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Suggested by: +Chelsea the Napster
A Large Diamond
“In the Forest of Memory’s Blight,
Serenity dwells; there find her Light.”
Nerissa repeated the rhyme to herself as she coasted through the trees. Her movements made no noise, and her form cast no shadow—
The whole world lay in shadow.
It wasn’t always so. There was a time, long ago, when Serenity’s Light spread throughout the land. The moon and stars shone at night, but all Light originated in Serenity. Then one day, Serenity’s Light vanished. It simply did not rise, and no one could explain why this happened. The stars fell next, winking out one by one, and the moon began to shrink.
Then the people remembered the rhyme; then they organized quests and set missions to find the dwelling of Serenity in the inimitable forest at the edge of the known world, the space shrouded in myth and fable. Nerissa had no idea how long people had actually been searching, nor how many had made the trek before her. The moon that now hung in the black sky was nearly the size of a pinprick. This was the reason they had finally conceded to her repeated demands to send her on the doomed mission, the fool’s errand from which none had returned. It was the only reason anyone would be so desperate to venture into the Forgotten Forest in such dire circumstances. Either she succeeded, or every person perished in isolation, in fear—
At last, the tall pillars of the old Ruins rose before her. This was where reality ended, and legend began. Nerissa trod lightly over the ancient stones that had once been corridors and floors in some magnificent castle, reduced to inarticulate piles of rubble amid ancient spreading trees that cast their leaves over the spaces no longer enclosed against them.
Nerissa shivered and pulled her cloak closer. All of the warmth from the heavy cloth seemed to seep right out of her. She could not get warm. The chill made her bones ache, made her muscles stiff and weak. She should rest, she should sit, she should wait, she should stop—
“Argh!” Nerissa roared aloud in defiance at the shadowy doubt leaching her strength from her. The mind-numbing cold relented but a little, at least enough for her to move again. The remains of a fountain stood before her, with a craggy pedestal that might have been some ornate fixture at some point in its center. In that space of relief, a voice reached her.
"I have waited a long time for this moment."
Nerissa whirled to behold a tall, broad-shouldered man shrouded in a long robe. She had never seen this man before, but she knew of him. There was no mistaking the robe and everything it signified. "You!” She snarled, “You are the sorcerer who cursed our land."
A gloved hand waved carelessly. "I did what was necessary to get what I wanted. Many came before you, but they failed where you succeeded."
As he said the words, his voice seemed to carry with it a sense of exactly the number he meant by the term many. Nerissa could practically feel the press of nearly a hundred others around her. Why should she think that she would succeed where so many others had failed? She was but one voice in a crowd, one of the masses. "What happened to them?"
"Oh don't worry, it wasn't the attempt that killed them."
Nerissa stiffened. "You killed them," she murmured. And he is every bit as capable of taking her life right here and right now, and nobody would ever know—they would just keep sending innocent warriors to come and die at the sorcerer’s hand.
"Failure is not something I take lightly, you see."
She saw; even in the near-darkness, his hands exuded tendrils of shadow that were somehow much blacker than the darkness of the air.
"And what if I fail?" Which was of course inevitable; it wasn’t like she had actually found Serenity’s Light; she had failed in every objective.
"I will kill you too."
The man thrust his gloved hand directly at Nerissa. The dark leather seemed to melt and extend as the shadow rolled from his palm.
“Serenity, be my guide,” Nerissa prayed, and she darted out of the way.
As she scrambled among the ruins, dodging tendrils of darkness and evading capture, a small gleam caught her eye. The pedestal in the fountain had a flicker in it.
“You’ll never take me!” she yelled at her adversary.
The flickering light grew. A small thread of light—a very thin tendril—unfolded from the craggy rock, a brilliant streak in otherwise utter darkness. It unfurled and stretched until Nerissa put out her hand, and the tendril of light wrapped around her wrist—
Just as the shadow struck her in the side and sent her crashing to the ground.
Nerissa grunted, but the tendril of light around her wrist remained. Nerissa used it as a rope, to stagger back to her feet again. She whipped the taut stream of light across the shadow, relishing the ripping sound as the light sheared against the darkness.
“You will not defeat me!” Nerissa cried again, bringing more of the light out of the pedestal.
“You think I am fighting you?” the man laughed, throwing the black mass of shadow at her again. “You people are so committed to this phony quest that you don’t ever consider the fact that perhaps the ones you are fighting are your own selves.”
Nerissa sliced through the mass again—but this time, she noticed that splitting the darkness only spread it further. She wasn’t cutting away at her enemy; she was inadvertently expanding his reach. “No!” she shrieked, pulling at the thread. It grew thicker as she pulled and wrestled—but so did the shadow. The more she fought, the greater its hold on her.
“If the moon goes out tonight,” the sorcerer taunted, “please remember that the world has you to thank… Hero.”
Nerissa still clung to a light no bigger than a wire. She collapsed to her knees, panting heavily. She had no strength for pulling anymore.
I failed… I failed…
But you still believe.
But I failed. I cannot defeat him.
But he is not invincible.
But he is stronger than I am.
But he is only as strong as you allow him to be.
But the darkness keeps growing.
But you hold Serenity’s Light.
Nerissa looked at the thread on her hand. Serenity’s Light! It was right here! She found it! The more she stared at the thin strand, the more its vivid brilliance seemed to drain all substance from the darkness around it. Nerissa stopped pulling, and the strand became a stream, which blossomed into a river, and then a cascade—the fountain flowed, not with water but with Light! Nerissa rose to her feet as the pedestal burst open in a blinding flash, and a warmth such as she had never known enveloped her. Nerissa closed her eyes and basked in the sensation. When she opened her eyes, she was dressed in resplendent silver armor, and held a shining sword in her hand. A large diamond, glowing with its own Light, hung like a pendant around her neck.
By the light of Serenity and the glowing armor, Nerissa could see the sorcerer’s true form: he was but a small man, withered and wizened under his cloak. He still managed to sneer at her, even though his shadows had been stripped from him.
“I suppose you think you’re going to fight me now?” He jeered, toying with wisps of shadow between his fingers as his eyes glinted dangerously.
Nerissa smiled at him. Serenity flowed through her, enveloped her, permeated every part of her.
“I don’t need to fight you,” she said softly. “I’ve already won.”
Previously in This Series: