nor had his presence been felt by him, so that the Shadow now thought him dead. For his father’s fortress had lain barren and cold upon the summit of a mighty peak, deep within the Lands of Midnight. Within the abandoned hallways of his towering fortress, the Shadow had found no sign of his father, save the depressing and empty gloom that had hung about its cold and vacant chambers.

  The Shadow had then sought his father’s grave, which was said to lie deep underground. For many nights he searched beneath the fortress walls and cliffs, seeking a secret entrance, which was said to lead to a vast catacomb of the vampiric dead. Within those depths, he thought, would rest his father’s colossal tomb.

  But the Endless Night had finally lain himself, bloody and beaten, buried in a giant sarcophagus of stone, even deeper underground. Sorely wounded after years of war’s countless defeats, he had finally succumbed to his injuries. But it was his broken heart which would take him in the end.

  And so the Shadow and the Shade had both known of their father’s death. But if the Shadow could find his father’s tomb, then would he rip from him the mighty wings born of darkness eternal that hung from his corpse. And with these wings would he then have the power to slay Agapor, and at last be free.

  As the Shadow flew past the iron gates of his father’s fortress, he heard a whisper, faint at first, of an old woman, emanating from the corner of the wall. It was then he saw a tiny crack appear. Ripping away the stone, he found a narrow stair winding its way down into the darkness. Into the depths of his father’s house he descended until, beneath a maze of dungeons, he entered a vast catacomb of the undead.

  In its dusty depths were housed many tombs, wherein had slept the vast bat-like armies of the Endless Night. But like the demons of Oblivion, many of these pale armies had been destroyed in the wars with the Primordial Ones. Shattered bones and dust were all that remained in their crumbling caskets. In frustration, the Shadow ripped open the empty sarcophagi that lined the walls, one by one. But he saw only the sad remains of cobwebbed corpses, whose scaled armor and rusting swords crumbled to white powder at the touch.

  But at the end of a long dark hallway the Shadow had come upon a massive black stone that blocked his path. The dark rock of its door had been welded together with great bands of iron to seal it from the outside. As the Shadow looked closer, he saw that in fact it was sealed from the inside, as if whatever hid within had desired its own undisturbed rest.

  Carved upon the door he saw the image of a great tree, twisted and bent, beneath which lay a rocky pool of dark water. Beneath the well, he could barely see the carvings of dark roses, whose lithe and thorny stems drooped low with their shriveled and dying blooms. Upon the great bands of the door he saw etched runes of an unknown tongue he could not understand. As he touched the iron, from ages of rust and rot it fell away before him. The Shadow, seeing the door falling away, then tore at the last of its stones. And he watched as the image of the tree and well collapsed before him, turning to dust.

  He looked into the darkness and saw only a strange table within. But upon its thick slab lay a dark and sensuous woman, clad in black and crimson capes, with long, dark, and tangled tresses covering her face. But as the Shadow pulled away her hair, he saw that her face was a sickly green color, sunken with great cracks upon it, born of timeless age. Her nose was long and crooked, and her eyes deep set and hollow, like a skull.

  The Shadow bent down to touch her face. For it stirred a dark memory in his fractured mind of someone he had once known as a child. But just as quickly as that memory came, it was washed away. Suddenly her dark eyes opened. And he saw within them a swirling green cast, with cat-like ce
nters black as obsidian. This was the witch called Anissa, a being of the underworld, who though beautiful in body, was most horrible in countenance and depraved in spirit. By the touch of a Child of Night alone could she awaken. And so by the hand of the Shadow was she now stirred from her eternal rest, as a newborn again reborn, her spirit returning to flesh from the nether worlds from which it had roamed.

  But Anissa was an enchanted being, and not of this world. For she was a witch of the shadows. And she had been a queen of her sisters, the Cromwich, in a past life. In the youth of the world, the Endless Night had summoned her sleeping spirit up from the strange waters that had flowed beneath his fortress. By the black arts was she summoned forth to aid him. Pulled from the waters by him, she was then raised as a child by the Night, ruling the nighttime skies by his side. She ever after would do his bidding, using her coven and their black enchantments against his enemies, in the ancient wars that had befallen him and his kind.

