When the World Falls to Darkness

A kingdom at war, a web of truth and lies, a vicious game of friendship and betrayal, and a world that will kill you, whatever path you take.
When the World Falls to Darkness, nobody is safe.
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Beautiful cover by River_Summers! <3

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2. Avalon

Four days later, and he was back in the elven kingdom again.

It was a pleasant realm. In general, the people didn't ask questions where questions weren't necessary, meaning that Lukas didn't have to try so desperately hard to hide everything about himself from their entire race, and the settlements were pleasant. Buildings crafted into nature, such as the houses built into trees, suited him better than the lodgings of humans or dwarves.

He didn't really know why he'd come back to visit the elves. Their kingdom had been ripped apart by war - the elven race was the only one torn between alliances, with many of them siding with the humans and the dwarves while the stragglers sided with the angels. It was by far the most dangerous kingdom - but there had been an unwillingness in him to continue through dwarven terrain for some reason. Perhaps it was simply the matter of privacy. Seclusion, after all, suited him best.

Taking a seat alone, Lukas glanced around the tavern. It was calmer than the place from the dwarven village; that much was easy to say.

That was, until she burst through the door.

The girl looked fifteen, or somewhere around that margin. Her hair flowed from her head in jet black waves, contrasting her pale, almost cadaverous face. Lukas nearly choked on his drink as he saw the wings folded neatly at her back.

Angel. The girl was an angel.

They were midnight blue, the colour of the darkest and most mysterious night, with long and elegant feathers alike those of a phoenix.

Apparently this wasn't a usual occurrence, judging by the surplus of elves staring at the girl from the fourth realm... The kingdom that was home to the race of angels, the only race in this war with the ability to fly.

And yet Lukas didn't find himself staring at her wings; the feature of most interest was her eyes.

They seemed constantly dancing, exuberant with energy and life, and with a hue that reminded Lukas of nothing but the moon and stars.

An elf entered behind her, of similar age but lesser interest. It seemed as though the entirety of the tavern were still staring at the angel.

"Who's in charge of the military here?" she demanded, her voice strong and clear. "I was told I could find the Captain here."

One of the elves spoke up, his brown hair falling across his left eye as he raised his head to look at the girl.

"Why does it matter to you?"

"Dwarves. You have three hours at most. Get the alarms sounded and your military ready. I presume you know what to do in situations such as these?"

His face paled and he stood quickly.

"Dwarves?" he uttered. "How can I trust you?"

The angel girl laughed. "Trust me and live, or ignore me and die. Your choice. Tell me where you want us to fight."

The man swallowed down fear and nodded, turning to one of the men who had been drinking beside him. "Raise the alarm. Get the men gathered in the armoury." He pointed to Lukas. "Traveller, you'll fight beside us if you don't want them to kill you, too. You carry weapons, do you not?"

Before Lukas could answer, the man continued. "Come with me. That goes for you two, as well."

The angel girl glanced his way before sweeping out of the tavern and following the man with confident steps. Her elven companion followed her, and Lukas stood. He was all too aware that there was no other choice. To run now would bring suspicion, and besides, the dwarves would be likely to send out search parties to kill survivors of the onslaught.

Lukas couldn't survive that without revealing his secret, and to do that would be to condemn himself to a life of torture. He'd been tortured before.

And he chose death over that fate.

He opened up the pack, taking a few concealed weapons from within and following them swiftly, pushing through the crowd of elves as they raced to fulfil their duties. Quickly spotting the angel girl and the two elves outside, he followed them deeper into the village, finally catching up.

"What should we call you by?" the angel girl asked the elf. The vociferous ringing of the alarm bell echoed through Lukas's ears.

"Captain Shou," came the curt reply. "How many dwarves?"

"Two hundred?" the angel girl guessed. "Something like that. How many fighting elves?"

The Captain's face went white. "A few short of seventy. How are we going to...?"

Lukas could see the tears in his eyes. It was never easy to see everything fall apart. Two hundred military-trained dwarves against seventy elves? Survival wasn't likely.

"How are we going to what?" the angel girl asked. "Get your archers together, the ones who are quiet. They won't expect surprise attacks on their party before they even reach you, will they? And get those who can set traps to get them up before the dwarves even get here. If you have any acid that will hurt dwarves, I'll fly over and pour it on them while the archers are shooting. Quality before quantity, don't they say?"

Lukas looked at the girl with renowned respect. The Captain was apparently thinking of similar opinion.

"It could work..." the Captain agreed, a spark of hope igniting in his eyes. The angel girl's lips raised with the hint of a smile, an expression Lukas found rather bizarre in the current situation.

"It will," she corrected him, then turned her head to Lukas. "Is there anything else you think could work? Poisons? Delay tactics?"

