This story has a few similarities to Ancient Ruins, but they are vague for the most part. I will warn…the opening is way over-the-top. When I write the full book (currently about 60k words), it won’t all be this insane.
Sisters of Radiance
In the silence of the Tower of Seclusion, Noctis sat with her legs crossed and her sword unsheathed across her lap. On the altar before her lay the Ascendant Regalia, but her eyes weren’t on the suit of armor. The gleaming curves of the golden full plate that shone with all the colors of the sun would be enough to leave most breathless, yet above the altar floated the weapon which drew her sight unerringly.
The blade was long and straight, seemingly forged of diamonds, and the internal radiance of it illuminated the room with a rainbow-like brilliance. The hilt was a golden phoenix with upswept wings as a cross-guard, and a bright ruby shone in the pommel, glittering brightly before her as it floated, the blade pointing downward toward the sheath that hovered as if waiting for it. The sheath was no less a work of art, every surface of lovingly crafted blackened wood and gold in patterns like those of the sun. Yet at the sheath’s upper edge were six clasps on either side, looking as though they were to lock the sword in place. This was Dawnbringer, the very sword of Noctis’ goddess.
Every ray of the light that Dawnbringer shed was suffocating, an incredible presence that few could withstand. It was like standing before the very sun, feeling its radiance, its heat and power. This was Noctis’ test, a test which she had long since passed. When she had wished to become a novice, she had faced this sword. She had only been able to take a single step into the room before falling to the floor, and thus had passed. When she became a squire, she had faced it again. Only those who could face it and knew their limits could pass that test, and she had managed to stand within the room for a full hour, and gained the favor of Kari’Torath. And now, she had learned tolerance. Only those with the proper mindset could come here before Dawnbringer without bursting into flames. Those who were overly zealous were as unwelcome as those who were too weak of will. Kari’Torath required faith tempered with wisdom. Righteousness tempered by reason. Only those who had tempered themselves in Her Light were capable of wielding her power and strength. And Noctis had proven herself.
“Lady of Radiance, hear my voice.” Noctis’ voice was soft in the quiet of the chamber. The words she was reciting had been burned into her mind by long repetition and contemplation of their meanings. “I am Noctis Varana, squire of the Sisters of Radiance. I have come to complete my vows and take up the mantle as one of Your knights.”
“I foreswear all other allegiances to give myself fully to the Sisters of Radiance. As a knight in Your service I swear to uphold Your strictures. I swear myself to Thy service in body, mind, and soul. I pledge myself as Thy bride, to honor You in all I do.” Her voice strengthened as her oaths continued, the truth of her words evident to the magic blazing within Dawnbringer, and the acceptance fueling her own confidence. “I swear to bring Thy Radiance to all that I can. I swear to protect the innocent wherever I can. I will do what is right to the best of my ability. I vow this upon Your Name. I swear this before you, Kari’Torath, my Queen of Swords.”
“Noctis Varana, I accept your oath.” A whispering voice came to her ear, one that echoed with power and made her feel filled with light. Noctis began to straighten with happiness, her eyes widening…and then her emotions changed as the voice continued. “But the time for oaths is past. Take Dawnbringer, for the Gates of Dawn have broken. Your path shall not end here, my beloved.”
“What?” The pleasure turned to shock and horror as Noctis listened. There was nothing that she could do, though, and she instantly moved at the command of her goddess. Rising to her feet, Noctis sheathed her sword, her eyes rising, and paused in shock. The Ascendant Regalia was missing. Her scalp prickled with fear as she realized what that meant. Her words were soft, almost breathless. “Eternity’s End is upon us. Yet You have said this is not the end of my path, My Lady. I am yours to command.”
Extending her hands upward, she could see her fingers trembling as she grasped Dawnbringer’s sheath. As her hands closed on it, the sword above plunged downward like a radiant bolt of lightning, slamming home into its sheath as the clasps locked it in place. The weight of it was no greater than any other sword, Dawnbringer’s matchless aura of power locked away within the sheath. Yet even still, Noctis staggered slightly as the weight of her responsibility struck her. It was a mountain that she couldn’t fully grasp. For a moment she trembled, her breathing coming quickly. But eventually her back straightened, and her eyes flickered with determination.
“To the Gate. It is the only chance.” Noctis murmured to herself. Knowing it was the right decision, she walked to the stone doors and with a brush of her fingers they slid open silently.
