Collapsing to a stop, the girl fell limply to the hard dirt ground of the forest. She gasped hoarsely, her raw throat burning hot. Her lungs contracted and gasped in desperation for air. Her eyes watered and burned with the sting of tears. Her hands reached out in panic for a familiar touch, and when they failed to find anything in front of them, she let out a primal, animal wail: the cry of pure grief. Her small, dirty, tangled brown head sunk to her heaving chest, and there she remained, curled up in a heap of tears and dirt and grief and abandonment.
It only takes a spark of light to defeat the darkness.
Kylon’s words rang through her head, pounding, pounding themselves into her brain. That is what he used to say to her when she was scared of the dark. When they would walk through the darkened village, and she would clutch his arm and draw closer to him. He would laugh, pull her closer, plant a tender kiss on her head, and light his lantern, illuminating their path.
It only takes a spark, Emory. Only a small spark. The darkness cannot last as long as there is someone who is willing to light a match.
The girl shook her head vigorously. It could not be true. When the dark enveloped her like a blanket, when it suffocated her and pinned her to the ground, when it snuffed out any bit of light there was, no spark could ever penetrate that dark cloak.
She gasped again, remembering the fires, remembering the blades, remembering the screams and everything burning, burning. Remembering Kylon, brave Kylon, shepherding the villagers to safety, encouraging them to flee to the river, where they could cross and find refuge. Remembering him standing in front of the orphanage while she ran to the back, herding the children to safety. Remembering running back to the entrance and seeing it. Remembering the wicked spear, the malicious grin, the cold eyes, the blood, Kylon collapsing. Remembering the cold, merciless, vicious Malaterian soldiers, looking around for survivors, setting fires, burning. Remembering running in panic to Kylon. Remembering cradling his battered blond head in her lap for the last time, remembering furiously trying to stem the flow of blood, remembering his beautiful eyes looking up at her.
Emory, Emory, he had gasped. Emory, they’re coming back. Emory, you have to go.
“No!” she’d screamed out loud, her throat and heart torn.
My love. Go.
She’d sobbed uncontrollably, hot tears carving smooth paths on her face. She’d bent down and kissed Kylon, soft, slow, sweet, for the last time. And with a wrench, she’d watched the only family she’d ever known breathe his last. Broken and sobbing, she’d picked herself up and ran, faster than she’s ever run before, hearing the Malaterian soldiers returning. How long she’d been running, where she was going, she didn’t know. Wherever she ran, she couldn’t escape the black darkness pressing in on all sides, making her gasp for breath. There was no light here, not without Kylon.
When she awoke the next morning and heard the birds chirping, and felt the warm sun on her face, she automatically turned to look next to her. But when she saw a tree root in her husband’s usual place, when instead of a warm, sleepy kiss, she received a sharp pain on her cheek from a rock, her heart dropped, and she remembered what had happened.
The Malaterians. The minions of Sir Rwoket, the cruel dictator who’d just seized power in Catalia. Capturing and imprisoning the previous king, he’d appeared almost overnight in the palace, and the kingdom had changed without warning. His soldiers “kept order” by terrorizing the local villages, burning and slaying without reason or mercy. Instead of parades there were raids. Instead of joy there was fear. And instead of light there was dark. And Kylon. Kylon was gone. She idly twisted the silver ring on her left hand, remembering the day he’d given it to her.
Forever, he’d said, his beautiful blue eyes staring into hers, his handsomely sculptured face bent close to hers, his large strong hand encompassing hers, his sweet smile promising all the happiness.
But evidently forever was another thing that could be destroyed by darkness. Light, happiness, forever. Gone in an instant, gone in the thrust of a spear. Her heart leapt into her throat again, but she stood up.
Dazed, Emory inspected her surroundings. She was standing in the middle of a bright forest. While is had seemed dark and unwelcoming last night, it was brightly illuminated and seemed almost friendly in the morning light. Deep brown dirt offered promises of growth and life, bunches of colorful wildflowers offered bright sparks of joy, and tall, thick, green trees bent down to her, offering comfort.
