There was silence in the Somber Tower. Not a single word or a single whisper could be heard. The only noises that rumbled throughout the Dark Fortress were the stomping of the black and heavy armor of the devious creatures that guarded the Tower, cloaked in the darkness of the night. Great stonewalls surrounded the Tower creating an ample courtyard in between. The Tower itself was made out of a black metal. Its edges were so sharp that they would cut through one’s soul. Its crowned peak reached the skies. It lacked windows, except perhaps for the stained glass at the top.
Within the silence of the night, another sound emerged. An arrow with a harpoon-like tip and an attached cable was shot from the top of the wall protecting the Somber Tower. It crossed the courtyard, which was conveniently unprotected, and it anchored to the metallic wall of the Tower. There were three cloaked figures on the top of the wall, the Archer who shot that arrow being one of them. A fireball emerged from the hand of the figure to the left of the Archer, and he blasted it against the wall, cracking a hole on its surface.
“Good job, Night Flame,” said the cloaked Archer while he was drawing back his bow. “Night Blade, after you.” And in the blink of an eye, the next cloaked figure crossed the courtyard and went through the hole in the wall, but all his partners saw was a black blur sliding down the bright cable at an incredible speed.
“I’ll go next,” mentioned Night Flame. He vanished and reappeared next to the other inside the Tower. The Archer was next; he used his bow to hang from the cable and slide across like a zip line.
“It’s not the same without him, is it?” said Night Blade with a melancholic tone. They looked down, hiding their faces inside their hoods. There was a silent pause.
“Come on, we should continue. He would want us to accomplish our mission,” said Night Flame. “Night Leaf, get your bow ready. Shadows are hidden everywhere.”
“Before we venture into the inside of the Somber Tower, there is something I must say,” pointed out Night Leaf. “I know that after what happened to him, and after you two found out what happened with, uh, you know, your parents, we thought that breaking up the team was the best choice. I mean, we believed that evil was defeated and that all threats to the world were suppressed. But what if we were wrong? What if it was a mistake to break up the team? What if it is true what many of our enemies have told us before? What if evil is part of the natural world, and its complete elimination is impossible?”
“Maybe what you say it’s true. Maybe the world will always need the Nocturnal Order, but we couldn’t keep going after what happened. We went in different directions because that is what we needed,” answered Night Blade. Night Flame slightly smiled, but remained his face hidden from the others.
The Archer said, "Indeed. Let's go; darkness awaits us."
Some months ago, Night Leaf was patrolling the streets of the town of Greenville. From its 5-meters-high roofs, he could see Arbor, the wood that raised him. The Archer of the team was a member of the Arboreons, the Great Guardians of the Forests. The Arboreons were once mere Men, but they have come a long way since ancient times. They started as a group of outcasts who took refuge in a forest, as they couldn’t live with the rest of civilization anymore. Some of them were outlaws, some were running away from their pasts, and some of them did not have a place where to go, so they escaped to the forest now known as Arbor, the Tree-City. After some time of living there, this group of outcasts witnessed the appearance of Luia, whom they claimed as the goddess of the Forest. She had been observing them for a while, and she thought them worthy and kind-hearted, so she gave them her daughter, the Canon Flower, which would give them abilities Men could only dream of. In exchange for the Flower, the outcasts swore to use their new abilities to protect the Forest and serve the Goddess. This was the birth of the race of the Arboreons, the Great Guardians of the Forest, the Protectors of the Trees, the Servants of Luia: The Lady of Life. Throughout the centuries, the Arboreons evolved to obtain enhanced senses to detect interlopers who meant to harm the forests. They also perfected their skills in fighting, archery, and the special abilities once given to them by the Flower. They used these faculties to protect all life, and they could not kill any living creature, for their purity of soul would be corrupted. The Arboreons, nevertheless, are isolated beings; they do not usually leave their forests or communicate with other civilizations. Even though, many Arboreons have left the Forest of Arbor to inhabit other forests that needed protection. Over the years, they have constructed an underground network of tunnels connecting the forests, so they can travel between them without detection. This is why many consider them just a legend, a tale lost in time, but this statement is false; however, as the story Protectors of the Trees is a true one.
Night Leaf left the Tree-City when he came of age. His journey led him to join the Team, but it was dissolved over a year ago. Since then, Night Leaf had been using his Arboreon abilities and archery skills to fight injustice, crime, and evil in the cities next to Arbor, but he never had enough courage to go back.
