Sometimes, in rare moments of complete solitude, I look into the mirror and allow myself the great luxury of shedding all lies. Lately I have begun to notice that my eyes are no longer silver. They are green- gold, the eyes of my dead mother. The demon whose power I sought, who, for a time, consumed me, has lost this battle against me. His power remains mine to marshal, yet he no longer turns my mind to visions of conquest. His eyes of silver mist have closed shut, and my sight is no longer tainted with his, though his spirit still slumbers within my body. I have conquered dragons and raised the Earth’s deadliest armies, and lead them to victory over the world’s most powerful kingdoms. I have won the War for Celestrium, and brought my Empire to its zenith. Yet now that the smoke has cleared, I can see that there is one last enemy that remains to be defeated, standing utterly alone amidst the wreckage that he has wrought. Amid the ash and smoke of the rubble he slowly rises, swaying as though injured, and turns to look at me.
His face is my own.
And so today, on the eve of my destruction, you sing to me the song of my childhood. You sing of my mother, of rare sunny days in wild, wooded Edonia, the memories of friends who have since turned foe, of a brother who smiled when he saw me, and a little sister who would throw herself into my arms the moment I entered the room. I took pity on my disfigured little sister, taking her into the recesses of the Vale and teaching her the arts of Illusionism, that she may escape her wretched condition now and then in the mercy of dreams. I did not know it then, but I was giving her the knowledge she will now need to destroy me. And in your song I hear the voice of another whom I have lost forever, even as I helped bring her into the world.
I hear you sing of Erikka, of she who is my bane and my salvation, my doom and my absolution.
Is this why you sound my mother’s voice in my ear, little bird? Is it because you have always known who I really am, the angry, frightened little boy beneath the ancient crown and behind the roaring lion banners; the shivering, broken thing at the vortex of the storm that ravaged the world? Are you trying to soothe me, or to end me? Or do you sing to me because you know that I can only be soothed if I am ended, and ended when I am soothed? My death and my peace are all one; my victories are no more than discordant notes in the siren song of my soul.
This is Vedhav, primary antagonist of my story and tragic- villain turned anti- hero. He rises as the most powerful mage of the era, able to summon the dark god Alzarin, who influences him and turns him to villainy. He ultimately finds a way to sever his connection to him, but realises at that very moment that his wife has given birth to their daughter, Erikka. By this point, he is too far gone, and the primary protagonists of the story- Roban, Jariq, Vara, Liora, Alika- are preparing to meet his forces in the battle that will decide the fate of Arantis. So he makes the decision to orchestrate his own defeat, binding Alzarin more closely to his flesh than the dark god has ever been bound to any mortal form. In doing so, he makes sure that Alzarin will not be able to dissipate or find a new host before Vedhav’s body is destroyed, thereby taking him out for good. Vedhav knows he will go down in history as the worst tyrant to ever reign, the Bastard of Whitespire turned Emperor of Arantis. He knows his reign will be remembered as a shocking, bloody, turbulent one, and that his daughter will grow up struggling against her father’s legacy. Yet it is for her that chooses to sacrifice himself, consenting to the version of history that will inevitably spring up around the final battle, in which he allows his beloved sister to deliver the death blow. Of all the people fighting on the side of the Council of Traitors, only Vara knows the truth about Vedhav’s plans, but she must keep his redemption secret. The popular narrative must survive, and the truth must stay forever buried. I’ve had this ending planned for a while now, and the essence of it hasn’t changed even though a lot of stuff in the middle is constantly being developed.
I tried to evoke his wistfulness with the sketch and the writing. As an artist, my melancholy moods are the most delicious space to occupy when creating- there is nothing more inspirational than a bittersweet mixture of pain and pleasure; a beautiful lament, a lost love, the yearning for something deeply desired, the almost-ness of missed connections, and sweetness turned sorrowful in the memory of time gone by. It’s a sort of wallowing in melancholy until something beautiful can be wrought from all those feelings.
It’s very different from pure sadness or depression, and I’d venture to say that’s what most people get wrong about the connection between trauma and creativity. I’ve actually heard people jokingly wish they had more darkness in their lives so that they would become better artists, or poets, or writers. That’s disturbing on many levels, but it also completely misses the point. Melancholy is always the stranger’s guise. True despair is deeply felt: it is personal. Melancholy is when you’re able to step back to the edge of the frame, and tend your own sorrows and fears and loves and joys with the curiosity of a playful stranger.