  Though she remained obedient to him, to another more malevolent being was she most devoted. For she had been spawned from a matriarchal spirit, which slept in the black waters of a pool that bubbled up from the bottom of the world. That well had hidden the broken spirit of her mother, a dark queen, whose existence and origin none had yet perceived.

  The dark pool had belched forth many abominations from its malevolent waters. But most powerful of these were the witches, the Cromwich, which she had created from her own vile breath to curse the living, and do her bidding in this world. For she had made them to fulfill a malevolent purpose unknown to all, defying the larger destiny of the world through their deceit and duplicity. And so the Cromwich carried great hatred towards the Primordial Ones and their children who had sought to forge the world anew.

  The Cromwich were the true children of the dark arts, conceived themselves from the ancient arts of witchcraft and wizardry. For the spirits of these sinister sisters had gathered together again to create a most treacherous coven. In time, fed by the lies of Anissa, the Endless Night had gathered their spirits to him, using them against his own brothers. But in his final defeat, they were all slain except for Anissa, whom the Endless Night had hidden away. For his cruel brothers had taken his children away in chains. And as a beloved child unto him, Anissa was all that remained of that which he had once loved and lost.

  By the touch of the Shadow, Anissa’s spirit was called forth from the land of the undead. Her arms crossed, Anissa rose up from her stony bed and looked upon the Shadow’s face. Seeing the features of the Endless Night in the contours of the Shadow’s rugged countenance, she knew who he was. But the Shadow, in frustration, threw her to the ground. For he sought only to find his father’s enchanted wings. But as the witch crawled up from the floor, she saw that within him dwelt the will of the Nightmare Unending, a power whose manipulative and destructive evil she knew now had risen again. And she gazed at the fallen son with eyes that blazed with a sickly sap green light.

  The Shadow then left her, seeking his father’s tomb once more in the depths of the fortress. But not finding his father’s crypt, he flew out of the keep in a rage. Overlooking the seas, he sat again upon the rocky crag where he had often perched, deep in thought.

  But Anissa followed him. And seeing him there alone, she came to him, questioning him, “Tell me your thoughts, oh dark one. What tortures you so? Why have you returned here, to the empty house of your father and mother?”

  The Shadow sat, unmoving, peering into the dark void that stretched above the tranquil seas. He then spoke in a somber voice, saying, “Be gone witch. You know nothing of me, or what has become of this cursed world since returning to it from your insipid rest. But I will tell you, if you wish. I am a slave of another, he who is named Agapor. But I seek my father’s wings, the black wings he once wore in his dark victory over his brothers. For by the powers of the Wings of Night alone shall I find my freedom.”

  The Shadow walked to the edge of the cliff, looking down, saying under his breath, “Still, I am tortured, in pain, and bound to unending agony by my master’s powerful geas and forceful will over me. He has sent me on an impossible errand which I cannot fulfill. And the black manacle upon his wrist shall bear down its full wrath upon my mind and spirit until this sacred vow to him is fulfilled.”

  Anissa then came to him, asking, “What mission is this?” The Shadow looked into the strange glowing eyes of the witch, saying, “I must find a Primordial One, he who is named the Twilight Mist. And in fulfillment of my master’s mission am I now eternally bound.” The witch smiled with knowing eyes.

  The Shadow then turned away, and looked out from his rocky perch, searching again for a sign in the depths of the starless skies, as he brooded alone in the darkness, thinking upon the mystery of his father’s lost tomb.

  Hearing his plight, Anissa flew off on her broom of yew, returning to the ancient crypts that lay beneath Midnight’s gloomy keep. With her dark enchantments, she then cast a spell of awakening, summoning forth her vile sister-spirits from the catacombs beneath the fortress. Then was heard a roaring within the labyrinth of the fortress, as of dry warm winds cast about its hallways.