He was living in Greenville back then. Greenville was a typical town with typical houses. Most people lived in stone white houses with red roofs. Normally, these houses only had one story, but the wealthiest citizens could afford a two-story house. Neighboring residences were connected to each other, such that multiple houses were actually part of the same wide building, internally divided into homes. The roofs were very close to one another, making it easy to jump from one to the other. They were inclined roofs, with opposite sides that met at a flatter and ample area where the chimneys were. All of the buildings in town had this type of architecture, except for the bell tower at the town center. This tower was thrice as tall as the buildings around it, and access to the bell was restricted to everyone except for the town’s wealthiest merchants, who made the important decisions. Ironically, the bell didn’t have any walls surrounding it so everyone could see it. The bell was a symbol of hope for the people of Greenville, but before the sightings of the mysterious Archer, hearing its sound was extremely rare.
Greenville was the type of village that would appear to be desolate during the night but vivid and crowded during the day. Only three kinds of people roamed the streets of Greenville at night: the ones without a home, the men and women who wanted to enjoy the night, and the scum who took advantage of these two groups. It was mostly silent after sunset, except for the areas surrounding the town center and the bars. Noise gathered around these places at night.
He was jumping from roof to roof looking down in between the alleyways. There was a monster that had been on a killing spree in Greenville, and the Archer was convinced that he had to stop it. He was jumping from roof to roof, searching for the creature. He saw many civilians drinking and dancing on the streets below him, but they could only see a shadow above their heads. He stopped on a flat roof to observe the cheery crowd.
Suddenly, he saw what many couldn't have seen. At the other side of the street, he spotted a corpulent man threatening what appeared to be a kid with a knife. He swiftly grabbed his bow and fired an arrow. The arrow hit the man’s knife, making him drop the weapon. He appeared out of thin air in front of the man, or that is what it seemed, and shot another arrow while he whispered a spell. His eyes glowed green, and the arrow’s tip shone with a slight amount of intensity. Its tail released green sparks. When it hit the robber, he was blast into the air. However, the arrow was nowhere to be seen as it had consumed itself. Night Leaf approached him, and aimed at him.
“There are other ways in life. You don’t need to rob innocent and poor children. Now leave, and if I ever see you again around here, I won’t be so nice with you.” The robber stood up and nervously ran trying not to trip. The Archer took a piece of bread out of his cloak, turned around, and gave it to the kid. His face and clothes were full of dirt, but he looked amazed by what he just witnessed.
“Thank you, sir,” said the young boy. He was smiling while he ate his bread. He finally got a better look at his savior Night Leaf was wearing a dark green hooded cape, which he usually used to camouflage. He was very tall, around 7 feet, as Arboreons are usually taller than most races. His hood covered his short dark green hair.. His eyes, however, were brown like the trunk of a tree, as so was his thin but attractive beard. He was wearing a button-less green shirt with the symbol of the Nocturnal Order: two quarter-moons inscribed on a circle, looking in opposite directions and intersecting each other at the ends. On the back of his cloak, he had his quiver, where he kept his arrows, whose tips had a leaf-like shape. His wore dark brown boots, and if he were not against killing living beings, one would have thought they were made out of leather; however, they were made of another material that resembled leather.
A screech broke through the crowd’s noise. The Archer leaped to the roofs and sprinted in the direction of the screech. He moved through the town with the speed of the fastest breeze, agile like a bird. In fact, it looked like he was flying. But, he wasn’t fast enough. Five blocks away from the dark alley where he saved that boy, he found a dead body. He kneeled before the corpse.
“He is – was a male. Probably thirty years old or so. His chest is cut open, his heart is missing.” He closed the eyes of the victim. “I am sorry. This kind of things shouldn’t happen. This type of injustice cannot happen again. I cannot let it happen again,” he thought. “Maybe, if I start – no, no. Robin, don’t even think about it. That man down there may be a criminal, but he is a living being after all. I have to – I need to believe that he can come back. I promised myself that I would help the people of this town, but I cannot loose myself in the process,” he told himself.
Some hours later, he entered an inn room through a window. He took off his uniform and got in his bed. He tried to sleep, but his thoughts kept him from getting any sleep. The images of that dead man he saw earlier kept emerging in his mind. He could see his blood spilled on the floor and his dead eyes staring at him. “If I hadn’t talked to that robber after saving that boy… I hadn’t given him another chance; maybe I could have arrived there in time. I sacrificed the life of an innocent for a criminal that was about to rob a young boy. If I had shot that arrow a bit lower and hit his chest, an innocent life would have been spared.” He thought of his home, Arbor. He imagined the large and robust trees, whose leaves covered the sky allowing only some light beams to come through. It was a magnificent sight. He found himself lying on the grass next to a young and beautiful girl. The small lights of the lighting bugs were flying around them.
