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"And that is how the tears of our Lady came to spread throughout the valley, beautiful and fatal.” A tired, elderly woman rubbed her calloused hands together back and forth, dispelling the glamour of the story with each stroke. The friction of her hands created a rhythmic sound that filled the void the fable had left behind upon its ending. Three children encircled her feet, their attention firmly on their grandmother, despite the end of the tale. “And thus, it was time for little ones to get in their bed.” Groans of displeasure came from two of the young ones but the other, a young boy, protested verbally.

“No, no Nana,” he protested, pronouncing her name nahnah, “one more. Tell us,” he hesitated. “Tell us about him, about the…” he looked back over his shoulder as though saying anything further would bring someone crashing through the wooden door behind them, “the darkness.” Nana’s expression did not change but her hands ceased their rhythmic motion. His younger sister turned to him with eyes wide and fearful. Mixed with that fear was a touch of interest, a spark of desire.

“And who told you to ask such a tale, eh?” Nana asked, casting her curious gaze on him a moment before it turned towards oldest boy of the group. He threw up his hands in protest, vehemently shaking his head. Brown eyes were lined with wrinkles but her gaze remained alight with a predator’s intelligence. “Without all of the information I ain’t telling you no more tales.” The brave boy’s face scrunched up with annoyance but he elbowed his sister in the ribs. The shift in Nana’s verbiage was common. She had a Telling voice and her regular one. At this point in the children’s lives, there was nothing odd about it. His eyes widened as he met hers and nodded his head at their grandmother. The youngest of them all stared back, a lump settling itself firmly into the center of her throat. She’d put a toad in his bed tomorrow for ratting her out like this. It would be a stinky, warty one, too. The slimiest in the entire swamp bed, she vowed.

“I did, Nana.” The dark-eyed girl murmured but her voice resonated through the room as though she had shouted.
“I thought it might be you. Who told you, eh, Heline?”
“Tomah, the tailor’s kid, at lessons.” Each fragment was punctuated, as though a ward against her grandmother’s anger.

Nana snorted at this confession but kept her eyes focused on her granddaughter. “And do not the Guardians teach us all we have to know of him during sunrise classes?” None of the three hellions responded, merely kept their gaze trained on the story weaver. Weary eyes focused on them. They were but children and the gravity of their question only encouraged them. “I will tell you once and only once. You ain’t never going to speak a word of this because his name will beckon him forth, eh?” They all nodded fervently, and the girl felt her heart begin to race faster and faster until surely it would explode out of her chest. When Nana told her tales, her speech was a witch’s spell. Her words painted pictures in the air. The Tellings were always her favorite part of any celebration, whether it was a birthday or the solstice. Even when their parents visited the next town, their Nana could be convinced to delve into their histories.

“Before there was night and day, before there were footprints left by men, there were only the gods.” Three pairs of entranced eyes blinked simultaneously. “Four sisters of boundless power ruled our lands, one for each of the four domains. One of ice, one of autumn, one of sunshine and one of flowers. You might know them as the seasons.” There was a soft murmur from the children of acknowledgement but no one dared to interrupt the tale. All fables had lessons, if only you were listening closely enough. “Eirene ruled over the summer with a grace and gentleness that surpassed her sisters. Eirene traversed her lands one day, walking slowly. The grass beneath her pale feet brightened with each lithe step and small flowers sprouted in her wake. Petals of the softest silk and buds of the brightest red. Eirene was the embodiment of her land, the very essence of it. Her hair, the color of sunflowers at the peak of their bloom, flowed behind her buoyed on its personal breeze. And her eyes were the deepest sapphire, bright and sweet as blueberries. With such beauty and temperament, it is no surprise that she caught the attention of the North Wind.” The eldest brother sought his sister’s gaze but Heline’s eyes focused on her grandmother. “Bareos spotted her one day, though why he was so far south remains lost to us, known only to them. From his hidden perch, he watched her, stalked her. With each passing day, for an entire year, he watched her. His desire for her grew and so he plotted to make her his.” Heline twitched, touching her middle finger of her left hand to her thumb repeatedly in diminutive motions. “And he did.” Silence fell. Even the cat stopped cleaning her paws and turned towards them with an eerie glance. “He took her, against her will, and then abandoned her. But he did not leave her alone,” Nana’s gaze hardened, “He left her pregnant.”

