Oh my dear, what song do you sing?
Has the night fallen, has the world slept?
Don’t cry for light, don’t give tears for death
Turn, turn, oh shadowing King
The young woman, clad in a simple white robe, sat alone in a quiet courtyard, singing quietly to herself. Next to her, a broken fountain trickled into a pool of murky water.
Oh my dear, what dress do you wear?
Has the world fallen, does the light wane?
Don’t cry at death, don’t give tears for pain
Step, step, oh shadowing Heir
The courtyard itself showed signs of age, as did the castle surrounding it. Within, not a single living being stirred.
Oh my dear, what path will you make?
Has the light fallen, does death now rule?
Don’t cry in pain, don’t fear for a fool
Fly, fly, oh shadowing Drake
The woman was the only living person for miles. But she was not alone.
Oh my dear, what light–
“How Dare You.” The deep, inhuman voice seemed to emanate from the very air, echoing in the empty courtyard.
The woman shuddered, and lowered herself to her knees. “My lord.”
“You Rightfully Call Me Lord, But You Would Sing Such A Disrespectful Song? Have You Forgotten All I Have Done For You? Do You Hold Rebellion In Your Heart? I Can End You In A Moment. Do Not Try To Resist Me. You Will Fall.”
“Of course I would not oppose you, my lord,” replied the woman.
“Oh? Then Why Do You Sing Such A Hateful Song? You Are Trying To Attract The Attention Of My Enemies.” The voice echoed accusingly.
The woman shook her head. “I merely recalled an old nursery song, my lord. If it troubles you, I will never sing it again.”
“The Old Songs Are The Worst. Never Sing Again.”
“Of course, my lord.” The woman couldn’t hide the sorrow in her eyes. Songs were one of the few things that could distract her, for a time, and now her master had forbidden them.
“Now. I Have A Task For You, Reia Solnus.”
The woman’s dull gaze became even more forlorn. “What must I do, my lord?”
“The Kingdom To The East Is Beginning To Grow Strong Once More. I Will Not Allow That Light To Rise. Go Forth, My Servant, And Tear Them Down Again.”
“As you command, my lord.” The woman, once named Reia Solnus, had shed all her tears long ago. She had grown numb to the pricks of her conscience, and though the announcement of another slaughter saddened her, she knew she could not resist her master.
“Excellent. Go Now.” The voice did not speak further.
The woman stood up. Once more, she felt the weight of her master’s command; should she try to resist, it would amount to nothing but extra pain. In the end, she had no choice. With a sigh, she raised her hands.
At once, the sky darkened, as though a cloud had moved in front of the sun. A low rumble shook the castle and its surroundings, and cracks began to form in the ground. A sickly green light seemed to emanate from the vented earth, and a dark mist began to rise.
A skeletal hand suddenly rose from one crack, followed by another. Very quickly, a multitude of skeletons began to pull themselves from the ground, carrying with them swords, spears, bows, and a variety of other weapons. Each was surrounded by the black mist, and each skull was filled with the same green light that had signaled their arrival.
Meanwhile, back in the courtyard, a great change had come over the young woman. Her simple white robe transformed into an intricate black dress, and a dark hooded cape formed itself on her shoulders. Her face was covered in a roiling dark mist, which solidified into a featureless black mask covering her entire face.
Outside the castle, the cracks in the earth sealed themselves again, leaving great scars upon the land. Thousands of skeletons stood facing the castle, awaiting the appearance of their mistress. They did not have to wait for long.
The Witch of Dark Tidings and her Black Army walked the world once more!
** ** **
At the same time, or rather, at place with no time at all.
In that place, separated from that world by more than mere distance, I watched a man, who in turn watched the images I displayed to him. Images of the Witch, and her undead horde. His expression did not change in the slightest from beginning to end, even as he watched death itself rise from the earth. I was not surprised. He had seen worse, and done worse, in his time.
Around us, space stretched infinitely until it curved back upon itself. I idly wondered what he saw when he gazed at this space, as it was certainly not the same as what I saw. The difference between us was profound, after all. He was a human, formerly, and I? I was no longer remotely human. Sometimes I wonder if I ever was…
But that did not matter; more importantly, he could see the Gate. It currently lay behind us, slightly ajar. For his sake, I hoped he could not hear what lay beyond it as clearly as I could. He was a strong-minded human, but the difference between the strong and the weak could often be paper thin.
As I let the vision of the young woman fade, he looked at me and raised his eyebrow. “And so? Does this have anything to do with me?”
“Well, yes and no. Perhaps.”
He frowned. “More riddles?”
I chuckled. “Not this time. It’s just a complicated reality.”
“Well. While it is your former world, it is nearly 4000 years after your own time.”
Of all things, this seemed to surprise him. “Have I…truly, been dead that long?”
“Yes? No? That is a question that has no answer. You have not been dead for a long time; the very question of “time” is a non-issue. Were we to look at your world in a different fashion, it might be mere minutes after your execution, or hundreds of years before your birth. I told you before, this is not a place of humans.”
“Hmph. So you did.”
“In any event, what I have shown you actually has no relation to you; four millennia is enough to bury even your sins. But it is, perhaps, something you want to be involved in.”
“Why? I’ve seen nations fall before. I’ve caused nations to fall. Why should I treat this one differently? Is it special in some way?”
“In the grand scheme of things? No.” I chuckled to myself again, and added, “But you asked me how this Gate of Tragedy, which you opened by your own hand, might be shut again. And so, I make this suggestion: intervene.”
The man sneered, “Do you think that I’m some sort of Hero?”
“Not even slightly. I know your nature better than you do yourself. But if you wish to atone for your mistakes, then you must seek atonement. To close Tragedy, you must first oppose Tragedy. And thus I suggest again: intervene.”
“I refuse.” As expected, he firmly rejected.
“Oh? Then you wish to remain on the threshold here, forever? I wouldn’t mind the company.” I smirked at him, though I doubted he could read my expression.
“Hmph.” He frowned in thought, and I waited patiently for him to change his mind. Finally he asked, “So you think I should save this kingdom?”
“Did I say that?” I replied innocently.
“Twice, I believe.”
“I never once told you to save the Kingdom. I simply told you to intervene.”
He sneered at me in exasperation, “What the hell am I supposed to intervene with, if you don’t want me to save the kingdom?”
“Why would I care about the kingdom? I want you to save the girl.”
The man’s jaw dropped. “What… That girl? The whatever-it-was witch?”
“The title was ‘Witch of Dark Tidings.’ Technically literal, too.”
He sputtered for a moment, before he finally forced out a single word: “Why?”
“Isn’t it obvious? Just like you, she is someone who invited tragedy down upon herself. As fellow sufferers, isn’t it common sense to help one another out?”
“Hell no!” he shouted. “She caused her own downfall, now she has to live with it, same as me!”
“You died, though… Ah well. If you don’t want to, I certain can’t make you. Do as you like.”
The man continued to seethe quietly for a while, while I relaxed a bit. Eventually, the man calmed down, and began to think more seriously about the matter. Eventually he asked, “…Will this really help?”
“Who knows? Once you open Tragedy, it is horribly difficult to shut it once more. But this might be a start. You can only try, and find out.”
“…And if I fail?”
“Then you will likely be no worse off than you are right now.”
He fell silent, and gazed at the gate. I waited in companionable silence. I knew this man, and the end of this conversation had been certain from the beginning. I just had to wait until he acknowledged it.
In this place, my home, there is no difference between a moment and an eternity. And so, a moment and an eternity later, he turned back to me and said, “Fine. I’ll do it.”
“Then I wish you luck.” Without wasting further words, I exerted myself a bit, and formed a small doorway in front of him. Within its frame, shadows roiled, obscuring the path forward. Nevertheless, the man stepped forward without fear, instinctively knowing that the door would lead him back to his world once more.
Surprisingly, he hesitated on the threshold, and asked me a question I didn’t expect. “That kingdom…it’s a kingdom of Light, right?”
“Hmmm? I suppose so.”
“Why would you help them, then? You’re a demon of Darkness, aren’t you?”
At this, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. “Ha ha, you mistake me. I am not of Darkness; I am of Shadow. The Light might wipe out the Darkness, but it will only make a Shadow stronger…”
With a final “Hmph” the man strode through my doorway, and journeyed back toward a living world. I allowed the doorway to fade, but I could still feel his presence moving forward.
As I watched him go, I murmured to myself, “Yes, I am of Shadow, and in Shadow is my true existence. You too, oh fallen king, are but a Shadow of your former self. Walk therefore in the Light, and cast yourself over this fallen world. I wish you the best of fortune…”