Shadow Walk with Me
Well, if it isn't the great hunter himself!
As if you don't know! All four of the Cardinal Virtues laid low, all with your help. You're the talk of the Stairs, Forename!
When the night returned to Lakeland, we knew in our hearts that change was on the horizon. But never did I dare hope that you might help rid us of those terrible fiends. You've surpassed my wildest expectations!
Not mine, Glynard. Aye, when I first laid eyes on him, I had an inkling that he was the hero we'd been waiting to come along...
Hah! Easy to claim after the fact!
If you'd indulge me, though, I would love to hear you tell how it all played out. The hunting of the Virtues, that is...
My word, there's so much more to it than I realized. And there I thought you'd only had to track down the bloody things. Gods, though, the things you learned about the Warriors of Light...so many secrets and details lost over time...
And for all their hard work and sacrifice, they somehow brought about the Flood? Can't say I understand it at all, but it's a bloody tragedy, it is.
We should gather the others and toast their memories! Heroes of eld, brave and true, to be remembered forevermore!
Now now, I'll thank you not to let your bleeding heart drive you to offer up a fortnight's stock of spirits. Attend to your other customers and let me speak with the hero of here and now.
What ever would I do without your good sense and wisdom? Very well, I'll leave you to entertain him─but don't think we won't be having that drink someday!
Forename, I must thank you for sharing with us such incredible tales. 'Tis only right that I repay you in kind.
With the ending, that is. With the story of the true villain who towers above the Virtues─the devil more deserving of death than any that yet lingers in this world...
If your curiosity has been piqued, then meet with me atop the balcony overlooking the Crystalline Mean. I will be waiting there until you do.
Where is Cyella when I need her? Running off on a personal matter when we're busier than ever! Bah!
You came, as I knew you would. Never met a mystery you could leave well enough alone─or a demon that you could let live, am I right?
And this demon is undeniably deserving of death. Make no mistake. To cut them down would be just and proper. The act of a goodly person─and that is just what you are. I can see that...
No need to grow impatient or be offended, my friend. But before you pass judgment on this villain, you need first understand their part in everything. Who they were to the fallen Warriors of Light, for instance.
Of course, right about now you must be wondering how I know what I know─what a tavern wench of all people has got to do with any of this.
Let me tell you, then: I am the one who brought together the Virtue-hunters. I am the one who marked you as a potential ally to them and bade you join them in their quests.
I alone knew what had to be done, and what sort of sinner would be needed to see this tale of tragedy and betrayal brought to an end.
But come─we have many malms ahead of us still. To Kholusia and the Codger's Crook. I will go on ahead and wait for you there.
You are accustomed to life on the road, I see. As am I...
Do you recognize this place? I thought you might. Here is where it began─where Ardbert first met Lamitt.
Still young and lacking in experience, but possessed of so, so much potential. Heroes in the making. Even then the keen-eyed could see.
They would only fulfill that promise much later, though. After joining with their other dear companions, Branden and Renda-Rae...
And one other─an elven woman. Not half bad with a sword.
Ahh, but perhaps you are already asking the question: who? There were five Warriors of Light in all, but she would make six.
Indeed, after adding in Nyelbert, there does seem to be one too many. But believe me when I say there was indeed a sixth adventurer lost to history, and her name was Cylva...
Though I doubt I need convince you of this truth. When you walked in the Virtues' memories, you saw her time and time again, did you not?
Then you saw the true villain─the traitor responsible for all their woes.
Let us continue the story elsewhere. To Amh Araeng and the Fields of Amber.
You saw the true villain's face in their memories, and I told you her name in Kholusia. But what were her crimes, you ask? Hearken to my tale and you will learn.
Cylva had joined the others before they first met Nyelbert. After their party of five came to this place, they took on a commission to slay a powerful beast that had taken up residence in the mines.
Said beast was believed to be the instigator of ever more terrible tremors, and so time was of the essence. But during their hurried search, they crossed paths with their future companion, then a competitor aiming to usurp their prize.
After another tremor triggered by the beast trapped them all underground, they had no choice but to work together to lay it low. But to their dismay, even after its death, the earth continued to shudder violently.
