It is not simple to become a Vigilant Guardian, nor does it get any easier once one has attained that rank. The armor sits upon one’s body as a heavy reminder of the duties of a Vigilant Guardian, and to some it is a constant reliving of the past events that lead to joining this strict militia. As for Serath, it is both.
Serath’s long blonde hair was dripping with swear as she swung her mace at the training dummy before her. Everyday day she practiced in the yard of the Vigilant compound, which was a castle of average size filled with highly trained warriors and intellects obsessed with the occult. Serath maintained this daily routine not only as a way to keep in top form, but to also ensure she kept sane. Any lapse in mental focus could mean death; not for herself, but for those around her.
Serath continued to train until her shoulders ached and she could no longer feel her hands. Once her body reached this points, she was satisfied. Serath was removing her gauntlets when she hear a deep voice call out her name. From the courtyard she could see a tan skinned man with a few days worth of stubble slowly waving his hand. Serath wondered what business Brother Gavin had with her. It is not often that a higher up personally summons an average guardian. She walked closer to the man, tucking her gauntlets beneath her right arm as she approached.
Brother Gavin looked down on Serath with a dark demeanor. “Serath, I would like to talk to you once you have finished changing. I have some rather important news to discuss with you concerning a recent issue that has come to my attention. Please, make haste, will you?” With that said, Brother Gavin turned and disappeared from the window.
Searth sighed, then shook her head slightly. Beads of sweat dropped from her face, falling to the ground, and she hoped her anxieties would follow suit. What issue could Brother Gavin had been referring to? Why did he choose her to council with? These thoughts occupied Serath as she changed from her armor to a drab set of clothing, its only purpose to cover the body and nothing else.
Serath marched through the thin hallways lit only by blood red flames that hung from the ceiling above. She stopped in front of Brother Gavin’s door and knocked on the maple surface. She heard Brother Gavin give permission to enter and she opened the door cautiously. Brother Gavin sat at a large marble desk that faced the only door to the room. Behind the desk was a large window that let the natural light flow into the room as though the angels themselves were blessing the man at this holy desk. All the walls were covered by bookcases overflowing with various volumes concerning the occult.
Serath could see a large encyclopedia on demons and spirits spread open on Brother Gavin’s desk as he scanned the pages and jot down passages that he felt would be useful. Serath felt slightly ill at the sight and placed her palm on the side of her head. She felt her trying to take control – Serath’s own personal demon. “You asked to see me,” she managed to force out.
“Ah, yes. Please take a seat.” Brother Gavin gestured towards a simple wooden chair across from him. Serath sat in the chair and felt so small when facing the marvelous marble throne Brother Gavin was behind. “I asked you here because I got word of news that may hold great interest to you. A host of mages from the Imperial City seem to have taken interest in the dark arts and are intending to summon a greater demon. I know not yet what demon, however I am searching for possibilities now. I thought you may want to go help put a stop to this as you may find information helpful to your own…predicament.” Brother Gavin slightly sneered as he said that final word, and his mention of her caused another sharp twinge of pain in Serath’s head.
Serath took a moment to regain her composure and think over what was just said. She proceeded cautiously and said, “I am interested, yet I have one hesitation. Will I be allowed to go alone, or will I accompany a team?”
Brother Gavin let out a small sigh. “Serath, for a group of this size, it is said there are no fewer than ten mages, I would not send you alone. I know you dislike working with others, and I understand why. You are burdened by your concern for other guardians, but as you know, every guardian who takes the oath of the Vigilant is well aware of the danger of this life. Needlessly endangering one’s self is not something I can abide by, however, so going alone is a risk I will not allow you to take.” Brother Gavin’s gaze hardened as he stared firmly at Serath, almost as though he was daring her to challenge his words.
Serath tried to glare back in contest, but found she had to look away due to the blinding light flowing in behind Brother Gavin. She turned her head away, half her face becoming covered in shadows. She had many questions, but was afraid asking them would anger Brother Gavin more than anything else. Would going to stop this ritual in hope of procuring information be worth risking the lives of her teammates? She could become a larger threat than the mages if this mission when awry. “No…no. You train every day to ensure that control will not be lost, that your past weakness will no longer be of any temptation. You can do this.“ Serath nodded slightly, and her eyes flicked to Brother Gavin. Half her face, golden in the pure light, and the other half, tainted by the shadows, made it seem as though two different people spoke the answer to Brother Gavin. “I will go gather my gear. When do I leave?”
