Elvira paused, glancing around at the area, feeling a chill run down her spine. All she saw was the eternal stretches of sand dunes that made up the Desert of the Damned. The sky black with stars scattered all about. It was oddly beautiful yet eerie here- no winds howled, even the sand seemed silent as she walked. She had wondered what the desert was like but here she was, even if it was a dream projection of it. Regardless of how much she walked, the landscape was always the same - she saw neither Saellum or any noticeable locations. Only sand and sky.
Time. It was non-existent here. Elvira had no means of telling how many days have passed. To her, it felt like years. She walked and walked, yet her body did not fall tired. Not even the stars above could give her an answer. How long had it been? She wondered. How long has it been on the mortal realm since she entered the trial? All she could do was ask and wonder, yet no one replied.
The woman had come prepared - her main sabre, Mesolavitis, hung on one side of her belt while a smaller version of the sabre hung on the other side. A crossbow brought from Quavinir hung next to the quiver on her back, a knife from Arik strapped tightly to her belt, and a longsword from Rickard on the other side of the quiver. Both Arik and Rickard saw her off, wanting to make sure she was well prepared. She thought it was overdone, but she welcomed it nonetheless.
Her heart sank a bit. Deep down, she missed them all. Eris… Arik… Rickard… Victoria… Marienne… Vailoen… Steven. She had no way of knowing if they were safe. Her stomach clenched as dread filled her, fearing for the worst. What if one or more of them died? What if everything had changed drastically when she got back? Elvira closed her eye and took deep breaths, calming down her rapidly beating heart.
She shouldn’t be doubting them, as she knew they could manage without her. She needed to have faith in them, they will be alright and she needed to focus. She had to complete her trial and get back.
It was then Elvira noticed something. Voices in the distance. She couldn’t make them out but she went and followed them, quite ready for anything.
The undead was only 6’7 but was a monstrous combination of stitches, limbs, and flesh. It gurgled as it loomed, clutching a blackened club in its hand. The giant made its approach, moving its club upwards with sluggish movements. Its lips formed into an ugly smile as it stared at the Ascended before it.
Elvira charged for the giant head on, grasping both knife and sabre in hand. The giant saw the bold movement and brought its club down, aiming clean towards her. An easy target. Yet the Sage swiftly darted to the right, avoiding the club as it struck the sands, sending a cloud upwards. The giant was slow… but she was fast. The Master Sage made no hesitation as she swiped the knife across the back of one of the giant’s knees, cutting deep into its flesh.
“Wha…” the being called before unleashing a grotesque scream as it sank to one knee, opening up the chance for the killing blow.
“Fall!” she uttered the word, her eye wide with adrenaline.
The armoured woman made her way behind the giant and took the leap, raising both sabre and knife together before thrusting them clean down. The two blades cut clean into the giant’s nape, right into its throat and out of the other end. The giant tried to sweep at her with his arm but only had time to gurgle out as its body exploded into blackened sand. The woman landed on the ground, the sand landing over her form, breathing heavily as adrenaline kept pumping through her veins.
After a few moments, her form relaxed as she realised she was alone once more. Around her, piles of black sand melded with the desert’s pale white sands - reminders of the previous six opponents the woman took down. The first two, she picked off with ease. The third and fourth put up more of a fight before they fell to her. The shade she killed a few moments ago had got her good, it had sliced her leg relatively well but she gritted her teeth. Meanwhile, her translucent glowing face was covered by a few deep gashes, the eyepatch over her eye sliced off completely, leaving a mark. Yet the wounds did not bleed. Such was how the Trial was, it seemed, and this fight was only the first of many.
“It is done…” she breathed out.
The group of corrupted souls talked amongst themselves before she killed them all - two uncorrupted souls had passed by and they had been hunting them down. She bent down and picked up her damaged mask. Two long claw marks sliced through the metal. Elvira slid the mask over her face. put it back on and threw her hood up. She knew what to do - she had to find the two souls and protect them until they reached the end of the deserts.
Aeriel…Sokar… guide me to the two that wander here… please.
She began to walk.
“Is it… curious being…”
Elvira paused at the new voice, her eye narrowing. Her grip on her sabre tightened as she searched around the area for the owner of the voice. Yet she saw no one, only sad. A part of her wondered if her own mind was beginning to play tricks on her. The Ascended remained still, considering her words carefully before she spoke.
