The Guardian in the Dark

Photo by Max Saeling on Unsplash

Eben had thought that the screams of the attacking Shadowmen was the most terrifying thing he had ever heard. Then it was the screams of people from his village as they were torn apart. Now it was the sound of them pursuing him and his family through the dark woods. Dark limbs slapped at his face, the starry sky silhouetted the tall trunks, illuminating just enough on their path so that they did not slam into a tree and his arm hurt as his father yanked him along.

“Father!” Jat, Eben’s older sister cried as she tripped and stumbled.

His father said a bad word under his breath and turned to pick her up. That’s when the Shadowmen screamed – sighting their prey.

His father said another bad word, and turned to face Eben down on one knee after he hefted Jat up.

“Son,” He placed his hands on Eben’s shoulders, Eben knew he was looking straight into his eyes even in the dark. “I need you to get your sister to the Temple of Darkness.” He turned to Jat, “I need you both to get there, okay?”

Eben stiffened, so did Jat.

“But, Father…” Eben stammered.

“Listen to me son, you must not be afraid of the dark.” He squeezed Eben’s shoulders and rose, picking up a fallen branch on the way.

He turned to Jat, “I love you both very much.”

And then he gave them a look, like he was scared, but determined. Eben thought Father was the strongest man in the village, the thought of him being scared didn’t make sense to Eben even though he himself was terrified.

It wasn’t until he was older that Eben comprehended; it is the look of a parent when they choose to die so that their children may live. A dark look, and yet full of love.

“Now go.” He turned, to face the onrushing monsters, gripping the branch he held tightly.

Jat grabbed Eben’s hand and dragged him behind her, their father faded into the shadowy brush.

They entered a clearing and halted. Before them was a cliff face, and carved into the face was a ruined temple. Behind them their father cried out and was silenced, the screams of the Shadowmen lingered a while longer.

Jat dragged Eben across the opening and through the giant doors of the temple.

She pulled Eben through and closed the doors, barricading them as best as she could.

“Go!” She cried to Eben, “Find the Guardian!”

Eben nodded as Jat braced against the door which buckled and shook as the monsters outside rushed to break it down. Taking a deep breath Eben turned and faced the Temple of Darkness. It was a pillared hallway in a shambles, with lichen and rubble strewn about the place. The temple was carved all the way up the cliff and the roof had caved in. The the starry night sky poured in, casting sinister shadows about the place. And on the far side upon an alter shrouded in darkness, was a still figure he could barely perceive.

“I must not be afraid of the dark.” Eben said to himself as he crept forward, trying to let his father’s courage usher him on.

Behind him Jat cried out in fear as the clambering on the other side of the door turned into an organised beat – it was being rammed.

Eben made his way to the dark alter and spoke timidly. “H-hello.”

There was a muffled sound of movement.

“My father told me to find you, to not be afraid of the dark…” He trailed off feebly.

The voice that emanated from the dark made him jump in fright. It was slow, cold and ancient.

“Nor should you be.” The figure within the darkness stirred and rose from its knees, towering over Eben, towering over even his father if he were here.

Slowly it stepped from the dark and into the starlight with an even gait that caused the stone to tremble. Eben stepped from its path and even as it emerged into the gentle starlight it remained a figure of pitch darkness, over its shoulder was a mighty poleaxe.

Jat screamed as the doors buckled further.

“Step aside, fragile creature of the light.” It said as it strode towards the doors.

Jat moved away and came to Eben, keeping a wide berth around the Guardian.

“And do not fear I – a creature of dark. Do not even fear these – creatures of shadow, these aberrations. They are born when the light that is cast is blocked. They are what remain when what is good in this world is withheld. Where there is plenty, they know greed, where there is love, they know jealousy.”

It hefted its poleaxe, readying to battle.

“I am of the dark – primordial. I existed before the light, I am what is constant even when the light is gone. The light brought warmth to this world, and these creatures seek to snuff it out in a pale imitation of darkness. Now the dark will consume the shadow, and light will continue to thrive.”

The doors broke down, the Shadowmen swarmed in and the Guardian in the Dark charged.

Eben had thought that the screams of the attacking Shadowmen was the most terrifying thing he had heard. Now it was their screams as they were torn apart.

Jat held Eben in her arms as the carnage raged, and once it was done, they huddled silently as the Guardian returned slowly to its alter.

“I will always be here, creatures of the light.”

Eben looked up into the black form. “And I will not fear the darkness.”

The guardian paused, Eben knew it was watching him even though he did not know how. It made a motion – as if to reach out to him – but it instead continued back to its shrouded vigil.

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