After a very long time of struggling, war and despair, Albion was at peace.
It had already been six months since the Crawler was defeated, and with it, the fear and the uncertainty on every inhabitant of both Albion and Aurora. Everyone loved the Queen for her brave actions against the shadows that had threatened both lands for such a long time and for the fair leadership she had displayed since she was crowned.
Queen Nichole was a nice monarch and hero: since the beginning of her reign, she had always had the best interests of Albion at heart, and she was willing to do anything if it would benefit her people.
Now that peace had returned to her beloved kingdom, she had devoted herself to help Page build a better future for the long forgotten people of Albion, and she had ordered more schools, shelters and orphanages built around Bowerstone and other towns, despite Reaver's efforts to use those buildings to expand his blooming industries.
Things seemed to be going perfectly and the threat of the Crawler seemed to be something of the past, a long forgotten bad dream.
But one day, things changed.
Kalin had just arrived to the royal palace requesting an audience with the Queen.
Queen Nichole, together with Captain Ben Finn and Page, waited for her in the War Room, anxious to find out what had happened.
- "Your Majesty"- said Kalin bowing to her as she entered the room- "I need to talk to you urgently".
- "Welcome Kalin"- replied the Queen happily- "I'm so glad to see you again".
- "You won't be when I tell you the reason of my visit. I'm afraid I bring distressing news"- Kalin replied with a look that the Queen hadn't seen in a long time.
Queen Nichole's smile faded.
- "Is there something wrong in Aurora?"- she asked.
Kalin looked down sadly.
- "Las week, a child went missing while he was playing around some dunes right outside town. We looked for him everywhere but there was no trace of the child. A few days ago, a merchant found him, pale as a ghost, hiding behind some crates"- Kalin approached the Queen- "The child swears that some shadows chased him around the desert and that he was too afraid to come out".
The Queen frowned.
- "Shadows? But…it can't be! We defeated them all!"
- "Are you sure that the kid is not imagining things?"- said Captain Finn raising his eyebrow- "The desert can play pretty good tricks on your mind".
- "That's what we thought too"- continued Kalin- "But then more people started claiming that they had seen shadows around the desert. That's why I decided to investigate the matter further…And I saw it…a pale shadow, weaker than the ones we used to fight back then, but a shadow nevertheless…"
- "But…how is it possible?"- asked Queen Nichole, hardly believing Kalin's words.
- "I do not know, Your Majesty"- replied Kalin sadly- "But Aurora cannot suffer again the same fate it did…"
- "We must do something"- said the Queen firmly- "Aurora is part of Albion: I won't let you suffer".
- "And what can we do? I suppose we could go to Aurora and defeat them but, will they come back again?"- asked Page.
- "Fighting them is not the solution; they will keep coming back"- said Kalin- "But I know how to destroy them once and for all…it won't be easy though".
- "We'll do what's necessary to protect the people"- replied the Queen- "What's your plan?"
Kalin remained silent for a moment and sighed deeply.
- "I have read in an ancient book that there's an amulet somewhere in Albion that can make darkness disappear with its power: The Eye of Avo".
- "Then we'll retrieve it"- said the Queen- "Do you have any idea where it may be?"
- "I do"- said Kalin with a troubled expression- "It is hidden in the darkest place of Albion, a cursed place where light does not reach anymore: the Wraithmarsh".
- "The Wraithmarsh? Why couldn't it be located somewhere less…creepy and dangerous?"- said Captain Finn scoffing.
- "We need to be careful there. I have heard it's full of banshees and other creatures that kill whoever dares to penetrate it on sight"- added Page.
- "You are right, it's a very dangerous place to go; that's why I'll go alone"- said Queen Nichole firmly.
- "What? I really hope you are kidding"- said Captain Finn alarmed.
- "I'm not, Captain. I'm not risking any of your lives on this mission, you are all needed here".
- "I'm not letting you go by yourself, Nikki!"- he shouted- "What if something happens to you?"
The Queen looked at him with wide-open eyes and blushed.
- "Captain, please…"
Page cleared her throat loudly.
- "This is all very sweet but let's not forget our main concern here"- she said- "And for once in my life I agree with Ben, the Wraithmarsh is way too dangerous for you to go by yourself, Your Majesty".
- "I'm afraid that's my final decision: Kalin will return to Aurora to assist her people, Captain Finn will remain here just in case Bowerstone needs protection and you will handle bureaucratic affairs while I'm away"- said the Queen.
- "Nikki, please!"- complained Finn.
The Queen approached him and placed her hand on his shoulder, smiling sweetly.
- "I will be fine, Ben. I promise I'll come back soon".
The next days, Queen Nichole spent most of her time organizing her mission to the dangerous Wraithmarsh. She had never been there, but she had read about it and had heard some grim stories. She knew that her late father, the hero of Bowerstone, had been there once, but he had never really told her anything about it.
Using her heroic seal, she went to the Sanctuary, where Jasper greeted her politely.
- "Good morning, Your Majesty".
- "Good morning, Jasper".
Suddenly, a big brown dog approached her barking happily.
- "Hello, boy! What are you doing here? Did you follow me?"
The dog licked her cheeks while she caressed his head.
- "Where do you need to go this morning, Your Majesty?"- asked Jasper.
- "I need to go somewhere different today, Jasper"- she said- "Do you think it's possible to activate a gate in the map that takes me around the Wraithmarsh?"
