All Hallows' Eve 2015
After your time spent at the Mystic Glade, you returned to Silverport to rest and prepare for your Journey back to the Flickering Vales. You had not visited the eerie place since about two years now, a place where you first sealed away a torn vale and placated a candy-hungry Ancient of all things.
After many packed boxed lunches from Sorren, and some pirate advice from Willy that you are certain does not apply to this situation at all but are still thankful for the thought anyways, you head out to the other side of the continent. The Flickering Vales await once more…
After much uneventful traveling, you finally reach your destination.
The Flickering Vales and its rolling hills spread before you as Eldemore’s dual moons cast their glow upon the trees. Thick woodlands cluster together just beyond as you approach the stone dial that had once been used to help you seal a torn vale, now silent and cold to the touch.
The Ancient child, Dolos, had lead you as far as he could before having to turn back. The surrounding area struck fear into the hearts of those that lingered, and you could not help but feel a sudden sense of dread clutch at your own chest the further you traveled, deeper into the Vales.
Seraphina had said that there was trouble afoot here, which she requested that you personally look into. A friend of the fortune teller was apparently in grave danger, but as to who, what or where, you did not yet have the answers.
All you knew was that this place was far too quiet for your liking. No life stirred, not even the wind. The air was stale, stagnant, still…
You notice something in the distance at the edge of the thick woods. A pale, blue light seems to be eminating from within, while spirit orbs of fire bob and gather in numbers near its entrance.
You knew the tales of those who followed the spirit wisps of the Flickering Vales, your many homework assignments with Sorren taught you their meanings and mysteries. However, you still could not help but feel drawn to them, and before you knew it, your feet began to take you in their direction.
Suddenly, a bright flash of white fills your vision!
You recoil briefly, rubbing your eyes as they tear at the unexpected flash…only to reveal what appears to be a young girl just a few feet ahead.
You call out to her, surprised that someone else besides you is out here as you blink your vision into focus, only to then see her disappear into the forest where the eerie glow was emanating from.
-Sealer: Wait, come back! It’s not safe to be out here alone!
You call out the very words which apply to you as well, but do not heed your own advice as you run after the fleeting figure deep into the woods.
You march blindly after the child-like apparition, your vision catching only faint glimpses of her form as she seems to flicker in and out between the thickly grown pine trees. Blue wisps gather eagerly around you as they whisk by, leading you further in and making sure you do not stray from their flame-lit path.
Without warning the pines suddenly disperse, leaving you out of breath within a cleared grove, save for one dead tree standing ominously defiant within its center. The little wisps that followed you here whistle past giddily, coming to a still as they dance and weave around the gnarled branches and curving roots of the dead tree.
You start to feel an instinctual shiver rush past your spine as you gaze upon that lone, dead tree. It stood like a monument, filled with foreboding, and also…sadness? You can’t explain why, but you feel such an overwhelming emotion of sorrow, one racked with pain, loss, and a terrible wickedness.
-???: You shouldn’t be here. It’s not safe!
You freeze. A brush of cold air pricks at your skin as you feel your hair stand on end, and your eyes grow wide with what was now before you. You had only blinked for but a moment, but as soon as you opened your eyes, the face of the young girl from before was staring at you, mere centimeters away, as she ushered her warning once more.
-Ghost: Didn't you hear me? It's not safe! You must turn back…you must. B-before it's too late for you to leave.
Your feet are rooted into place as you shake slightly. Your mind is telling you to run, but your body adamantly refuses to listen. Your voice cracks as you struggle for words. -Sealer: Y-you're a...ghost.
Alright, well, at least you were able to make that statement clearly. Good job, you. You had never seen a spirit before. Of course, you knew of the tales that spoke of such things being commonplace in the Flickering Vales, but to actually see one? To have the lost soul speak to you?
Spirits rarely spoke with the living like this, it usually took too much energy for them to do so, but here you both were talking normally to one another.
However, you were quickly distracted from your revelry when the ground began to shake. You both look fearfully around, wondering where on earth the shaking was coming from. Then, you notice the trees surrounding the clearing begin to twist their branches and roots to within one another. They were closing off escape, creating an impenetrable wall of solid bark and pine, all while a mournful groan echoed all around you.
-Ghost: He knows you’re here!
The ghost child looked terrified, reflecting your own fears and features, as you rush to try and push past the edges of the grove. You try to beat and tear furiously at the entangled branches and trunks, but it was as if the trees literally moved to fuse as one magically. They effectively barred your path, sealing you within the dead grove as the low rumble from before slowly echoed away.
-Ghost: I told you to turn back. I tried to warn you...
-Ghost: Now you're trapped here with me. I'm—I'm so sorry...I didn't want this to happen. Not again.
-Sealer: What’s going on here? What’s happening?!
-Ghost: I’m so sorry. I didn’t want this to happen, I promise! I wanted you to leave. I tried to, um, scare you away…but it didn’t work. I was never very good at scaring others.