Lukas thought for a moment. "If they were to fight among themselves..."

"Ragesap," the angel grinned, her eyes lighting up. "Good idea. Captain, would any fury herbs happen to grow here? Or silverleaf trees?"

Once again, the Captain nodded.

"Get some of the villagers to mix the silverleaf sap with the fury herbs. Add a little water and tip the arrows with it. Then we can shoot some of them and they'll be poisoned into turning on their own," the girl's friend spoke up, for what Lukas realised was the first time. His voice wasn't so much as tinted with urgency; his tone was instead calm and soothing.

They reached a large tree in the village square, hollowed out in the elven fashion and complete with a door at the base. Presumably, the armoury. They hurried into the surprisingly large interior, and the Captain made his way to a platform on a higher floor, barking orders as he went. Several elves rushed off to gather groups of villagers to set the traps and create the ragesap. A messenger was sent to the nearest village - a two day's ride away - to warn them of the dwarves.

"Elves!" Captain Shou called out. The grim-faced villagers looked up. "There are two hundred dwarves less than three hours away from here."

A terrified silence befell the hall, and Lukas could feel the terror radiating from the people below him. He'd seen it before - the fear that everything you know will be taken.

"However," the Captain continued. "As we speak, traps are being prepared and ragesap created to use against the dwarves. A raiding party will cut down the numbers and retreat before casualties can be caused. We can win, today!" Captain Shou spoke, his eyes steely with determination. "Hunters, get ready for a surprise attack. I will take the lead. Anybody else will help ready the traps and any other final defences! Hunters, meet me outside in ten minutes!"

The angel girl inclined her head in appreciation at the Captain's speech, her moonlight eyes dancing brightly with confidence.

"What should we do, Captain?" Lukas asked nervously. Despite the girl's obvious belief in the plan, he wasn't quite so easily reassured.

"Can you shoot?"

Lukas nodded.

"Then go with the hunters. You three, stick together. The hunters are accustomed to working with each other; to add another member to their teams would only hinder them. You," he added, indicating to the angel, "Stay in the air and help people who need you the most. When you're not helping others, stay with your squad. Understood?"

Lukas glanced apprehensively at the two companions. The angel offered a smile of welcome, while her male companion gave a nod of acceptance.

"Understood," Lukas replied somewhat grudgingly, as the Captain moved off to find his own armour and weapons. The angel and the elf inspected him, and he shifted uncomfortably under their gaze.

"Avalon," the girl introduced herself, outstretching a hand of greeting. Lukas took it uneasily. "And this is Ryuu."

Her friend did not offer his hand; a decision for which Lukas was grateful.

"Louki," he lied easily, the word slipping from his tongue almost without thought. Lukas wondered briefly if it should feel so natural to lie. Long since had the ability to evade the truth become a part of him.

Avalon - the angel - nodded, grinning outlandishly. "Well then, Louki, let's go."

 

 

The group of elves stood in a nervous cluster outside the armoury. Captain Shou emerged from the building, talking urgently with one of his hunters. He glanced over to Avalon.

"Girl, can you scout ahead and inform me of anything you see fit? March formation, mounts, their distance. Anything you can."

Avalon opened up her wings, and Lukas couldn't help but stare as the feathered limbs unfurled, spreading with a glorious beauty.

"Very well," she nodded. Then, to her friend - Ryuu, Lukas remembered - "Meet you there."

She beat her wings in one huge, powerful sweep that boosted her high into the air, her black hair streaming out behind her as she flew. Angels were a peculiar race. Peculiar, Lukas thought as he watched her go, but fascinating all the same. Their wings shouldn't be strong enough to lift them, despite the wingspan being at least twice their height. But they could still fly.

Sometimes, he wondered if it was ancient magic woven into their veins.

"We'll head out into the forest and the angel will report back while we travel towards the dwarves. Nobody get further ahead of my group or their group," Captain Shou ordered, 'their group' meaning Lukas and Ryuu.

The Captain approached Ryuu. "You know where they were. Don't let us get too far ahead, else we'll be killed on the spot."

Lukas's comrade nodded, and the Captain swung himself onto his horse. Lukas wearily eyed the animal he himself had been provided - a restless bay mare. He climbed into the saddle, soothing the animal as best as he could. Taking the reins, Lukas sensed the horse calm somewhat, though it was still uneasy with the unfamiliar rider.

Ryuu mounted his own horse effortlessly, waiting for Lukas to gain control of his steed before clicking his tongue and spurring his stallion forwards. The mare was quick to detect the commands of her rider as Lukas sent her after Ryuu's horse, hooves striking the ground as they increased the gait of the horses. And still, Lukas knew that no horse could catch Avalon. Angels were faster than any of the horses in the elven stables; her wings saw to that. She would fly above the trees where she had room to soar without the danger of catching her wing on overhanging branches, and descend when she reached the dwarves.

