The elves of Stonevale had never seen a darker night, the sky a sheet of black. The suffocating darkness only seemed to grow more oppressive as a gloomy fog circled above the stones that made up the city’s barriers. Ash coated the snow. Unable to watch the failure of their children, the stars turned their faces. The stars now exuded an ice that extinguished the fiery sparks of power within the elves. The magic was almost gone. The Starseekers had delved too deeply into the power given to their ancestors by the patrons in the sky. Queen Esta had believed that the end would justify the means. She was aware of her mistake the moment the first cauldron began to bubble. Now it was too late. The deed done. The anticipated birth of their own creation, the cause of their ruin.
Two dark blue eyes watched the scene unfold. The elfling Ryllae peered around the stone column that served as her hiding place. Her knuckles turned white as her grip on the column tightened, hoping that it could keep her rooted. Too young to have the power fading from those around her, Ryllae was forced to watch her family struggle. The Starseekers’ power was weaker, and the beasts refused to be tamed. Ryllae saw hazy shapes, blood, and chaos, a wild flurry of overwhelming images. She watched a female elf create a stone cage around one of the creatures. Bending her body in half and curling her hands into fists, the elf muttered an incantation. She then jerked her body into an upright position, uncurling her hands and thrusting them out in front of her. The ground ripped away from the earth and latched onto the beast’s feet. The stone wrapped around the massive body, crawling up its figure, encasing the creature. Ryllae watched until only a crumbling stone image remained, as if some terrible, ancient sculptor crafted it long ago. The small elf stared at the frozen mouth and extended claws that had been ready to tear, to kill.
The elf stumbled back and collapsed in an exhausted heap. Her long white hair, streaked with dirt and blood, fanned out and covered her face. The once effortless feat had drained her, a sign of the magic’s rapid dissipation. Ryllae’s eyes shifted. Many elves struggled with similar undertakings, but more elves fell than monsters while new abominations continued to be born. One by one the creatures emerged from the gurgling black concoctions brewing across Stonevale. An overwhelming sense of defeat that even young Ryllae could not ignore lay heavy over the city.
With searching eyes, Ryllae watched the ebullition of the cauldron nearest her. She jumped as a long claw like hand reached out of the sludge, extended toward the sky as if yearning for the unattainable beauty of the stars who despised it, before grasping the edge of the basin. The other hand followed its brother, and the newborn creature pulled its body from the mire. A nauseating stench reached Ryllae, but she was unable to tear her gaze from the scene. Though the hulking figure had just emerged, its black, leathery skin already appeared to be rotting. The black muck it had risen from still hung in oozing strings and clumps from the body.
The creature’s bloodshot eyes stared in Ryllae’s direction. She released her hold on the stone column. Scarcely daring to breath, Ryllae backed into the shadows behind her. Fear and the cold shook her slight figure. When her trembling legs made it difficult to walk, Ryllae sank into the snow. She wrapped her thin arms around her knees and clenched her eyelids shut, unable to watch any longer. Only a dream. She thought. It has to be. This cannot be real. Ryllae felt the touch of a strong hand on her shoulder, and regaining her strength, she leapt to her feet and turned around in alarm, her panicked eyes peering into those of her assailant.
“Father!” Ryllae threw her arms around him as recognition colored her features. But the once familiar voice of her father was now lugubrious, missing the undertone of comfort it had once communicated.
Ryllae withdrew her grasp to look with searching eyes into the violet eyes of her father. As Ryllae focused on his face, what she saw frightened her. Her father’s features were taut and covered with gore. Beneath the gore, fear and despair were etched as if they had always been there. The new expression was so intense that Ryllae found it difficult to picture his once serene countenance.
“Ryllae,” He whispered, brushing a long strand of dark brown hair from her face. “Make for Greenvale; warn our brothers of our treachery.” He glanced to the sky before murmuring, “May the stars keep the last innocent of Stonevale safe.”
Ryllae was shaking her head before her father had finished speaking.
. “Papa, please.” The small child begged, her words barely escaping. She could no longer contain the tears that had so long threatened to spill over her dark lashes. She shook her head, and with the motion, tears poured.
The pain written on her father’s face seemed to intensify. He longed to give in to the pleading of the child he would never see again. As he often did when deep in thought, he ran a hand through his snow-white hair. But this time the hand was bloody from the battle, and the familiar movement left gory streaks. When he looked up again, his violet eyes were gleaming.
“I cannot.” His voice cracked. He was not innocent. He knew he must face the consequences of the Starseekers’ sin along with his brothers and sisters.
Ryllae’s father threw a cloak around her shoulders and handed her a pack filled with scant supplies. His stained hands left marks that soiled the pack just as they had poisoned the memory of her father running his hand through his hair.
“I love you, Ryllae. Be strong. Salif.” Her father touched two fingers to her forehead as he murmured the salutary elven word of parting. He kissed her forehead, praying that she did not know enough to experience the same feeling of loss he felt. A chilling scream filled the air, and he looked up in alarm.
“Go now. Quickly.” He said turning back to Ryllae with the now ever-present fear magnified in his eyes. Eyes that had once contained nothing but tranquility. He looked to the sky with a pleading expression. Pleading with the stars who had turned their backs.
The complaisant elfling hoisted her cloak above her knees and ran into the darkness. Ryllae tripped and fell, bruising both knees and bloodying both her hands and the snow beneath her. Tears blurred her vision. She pushed herself back to her feet and ran faster, stumbling but regaining her balance. Despite her inability to ignore the sounds of combat and death filling the air, Ryllae never looked back. Sobs shook her whole body, but she continued to run through the night. Far away from her home, her fellow Starseekers, her family. The sound of the slaughter continued even after she escaped her ruined homeland, echoing over the empty expanse of the Zuroc desert. Ryllae shoved her fingers in her ears to block out the noise. In horror she realized that the landscape she ran across was now silent. The sounds of battle had imbedded themselves into the fiber of her mind. The screams of her people falling under their own creations would remain there forever. Stored inside her heart.
155 Years Later