-Sealer: But, you’re a ghost! How are you even speaking to me right now? (And I thought she did a pretty good job at scaring me…)
-Ghost: Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t introduce myself. My name’s Rowena, but my friends always used to call me Rue. I didn’t want to frighten you, but if you stayed, you would have been trapped in the Haunted Grove like all the others…
-Sealer: The others? I don’t see anyone else around here.
-Rue:…they are not here anymore. Everyone fades away after a while.
-Sealer: Oh…well that’s not good. Seraphina sent me here to investigate the magic disappearing from this place so, I really need to get out—
-Rue: Y-You know Grami Seri!? Are you the one Dolos went to find? This is great! You can help then! That’s what you do…right? You’re the Sealer. You, um, seal things?
-Sealer: Actually, I’m pretty good at unsealing things, but yep—that’s me! Or at least, what everyone calls me. Look, Rue, I came here to help, and that is what I plan to do. I know we just met, but if you can help me figure out what all is happening here, maybe we can both fix this mess together. What do you say?
Rue looks to you with wide eyes that are full of fear and uncertainty. She seems to want to help you, but it is as if she is terrified of some unknown enemy in the distance that was keeping her hesitant from doing so.
You look to her with both thoughtfulness and desperation. You had no idea what was happening here, but the young ghost child clearly knew something you did not. You needed her help, you did not want to end up like the others trapped here, and though you try not to look, you can’t help but notice that the entire grove seems to be covered with old mounds of dead grass and pale sticks here and there.
After a long, silent pause, the ghost child closes her eyes, only to open them with determination.
-Rue: I-I’m going to help you. No matter what. If Grami Seri and Dolos trust you, then I should too!
You can’t help but smile at this. Rue sounded terrified, despite her resounding offer to help, but she seemed to push through whatever was frightening her and finally beamed back at you with a genuine smile. One that almost made you forget she was a spirit for a moment as you gave her a thankful nod.
-Rue: I think we will need a lot of the wisps help too, though. They carry fragments of memories from the past…memories that belong to him...maybe if we gather enough they can help you escape.
-Rue: There is a little crow here with blue eyes that will aid you in collecting them. He said his name is Muzu, and he is here to help you too! He’s so adorable! He’s been keeping me company and playing lots of "rolling" games with me before you came, hehe.
-Rue: He also said something about you really, really, really liking to hoard pets? U-um, if you want, I can show you some of my creature friends too when you gather enough wisps for me! They are super-duper sweet! I’m sure you’d love them. Oh…and maybe…if you want to that is…you can come talk to me when you have the time? I promise I won’t scare you again, hehe~
Muzu! Man, you’ve never been so glad to see the blue eyed crow in this dreary place as he flaps over to you and lands squarely on your head...only to then proceed to roll in your hair happily as you laugh at his odd way of greeting you. The quirky crow then untangles a small note wrapped neatly to his leg, before daintily placing it in your open palm with a small ‘Kee!’ sound of approval. You read the letter as another warm smile alights your weary features, the elegant handwriting from your mentor, Sorren, fills you with hope.
"Remember that you are never alone, even in the darkest of places." ~Love, Sorren & Willy
It is rare to read such words coming from the strict mentor, but you can’t help but give Muzu a little hug as the crow returns the gesture with a birdy-kiss on the cheek. You hope that you can give Rue the same kind of encouragement as well, as you now feel more determined than ever to solve the haunted grove mystery.
- Hey there, Rue! I wanted to ask you how you knew the Trickster Ancient, Dolos? After all, it’s not every day you meet a smiling fox dragon.
-Rue: Dolos and I are longtime friends! He’s always playing with the spirits here -- um, well, the good ones anyways.
-Rue: He keeps me company since I’m alone here, and it’s nice to have him around to talk to. Often we play hide-n-seek around the Flickering Vales, hehe, but I usually win~
-Rue: I hope he’s okay, though. He tried to stay to protect me but…he was forced away by all the bad magic here. The people in the dark hoods, the boogeymen, they didn’t want the Trickster Ancient to get in their way. They do terrible things…they hurt my friends…I just want them to leave.
- You mentioned something about hooded figures? The boogeymen? I didn’t see anyone like that when I came to the Flickering Vales. Do you know what they are doing here?
-Rue: T-they don’t have any magic of their own. They are empty inside, so, they take it from the creatures and world around them to try and make themselves full.
-Rue: They want to hurt this place. That’s why he’s so upset…that’s why you’re trapped here. It’s what they want, Sealer. They’ll hurt him so he hurts you! Just like before…j-just like the rest!
-Sealer: Rue, it’s alright. Don’t worry, you don’t have to remember right now if it’s too painful. I think whoever these boogeymen are, whatever they are, is important to all of this. But, I’m not going to force you to say anything you don’t want to, okay? We’ll take it easy with the questions for now.
