Nicholas walked into the cave with Yngvild. The earth sloped downwards into a large cavity lit by a green lantern that swayed on a creaking chain. Nicholas’s norn partner projected confidence with her measured stride, but he saw right through her.
“He’s probably fine, Yng.”
She glanced at him through the corner of her eye with a look of silent scolding until a sound pulled their attention. From the shadows, they heard the insane whispering of a man who had lost everything – a loss they both understood.
Four years ago, Mordremoth tore the Pact fleet from the sky. How many had survived the great vines tearing through their ships only to witness the betrayal of the sylvari? They had fallen from the sky amidst fire and wreckage. Nicholas had found Yngvild that day… or was it night? Neither of them were sure. They had helped each other find peace long after their corporeal bodies burned in the heart of the Maguuma Jungle, and they had grown close. When it came time to leave, Yngvild to Raven and Nicholas to Grenth, the dead lovers chose instead to spend eternity together in the Domain of the Lost.
In the cave, Yngvild unhooked the lantern and approached the corner. Its dim light revealed an Elonian ghost muttering to himself as he stroked the cave’s wall.
“Adil,” Yngvild called. “What… what are you doing?”
Adil stopped his whispering and turned toward them. He grinned.
Nicholas cleared his throat. “Are you alright? We’ve been–”
“I’ve warned you about these caves,” Yngvild interrupted. “You won’t find your purpose here, but you might find something else. Something with teeth.”
New dangers came two years ago, when Nicholas’s god, the once mighty Balthazar, hijacked vulnerable spirits for his Forged army – an event which destabilised the foundations of the Domain of the Lost and allowed a terrible creature to enter. The Eater of Souls guzzled up ghosts through a monstrous mouth-slit that ran across its stomach. Though it was defeated, by the Commander of all people, they had always wondered what else could slip through the cracks of this realm.
“I… heh.” Adil covered his mouth as he surprised himself with a laugh. “I… found it. Finally.”
“Well, that’s good! Right?” Nicholas looked toward Yngvild who had narrowed her eyes at Adil. She had a habit of looking stern when she worried. “We should go see the Judge.”
“Ah!” Wagging his finger, Adil said in a sing-song voice, “No no. I can’t do that. You see, my purpose is… to wait.” He gestured around to the cave as if he was making perfect sense.
“You’re… don’t be ridiculous!” Yngvild said. She pinched the bridge of her nose and whispered, “Raven.” Once composed, she opened her eyes and continued. “If there’s a real reason for you to linger here, well, Nicholas and I would be the last people to tell you to move on, but there is absolutely no chance that your purpose is to wait here. Nobody naturally belongs in the Domain of the Lost.”
Adil nodded vigorously. “I know, I know. I won’t be here long. However, while I am here…” He spread out his arms. “This will be my new abode! I will need to make some changes, of course. Here in the centre of the room will be a Vabbian rug. I’m thinking turquoise with accents of red. Here will be a painting of my wife. I’ll need an Istani vase – oh, my son! He loved stories of the corsairs! Oh, and here…” Adil gestured to the wall he was stroking. “Here, I will construct a magnificent shrine to the Eternal Father of Elona,” he fell to his knees and bowed his head, “while I await my Awakening. Praise Joko!”
He started his muttering again. Prayers to the lich, no doubt. Nicholas grimaced. He liked Adil, liked him a lot, but deprogramming brainwashing wasn’t in his skillset.
“Praise, um, Joko?” Nicholas said. “Okay, let’s talk through this logically. Keep our options open, hm?”
Still with his head bowed, Adil said, “Everything I did in life was to prove that I was worthy of Awakening. I must have faith and wait for my divine reward. I know you mean well, but only the munificent King Joko can make me leave this cave.”
Yngvild placed her hand on Nicholas’s shoulder. He looked up at his love with a question. Maybe he’ll change his mind? She sighed. Some ideas were difficult enough to dislodge from the living, but for the dead, ideas turn into obsessions that block out all else.
“Let’s try again later,” Nicholas said. “Maybe the Judge will have some advice.”
He reached for Yngvild’s comforting hand, but before he could touch it a sound like the ripping of fabric, amplified a thousand-fold, startled them both. It came from above the cave, in the sky. Adil broke his prayer and looked at his friends with wide eyes. They all ran out of the cave.
Their sky, usually a swirl of various greens, was now broken by a purple hole so big that it filled Nicholas’s entire sight, dizzying him with its immensity. Through it came a roll of thunder and the sound of grinding rocks, as a mountain, crusted with purple crystal, moved.
“No,” Yngvild said. “No. No!”
