A tale of Shadow Era

The waves crashed over the boat, drenching it and the crew aboard alike. Many of the shriveled undead hissed disdain for the soaking mess, while their wulven counterparts seemed to actually be enjoying themselves aboard the vessel. There might have even been a joke in there somewhere, had any of the human passengers locked in the steerage below still possessed any sense of humor. Instead, they huddled together to keep from catching illness from the icy water. Some mumbled to themselves about the injustices that had befallen them, while others looked to their captors with some hope of freedom.

Carmila's father, though, sat in indignant silence.

Since the death of King Rothem, the palace staff had seemingly been forgotten as the armies gathered across the world. So when the Man of Shadows came claiming the castle belonged to him, no one had the strength to protest. He'd left them mostly unscathed, so long as they served his whims exactly as the monster expected. Until a week ago, Carmila had begun to wonder if the stories about the terror of the Shadow might have been exaggerated.

Then her family and all of the other palace servants had been gathered together, chained, and hurled onto a boat to somewhere only the Seven knew. Her mother had already died during the trip, one of many who had been unable to cope with the bitter chill and lack of proper meals. Despite his outward strength, the young girl wondered if her father would be far behind. Still, the man seemed at peace staring at his enemies with dire intent. It was as if he intended to end his life on their swords.

Breaking her troubled thoughts, a trumpet's tune pierced the silence of the hold. Someone on board was signaling that land had been spotted; they'd reach their destination soon.

Suddenly, the door to their tiny makeshift cell sprung forward and her fellow servants were all rushed forth into the boats meant for landfall in places with no docks. Carmila followed her father down the path the wulven seemed to be clearing for them, walking for what felt like hours. Having not stood for days, the girl was sure she was about to collapse when at last they came upon the cave that their captors seemed to be using as a makeshift base.

Inside, the walls were covered in stone that had obviously been cut and stacked with great care. They were inscribed with strange markings that might have been letters, but none she'd ever seen before. Something deep inside told her that the majority of those who now controlled the building wouldn't fare much better at understanding them either. Yet they didn't hesitate to usher her deeper and deeper into the darkness.

At long last they came to a large chamber with a series of strange circles grouped in the center. The circles intersected each other, with a series of smaller ones lining the edges. Each of these smaller circles contained a strange crystal. They seemed to emanate small light, yet the room around them appeared dimmer. The effect was offsetting, and Carmila felt as though she might have given anything to be withdrawn from their presence. Her mental protests, though, went unanswered as she was pushed to her knees before the large and strange pattern.

A man she'd only seen in paintings of his glory days appeared then, slowly looking over her and the rest of the prisoners. Why Arthyle, a hero in the histories of Layar, had turned on his people to help this atrocious army was beyond her. Yet here the man was, brought back from death itself, selecting the first victims of whatever mad thing the circles did.

Eventually, when Arthyle was satisfied, those who had been sickly and weak on the ride over were removed from the Carmila's sight. She couldn't be sure, but it seemed a safe bet they had been found useless and would be stricken from the lands of Balor. The thought filled her with fear, yet she mustered all the strength she could as the first person was dragged into the center of the room.

If there was someone controlling the thing, Carmila couldn't see them. Energy slowly poured from the crystals and into the lines of the circles. It gathered and molded to the shapes drawn into the stone, approaching the center like a series of coiled snakes descending on their prey. When, at last, it reached the moment of truth, a light so bright that she couldn't bear to watch burst from within the frightened first victim. When it diminished, only a smoldering corpse remained.

Carmila stifled a gasp as the body was removed, her shock too deep to even notice as a second and then third person were dragged to the center. By the fifth she was becoming numb to the event, barely noticing that the light had dimmed each time. Even the heat seemed to be inflicting less damage, though the gore it left behind now threatened to turn her stomach. It wasn't until they took her father that Carmila even realized what was really happening.

This was some kind of weapon, and they needed to make adjustments for it to work correctly. She, and everyone she knew, would die testing it. Perhaps she should have felt guilty for the humans the finished weapon would be used upon, but they were as much at fault as the Shadow. Gunther and his soldiers had abandoned the castle, and she hated them for it. She hated the humans and the Shadows alike. She hated them for making her watch her father die. She hated him too, for smiling as they pushed him into the center. She hated him for not even trying to fight as the light poured into his body.

There was no light for her father, no brilliant display. His skin merely shifted, looking like scales but formed from the same texture as the crystals that powered the transformation. From the sudden look of horror on his face, Carmila knew the same was happening throughout his body. The pain must have been excruciating, but his throat had been sealed by the fragments. Within moments the man who had loved and protected her was a mutated and dying husk on the floor before her.

Then it was her turn.

At first she considered struggling, but the hatred within her was seething. To strike a guard she would have to fight through it first, and she wanted nothing more than to give into that anger. Perhaps her anger could become an energy capable of turning this machine on its users and the traitors among the humans as well? Then she'd really have something to show them. It was a bitter thought, but it was the last she was going to be allowed.

Already the tendrils of power were on her, forcing their way into her soul. The energy filled her, expanded her, became her. Rather than pain, she felt the joy of all creation. She knew its suffering and plights as though they belonged to her alone. The whole of the world, and all worlds that touched it through the Shadow Gates, became her mind for a moment. Rather than kill her, the conduit had made her... more.

She knew the Man of Shadows would kill her once he knew what she had become. He couldn't have a rival to his throne, and she wasn't interested in taking a side in this pathetic war. There had to be another way, a way to convince these Shadows that she wasn't worth killing... perhaps if she was already dead?

Before she could begin to formulate the plan, her skin already began the change. Just like her father's, only slightly less drastic, her flesh became crystal. Her eyes the purest black of the stones that gave her new life. Joints disconnected painlessly, shifting into a new position on her whim alone. Her form was mutable now, answering only to the function she required of it. An ability which caused her enemies to mistake her for a corpse and remove her somewhere far easier to escape from.

As she sailed the oceans back to Layar in the guise of the now deceased captain, Carmila couldn't help but smile to herself. Human, Shadow, none of that mattered. She would have her revenge upon them all.