Each time Viego thought of her face, it looked a little different.
Sometimes, the eyes were just too far apart, or too close together. Or her cheeks were a little too thin or a little too wide. Sometimes, her hands lacked the calluses of a seamstress, but other times, they were gnarled and thick from long days holding scissors and needles. She wore a gown some days, and others, a simple work frock, and on others still, she wore nothing at all. She was never the same, but always the same, never there, but always present. A ghost of the heart Viego no longer possessed, rent open when... when...
Viego, on his shattered, blackened throne at the bottom of the world, slammed his Shadow Isles.deeply into the rock beneath, cracking the obsidian and sending a brutal tremor across the entirety of the
To his left lay a painting he could no longer bear to look at, for the fair Isolde’s countenance had been too perfect to lay eyes upon, too lovely to grant him any peace or respite. He had torn her away, leaving only the image of a foolish young king who had believed the world was kind centuries before, but who now was rightfully dead.
Or if not dead, something else.
Viego could not remember much of his old country that was not twisted by shadows or anguish. In his memories, he stepped out upon the sandstone streets and only saw Isolde before him. Every fresco on every wall contained her within a painted world that only he could touch, only he could see. Yet when he went to reach for her, the illusion broke away, and he was here, surrounded on all sides by the putrid waters that had stolen her all over again.
Viego ripped his blade from the ground and stood, smashing its great heft into the floor and walls as he wailed. Then he was still for a long while, regarding the ancient painting from the old kingdom as if he had seen something new. Regarding himself as he was before the Isles had been swallowed up by darkness.
“Viego,” he said. “So handsome. So young. What became of you, Viego? Where have you gone?” He dropped the painting to the floor, its frame cracking awkwardly as the canvas crumpled beneath it.
“Where are you, Isolde?” said Viego. “Why won’t you come back to me?”But he already knew the answer.
To most, the Black Mist is a plague, a vector for monstrous, life-sucking wraiths to assault the living and steal them away until the sun dies and the world crumbles into nothing.
To Viego, it is his great, unending sadness, pouring ceaselessly from his broken heart. A testament to his love, of better days long gone by, and a cruel reminder of what was taken from him so long ago.
It is this very Mist that scours the land, tendrils infecting everything with their grim power, draining the life from whatever they touch until all that remains glows with the soft, necrotic green of the Ruination. Yet this, too, has a purpose, for as Viego’s sadness ebbs and wanes, the Mist surges forward, searching as if drawn to something... something old, familiar, safe. The wraiths and spirits that travel within it do what they will, but the Mist itself, no—it grasps ceaselessly for her.
Everything Viego does is for her.
And now, it has found something, far from the shores of the Isles, far past the docks of Bilgewater and the coasts of Ionia. Something on the mainland, hidden within a modest city at the edge of a river. The object calls to Viego, screams for Viego, demands his attention at all costs. And though the people wail, though they run from the blanket of death that rolls softly across their homes and fields, though the wraiths shriek and the horrors stir to feed, Viego hears but one voice, and one voice alone.“Viego,” he imagines it says, for he cannot make out the words.
The Ruined King bursts from the fog like a hungry shadow, tearing through the first guard he sees as he lifts his blade high above the ground. The man’s face contorts in pain as his body melts away and his spirit is absorbed into the Mist, but Viego barely pays him any attention before he brings his sword down upon the second. Everywhere around him, ghouls feast upon the living, tearing them apart as their souls are dragged away to join the king’s legions.
Searing flesh sails through the air, arrows tumble across space, swords clatter, and warriors fall.
It does not matter to Viego.
He raises a single hand before the city’s great wall, and the Mist rushes forward, stones falling away as the structure becomes tainted with decay. Viego simply steps across the threshold, and suddenly, he is through. He cuts down two more men as he moves silently toward the source of the voice, then another. They mean nothing. None of them bear any weight, and not one matters at all. Their spirits simply rise behind him, to do as he wills.
The ruler of this city now stands before him, a proud man protecting a treasure of some kind, Viego is sure. But as a fellow leader, as a skilled warrior, perhaps he would make a better vassal than hungry spirit.
“Stop,” says Viego, raising a single hand once more. The Mist, the wraiths, the horrors, the fighting—everything seems to freeze on the Ruined King’s command.
“Behind you is a treasure you could not fathom the importance of. I will see it returned to me, and in exchange, you will serve me personally.”
The man seems to stumble over his words, grasping at something he cannot quite muster the courage to speak. But Viego gives him time, and slowly, the words form on his lips: “If I give you this treasure, will you spare the city?”
The Ruined King seems disappointed. Whether he ponders an answer or reflects on the situation, this man will never know, as Viego suddenly appears above him, his great blade slicing down through the heart of this small, frightened warrior-king. His body slides harmlessly down the massive greatsword, as blackness spreads across his skin.
Viego rips the door behind him open, and there, the treasure lies.
An old, worn-down music box, a gift from Viego’s wedding day, whispering something he cannot quite hear. It seems possessed by grief, by boundless, immeasurable sorrow, but Viego simply holds it before his eyes, imagining the soft smile that will surely dance across Isolde’s face the day he sees her again.
“What have they done to you, my love?” he coos, as the man he slaughtered slowly rises from the earth, ghostly greens and blues throbbing from between the cracks in his skin.
“Do not worry,” he assures the music box. “I will find you. It is simply a matter of time.”And with that, Viego is gone, vanishing as wraiths devour the city.