  The Cromwich took shape in their tombs, gathering the dust of their bones together, and rising forth as the Witches of Midnight. They then came before Anissa. For to her were they alone devoted. Anissa returned to the Shadow with her sisters, and gave unto him her powers to command them. The Shadow looked upon her with his cold and heartless eyes. But he now saw that within her lay a valued weapon, which he could use for his own benefit.

  The Shadow, now pleased, spoke to the Cromwich that had gathered before him. And he sent them off on many errands, high into the Heavens, searching for the lands of the Twilight Mist. They could travel great distances, riding with wings of pitch upon brooms made of blackest yew. They alone could see, with their wide eyes of glowing green jade, the hidden ether, forbidden spaces, and secret planes which lay between this world and all others. And so, upon the currents of the nighttime skies, they flew, deep into the unknown realms that lay between the dreaming and the awakening world, searching for the Lands of Mist where the hidden twilit father had once dwelt.

  The Shadow then turned to Anissa. He came upon her violently, grabbing her by the throat with his scaly black claws. He then demanded, “Tell me where the body of my father, the Endless Night, has been interred.”

  “I do not know of his tomb, Nor have I any knowledge of his death,” she gasped. “For many untold eons have I slept, through countless brutal ages, as the spinning wheel of time creaked and groaned about my bedchamber. And so the fate of many has not been given to me.” But in truth, Anissa had no knowledge of the Endless Night. For the memory of her forgotten lover had faded away forever from her cold heart, like last petals of a shriveled rose, whose rich color turns to ash with the passing of time. And so the Shadow released her.

  The Shadow was thus denied the Wings of Night. But ever in his mind he pondered the whereabouts of his fallen father, and the powers denied him. For with those black wings could he slay his master and plunge this world into eternal night. And so had his sinister plot and passion remained. Yet, as he stared into the mysterious seas below, a new and even greater desire had grown within him. For he had begun to sense a more malicious power hidden beneath the waves.

  The Shadow and Anissa flew off together, out across the far reaches of the Dreaming Seas, until something strange rose forth from the water before them.

  The Faceless Form

  Agapor had sat brooding upon his throne alone in the darkness for many nights, awaiting word from his servant. Then was heard the beating of wings, and the rush of air. The Shadow had returned to Oblivion, riding upon the dark winds that continually roared down into the underworld from the Heavens above.

  The Shadow swept down into his halls, landing before Agapor on the stairs. He came kneeling before his master, saying, “Master, I have seen something new and strange, hidden in the farthest corners of the world.”

  But Agapor looked upon the horrible face of the creature beside the Shadow, seeing in her eyes of jade a spirit of something odd and unnatural. He asked the Shadow, “Where have you found this creature of darkness?”

  But the Shadow said, “She is Anissa, a witch and servant of my father. She has now awakened to guide us in our search for the Twilight Mist. For by her spectral vision and that of her witch-sisters, may we see beyond the gray veil of the fogs that wrap about the outer world, and discover the hidden enemy that dwells within it.”

  But as Anissa looked upon Agapor’s hand, the dark ring glowed in the presence of the witch. And she was drawn to its strange light, desiring it greatly.

  The Shadow then said to Agapor that high above the Dreaming Seas he had flown with Anissa, until they had come to the great falls of Wendalia, into which his master had fallen in ages past. But beyond that pit there had hung a thick fog, which the seas had made, dense and impenetrable to all eyes. With her dark magic, Anissa then commanded the mist to depart, removing the clouded veil that lay before them. They then saw dimly, between the clouds, a stretch of black cliffs, which had for many ages stood defiant, towering above the sea.