“...is it curious being what?” Elvira spoke, it felt strange to hear herself speak. The Master Sage felt as though it had been years since he last spoke. It almost felt…. Unnatural.
“What is one of Her spawn doing in these sandsss?” the voice echoed. The sound of sand shifting reached Elvira’s ears, echoing in front of her.
“That is for I to know and you to not,” Elvira kept her answer simple, unsure if she could trust this voice. “Who are you?”
The sand shifted more, something long was underneath. The Ascended backed off a bit, keeping her sabre held readily for a fight. “You must have done something really bad… kill a child? A lover?”
“The funny thing is - I punched someone,” she replied back, her lips forming a frown. “ Out of anger and with no reason. A mistake I regret and thus I must face my sentence here… though I did those two things before I bore this connection. Long before I bore any connection.”
Memories flooded her mind, a woman stressed as she confronted her in the library - the stress caused her to miscarry the child. A man lying on the floor, knife in his chest… while she sobbed with bloodied hands covering her face. Elvira bit her lip, forcing such memories back.
“Wrath is your excuse for assault? Curioousss, such a patient fighter rising so quick to anger,”
Elvira’s lips twitched as she gazed at the shifting sands. “Even the most patient of fighters can lose themselves if they are not careful. Anger is a natural emotion, one that must be unleashed… to keep it bottled up at all times will only lead to it violently lashing out… but I did answer your question, thus is it not at least respectful to answer mine. Who are you?”
“Just a pair of eyes in these shifting sands… what is your name… angry one…”
“I am not as angry as you’d think, watchful one, but you may know me as Pyralis,” Elvira stated the name she used when she first became an Ascended, which felt like a lifetime ago. A name she used when she did not want anyone to know her true name. “But who what name may I know you by?”
The sands finally parted and a giant onyx snake emerged from beneath the surface. Sand running down its brilliant scales. It stretched tall and proud, the woman unsure of just how big the being was. Elvira swiftly stepped back as the snake rose up, she was quite surprised yet impressed by the being as it turned to face her. “Simply call me Silen,”
“A pleasure to meet you, Silen. Though… I apologise if the fighting woke you up if you were slumbering beforehand,” Elvira didn’t know how long it had been since the last fight but Aenguls above, she questioned if she was capable of taking on such a being. A few undead, they were easy for her, but a giant snake? She highly doubted her chances.
“Oh no… I was just watching. So.. Pyralis. How do you feel about this netherscape?” Silen asked, blinking a few times as it peered down at her.
Elvira pondered the question, taking a moment to gaze around at the desert. “Well. Certainly something. It felt as though I have been here for many years. It’s… serene yet silent. I swear that I can hear my own heartbeat and the blood gushing through my veins. A barren place of loneliness,” she glanced back up at the great snake. “How do you feel about this place?”
“It’s a place of punishment with no redemption, where people tear each other apart… a cruel place from such a rumoured kind be,”
Elvira couldn’t help but agree, nodding her head solemnly. “And the souls that wander to reach the city are exposed to being devoured by those sentenced here. I often wondered what the Deserts were like and here I am, though it saddens me that those with corrupted souls but good hearts and minds are also condemned here.”
“And here you are, one of her children forced to wander it as some sort of punishment for doing what everyone does eventually… getting a little aangry.”
“Quite but such is how things are,” the Master Sage shrugged. “Even a child must be scolded for doing wrong, and even in punishment, one can learn lessons and understand the world a little more. Though… I must ask, Silen. Why are you here?”
The snake seemed to reel back a bit. “Why do you think I’m here?” Silen retorted.
“A corrupted soul, no doubt about that but who knows - Aeriel could have placed you here for other means, or that you’ve always been here,”
“Or maybe I am here to punish people who find themselves being punished,”
Elvira tilted her head a bit. “Perhaps so. Though I pray such a sentence does not include me. I’d rather not fight you.”
Silen blinked a few times then rose its head, gazing up at the sky above The two shared a moment of silence between each other. Elvira stabbed her sabre into the sands and leaned against it to relax. closed her eye, releasing a deep breath,
“People are dying back there. Without you, you know,”
The Ascended frowned and she opened her eye, looking up at the snake. The sudden sentence caught her off guard, filling the woman with dread and grief at the thought. “Even when I am there, people still die. But if you mean family and friends, aye… it happens, but you can’t always be there for them.”