As the adventures looked to each other in confusion, Nyelbert strode towards the beast's body and grabbed hold of a curious stone─a stone brimming with untold aether, that he had sought out that he might harness its potential to rescue a loved one lost to the rift...
But so powerful was the stone that it warped the flow of the Lifestream. Its very existence was a threat. And so, when faced with the choice between one life and countless others, Nyelbert wept...and shattered the stone.
He had held his comrade's salvation in his hand and cast it aside for the greater good. For his sacrifice, he was judged a hero, and in that instant, a Warrior of Light was born...
In life, Nyelbert was a pragmatic figure, whose wisdom and sagacity were admired by all. Little wonder that in death he would retain his virtue...
But as Nyelbert mourned the friend he forever lost, the betrayer Cylva looked on in silent contentment, for they had taken the first step on their path towards becoming heroes brave and true.
His sacrifice had sparked the transformation. 'Twas fuel for the ritual to come...
What ritual, you may wonder? Fear not. All will become clear in time.
Come with me to Rak'tika. To the Citia Swamps. We must retrace the steps as they were taken to understand the depth of her treachery.
This place too is familiar to you, no? From days recent and long since passed.
After the events in Amh Araeng, Ardbert and his comrades grew in fame, spurring others to entreat their aid. The adventurers sought out greater and greater challenges, and in pursuit of another they came to Rak'tika.
While here, the hunter Renda-Rae learned that the notorious mark, Balam–Quitz, was near. And so, under cover of darkness, she slipped away from the others to slay the beast by herself.
Like Nyelbert before, of course, you already know what her motive was. Balam–Quitz had robbed her of her fellow hunters. Only vengeance would redress the balance.
Moreover, she would not dare risk the lives of her new comrades, so terrified was she of the mere possibility that she might have to relive that terrible day. And so she faced Balam–Quitz alone, and would have surely died for it...had Ardbert and the others not arrived in time to help.
Like Nyelbert before, of course, you already know what happened next. For her love, her conviction, and her resolve was she chosen by Hydaelyn.
And from that day forward, Renda-Rae swore never again to betray her comrades' trust─to share with them the triumphs and the tragedies. To relinquish the freedom she had once held in the highest.
The bravest, most courageous hunter that ever was. That moment would define what she became in life...and in death.
Her sacrifice would hasten the transformation. 'Twas fuel for the ritual to come...
The betrayer Cylva looked on, yet more satisfied. They were oblivious to her machinations, unaware that they were dancing to her tune.
Their journeys continued, and so must ours. To Il Mheg, and Lyhe Ghiah.
As beautiful now as it was then. You saw it too. Would you not agree?
With the death of Balam–Quitz, the legend of Ardbert and his comrades had grown larger than ever. Thus emboldened, they came to the Kingdom of Voeburt...
Voeburt had long been troubled by what some had dubbed a “magical plague”─innocents found transformed into misshapen fiends that the kingdom's knights had no choice but to put down ere the contagion spread.
Branden had been one such knight. In his youth, he had served the princess Sauldia faithfully, only to be cast out for a single mistake. Thus did he take to the road where he met Ardbert and the others.
Having grown stronger and wiser and more respected, Branden felt it was time to return and redeem himself, and with the aid of his comrades he did just that. Tadric, the court mage, was unmasked as the mastermind of Voeburt's misery, and by disgraced knight's blade was he brought to justice.
But with his dying breath, Tadric cursed the princess Sauldia, sentencing her to a fate worse than death...
At her behest did he raise up his blade, and for the sake of the kingdom, strike down his liege lady.
With that single stroke he forever changed─though nearly not in the way that was necessary. He stood at the precipice and almost forsook his compassion for unflinching judgment...but mercifully turned aside at the last.
Thus did he find and embrace true justice, that which weighs law and heart together and strives for the greater good. 'Tis a long, difficult road from which many stray, settling for simpler moralities. But I would expect no less of the man who became Dikaiosyne.
His sacrifice would strengthen the transformation. 'Twas fuel for the ritual to come...
As her companions grew ever more powerful, so too did the betrayer Cylva. Bit by bit, they brought her closer to her goal.
But it was not yet finished. To Kholusia they returned, and so must we. Tomra and the next chapter of our tale await.
Slowly but surely the adventurers were fulfilling their potential...