As they opened a wave of sound washed over her. The wind was screaming as it whipped through Bastion, even as the bells rang the alarm, all of it unknown to any in the Tower of Seclusion. The sky above was the shimmering barrier of light she had known for all her life, and she stared outward across Bastion, toward the Gates of Dawn.
The city was made of gold-veined stone, each building a fortress reinforced by magic. The walls created concentric spheres of magical barriers to shield those within. The radiant beacon of the Final Temple shone like a lighthouse across the land within Bastion and beyond, all the way to where the sole entrance to their plane of existence lay, the Gates of Dawn. Massive gates forged of divine light, gold, adamantine, and diamond, the Gates had held back the darkness for nearly five decades, and the last remnants of the Army of Light had fought them every day for those long years. But now…
The shattered gates greeted her gaze like a malignant black cancer upon the world. From it poured the armies of darkness like locusts. Though they looked tiny from a distance, she could tell what they were. Fiends, undead, and fallen mortals, dark gods and demon lords alike were among their numbers. She could see their black magic despoiling the land upon which they walked. But they did not walk unopposed.
A ring of light encircled the cancer of the enemy, the very Army of Light facing their mortal enemies. Most of them were merely mortals clad in armor and weapons imbued with all the magic they could muster, yet those few warriors were each worth a thousand enemies. Above them towered other allies as well. Great dragons soared above, fangs, magic, and their breaths destroying the flying attackers. Angels soared into the battle, led by scarred and battered archangels that shone like beacons. Titans wielded hammers fit to shatter mountains against them. And yet, all of these were second to the true leaders of the Army of Light.
Even from where she stood, she could see the four gods and goddesses of light that yet remained on the front lines. Adovar the Pure, Imrial Stormshaper, Morritha the White, and Vorith of the Sun had once been greater gods, but with the lack of worshipers their powers had waned to a fragment of what they had once been. Yet even now they had power greater than any save for the Sisters of Radiance, and their every attack killed dozens or more of the attackers. Other gods yet lived, but none had the power or will to face the Darkness even now.
And at the forefront of the fight she saw the spearhead of the Sisters of Radiance piercing into the Army of Darkness. Each knight fought in unison, imbued by a goddess whose power had only grown with the encroaching darkness. Each of whom had passed the test that Noctis had just passed. She could see the glow of High Priestess Galaina at the center of that battle, her swordstave spinning, tearing even demon lords asunder. The sight was both awe inspiring and a sight that caused her naught but despair.
For every spawn of darkness that fell, there were millions to take its place. The Gates had broken, and all creation save for what lay behind that front line had fallen before the Darkness. One by one, the Army of Light was beginning to fall before them. And it was at that moment that High Priestess Galaina spoke, her voice thundering across the battlefield, to every corner of Bastion.
“Children of Light, hear my voice! The End of Days is upon us! The shadows threaten to consume us, but we will not fall easily! All those who can be spared, go! Go to the Gate, and let chance perhaps grant you a new hope! Those who cannot flee, come forth and do battle, for we are the Children of Light! We have faced the darkness at every turn, and have burnt the shadows until they felt fear!” Galaina’s voice was filled with iron resolve, echoing in every ear, and Noctis shuddered, tears prickling at her eyes as she heard the woman’s voice turn to a saying that had grown more common over the years as she grew up. “At Eternity’s End, we shall not falter. We face the end of days bolstered by our faith and power. We offer ourselves to our Goddess freely, let her light pierce all darkness and show the light of hope!”
“Goodbye, High Priestess. May you rest in Her arms forever.” Noctis whispered softly, bowing her head slightly and touching her forehead in respect. And then she began to race through the streets, following the stream of civilians, priesthood, and warriors left in Bastion that were heading for the Gateway. She could hear the muffled explosions and the clash of armies in the distance as she raced up the causeway toward the Plaza of Memory.
A sudden flash of white, followed by an explosion seemed to rock the earth, and she stumbled, glancing behind her. Across the battlefield she saw a crater of glowing light a half mile across in the midst of the shadowspawn army. Noctis felt her heart ache as she realized that Vorith was missing. Her memory flickered to the face of a kindly older man with golden skin and deep brown hair ruffling her hair as he taught her about the history of the worlds from the years before. A single tear escaped her eye as she turned and ran to the Plaza, pushing down the grief threatening to overwhelm her.
Coming to the Plaza she saw knights directing the large numbers of people into the gate, a broad arch of white marble with a pool of rippling silver at its center. One after another people of all races vanished into the pool, and she hesitated only a few moments before joining the line.