The children shifted uncomfortably at the mention of the rape. It was an act punishable by death by the Light’s decree. “And what is born of that violence, produced of such evil, could only be one creature,” again the cat ceased its movements in the hush that fell, “and he is known as Darkness.” Again the brothers shifted, as if to hide their tremors at the mention of the enemy of Light. Their grandmother sat quietly for a moment before clapping her hands in front of them, shaking them from their stupor that the Telling left them in. “And that is the end of the tale.” Heline started to protest – that was not the whole story. Even at her age she knew there was more to it. What happened to the Darkness? How did he grow up? Why did he do all the bad things that he did? Where is he b- But Nana cut off her silent question with a minute movement of her hand. “Bed. You three need sleep before lessons in the morn.” The boys scooted off into the children’s room, muttering to themselves but Heline remained seated. “On with you little one, I kept my end of the bargain. Keep yours.”

“But that’s not all of the tale, Nana.”
“Howsit you know that, eh?”
“It doesn’t feel like an end.”
“Sometimes feelings are wrong. Like Bareos’.” Heline frowned and a creased formed on her tiny forehead. Her Nana cast her eyes towards the bedroom and then hoisted the little girl up. “And sometimes they are right,” she bent to rest her aged hand against the child’s cheek. “The Light has given us what we need and we need not stray, little one. Perhaps…” her eyes appeared to look beyond the girl, the house, the tree line beyond, for just a moment, “perhaps when you are older then. Between you and me, I may have one more tale for you.”

And so Heline went to the bedroom she shared with her brothers, hearing the steady rhythm of their breathing as she tucked herself beneath her burgundy blanket. Usually the cadence lulled her into a peaceful slumber, one filled with dreams of the Guardians and their Lucent Knights, but that night she could not sleep. Thoughts of the dark that lurked outside their home pressed their weight against her mind, her heart. She imagined how the Darkness came to be the evil that he had. He was born just like a normal child, a babe, was he not?

But all evil started as something else, didn’t it?

One day, she would hear the rest of the story from her Nana, that the Light forbade her to know. One day…

One day that would never come. Nana died three years later, but she did live to see Ivan, the oldest, selected to begin training as a knight and to see that Heline was chosen for more advanced education on the path towards Guardianship. If her grandmother was pleased at her selection, Heline never saw any signs on her face. In fact, it appeared as though she was slightly alarmed by it – to have her granddaughter a potential Guardian. It seemed odd but her granddaughter assumed it was just the beginnings of the sickness that took her life.

In the years that followed Nana’s death, Heline devoted herself to the study of the Light. All thoughts of the Darkness and his terrors were merely part of her studies. She molded herself into the perfect disciple, the ideal vessel for its purity. Every word that was written about the god’s grace, his instructions for humankind, she absorbed fervently. She studied well into the night; spending any money she earned on candles to keep the light always with her, always burning. The dedication she showed to his mercy, his path did not go unnoticed in their town. Her parents, a cordwainer and a seamstress, beamed with pride as their children continued to shine. Ivan relocated to the capital and trained for two years under the best knights in the realm, bringing honor to their family. He sent his earnings from tournaments back to buy beautiful fabrics and books and tutors for Heline. Heline was going to take them all to the top of the heap.

Under the tutelage of the finest instructors of their county, even some drawn from the Duke’s homestead specifically, Heline flourished. She could read and write in multiple languages. She could recite the Light’s Script forward and back, awake and asleep. She could draw the Guardian’s marks on her skin without looking in the beaten mirror of their home. Minor alchemical concoctions were memorized and utilized with ease. Even discrete spells were cast with nimble fingers, though only in the privacy of the woods. While Guardians were adept in magic and its practice, it was forbidden to those not inducted. To engage in magic without the Light’s guidance was treason. Only the Darkness dabbled in its art so freely, but she was going to be a Guardian so she could break that one tiny rule.

The time for a new set of Guardians to be chosen was fast approaching – they were always chosen every two years. Only those that would be twenty-two during the year of their selection (the holiest of numbers) take the Guardian’s Rite. At each celebration of the Light’s feast day, the day of the end of the Darkness, the apprentices were tested. Heline was continually selected from among her peers for the next stage, until finally, it was time for the ultimate decision to be made. She turned twenty-two merely one day before the final selection. And on this particular birthday, she was riding in a topless carriage with her entire family. Their destination lay at Aptot, the current edge of the Light’s reach.

Every 2 years with more Guardians brought into the Light’s employ, the Darkness was pushed back. Heline anxiously anticipated her role in the expansion of his righteous word. It would be the greatest growth the world had ever seen, she mused to herself, as the cart contined along the dirt road from their town. Heline was a little prideful, if truth was to be told. It was hard not to be when people continually praised her work, her dedication and diligence. But it was not excessive, no. After all, the Light forbade vices such as laziness, promiscuity and vanity (predominately of appearance but Heline attempted to apply it to more aspects of her life).

