“Ke ke ke!” The Ghul’s laugh echoed out across the black void! The Ghul was torturing Vivienne and Emilia before Adam! No matter how much effort he put into moving, Adam was stuck in slow motion as he tried to attack the Ghul. The Ghul would simply give Adam a derisive look and then quickly cut him down! Everything started to fade as Vivienne and Emilia’s screams grew worse! Then… it all started over! Again and again, the nightmare plagued Adam as he was unable to do anything to save his mother and sister from the Ghul!
Suddenly, something changed! Everything in the void disappeared, and Adam could now feel the cool air of morning, while his body filled with a dull ache. Adam groaned as he put his hand out to feel around, while trying to open his eyes. Only… nothing happened! All that greeted Adam was the black void! Adam started to panic with heavy breathing. Reaching out, he could tell he was surrounded by a wooden structure but he couldn’t see anything! It wasn’t the black from little to no light; he simply couldn’t see! In a cracked voice, Adam called out: “Mom!? Emilia!?”
Instinctually, Adam raised his hands to his eyes. If he couldn’t see, something was wrong with them! However, a large hand clamped on his wrist to stop him! A gruff voice spoke: “Don’t touch your bandages, Adam.”
Adam pulled back in fear from the suddenness of it, but the hand remained firm on his wrist. He wildly asked: “Who are you!?”
“It’s me, Hansen. I work… worked with your father. Do you remember me?”
Adam vaguely recalled the other Watchmen in his father’s patrol squad. They would occasionally come over to the Dancery. ‘Hansen… the big gruff guy?’ Hansen looked worn by the world and had a mean air about him. He seemed nice enough once you got to know him, though.
Another voice spoke up: “Heya Adam, Sarah just went off to go get your mother. She is taking care of some… private business. She should be over in a jiffy!”
Adam recoiled slightly from the new voice. He couldn’t tell what was around him at all. Every sound and touch seemed to jump out and scare Adam. He tried not to pay attention to the void surrounding him, but the more he ignored it, the more it invaded his mind! The invasive void reminded him of his nightmares and of what had happened. Quickly, he asked: “Is everyone okay!? We were attacked by ghouls, weren’t we?”
Silence answered Adam’s question. This was the worst answer they could give Adam, as the silence tortured him in his personal void. Fright prevented him from asking aloud, so he could only scream in his mind: ‘Why isn’t anyone answering me!?’
Finally, Hansen’s gruff voice responded with a hint of sadness: “I’m sorry boy, Alaric…”-Somebody tried to interrupt with a hiss: “Wait, Hansen!”But he continued- “your father is dead, and so is your sister.”
The words rang in Adam’s head, but he couldn’t comprehend them. ‘Dad and Emilia… are dead?’ Adam had only seen one thing die in his life, that ghoul Vivienne killed in the alley. His memory of the creature surfaced, but Alaric and Emilia’s visage replaced it. ‘Dead… dead… dead…” The words echoed repeatedly in his head breaking his mind down.
Someone called out: “Adam?”
At that point, Adam completely broke down: “Nooo!”
Adam screamed and sobbed at the same time. In between sobs, he was muttering: “No! No! No!”
In his lack of sight, the void became terrifyingly real to Adam. The images of his father and Emilia dead before him wasn’t just a thought; it was a reality!
Vivienne was finally back and quickly limped toward where Adam was lying in a crude wagon cart, with her heart nearly breaking from hearing his sobs. Everyone around that cart was at a loss in how to comfort him. Disregarding her broken leg that was held in a splint, she jumped into the cart without waiting for assistance. She pulled her dear son to her chest, holding onto him tightly. “Adam, it’s me. I’m right here for you.”
Adam held tightly onto her. His sobs turned from screams and muttering to repeating one word: “Mom!”
Filled with concern, Vivienne asked: “What’s wrong sweetie?”
Adam wailed: “Mom, d-dad, and Emilia are dead!”