The mountain’s eyes glowed. The Crystal Dragon roared.
The Judge appeared out of thin air in front of them, wielding a giant scythe and faced Kralkatorrik. “Gather the spirits,” he commanded. “Take them far from the rift!”
Nicholas turned to run, but froze when he saw Yngvild unsheathe her greatsword. “No! Don’t,” Nicholas pleaded. “… Why?”
“Because we owe the Judge and I can help.” Other rifts appeared around them. Branded poured out. “And you’ll need a distraction to get past them. Now go!” she shouted as the Judge spun his scythe in a figure eight. Magical energy shone from the blade as the spell gathered energy.
Adil pulled Nicholas into a run as reality tore around them. Nicholas’s legs moved, but he couldn’t stop looking back as Yngvild slashed with her greatsword and shattered a Branded minotaur as it attempted to charge the Judge. Above them Kralkatorrik sucked in the magic, the waning life energy, of the realm. Adil called the lost spirits around them as they ran. I should be helping, said a quiet, sane voice in Nicholas’s head.
Still led by the hand, Nicholas saw Yngvild rise into the air as she and other ghosts too vacant to run were drawn up by Kralkatorrik. The Judge caught her by the wrist and proclaimed, “YNGVILD. Be with Raven.” She faded into the Mists to a place Nicholas could never follow.
“No!” he screamed. “Let go of me!” He tried to pull away from Adil’s grasp, but the Elonian grabbed on to him with both hands.
“She’s gone!” Adil said. “She’s safe! We’re not!”
The other ghosts, lost spirits that Nicholas and Yngvild had once tried to help in their search for their names and purpose, helped Adil drag him away. “She can’t go without me!” His vision of the green and purple sky blurred. “Where is she?!” He had to find her. Why won’t they let him go to her?
Another rift opened nearby, almost scattering the huddle of ghosts, but this time it wasn’t the Branded that came out. Shining, iridescent ghosts charged forth with blades and staves unsheathed. They formed a protective circle around the group.
“Through here,” one called from the portal. “Come with us!”
The lost ghosts pulled a screaming Nicholas into Tyria.
* * *
It felt like waking up – like he just opened his eyes and he was no longer held by a swarm of ghostly hands. He felt that time had passed, but couldn’t remember how much. Now he was in a huge hall, as grand as the Priory but seemingly older and less cared for. Magnificent pillars covered by a regular knotted design reached up to a grand ceiling. They were cracked but most were whole. It was amongst the rubble of a fallen pillar that Nicholas found himself again.
Knowing that their afterlives would force them to part ways, they had promised each other to stay in the Domain of the Lost together. This was never meant to happen.
The floor tiles continued the repetitive knotted pattern. Dwarven, maybe. Sections of the floor were grated, revealing flowing lava underneath. It mesmerised him so deeply that he was surprised when Adil spoke.
“It’s going to happen soon,” Adil said, now sat beside him. “I don’t even have a life to lose, and I’m scared.”
“What’s going to happen?”
Across the room, the faded ghosts of Nicholas’s realm were speaking to the iridescent ghosts that saved them.
“Nicholas? You’re… How much…” Adil gestured around him in mad motions. “I’ve been talking to you for hours, and you haven’t…” Adil let go off his words and put a hand on Nicholas’s shoulder. It took him back to the cave, where it seemed like moments ago, it was Yngvild hand that was there.
“What’s going to happen?” Nicholas asked again, his voice cracking.
“King Joko’s dead. I told you hours ago, but you… he was… no, that’s not what you asked… Kralkatorrik. The living are going to fight him. Soon.”
Nicholas took a deep breath, or at least went through the motion. “Are they going to win?”
“How can anyone win against that thing? Without King Joko, they don’t stand a chance.” Adil slumped against the broken pillar, deflated.
“I’m sorry about your king, Adil.”
Adil sighed. “The Awakened didn’t want to tell me how he died.”
Nicholas pointed to the iridescent ghosts across the room. “Who are they?”
“Oh. They are dead people who look, um, shiny.” Nicholas frowned until he heard Adil’s chuckle. “They fight for Glint and Glint is a dragon ghost who–”
“Glint?! Really?” Colour came back into the world.
“I guess she’s famous where you come from.”
“Yes!” Nicholas rose to his feet and extended a hand for Adil. “If Glint’s around, the living have more of a chance than you think. We need to help them.” His head buzzed with the possibility of hurting Kralkatorrik, of having a part in the Crystal Dragon’s demise and avenging the loss of Yngvild.
Adil took his hand and pulled himself up. “I wonder if we’ll shine too.”