The boy's eyes pleaded with him, and he could not help but smile slightly.
"Please, father. I want to hear about the Time of Heroes!"
The candlelight was dim in their cave, and the faint blowing of wind from the lake could be heard from outside. The flame flickered, casting long shadows on the walls.
He gave in. "All right, but you must sleep afterwards. I don't know why you want to hear it again; you've heard it so many times."
The boy quickly laid back down on his cot, and pulled up his covers, waiting expectantly.
"So, how does it start?" the father asked.
"It started at the end of the Beast Wars, when we still didn't understand them!"
"Ah, yes," continued the father, "and what happened?"
"The Legion and the Horde had both summoned armies of the Hellbourne to fight for their cause, but at the final battle, Jereziah and Ophelia lost control."
"You might as well tell me the story then, you know it so well," grinned the father. The boy smiled back, and the candlelight illuminated his bright eyes.
"Yes," the father said, "they had dabbled with what they should never have touched. The Hellbourne had massed in numbers and overthrew their reins, and then before they knew it, both the Horde and the Legion were overwhelmed by their previous 'allies'."
"Jereziah and Ophelia were not fools, however. They immediately allied together and fought against the Hellbourne, but it was a one-sided fight. The Hellbourne had seized control of a Scar, and more were pouring out of their hellish plane by the minute. All seemed lost, until..."
"The Sefir Seed," breathed the boy.
"Ophelia felt its quickening," acknowledged the father, "and Jereziah sensed its presence. They immediately dug a hole and buried it, and the Sefir Tree erupted into being."
"And then...?" the boy asked quietly.
"The Sefir Tree purified the Scar, and drove back the Hellbourne. They abhor its energies."
"Victory!" shouted the boy gleefully, but he immediately quieted down.
"Not quite," disagreed the father, "for the Hellbourne were still at large and immediately seized many other Scars, thus firmly planting their foothold on Newerth."
"But Jereziah and Ophelia were there to fight them!"
The father nodded, "They banded together. For the first time in history, Man stood alongside with Beast, not as enemies, but as allies. For the Hellbourne were a scourge upon Newerth, and everyone knew this. But an army wasn't enough; the New Legion that Jereziah and Ophelia founded needed..."
"Heroes..." the boy finished for him.
The father bowed his head, "Aye. And what heroes they were. Persons and beasts alike from all walks of the land. From his hideout, the Vindicator..."
"He who silences all with eternal sleep," said the boy.
"Death delivered by swiftest of wings!"
"Bane of all unnatural!"
"And many more, my son. The Chiprels answered Ophelia's call, the Berzerker acknowledged Jereziah's leadership, and even the spirits and elementals heeded the need for help."
"The finest?" asked the boy.
"None stronger," replied the father, "But the Hellbourne were canny as well. From their plane, they called upon the Soul Reaper..."
"The Last Laugh," shuddered the boy.
"...they turned the Bloodhunter..."
"Bane of Men."
"...and corrupted beings of many kinds. And their army swelled by the day, as they advanced to seize control of even more Scars, and collect more souls to fuel their hellfires."
"But Jereziah and Ophelia did not falter!"
"No, they did not. Bolstered by their own forces, the two leaders led the fight in clash after clash with the Hellbourne."
The boy punched a fist into his palm, a fierce expression on his face.
"And some battles they won, and some battles they lost."
"The Forest of Caldavar..." whispered the boy.
"Lost," replied the father, "but not without a fight. The first battle, and their losses were great enough that it bought the Legion a whole year of recuperation..."
"But they came back, for the Frost Fields."
"Yes, they did," said the father, "and with a vengeance. The Queen of the Frost Fields had been content with staying far from the war, but in the middle of her homeland, a warrior lay imprisoned. Both the Legion and the Hellbourne desired the warrior for their ranks, and they marched on, and Queen Ellonia could not ignore it any longer, but she was too late, and the Hellbourne had the advantage from the land. But it was not lost immediately, for..."
"Yes. The Valkyrie appeared on the eve of the battle, and the Frostwolves, their homes disturbed by the Hellbourne. The Legion landed from the sea, and lay a three day long siege on the Hellbourne's defenses. The Hellbourne general himself was almost slain by the Valkyrie, but the Hellbourne had allies too."
"From the depths..." the boy's eyes widened.
"The Kraken, Cthulhuphant, and worst of all, the Myrmidon who betrayed the Legion. Their lines broken, the Legion was forced to concede the Frost Fields."
"The Hellbourne general was very good, wasn't he, father?"
The father paused, as a draft blew in, disturbing the candlelight. But he replied, "Yes, he was. With the combined strength and knowledge of Ophelia and Jereziah, they were constantly overturned by him. But they still had something the Hellbourne feared. The Sefir Seeds."
"And it helped!"
The father smiled, "No, the Seeds were simply their means of destroying the Scars. The Tree helped. It gave Ophelia a branch, from which she fashioned, according to its instruction, a new staff. The Stave of Mana, it was called, for all in its presence felt the surge of mana flow."