“Steven, Arik… a couple of the more recent names to make their way down here,” without hesitation, the snake coiled its boy around the woman and rested its head on her left shoulder.
Elvira nearly braced for the weight, yet the snake did not weight anything. Not even when its body wrapped around her, she didn’t feel as though she was being crushed. Yet its words caused her to stiffen, her lips forming a deep frown as she listened to Silen. “Tell me why I should believe you.”
“I’ve yet to lie to you once, so I see no reason why you shouldn’t…”
“Yet this may be that lie now. Besides, words are words - they can be truth and they can be false. You may speak truth you may speak likes just as equally. Anyone can lie, from a stranger to a close friend,” Elvira replied back, gazing right up at the snake.
“And any word can be truth, no matter how terrible. But then again… Elvira… you’re just a lost soul in the desert…”
Then, Silen was gone. Vanished without warning.
Elvira blinked before she relaxed, sighing deeply. She grasped her sabre and heaved it free from the sands, returning it to its sheath. She gazed around the desert, realizing the sands that Silen had emerged from were not disturbed at all. Was it all her imagination.
“...Quite right, but those lost will often have those who will guide them home,” Elvira murmured, her hand reaching up to gently grasp the necklace around her neck. A runestone and a wedding ring hung off of the chain. “And they’re standing right by me.”
Elvira remained on top of one of the countless dunes, knees huddled up to her and one arm resting on top. Her equipment laid around her, rather scratched up and used. By her side, her blackened tearstone shard floated by her side.
She found the souls that the first group of corrupted souls she faced were after, but one had perished. A young boy died to a starved Frost Witch, his sister watching in horror. Elvira managed to hold the frost witch back, allowing the girl the chance to flee. The Ascended wondered if she made it there. Yet she wondered if the boy was truly gone. Did she truly fail?
The shifting of sand reached her ears, closely followed by the unmistakable voice of Silen. “You failed,”
“That I did… not the first time either, I failed quite a lot in the mortal world,” Elvira responded, not moving her head to greet the snake. She’d rather focus on the view before her.
“So why do you keep trying if your methods keep failing and you failed?”
“Because at least I can say I tried an alternative or just tried in general.”
The two fell silent after that. Elvira came to see Silen as an illusion, though one she was quite glad for - at least she wasn’t alone. Though, she wondered if it was her mind playing tricks on her again? Not the first time she saw hallucinations and illusions before. Was this Aeriel’s doing? Or was it her own madness? She didn’t know and could only guess while within this forsaken land.
“Yet did you try when Gazadriael tricked you and your allies into reforming him - did you try to stop the Tahn Massacre that day? Did you try to save the many slaughtered by his Justicars?”
Elvira gripped her hand more, memories flooding into her mind. The screams of many tearing her ears, winged beings devastating the land. She shook her head a few times, breathing heavily.
“Or did you cower away and do nothing, out of fear and in a state of madness?!”
Elvira turned around to face Silen, ready to unleash a furious retort at the mention of such event. Yet the woman froze, her eye widening. There was no onyx serpent behind her. An eyeless gold mask stared clean at her, his golden wings spread out in full glory. Divine and beautiful, yet the very sight of the being caused the woman to halt completely. The winged masked figure of Gazadriael looked down at her, bearing the very same golden sword he bore during the massacre.
“You failed because you allowed yourself to, Elvira,”
The Ascended rushed back, grabbing her sabre and wretched it free from the sands. Her breathing growing unsteady and panicked, her very body shivering up at the sight of the Aengul of New Beginnings. Her legs refused to move any further, seemly stuck within the sand. The once calm woman now in a growing state of raw panic.
“You try and try, yet you never learned,” Gazadriael-Silen answered, striding towards her. “You never learn from your failures and you keep on holding yourself back. It’s a cycle you cannot break and it is killing you, with each failure comes more doubt upon yourself, and that doubt is what causes you to struggle trying.”
