The black-haired noble stepped up the grand staircase, walking with calm, careful steps. The shield he wore on his right hand was raised defensively, and the rapier in his left was back, ready to strike at any threat.

He had pushed far through the hallways and catwalks of the tower of Latria's infamous Prison of Hope, seeking the souls of the demons that inhabited it. At the top of the steps before him now lay a chapel of sorts, with light from the dark sky above filtering through the stained glass windows on its sides, creating eerie patterns of light on the sides of the staircase.

His eyes darted left to right, wary of any more soul-hungry prisoners or mind flayers stepping out from the shadows. His gaze snapped straight ahead as he heard the click of a crossbow being loaded. There was a snap as it fired, and he reacted just in time to deflect the bolt with his shield.

The attack had come from his front; but where was his attacker? Another click, then a snap, and the noble sidestepped, evading the bolt even as he could not see his opponent. Again, it had come from directly in front. He narrowed his eyes and began advancing towards the sound; quickly, but not so fast as to compromise his defense.

When he did, it was as if a haze from his vision had been lifted. Before him the air distorted and quickly materialized into a black phantom. It had the form of a woman, clad in the garb of an assassin. She reloaded her crossbow and fired again, the noble moving quickly to deflect the bolt aimed at his leg.

Seizing the opportunity, he moved forward quickly, thrusting with his rapier, striking the assassin in the midsection. There was no cry of pain; souls without corporeal flesh could not speak, but she flinched. The noble stepped back quickly, holding his shield up defensively as he awaited another opportunity. That was how one fights here if one wants to live; cautiously, attacking when opportunities present themselves.

The assassin placed her crossbow on her back, and produced a dagger from a hidden sheath the noble had not noticed. She advanced on him quickly, and he barely avoided the swift strikes from the blade.

However, the aggressiveness of his opponent did give him an advantage, which he planned to exploit quickly and end the fight. He slid back further thrusting as he did so to discourage a quick pursuit and felt the outcropping on the side of the staircase beneath his boots.

He readied his shield and waited as the black phantom again rushed him. Just as she moved within striking distance, the young noble swung his shield at her weapon. A risky move, but it paid off. The parry left the assassin off balance and vulnerable, a situation the noble was quick to make use of.

Stepping forward, he thrust his rapier forward, directly into her chest. The black phantom jerked for a moment before he twisted the rapier to adjust his grip and thrust down with all his might, forcing the assassin to the ground.

She struggled for but a moment, as the blow was fatal. The noble withdrew his weapon, still wary, and watching as the black phantom's slowly faded into nothing.

He was about to press on, but noticed a darkly glowing stone lying on the steps. He would have missed it not for the slight aura it seemed to give off. It looked very similar…too similar, in fact, to the eye stones he carried himself.

'Is this the eye stone of a black phantom…?' he asked himself as he picked it up. 'Proof of a corrupted human, then…'

There were others, he knew, that had made it to Boletaria as well, searching for souls not to save Boletaria, but to empower themselves. They were made up many of the black phantoms the wandered the land, searching for humans' souls to take so that they could gain strength.

He had often wondered to what end they sought power. If the world was consumed by the colorless fog, who would there be to rule over? What purpose could their power have then? But he had resigned himself already that he would probably never understand their selfish desire, a desire that overruled even the survival of mankind itself.

Then suddenly, he felt a small bit of power from the eye stone in his hand. His eyes widened slightly in surprise before the power increased. He felt the familiar sensation of being summoned to another world, but this was different. It was not the power of another human, seeking his assistance to slay a demon, but a deeper, darker, ancient power. He tried to pull back, but he was bound the eye stone and could do nothing as he felt his soul being torn from this plain of existence.

His vision dimmed, then went black, as he fell into the soundless void.