No one can comfort me, Emory thought bitterly, and walked on, ignoring the promises of nature. While she wandered, she felt tears slipping down her face again. It seemed like this was now her normal state of existing. Tears, grief, and the ever-present darkness. But without Kylon, that was all there was. He had been the only family she’d known. Orphaned at birth, she’d grown up in the orphanage until she turned sixteen, when she had begun work at the local seamstress. And every day in the small seamstress cottage, the same tall, blond, handsome boy with the most beautiful smile she’d ever seen, would walk by and wink at her through the open door. Shy Emory had blushed and turned her head back to her work, but every morning, she would glance up shyly to see when he would return. And not long after, instead of simply winking and walking by, he’d winked and waited outside. When she’d stepped outside and started the walk back to her own small cottage, he’d fallen into step with her and struck up a conversation. He’d introduced himself as Kylon, and told her she had the prettiest face he’d seen. And every day he would return and walk with her, and Emory found herself falling, something she’d never experienced before. And when Kylon had offered her a home, a home with him, a forever home, she’d said yes without hesitation. The way he made her feel…special, loved, safe, home. And they’d been happier than anyone else, until…
Emory stopped short, the familiar tightening in her chest restricting her lungs.
It only takes a spark of light to defeat the darkness.
His words rang through her head once more as she sat under a tall tree that night, looking out onto the river. She gazed up at the sky and saw only darkness in the black velvet sky.
It only takes a spark of light to defeat the darkness.
Slowly and softly, Emory watched a small, bright star push its way through the dark canvas of the sky. It twinkled a few times, hesitantly, then slowly brightened to a soft glow.
But look, she thought cynically, it can’t defeat that darkness. It’s a tiny little star with barely any light, and look how much darkness there is. She sighed and bowed her head in bleak despair, staring at the river. And suddenly, in the slowly rushing water, she saw another pinpoint of light, and another. In astonishment, Emory looked up and gasped. Hundreds of stars were twinkling their way into existence, joining the first one. They smiled and laughed, twinkling in joy. Constellations formed, images leaping across the sky, now radiant with sparkling lights.
Emory stared in wonder. But…but…Her thoughts trailed off as she stared at the stars, so fiercely brave, defiantly sparkling, illuminating the dark night sky.
It only takes a spark of light to defeat the darkness.
Running, running, running through the tall grass. Emory was running again, but this time, her heart was beating steadily. It only takes a spark of light to illuminate the darkness. It only takes one. The rest will follow.
She ran on and on, her lungs burning, but her mind clear.
“Emory? Emory, is that you?” A silhouette arose in front of her, a tall, stocky, familiar shape. Edmond Ithed, the village leader. His curly brown hair waved slightly in the breeze, and on his slightly wrinkled, bearded face he wore an expression of worried joy.
“Emory, we thought we’d lost you!” he said in his deep, relieved voice, taking Emory into his arms. “Come, come, dear girl, you look terrible…what is it?”
“It’s Kylon,” Emory whispered.
Edmond gasped and took a step back. “Kylon…” he said hoarsely. “He—”
“He was guarding the orphanage…and…they…the spear…he…” Emory felt her throat closing again, and she let out a choked sob.
“May he rest in the light,” Edmond whispered roughly, giving the traditional Catalian exhortation to the dead. “Come, Emory.”
He put an arm around her, and the two walked forward, each supporting the other.
Emory soon found herself surrounded by village women, holding her, supporting her, drying her ever-falling tears. Yet, although Emory knew her pain was not lessened, her despair was. For she knew what she had to do now.