Vivienne gave a piercing look that could almost kill everyone around the cart. They quickly turned their own gazes to Hansen, silently answering her unspoken question. Vivienne gave him a brief hateful look before turning back to Adam. He needed her more than she needed to take her anger out on Hansen.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much she could do for Adam. She could only hold him and whisper sweet words as he cried his heart out. Tears came to her own eyes she tried to defiantly hold them back: ‘I have to stay strong for Adam. I can’t break down too!’
Finally, Adam passed out from the stress and exertion of crying for so long.
The nightmares in the void continued. Scenes would first pass by Adam, showing him the happy smiling faces of his father and sister. Then, he would see them dead! Sometimes lying on that dark alley floor, sometimes being attacked by the Ghul. Over and over, the nightmares continued to tear at Adam’s mind.
Adam finally awoke with a start. Once again, Adam was greeted by only the void. Trying to escape it, Adam reached up to the bandages on his face to pull them off. Adam was startled when his hands were once again grabbed by another. Vivienne’s voice reached out to him: “Don’t take your bandages off Adam. You need them to heal.”
Adam pleaded: “I can’t stand it! It’s not even black; it’s a nightmare! It haunts me even when I’m awake! Please, let me see something, anything! I don’t want to only see dad and Emilia dead in front of me! Please!”
Vivienne’s heart ached at Adam’s words. He was having a worse time than she could have imagined: “Adam… the healer said you might not be able to see for quite some time; your eyes were badly damaged!”
A look of horror passed over Adam’s face. Vivienne quickly added: “We have more bandages with medicine to replace the ones you are currently wearing. We can change them early, and maybe you will see something, just… you might not see anything.”
Adam clung to hope: “Can we try? Please?”
Vivienne carefully and gently unraveled the bandages covering Adam’s eyes. Adam sat tense, waiting for a sliver of light to appear until the final fold of the bandage fell off. Adam was forcing his eyes open. Vivienne could see it all. There were scab marks and bruising on the sides of his eyes and across the bridge of his nose that showed where the blade cut through. As for his eyes themselves, they were stained with bloody splotches in them and remained unfocused.
His voice choked out: “Why?”
Vivienne took Adam into a comforting embrace. He clung to her as he cried again, though not as hard as before. Before too long, he got tired of it. “Adam, let me put the new bandages on. Your eyes won’t heal if we don’t.”
Adam nodded without saying anything. Vivienne carefully put some medicine into a fresh bandage and wrapped it around Adam’s head to cover his eyes. After that, silence reigned. Vivienne gently reached out her hand to hold Adam’s. He flinched slightly from the touch, but relaxed afterward.
In the silence, Adam’s thoughts were broken by the unfamiliar creaks of the cart’s wheels and the stomp of feet on the ground. He hadn’t paid much attention to his hearing until now, and it was a little overwhelming. Every sound seemed to jump at him out of nowhere!
To escape the torment of his personal void, Adam moved closer to Vivienne and leaned on her. He asked: “Where are we mom? Are we going somewhere?”
Vivienne looked around them. They were part of a throng of people marching down a road in the middle of some grassy plains. Sighing, she said: “We’re fleeing from the city! Shortly after morning broke over, the ghouls fled. After they were gone, Luxom’s army appeared and declared their intent to take over the city! Everyone had been fleeing to Fort Erich in the center of the city, but the Luxom army was going to siege the fort. We fled the city so we wouldn’t get caught up in the fighting and the looting that would likely happen… Luckily, we had seen a healer before we had to leave. Now we are heading to a city called Hessler. It’s where I grew up and met your father. There’s a place there that should take us in.”
“…Why did you and dad move out here, then?”
Those words cut deeper into Vivienne than Adam could ever know. Adam wasn’t trying to blame her; he was only curious about where she grew up and where they were going. However, she was the reason why they had been in a city on the outskirts of the kingdom. The reason why they had been here when the nightmare struck! She choked back the tears that were welling up in her eyes. ‘Regardless of anything else, I can’t let Adam see weakness in me! He can only rely on me now…’
After a quick moment to calm down and collect her thoughts, she started to speak: “Well… I suppose it started with me. I grew up in a place called The Madame’s. In many ways, Madame’s is similar to the Dancery. They serve customers while providing entertainment in forms of dance and music. Different from us, though, is that they take in orphans from the city for their workers. I was one of those orphans.”