Elvira tried to calm herself yet she couldn’t, her body refused to calm and coldness swept over her. Her hands trembled and she could barely keep her sword raised. She inhaled deeply, gritting her teeth. The figure approached her until there were only a few inches between them.
“You can keep trying all you wish, Elvira, but it will always end as a failure.”
“T...That’s not true! There’s times where I succeeded!”
“Yet it is shadowed by the many failures and tries. No one admires the fact you tried, only that you failed to succeed. You never allowed yourself to be free, restricting yourself out of your own fears!”
The Aengul raised his blade, the tip pointed right at her chest. Elvira stared right at the figure, her head beginning to spin and she felt as though she could barely breath. Her body grew heavy. Her instincts screamed at her to move, to fight back and flee, yet she couldn’t.
“Your own comrades, family, friends, those you swore to protect? They don’t want to remember a failure. They know what you are but do not want to admit how they feel about your actions - in case you fall back into the despair you climbed out of… and maybe this time, you will finally end your life.”
The blade thrusted forward and Elvira froze, her eye widened. She stared at the figure, unable to move. She did not feel any pain, as if her own panic and fear were blocking it out. Her own heartbeat rang through her ears but a scream failed to depart from her gaping mouth. The figure leaned closed to her, whispering the next few words in a very familiar voice.
“ You will fall, like all the rest, if you do not learn. Like the previous Master Sages before you, like Heial, like your family, all others who walked your past. For as long as you keep fighting against yourself - you will fail if you do not stop fighting me!”
Then, she blinked and the figure was gone. She fell to her knees, wrapping her arms around herself as she took swift breaths. She squeezed her eye shut, the words repeating throughout her head. Her chest bore no stab wound - it was all an illusion, she told herself. It wasn’t Gazadriael, it wasn’t Silen. It was all an illusion… yet it felt so real and spoke far too much truths. She kept reassuring herself, over and over.
She remained where she was, a sob escaping from her lips.
“Curse you… CURSE YOU! Die! Die!”
The ghoul sprung forth, saliva dripping from its mouth. Its eyes set on Elvira, claws digging into the sand. Yet its opponent showed no fear as it closed in, pulling back the black ferrum steel sabre in their hand. The moment the creature was close, it lept off the ground and towards the figure, aiming to bring its claws down.
The figure swung their blade forth.
The ghoul’s form exploding into blackened sand. Elvira lowered her weapon, watching the sand pile up in front of them. A sigh escaped her lips, closing her eye for a moment. New wounds etched over her body and form, it had grown increasingly hard to move and so she took to waiting for her opponents to strike at her to retaliate
“...that’s the last one in sight for now… now to reflect,”
She sat down, crossing her legs as she entered a meditative stance. Her saber laid over her knees as she took calm breaths. Within seconds, she was meditating, blocking out most of her surroundings but keeping a careful ear out on her surroundings. She could hear nothing, not even the sound of wind or the sands shifting. Even her own heartbeat sounded as though it was miles away, a faint pulse.
Memories rushed past her but she took her time, remembering and witnessing events that she saw with her own eyes. She took a calm breath, allowing the images to flow in front of her.
The mistakes she made during the days of Athera, as a young girl lost within the world and afraid of her own shadows. Only for Daniel and those of the Drunken Monk tavern to guide her back on past whenever she wandered astray.
The days of Vailor when she began her steps as a cleric of Tahariae and grew through the ranks. The many times she suffered by her own mistakes, yet also the times she saved and aided those who had suffered all the same.
The errors of Axios when she stood as clerical leader, faced with the hardest choices. The days of Gazadriael’s scheme and the madness she faced. The many times she stood alongside the clerics and the many others by her side.
The moments of Atlas when she became an Ascended and witnessed the Ascended Hunts, falling into despair as her past lover went astray… only to rise up to play her part in stopping September’s rampage and right the wrongs.
Every event, she remembered. Every time she failed, she asked herself why. Every time she did wrong, she questioned why she did such. Every moment a life was lost, she wondered what else could have been done. Every moment she broke, she put the pieces back together. Every second, every minute - she reflected and began to realise.
Then she knew.
After what felt like countless years of reflecting and thinking, Elvira opened her eye and found herself looking at Silen. They stood there, looking exactly like her now, – Elvira Naromis, wounded and torn with her pale features. Her armour torn and scratched in multiple places. Yet she was smiling. A worn A genuine yet saddened smile.