-Rue: O-okay…thank you, Sealer. I’m sorry…I’ll try to do better, I promise.
- So I see you’ve become fast friends with Muzu! He’s a really sweet crow that has been there for me through thick and thin so far. How long have you two known each other? Did he try to roll in anything before I arrived? He does that a lot you know, we don’t know why, but it’s like his birdy-thing or something...
-Rue: Oh yes, Muzu is a very polite and friendly Mr. Crow! He's only been here for about a week or so, but he carries a part of another person's soul with him, named Sorren. They are both really kind to me, and Muzu tells the funniest jokes, too! Hehe~
-Sealer: Wha--Wait, Muzu actually talks to you? How do you know my mentor, Sorren? He talks to you, too? Why has nobody told me this?!
-Rue: Oh, um, well I can usually talk just fine to creatures and spirits. Even when I was really little, it was easy to do, but I think I was the only one who could really do that. A lot of people used to be afraid of me because of it, so I usually kept it a secret. Um...you don't think I'm weird do you?
-Sealer: What? No, that's awesome! I wish I could talk to creatures and spirits. That seems like a really cool talent to have there, Rue. I was just surprised that Muzu and Sorren were both speaking to you is all. Of course Sorren wouldn't tell me this, why would he?! Then again, I'm not really surprised, but still, it's the principal of the matter.
-Rue: Hehe, Sorren said you might say that. He talks a lot about you, Sealer—about all the good you do and how hard you work to help others. He said I'd be safe with you around...he also said to remind you to not forget to focus? Um, so don't forget to focus! Okay? Did I say it right?
-Sealer: Yeah...that sounds about right. Just like him! I can just hear the dead pan seriousness of his voice right now...mocking me as I—ooh, hey there's another wisp~
- You mentioned before that you have the ability to speak to both creatures and spirits. Did you always have this ability? Were you born with it? I’m curious since I’ve never heard mention of such a talent before.
-Rue: Oh, well, I've always been able to talk and listen to both spirits and creatures ever since I can remember. I don't think it's a common thing, though. Grammi Seri said that it was something humans could do a really long time ago I think, but not anymore. She said not to tell anyone if I could help it, but I at least had my older sister, Ama, who could do it too. She was my best friend...I really miss her...
-Sealer: Who's Ama?
-Rue: It was hard to say her name when I was really little, so I always just called her Ama. Grammi Seri looked after us both when our parents passed away during all the fighting...
-Sealer: Hold on, THE Amalthea? Like in the stories? The one who first founded Alabaster City and led humanity's first kingdom to be established, the first human to create a magical bond with a creature of Eld – that Amalthea?
-Rue: U-um, I don't know anything about a place called Alabaster, but...I know Ama created a bond with a little rune dragon we became friends with in the forest. Everyone seemed to think it was a really big deal. Everyone around us was really surprised when she told them about how she listened to the magic and let it flow through her. Ama was always really talented when it came to listening and using magic.
-Sealer: Rue…that was centuries ago. How old are you?
-Rue: Centuries? But...but I'm only nine? It's only been a few weeks at most...
-Rue: ...hasn't it?
-Sealer: Hey, how about we go get Muzu and chase down some wisps! Let’s leave the questions for later, alright?
- Hey Rue, do you know what is up with that dead tree over there? I noticed it's the only thing standing here in this grove. It's almost as if the rest of the surrounding forest is avoiding it...
-Rue: The tree...it used to be really pretty. I remember that the whole grove was alive with moonlight and lunar lilies. I came here all the time with my older sister, Amalthea. Hehe, we would pick the lilies and make crowns out of them so we could be like the two Ancient moon princesses from the stories Grammi Seri told! It was also where I first met my best friend...
-Rue: He loved this place, too.
-Sealer: I've noticed that you've been referring to this best friend of yours as ‘he’ and ‘him’ quite a bit. Who is ‘he’ exactly, if you don’t mind me asking?
-Rue: Animus. His name was…Animus.
You are startled suddenly as the ground beneath your feet begins to shake with a low, ominous rumble, after which the grove around you falls eerily silent. It was as if a great beast lie beneath the dead earth and parched grass, stirring at the mention of such an old name, calling forth unwanted memories, before it finally went back to its uneasy slumber. You can't help but give a small sigh of relief at the tension you just felt.
-Rue: You have to be careful, Sealer. Don't wake him too soon or you won't be able to leave this place. He didn't used to be this way. The boogeymen made him empty and turned him hollow...they took away what made him whole so that they could be full. They broke him, made him cry out in pain—forced him to do terrible things...and then, they made him quiet and sealed him away within the tree. He can't leave. Neither of us can leave. That's why...I hope you'll be able to help him in the end...even though he no longer remembers me...
- -Rue: "Um...Sealer? Can I ask you something?"
-Sealer: Sure thing, Rue. What's on your mind?
