It was a crispy evening. As the sun dipped into the west, the cold wind blustered around the empty streets of Sunderland City Centre. All was silent, yet in all directions bellowed the echoes of times gone by and better days. It was a tired town, one which bore many scars. Amidst the empty buildings, a warm ray of light nonetheless flickered into the streets from a fabulous baroque building of a novelty design, tall with a rounded tower. As one grew closer to the structure it became warmer, and nosier. Above the inviting scenes of the well-polished windows sat a study black sign with words painted gold: “The Dun Cow”. It stood alone and proud, a token of a proud past but a troubled present.
Inside, men and women talked and laughed away at the ills of life, washing away their sorrows and finding solace in each other from the emptiness of the world. There was a stiff smell of warm beer in beer in the air, yet it offered comfort, assurance and familiarity. Behind the well-polished ordinate bar, so classically decorated, stood a young woman and to say the last, significantly younger than those she was serving. She had fine blonde hair, tied back in a bun and blue eyes that resonated like jewels in the light. Her face was spotless, youthful and innocent, but nonetheless heavy with dissatisfaction and an innate sadness.
“Sophie! Get those glasses cleaned!” Snapped a male voice from the background. Sophie signed, and moved hectically to catch up with the factory load, a routine which served better than most gyms, dashing back and forth frantically. “Ha’way don’t give up, we’ll be closing soon anyway as business is still quiet!” He urged. She muttered under her breath. “Ow love, can get me another pint?” An older rounded male butted in, seemingly unphased by her spree of activity. “Yes sure, hold on a second” she replied attempting to put on the nicest possible face and voice, straining hard to hide her true feelings.
“Ya alright sophie? Not long left.” Said another male voice, confident and cheery, but not overbearing. As she filed up another round of pints, the man came to assist. He was tall, had short brown hair, and a thin beard around his face. “I’ll take yer home soon, okay?” He assured. “Another day, another shitshow over ey? One day we’ll get out of here” he laughed. “What yer going to do Micky fire to me Mars?” She replied with a underscore of cynicism “Because that’s the only way I’d ever be going anywhere big in life man. It’s like Mr. Burns put that picture ower me saying Don’t forget You’re Here Forever”- She smirked as she continued to franatically serve customers “That will be £3.50 mate”- she said to the man.
“Full of banter you like, a Comedian is a good place to start”- The man, Micky hit back. “Aye, me life is the frigging comedy”- Said Sophie. She looked at the clock robotically and smiled, “thank god for that, it’s 9pm let’s clean up and get outta here, back to me hole”- in a blend relief and despair “God knows what he’s been doing tonight like the old tosser. The virus had people working at home, never thought that could happen with a pub but me dad somehow managed it.” She groaned. “Nee good that like, but chin up.” Micky urged. “Anyway let’s get this sorted out”.
After having cleaned up and shovelled out the sticking customers, the two excited the building and stepped into the cold night, proceeding towards a small but unremarkable car. “Alright then, you live in Thorney don’t yer?” Micky asked. “Aye, you remember the place, right Tilbury.” She replied, now physically tired. “It’s like ganning to Mordor up there.” He joked. “You can talk you live in Hendon you cheeky sod”- feigning anger. “That’s Ashbrooke to you miss, anyway let’s go.” The car proceeded to cut its way into the night, lighting up empty roads as it proceeded through the city. “I just wish I could get out of this place you know, but there’s no way”- She sighed.
“Well the thing is I love Sunderland. It’s who I am. It’s not great, but it’s home and always will be, nowt for me trying to live down in London.”- Micky replied calmly. “But there’s nothing left to fight for.” Sophie replied in a negative tone. “Shipyards, the mines, it’s all gone, and it’s plagued with loafers like me dad who can’t see a future, or awful little shits who want to smash everything up. Lost souls. I just dream of these fairytale stories where I end up in New York City and meet a prince or something like that, did you see that Christmas movie on Netflix?”
“I’m not into that soppy bollocks man.” “Well I messed up at school, so I’m hoping for a miracle”. She replied. The car fell silent and the conversation ended abruptly. Sophie started staring out of the window aimlessly, reflecting on her life. Then suddenly, she jumped back in shock. “What is it?”- Micky asked sternly not wanting to be distracted from driving. “What’s wrong?” He asked. “Did you see that?”- She asked in a nervous voice. “It’s dark, but it looked like a really feral man dashing across the road…” Micky made immediately made light of the situation. “Well that’s nowt out of the ordinary isn’t it?” He laughed. “Some weird characters around here, but aye it’s home”. “So anyway, when are you going to probably hang out with me?” he asked in a more flirtatious tone.