"When the hero Andromeda fell to Newerth, they had found with her a certain type of metal from the stars. The smiths of Iron City had toiled for months, working on the metal, and finally shaped it into a sword for their leader. It was a thing of deadly beauty and cleaving death, the DaemonBane. One of the smiths had in his possession the hilt of a Sword of the High, and had used it as the hilt. Do you remember its description?"
"Twin notches at the base, a diamond inset in the pommel, and runic carvings on the fuller," recited the boy.
The father nodded, "And with their new weapons, they kept control of the Marl and Iselta from the Hellbourne. The Stave provided limitless mana to the Legion's casters, and the DaemonBane slew all Hellbourne within its reach."
"But the Legion had grown weary," continued the father, "the Hellbourne's numbers were limitless. They summoned more, day by day, while when one of the Legion's warriors fell, none could replace him. Help did come slowly; the monks broke their holy vows and left the Shining Abbey, the Savages that had not been united sought out the Legion to join their ranks, more elementals and spirits alike awoke to combat the threat of the Hellbourne."
"The turning point, they say, was the Battle of Grimm's Crossing. In the stories passed down to us, Jereziah had been meaning to meet up with Ophelia with a small band, but was cornered in the middle of a valley surrounded by the Hellbourne, led by the Hellbourne's general, and Ophelia could not break in to save him. Surrounded by thousands with less than a hundred at his command, Jereziah tried to hold out the night."
The boy whimpered. The candlelight grew dim.
"But from their lower ground, they could do nothing to prevent the relentless onslaught of spells and projectiles. When he was down to less than half his people, Jereziah and his people decided to try and break through to Ophelia. Berzerker led the charge, taking the brunt of the damage, and the Moon Queen illuminated their path with rays of moonbeams. The Wildsoul and his partner Booboo protected their flanks as they cleaved deeply into the enemy ranks, fighting uphill as they went. But near the top, Berzerker took an arrow in the knee and staggered, but kept on fighting, despite a shattered sword, now defending their rear. The last they saw of him was him being surrounded by a group of Malphai. The Moon Queen, ambushed from below by the Pestilence, shuddered to a halt in her charge, and Booboo bellowed his anguish as the Wildsoul took a fatal blow to the head. But Jereziah had made it. Except he had made it alone."
"Now they were retreating, fight after fight. And they were tired. They had fought for years, without stop. And the Hellbourne forces were mostly fresh out of their plane, bloodthirsty and not encumbered by ages of fighting. Some of the Legion gave up. Others simply left and disappeared, hoping to hide forever."
The candlelight flickered, as the flame burned slowly down near to the stub.
"Eventually, they were left with Adkarna, the capital. Cut off from the other cities, Ophelia and Jereziah hatched their final, and desperate plan, as the Hellbourne laid siege to them and banged on the city gates daily."
"Journey to the Nether..." the boy rubbed his eyes. He was getting tired.
"They would do something that had never been attempted; find the Hellbourne in their own place. The spell casters had worked days to reverse engineer the summoning process; this time, they were sending something there. On the day of the Winter Solstice, the Hellbourne would succeed in breaking down the gates to Adkarna to find an empty city, but a gigantic magical circle."
"Did... did they succeed, father?"
"No one knows, my son," replied the father, "they may have succeeded, they may have not. No one ever saw them again, the last of the Legion that made the journey may have even perished in an untested and unproven spell for all they know. But the day afterwards, all the Hellbourne left. Some think they left to fight the Legion in their home plane. Some think, that they were only here to destroy the Legion, and had always left the non-fighting ones alone. Whatever happened, the Hellbourne left with the disappearance of the last of the Legion."
"But the heroes..." the boy yawned.
"None remained on Newerth. Those alive, had joined the Journey."
"And no one saw them again?"
The father replied slowly, "No one did. But, some say, atop the Sefir Tree, you can sometimes see a woman sitting on one of its loftiest branches. Of course, no one knows how to even get there; it is the tallest tree in Newerth."
"Is...is it Ophelia?"
The father shrugged. The candle burned out.
"Do we have no more heroes, father?" asked the boy drowsily.
The father tucked in the boy's covers, and replied gently, "The Hellbourne are gone. We don't need heroes anymore."
"Time to sleep," the father said, and got up in the darkness, feeling his way out. The lack of a response meant that his son was already falling deep into slumber.
The father moved out of the inner regions of the cave and into the night. Luna was large tonight, and the stars twinkled hazily. He breathed the night air heavily, and went back into the cave, lighting a new candle.
Using the light, he rummaged deeply in the messy belongings, pulling back the lid of a hidden compartment in the ground. In the light, one could make out the glitter of the diamond and the faint glow of the runic carvings.
He gently picked it up and walked outside, gazing at the reflection of the moon's light on the water's surface.
He then threw it into the lake, where it splashed and sank into the water's depths.