-Rue: ...H-how long has it been...since the fighting with Sully started? You said before it had been centuries, but...it's only been a few weeks since I came here. Hasn't it?
-Sealer: Rue...are you sure you want to talk about this?
-Rue: Please. Please tell me...it's only been a few months then? A year? It can't be longer than that! It just can't be...
-Sealer: Oh Rue, it's been hundreds of years since the Oblivion wars took place and ended. I know you said you are just nine, but...that all happened a really, really long time ago...
-Rue: But, b-but...t-that means that…Ama...
-Sealer: Rue...I'm very sorry.
-Rue: A-ama...I'll n-never get to say goodbye to Ama! I-I'll never get to say...t-that I miss her and—that I'm sorry...I'm sorry, Ama...I'm so sorry...I-I'm sorry...Ama...
- Rue...are you feeling any better tonight? I noticed you disappeared for a while there. I understand it must be hard to find out that it's been so long since you've been stuck here.
-Rue: No, it's alright...I think that perhaps maybe a part of me already knew. I just...was really scared of the truth. I'm sorry that I left you alone...I promise I won't do that again.
-Sealer: No worries, Rue. I certainly understand, and hey, I had lots of your creature friends to keep me company, so they made sure that I was busy! I was just worried about you is all.
-Rue: Hehe, I’m glad that you like my friends! Muzu and Sorren made sure to keep me company last night. They said that Alabaster City is a really pretty place and that there is a beautiful statue of Ama and her rune dragon there.
-Rue: Um...I was wondering, if you're not too busy that is, maybe you could take me there soon? Even if Ama is not actually there, even though I know she's gone, I'd still like to say goodbye to her...one last time.
-Sealer: Sure, I think that sounds like a great idea. Once we get out of this creepy grove, maybe we can get Sorren and Muzu to tag along so they can show you the aviary there! You'll love all of Muzu's crow buddies -- oh! Then we should totally visit Silverport and see Captain Willy at his and Sorren's place!
-Sealer: I can show you the festival of lights there, then we can eat sea salt taffy by the seashore, maybe we can even team up against Azara—it'll be awesome!
-Rue: Sealer...thank you.
- I've been curious about your friend, Animus, ever since you mentioned him. If you don't mind, do you think you could tell me a bit more about this mysterious friend of yours? Maybe how you two met or what he was like before you guys got stuck here?
-Rue: Animus and I met here in the grove. It didn't use to look like this...the tree was really pretty and big, and also full of flowers that only bloomed when both moons were full. Ama and I used to climb it all the time! It was a lot of fun and I liked climbing to the top so I could see all across the Flickering Vales. It was very high up, but...I...
-Sealer: Something wrong, Rue?
-Rue: Oh, no it's nothing. I met Animus here when I was really sad one night. I liked to visit the tree in this grove whenever I was upset. Something about it always made me really glad, and apparently Animus liked to do the same! He said that he saw me come here often and wanted to know why, so we talked a lot and got to know one another. After that, we became best friends! I’d come and visit him here whenever I could. He had so many stories to tell, and a lot of them had really happy endings.
-Rue: I think he was really iffy on humans at first, though—he said I helped change his mind about us. Hehe, that always made me really happy to hear.
-Sealer: He sounds like he really took the time to get to know you, Rue — but wait...he was iffy on humans? I thought Animus was a human?
-Rue: Nope! Animus keeps everyone's memories safe. He said he was the Guardian of Memories — someone who helped us to remember what we lost or forget...
-Rue: ...but now, since he is broken...he can no longer look after our memories. He's no longer a guardian...he doesn't even remember me...
- -Rue: "Sealer? You don't look very good..."
-Sealer: Ugh, sorry Rue. Woke up feeling less lively than usual. Feeling pretty sapped of energy today.
-Rue: Sealer...we need to hurry. If we don't, you won't leave this place like the rest!
-Sealer: Don't worry, Rue. I just need to get more sleep is all.
-Rue: No! This happens to everyone when they are trapped here for too long. Both human and creatures...they all start to get really tired after a while. All they want to do is rest, but the tree and the bad magic from the boogeymen are making you empty.
-Rue: This place...it slowly steals away what makes you whole... it wants to turn you hollow so that they can continue to be full.
-Rue: Sealer, don't sleep anymore okay? Whatever you do, you can't close your eyes no matter how much you want to! If you do...you might not wake up...t-then—the tree...
-Rue: It will take you away and drag you into the ground with its roots so that it can be full. I don't want to see that happen anymore! I-I don't want to see that happen to you!
-Sealer: ...Okay, I think you just scared the baubles out of me ‘cause now I'm really freaked! No sleep for Sealer—got it! Don't want to turn into evil tree food. I don't think I can sleep after that horrifying mental image anyways...ugh, this place just keeps getting creepier by the day.