Word of their deeds in Voeburt spread like wildfire, and their legend grew ever larger. But for all their success, the fledgling heroes would be forced to endure more hardship and welcome more sacrifice.
They pressed deeper into the depths of Rak'tika─towards ancient Ronka. 'Twas there that the dwarf Lamitt came to a crossroads, for in claiming the magick she desperately desired, she would be forced to renounce something equally precious.
Dwarves are a reclusive lot, wont to withdraw from the outside world that their many traditions might be preserved in isolation. When the stoneblight began to spread, they chose to lock away the afflicted and refused to seek outside help.
But Lamitt would not abide this. She vowed to save her ailing kin─her sister among them─even if it meant violating dwarven law. With her newfound power she returned and cured the sick, and for this she was banished by the council of elders.
This came as no surprise, for she had made her peace with it long before. When she stood in that ancient ruin and called upon forgotten guardians to grant her forbidden knowledge, she knew then what the price would be.
She had weighed her traditions and identity against the lives of those she loved and made her choice, though it pained her terribly and in ways only a dwarf could understand...and Hydaelyn, it would seem.
Through hardship and sacrifice was a new Warrior of Light forged. A healer that knew more than any the value of a life, and would do anything to see it preserved─even in death.
Her sacrifice would nearly complete the transformation. 'Twas fuel for the ritual to come─very soon, then, very soon.
For Ardbert and his comrades had stumbled upon evidence of the larger design. Threads linking together the disparate troubles of the realm.
A name spoken only in whispers─the Shadowkeeper. A singular force sowing chaos and discord throughout Norvrandt to an unknown end.
If the Warriors of Light truly wished to save their world, then they would need to confront this villain amongst villains.
And at the end of their exhaustive search, at the end of their struggle...who do you think they found waiting to welcome them with open arms?
The answer to that awaits us in Lakeland, our final destination.
The villain yet walks among us, Forename. Unknown and unpunished. Go on ahead and wait for me at Laxan Loft. There are preparations to which I must first attend...
Damn you, Cylva! We were comrades in arms! Friends!
That we were and that we are. Everything I said, everything I felt─it was all true. You mean the world to me─
You're the bloody Shadowkeeper! What in the hells was this for!?
For you─for every one of you! To forge you into heroes worthy of Her blessing, that she might choose you as Her champions!
A ruthless mage consumed by the pursuit of power to save his friend no matter the cost. By his sacrifice a warrior born!
A mournful hunter scarred by tragedy resolved never again to trust in others. By her sacrifice a warrior born!
A disgraced knight who yearned to steel his heart in justice's name. By his sacrifice a warrior born!
A troubled healer torn between tradition and love. By her sacrifice a warrior born!
And their leader...an adventurer with a heart overflowing with love for his dearest comrades...who must now bring his axe to bear against his own.
By his sacrifice a warrior born!
I am the villain you seek. The keeper of shadows from a world shrouded in Dark. By our struggle will this world be shattered and its souls saved!
Saw it all, did you? I thought you might. Mother's gift has a knack for showing us exactly what we need to see─if not what we want to, or when.
They knew me as Cylva, but my real name... It doesn't matter.
Like you, I am not of this world. I crossed the rift and came to the First.
My home, the Thirteenth, fell to Dark in a calamity that mirrored the one which nearly claimed this world. I was one of several “heroes” who failed to save it.
The boy, Unukalhai─I have glimpsed him in your memories. He was a friend. Like him, I heeded the words of the Ascians and, that I might redress the balance, I chose to come here and hasten a rejoining of worlds.
In our despair, we heeded the words of the Ascians who came unto us. Thus did I choose to come here and, that I might redress the balance, hasten a rejoining of worlds.
A shard subsumed by Dark demands a mirror of blinding Light. Primordial forces will strive to achieve equilibrium. But there was a solution─a single solution, I believed.
Were a Flood of Light to consume this shard in its entirety, it would be of no use. The Ascians made it clear it must be brought to the brink, but no further.
The task was difficult, but the plan simple. Souls predisposed to Light, fledgling heroes in the making. I would bring together Ardbert and his comrades and groom them for a higher purpose.
