Light flashed, then faded along with the world.
Moments blinked out, like sparks in the night, there and gone... until one flared like a flame all its own.
“If only I could go back… I would gladly accept eternal damnation just to go back to that day!”
“‘World tree’s gift, first of many,
Bold, bright, blessed Luminary.’”
Irwin stared over to the other kings, disbelieving. He had read the poems, he knew where the two kings were going with this.
King Carnelian gazed back, unmoved as he continued to speak. “‘Thy light doth a shadow cast, Lo, the Dark One— bleak, black, vast.’” Behind him, lightning flashed to punctuate his statement, and Irwin had to blink away the light.
“What are you two implying? That the Luminary causes the appearance of the Dark One?!” Irwin glanced down to where his precious Elior sat— and froze.
The rest didn’t seem to notice what caught his attention, assuming Irwin was just struck dumb by the accusation. “Without light, there cannot be shadow. Without darkness, the stars cannot shine.” King Gustav replied.
He continued, but Irwin wasn’t listening anymore. It was only more false accusations, and Irwin already knew them to be untrue. All that mattered was that his child was... was missing. ( Not gone, never that. It was too final, too ominous. )
Looking around, no one had come close to the cradle during the conversation. In fact, (distantly Irwin noticed the silence was growing) no one but the other kings was in here, and Irwin had been watching them the whole time.
Abruptly, he stood and searched behind him for any clue. There was nothing, nothing but an empty cradle and a hole in his heart —
“Laddie?” Irwin jolted and turned to look at Robert. “Laddie, are ye areet?”
He slumped, staring at the cradle. “Elior, he’s… he’s not here.”
Chaos erupted around the table. King Carnelian stared in horror. “What..?!”
King Gustav, furrowed his brow. “How could he disappear? No one could have gotten close.”
The Sultan flicked his head from side to side, shaking slightly. “M- Maybe its the Dark One! He’s infiltrated the room! They could kill us at anytime!!”
“ What?! ”
Lightning flashed again. Irwin focused, there was something… “The last time I saw him was just before the lightning flashed earlier. There’s something unnatural about all this.”
“Aye, the storm came outta nowhere.” Robert stood and readied himself. “I cannae remember any stories of monsters that can do all this, but the Dark One—”
The charged air rang with the slamming of doors.
A guard burst in. “Y- Your majesty!”
Robert sighed. “Och, what now...”
Irwin ran to support the guard. “What is it?!”
“Y- You must flee the palace immediately! Monsters… Hundreds of them! That man can’t hold out…” He collapsed, unable to keep going.
Irwin laid him down gently as Robert moved in to heal him. Good. They needed more information, what the guard said didn’t sound like a rout… A flash caught his eye, and Irwin raced to the windows.
Monsters swarmed outside, held at bay by a shape the king couldn’t quite make out. It was large, and very pale, perhaps even white. There truly had to be hundreds of monsters out there, and it was a miracle they weren’t already in the castle, let alone the town below.
And the town was mostly clear, a glance confirmed. By Irwin’s reckoning, only a couple dozen had made it past that shape, and the guards could hold that many back.
Light flashed, and this time Irwin caught sight of its source: a sword of light, long as the palace towers were tall. The blinding light from the blade illuminated the whole scene, and now, now Irwin understood.
There was someone riding a flying whale , of all things! The figure was barely visible, but the tunic and emblems were unmistakable.
It had been years ago, but Irwin had once seen an image of the Luminary of Legend. Admittedly, all Irwin could make out from this distance was the tunic, but the resplendent blue and emblem were clear as day. Was that… the Luminary out there?
Behind Irwin, he could hear the sounds of the other kings interrogating the guard, but they had that handled. Irwin stepped closer to the window, and gripped the sill. The king blinked, trying to see if the view would change but found the sight to be same. The unmistakable emblem that was upon his son’s hand was on that man’s back.
Even as Irwin processed, the ( Luminary? Impostor? ) stranger continued fighting back against the crowds of monsters. Every few seconds another of the great swords would pierce into the pack. He was aiming for the stragglers, for any heading towards the town.
Only maybe a dozen would die with each blade, but it corralled them to the whale. Then, once the stranger and whale were surrounded, lightning formed into a blade that sliced through the whole pack.