“When I sort me life out, which is never” She replied cynically cutting him down. “Anyway it’s this house on the right remember?” Pointing into the distance. The car stopped as it approached a row of neatly aligned semi detached houses dotted a sloping hill. “I’ll see you on the amazing saturday night shift”- She groaned, getting out of the car. “Okay then Sophie, catch you later and take care. Good luck!”- And he drove off. Sophie gulped. She started forwards at a creamy white door, sitting down beneath a step-in front of her. Frozen, she gritted her teeth and cautiously proceeded towards, gripping the handle nervously and slowly. She paused for several more seconds and after taking a deep breath, pushed the handle down and slowly creeped inwards. Her heart was pounding.
Walking into the dark passage, she was greeted with a waft of stale beer. The once white wallpaper was tainted with a yellow stain and was curling at the edges. The carpet was worn and battered. In the accompanying room there was a faint light looming and a benign noise of voices. She walked towards it with unease, peering round an open door. Before her, an older man sat lying stretched out on a sofa, void of reaction seemingly oblivious to her presence with deep blue, yet empty eyes. His face was worn and tired, bearing a look of many more years than it had lived. His hair was thin, tatty and graying, with spiky uneven stubble around his cheeks and chin. He was dressed in comfortable, yet simple and unfashionable clothes worn with age, a tattered red polo short and long drooping black sweat pants. Beneath him sat an array of empty cans of beer and assorted takeaway foil containers.
“I’m home…” Sophie said with a slightly annoyed, sarcastic voice, piercing through the awkward tension between them. “Aye.. welcome home then…” the man grunted, tired and disinterested. Sophie was unmoved, and anger pulsed through her veins. “Looks like you’ve been up to plenty today then, you still haven’t cleaned that shit up.” She remarked with sarcasm, peering around the room with exaggeration. “Just the usual. Yer know that by now” The man moaned. “The finger pointin’ has started early tonight then. I’ve told yer, don’t bring your work problems home.”- Raising a rise with a particle of energy he could find. “Don’t bring them home? What’s the difference I’m running after old pissheads like you either way!”- She snarled. “Ere!”- He shouted, jerking upwards suddenly. “Yer should have thought about that all when you messed around and didn’t stick in at school. Yer only have yerself to pet. I did my work down in the shipyards. Now sod off I’m watching telly.”
Sophie’s eyes filled with poison. “Well is it any wonder with an example like you? Even with your passion for drink ya still couldn’t organize a piss up in a brewery. I’m slaving away to keep a roof over owa heads and you can’t even be arsed to say hello to me when I walk through the door. “Alreet then!” He shouted “You know where the door is!”. “I’d like to see you try and stand on your own two feet. What would mam think if she saw you now? Goodnight arsehole!”- Before he could say another word, she slammed the door harshly and stormed back outside. Her father was unfazed. Moving quickly down the street, she whipped up a phone from her pocket which emitted a white luminous light. She looked at it whilst pacing along, a tear dropping from her eye and onto her cheek. Her thumbs moved magically as she began tapping away:
“Are you there? He’s at it again. I hate him x”- She wrote, sending away a message.
“I’m here. Are you okay hun? x”- Words on the screen bounded back quickly. Sophie’s face lit up slightly as she seen it.
“Just the usual. We argued after work. Can’t stand the sight of him, out for a late night walk now x”
“Where are you going? Be careful x”- The text urged back
“Just to the Barnes extension x”- Sophie typed
“It’s 10pm! Get back home there’s so many dodgy people round there x”- The person urged
“I can’t get him out of me head, I need to walk it out of my system I’ll be okay”- Sophie typed on
“Okay do you want to meet tomorrow? We can talk about it then x”- The person replied
“Aw millie you’re a star. Thanks babe x”- She wrote with relief, a smile creaking onto her face.