In addition to her desire to best all Guardians that had come before her, Heline was eager to see the world in the Light’s employ. Many of the selected were not seen again but their family’s received a portion of their wages. After all, many parts of the realm needed to word of the Light that only a Guardian could provide. The Light came before family, before love, before anything. He gave life and it was a small return to give one’s life in his service. To travel beyond the borders of her little county caused Heline’s heart to thrill as her mother prattled on to her and to Edward, her younger brother. She desperately wanted to be sent to the North, to Jasgard or to the far east in Luvah. Exploration was a guilty pleasure of Heline’s and to recite her studies, she would wander the fields and trails around her town for hours. If so many wandering areas existed around her little patch of the earth, surely there was more beyond. She had read in some of the texts that Ivan sent back to her that he has procured from the capital that there were birds of purple and pink and dogs that were as big as ponies. She prayed the Light would see fit to bestow a beneficial assignment on her. Of course, he would, though, wouldn’t he? No one was more dedication, more adept, more driven to serve him.

That night Heline did not sleep or eat, for she was far too apprehensive of the ceremony. And her mother fused about it the next morning, poking at the dark circle under her eyes. She sat there calmly while her mother applied a dark liner around her equally dark eyes so that her face belied her sleeplessness. Skilled hands drew her dark hair up and coiled it around and around itself. It looked more voluminous as it was in that bun, secured by pins so firmly placed that Heline winced. “There, now you are presentable. Now, you are a Guardian.” Her mother smiled at her, pinching her cheeks gently. Heline nervously bit her lip but then returned the smile. She thanked her mother, and silently held her hand the entire ride to the assessment center. It was something she hadn’t done since she was a child with nightmares of the Darkness.

Anxiety pressed itself against her breast as she walked down the hallway of the Guardian’s simple structure. She could not tell you the color of the walls or the sound her footsteps made, but she could hear the thundering of her heartbeat in her ears. It was the same gallop she possessed when her Nana had told her tales. They tested her in a multitude of ways, in every single course of study in multiple languages at once. Her responses flowed from her as though she knew the appropriate answers beforehand, yet afterwards she could not recall a single question or answer. Her parents met her when she exited, inquisitive but quite when she remained so as well. The announcement would be made at the selection ceremony that night, one last time to spend with their families. Their initiation would take place the subsequent day, with only Guardians and knights present. As they walked back to the in where they stayed, she vaguely heard her name cutting through her thoughts. It cut through her solitude, as she hadn’t heard it in a few years. Turning, her head whipped so rapidly, her own hair hit her in the face. “Ivan? Ivan!” She exclaimed like a child, rushing towards him in a manner that her mother’s eyes indicated was most undignified. Her arms wrapped around her brother’s shoulders and he steadied her with one hand on her back, while the other rested firmly on his sword. “What are you doing here?” She asked, rocking back on her heels to look in the hazel eyes of her eldest brother. His coloring had always been lighter than hers. His skin was a light olive and his hair streaked with blonde from the sun. While every woman that walked in his path felt faint at the sight of him, Heline continually poked fun at the crook in his nose.

“I requested to serve at the Rites,” he smirked, the faint stubble on his chin glinting in the light. “I couldn’t very well miss my sister’s big day could I?” His smirk turned into a grin, which gave way to one of his rogue smiles. Heline returned it with unfettered glee.

“I can’t believe you left your big life in the capital for this, for me.”
“No one else could ever tear me away from the women and the games of the capital, but for you,” he shrugged. “I needed to stretch my legs anyway, seemed as good a time as any, eh?” But his bravado could not fool her and she hugged him again. They turned and walked in front of their parents, arm in arm.
“Do you think they will call my name?” Heline inquired, a touch of uneasiness seeping into her tone.
“I doubt it.” His voice was steady and her eyes whipped up to him, but he was gazing down at her with a grin. “Of course they will, no one will be better suited to Guardian of the Light than you. It’s all you ever dreamed of since you were eight. What you dreamt before then, I can not recall.” He elbowed her as they walked.

Arriving at the inn, Heline departed from her family and changed into a new, soft-spun dress than her mother had made for her. It was a deep orange fabric with sunbursts sown in gold into the hem and around the neck. Delicate fingers traced the lines that made up the pattern. With each spear from the sun, she felt her surety grow. She would be the greatest Guardian the light had ever seen. She would spread his word far and wide, never would she doubt him. Ivan and Heline met right outside the inn, while he regaled her with stories of his tourneys and a bit of his lady love. Yet as they walked to the small coliseum for the ceremony, they did so in a tense silence. Heline’s stomach bound itself into the tightest of sailor’s knots. Her family parted from her to the viewing rows above and she assumed her place among the potential initiates. The stage was set, flowers adorning all the edges. They were dahlia and orchid and cherry blossom, twined together. Her eyes took them in and the rumbling, rushing sound of the waterfalls the lay behind the stone.

