Time: A Year Ago
Location: The Glade
Time passed strangely in the crystal glade. I still have no recollection of how long I spent there, creating my bond with Tywys. Hers was a bond of nurturing care. Mine was one of hunger and desperation.
Perhaps she thought that her ways would eventually win out over mine. But, though she grew stronger in my presence, so did I in hers.
I learned much from her. I discovered that form was fluid. Harnessing a growing understanding of Creation’s power, I became an artist. I began shaping myself into something beyond the broken-down creature I used to be.
I molded my face into one that I wasn’t disgusted to look at — one with sharp, handsome features, and gleaming eyes of golden flame. My hair darkened and lengthened, becoming full and glorious, the scars that once marred my skull vanishing.
I chose to be tall and strong. I mended my shattered arm. My body became healthy and whole. Still, I left the identification mark at the base of my neck, behind my left ear. I’ll never know exactly why.
I was shaping myself into something terrible and dangerous.
And yet, Tywys did not see. She could not see beyond her hope and pity for me.
Though several times I grew impatient, I knew I had to wait for the process to complete. It felt like eternity. Like the Invaders and Adversary would no longer be there by the time I was ready to emerge from the crystal glade.
I would be very disappointed if I weren’t the one to destroy them first.
I never left the glade in all that time. It became a cocoon of transformation and nurturing. The energies of the crystals fed me, more filling and substantial than normal food had been. Eventually, their energy became all I needed to survive.
I spent time ciphering knowledge from Tywys, and sometimes, the other spirits. They didn’t speak with me like she did. They weren’t meant for me.
They were afraid of me.
Still, I knew they weren’t the only spirits. Though I never saw them, my senses began to pick up on their energies. Energies that were twisted by dark emotions. While I could guess what it was I felt, I eventually asked Tywys about it.
I needed her cooperation for this to work.
“What is the place hidden beyond the glade?” I asked.
Predictably, Tywys responded, -That should not be your concern.-
“Oh, I’m not concerned,” I told her with a teasing smile. “I’m just curious.”
-It is a dark curiosity to have.-
“Then, it is fitting for me, don’t you think?”
I’d started to adopt a more witty, charming slant to my conversation. It was one I was particularly proud of considering where I’d come from. Humor wasn’t well understood when you’re a solider-slave.
Tywys didn’t find my statement witty or charming. Her silent frown spoke her disapproval. But we were getting off topic.
“So what is it?” I prodded. I wouldn’t back down this time.
-It’s not a place for any of us,- she attempted to evade again.
“Those are the dark spirits. Aren’t they?”
This inaccuracy got her to talk. Finally.
-They are not dark spirits!-
“But they are like you.”
-They were.- Her expression turned mournful.
I almost felt ashamed of myself. And yet, I pressed on as if I didn’t know where this would lead. “Were?”
-Remember when you asked what happened to the spirits who never find their person?-
Her eyes flicked silently in the direction of my curiosity. It confirmed everything I’d guessed. But I wanted her to put a name to it, if it had one.
Tywys had trouble speaking the words, -They become part of the Flames of Bedlam.-
I was slightly taken aback. I’d heard of that before, spoken in old legends. I needed clarification.
“What does that mean?”
-They never fulfill what they were meant to become. They turn imbalanced. The Chaos consumes them.- She spoke quickly as if afraid to even talk about it. But then she added, -It is part of our duty to see that this is never released upon the world.-
I pretended a dark frown of my own. “What would happen if it was?”
She shook her head. -Chaos when mixed with anger and desire only consumes. Only destroys. It knows nothing else.-
This was exactly what I’d been hoping for.
Tywys was reluctant to take me to the place beyond the glade. But I’d been working extra hard at earning her trust. I’d not asked her about the Flames of Bedlam anymore, and tried to make myself appear as upright and concerned about things as she was.
I’d even laid off my wit.
So when I asked to go to the dark place, and I told her it was to better understand our duty — you know, the one where we protect the world from the Flames of Bedlam — she must have believed me. Or if she didn’t believe me, she wanted to so much that she fooled herself.
This… is a part of my story that I’m not particularly proud of.
Maybe, in retrospect, I would have done things differently.
However, despite Tywys’s efforts to show me a balanced path of harmony and justice… the hunger and rage in me had grown monstrous. I’d had a taste of power and manipulation. I was even manipulating her.
…Yes. Not my finest moment.
But I’ll not gloss over the truth, either.
She brought me to the Flames of Bedlam. I could see the horror and fear written in the movement of her form. She looked at the hungry, dark flames of twisted energy the way I used to look at my own reflection. Like it was some terrible thing, yet something to be pitied.
I stepped closer. Closer than she’d dare.
In my mind I could see them, boiling through the flame. Spirits without their people. All that was left of the dead. All that was left of the broken. All who suffered in life and found no peace in death.
The Chaos that hummed temptation in my mind. I knew this power just as much as I knew Creation. Tywys was a balance of both.
My test, I realized, was to choose between them.
I reached towards the Flame and it responded eagerly. Like a blade, it only wanted a hand to wield it. But this blade could give me power beyond even the Invaders. Power to lay low the Adversary.
I would meet their cruelty with more cruelty. And I would revel in their pain.
-No!- I heard Tywys gasp as she realized my intentions. -Please…-
I couldn’t explain this to her. I couldn’t tell her why. There were no words to describe what my life had been. What my people had been through.
“I must,” was all I could tell her.
Then, I embraced the Flames of Bedlam.
I expect the fire to burn. That’s what fire does, after all. I expected the Chaos to well within me, maybe even consume me.
But I didn’t expect what happened next.
Tywys. She was tiny, now. Tiny and white next to the immense fury of Chaos that stirred to my command. She stood unwavering before it. She put herself between it and me.
As the flames wrapped around us, she was the one who drew it in. Still protecting me, she was the one who fought to balance the overwhelming rage and pain.
Her power was so small. Too small. Bedlam began to take her instead.
I remember the shocked feeling of mute, sick horror that filled me as I watched. Maybe, just for a second, I was jolted to my senses enough to understand what I’d done. To her. To myself. To this world that waited my cruel coming.
Her once-gentle energies suddenly burned blood red, seared through with Chaos until her form turned pitch black. In my mind, I heard her piteous cries of pain and fear as they mutated into something terrible. Something monstrous.
Whatever Tywys was… her awareness, her spirit… I watched as my guide burned to nothing. I watched as she transformed with the awful power I unleashed.
When she was gone, power and flames began to fill me.