Nacre Then

The History of Nacre Then

Written: Feb 21 2016

Date: N/A

 

Before time began, Nacre Then had a period known as “The Was”. It was before everything. A time with no beginning or end, and its sole inhabitants were the Primordials. They were an ancient race of godlike beings of near omnipotence. The belief is that they either created by God, or came even before God. In either case, God frowned upon their power, be it of fear or disdain, and sundered the race apart, tearing them into the four sentient races of the common time, beginning with the First Era.

All creatures of any relevance can use magic. Every race gets their powers from a different “shared” pool, be it the moon, the planet, or the air itself. The humans get their magic from the stars. A large portion of this power comes from seven specific stars that each shine with a brilliance that can sometimes rival the moon, depending on the phase. In the First Era, two of each race were put on the two main continents: Torreth and Ithalin. (Ithalin is subject to change, as I literally haven’t named it until just now.)

As people tend to do, the world wasn’t big enough for the four of them. The humans found themselves pitted against the Al’Tari, a draconic people of unrivaled intellect. The Al’Tari draw their magic from the moon, and a rare natural occurrence (sort of like a comet) gave them immense power, and they soon defeated the humans and enslaved them. Under this same power, they cursed all humans so that they could no longer use their magic.

Then, a hero rose: Autlan. He was an inspiration to his people, and they took up arms against their slavers. Soon they swept over the Al’Tarin Empire like a rising tide, and their perseverance gave rise to the Autlan Empire, or the Crown Empire. After defeating the Al’Tari, Autlan drove them into extinction, beginning the Second Era: The Era of the Empire.

In the sense of major world-changing events, there is little that happens in the Second Era. No emperor was as righteous and loved as Autlan, and eventually the Empire was driven into corruption. They established the Warstorm, a national tournament that killed thousands to keep the population in check. Eventually an emperor began a court of wizened historians to discover a way to break the lingering Al’Tarin curse. They succeeded, and the power they unleashed threw Torreth into the Third Era.

They were called the Archons. Since magic is given threw a finite pool, seven people containing the entire power of the stars turned them into forces of nature. They soon began the Archon War, a conflict that lasted nearly two decades. This was a power struggle as well as a war for land claims. They broke from the Empire, and, not having any magic to combat them, seceded half of Torreth to the Archons. At the end of the war, a combined effort of three Archons shattered the continent, creating the Xal Deer Sea and ending the war.

After the Archon War, the Third Era would be described as the time of unmatched magical proficiency. It was in this time that humans had the best grasp of what magic could really do. It was Torreth’s Golden Age.

Then, the Rupture happened. One day, the world shook with an extraordinary power never before witnessed. The explosion’s epicenter was Veritia, and it wiped out the entire nation. The sky tore apart, leaving a permanent rift in the sky that terrified the people. Magic was blamed as the cause for this disaster, and thus was banned nationwide. The Fourth Era had begun.

The Fourth Era is a tumultuous time of strife. Nations once again war with each other, and darker evils return in Torreth’s time of weakness.

 

 

Warstorm

Written: Jun 17. 2015

Last Edited: Jul. 4 2016

Date: Mid Second Era

 

“People of Eastcliff! Exciting news! Come and hear, come and hear!”

Marc inclined his head slightly, turning his attention from the ducks he was feeding in the pond. He saw the town crier gathering a crowd in the square some distance away from the bench on which he sat.

“The Tournament of the Warstorm arrives in one month’s time!” the crier called. “Join the call of the arena and fight the greatest warriors Torreth has to offer! Travel the world! Obtain untold riches! Be named ‘Stormforged’!” People in the crowd began to whisper to each other as this last bit of incentive reached their ears.

“Recruitment will be in the town hall!” he continued. “Fighters must register before the eighth of Frostmount, but audience members can buy tickets to this month’s tournament at two odes apiece any time prior until seats are sold out! If you’re interested, the flyers will be posted in various locations around town.”

The man stepped down from beneath the newly built statue of His Highness, Angmar, the current King, taking a paper from the stack he held and placing it next to the plaque behind him.