The line moved surprisingly quickly as she waited, the product of people having long since have come to terms with the possibility of an incident like this. A few children were crying, and the others that she saw looked mostly resigned to what had happened. The range of races was broad, from stocky dwarves and slender elves like herself to humans, demons, and lesser angels. There weren’t many of the darker races, but a few followers of Light had existed even amongst them. And now everything they’d known was ending.
“When all balance is lost, Our Lady shall burn the worlds clean that they might be forged anew.” Noctis murmured softly, shaking her head in sorrow. Those of Darkness simply didn’t understand.
“Noctis! I thought you were in the Tower going through your final vows!” One of the knights paused nearby, a handsome satyr in older but still serviceable armor. His donkey legs had amused her when she was young, and she recognized him. He was blinking in surprise, his eyes widening as he saw the sword in her arms. “Lass, is that…?”
“I was. I finished, and My Lady commanded me to take this with me and to go.” Noctis replied softly, stroking the sheath of the blade in her arms. Looking at him, she hesitated, then asked. “And you, Frederick? What are you going to do?”
“I see. Good for you, lass.” Frederick replied with a thin smile, straightening slightly. His voice was like iron as he continued. “As for me? I’m going to see the last of you through, then close the Gate with the other volunteers. Levina’s with the army, after all. I won’t leave her.”
“Of course. May Her Radiance be with you, Frederick.” Noctis offered, her voice trembling as she realized what he was saying. But with his wife on the front lines…he’d be joining his wife soon enough.
“And with you, Noctis. Live well.” He replied, and then moved on. They had no time to stay and talk, nor the will.
As the line moved she saw others she knew, and exchanged greetings, and the occasional last words. In the distance, another explosion of light rocked the world as another god or goddess sacrificed themselves to stem the tide.
But at long last, her turn was next. Noctis’s eyes were brimming with tears as she faced the pool of silver. She hesitated only an instant, then steeled herself and stepped through.
It was like stepping into an inferno that didn’t truly burn, and she screamed as she lost consciousness, her hands grasping Dawnbringer. She didn’t realize the moment it vanished from her hands.
“How can you bear to watch?” The Mother asked, in the strange void outside of reality, her voice curious. “Not even Death can make itself watch things end like that.”
“Because it is my responsibility. I promised my followers to be there for them.” Kari’Torath answered stoically as she watched the battle progress. She wore the armor that Noctis had been sitting before, and her emerald eyes brimmed with unshed tears as she watched the Army of Light dwindle. One goddess, Morritha, had made it to the Gate and gone through, fated to be only slightly more than mortal on the other side. Kari’Torath continued, her voice oddly calm. “I will watch to the end. I will grant them the power they ask for. And when the end comes, I will avenge them. For such is my duty…and I love them.”
“It’s whom she is, Mother. She was chosen to be the Ender of Worlds for a reason. None of us can do it.” The words were spoken by the fivefold sisters that made up Nature’s Court. The five smiled at the Destroyer’s snort, speaking in their strange song. “Not even you, dear Destroyer. For all your love of destruction and change…we remember how you hesitated at seeing a universe come to its final end.”
All of the primal gods had gathered that day. Most were formless, much as the Mother was. Only Kari’Torath and the Sisters had taken shape this time. But all of them were there. The Maker and Mother. Nature’s Court in all her aspects. Death and the Destroyer. Even the Timekeeper and Weaver of Magic were there. But truly, the only two that actually needed to be there were Death and Kari’Torath herself. The others were mostly there for support, as they always were when it came time to end an entire universe.
“Unfair. I’m in charge of destruction, but not on that scale.” The Destroyer growled. Pausing, he waited a moment before asking. “How long, Time?”
“Minutes. The hourglass is almost empty.” Time’s sonorous voice echoed in their ears. “The last moments will soon be upon us.”
Though they spoke, Kari’Torath ignored them, watching what was happening. Only eight Sisters, including the High Priestess, yet stood. A few dozen more still held the last line around the Gate as it was closed. A few flights of dragons, about six hundred of Kari’Torath’s priesthood and knights, a bit over a thousand knights and priests of other types, and nigh unto twenty thousand civilians had made it through the Gate. And now she watched as more of her worshipers fell.
As Galaina stood alone at last, she watched as her injured High Priestess raise her swordstave to the sky, spinning it as she faced a dozen dark gods, and heard her prayer clear as day. “Though the Darkness falls upon me, my Light is not yet extinguished. My Queen of Swords, I pray that I might embody thy Light in my final moments!”