She stood in front of the Council, hands trembling. Eyes full of anticipation looked up at her. Yet she could see the desperation in their eyes, the same desperation that she had felt only hours before. These people, this community, kicked brutally out of their home. They had all suffered losses, she knew. They only saw the darkness right now. Emory gasped a little as the familiar tightening of her lungs began to creep in again, but she took a deep breath, remembering the stars. It only takes a spark of light to defeat the darkness. It only takes one. It only takes a start, a catalyst.
She began to speak. “Fellow villagers, my friends, my companions,” Her voice came out thin and tinny, and she gasped again. Speak, Emory. This is your part to play. She remembered the single twinkling star, the first one to come out, the one to start the revolution against darkness. And she remembered Kylon’s face. Kylon, Kylon. She could almost hear his soft low voice, whispering sweetly in her ear, his soft lips sprinkling her with warm kisses, his arms strong and steady around her. Emory, darling. I’ll always be here for you. You have no reason to fear. You’re home, darling, you’re home. Look at me, love, look at me whenever you feel afraid. I’ll always be here for you. Forever. A single tear rolled down her cheek, and she took another breath. It was love that spurred her on, she realized. The darkness may have tried to take him from her forever, but what it didn’t realize was that love crossed the barriers of life and death. Love was forever, and love could not be conquered.
“Fellow citizens,” she tried again, and her voice came out clear and steady. For Kylon. “Fellow citizens, my friends, we face a greater threat than we have ever known. I know that many of you are in despair. I know that many have lost loved ones. I as well have lost a very dear one, my husband Kylon. And friends, we’re never going to be the same. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to go on without Kylon. I don’t know about a lot of things, really. But I know one thing. I know that it only takes a spark of light to illuminate the dark. I know that, although the odds are against us, there is always hope. Because, friends, hope is never lost. Hope is always there, even if it is the faintest whisper. But even a whisper can be heard, if you listen carefully. And if you hear it, you can share it, and you can shout it, and others can shout it, and soon it will be screamed throughout the whole world. And so tonight I come to bring you this message of hope, this message of light, this call to step forward. Even if we are all slain in the process, there is no better thing to die for. For that is what Kylon died for, what the other brave villagers have died for. If I can give my life for the same thing Kylon gave his life for, I need not ask for more. So, friends, who is with me? Who will follow me? Who will step forward into the dark with a torch? Who will shout the whisper of hope with me? Who will stand with me in this fight against darkness?”
She ended with a shout, and stood, a little shocked at herself. She had never done anything like that before, but, somehow, it felt right. Emory, darling, well done, she heard in her ear, and smiled, really smiled, the first time she had smiled in days. It spread across her face and transformed her features, and she turned her smile to the villagers.
All at once, they leapt to their feet and saluted her. No applause, no cheers. Simply a salute, a sign of camaraderie and fellowship. A sign that they had heard her. A sign that they would follow her. Emory looked around and smiled wider. The lights seemed to dim, and for a second she saw them, not as they appeared then, but as they truly were: bearers of light, bearers of hope. She saw them holding candles, slowly lighting them one by one, until the room was full of light.
The makeshift, sloppy, ragged, hopeful regiment trekked through the forest in silence. At their head walked Emory, feeling rather strange at the head of things. After her exhortation, the villagers had instantly gathered behind her. Not only that, but Edmond Ithed had sent messages to all the neighboring villages, and all had responded in turn. Emory’s heart was filled looking at the thousands of ragged, determined soldiers behind her, each carrying a steady flame within his heart, a flame she had placed there. The night sky was about to be illumined. The darkness was about to be dispelled. The light hovered on the horizon. In only a short time the sun would rise, dawn would break, and a new day would begin.
They continued their tedious trek through the forest, towards the Catalian castle where the imposter Sir Rwoket dwelled in stolen opulence. Their plan: to overthrow Rwoket and reinstall the rightful king, Jared, who was imprisoned deep in the palace dungeons.
Suddenly Edmond, who was next to Emory, stopped short. “There it is,” he said in a deep, awed voice.
Emory stared at the massive artifice before her. Stone towers that seemed to reach to the sky, thick stone walls, a great wooden door bigger than her entire cottage, brazen black pennants flying ominously from the turrets.
She turned to Edmond, whose worn face echoed her own thoughts. “I don’t know how we’re going to get in there.”
Emory nodded in deep thought. It was a daunting and near-impossible task. Yet, as she turned back and looked at the thousands of villagers, armed with a variety of weapons and dressed in disheveled clothes, she received a sudden burst of confidence. The light is here, and the darkness cannot overcome it. The light has been spread, now it is time to fight. As she turned back to the castle, she stared at the black pennants, and thought of Sir Rwoket, and the poor imprisoned king, and the men standing behind her, and Kylon. Spread the light, Emory. You spread it, now it’s time to act.
“I have to get in there,” she blurted out.
Edmond stared at her. “Are you crazy? You’ll be killed!”
“I have to get in there,” she repeated. “I can sneak in the back. I’ll pretend to be a servant. I’ll walk with them and I’ll open the gates for you. Then we can storm the castle.” She gestured to the small stream of servants pouring in and out of the back of the castle.
Edmond looked at her with concern in his eyes. “Emory, I can’t let you do this. You’ve already done so much; you brought us here!”
Emory shook her head. It is your task. “I have to go in. I’m the only one who can.”
Edmond opened his mouth to argue, but Emory stared into his eyes. “Kylon did this for you, now I will.”
Edmond shut his mouth and handed Emory a sword. “You’ll need this.” And he pulled her in for an embrace. “The world needs more lights like you, Emory.”
Emory stumbled back a little. “There is always hope, even if it is the faintest whisper.” She took a step forward, and made her way to the castle. Yet when she turned back, she could see Edmond’s faint smile, and his hand raised in a soldier’s salute.
Getting into the castle was fairly easy. In her brown villager’s garb, Emory looked rather like a servant, and no one gave her a second glance as she walked through the servant’s gate and into the halls. Finding the gate turned out to be a bigger problem. She ended up tiptoeing behind some iron-clad soldiers as they made their way to the front of the castle.
It smells like death, she remarked to herself. While she believed the castle was normally joyous and kind, it had been turned to black darkness. Black banners hung on every wall, and a lingering scent of blood hung in the air, which made Emory a little sick every time she smelled it. Oh, Kylon, Kylon, she thought in grief. Yet she had a purpose in her walk, and she was determined to stick to it. For Kylon. For light. For happiness.
Eventually she found herself in the main entranceway. The domed ceiling was so high she had to crane her neck to see where it ended. The walls were dark gray stone, covered with black veiled paintings. Curious, she pulled the corner off one painting to see what was underneath. Colors and life popped off the canvas out at her. A beautiful scene of the Catalian country was painted there. Of course Sir Rwoket would cover these up, she thought sadly. And, compelled by some impulse, she yanked with all her might on the black cloth. It came billowing down onto the cold stone floor, and revealed the beautiful oil painting in all its glory. A scene of a simple country dance: a scene of joy and laughter and happiness and love and light. A scene that when revealed, immediately brightened the room. Emory smiled again, staring at the beautiful painting. A couple danced in the foreground, their fingers intertwined. Oh, Kylon, she thought again, thinking fondly of their wedding celebration. How they had danced, how they had laughed, how over-the-top happy they had been, knowing that they had forever with each other. Brushing a tear aside, Emory stared again at the painting, committing it to memory.
She looked around the rest of the room. Stone carvings of lions marked either side of the giant wooden drawbridge. How does it even open? she wondered. And then just above the left lion’s head, she saw a large wooden lever. Ah yes, she thought in triumph. She sprinted silently over to pull it and release the gate, when she felt a searing pain in her lower back. A pain unlike anything she had ever felt before, a pain so strong her vision went black and red, and she collapsed, writhing on the ground, clutching her stomach. Her hands closed around a long, solid object, and she screamed in horror and realization. Opening her eyes, she saw through her spotted vision red, warm, gushing blood, flowing from an arrow embedded in her stomach. And through her rushing ears, she heard a low, dark, gravelly, evil voice.
“So, who do we have here?”
Emory squinted her eyes to see none other than Sir Rwoket, standing in front of her, in all his dark glory. His inky black clothes, his dark olive skin, his greasy black hair, his low, gravelly, dark voice that promised cruelty and needless violence.
“Sir Rwoket,” she croaked with all the voice she could muster. She placed a hand on the arrow and tried to pull it out of her guts. But her hands slipped on her own blood, and she only succeeded in twisting it painfully. She screamed again in pure pain, and writhed on the ground.
“Indeed,” Rwoket answered in a slippery voice. “And you, you are nobody, are you? A villager scum? Come to free the king, I suppose. Or perhaps you’ve come to assassinate me? Well, a nobody villager can do nothing here. Look at you! Helpless, groveling on the ground like an animal. There is nothing you can do to change the tide of fate, you pitiful creature.”
Emory’s vision clouded with pain and hurt. Was there really nothing I could do? Is it truly a lost cause? She felt the cold stone ground beneath her body and saw her own fate. She would die without opening the door, and Edmond and the other villagers would all be caught and slain. Her spark would be just that, nothing but a few sparks, drenched by the dense storm of evil.
Emory. Emory, my love. She opened her eyes. Kylon?
Emory, you are here for a reason, love. Be brave. Carry on. A single spark of light can defeat the darkness. Listen to me, love. Listen to my voice.
Emory closed her eyes, then opened them with a new conviction. And, with a great struggle, she forced herself to her feet, leaning against the stone lion, gritting her teeth and clutching at the arrow embedded in her body.
“I am Emory, Emory the orphan. Emory the villager, Emory the seamstress, Emory the shy, Emory the wife of Kylon, whom you murdered the other day. Emory whose life you have changed. Emory the soldier. Emory the leader. Emory the spark of light. Emory the bearer of hope. And you are nothing but vapor, for isn’t that what evil is? A fog pretending to be a thick cloud. A mist pretending to be a thick, suffocating blanket. But hope, light, they will always defeat the dark every time. Even when all seems lost, there is always hope. And today I stand before you, as Emory the bearer of light, to defeat this evil, this blackness, once and for all. You stand no chance against the power of light.“
And with everything she had, she let go of her wound and leapt to grab the lever right above her. She pulled and pulled with all her might, and light poured into the room as the door opened and the army of villagers rushed in. And Emory caught a glimpse of Edmond brandishing his long sword right at Sir Rwoket’s shocked and furious face before she collapsed. It only takes a single spark.
Emory. Emory, love. Do not fear. Listen to my voice. Emory, you did it. Emory, you spread the light. Emory, come, rest. Emory, come home. Come home to me, love. Forever.
The girl opened her eyes. She reached instinctively to her stomach, and found it clean and whole, with no trace of an arrow. She saw that her clothes had been changed. Instead of her worn brown villager’s garb, she was clothed in a soft blue dress, the color of the sky above her. Her skin was soft and smooth, and her hair silky, clean, and long down her back. She looked around her surroundings in wonder. A clear blue sky without a cloud in sight, a rolling green field covered with brightly colored blossoms, each more vibrant than the last. A feeling of utter peace and happiness. She stood up and twirled around in light-hearted joy, watching her lovely blue skirt spin out in front of her. She laughed, a bright, clear laugh that hadn’t been heard in a while, and began to twirl and dance about the field. And suddenly she caught sight of something else, to the side of her vision. She stopped short and turned around. It couldn’t be…it wasn’t…was it? Tall, blond, blue eyed, strong arms and familiar hands, the most beautiful smile she’d ever seen…
“Emory,” Kylon said, “Welcome home, love,”