I would play the part of comrade and guide their course, all the while laboring in secret to pit stronger and stronger enemies against them, until finally, once they were Warriors of Light brave and true, I would reveal myself as a Warrior of Darkness and extinguish their radiance forever.
Thus would this world be primed for a Rejoining, and the Source for a calamity.
The Ascians who called themselves Mitron and Loghrif were confident it would succeed. And indeed, Ardbert and the others rose to the occasion, as I knew they would...
It was not to be. I had misjudged Ardbert. His comrades before him had made their sacrifices in turn, and as their mirror I had grown stronger for it. Had he but embraced his role and struck me down, victory would have been mine...
But Ardbert, dear Ardbert, would not forsake his heart.
In the end, he chose mercy. He chose love, and I was undone.
The rest, you know. He sought out Mitron and Loghrif and granted them what he refused me. They accomplished everything they set out to achieve...and then the Flood came and washed it away.
In the wake of my betrayal I would look on from the shadows, and reflect on my many sins as all fell to ruin. Denied death, then and now, and perhaps ever after, as a fragment of my essence endures...
But then, one day years ago, my fallen comrades rose again as the Cardinal Virtues.
It coincided with the arrival of the first Scions, I later realized. A defense against the forces being marshalled to undo my failure.
I can but assume the Ascians planted the idea in Vauthry's head. They were his creations, after all─and with their graves in Eulmoran territory, it was doubtless a simple matter to have their bodies exhumed and prepared...
"Who am I to speak,“ you may think when I say this, but...when I saw these...abominations he had wrought in their image...I was filled with such despair. Such anger...
I cannot unwrite the past. My soul is stained with blackest sin, and I will not pretend that it can ever be otherwise. But this act...this I could not ignore.
If the Ascians were going to such lengths, then surely others would cross the rift in due time. And so I hatched a plan.
I would assume the guise of Cyella, and as her take up residence in the Crystarium, where I would take measures to bring together the most ambitious of adventurers─individuals driven by more than mere coin. Virtue-hunters.
That way, when the enemy the Ascians feared more than any came to the First, the stage would be set. They would join in the hunters' quests, and together unmake Vauthry's simulacra and lay their souls to rest once more.
And so you did, Forename. The Virtues are no more. But the one ultimately responsible for their creation─the devil who set them on their doomed path─lingers still.
You know all there is to know of the heroes who saved this world. The truth I kept hidden in the shadows is yours, and there are no more secrets to share. And so I ask you now to grant me that which Ardbert could not. Death.
!You still have a duty to others. !...
No, don't do this! Don't you spare me like he did!
...Hmph. When you look at me that way, you remind me of Ardbert. He never did let me take the easy way out. I'm guessing suicide is out of the question too?
How can you stand there and say I deserve to live? Knowing everything I did, the lives I destroyed, the chaos I wrought? The Wardens pale in comparison─surely there is no greater villain than the Shadowkeeper!?
!Which is why you must live to atone for your deeds! !Death is no comfort to the living!
...I should've expected a hero would say something like that.
How does one even seek atonement? 'Tis an undiscovered country, with no charts or stars to guide... How will I even know when I find it?
...'Twould be for my own benefit, aye. That I cannot deny.
And if I'm to indulge in one final act of selfishness, you'll make me do it myself, won't you? Make me confront the cowardice of it─the ugly truth that I'd rather run away than try to seek atonement...
Perhaps...perhaps I may yet find purpose in preserving my comrades' legacy. In helping others to understand the sacrifices that made them true heroes...
For now, I shall return to the Crystarium and continue to assist Glynard, while spreading the forgotten tales of the Warriors of Light.
You would have been good friends, you and Ardbert. In another life.
Maybe you and I as well...
I see Cyella finally returned. She seems a bit more...how should I put it...at ease? You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?
I tell you, I am not at all accustomed to wearing armor any longer. Simply moving about in it is enough to tax my strength. And fighting? Ugh. Any one of Captain Lyna's recruits could probably put me flat on my back.
Fortunately, I needn't rely on my sword to spread the truth of my fallen comrades' deeds. Only words and the passage of time will see their legacy redeemed in the eyes of the people.
Thank you for accompanying me on my journey of remembrance, Forename. May your deeds ever be remembered and celebrated, as all heroes deserve.