He brusquely opened his eyes as he heard steps outside. They were silent steps going up the stairs. There were three of them. Fear paralyzed him for a couple of seconds, although they looked like hours to him. Ironically, it was also fear what forced him to react.
One of them opened his room’s door by kicking it with violence. They wore hooded black capes that covered their entire body. To their surprise, the room was empty. They looked around, but they couldn’t find what they were looking for. They looked inside the closet, under the bed, but nothing. One of them pointed at the window. It was open.
“No more sleep for me tonight,” he thought. He was at the top of the bell tower watching over Greenville. There were many lights at the town center. The townspeople were still partying and celebrating. He wondered if it was a special festivity, but he didn’t really know. He specially looked at the darker areas of the town, where crime usually rules, but he found nothing. It had become calm and peaceful night. Arbor’s trees marked the town limits; they could be seen from any roof of Greenville. The breeze stroked their leaves. But he was anxious, as he knew that his pursuers were somewhere among the shadows of the town. He hid on the bell tower until he saw two silhouettes leaping from the roofs into Arbor. He could finally breath.
His peace was broken by an arrow that stroke his left shoulder. He heard a familiar female voice behind him.
“It’s time for you to return,” the pursuer said.
She aimed another arrow at him, but before she could shoot, he fell off the top of the bell tower. Before falling unconscious, he called his bow and shot an arrow as he yelled yet another spell. A shiny light-cable attached to the arrow appeared. The arrow anchored to the wooden wall of the tower slowing down his fall. But it didn’t stop him, and his back hit the stone floor in front of the entrance of the tower. The attacker ran down the stairs of the tall bell tower, but she didn't find him at the same place where she saw him fall. Frustrated, she returned to Arbor like her partners.
“So, what is your name?” A voice woke Night Leaf up.
He opened his eyes and looked around. He was in a narrow alley. He saw the robber he stopped that same night in front of him trying to start a bonfire on a small barrel. The arrow that pierced through his shoulder was gone, but the pain was still there. Dawn was approaching.
“You are the same guy who taught me a lesson today, huh?”
Night Leaf grabbed his bow with his right arm.
“Don’t worry. If I wanted to hurt I would have done it already. You were right, man. My life was shit, but that's no excuse. What kind of bastard steals from a poor kid? I finally opened my eyes.” He coughed and then said, “I will probably won’t make it through the week, but at least I will die with honor.”
Night Leaf was quite shocked and relieved to hear this. For a long time, he had doubted that it was possible for someone to change. He used to strongly believe that people could become better versions of themselves; therefore, he felt that killing was cruel and unfair. But he had started to lose hope with time. That man's words kept the spark inside him alive.
“You can call me Robin,” he said. He put down his bow and relaxed his shoulders. “What happened?”
“You tell me. You fell from the fucking top of the bell tower. I quickly picked you up and brought you here. You don’t have a very good reputation among us, the scum of the town, so I thought that if anyone saw you, they would beat the crap out of you. How do you survive a fall like that? Are you some kind of mage?”
“Not a mage, but an archer. Only a few individuals use magic these days, although the word magic is attributed to anything that we can’t explain,” said Robin trying to not give many explanations. He didn't want much attention, and he didn't fully understand the nature of the power of his bow. He only knew he could cast certain spells with his bow and arrows, but he didn't know much more or wanted to say anything else.
The first sunbeams crossed the skies touching Robin’s soul. His pain was suddenly gone. He felt stronger now. He stood up and looked at his savior. “Thank you,” he said, “you have saved me in many ways. More than you could imagine."
He looked at the skies, "Go to the sewers. There you will find others like you; good people that are trying to survive with nothing.” His hand radiated an intense green light, and a seed appeared as the green light faded. “Take this and bring it there. They will know what to do with it.”
“This is a fucking seed,” the man said.
Robin answered, “It is. But it will turn into something useful. It wouldn’t be the first time you see a magical transformation today, right?”
Robin jumped back to the roofs and went back to his bed.
At nightfall, when the Moon was flying high in the skies, he went back into action. He put on his cape and gear and exited through the window, like he always did. He climbed back to the bell tower, even after what happened the night before. He was afraid, he couldn’t deny he felt fear, but he knew that he couldn’t let that monster kill again.
He waited there for around an hour. Suddenly, a winged creature fell from the sky and slingshot around the tower. The gelid wind created by the creature hit Night Leaf’s and blew his cape. After feeling the cutting breeze, he couldn’t move his legs. It took him a couple of seconds to react and jump off the tower. He accidentally hit the bell and made it ring.