The small crowd that had gathered for what he had to say had begun to disperse, returning to their menial duties of buying and selling the various produce Eastcliff was known for, such as tallroots and polbeets. The remnants of the crowd dissolved into a few young men who stayed to read the flyer he had left. They were talking loudly enough for Marc to hear as he stood up from his seat to amble over to the statue.

“Ya know somethin’, mates,” one was saying, flexing his muscles (though he was lankier than the rest). “I bet ya I could be a Stormforged.”

You?” another chuckled, the tallest one of the bunch. “You couldn’t e’en beat my grandmother in a sword duel, Rell!” The other boys around them laughed.

“She got the drop on me!” Rell explained. “And I’m telling ya I woulda had ‘er if she hadn’t cheat’d. Besides, what do you know Den? You weren’t even there!”

“Well, either way you’d best hope she doesn’t sign up for the Warstorm. She fits the title of ‘Stormforged’ far better than you would!”

Marc pushed his way calmly through the boys, placing a calloused hand on their shoulders and nudging them aside without a word. As they each moved out of his way and looked up to him, they fell silent; they balled their fists in annoyance at first, but then stepped back once they had a good look at him.

He had an intimidating build that contrasted with his careful posture, a combination that differed from the common farmer of Eastcliff. He was taller than most of the people in these parts, but his muscle was lean, not built from mass. He moved up the few steps, scanning the contents of the tournament’s advertisement, then tore the paper down, crumpling it in one swift and ruthless motion. He addressed the half dozen men that stood beneath him. “Don’t bother,” he warned them quietly.

“Oy!” Den, the tall one, said. He was apparently the only one courageous enough to face him. “Whaddya think you’re doing? Big tough guy, are ya? Try’n to scare away the competition?”

“Half right,” Marc replied. “But I don’t intend to fall for that Empiran propaganda. The Warstorm is just a way for the King to keep the population down so he doesn’t have to feed as many mouths. If you value your lives, I suggest you stay out of that arena. Watch if you feel you must, but joining is a fool’s game. There is no fame to be had.”

“Oh, yeah? Why would His Majesty want to kill off his own people? And what about the title of ‘Stormforged’?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know why. But I do know that no commoner is ever given that name. The money that comes with it is just traded around in the gentry. They would lose money if they ever had to give it to one of us. They fix tournaments if anyone they don’t like gets close.”

“And you would know, birdfeeder?” Den got a few chuckles from the entourage behind him. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen you off that bench, you know. Why does a guy like you care about our business?”

“It’s not easy to explain, but I have your safety in mind. Just trust me,” Marc said.

“Trust a guy that only talks to birds?” The skinny one, Rell, finally gathered his courage to join in. “Look, we’ve been waiting and practicing five years for the tournament to come ‘round, just like everyone else. It’s a man’s right to go and fight for glory, it is.” He paused for a moment, thinking about his next words. “My father died in the Warstorm, you know. It’s been a family tradition for generations. I’m not going to die, though. I’m twice the fighter my pa was!” Marc heard snickering behind the boy as Rell said that last bit, but it didn’t seem to dissuade him.

“I don’t appreciate a guy like you coming and trying to stop us,” he continued. “We work out in the fields and shops day in and day out for a smidgen of change, and the only hope we’ve got at achieving more with our lives is the Warstorm. Besides, we don’t have to make it to the finals to win money. We know we’re not the best, but we’ve got to try don’t we? What else do we do with our lives?”

Marc let out a deep breath as he closed his eyes for a moment. “Live them,” he replied quietly, then pushed back through them and into the streets of Eastcliff. He didn’t understand why people like this seemed like they wanted to throw their lives away. He wondered how the King managed to do that. Perhaps these boys were too young to understand the consequences of participating in the tournament. He certainly remembered feeling invincible at their age, but in this world, you were either put down swiftly or bred into a monster. That’s the way the Warstorm worked. The famous arena that traveled around the world, taking the best fighters Torreth had to offer and having them kill each other. The warriors that survived traveled with the arena to the next tournament, and so on until you returned home five years later. But Marc had never known anyone that wasn’t of noble birth that had ever become ‘Stormforged’, returning home as champion. All the names he had ever heard that had reached the top were all well known in their own right, even before they entered the tournament. The Warstorm was a trap for the commoners. While it was true that the participants weren’t forced to follow the arena, merely surviving such a slaughter of the best-of-the-best seemed proof that one was immortal. And that philosophy always persisted until it suddenly proved false.