  Here lay a savage land, mysterious and unknown, a realm apart, born of the rock and bathed in the dew cast up from the seas. Where the ocean and land met as one, black cliffs now stood, looking down defiantly upon them, casting their fearful reflections upon the water below. Upon those grim heights had grown ancient and hoary oaks, standing guard as one bastion, shoulder to shoulder, like impenetrable statues. Their wide rugged trunks had grown high into the skies, so that no light or darkness shone forth, into or out of the forest and fog that lay wrapped about the cliffs.

  The Shadow told Agapor that for many nights he had stood upon the rocky cliffs that hung above the falls of the seas. But all he had seen were the impassable trees, which stood before him like an unending maze. For he could find no path beyond their trunks, nor mist, nor light, or any signs of life about them.

  The Shadow, in frustration, had departed that cursed place. But Anissa had remained. For no pathway could escape her vision, nor doorway be hidden from her view. And the shining, cat-like eyes of the witch could see the dimmest light that might shine, and the faintest footsteps of the living.

  She then saw the traces of a faint glow, which had shined out from the depths of that strange wood. Following its trail, she had found a hidden path through the wall of oaks, and the last glimmer of a guardian light that seemed to follow a track leading further into the forest. As she stood within its eerie radiance, she pondered its miraculous form and color. For the light seemed to shine with the essence of something she had once known. And she stood still for a moment, haunted by its memory.

  She had flown off to find the Shadow, telling him of the hidden doorway she had found, opening into the woods. The Shadow had then returned, walking forth through the fog-enshrouded door, and past the monstrous black trees that had guarded it so well.

  Travelling through an endless maze, he had followed a mysterious, misty light that lit up the trail before him. Suddenly he saw the faint fog of the Twilight Mist rising above the trees in the distance. Their strange curling clouds crept through the canopy, drifting down to the forest floor about his feet.

  The Shadow then reached out to touch it. With his nose and tongue he tasted its wisps upon his black lips, as he had done many times before above the twilit seas. He knew its foul smell and taste. For it was of the Twilight Mist, his former master.

  He cackled with delight. For now he had seen where the Twilight Mist had crept. But as he stood upon the heights of those cliffs, he saw something strange in the distance. Like a moth beguiled and baited by a fiendish flame, the Shadow was drawn towards it. It seemed to glow from the very heart of the woods, from some secret source he could not discern.

  But the Shadow was fearful of it. For that lucid light burned his black skin with its radiant fire. It was not of this world, nor of the silver flames that dimly flickered upon the Mountains of Heaven. From the deepest interior had come this strange, living light. Its radiance soon blinded him, searing his eyes and face, so that in terror he fled from the forest. And so had he now returned forthright to his master’s halls, to reveal to him this great and yet troubling discovery.

  From his throne Agapor smiled, and said unto the Shadow, “At last, my father has been found. I shall now go forth and take him by force.”

  But the Shadow said to Agapor, “Thy father shall not be taken so easily, master. For his mists stretch back into eternity, into the hollows of the endless woods, whose depths no being can ever know or penetrate. Its earth is bound to the spirit of the Immortal Clay, whose form may not be sundered from it. Unknown forces dwell therein, derived from him, which may not easily be taken or harmed. Nor shall the earth or clay, or even the trees themselves, be consumed, except by the powers of the devourers that hide themselves in the Great Beyond. For the roots of its mysterious trees hold that firmament firmly within their grasp. And many ages would it take to destroy them. Their strange force sustains it still, against the violence of the frightful seas, which have long battered its stubborn shores.”

  But the Shadow now knew that the origin of its guardian spirit lay within the golden lights that beamed out from Phantaia’s depths—a loving and giving spirit, whose burning lantern would remain hidden from all eyes.

  The Shadow said, “Yet, by another route might you enter those woods and find your father. For the forest is sustained by its own sacred fire, which burns within its heart. With your powers, you alone might find its candle and extinguish it. And with the failing of the light the forest would perish. Your father would then be revealed to you.”