The creature flew to the south part of town, where no lights were lit. Robin chased it through, but the monster didn’t realize. It descended onto the street as it screeched in an attempt to prey on a homeless man that was sleeping on the street below them. Night Leaf took out an extremely sharp leaf from the pocket of his cape. Arrows were not the only weapons in his arsenal. He cast it against the wings of the creature, and the razor leaf pierced through it. Some of its feathers fell to the ground. The monster screamed and crashed against the ground. The noise woke up all of the homeless people sleeping on the street. They fled after seeing that horrendous being. It looked back at Robin, who was standing on a roof, and took off again.
During the pursue, the Archer fired many arrows with his bow at the wings of the creature trying to stop it without killing it, but the monster was too fast for his arrows. Then, tired of running after it, he shot an arrow at the monster while whispering some words that appeared to be a spell. His eyes became shining blue, and the arrow speeded up and hit the monster’s wings. The creature received an electric shock and fainted. Night Leaf cautiously approached the creature and stared at its face. It looked like a woman, but this being was no human. Her face was pale greenish yellow, and it lacked eyes. She had scars instead. Her teeth-less mouth was opened, and its inside was as dark as the creature’s intentions. Her red hair was full of filth. She had claws as hands and feet, and her body was a monstrous as her devious and abnormal eye-less face.
“A Bird-Witch, also known as the Black Roses. They are merciless and powerful, very powerful. This explains why her victims were males and their hearts were ripped off. Bird-Witches have an intense rancor against men. Interesting, they don’t usually fly solo…” thought Robin, just before being attacked by the Bird-Witch, who was just pretending to be unconscious. He dodged her sharp and nasty black claws, but he fell to the ground. The monster raised her left claw, which was her favorite weapon, and screamed breaking the harmonious silence. The Archer brought his hands to his ears, trying to block out the scream of the Black Rose to stop the unbearable pain. Just as the creature was about to finish him, a speeding fireball hit the Bird-Witch from behind, throwing her to the other side of the roof. Night Leaf could not see the face of the Mage who saved his life until he took his light-emitting wand out of his cloak, and stretched his hand to Night Leaf, revealing his identity. They looked at each other. The Mage’s outfit was not very different from the Archer’s. He was wearing a long cloak as well, but his was dark scarlet rather than green. His hood hid his hair, but Robin remembered how his hair used to look like. It was red, red like embers, and a bit messy, but that was just his hairstyle. His skin was pale, and the moonlight reflected on the whiteness of his face. Robin looked into his eyes, and he saw that he had not lost his internal anger, one that burnt his inside. He was wearing a shirt very similar to Robin’s, and they both had the same symbol on the right corner, but again, his shirt was scarlet. He had a wand, which he usually kept within his cloak.
“Night Flame!” exclaimed Night Leaf. “It has been a long time, hasn’t it, Vigilate? I haven’t seen you since the team was dissolved, what are you doing here?”
“Well, I had to talk to you, but it seems like you are busy trying not to die,” he answered. They both looked at the beast, and they realized she was trying to flee.
“I have it under control, but I could do with some help, for old times’ sake,” he said while he extended his arm. A bow materialized in his hand, and he aimed at the Bird-Witch.
“It’s ironic you say that, Robin. I am here because the world needs us again: Night Leaf, Night Flame, Night Blade, and…” He paused, “It needs all of us– incoming sonic scream!” explained Night Flame while they were dodging the sonic waves that came out of the Black Rose’s mouth and jumping from roof to roof trying to take down that flying demon with arrows and fireballs. “I came here tonight because we have to reassemble the Nocturnal Order.”
The Archer's arrow stroke the Bird-Witch's claw and pierced her hand. A ball of fire then hit her chest strong and fast like a lighting bolt. She fell from the sky defeated, projecting her silhouette onto the Moon.
"So what is so threatening to the order of the natural world that will get the Order back together?"
They ran to meet the falling creature, which was unconscious on a roof close to the bell tower.
"I don't know what we will encounter this time, but it's bigger than we think, a force that could destroy the order of the night. An evil entity with power to darken the stars and the moon themselves."
The Archer looked at the creature with pity and said, "Leave town now and go back to your lair. If I ever hear any screams provoked by your wickedness..."
Suddenly, the Black Rose burst into flames. The fire shone on Night Leaf's eyes, but he did not even flinch.
Night Flame broke the silence, "She was a monster. She needs to kill to survive. We both know it's better this way."
"We'll meet at Pávura, where we'll find the third member of the Order," Night Leaf answered with a serious tone that marked his frustration and relief.