- -Sealer: "So do you know how these wisps will help in all this? There are so many here in the grove...I just wonder since wisps are usually known to be mischievous little things that like to lead people to their doom and all."
-Rue: Animus once told me that wisps just like to play. I don't think they mean to lead people to bad places. In fact, they usually lead those that get lost in the Flickering Vales back out to main paths or near one of the villages close by. All they really want to do is collect lost memories from people who forget or have been forgotten themselves.
-Rue: He said they always helped him to gather lost or broken memories before bringing them back for him to fix. They are kind of like his little helpers! I thought, um, that maybe they could help us now is all...especially since Animus no longer remembers anything himself.
-Sealer: Little memory helpers...I don't know why but that sounds adorable! Despite the fact that they've been taunting me and playing 'tag' the whole time, I think these little guys are starting to grow on me. Any idea why some of them are different colors than others?
-Rue: Animus told me that their colors are based on the memory they carry within them. Some carry a sad memory while others carry really angry or happy ones. If you catch a wisp, you have to be careful to not let its flame go out, though. If a wisp dies, the memory they hold also disappears...that always made me really sad to hear. It's awful to lose a memory...even if it may be an unhappy one. So please promise to be gentle with them, okay?
-Sealer: Don't worry, I promise to be extra careful with Animus’ little helpers. Although, they make it pretty difficult to catch them in the first place, the little buggers. Hopefully they’ll be willing to help us and Animus in the end.
- Uh, Rue? Is it just my severely sleep deprived self, or is this grove getting a lot smaller to you?
-Rue: No...no, no, no...
-Rue: He's starting to wake up, Sealer. Animus and the boogeymen know you're here now. It's happening just like it did before! So many people...so many creatures...they all got trapped here the same way over and over. They were all scared. I-I couldn't do anything to help them! I tried! B-but...no one could hear me...
-Sealer: What? Wait...but you talk to me just fine. Do you mean that the people who were trapped here before never saw you?
-Rue: No, you're the first one that I can remember who has been able to see and speak to me. Sometimes, if I have enough energy, I can try and scare people away like I tried to do with you when you first came...but then, most times I can't do anything but watch...
-Rue: Oh...but that means you can see and talk to spirits like me! I thought only me and Ama could do that, but I guess it has been a long time since then. Maybe there are more humans who can do it now too?
-Sealer: I don't know. You're the first ghost I've ever seen or spoken to really, and I can't recall reading about it anywhere. Not even my mentors have ever brought it up so it may still be an uncommon thing among humans.
-Sealer: If I get out of here, I'd love to look into it more...
-Sealer: Any idea how much time I have left? What happens when the grove gets too small?
-Rue: The grove shrinks and shrinks until you are forced to be close to the tree. That way it's easier, you're closer to the roots when the boogeymen force Animus to wake up fully. You don't have much time left now...
-Sealer: Oh. Right. That thing where the roots drag you into the ground to your doom. Yeah, um, I'd really like to avoid that if we can? Especially since I'm running on fumes here.
- Rue...I don't know what to say after all that. How are you doing?
-Rue: Sealer…I’m…really sad. Animus suffered so much. We used to be connected, but now, he’s gone and I’m still here. I feel so empty on the inside, but…I also feel like I’m free too?
-Rue: I'm...I'm just happy he can finally rest and be at peace...and that he remembered me in the end. I'll always love Animus and miss him. My heart is broken...but, I know Animus would have wanted me to be strong. So I'm going to do my best and try...
-Sealer: I'm happy for him too, Rue. I had no idea that an Ancient could be possessed like that...or die. Seraphina sent me here to help a friend who was in trouble, but I feel like I didn't really help at all in the end. Blood bonds, all those crows, and what the Necromancers said to me when they were possessing Animus...I just have a lot more questions now than answers.
-Rue: Um, for what it's worth Sealer — I thought you were really brave. You helped Animus in the end, you freed him from the Necromancers...I just wish I could help you in return. I'm sorry.
-Sealer: Hey, don't worry about it. I thought you were really brave too, Rue. I think I'm going to go pass out now for a bit. I feel like I could sleep forever now. You sure no tree is going to eat me while I rest some?
-Rue: Hehe, no, I'm pretty sure the grove is safe now. It feels like it did before when I first met Animus here...it's nice.
-Rue: I'll watch over you tonight, Sealer. I hope you can get some good sleep, I think you deserve it.
Your vision is black as your mind drifts ever deeper into a sinking slumber. Nightmares are quick to onslaught your mind with horrible visions of ashen plains, blackened gates, and wicked, burning eyes that bore into your own with searing anger and pain...before suddenly you are jarred awake by a familiar voice.
-Rue: Sealer! Please, wake up!
You bolt upright, startled by Rue's plea and Muzu's caws, the crow pecking at your forehead urgently with a sharp beak.
-Sealer: Wha—I'm awake! Don't eat me!