The Guardians began to arrive, adorned in robes and slacks and shirts as though spun of the sun itself. They shimmered with gold and white, shining bright as the Light itself. And so silently did they enter, so silently, that they could have crept up upon their own shadows. Unceremoniously, they began to call names. Their voices spoke in unison and finally, finally, after years and years of dreaming of this moment, they spoke her name. All names that followed fell on deaf ears. Bright brown eyes welled with tears, brimming over her lower lid that was lined with dark lashes. Heline did not realize it was over until she was beckoned forth by the Guardians, drawn away from their families to be purified for the initiation to follow. Coming to her senses, her eyes met Ivan’s hazel ones and she smiled broadly. She gave him a small wave of her hand before disappearing into one of the covered alcoves of the Guardian’s tents.

The removed her gown and bathed her in gentle, long strokes. They caressed her skin with oils and lavender. A thin white shift was pulled over her head. Dark hair was undone and left in long, wavy tresses down her back. Upon completion, the Guardian left her with a few other initiates. They were men and women, all twenty-two years of age. Some were dark skinned and others light, with hair of red and black and brown streaked with blonde. Heline settled herself into a chair, careful to keep her shift free of wrinkles. Another girl set herself beside her.

“Can you believe it?” She smiled broadly, white teeth flashing. Heline turned her head to her new companion. “Guardians of the Light. There isn’t a day I haven’t dreamt of this.”
“I feel the same. It is all I ever wanted.” Heline didn’t even know those words were a lie. They had been all she had wanted for so long, it became her everything. “I’m Heline.” She said after a second of silence.
“Jasmine.” The girl responded, placing her hand over Heline’s and giving it a gentle squeeze. “I’m from close to the Luvan border, from Bashiel.”
“Gillene, myself.” Heline replied and upon the girl’s look of confusion, she added, “in Duke Wesen’s territory. It’s a small village that is not far from here.” And so they fell into an easy conversation. While they conversed, Heline examined the soft angles of the girl’s face. She was beautiful and pale, likely not having worked outside at any point during her lifetime. Her eyes were slightly slanted and rimmed by dark lashes that matched her auburn hair. It glinted in the light of the candles and Heline wondered what it felt like, the silken texture of those locks. Her examination was interrupted by the appearance of a Guardian to lead them away. The room had filled to twenty-two initiates. They lined themselves up and were draw down a long hallway. Without verbal instruction, they formed their line behind curtains and were brought forward, one by one. She watched, with a twinge of jealousy as a man was drawn in first and did not return, transformed into a Guardian.

Lucent Knights stood attentive at the space where one of strip of blood red cloth met the next. She was standing right in front of one guard. She turned her head upwards towards his face, examining the faint trail of stubble beneath his chin. The dusk’s shadow, her father called it. Even though he wore the golden leathers of the Lucent Knights, she could see the muscles that rested beneath and the sweat that had welled in the hollow of his throat. Heline pressed her lips together and looked away. After a moment the knight slipped behind her, abandoning his post momentarily. She stood there for what felt like ten minutes, though it had only been a blink. Curiosity surged up inside of her and she looked behind her and in front. The other initiates were not paying her any mind so she slid a slender finger between the overlapping fabric and lifted it back slightly.

Two Guardians, dressed in red now, brought Jasmine forward. There was a stone platform in the center, raised above a trough set down in the floor. The Light’s sun was displayed before the small alter. The Guardians held their back to the symbol. Glimmering dark eyes took in the scene as Jasmine was brought before the Light. The Guardians stood beside her and recited words that she couldn’t quite make out, though she strained to. Then one Guardian drew Jasmine’s face into his hands and kissed her forehead, her chin and her lips. Heline’s gaze was so focused on them that she missed the knife that the other Guardian produced. He was quick, the Guardian was, when he sliced Jasmine’s throat. His companion turned her head, neck gushing blood, so that it spilled its contents into the trough below. She couldn’t stop herself. Heline exclaimed, some sort of noise between a cry and a moan. The Guardian who had the knife turned and saw her. His companion snarled something, but Heline missed it, dropping the curtain back into place. She stumbled backwards, her mind clouded and dull and full of disbelief. She kept stumbling until she turned around and began to run, propelling herself straight into the guard.


ooc: Thanks for reading! I posted in the Search section with my general idea for the plot but love plotting (: