The Dragon Prince: Reflections

“After Darkness”

Written by Eugene Ramos
Illustrated by Caleb Thomas

“Osato!” he shouted. “There—an opening! We run and we win!”

Karim pointed across the makeshift maze of a battlefield, a bright red banner in his other hand.

Osato blocked an enemy player’s sword-swipe with his heavy wooden shield and looked where his teammate indicated. “It’s too far!” Osato cried. “They’ll catch us.”

Karim’s heart pounded. Osato stood taller than him, as strong as elves twice his age and just as stubborn. It made him the best Guard in any game of Bannerman’s Run, but strength and stubbornness alone would not earn them victory. The young prince—and his banner—had to cross the line at the end of the battlefield.

Karim could see that line, unprotected and waiting for him. They only needed to reach it.

An onslaught of players from the gold-bannered team surged toward them from behind a maze bush. Osato lunged with his shield to block their progress, but he could not stop them all. Weaponless and vulnerable, Karim veered and ducked as the enemy players surrounded them, golden tabards gleaming in the sun. Their eyes fell greedily on the red prize in Karim’s hands.

He would not let them have it.

The red bannerman ran. His feet kicked up sand behind him.

“Karim!” Osato shouted. “Karim, not yet!”

Karim kept running. Beyond the playing field, Lux Aurea rose up in the distance, its Sunforge Tower a shining, brilliant beacon. The way was clear, the finish line within reach, and Karim could taste victory in the salt of his sweat—

WHAM.  Someone slammed into Karim’s side. He went down hard.

But we’re going to win, he thought, blinking stars out of the noon sun.

Someone tore the banner from his grasp.

We have to win.

We have to win, Karim told himself. The writhing, tainted darkness of Lux Aurea’s night sky spread infinitely above him, the stars all swallowed up inside it.

He lay on his back and gasped for breath. Karim’s head throbbed, ringing with too much sound from the battle all around him. Metal scraped flesh and cleaved bone. Men and women screamed, their voices viciously cut short. And the snarls—the growling, garbled sounds in the throats of their nightmarish enemies, vicious monsters in the dark.

But we were so close, Karim thought, still dazed. I was so close!

He could still see it: the top of the Sunforge Tower, upside-down from where he lay, shrouded in inky corruption. It looked ill, its sickness weeping red and crowning the spire in a haze of blood.

They had come to Lux Aurea with a righteous purpose, and Karim was the tip of their spear.

He had memorized the runes. The spell, its words, its motions. He had visualized it countless times: the orb restored by his hand in a display of magic so brilliant it would light the city’s poisoned sky like a golden sunrise.

Post tenebras lux.
After darkness, light.

It had all fallen apart so quickly. At dusk, every shadowed corner of Lux Aurea erupted with—he struggled to find words for them—monsters. Some of them he could almost call familiar, like horses and banthers, but they were changed. Like the sun orb itself, the abominations rippled with corruption, with tainted magic so vile that light itself seemed to bend to avoid its touch. Karim could still hear them stalking the capital’s streets, breath heavy and slathering.

One of them lay dead in the dark beside him. Black blood oozed from its open mouth. Karim kicked away from it and struggled to sit up. A red-gloved hand reached down from above him.

“Osato,” Karim breathed, relieved. “What happened?”

He took his friend’s hand and let himself be halted to his feet. “That thing nearly got you,” Osato said grimly, jerking his head in the direction of the mangled banther. “Tijana tackled you, got you out of the way. Gave me the opening to kill it. She saved your life.”

“Is he alive, Captain?” The bright-eyed Katolian asked Osato somewhat playfully, flanking Karim on his other side. Despite everything, she wore a smile. “I’d be in trouble if I broke the crown prince of the Sunfire elves, wouldn’t I?”

Karim’s blood flared with anger at the sight of her grin. He could not expect a human to understand what they’d come here to do, or what they’d lost. He glared at her hard, and her smile melted quickly beneath his gaze.

“Ligatus ignis,” Karim hissed. He swung his staff in a low arc. A spiral of fire gathered at its head and cast a glow upon Osato and Tijana’s faces. “Where are the others?”

“Easy, Karim,” Osato said, gripping his shoulder. “They blindsided all of us. Everyone’s scattered.”

All around them, he could hear the sound of battle down every alleyway, around every corner, the worst of the bloodshed mercifully shrouded by the night’s darkness. How many had they already lost? Karim felt sick, desperate, weak. “We have to keep going,” he said. He pointed to the Sunforge Tower, writhing like a living thing high above them. “We have to—”

A snarling interrupted him, loud and sharp and close in the dark. It was not an animal noise but something that could have once been a voice, something that could have formed words. From the shadows came monsters with new shapes. Smaller. Slender. Upright.

They were elves.

Karim knew their faces. They had marched alongside him into Lux Aurea, sworn to protect him as he ascended the Sunforge Tower to cleanse it.

Osato knew their names. “Anri– Kyreth– Jastien, no–!”

The corrupted elves drew closer. Osato stepped towards them, a desperate captain reaching for his soldiers, but Tijana seized Osato by the arm. “Don’t. They are lost. But we’re still alive.”

“Lost? They are our kin! They are not dead!” Karim protested. “They might still be saved! All of us can still be saved! We must—”

“We must live,” Osato said, torn from his grief. “Survival will be our victory tonight. We will have another chance, Karim. For now, stay with me. I’ll guard you.”

Karim grimaced. “Bannerman’s Run.”

Osato nodded, hefting his shield. “Always.”

They ran. Osato took the lead, bellowing an order to retreat for anyone that could still hear him—but only monsters heard the call. Karim took a last look back at the ailing heart of Lux Aurea atop the Sunforge Tower.

We will come back, he promised his beloved, tainted city, his lost home. We will not abandon you.

The orb pulsed mutely, a cry for help he could not answer.

Not yet.

They did not stop until they reached a dry riverbed far, far past the last of Lux Aurea’s golden gates. They could see the stars again, the violet tinge of twilight behind them. It would be dawn soon. Tijana collapsed first, her breathing ragged. Osato staggered and dropped to his knees beside her, his face a cold blue-grey in the moonlight.

Karim leaned his weight upon his staff. He did not kneel. He would not allow himself the luxury of rest—not with their task incomplete, not with the shadows wailing in the wake of their failure.

“Osato!” Tijana cried. “You’re bleeding.”

He’d taken a blow to the arm. Dark blood trickled from above his elbow down to his red glove, but he shook his head. “It’s nothing. I must… I must think,” Osato said into the dark. “The creatures did not attack until sundown. We should be safe to search for survivors in the morning. Perhaps some of them escaped. Managed to hide. Perhaps some… perhaps my soldiers, they…”

He trailed off. Karim thought simple exhaustion had overcome him, and he looked back out at the distant haze of Lux Aurea until he heard a violent, awful retching. He whipped around in time to see Osato vomit a mouthful of black into the sand.

Tijana gasped. “Osato—?”

Osato steadied himself and frowned at his hand. “I—”

Karim stepped towards them, peering closely, and his eyes fell upon Osato’s wound. The moon, he realized, had played a cruel trick. Osato’s blood was not simply dark in the moonlight…

It was black.

“Your wound,” announced Tijana, staggering away from Osato. “That’s— that must be how it spreads. Like an infection!”

“No,” Osato shook his head, eyes wide. He threw his armor and undershirt to the ground, revealing the full horror of the injury: above his elbow, his flesh festered and pulsed poison through his veins. The corruption wriggled like worms under his skin, snaking further with every beat of his heart, down towards his hand and up to his shoulder.

“Cut it off,” he shouted. “Cut off my arm, before it spreads!”

Osato’s sword lay only a stretch from Karim’s feet, but he could not reach for it. He could not even move. Osato was the warrior between them. Osato was the one with the sword and shield, charging ahead through the enemies and their golden tabards, their tainted, empty eyes—

A blade whipped through the air. But it was Tijana who swung it.

Osato screamed and flailed. Tijana grabbed him from behind, wrestling him to the ground, and wrapped a leather strap around the stump beneath his shoulder. Osato grit his teeth and breathed through them, great ragged breaths that heaved his chest. Yet even as Tijana cinched the binding, a dark tendril snaked toward Osato’s shoulder, his chest, his neck, his face…

It happened quickly. Too quickly. Osato’s eyes blazed a vicious violet, the same as the soldiers that had fallen in the city. A guttural wail rose up from his throat. Tijana could not stand up fast enough. The corrupted Osato lunged, knocking the sword from her hands. She fell to the ground and he snapped at her, dark spittle flying.

“Prince Karim!” she pleaded. “Help me—!”

He hardly heard her. I can save him, Karim thought. I can save all of us. Nothing is lost! Karim’s mind raced and found a light to cling to: the spell—the cleansing spell!


Karim raised his staff and drew the runes. They shone brilliant against the night sky.

“Post tenebras lux!”

The runes sparked and burned. A burst of light seemed to bend around Osato as he lurched at Tijana. She dodged, reaching for his fallen blade and grazing it with the tips of her fingers, but Osato did not chase her. Snarling, he turned his monstrous eyes upon Karim.

Shaking, Karim drew the runes again, his vision blurring with tears.

Please, he thought. Out of this darkness, let there be light.

“Post tenebras—”

Tijana’s hand found the blade’s hilt. She plunged it into Osato’s chest.


Osato fell in a heap. The elf twitched, exhaled through the hole just below his neck, and lay still. Tijana scrambled back from his body as it bled black poison into the sand and pressed her face into the crook of her arm, sobbing.

Karim collapsed to his knees. Once she’d caught her breath, Tijana crept beside him, shivering. A great and terrible silence stole time from both of them. It could have been nearly morning by the time Tijana finally spoke.

“He was— a good Captain,” she said. “He was—”

Karim’s heart blazed with fire. He turned to Tijana and seized her by the arm. “I could have saved him! I nearly—”

“—it didn’t work!” Tijana shouted, wrenching away. “It was never going to work! He was already gone!”

“Do not speak as if you mourn him!” Karim snapped, overcome. “You killed him!”

Tijana spoke softly, almost at a whisper. “He was my friend.”

“He was my friend,” Karim spat. “I will mourn him. And this is my home, and I will save it. You— you don’t belong here. You never belonged here, human.”

Disgusted, he hurled Tijana away from him. She fell hard into the sand and pushed herself upright, arms raised for a fight that Karim would not give her. Tijana stepped back, refusing to break his gaze until she’d put all of the dry riverbed between them. Then, with a sob, she turned and ran.

Karim waited until he could no longer hear the sound of her boots before he let himself weep. He wept for Osato as he buried him, marking his grave with a circle of stones. He wept for his city, his people, and the darkness struck deep into their hearts.

“I will banish that darkness,” Karim swore to Osato’s grave. “I swear it, Osato. Lux Aurea will not die with you. We will be whole again. By the Sun, we will be whole.”

When Karim finally got to his feet, he found Osato’s red glove on the ground, wet and heavy with drying blood.

He put it on.

He closed his hand into a fist.

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