Muzu gives you a hearty caw! before rolling in your hair to make sure you do not fall back into a deep slumber, while Rue gazes at you with intense worry and a fearful expression.
-Rue: Sealer, you keep falling asleep — it's not safe! The grove...it's closing in...I don't know if I'll be able to wake you next time. The tree is already starting to groan every time you close your eyes. It'll keep drawing you closer and closer till it's ready to feed...
-Sealer: I know, Rue. I'm trying, I really am, but I've been struggling to stay awake now for nearly three days straight...I don't know how much longer I can keep this—
The ground begins to shake slightly under your feet. That familiar, echoing groan that you heard when you first came here begins to sound all around you, its mournful cry growing louder and louder as you clasp your hands to your ears in an effort to drown out the deafening sound.
-Rue: Sealer! Look out!
You hear Rue cry out in fear as you turn towards the sound of her voice, only to freeze at the horrifying sight which laid before you both. The tree is now only a few feet in front of you, its many gnarled and twisted roots erupting from the ground all around the grove, revealing hundreds of skeletal shapes of past victims entangled in their grasps.
The hole in the center of the dead oak was slowly expanding now, its yawning mouth cracking the bark of the trunk with a sickening sound as it grew ever wider. Suddenly, everything in the grove grew still, a long moment of silence seemed to pass before you felt the hair immediately raise on the back of your neck. You begin to shake uncontrollably, your fists tighten in response, as you feel a very old and unnatural magic fill the area and flow to the center of that horrible dead tree.
You hear what sounds like many voices forcefully fused into one, call your name. You can't help but shudder with disgust at how it sounded so hungry and malicious to you. You are unexpectedly pulled to the ground with a jolt of pain.
A root had ensnared your leg while you were left gawking at the horrific scene, and now it slowly drags you towards the groaning tree as you grasp in vain for anything to help halt its inevitable pull.
-Sealer: No! Let go of me!
You cry out in fear and desperation as the tree's hollowed center comes ever closer, like a giant maw ready to swallow its prey eagerly, you look on with utter terror at what lie in wait within its dark depths.
A flash of blue emanates from within the old oak's trunk, like burning eyes of cold fire, they bore into your soul, before drawing closer from its shadows with a shuddering voice.
-???: Sealllleeerrrr...make us full...
Suddenly, a dark form sluggishly edges out of the tree's hallowed depths. A great breath hisses from within it as a face slowly emerges from its endless darkness, one that was ancient, broken, and decaying.
A foul smell fills your senses, almost forcing you to gag. The form of a giant dragon breaks open the tree with its massive girth, sending a shower of splinters and wood all across the clearing.
The hollowed husk of the Ancient of Memories, Animus, stands before you in all his terrifying glory, as you inwardly weep at the sight of what was perhaps once a beautiful entity, now horribly perverted by Necromancer magic and made into nothing more than a possessed puppet for them to do with as they pleased.
-Possessed Animus: Seallleeerrr...makes us full...make us whole...
-Sealer: No! Get away from me you monster! Don't touch me!
You struggle violently in vain as you feel yourself being pulled closer to Animus. The decaying Ancient moves his lolling, massive head to face you now, his skull-like jaws haphazardly opening into emptiness, ready to swallow you whole as you gaze upon him in a silent, mortified scream.
-Possessed Animus: Sealllleeerrr...gives us your power...make humanity whole again and bring back the Primals...seal away the Ancients...
-Possessed Animus: Make. Us. FULL!
Animus' jaws were now fully expanded, black saliva oozing from his gaping maw like wretched poison. You cry out in fear, bracing yourself for the terrible fate that was to befall you, before suddenly, the great dragon cries out in agony, a bright flash filling the area...
-Rue: Animus! Stop!
You open your eyes to see that the Ancient has recoiled from the light that Rue summoned to stun the beast momentarily, the root which held your leg now releasing you as it shared in its master's pain. Suddenly, you hear a chorus of caws sounding overhead.
Muzu viciously attacks the possessed Ancient's face. Gouging at his burning eyes with unnatural ferocity and strength for a little crow, Muzu successfully distracts the terrifying behemoth, giving you a moment to get away, Rue now standing protectively in front of you.
-Rue: Animus! I know you're still in there! Please, you have to remember me! Don't let the bad people control you anymore with their blood magic. You and I are forever bonded as Summoner and Ancient —nothing can tear us apart! That's what you said to me all those years ago...and I failed you. I failed both you and Amalthea. I'm sorry, Animus! I'm so sorry!
-Possessed Animus: Argh! You shall not interfere this time child...your Ancient is a hollow now...your blood was not enough...give us the Sealer! Make us full! Bring back the Primal race!
-Rue: No! You won't take them like you took Animus! I-I'm not afraid of you anymore! Animus stood up to you back then and...and so will I!
-Possessed Animus: Enough!