- "The Wraithmarsh, Your Majesty?"- gasped Jasper- "That's a dangerous place to go!"
- "I need to go there. Could you please activate a gate close to this location?"- she insisted.
- "I…I'll try, Your Majesty".
While Jasper inspected the map, the Queen went to the armory and took her loyal hammer, placing it on her back. As soon as she returned to the map room, Jasper turned around smiling happily.
- "I have done it, Your Majesty. The gate is not located exactly in the Wraithmarsh but very close to it".
- "Thank you, Jasper"- she said approaching the map- "Wish me luck".
The whole room moved around her violently and a few seconds later she found herself in a dark forest.
The Queen looked around and started walking among the black trees carefully. The sky was totally grey and all the vegetation seemed to be withered. She went on walking along a narrow path that seemed to go deeper into the forest.
- "The Wraithmarsh must be close. Everything here is dead"- she thought.
Suddenly, a foul smell confirmed her suspicions. She walked a few steps ahead and remained still for a moment, not believing her eyes.
She had heard tales about Oakvale, what a colorful and beautiful town it once was, always so full of life and joy. But what lied before her eyes had nothing to do with the descriptions she had read in books: a huge marsh had swallowed the entire area, burying everything on mud and dirty water; the once picturesque houses were now rotten structures about to collapse and the trees and bushes had all lost their green leaves and only black branches remained on their place.
Queen Nichole had never seen Oakvale, but somehow sadness invaded her heart.
- "Who could have done something like this?"
Suddenly, she felt a deep sense of dread and, despite not seeing anyone else around, she felt like she was being watched.
She followed a dry path that crossed the marsh slowly, looking around carefully. The loud cry of a crow startled her, and the Queen stopped walking and looked around nervously, grabbing her hammer.
Queen Nichole was a very brave woman and she had faced countless creatures in battle, but this place made her feel uneasy.
- "Where must the amulet be?"- she thought- "The marsh is very big…"
Still holding her weapon, she approached an old house which miraculously was still standing. She grabbed the knob and tried to open the door, but it collapsed and fell to the floor.
As she entered the house, the wooden floor creaked below her feet. A lot of rotten books lied around her along with some half-destroyed shelves.
- "This must have been a library".
She inspected every room but, apart from torn books and manuscripts and broken furniture, she found nothing.
The Queen turned around, ready to leave the house when something horrifying made her freeze: a grim hooded ghostly creature floated right before her eyes. No face could be distinguished inside its hood, only a pair of red glowing eyes.
- "A banshee!"
The Queen held her weapon firmly and tried to attack the creature, but it moved way too fast. The banshee shouted loudly, filling her with a deep feeling of dread and sadness. She ran towards it nimbly and hit its side with all her strength. The banshee tried to attack back, but she avoided it and hit its back accurately, making it disappear with a terrifying cry.
- "I must be careful"- she thought, still catching her breath.
She left the house and looked outside, but there seemed to be no more banshees around, so she placed her hammer on her back. The Queen went on walking around the marsh for a while, checking every place where she thought the amulet could be hidden.
Apart from the banshee she had defeated in the house and some undead that she had found on her way, the whole mission seemed to be going better than she had expected.
Suddenly, she reached a flooded area where the water reached up to her knees. The Queen walked carefully, trying to keep her balance until she reached a part of the marsh where the houses of what used to be Oakvale couldn't be seen anymore.
- "Kalin told me the amulet used to be in Oakvale, so I'd better return to the village".
Queen Nichole was getting out of the muddy area when she heard a ghastly voice calling for her.
- "Nichole…Queen Nichole…Come and join us….Come and become our Queen".
She grabbed her weapon and looked around nervously.
- "Who said that?"- she shouted firmly.
- "Join us…Join the people you lost…Join your dead parents…Join your beloved Elliot".
- "Show yourself!"- shouted the Queen angrily.
Suddenly, a group of banshees came out of the forest and surrounded her. One of them was whiter and bigger than the others and it seemed to be more powerful.
- "You had power over life and death…And you chose to kill him…You chose to kill the one who loved you most".
- "Shut up!"- said the Queen holding her hammer firmly and looking at them defiantly, trying not to hear the hurtful memories they were trying to revive on her.
- "You ripped a life…And now we will rip yours".
The banshees approached Queen Nichole quickly and she hit them with her weapon furiously.
The Queen was a great warrior, but the banshees were very fast, especially the Queen Banshee, that would attack her endlessly. Queen Nichole managed to defeat some of the lesser banshees, but when she was about to hit their Queen, it hit her badly and she fell to the floor.
- "Now, you die"- said the creature.
Queen Nichole tried to get her weapon but her whole body hurt. The Queen Banshee approached her slowly, along with its children. She stretched her arm as much as she could, trying to reach her hammer while the banshees were getting closer and closer to her.
- "Come on, just a bit more…"
Suddenly, a bright light illuminated the area and the banshees turned around and quickly disappeared.
Queen Nichole sighed deeply, relieved to be safe, and tried to get up slowly.
- "What was that light?"- she thought.
She looked around the marsh and spotted a dark hooded figure standing not far from her. The Queen took her weapon quickly and got up.
- "Who are you?"- she asked.
The hooded figure remained silent for a moment.
- "I am The Guardian".