But… Irwin sighed in despair. He’s losing.
Even in the minute or so the king had watched, the man had downed several potions. Whether materially or mentally, there was no way the (maybe) Luminary wasn’t wearing thin. Irwin turned away. “We need to go. What’s the state of the castle?”
King Carnelian frowned at the doors. “Better than Zwaardsrust, perhaps. Many of the citizens were able to evacuate into the castle, and the defenses are holding. For now.”
The sultan glanced around nervously. It was likely that only the fact there was nowhere to run kept him still. “For… now...”
King Gustav nodded gravely. “Indeed. But that will only last as long as the Luminary does. If the hordes aren’t held back, what chances do we hold?”
Silence, broken only by the sounds of battle outside, reigned.
Laughter boomed from outside, which drew everyone’s eyes.
The figure outside this time, at least, was easy to identity. The horns, unnatural skin color, and robes spoke for themselves.
King Carnelian gasped. “The Dark One!”
The Dark One’s laughter slowly subsided. “Well, well. You truly are the Luminary. Incredible.”
The figure on the whale turned and must have yelled something back, but unlike the Dark One, his words were lost to the wind and storm.
He clapped slowly. “Was your sacrifice worth saving this country?” Sacrifice? What was he talking about? Irwin wondered. “After all, you must have destroyed everything you love, only for this. I suppose you don’t believe in love or friendship either, what with this result.”
Everyone in the meeting room was dead silent. Irwin knew that the Dark One had to be projecting his voice like this on purpose, planting doubts… But Irwin couldn’t help but focus on those words. Sacrifice ...
The Dark One waved a hand and the monsters began retreating. “Well, I will honor your sacrifice this once. After all, it isn’t as though you can hold on to peace for long.”
With that, he disappeared into the darkness and faded away. The (maybe, maybe not) hero hovered there on his steed for a moment, then flew away.
Iriwin let out a lungful of air he didn’t know he held. Well. Legends indeed.
While the fight had ended, the battle had only begun for Irwin. With this new knowledge of the stakes at hand, the Colloquy of Kings reconvened. At the end of the day, King Gustav had a point: none of them would last if the kingdoms couldn’t defend themselves. Each needed to have plans and defenses in place for worst case scenario, as was distinctly shown by this disaster.
Deep into the night, as the meeting finally released, King Carnelian stopped beside Irwin. “Just so you know,” he began. “I meant none of what I said about your son. He is a blessing to us all, and to you especially.”
Irwin nodded slowly, barely able to keep his eyes open at this point. “Yes… he truly is.”
Carnelian reached out, and sat a hand on the man’s shoulder. “I will do my utmost to find your son, I swear.” Carnelian looked away. “After all, I don’t know what I would do if my daughter went missing without a whisper myself.”
Irwin met the fellow father in the eyes. “Thank you. I appreciate it.”
After a short night of rest, a long two weeks from Irwin and all of his country began. While Dundrasil may not have been destroyed like Zwaardsrust, the losses were still devastating. Half the population died that night, many of them farmers. The inner city had walls to protect it; many didn’t have even that much.
As it was, keeping the country from starving was a battle all its own. Trying to keep a workforce fueled enough to rebuild and fortify was a war.
Irwin wore himself thin, going from meeting to meeting, task to task. There were merchants to hire, guards to train, nobles to negotiate with…
And as he worked, even on that first day, rumors began to spread.
“Did you see? The man who saved us last night had the mark of the Luminary on his hand! You know what that means!”
“Well, it certainly cannae be the Prince, ‘e’s only a babe!”
“Of course, it isn’t the Prince, it must be the Luminary of legend, back from the dead!”
“Have you heard? The Luminary of legend is back!”
“What? Are you talkin’ about Prince Elior? That’s old news.”
“No, no. I mean the Luminary! He’s the one who saved Dundrasil last week!”
“What? Now, I know that Dundrasil was attacked, but what’s this ‘bout the original Luminary? Isn’t ‘e dead?”
“I heard the Luminary from the Age of Heroes came to raise Prince Elior as the new Luminary!”
“It can’t be the real Luminary. I bet it's some warlock who figured out how to steal that power and get all the fame to himself.”