  But Agapor said, “I do not care whether this forest or its mysterious light lives or dies. For I know not its meaning or purpose, only that my father must be found. I shall wait an eternity if I must, to see him driven from that wilderness. For once he is found, then shall the seas falter and An be freed.” The Shadow scowled at Agapor in the darkness of the chamber. For he did not understand the feeble and futile plots of his master.

  But the Shadow told Agapor, “Master, I fear that the last powers of the Primordial Ones have gathered in that new land, joining as one in the forest depths to wage war upon the children of the Night and the Void. Within you lies the power and the will needed to destroy the living light that now sustains that wood. And so have Anissa and I plotted to discern the source of its life-giving glow, so that you might go forth and obliterate it.”

  The Shadow then looked down in thought. For he hated this new light, with a passion that burned to the core of who he was. But the Shadow in secret also feared it. He would not go near it again, nor could his servants find its source or face its blinding rays. For many nights alone the Shadow had sat, looking down from his dark abode upon the crags of Midnight, staring into the mysterious fringes of those twilit woods. And to him it remained a vast and terrible place, whose secret purpose, source, and design, like the seas, he could not yet comprehend.

  But Agapor looked down upon the face of the Shadow in silence, and with a renewed determination. For he now resolved to find his father. He would destroy this new forest realm by force if he had to. Agapor then said to the Shadow, “Leave me to my thoughts.”

  As Agapor sat on his throne, thinking upon his father, a tiny ray of light beamed out from the black ring that lay upon his right hand. The spirit of the Limitless Void slowly issued forth from its dark crystal, his wisps of gray smoke rising forth before him, until the shadowy phantom of the Limitless Void stood before him.

  The ghostly and wrinkled face of the Void looked upon Agapor with sadness, saying, “I have suffered horribly, my child, in the cruel confines of this ring. For within its crystal lies the collected evil of many worlds long past. That from which the ring has eternally fed—the angst and anger of perverted and poisonous love—is all that remains inside. For within it lives only corruption, and a deep and vengeful hatred fo
r this world. My spirit has been wracked with suffering from its great malice bent against me. For I have no love or hate left in my heart to offer it.”

  Agapor stood up, and looked upon his uncle’s woeful face. And he saw the sad plight of the Limitless Void, feeling great pity for him. But he thought upon the ruin of the world he had made, replying in anger, “It is you who have cursed this world with your own evils. And so have you and the ring now become one in purpose. But I am left with the ruin of this world, uncle, born of your hatred for it and your endless wars against it.”

  The Void looked with grim, but watery eyes upon Agapor again, saying, “I have come only to help you, my child. For I see, as I do in myself, your lingering hatred of your father.” Agapor turned away, sitting back down in despair. For he saw clearly in his mind that he had become a creature like his uncle, the Limitless Void. But he told him, “My father alone now holds the key to An’s freedom. I have no choice.”

  Agapor looked again upon the tortured face of the Limitless Void. And he saw that the ring, which he now held, had changed him. Agapor then told the Void he would shatter that evil relic, and release him from his agony if he desired.

  But the Limitless Void in dismay told Agapor that he would prefer the torturous prison to annihilation at the hands of the Nothingness. For should the ring be destroyed, his spirit would be free to roam the world. It would then be found by the Nothingness and devoured by him. So had he vowed to protect the cursed ring, even though he loathed it still.

  The ghost of the Limitless Void then told Agapor that he had returned to assist him in his struggles. For he sought only to guide the boy, and help him in that troubled world. He would show him the twisting paths that led to the depths of the Great Beyond. For only the evil that dwelt in that decrepit space could help him find the Twilight Mist.

  He should go to them now. By a pale blue light would he be shown the way. But he warned Agapor that he should hide the ring from the Nothingness, and place it about his neck where they might not see it. For they would seek to take it and destroy it. Yet are they fearful of it, knowing they cannot harm it. For it lives by a will beyond their own. And so had he hid in its crystal, far from harm.

  The Limitless Void then disappeared into the dark crystal of the ring. And its strange blue light began to glow upon Agapor’s hand.