Animus strikes out at Muzu, barely missing the little crow's head in his jaws before he lashing out once more with a massive skeletal claw that knocks the bird's broken body to the ground with a sickening thud.
-Sealer: Muzu! No!
You cry out to your companion, but he doesn't move. The Ancient now bars your path with a menacing roar that shakes the very earth to its core. You've had enough of this possessed Ancient and the necromancers that control his empty husk — this is personal now.
Your fists clench as hot tears of anger burn your face — before a small, gentle, cool touch grasps your hand in their own. You look beside you to see Rue with the same determination in her eyes as she gives you a small nod of reassurance.
-Rue: Sealer, if we can just get Animus to remember once more and release him from their control, then the wisps will do the rest. I'm positive. We just need to distract the Necromancers that possess him is all...
Easier said than done, but suddenly you hear a chorus of caws echo all around you. Surprised, you look up to see that the skies have turned into a moving mass of blackness under the wings of what appeared to be hundreds upon hundreds of crows, all with a strange, violet glow to their eyes. The murder forms a dark flock that descends upon Animus with a vengeance.
The possessed Ancient seems unprepared for such an attack. Indeed, even you were wondering just where so many crows came from. That's when you hear a familiar voice resonate in your ears. -???:: Sealer, Focus. Remember that you are never alone, even in the darkest of places. Use the vial. Use Seraphina's gift.
Muzu suddenly rushes past you — blue eyes ablaze and overflowing with strong, unknown magic, the little crow joining the others once more to help distract Animus and give you time.
-Sealer: The vial? That's it! Rue, I know what can help Animus!
You suddenly run towards the giant form of the raging Animus, now covered in crows, as the great dragon violently tries to fend off the armada of birds which relentlessly attack him.
You call out to the possessed Ancient, as he turns his burning gaze to you. He lets out an earth-shattering scream, lunging forward as crows continue to attack his eyes, ready to finally swallow you whole. You take out the vial that Seraphina had made for you during your time in the Mystic Glade, and wait for the Ancient to get as close as he can, before you throw the delicate vial with its three little drops of golden, amber liquid into the waiting jaws of death.
Animus immediately stops. The flock of violet-eyed crows finally dissipate from their onslaught. The great Ancient heaves and chokes on the concoction he swallowed. Black ooze pours from his jaws as he writhes in pain. Over and over, the dragon expels the dark liquid from his gullet, as if purifying the poisonous blood magic from his decaying body. He looks to both you and Rue with an empty, desperate gaze.
-Possessed Animus: Sealer...What...have you done to us? You are the key...to make humanity whole...why do you deny us? Why do you forsake your Primal decent? The Ancients must be sealed away...must be...sealed...
You watch as the husk of Animus topples over and collapses onto the ground. The dark light and foreboding magic you felt before was now gone. The Necromancers no longer possessed Animus it seemed...but now all that was left was a shell of the Ancient of Memories. Completely silent, empty, and hollow.
Like a massive weight being lifted from your shoulders, the dark aura which surrounded the haunted grove now seemed to gradually dissipate. The trees which once barred your escape also slowly untangled themselves, no longer hampering your path as the Necromancer's dark, magical hold of this place faded from the area.
Slowly, the countless wisps that you have collected bob and gather over their master's silent, crippled form, as if mourning his struggles for all these centuries, before they disappear one by one into his hollowed husk, filling him with a dying light. Both you and Rue look on with hushed anticipation.
Within a few moments, the wisps had all slowly disappeared into Animus. For a moment you wondered if they had even done anything, or perhaps they simply wished to rest eternally with their deceased master. Suddenly, his eyes flicker with a soft, blue light, filled with a fading hope and recognition. A weak, but somehow still strong sounding voice echoes warmly from his broken form as he looks to both you and Rue one last time...
-Animus: "Rowena...Sealer...Thank you."
With those last few words, the light within Animus' eyes gives out. His body heaves one last trembling sigh, and then, he went forever silent.
The Ancient of Memories, after years of torment and possession by the Necromancers which held him and forced their blood magic upon his broken form, after finally being freed from their shackles and endless torment — was at peace.
After Event Talk
- Rue, I've been wondering...what are you going to do now that Animus is gone and you can leave the grove? I have to admit, I'm kind of surprised that you are still here. Don't spirits move on after this sort of crazy stuff happens?
-Rue: Oh, um, I suppose so? I guess spirits do kind of move on after a while, but...I don't feel like I'm disappearing or anything.
-Rue: I just thought, well if it's alright with you that is, maybe I could stay with you? I promise I won't be a bother! Most people can't see me anyways and you are the only one I can really talk to, so...
-Sealer: Of course you can come along! Oh. My. Gosh, you can be like my little ghost sister and haunt me! That would be so cool actually, and hey, I also promised you that I would take you to Alabaster to see your sister's stature, and Silverport so you can meet my mentors, Sorren and Willy. I still intend to do that, so now that you're free, we can go wherever you want!