Brother Gavin nodded in approval and smirked. With a satisfied tone, he answered, “Tonight at nightfall. The team will gather in the center courtyard. It will be five of you, more than enough manpower for a group of mages. If you all hurry, you should reach the ritual site by mid-day tomorrow. I know this is not easy for you, Serath. I thank you for our choice.” Brother Gavin stopped speaking and looked upon the beauty sitting before him. Her face was now fully lit by the light, her pure skin radiating, only bested by the golden hair that expressed a heavenly elegance. Brother Gavin want to ensure he spoke words that would help Serath stay in such a state. “Remember Serath, not a single ounce of gold is unstained by blood, yet it never loses its value. People treasure it for all its good…and its bad.” Brother Gavin stood and gave his next command, “Now, go prepare. May you be swift and stay ever vigilant.” He bowed his head and Serath stood to leave.
Brother Gavin sat down and returned his gaze to the book before him and rubbed his stubble filled chin as he focused, eyes moving with great speed. Serath saluted, hair whipping as she turned swiftly, and marched out of the room. As she headed to her room to prepare for the upcoming journey, she began to build a wall in her mind. For every mental brick that went into place she heard a faint whisper from deep in her conscious, “They will all die by your hand.”
Serath and her team set out as the sun descended, staining the sky blood red. Each sat upon a muscular horse and they sped from the Vigilant Headquarters in the direction of the Imperial City. Serath was overwhelmed with concern for her team before they met, but once they gathered and she saw who was assembled, her worried faded away. Serath glanced around to make sure everyone was okay as they rode along.
Riding to her left was Frederick, a large, stern man with a massive battle hammer that was famous in the Vigilant for striking down a massive tortoise demon by shattering its shell with a single blow. Riding nearby Frederick was Vinder, a man the exact opposite of Frederick, with his slim frame and relaxed attitude that allowed him to act as he pleased without much care for the consequences. Serath knew that Vinder’s carefree persona hid a deadly serious man who could strike down a tribe of ogres with only a few movements of his sharp chakrams that hung from his hips. Vinder loved to taunt Frederick with various quips and jokes, but most hit Frederick like a brick wall, falling flat and unnoticed.
To her right, an outgoing woman who looked to be in her forties. Carnia had long, flowing black hair with silver strands mixed throughout. She was very charismatic, generally stepped up as leader, and was very knowledgeable in alchemic and healing arts. In battle, she kept to the back, watched the situation, and gave orders to best benefit the group. She simultaneously would cast various healing arts to ensure no one fell under her command. If any foe got too close, her katars would split them in two.
Beside Carnia was her squire, Baltore. He was the youngest in the group, but it would be a mistake to underestimate him. He preferred long range weapons — he always carried at least a quiver and bow, with a belt of throwing daggers — and would stay close to Carnia and protect her. He has been known to even use his own body to block any attack that even has a slight chance of scarring his gracious mentor. As they rode, Carnia stared ahead, determining what plan of attack should be used based on the terrain they happen upon, while Baltore would steal glimpses of her, unnoticed all the while.
Serath felt comforted by this group, but also wondered how strong these mages may be if they required such strength. She forced herself to not focus on such things as it would only lead to unnecessary speculation and would derail her mental focus. Instead, she decided to feel the wind on her face, smell the natural scents surrounding her, and repeated mantras under her breath to center her mental strength. As she rode on, Serath wiped r hair from her face and admired the scenery as the group sped through a hilly area covered in high grasses and luscious trees.
Carnia looked to her left and informed the group that they would be heading north soon. An infamous battleground where many were slain was the rumored spot that the mages would hold their ritual lay to the north. The group nodded a confirmation as they rode on, a streak of light through the darkness.
The sun was high over head when the group stopped on the edge of the battlefield. To the west of the area was a thick forest, while the dark plain spread to the east, never-ending. The plain was full of high grasses with tips that brushed against Serath’s waist. Off in the distance was a group of clocked figures that seemed to be setting up preparations of some sort. “Ah ha! I think we found the troublemakers.” Vinder cheerfully spoke. Frederick shot a glare at Vinder. Vinder snapped his mouth shut, grinning all the while. Carnia put a finger to her lips and made a gesture motioning everyone forward.