“Well, but then why would he risk himself in the battle at Dundrasil? If I stole the power of the Luminary, I’d let things die down a bit first, not risk myself in a losing battle. You know they lost…”
Roberto was lost. Or if nothing else, he had lost track of the circus. He had hoped by coming this way he might spot the troupe, but they made much better time than Roberto expected.
He looked down at his map and back up at the road signs. If the circus did go this way, maybe they were heading for Heliodor? Of course, the circus might have already been to Heliodor, and was heading elsewhere… The girls school perhaps? That was a couple days travel from here...
Honestly, Roberto should have asked where they were going before they had left town but unfortunately… he had been a bit occupied with breaking the news to his father.
Squinting at the sun, Roberto sighed. He was going to have to head for a camp. There was no way he could make it the rest of the way to Heliodor before dark at this rate.
With that, he turned onto a side path. According to the map, there was a camp up ahead. Honestly, maybe this was a good thing! Get some last minute practice in, figure out what of his training he turn into something acrobatics-like… and a stage name. Or maybe a new name altogether, Roberto reflected.
If he kept going by Roberto, it’d be easy for people to connect the dots, he and his papi were well known after all. Maybe… Silver? No, too plain. Sylva? Sylvia? No, it needed to be grander. A name people would remember and bring a smile…
Walking into the camp, Roberto, no, Sylvando grinned. Sylvando, yes. Now that was a name that would… hm.
Someone else had already made themselves at home in the camp. There was a forge of some sort set up in one corner (which felt oddly familiar, but the thought wriggled away before Sylvando could catch it), and various other barrels and bobs lying around. And in the center was a young man.
His outfit was familiar, like Sylvando had seen it in a book somewhere before. And it might very well be out of a book, the blue robes looked like something out of another era. The brown-haired boy couldn’t have been more than five or six years older than himself. His eyes though, they felt decades older like he had lost everyone and everything he had ever loved, and he blamed himself for it. He looked so sad .
It was awful. Sylvando’s heart wrenched at the sight of him (more than he could put a point to really.)
It reminded of Sylvando of some of the older knight instructors. When they had a bad day, Sylv had done his best to make it a little better. He would work harder in their lessons than usual, and bring them a small gift if he could afterwards. It wasn’t much, but now…
Now, Sylvando was going to make the whole world smile! Not even a day out of town, and he had faced his first test.
Sylv breathed in deep, and relaxed his stance. Then smiled and waved. “Hello! Would you mind sharing the campsite tonight?”
The young man’s shoulders stiffened as he turned to look at Sylvando. He shook his head, but his eyes seemed somehow… more devastated? Perhaps Sylvando resembled someone he knew?
The ex-knight bit back a wince. That wouldn’t do. “I’m Sylvando! What’s your name?”
Mystery man opened his mouth, and then closed it again after a second.
“That’s alright, no worries.” Sylvando waved off the awkwardness. “Anyways, I’m joining the circus, mind if I practice a bit?”
He shook his head again, still sad but watching now. Good.
Sylvando launches into a variety of exercises and jumps. Mostly stretches at first, but growing higher in difficulty each time. Eventually, a jump went a bit off track, and Sylv decides that maybe replicating acrobatics he’s never trained in is a bit dangerous.
He moves swiftly into juggling then. Its certainly less practiced than Sylvando’s acrobatics. A lot of that he had the basics in from sword training. Showy moves for duels weren’t commonly taught, but Roberto had thrown himself into all sorts of training back there.
The juggling goes a lot worse in the end. Sylvando had stuck to less than five balls the whole time, but still was dropping them constantly.
Sylvando didn’t dare meet his audience's eyes while he worked on this bit. Goddess, he hoped he got a bit better before he found the circus.
He tried a few other things he had seen to various effect, and eventually went into cool-down stretches.
Afterwards, when Sylvando had caught his breath enough to check, the other was smiling, just a little. His blue eyes were bright, perhaps with tears, but the smile was real.
Sylvando smiled back.
The next morning, the man is gone with all of his things. Beside the cold fire, Sylvando finds a small stack of exquisite accessories and a sword finer than anything he has ever seen. With them is a short note that reads:
To help keep you safe on the roads ahead.
Sylvando holds the note close to his heart and promises to make El smile with a real show the next time they meet.