“Just such a drama let us now compose: Plunge boldly into life, its depths disclose. Each lives it, not to many is it known, T’will interest wheresoever seiz’d and shown. Bright pictures, but obscure their meaning; a ray of truth through error gleaming. Thus you the best elixir brew, to charm mankind and edify them too.”Goethe’s Tragedy of Faust
The snowfall gradually tapered off into the night as Corvin ascended to the height of the mountain’s peak, where the light was dim and the wind wailed stiffly into the soundless crags of the mountainside.
He smiled meekly. The biting cold of the Himalayan freeze was an unwelcome contrast to the mild climes of Germania, vivid in his mind’s eye, where his father had made their homestead all those years past during the later years of the reign of King Frederick the Great; but although each gust nipped at his nose, ears, and cheeks: they were nevertheless a welcome reminder that his long journey was almost at an end. Still, the air was harsh, and Corvin was only human.
For a brief moment, the world went out of focus— sight and sense frosting over, mercifully blunting the searing pain which had long lingered. Yet that momentary respite would not remain; his attention gradually returned to him as a sobering wave of pain-awareness, his gaze now fixed on the flickering eyes of a pale leopard with a desperate temper. And what’s more: it was alive. And it was warm.
“Do you see it?” A voice called out from beside him, whispering from the absent space where his shadow lurked. “It has nowhere to go anymore.”
Corvin clenched his fist tightly, the ball of which creaked and trembled under the force of his grasp.
“I see it,” he replied with a pang of reluctance. “Part of me wishes I didn’t… but you are right. It’s not going anywhere now.”
The shadow from which the call had emanated was fundamentally familiar to Corvin, like an all-present force of nature—as if it were enshrined right in the heart of to the order of the world; no more ephemeral than the light of the stars which wrote this very moment.
Its darkness had always struck Corvin as almost surreally complete, ever since they began this journey together, such that even in that dimmest hour before them it was unambiguously stark and blatant from the grey light around.
Yet it was the pale blue of the moonlight which illuminated the twitching of Corvin’s chest and shoulders, the distress bound up in the furling of his brow, and the sheer enormity of weight in every step he took towards the animal before him. The sojourner of Europe knew in his bones —this was a moment for stoic and reverent silence.
And in what followed, only the wind would cry heresy.
The leopard pounced.
Dazed and weary, Corvin could only feel the euphoria surging through him as he struck. The creature howled, its jawline caving under the weight of his fist. In the poor light, the blood ran an eerie black as the creature, pale and reeling, sought its distance with frantic urgency.
Yet it was pursued tenaciously by Corvin Elrick, and quickly found itself ensnared in the tight grapple of his imposing arms. With great difficulty, the leopard managed to slip through the crook of Corvin’s hand. Gliding under his reach, the cat sank its teeth deep into the skin of his forearm.
He took several deep breaths before roaring, half between humor and pain. “How unfortunate for you, friend.” said Corvin, “I have ruined your only weapon ‘ere you could even wield it.”
He slapped the creature’s bloodied chin. Screeching, it dislodged its grasp, struggling quite uselessly to get out from under Corvin’s shadow.
Yet that tower of darkness loomed large over the Leopard. Corvin’s arm, wound up like a drawbridge, fell—delivering one final injury.
“Rest now, little one.” he sighed. “The quiet winter calls you home.”
The once-beautiful creature collapsed in a fetal stance along the contours of the shadow of the alcove. Wind rippled through the fur of the lifeless figure as it sat motionless, half-buried in the snow.
The leopard lay ready. The ritual could begin.
Sitting, Corvin pulled the boots from off his feet. He unstrung thick laces from each one, and then used them to bind up the leopard. Cupping the sullied fur of its jaw in his hand, Corvin exhaled with gentle fullness as he came to rest the body against his knee.
His brow unfurled as he lifted the leopard into the crook of his neck, walking it to the far end of the alcove: all as a father might with his worn-out child at the end of a novel Summer’s evening.
And the wind fell silent, in its deference.
Further past the ridgeline of the façade of the mountain, past the alcove, Corvin found an access to the inner caldera. After several fathoms of steps through the blinding dark of the tunnel, he emerged in the basin of a gargantuan ice rim —in the middle of which was a massive bodhi tree with great purple leaves.
The trunk was knotted like a braid along the length of its grain and encased a gravestone-sized granite block above it, protruding from the wood at about a fathom’s length.
Along each strand of the wooden plait was the engraving of a strange and ornate lettering.
Corvin paused, gesturing as though the shadow that plagued him had eyes of its very own.
“What do these markings mean?” he asked, “I’ve never seen such writing.”
The shadow replied, “these are what have called us since first we had sojourned from the Continent. And now, finally, we can answer.”
Corvin laid the body of the beast behind him and stepped into the nest of roots which reached out towards the world beyond. He raised his hand against the braid and stained its grain with the blood of his offering.
At first there was nothing, but then the knotting coiled tightly into a single bar, and the top end— writhing—snaked over the whole of the stone until its dense weight was sealed in the staff’s branching grasp.
The resulting maul fell weightily into Corvin’s hands.
“Is this it?” Corvin asked, “You said I would find my destiny here.”
“Well,” answered the shadow. “Not exactly… More like, it finds you.”
The floor of the caldera shattered into veins of molten rock, which became reflected in the bark of the tree as if it were iron in the heat of a giant’s forge. The roots around Corvin rattled, then shot from out of the ground. He ran, but it was not long before they had encased his body in their searing tether.
The tree unbound at its foundation, sinking into the earth as a maw of a hundred metal limbs, which morphed into exotic forms and contortions, sinking deep into the ruptured landscape. The roots of the tree which had arrested his escape pulled inwards, churning and violently lashing about.
The stone-dust settled to the serenade of Corvin’s helpless cries.
And then—like a clenched fist pummeling through desiccated thatch-work—the roots recoiled, pulling Corvin into total darkness.
In this Episode
Corvin Elrick Ratzinger
The Holder of the Light Eternal
Born in the late 18th century, Corvin was drawn to the power of El through a life-long obsession with magic, danger, and the forces of darkness. He sought power and purpose from a young age, and so when the voice of the Shadow came to him, he was ready and eager to listen.
Corvin arrives on the mystical shores of Elysia and learns the reason he has come all this way.