The group was crouching down, wading through the sea of dark grass, and slowly approached the group of mages. Serath followed behind Baltore. She avoided staring directly at his back as his armor shined the sunlight into her eyes. As they continued through the grasses, Serath’s foot caught on a root and she almost fell forward. She looked up quickly, caught herself, and found where Baltore was. Serath quickened her pace when she realized that she had not been blinded by sunlight when she was looking for Baltore. She looked at the sky and noticed clouds were suddenly gathering above them, blocking out more and more of the sun as the amount increased. The mages must have started the ritual. Serath worried they would be too late, but Carnia came to a dead stop. The mages stood not far from them now.
The mages were chanting in a language Serath was unfamiliar. Serath was surprised she was unable to understand since the Vigilant training includes the study of various magical languages. This was either an ancient language or an incredibly recent one; she assumed it was the former. Serath did take note of a word that was repeated many times: Sevarog.
Frederick pulled his hammer from his back. Vinder grasped his chakram. Serath saw Carnia held various potions and Baltore nocked an arrow. Serath found her mace in her hand without realizing she had grabbed it. Carnia looked at everyone, paused, and nodded her head. Frederick let out a large shout and jumped from the grasses. Vinder and Serath were not far behind.
A few mages turned quickly, but most did not break their focus. A tall mage told the others to chant faster so that the door to the Nether could open sooner. Frederick ran and readied an overhead swing. The tall mage flung a ball of green flame at Frederick, slamming right into the middle of his chest, throwing him back. Vinder appeared from behind Frederick, agilely running towards the tall mage. Vinder jumped forward and spun like a torpedo past the mage. The mage raised his right arm to ready another spell only to find he no longer had a hand. Vinder chuckled as he pointed to the limb laying on the ground. The mage screamed in agony and his left arm became engulfed by green flames. He thrust his arm to the ground and the flames spread out in varied paths, all aiming towards Vinder. Vinder dodged the paths he could, but flames circled round him and slowly started to entrap him. Vinder looked around, sweat starting to bead on his forehead. He felt the heat grow and pain started to intensify as the flames closed in. Right as Vinder was about to be covered in flames, they suddendly vanished. He looked to the mage, only to find him bloodied, sprawled on the ground, Serath standing over top him. Vinder nodded in thanks.
Carnia screamed at Vinder, telling him to come back towards them. The other nine mages were deadly silent as they all turned to look at the group. Frederick had regained his footing and Carnia tossed him a salve to rub onto his wound. Had the chanting finished? Serath warily looked over the enemy group and readied for the ensuing battle. Baltore let an arrow fly and it found its mark, lodged in the neck of the mage closest to the group.
The remaining eight mages all summoned the same green flames that the tall mage had wielded. They began lobbing orbs of flame at the Vigilant guardians. As the orbs exploded around them, the group weaved through the flames and closed the gap between the two groups. Baltore downed another mage with a second arrow and Frederick managed to collapse the chest of another with a swift swing of his hammer. Carnia pelted a mage with a blue bottle and the liquid covered the mage, flash freezing the areas covered in the liquid. Unable to move and screaming in pain, Carnia easily ended the mage’s life, a mercifully quick end.
Three of the mages synergized their flames together to create a long wall of flames and sent it at Serath. Just as she was about to be struck, she felt her powers take hold and she ascended up above the wall, and crashed down upon one of the mages. He was crushed below the impact. Serath struck out with her mace at the mage to left, his face now unrecognizable from the blow. The mage to her right retreated to the other last two remaining mages.
The sky suddenly became a pitch black and the space between the two mages who had held back became a distorted crack. A single, large hand reached out from the space and grasped a speechless mage. He instantly fell to the ground, as though his body had been a puppet whose strings were cut. What stood in its place though was a wisp of the man. The ghastly hand grasped the wisp, absorbing the spirit. The other mages cried, not in horror, but in adoration. “Sevarog! You have come, answered our cry. Save this world. Bring us our salvation.”