A single tear fell from Kari’Torath’s eye, a tear that fell into the very universe itself, and fell upon Galaina. The human priestess glowed with power that no mere god could match, and laughing, she threw herself into her foes. Her blades cut deep, shedding the blood and ichor of seven gods, leaving them laying on the ground before her. Even as she was pierced by lances of dark power, Galaina’s fierce defiance did not end. Only when they had slain her did that happen. And as they began to laugh and squabble over Galaina’s soul, Kari’Torath reached out and drew Dawnbringer from the void. With a single step, she stepped into Bastion, standing over Galaina’s fallen body.
“Her soul is not yours. For She is my bride, and I am Hers. Let my actions honor Her always, for Galaina is My Bride.” Kari’Torath’s voice echoed through the plane, and it trembled before her voice, Dawnbringer shedding light that destroyed all Darkness save the gods within the city. “I am Kari’Torath, Queen of Swords. The balance has been rent asunder, and I now take up my second title. I am the Ender of Worlds. Farewell.”
The gods had mere moments to realize what was happening. And then Dawnbringer cut through reality itself, destroying them and much of the plane with a single swing. Kari’Torath took up the soul of Galaina, cradling it within her with a tender smile, and then her eyes flickered with anger.
She had work to do.
48 Years Earlier
Anar gazed down in adoration at Barrin and Alissandra as the two meandered through the gardens. Barrin was handsome, with deep maroon skin, rippling muscles, and light crimson hair that was elaborately styled. She admired the way his fine silks clung to his body, then turned her eyes to his sister. She was very different, with skin a sky blue that was almost never seen among derran. Alissandra’s every feature was perfectly elegant, from the curve of her tail to the gentle points of her two small horns. Anar couldn’t decide which of the two she liked more.
Looking back to Barrin, she briefly imagined what it would be like to marry him…and suddenly it was as if all the knowledge in the world flooded her mind. Anar gasped, her knees buckling beneath her. If it hadn’t been for the railing around the balcony overlooking the garden she would have been on her knees. Almost none of the knowledge remained in her head, but what did was…enough to cause tears to well up in Anar’s eyes, as she began to weep.
She’d seen a possibility. She knew that with crystal clarity. If she married Barrin, they would live together. How long, she wasn’t certain. But the image that had stuck in her mind was the chamber in ruins, the body of a child no more than eight years old on the ground, cut in two. Her own corpse was pinned to the wall with a sword, a belly great with child cut open. And Barrin beheaded at the door, a sword fallen from his hand.
“Lady Anar? Are you alright?” Anar’s guard stepped up next to her, putting a gentle hand on her shoulder. Anar ignored it, instead looking at Alissandra, and imagining marrying her instead.
Another vision flashed into Anar’s mind. This one was of the two of them entwined in a bed, the discarded wedding dresses scattered about the ornate room. But blood stained the sheets, and each of the two were still as blood flowed from wounds and a shadowy figure left the room.
“Shall I ever find love?” Anar whispered softly. “Can I find love?”
“Of course you can! It might be a long and hard path, but anyone can find love, My Lady! What’s wrong?” He asked her, his voice concerned. But Anar’s mind faded as she focused on what he’d said, and another vision flashed through her mind.
In the vision she was perhaps twenty years older. She stood before three children, two girls and a boy that she instinctively knew were her own, each near the age she was now. She ‘heard’ her older self speak to them gently. “This path is no longer mine. This place is yours. My own path takes me elsewhere, to where I can find that which I dream of.”
And then the vision-self took off her crown and placed it on the head of the oldest girl, and gave her signet to the boy. Then she simply left, tears trailing down her face.
Anar snapped back to the present, looking down into the garden at Barrin and Alissandra. And as she did, she felt her heart breaking. And she bid the two young nobles that she loved equally goodbye in her heart, her back bowing slightly. But after a moment her back straightened with new determination. And she looked up at Phoro and smiled, her muscles trembling.
“Are you alright, My Lady? What happened?” Phoro asked in concern. He always took such good care of her, she knew. So she swallowed and told him.
“I saw what might be. And I have found my path.” Anar looked down into the garden again, and spoke softly. “It was not what I had hoped. But you are correct, Phoro. Anyone can find love, no matter how long the path. And I will not stop until I find it.”
He blinked in surprise. Then he followed after her as she turned and headed toward the library, leaving the two oblivious young nobles behind them both.