At the conversation ended Sophie slipped her phone away and finally looked ahead of herself. She walked into a large open green space in the urban expanse, of which a small stream carved its way through adjacent to some footpaths. The area appeared as if as it were a park without purpose, empty, unfriendly and unappetizing. There were no flowers and merely a few tattered old benches. It was pitch black, peppered around the edges with the dim lights of houses in the estates surrounding it, and a large intimidating hill overshadowing it to the west. An eary silence swept the area with a chilling breeze. Sophie seemed aloof, her mind distracted and cold, and strutted along deeper and deeper into the darkness, the lights of the surrounding homes growing fainter and fainter.
As she walked, an unusual mist began to filter through the area rapidly. It became bitter cold, as if the fog was choking out the surroundings. Nervous, she slowed down. Then suddenly, she stopped. In front of her, obscured in the fog, stood a shadowy figure of abnormal stature. It was not too tall, but muscular and well built, yet its back was crooked as if it were an old man. Its arms were dropping down as if they were overextended, with long sharp nails almost scraping the ground itself. The shadow of its apparel was tatty and torn, and it had two large ears pointing out sharply. Sophie stared as it stood ahead of her on the footpath, uttering a repetitive sound which mimicked a grunting animal, panting and breathing heavily. Hesitant and increasingly afraid, she started to step back slowly. Then she remembered, she’d already seen it on the way home…
She drew out her phone again nervously:
“Millie…” she typed, barely keeping her fingers coherent
“There’s a strange man in the Barnes extension. He doesn’t look normal…”
But before she could read any reply, the finger snarled and turned its head round at a lightning pace. It grunted loudly and started to move towards her. As it emerged from the blackness, it revealed its true form. This was no man, it might be described as more akin to a monster. It’s skin was tainted a grayish-green of a vile blend. Disfigured teeth were sticking out of its mouth and most disturbingly at all, it had piercing, monstrous yellow eyes akin to that of a snake. Around its head and neck was wrapped a red, disfigured rag. Predictably, Sophie let a huge scream and without second thoughts began to flee. The creature growled and immediately gave chase, hefting its lanky arms as it belted forwards at an extraordinarily pace.
Sophie, blind with panic, darted into the darkness and veered off the path. Her lungs strained as the creature grew closer, and closer… but as it reached out its claw to grab its prey she unpredictably slipped on the wet mud, hurling her head first into the accompanying stream of water, creating a splash as she crashed into the shallow, dirty surface. Yet before she could react a make another move, she was dazzled by a spontaneous flash of white light all around her. Then suddenly, she woke up, sitting seemingly unscathed and not uncomfortable, in the scream, as if her fear had departed her. Puzzled, she got herself up and looked around. The figure that had pursued her was gone. Was it all a dream? She wondered to herself. As opposed to apparently fighting for her life, she now moaned at her dirty and wet clothes.
“Are you alright?”- Said a female voice calmly, from the distance. “You look quite content sitting there”- She scoffed cheerfully. Sophie looked up as she pulled herself up out of the stream and onto the bank. There stood not a monster, but a woman of about a matured age, yet a young face. She was dressed modestly, but not unusually. She had a warm look of maturity and wisdom upon her face, as if she were someone trustable and dependable, but void of arrogance or overconfidence. Her hair was long, fine and dark. Her blue eyes radiated like jewels in the night.
“Here, let me help you.” She remarked softly- grabbing Sophie’s arm as she ascended to the surface. “What happened?”- She asked. “I’m not sure…” Sophie replied with confusion. “There was this thing… and it was chasing me, then I fell into the water, there was this light and then it was gone.” She said puzzled, expressing doubt towards her own account. “I have no idea what just happened. It didn’t seem real”. The woman looked at her, confidently and unphased. “Allow me to introduce myself Sophie, my name is Viviane”. She said suddenly. “Erm yeah.. nice to meet you, thank you for your help, but do I know you? She responded awkwardly.
“You do not, but I have always known you.” The woman said calmly. “After all these years, the day has finally come that we meet. I have watched you grow up on this estate. I am deeply sorry of the trouble you have with your father, and the loss of your mother.”- She continued. “Who are you? How do you this? Sorry not being rude but this creeps me out a little”- Sophie remarked awkwardly, twitching her thumbs with discomfort. “As I said, I am Viviane, but who am I? Perhaps you will be surprised. I am not like you, for I am the spiritual guardian of these lands.”