Serath realized they were too late. The summoning was complete. However, the guardians had not yet failed. They just needed to defeat this demon. No easy task, but for the Vigilant guardians, a feasible one. Frederick spit on the ground beneath him, and grasped his battle hammer with such intensity that Serath could see the veins in his hands. Vinder stood calmly, smiling, while he glanced over at Carnia, who now looked more determined than before, and Baltore, his face slightly showing the fear he felt at this moment.
As the group looked on, a second hand wielding a battle hammer – even larger than Frederick’s – reached out. The hammer was slammed into the ground and used as an anchor for Sevarog to pull himself through. Slowly, a shadowed figure emerged. It could only be described as Death itself. The massive figure was shrouded in a cloak darker than a starless sky. Beneath the cloak, heavy plate armor glinted dimly. Giant spiked armor sat upon the spirit’s shoulders that looked more dangerous than any natural spiked creature Serath had encountered before. What was most unsettling of all was the lack of a physical body — the cloak held a form as if a body was present, but the hood showed the lack of any presence inside. It was pure darkness – a refined evil.
The moment her eyes fell upon Sevarog, Serath’s head felt like an explosion had gone off inside her skull. She fell to her knees, clasping her head in her hands. She screamed in pain as a voice in her head wailed, “Release me! I feel the power…I desire it. I want to taste it, to savor it, to be myself once again. Give yourself to me, you stubborn thing!” Serath shook her head furiously, repeating affirmations to herself to regain composure. She cannot fail her team. “Heresy! Leave me be. I was weaker when I was younger…when you stole into me. I am not the same now. I am stronger! I have no need for you!” Serath felt an alien laugh creep from her mouth. “You want to believe that. You and I know the truth: how weak and afraid you are. You will not win, not with this power before me.” Serath had just begun the most strenuous fight in her life, yet no one around her could see the battle, nor could they help her.
Sevarog took this chance and summoned spirits from the sky above him. They flew at the last remaining two mages and cut through them like a swarm of fish cutting through river water. The bodies fell, cold and lifeless. Sevarog felt his power grow slightly and he turned towards the guardians.
“We are not to leave here without news of this demon’s defeat. Frederick, Vinder, Baltore…ready yourselves! Serath, gather your wits! Hurry!” Carnia barked her orders, and the group got in battle formation. Sevarog floated towards the group, the grass around him wilting as he moved. Baltore let arrows fly, an endless rain of metal, but all to no avail. The arrows may have pierced the cloak, but the only target they found was the ground behind the specter. Frederick bellowed a furious roar and charged, Vinder following behind him. Frederick swung his hammer in a wide side swing using both arms. Sevarog matched this attack with a swing of his own, yet his attack was effortless -it used only one arm. The two hammers met each other straight on. A large clash could be heard, yet Sevarog stood unfazed while Frederick recoiled heavily.
Vinder used the doubled-over Frederick as a step, jumping onto his back, and started to spin midair. He flew at Sevarog the same way he had with the tall mage, a horizontal top piercing the air around it. Carnia casted a spell, wrapping Sevarog with the grasses around him. The moment the grasses touched him though, they shriveled away. Carnia switched tactics. She brought up large earthen walls and attempted to crush Sevarog between them. Sevarog, noticing he had two barriers beside him and a metal torpedo in front of him, did the unexpected. He rushed forward towards Vinder, spiked shoulder pads like a thrusting lance. The earth walls shattered as they collided, missing their target. However, one attack did hit its mark.
Carnia screamed in rage, her stoic persona broken. Sevarog floated on, with an impaled Vinder, who no longer smiled full of life, hanging from his spiked shoulder. Sevarog quickly shook his shoulder, flinging the corpse from his shoulder as one would do to rid themselves of a minor annoyance. Carnia began enchanting spells simultaneously at a rapid pace. She pelted Sevarog with flames hot as the Netherworld below, wind as sharp as an obsidian sword, and ice as cold as space above. Frederick retreated towards Carnia to escape not only Sevarog, but Carnia’s fury. As he ran, he felt the air around him chill and green wisps gathered around him. Suddenly, they penetrated his chest and retreated back to Sevarog’s hand, ripping Frederick’s soul from his body and feeding it to Sevarog.