  Agapor rose from his throne, following the beam of the ring which cast a faint light upon the path before him. Travelling on a mission most secret, he followed the strange ghostly light down into the mysterious tunnels that led into the pits of Oblivion. Pursing the glow of the ring, he saw its pale light descend a black and slimy staircase, winding its way through secret tunnels, deep under the earth, until he stood before the yawning gray spaces that fell away into the limitless depths of the Great Beyond.

  The spirit of the Limitless Void then spoke from within the opaline crystal of the ring, telling Agapor to call out to the powers that slept there. By the cryptic words given to him would those beings then come to him. Agapor quickly hid the ring under his shirt.

  By the black words now bestowed to him, Agapor called forth the foul spirits that dwelt within those foggy depths. He then saw, rising from the milky clouds, terrible shapes begin to gather themselves in the distance. Great gray storms billowed and churned in the gloomy and infinite space, filling it in with their thunderous storms. Agapor watched with apprehension, as a frightening face took shape before him.

  From out of the deepest pits of the abyss of the world had the sinister Nothingness now appeared. Looking down on the boy with its jet black eyes, it spoke to Agapor, saying, “Why have I been summoned forth, awakened from my timeless rest. The countless children in this world constantly come to me, calling for death. Their weeping spirits have stood before me many times, wrenched from their fallen bodies in unnumbered battles, seeking release from endless suffering. But on their spirits and flesh have my brother and I now become engorged. And by their consumption, I remain satiated.”

  Agapor stood before the bloated spirit, and with bold words, said, “Spirit, I come to you, seeking not death but desire. Share with me the secretive nature of the twilit forest, whose strange and shimmering woods yet live in a heavenly place apart from my own.”

  But the Nothingness looked down upon the brave child, and felt in the boy the presence of the spirit of the Limitless Void, though he could not see him. And he saw by the black manacles upon his wrists that the Children of the Night were his to command. The Nothingness then looked upon Agapor with a wary eye. For he did not trust the child. Yet in his matrix mind that being saw in Agapor one who might yet serve his will.

  Agapor noticed that the spirit had seen the iron on his wrists. And he saw that the thoughts of that being might soon turn against him. And so he spoke boldly, saying, “Mighty Spirit of the Great Beyond, I have slain the Limitless Void and taken his powers for my own. And so have his lands been bestowed to me. For am I the lord and king over all of Oblivion. Its dark servants now serve only me. Soon shall I wage a new war upon this world. By your own will and assistance might I be victorious over it.”

  But the Nothingness in his cloud, twisting in ever-sickening shapes and coils, drew himself into a monstrous form in the gray depths—a beast most horrid with sharp horns and teeth, and with sunken cheeks and eyes, hollow and dark.

  He then spoke in a thunderous voice, “Why have you come seeking my help, when within you hide the powers over the Limitless Void and the children of the Endless Night, who you alone now command?”

  Agapor, frozen in fear of that monstrous being, said nothing. But the Nothingness looked down upon the boy again, and saw within his weak heart that which the boy had truly feared. For that creature was not of this world, and had in him the all-seeing eye that perceives the depths of the spirit of those that stand before it. He saw that within Agapor was hidden great anger and vengeance—born of his fear of the Dreaming Seas, for his father the Twilight Mist, and for his servant the Shadow. But seeing the pitiful truth of Agapor’s mind and heart, the Nothingness only laughed.

  The Nothingness then looked deep into the eyes of the child. His cloud slowly transformed itself, taking the form of a bearded man, dark-skinned and swarthy, with a crown upon his head. The Nothingness said to Agapor, “You have come for another reason. You seek your father, the Twilight Mist, who still hides in the depths of the Forest of Twilight, the wilderness they call Phantaia.”