Sophie stood back with a perplexed impression on her face. “What the? Sorry but I’m done with weirdos confronting me this is too much, I’m going home. Piss off.” She snapped and without another thought, she began storming away. “Sophie…” the woman called calmly, her voice gaining a mystic tone to it. “This is no joke.” The woman proceeded to click her fingers, and suddenly there was a flash of light and a blast of purple energy radiated from the sky and gave blossom to a ring of blue flames surrounded between her and Sophie, blocking her path. “I’ve lost it tonight like, work is getting to me”. Sophie panicked.
“Have no fear, I come in peace.” The woman remarked, her eyes having lit up with the magic. “This is real. I repeat again, I am Viviane, the spirit messenger of these lands. The long-passed kingdom of Northumbria.” Sophie stopped and looked, as if she had found a shred of willingness within her to listen. “You Sophie, have been chosen, you are worthy. Of humble birth and purity of heart, you are the rightful heir to commence upon the path of the North Star, to be a saviour and a light to these lost people.”
“What? Me? Surely am hallucinating.” She gasped. “I must have hurt my head in the stream. But okay I’ll try you, what is the North Star?” She asked, unable to hold back her curiousity. “The North Star is a sacred guardian of the people who has been chosen throughout the centuries in order to defend this land, repel evil and to uphold its spirit. Many centuries ago, King Oswald expelled the invaders polluting the souls of the people and blessed Northumbria as a sacred realm, one which would always embody righteousness, purity and compassion, a land of enlightenment, justice and holiness upon this island.”
“He was the first North Star, and created from thereon a mystical vow that whenever so evil was to be inflicted upon it, a worthy heir would be chosen in order to rise to the challenge, and it is so now that a new danger is rising in Northumbria, one that is feeding upon the disillusionment and anger of these people, who have lost their way in a world that has left them behind. This land has lost its purpose and its spirit. Do you see what you encountered tonight?” She asked. “What was it?” Sophie asked. “The being attacked you tonight was once a man, transformed by an evil force into a monstrous being known as a redcap, but you may know them as goblins. It is afflicted upon younger men who have weak souls, beset by negative emotions such as apathy, anger, hopelessness and a lack of vision in life. They come susceptible to dark magic.”
“What? But who’s dark magic exactly? How could that happen?”- Sophie asked, becoming less cynical and now more openly curious. “There is a spirit Sophie, an evil spirit. After having been imprisoned and dormant for 1400 years, it has been able to awake again on the misery which has been afflicted on the region. He does not have a physical form anymore, but is seeking to enter people’s minds and re-establish his presence. I do not speak more of it at this time, but this is why you have been called Sophie as the North Star, at this time. You must now take upon yourself this path and discover what needs to be done. Although I will be your guide, your answers lie with the people.”
“Accordingly Sophie, I bestow upon you the following powers, which as you become the North Star and change in heart you shall develop and flourish. Listen carefully, firstly I grant onto you the power of Ethereal fire. Do you see these blue-purple flames around us? This is a magical fire that transcends the physical limitations of the mortal world. It exists without burning or harming living things, save you wish it to be so. But most significantly it has a special property than no material thing can do, the ability to fight non-corporeal, spiritual and magical beings that are immune to physical force. But only a worthy soul may utilize Ethereal fire.”- Viviane explained.
“Secondly, I grant unto you Astral vision. That is a special gift to sense and detect that which mortal eyes cannot see and mortal minds cannot comprehend, to be able to see and communicate with spirits. You may share this temporarily with those around you. Thirdly, I bestow with a purity of body. You will receive physical abilities beyond that of an ordinary person. You will be strong, you will be fast and you will not be weary, but this cannot concur with a negative mind. Then finally, I shall confer upon you the Blade of The Cargást, which shall be your heirloom and a sign to all that you have took upon this calling. When you are ready, this sword will present itself unto its master. It is light as feather yet as strong and sharp as a diamond”- Viviane reached out her hand and there appeared a fine silver blade of a beautiful craftsmanship, which shined with a purple glow.
“Now Sophie, our meeting must come to a close. Remember what I have told you. There are many lessons yet for you to learn. Grave times are upon us. Seek the wisdom of this people, reach into their hearts and seek out the evil which plagues this land. We will meet again.” Astounded, mystified and terrified all at once. Sophie dared not utter another word, and could not as Viviane smiled and clicked her fingers. Sophie was engulfed in a flash of white light, so deep that everything around her seemed to vanish.