''Vethalion al'oniai aviendhum vennua. "I am the false god that follows my name around; do you love me still?"
I feel the darkness closing in. It whispers to me. I am all that remains, it says, the last of the Shadow Guard. It is coming for me. How can you put a price upon your soul? How could we have been so naive? The past holds painful memories for us all, but I feel the full weight of my crimes, and the pain is more than I can bear.
The annuls of history preside over the rise and fall of many things. Empires, cities, kings, queens, ideas, ideals, lives and loves all rise and fall on the winds of change. But humanity, ever fleeting in its mortality, has a powerful need to remember, and the tales and legends that grow out of these momentous events take on a life of their own, shifting and changing with the telling. Still, some things remain worthy of the remembering, while other, darker things cry out to be forgotten. The origins of the Shadow Guard are lost to us now but most agree that they were human, once; pioneers of the magical arts who explored and mapped the boundaries of our understanding. They became great champions, guardians against the rising shadows that threatened to consume the fledgling human race. But in their thirst for knowledge they delved too greedily into the demonic arts, and they were consumed. They fell into the darkness, lost angels of a ruined paradise, and turning on their race unleashed a storm of ruin upon the world that they had sworn to protect. Weeping, the people rose up against their protectors and met them on the field of battle, the hopeless last stand of men defying gods. No one living knows what happened next and no book exists to chronicle the story. The end of the Shadow Guard is as unrecorded as their beginnings, and whisper-silent they vanished from the pages of history as if no historian could bring themselves to tell the tale. All this was an age ago and more, and the destruction they wrought upon the world has since passed out of legend, if indeed it happened at all.
Memoria mnesoniae thraloriun. "I weep for the souls of my sisters departed."
There it ought to have stayed, and the darkness they unleashed should have been forgotten. But we would not let it be. In our arrogance we presumed too much. We thought we could succeed where they had failed, we thought we could come back from the brink of madness and wield the magic we discovered there as a force for good. We were wrong.
The sad truth is not all of us become the person we once hoped to be. There were thirteen of us in the beginning, an informal gathering of students searching for a direction and a purpose amid the surging tides of war. It began with a name, a half-remembered fragment of the past that we adopted as our own: the Shadow Guard. But we yearned to understand, to follow in the footsteps of history and leave our mark upon the world as champions. I cannot remember where we found the book, or what we hoped to accomplish, only the ritual, and how it ended.
We had gathered together in the darkness beneath the Altar of Storms as nature raged defiant around us. The sky wept from dark brooding clouds pillowed upwards into the heavens as lightning flared across the sullen sky. Our candles winked on and off in the blackness, their flames sputtering and hissing in the drizzle casting lurid, surging patches of light across the floor. The statues loomed up above us, leviathans in the night, their faces shrouded in darkness. They seemed to be our guardians then, stalwart titans from an earlier age who would watch over us in our endeavour.
We fanned out across the altar, two circles of six, one inside the other with me in the center charged with maintaining the ritual objects. We had barely started when the altar shook as a deep booming crack, more felt than heard threatened to rip the ground asunder, and the six members of the inner circle simply ceased to be, fading like clouds that had outwept their rain. Our cries of horror were snatched from our mouths by the howling wind and hurled upwards into an uncaring sky. In their place, glowing runes were being carved into the rock by some invisible hand, and a plume of seething purple smoke billowed upwards into the heavens. Black and oily, it writhed with hideous tortured shapes as it mushroomed out into the night. Our candles went out and it was silent once more save for our beating hearts and the plaintive howling of the wind. I waited, scarcely daring to draw breath until one by one from out the darkness, blazing beacons flared into life, roaring upwards into the night. Six beacons in a perfect ring around the altar. Six beacons. I was rooted to the spot; the screaming of my sisters froze my limbs in place as the raging fires consumed them to the sickly smell of burning flesh.
It was over quickly, and I was left alone to face the monstrosity that tore its way out of the swirling void that hung, suspended, in the air. Time ran like treacle as the darkness congealed into a shape, if shape it might be called that shape had none, or substance might be called that shadow seemed. Upon that which seemed its head, I saw the likeness of a crown and as the creature howled, proclaiming its birth into the dark, a pair of ruined wings unfurled, and flame burst forth to illuminate the night.
I waited for death, kneeling on the barren rock, head bowed as the rain beat my body into the ground. The fleeting moment between heartbeats seemed to stretch out into eternity, until, finally, I raised my head to see the creature, its arms upraised towards me in supplication as its giant wings beat a path into the sky, leaving me weeping and broken upon the rock.
Al'thura icthallian atallorium dar'shavio sullas. "Pity me for the roads I have travelled, but weep for the roads I have yet to tread."
I do not know how I survived that day or for what purpose, if any, I was spared. I tried to rebuild the shattered pieces of our broken dream, but the ideas that once were so full of promise seem hollow and empty to me now. Overcome, I gave up my name in penance and took on another: Sepherina, Guardian of Memory, though the title rests uneasily on my burdened conscious. It whispers to me in my dreams, the creature. I belong there now, it says, in the darkness, with the demons. I must be ready.