Lukas only knew because he, himself, had flown with angels before. If he survived this fight - a quite possible outcome - he would be likely to do so again.

They thundered through the trees in groups of mostly four or five, all of them bands of elves who had grown up learning to hunt together. Who knew every strength and weakness of every other elf on their team.

Lukas, meanwhile, was stuck with Ryuu - an elf he'd never met before.

The elf looked no older than sixteen; Lukas would place his bet on fifteen, and he was usually a good judge of age and character. He'd been blessed with fine, golden brown hair that gave him an almost regal look - until you looked into his tawny eyes. Kings looked down on people. But, if the tranquillity and softness in Ryuu's was anything to go by, then his personality was anything but that of a thoughtless, uncaring royal. Judging from the recurve bow in the harness of Ryuu's saddle, the elf boy could shoot too. That, and most likely fight with the katana on his back.

"Louki, can you fight up close?" Ryuu's voice came, quiet but insistent. Lukas nodded.

"Yes. I can."

Ryuu gave a sharp nod of acknowledgement. "Good."

In another world, the two could be friends. Neither seemed to use many words to express their choices. Neither seemed particularly social. 

But to make a friend would be to entrust everything to somebody else - a risk he couldn't take. Lukas had seen how quickly friends could turn. Even kind friends. Kind friends like Ryuu.

He was torn from his thoughts as Ryuu pulled his stallion to a halt, holding up a hand to show him to stop, as well. Lukas tugged sharply on the reins, and the mare's head jerked back as she slowed.

Avalon burst through the leaves above them, her wings casting a shadow over them as she half-crashed, half-landed on the floor before them. Picking herself up, she took a deep breath, her chest rising and falling sharply as she gasped for air. Instantly, Ryuu was off the horse and beside her, steadying her arm as the Captain rode up.

"You have a report?"

She took a deep breath, nodding.

"They're stopping for the night. I think they're trying to give themselves a rest before they fight us, which gives us longer to prepare. We could raid them tonight," Avalon panted. "As for formation, they seemed to have none. They seem too cocky to correctly prepare themselves."

"Raid them tonight?" one of the elves spat in protest. "What honour is there in raiding a sleeping camp?"

Avalon struggled to find the breath to answer, but Lukas decided to speak for her. It would be the first time in a while that he'd spoken out of choice rather than necessity.

"What honour is there in raiding a village filled with women and children?"

The elf looked up, opening his mouth to argue.

"There is no honour in this world," Ryuu growled. "There is no fair way to do things, no rules other than that of survival. If you want to live, to protect what you hold dear, then you simply do whatever you must. Or tell me, would you prefer they destroy your village?"

There was no answer, and Ryuu turned his attention back to his friend. "You must have been flying faster than usual," he said softly. "So there must be something else."

She nodded, her sides heaving. "Yes. There didn't seem so many this time."

The Captain raised an eyebrow. "And you're sure? Or were you just panicking earlier?"

"She doesn't panic," Ryuu replied sharply. "Though we didn't get a good look at them. You sure there are less this time?"

Avalon shook her head. "Don't know. Maybe we were just being overcautious earlier, and misjudged their numbers."

"Tell me: how many are there? Roughly?"

"Hundred and fifty, maybe," she replied. "Didn't want to stay and count while they're all moving about setting up a camp."

Captain Shou nodded, and turned to his men. "Hunters, we will attack at nightfall and retreat as soon as the dwarves start emerging to fight back. These are our forests; we know them better than any dwarf and we shall use this. It gives us more time to set traps tomorrow and tonight; our raiding party will be more successful in the dark when they are sleeping. If they do not have decent guards, then that is their own fault, not ours. We shoot any dwarf that moves, we do not hold back. When we fall back, evade the main path, where the traps are set, and travel in your groups to avoid leaving a single trail. Each group will take a different route back. We'll take a break here and wait while the darkness comes."

Shou appointed men to watch out, a messenger to return to the village and relay the latest news and lastly explained the routes each group would take. Lukas listened intently to their instructions.

"Run along the stream until you reach the glade, then you should see the fallen tree. Go the direction the roots face, and you should find yourselves back at the village," Captain Shou instructed. He furrowed his brow, as though pondering over an irritating thought. Finally, he sighed, adding, "I'm trusting you three. Most newcomers would be left at the village, but something tells me that you won't ever endanger us. Your confidence is... inspiring," he said. Lukas was under the impression that Captain Shou's words were aimed mostly at Avalon.

The Captain stood and left, and Avalon smiled at Lukas.

Right before she flicked her right hand out from behind her back and lunged forwards, knife in hand.

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