by Marco Mañalac
Artwork by: Tala Mayari
Gather ‘round, children! It’s time to sleep! Oh, I know, it’s a tad bit early for your tastes. But I won’t hear any of your complaints, now. No use whining. No use resisting. What I can do is aid you on your journey toward slumber.
How about I give you all a little bedtime story? Yes? You like that? Very well.
What kind of story would you like to hear tonight, my beloved spawns? Oh, something historical, you say? Impressive, how intellectual.
What’s that? A tragedy? How depressing!
Oh, yes, a love story sounds good.
How about this? I’ll give you all three! Now settle down, and tuck yourselves in, children! Those are comfortable beds made of human bones, and warm blankets made of human skin. I wish I had those when I was a youngling.
Ready? Everybody good? Okay, this will be a short tale, but a very important one for you. So, pay attention, because this is the very first time I am telling this story in its entirety.
It all begins with a story many of you are already familiar with. In the age before now, when creatures of lore roamed the land, there existed a party of legendary heroes. There was a lionhearted human knight who led the group with a heart as vast as the sea; an elven archer whose arrows pierced the veil of night; the dwarf warrior, unmatched in strength and bravery; and a human mage, whose arcane spells could shape destiny. United, they became an indomitable force that defeated and sealed away the nefarious Demon Lord! Oh, what’s that? Some of you have never heard of that story? Dear, very well, let me share with you the complete recap then. Let me clear my throat, first, as a classic story such as this one demands my trademark low voice. AHEM.
In the days of yore, when the world was young and magic coursed through every rivulet and mountain, the realms of man, elf, dwarf, and mage were besieged by a darkness known as the Demon Lord. His nefarious control had spread throughout the lands, engulfing villages in shadows and despair. But as the darkness grew, so did the legends of a party destined to stand against it: the lionhearted human knight; the sharp-eyed elf archer; the sturdy dwarf warrior; and the enigmatic human mage.
The Knight, known for his unwavering heart and an unyielding sense of duty, was the first to rise against the encroaching darkness. He rallied towns and villages, spreading hope with tales of a prophecy that spoke of a team destined to defeat the Demon Lord. While on his quest to gather allies, he encountered the Elf in the Whimsical Woods.
The Elf, with her moonlit hair and silver bow, had long been the guardian of her kin. The darkness had claimed many of her brethren, and she had heard whispers of the Knight who sought to defy the Demon Lord. Intrigued and aligned in purpose, the Elf joined the Knight, guiding him through the forest’s hidden paths and towards their next ally.
Deep in the heart of the Steely Mountains, they found a dwarf of great renown, for he had defended his underground city against the Demon Lord’s minions with unmatched ferocity. With his battle axe in hand and tales of countless victories, the Dwarf was a warrior whose reputation preceded him. The Elf and the Knight, hearing of his deeds, sought him out, and after a grand feast in his honor, the Dwarf pledged his axe to their cause.
The last to join their ranks was the Mage, born homo sapien but already stepping outside the lines of mere humanity, thanks to his witchcraft. Mysterious and powerful, stories spoke of his mastery over the arcane. In a secluded tower atop the Piercing Peaks, the Mage had long studied the nature of the demon realm. When the three companions approached him, he already knew of their quest and was prepared to lend his formidable powers. With the Mage’s knowledge, they learned of a portal, a gateway through which the Demon Lord drew his strength.
With their party complete, the champions embarked on their journey to the demon realm. The Elf’s keen eyes navigated them through treacherous lands, the Dwarf’s strength cleared obstacles in their path, the Mage’s mystical spells shielded them from dark sorcery, and the Knight’s leadership kept their spirits high.
The final confrontation was to take place in the Cataclysmic Citadel, a fortress atop a fiery chasm where the Demon Lord resided. As they approached, legions of dark creatures swarmed against them. But united, the four were a nigh invulnerable. The Elf’s arrows pierced the skies, felling winged terrors; the Dwarf’s axe swung in powerful arcs, cleaving through demon hordes; the Mage’s spells weaved a protective barrier, repelling dark magics; and the Knight’s sword sang a song of hope and defiance.