Carnia’s eyes opened wide, for the first time earnestly feeling fear. She turned back to look at Baltore and Serath. She stood, stunned. She wondered if she should pray, if it would even help. Before her, a weeping Serath, surrounded in hellish flames and hair no longer golden, but an intense dark red as though she bathed in blood. Beneath Serath stood a mangled Baltore. “I am sorry…I can’t….so…sorry.” Serath managed to weakly say as her face went from a regretful expression to one relishing in this chaos. She smirked at Carnia, but her eyes went to Sevarog. “You! Spirit,” she said lustfully. “I demand your power. You will die by my hand and give me what I seek. I will become whole again, no longer trapped in this weak vessel. I will rise again. This world will fear Heresy!” As she finished her proclamation, the flames around her grew larger, as though they fed on her emotion.
Sevarog turned from Heresy, ignoring her challenge. He raised his hammer, slowly rising above Carnia, who had falled to her knees, bottles of concoctions scattering the ground around her. Sevarog’s lifeless hood stared down at Carnia. He paused a second, as though wondering if this was worth his time, and brought the hammer down. He felt the soul enter his body. It was only now that Sevarog gave Heresy the attention she desired.
Heresy rushed towards Sevarog, her flaming wings expressing her rage. Sevarog swung his hammer, surprised that it was held back by Heresy’s counterattack. The mace deflected the hammer, and quickly struck back, landing a hit directly in the center of Sevarog’s plate armor. He was flung backwards and hissed as he regained balance. He liked this one. This strength – it was unique, dangerous…and perfect. Perhaps she was the one. Sevarog rushed Heresy, his spikes speeding towards her. Heresy flew above him, let him rush past her, and she landed atop him. Sevarog was forced to the ground, Heresy repeatedly bashing him with her mace. Sevarog roared angrily as he cloak caught flame, shook himself aggressively, and forced Heresy to lose her footing. This gave him a second to slip out from beneath her.
Sevarog pointed a long, ghastly finger at Heresy. Heresy felt the massive flow of power. She tried to move, but was too late. Her legs were wrapped in spiritual power, rooting her to the ground beneath her. Sevarog hissed like a snake about to strike as he rushed Heresy. A bright green light glowed as power gathered in his hammer. Two hands grasped the base of the hammer as it rose up. With incredible power, Sevarog swung his hammer. Heresy flew through the sky, like a flaming meteor speeding through the atmosphere above. Heresy felt herself losing consciousness as she flew. She landed with a violent crash. Sevarog noticed, however, that the body that landed was no longer the embodiment of anger, but rather a golden figure of purity. Sevarog floated above her, hand extended, ready to take this soul for himself. If she really was the answer, should he not let her live? Would she really be able to provide him the death he so seeked?
Sevarog felt his fingers slowly retreat back into his palm. He turned away, wondering if this was the right choice. He approached the portal from which he came, turned to take in the bloody scene that was left in his wake, only a small light of hope lying on the ground. As Sevarog went back through the portal, he only hoped that this woman, this Heresy, would come for his life, and he wished that she would take it.
Serath awoke, confused, scared, and alone. She looked around the battlefield, now also her team’s deathbed. She remembered with a vicious shock what she had done. Baltore’s blood staining her mace. Her fight with Sevarog. Her failure. All her training – it had meant nothing in the face of true power. Serath stood and looked up at the sky, emotionless and lost. What should she do now? What could she do now? Serath approached the bodies of her teammates and took one memento from each body to memorialize them at the Vigilant headquarters. With every item she picked up, Serath was able to envision what she must do. She could feel the approval of Heresy within her as Serath thought more, slowly succumbing to her emotions. Revenge. Proof of her power. The death of Sevarog.
Serath gathered the last memories of her comrades and limped away from the battlefield. Tears clouded her vision as she saw their horses in the distance. She sent four horses off, gave them their freedom, as she mounted her own. She slowly turned towards the path to the Vigilant – to Brother Gavin. She knew she must report what happened today. She knew she would need to atone for her sins. But she also knew what she must convince Brother Gavin of: that Sevarog is a threat unlike any other, and Heresy being a weapon that could rival this threat, she must be allowed to kill Sevarog.
With a new resolve tainted by anguish, regret, and fury, Serath set off as the day started to turn to a new, dark night.