-Rue: Really?! Can we have spooky slumber parties and tell stories? Me and Ama used to do that together. My favorites are the romantic ones with happy endings—oh, and maybe you can show me all your creature friends too! This is so exciting~
-Sealer: Oh boy, do I ever have creature friends Rue. I've got, like, a gazillion to show you and I bet they'd be more than happy to meet you. Sorren and Willy are going to just love having you there, I'm sure of it. Captain Willy is always badgering Sorren about adopting another kiddo into our weird birdfamily anyways—you'd fit right in!
-Rue: Sealer, I'm so excited! I hope they like me, I mean, I've talked to Sorren through Muzu and he told me a lot about Willy. I hope they'll be able to see me like you do.
-Sealer: If I know anything about Captain Willy, it is to always expect the unexpected. A hundred baubles says he'll be able to see you just fine. Also expect a lot of pancakes as well. Don't ask, it's just a part of the adoption process is all.
- Question! Any idea what all these violet-eyed crows are doing here? 'Cause I sure don't. I was really surprised to see them all appear out of nowhere. It was like they just materialized from nothing.
-Sealer: Also, they keep staring at me and the boxed lunches that Sorren made for me...it's starting to freak me out. I keep giving them my lunches to appease them, but I'm starting to run out of food...
-Rue: Um, I don't really know either. I tried talking to Sorren through Muzu, but...he's not responding to me. I hope he's okay...
-Rue: Muzu said he's really, really worried too, but he did at least mention that the other crows belong to the Shadow Mother? I don't really know who that is. None of the other crows will talk to me. They're all really short with me when I try to speak with them and just keep saying that you should hurry up and leave already.
-Sealer: Shadow Mother? The Ancient of Shadows...Sorren's mentioned her only once or twice. He said she is the one who leads the Watch Crow's order entirely from the shadows. She also gives the members of the Watch one of her crow children when we join under her name—never met her myself, though.
-Sealer: I guess she didn't like what happened to Muzu back there when Animus attacked him. Maybe she's worried about Sorren as well. It's just so odd...I know I saw Muzu die...I'm sure of it, but he seems perfectly fine now. If Muzu is concerned, though, then I'm worried too...
-Sealer: Hey there, Rue. You ready to finally leave the grove with me? I think I've gotten enough rest for the journey back and I'm getting pretty anxious to return to Silverport.
-Rue: I-I think I'm ready, Sealer. I made sure to say my goodbyes. Muzu already left last night. He was pretty frantic about getting back to Sorren. I told him to make sure to be careful and--
-Rue: Um, Sealer?
-Rue: Are you all right? You're turning really pale all of the sudden...
All of the sudden, you feel weak in the knees, and your vision becomes bleary. Unable to keep your balance, you topple forward as you try to catch yourself, hitting the ground with a thud as your head pounds and distorts the sounds all around you. Rue hovers over you with worry, her fearful cries and pleas for your well being becoming ever more distant as the edges of your vision turn dark. You try to pick yourself up with little avail, only to have your heart nearly stop with utter fear when a familiar whisper scratches at the recesses of your mind with hungry desperation.
-Sealllleeerrrr...make us whole. Make. Us. Full.
You struggle frantically to breathe as your world slowly turns red. It was as if you were being choked by some unseen force while your strength was slowly ebbing away. An unnatural, horrible magic begins to fill you, sparking unimaginable pain as you let loose a silent scream at how helpless you are to the unseen assault on your being.
It invades your mind, your heart, your very soul. You could feel whatever it was tearing hungrily at your spirit, trying to stretch it thin till it threatened to break into pieces -- until another voice broke through.
-???: Begone unholy demons! By Mythandian's blessing, I command you to leave this child's body. Their soul will not be taken by you.
The new voice was warm and filled with an enveloping light. You could feel those words chase away whatever was attacking your spirit. Immediately, you felt the darkness release its hold over you as you saw faintly within your blurred vision what appeared to be a massive, glowing white stag battling back a writhing mass of many faces that recoiled under the creature's pure, blinding light.
You blinked and the intense vision was gone. The horrible pain which had relentlessly enraptured you now left your body as quickly as it had came, but you felt horribly weak as you tried to stave off the need to wretch at such an invasion on your personal being.
You shiver slightly, trying to get back up, only to fall back as you once more felt your field of vision going dark. A slender, male form, who appeared to be wearing a crown of ivory branches, kneels over you, speaking in that same gentle, warm voice again.
-???: Sealer, do not fret. I came here to help you. You and Rowena are safe. I will not let the darkness harm you again...rest.
His words for some reason brought peace to your aching heart and mind. Whether by some magic, or simply due to pure exhaustion, you let yourself collapse into the stranger's arms as he gently carries you away. Your mind now completely succumbs to unconsciousness, taking with it your ability to stay awake...
To be continued...