“...It was never madness...” Elvira stated with clear confidence.
“You never was mad to begin with after you became an Ascended” Silen replied, speaking in Elvira’s own tone. “It died when you bore Aeriel’s connection. Nor was it the reason you struggled, why you broke down many times, why you suffered, why you failed. There was another reason,”
“Me,” Elvira stated softly, gazing upon Silen. “Throughout my time, I suffered and made so many mistakes, growing to doubt myself and lose faith in my abilities. I committed crimes and harmed others too much by my uncontrolled emotions, causing me to restrict them more… only for them to keep raging out of control. All this time, I was afraid of allowing my past catch up to me and my emotions to control me, to the point where I was restricting myself away from being able to grow. Afraid to be mortal and a living being.”
“By the time the mental ward Aeriel once had upon you vanished upon the change of duty, all of the depression, all of the pain and the sorrow flooded forth and your mind couldn’t handle it. So you subconsciously began holding them back. It was by restricting those emotions that you became overwhelmed you when you couldn’t hold them anymore. It was by ignoring your past mistakes out of fear that you never learned from them, only increasing the doubt in yourself and becoming more likely to fail.”
Elvira nodded solemnly. “And you’re all that I’ve been holding back, the supposed madness I believed I was fighting back… but really, you’re the side of me I should have embraced and accepted, the emotions and the past.”
Silen smiled more and bowed her head. “You finally learned and realised…. I’m glad. Will you finally accept me or will you keep fighting?”
The Ascended reached down and she took hold of her saber, returning it to its sheath. She shook her head, a gentle laugh escaping from her lips. The desert felt less cold as Elvira felt a spark of warmth flood through her. “The only fighting I will do is against those who truly seek to do me harm… you only watched and guided me, even if you had to give me a hard shove along the way. Normally I’m the one who guides people… but I guess even the guide needs a helping hand along the way.”
“Everyone needs a guide. From the Master Sage to the grandmother of many, even the lost soul in the desert,” Silen replied, tilting her head. “It’s okay to be emotional, to be afraid, to be living, and to be guided. Most people don’t realise that, however, and they take to holding it all back because they see it as a weakness or that they are afraid,”
“Mhm.... but tell me… Silen, how did you get your name? I do not recall anyone named Silen… and are you truly here in physical form?” Elvira was quite confused. The trial felt so real despite it being a dream, she couldn’t tell if it was one or the other.
“It’s a name you may not remember as you did lose some of your memories… but it belonged to someone who you helped accept who they were,” the other answered. “And this trial made me real, even if it is just within here. Afterall, I am a part of you and the trial isn’t just to kill the darkness here and guide the lost… it’s also to guide you when you need guidance most… and now that trial has now reached its end.”
“Then, let’s not lose sight of ourself again, shall we?” The Ascended held out her hand to her other half.
Silen made her way over and accepted the hand, nodding softly. Then, everything grew black and Elvira saw nothing more… only darkness and quiet.
The sound of rushing water echoed around and Elvira opened her eye, finding herself gazing up at a wavy surface above her head. She knew she was underwater, yet she didn’t feel as though she was drowning. Thus she remained there for a few moments, taking in the peace and quiet. The memories of the desert remaining in mind as she reflected back on them. Yet she wasn’t in the deserts.
Elvira closed her eye and smiled, before then proceeding to break the surface of Astra, coughing the liquid out of her lungs and startling Arik who had watched over her. The two shared a heartfelt moment, the woman growing overwhelmed after what felt like countless years of fighting. Her gaze soon settled on her Tearstone Shard, which was no longer pitch black. It glowed a brilliant teal as it hovered by her side, the red cracks visible to see once more. She had passed and was forgiven.
Thank you… Silen…
((...writing this was one hell of a rollercoster for me but I’m proud. Special thanks to Assassinofawsome for DMing the two instances for me. It was a wonderful experience and he did a good job. Elvira passed her trial and finally learnt to accept herself and her emotions, that it’s okay to suffer and to relfect on the past to learn from it. P.S: The Gazadriael here is an illusion, it isn’t the real Gazadriael and is only his appearance from when Elvira saw him at the whole Isle of Malin event. Don’t shoot me down))