Inside the citadel, the Demon Lord awaited them, his power palpable. He was a towering figure, shrouded in dark flames, his eyes gleaming with malevolence. A fierce battle ensued. The ground quaked, and the skies roared as magic and might clashed. But for every blow they dealt, the Demon Lord retaliated with overwhelming force.
The turning point came when the Elf, seeing a weakness, loosed an arrow imbued with the Mage’s sorcery straight into the Demon Lord’s heart.
The Demon Lord staggered, giving the Knight the chance to drive his blade deep into the fiend. With a final swing from the Dwarf’s axe, the battle was over. With the Demon Lord unconscious, the Mage channeled the combined might of all four and sealed away their nemesis into another dimension. The Demon Lord’s reign had ended, and light returned to the world.
The four champions became legends. Songs were sung of their bravery, and tales of their heroics spread across all lands. The Knight continued his service with the Order, safeguarding the realms of men. The Elf returned to her woods, ever watchful and protective. The Dwarf, his honor upheld, led his people to a golden age of prosperity. The Mage, his mission accomplished, retreated to his tower, ever researching, ever learning. The world was safe once more, and the tale of the four champions, who stood against the abyss and emerged victorious, became a beacon of hope for all. And they lived happily ever after. Or so it goes.
Now, children, this is where the true history reveals itself.
Yes, the kingdom indeed celebrated their triumph. Songs were sung, and tales passed around, narrating their gallant deeds. But time flowed, as it always does, and as the memories of the Demon Lord’s terror began to fade, so did the vivid tales of the heroes. Except for that of the Knight, whose name was immortalized through monuments, songs, and endless adoration.
One fateful day, thirty years after their legendary triumph, the kingdom was shocked to learn of the Knight’s death. What struck terror and despair into the hearts of many was not just the fact that their hero passed away, but rather, how it happened and how his demise was discovered.
A loud battle emanating from the Knight’s rest house in his home province alerted the Order’s guards on patrol that evening. They immediately checked on the commotion and were terrified to see the Knight’s limp body on the floor, covered and swimming in his own blood. There were fresh burns on his face with mystical purple flames surrounding the marks, a silver arrow straight through his heart, and a golden axe driven through his intestines. Around his lifeless body were his three closest and dearest friends, standing in silence.
The Order of Knights, the Empire, the entire world, even, was stunned by the news. More shocking still, the Elf, the Dwarf and the Mage were arrested for his murder.
The Dwarf claimed he sought the vast treasures the Knight had acquired over the years.
“We, dwarves, are a proud but honorable race. We work hard for the riches and wealth we obtain, in the tunnels, in the caves, in the mines. It was disgusting seeing the Knight waste his life away, spending money left and right on useless things like properties, fashion, jewelry he knew nothing about. It would have been justice to see him impoverish himself, but his sponsors, benefactors and supporters just kept his cash flowing. It was a sin to see so much money wasted, I tell ya’!”
The Mage, on the other hand, expressed his bitterness stemming from the Knight’s fame.
“Why is it that every time a great war is waged, or a team of heroes saves the realm from yet another threat, it is always the weakest of them all, that damn normal human being, who gets all the praise? We, mages, the truly special breed of homo sapien, are always taken for granted! Never the star, never the idol, never loved. We are considered second-class citizens, supporting characters or even worse, villains in the making, only to be feared. The Knight did not deserve the attention he was getting!”
The Elf, with tears in her eyes, confessed that she killed him.
“The Dwarf and the Mage had their reasons. And both were valid. But mine was more personal. After all we went through, our adventures created a stirring in my heart. When I simply asked him if I ever stood a chance to gain his romantic favor, he mocked me and told me there was no way we would ever end up together, when he can have any and all women whom he desires from across the lands. If I did not kill that bastard, I would have ended up taking my own life!”