  The Nothingness spoke again, saying, “Look upon my face, Agapor. It is one dear to you, thy beloved father. If you hate him so, go forth into Phantaia, find him yourself, and avenge your pain. For he now dwells beside the child of the river whom he dearly loves, the spirit of the sleeping spring that wells up its silver waters, and the golden child of the seed that shines forth within its heart. But he waits there for another, whose destiny in this world has yet to be revealed.”

  Agapor thought upon this mystery, for the Nothingness knew more than he had ever fathomed. But Agapor stood defiant, saying, “No eyes under Heaven can find my father in that savage wood, save by the destruction of the trees in which he now hides. I will speak the truth now. I need your help. For I seek to destroy Phantaia so that I might find my father. If you will send a servant to help me, I will be a servant unto you ever after.”

  The Nothingness smiled at Agapor, saying, “If you desire to find your father, I will summon forth my brother’s greatest servant to assist you, she who will be yours to command as you wish. And by her endless appetites shall Phantaia perish. But not until Phantaia’s cherished one falls shall its demise be complete.”

  The Nothingness then smiled. He said to Agapor, “For I require an offering in return, a spirit born of the Primordial Ones.”

  Agapor asked. “What offering might that be?”

  The Nothingness replied, “Your first child must be given unto me.”

  But Agapor said, “What child of mine do you seek? For I have no children.”

  But the Nothingness only smiled, sa
ying, “If you shed a drop of your blood into the empty space below, then you shall be bound to our agreement. And the being you seek shall be your servant, ever after.”

  Agapor then stood upon the precipice, uncertain. Yet he thought upon An again. He would do it for An, for his sister, so that she might be free, and the world in turn, free of the seas’ own nightmares.

  But as he reached for his dagger, the ring upon his chest glowed with a warm light. For it lay close to his heart. And he had thought upon the mysterious child, yet unborn to him, whose life he was now sacrificing. He closed his dark eyes until it felt as though time itself had stood still. And without even knowing it, before he had opened his eyes, he had sliced his right finger.

  As he looked down, a single drop of blood fell into the gray space below the precipice. And as it fell, he saw in its depths a horrible beast, the creature called the Emptiness, the consumer of flesh, stretch up its long black tongue through the mist to drink of Agapor’s blood. And it was succored by it.

  Then from the dark depths below, he saw a horrible blue cloud, billowing up from the abyss, rising slowly at first, a storm larger and more terrible than any he had yet seen. This was the cloud of the servant to the Emptiness, the Faceless Form who is named Yana, or Death.

  She was a being most terrible to behold, the queen of her kind, and Oversoul of the Magra. But she had not come to battle the seas like her brothers. For fear of her powers, few would disturb her. She was a dreadful tempest, her form fashioned long ago from black and violent storms, whose vast cloud of many mouths had eaten away the last hollow rinds and remnants of past worlds. No being had ever escaped her. For she had consumed them all in the end.

  She had no heart or mind. Neither the nightmare nor the dream, the darkness nor the light, the living force, nor the might of evil’s worst violence pitted against her could ever destroy her. For she was born of the mind of the Emptiness, whose love for the taste of flesh, and death, lives on eternally through her.

  To Agapor was that fearsome cloud of Death now eternally bound in servitude, until such time as his own death should finally free it, unleashing its angry rampage upon the world.

  Agapor spoke to the sinister spirit, demanding Yana go forth to do his bidding. But as it rose up, Agapor saw that he could command its great form by just his thoughts and visions. For his violence and rage became her own.

  He then commanded Yana to go forth and destroy the twilight forest that now held his father in its fastness. The storm boiled and seethed, straining to contain its innate fury, until it exploded out across the cliffs and peaks of Oblivion that hung above Agapor’s head. Its sinister clouds rolled across those bleak lands, tearing away their jagged tops, and pouring over the Dreaming Seas, until its long billowing tendrils stretched towards the cliffs of misty Phantaia.

  As Agapor watched the storm drift away, he thought he heard a faint whisper coming from the Great Beyond, the lips of the now-sleeping Nothingness as it returned to its gray depths. Only the word Ana did it speak.
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