If Adam could see, he would be looking at Vivienne with wide eyes. As it was, shock still appeared evident on his face. He asked: “You were an orphan?”
Vivienne nodded: “I don’t remember my parents at all. The ones who raised me were those who I grew up with at Madame’s. I lived there until I was seventeen.” A warm smile broke over Vivienne’s face as she recalled: “Around that time, Alaric had started coming to Madame’s with the mercenary band he had joined. He was instantly smitten with me, though he was so shy that he always slunk around in the back! It was cute how he tried to catch my eye and talk to me.”
Vivienne was silent for a moment. Adam didn’t press her to continue as he tried to imagine his father as being shy. No matter how he tried to think about it: ‘I don’t see how father could ever be shy!”
Then Vivienne spoke with a melancholic voice: “Then I caught the eye of a nasty noble. When I went out to meet up with Alaric for our first date, the noble tried to abduct me with his guards! Alaric came just in time. He turned from his shy self into the mercenary that he was. He instantly drew his sword and cut off the noble’s hand that was holding onto me!”
Adam was once again filled with wonder: ‘Why didn’t mom and dad ever talk about this!? It’s just like a fairy tale!’
Vivienne continued: “Your father and I were at a loss at that point. Nobles are always trusted over common folk, especially an orphan or a mercenary. If he decided to make it look like we assaulted him, he could have had us arrested!”
Adam was shocked: “What!? Can a noble really do that?”
Vivienne sagely nodded: “If they are from important families, yes. Now shush and let me finish my story.”
Adam immediately closed his mouth and snuggled up closer to listen to the story: “We were so worried, we left without telling anyone; That night Janette, a friend of mine, actually caught up with us! We weren’t very good at hiding our departure, so we were easily found. We became frightened at the thought that if she could find us, so could the noble. Thankfully, Janette brought good news! What the noble had done was discovered, and he was actually harshly punished for what he did!”
“Really!?” Adam exclaimed. “Wait, didn’t you say the noble could get away with whatever he wanted?”
Vivienne nodded: “In many circumstances yes. However, Madame’s has been around for a very long time. It has served nobles from almost every station in the kingdom! Through its connections with those nobles, Madame’s protects the orphans that it takes in. I didn’t think this would extend so far as protecting me from that nasty noble, but it did!”
“Wow, so what happened next?”
“Well, Alaric had already proven how far he would go for me. Even if it was in the heat of the moment, not many would stand up against a noble if he wanted to abduct someone. I… also liked the manly side ofhim that I saw when he saved me and took me on the run.” Vivienne said with a sheepish grin.
Adam imagined his father’s stance when they trained. With a grin, he said: “Yup, father was pretty manly!”
Vivienne was happy to see Adam not so gloomy. She decided to quickly continue the story so he wouldn’t get stuck on the ‘was’ part about his father: “After that, I left Madame’s to follow Alaric in his mercenary band. I couldn’t fight, but they needed plenty of people to help supply them. Over time, I learned how to help heal simple wounds and care for armor and blades. It was hard work that was very different from my life at Madame’s, but I liked seeing Alaric in his element… Eventually, I found out that I was pregnant with you!”
“Yup. The closest city at that time was the one around Fort Erich. Alaric and I decided that we didn’t want to travel too much while I was pregnant so we settled down there for a little while. The intent was to move to Hessler some time after you were born, but we found this perfect little place where I could live out my dream! With the stipend I received from the noble trying to abduct me, I opened my own version of Madame’s. Different in many ways, but still full of welcoming people that became part of our family!”
“That’s so cool!” Adam said. “It’s like you were part of a fairy tale!”
Vivienne smiled and gave Adam a hug: “Just about.” At the same time, she thought: ‘Except for the part where we were supposed to live happily ever after…’
At least the story seemed to be enough for Adam. It got him to stop thinking about Alaric and Emilia’s death for a while. Instead, he was thinking about various fairy tales and imagining himself to be the hero in those stories.
After a time, Adam once again fell asleep. This time, the void was filled with boyish dreams of being a hero and saving his loved ones.
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.