The verdict was unanimous. The three were sentenced to death, their legendary status stripped and their names tarnished forever. The kingdom mourned the tragic end of its heroes, as they were eventually hanged in public for their crime.
But as the last light of dusk faded on the day of their execution, an imp, no larger than a cat, appeared before the Order of the Knights as they were closing their gates for the evening. With a naughty grin, it revealed its true form.
“I come not to wage war but to reveal the truth,” the Demon Lord began, his voice echoing with an otherworldly resonance.
The knights drew their weapons, but he continued, “It’s a tale that began when your precious knight approached me in my sealed realm, using research into the Dark Arts and copying some tricks he learned in the past from the Mage. Bored with his idyllic life, he sought purpose and proposed to free me. A chance to relive the adventure, to gain more riches and romances.”
The hall was filled with murmurs of disbelief. The Demon Lord smirked, “When the others learned of this treachery, after the Knight’s own invitation to them asking for their companionship on this new ‘adventure,’ they sought to stop him. But it was too late. Blinded by ambition and greed, the Knight attacked them right away after they confronted him. With no other choice, they ended his life to prevent my release. Little did they know they were too late, and the Knight had already set me free from my captivity even before they arrived at his house.”
He paused, allowing his words to sink in. “Don’t get me wrong. In no way is this me giving up. I am bound by my nature to seek dominion over this world. But know this– the elf, the dwarf, and the mage were true heroes. They gave their lives to save this realm, not once but twice. It appears that they did not want to tarnish the name of the Knight, their dear friend, hero, and inspiration to all. So, they fabricated stories to make themselves the villains, preserving the reputation of the Knight, when the truth was that the Knight was the real monster of this story. This may seem like a tragedy for you, but it’s quite the comedy for me, really. In any case, I leave you now with the truth. I’ll be seeing all of you very soon, perhaps for the last time for many of you, poor souls.”
With those words, the Demon Lord vanished, leaving the knights in stunned silence. The realm was abuzz with the revelation. Statues were erected in honor of the Elf, the Dwarf, and the Mage, while the hunt began for the Demon Lord, set loose upon the world once again. The tale of their sacrifice became legend.
As years passed, the Order of Knights took it upon themselves to guard against any who might seek to collaborate with the Demon Lord, ensuring the true legacy of the heroes lived on. But in the quiet moments, when the wind whispered through the trees and the moonlight danced on the water, the kingdom remembered and mourned the cost of betrayal and the price of true heroism.
What happened after that, you ask? My, my, it is far too late for that story. Perhaps tomorrow night I can treat you all to another tale. Epic wars, indeed, they were! But know that the Demon Lord, freed by his once-upon-a-time nemesis, made good on his word, and took over all of Earth. And that is precisely why demons now rule today.
What is that, you ask? How do I know all this? Children, you underestimate your grandpa. I know your parents don’t have many nice things to say about me, but back in the day, I was a pretty important person, you know? Now go to bed, sleep well, sleep tight, and dream away until tomorrow. Your grandpa is here to watch over you.
About the Author: With more than ten years of experience as a practitioner in the field of communications, Marco Mañalac is a PR professional by day and superhero by night. When he’s not glued to his phone trying to catch up on all his anime backlog, he’s usually running, boxing, jump roping, or eating. An avid fan of comic books, Marco writes regular reviews for https://www.spidermancrawlspace.com/ and has published a few issues of his own indie title in the past. Please do check out the local comic book store nearest you and ask for copies of Mythopolis #1 to #3.
As a reader, Marco has been a fantasy and science fiction fanboy since birth but has also recently taken a deep dive into the world of Dungeons & Dragons to play a more interactive role in the storytelling. But when his brain feels tired, video games often help. Always trying to push himself creatively, he’s taken a stab at writing short stories in the past year or so. Just like when he was doing professional theatre more than a decade ago, Marco still feels like an infant when it comes to creative writing. But he’s always more than willing to give it a shot.