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Prologue: Rebirth of a Hero

 

The haunting screams of a painful death dwindled with the sound of a sword being withdrawn from flesh. The shadow wraith fell lifeless to the swampy mire. The hero stood over the body, crouched low, poised for the next attack. It came from above, from amongst the trees. The creature moved silently, and in the darkness not a thing could be seen. The blade in the hand of the lone warrior, nonetheless, swung swiftly upwards and severed the beast in two.

An onslaught of shadow wraith had been repelled, and another was on the way. In the darkness, the lone blade swung to and fro. The enemies converged from all sides. Blades clashed, but the shadow wraith were scarcely able to break the defenses of their foe. Ear splitting screams once again filled the night air as the shadow wraith fell one by one.

When once the forest settled again, the hero still stood, though marked twice by the blade of a wraith. Weary legs carried the lone warrior further, towards a dim glow in the distance. Heavy breathing slowed as the respite of battle gave just enough time to catch one's breath. Finally, there he stood. The hideous dark varsa, Azrael himself.

Azrael paused, sensing a presence in the pitch black forest. A hiss escaped his lips as he saw a figure approach. He sniffed the air. “I know that smell,” the dark varsa sneered. “I have not smelled that blood since… darkfire.” Azrael backed away in dread as the figure came closer. “You?” he nearly screeched as the face of his stalker came into view. Anger and fear were in his voice. “You were dead!”

The figure in the darkness didn’t reply. It only walked steadily towards the dark varsa, who backed away slowly. Azrael looked hurriedly towards the swamps around him, panic nearly setting in. Finally, one of his shadow wraith burst up from under the surface of the water.

“I have it!” the creature hissed, holding a dark cloud that sparked with green lightning.

“Bring it to me now!” Azrael demanded with a haunted voice, turning to flee from his pursuer.

The sound of a blade cutting through the air droned dimly between the trees. Then, the sound of steel severing flesh and bone. A scream of pain shattered the muggy night air, but it was not the scream of Azrael. The shadow wraith had given the varsa the cloud of darkness and jumped in the way of the hero’s sword. Azrael, now having only a handful of shadow wraith left with him, retreated deeper into the forest.

“Kill that vile thing!” Azrael demanded, dispatching his remaining wraiths to battle.

The stranger in the swamps swung high, parried low, and rolled. Quick footwork left the wraiths staggering to catch up. A strike followed, dropping a wraith. Another strike was barely blocked by the next shadowy figure. The warrior stepped to the side and backpedaled, avoiding several attacks. Three more were blocked with stunning speed. The wraiths were then met with another barrage of attacks. The hero’s single blade seemed to be everywhere at once. It swung right, but no sooner had it clashed with a blade of darkness, than it swept up from below. The sweep caught the tail of one of the floating shadows and sent it writhing in pain.

The wraiths attacked again, as fiercely as they could. One even felt the tip of his sword strike flesh. They all flailed mindlessly, giving way to reckless abandon. The single warrior blocked frantically, taking every opening to strike. Another shadow fell, but at the expense of a second blade striking the hero in the side. Though armor absorbed most of the blow, a slow red tint seeped from the cut.

As the last three shadows drifted to the ground in lifeless heaps of darkness, the hero dropped to one knee. A long pause was needed to recover from the battle, but now no shadow wraith remained between the hero and their destination. With a grunt of pain, the champion stood. They walked onwards towards the dim light in the distance. Finally, the warrior came to the center of the swamps, to the deepest pool. Beyond, in the center of the giant pool of water, was a small island.

The darkness sparked to life as brilliant fire burst from the hero. Wings of fire sprouted from the hero’s back. The wings carried them across the waters to the island. There, in a clearing in the foreground, sat a giant stone on a raised pedestal of dirt. The revelation stone.

A sinister laugh broke out as Azrael stepped from the trees and into the dim glow of the revelation stone. “They say this is the mother of all revelation stones.”

“Step away from the stone,” the hero spoke for the first time.

Azrael laughed menacingly. “You are not what you once were, and my shadow wraiths have worn you down. You can not defeat me! Not now that I have this cloud of darkness.”

The hero drew their sword once more, and the blade lit up with flames. The flaming wings spread fire to the hero’s body and engulfed them in the fiery armor of the phoenix. They stepped between Azrael and the revelation stone, sword held outstretched. “You’re right,” the hero spoke boldly. “I’m not what I once was. I am more. You were defeated once, and you will be again.”

Azrael growled, a low unearthly tone. “Your fire is hot, but you forget, you fool… I descend from fire!”

“I don’t forget,” came the calm reply. Then, the fire of the phoenix that armored the hero, turned black. The form nearly vanished, unseen in the darkness of the night. “It was darkness and starfire that defeated you before. It will be darkfire that kills you, once and for all.”

Azrael drew a blade of darkness from thin air, long, with a jagged edge. It sounded as it formed, almost like steel on a sharpening stone. The smell of smoky, hot, rock dust filled the air. With his sword in one hand and the cloud of darkness in the other, he reached towards the sky. Green lightning shot from the cloud in his left hand, to his sword, then into the air. The threatening display commenced with a deafening crack of thunder overhead. “I am not what I once was either,” Azrael informed his foe in a crackly voice. “I am also… more. With this cloud of darkness, and the matriarch of revelation stones, I will become unstoppable!”

Then, out from behind Azrael, came a growl that shook the ground. A wyvern stepped from the trees and into view. The hero, calm in the face of such dangers, readied themselves for the calamity that would ensue.