Not even Marc had ever gone back home after he escaped.

He was the only commoner he had known to ever survive the Warstorm. What’s more, the title of ‘Stormforged’ had nearly been within reach. But it was not his fate.

He hadn’t seen the truth of the Warstorm until he was nearly killed in it, on that last day. They paid no attention to lowly common folk at first, but as soon as they had been halfway around the world and people started to notice them, they began to get unwanted attention. Marc himself hadn’t even realized that something was different until everyone he fought that day started fighting dirty, attacking primarily to cripple and exhaust him to make his next fight that much more difficult. They hadn’t been particularly tough opponents, and that day he thought that his victory was at last within reach. Until his last opponent had fought him aiming for all of his weak spots, knowing exactly where to strike. It was almost as if that man had been watching Marc fight all day, studying where to capitalize on his weariness. At the same time, the man himself had been as well rested as a lord that hadn’t needed to lift a finger that day. Fair play indeed. It was no stroke of luck that he had managed to escape both the battle and the tournament with his life.

He passed through the streets, his boots crunching against the soft gravel. They were too far from Capital to be graced with paved roads. He glanced through the shops along each side. People were bustling to and fro, with carts of produce (primarily vegetables) being taken up and down every road in town. Eventually, Marc slowed to a stop when he noticed the armory, a splotch of gray stone in this world of the green of nature and yellow of straw. An idea came into his head when it caught his eye. Perhaps there was still something he could do.

The smith smiled cheerfully as Marc paced up, his mustache perking up along with his lips. “Ah, bet I can guess what business a man like you has with me. Lookin’ for a blade that can be tested against the thunder of the Warstorm, are ya?”

“To some extent,” Marc replied. “Any chance I can give you coin to forge my own blade?”

The blacksmith’s brow furrowed, thinking. “Forge yer own blade, eh?” He scratched his chin in thought. “Never ‘ad someone ask me that before. I guess ya can. Have you ever done it before?”

“I have. Will five odes do?” he asked, producing a bag and dumping out several square gold pieces.

“I usually sell blades for eight or more,” the smith criticized.

“But that’s for material and labor. Seems to me like something I make myself should be cheaper. You’re not selling the blade, you’re selling the metal and renting your forge.”

“Alright, alright. Give me six and you’ve got a deal. But yer payin’ me for any damage that ya do to my forge, too.”

“Fair enough,” he nodded as he handed him the coins and stepped back into his store.

Once this was done, his real task would begin. He would enter into the tournament once again, but this time it would not be to achieve the title of ‘Stormforged’. It had been long enough that nobody would recognize him; he was a lowly commoner once again. He would have to rise again from the bottom, but he tried to think of what would happen if he joined the Warstorm and refused to kill anyone. Certainly, he would have to make a sword that specialized in bloody but non-lethal strokes. He would have to make shallow cuts, making wounds that were easily mended but still bled a lot. Making the right sword wouldn’t be enough. It would also challenge his own ability in using it.

The audience would get an amazing show. One so spectacular that it would be against the nobles’ interest to disqualify him for. He wondered if such a thing were even possible. This plan would surely be challenging, to say the least. Especially since losing (and managing to escape with his life) in the last tournament had cost him a few fingers on his left hand. He had grown used to it, sure, but the loss still put him at a disadvantage. Either way, though, he would put an end to this unnecessary killing. It would be done by his hand one way or another.

Those kids in the square needed to be shown what the tournaments are like, but shown in a way that didn’t require them to be killed. He would make them all see the truth he had discovered. The corruption and the greed of the Warstorm had to be stopped. That corruption had killed Marciellus the Favored.

But it had also given birth to Marc the Unbroken.

 

 

 

 

 

Sorik’s Choice

Written: Aug 28 2013

Date: Late Third Era

 

“We’ll give you two days to think over our offer. Be prepared for the consequences.” The two tall men dressed in the dark cloaks of the upper class of Veritia turned and left the way they had come, through the dense forest surrounding the currently overpopulated courtyard to the college Sorik attended.

He scratched his head in deep thought. He didn’t fully comprehend their request to leave his college, his home, and maybe even his country. He had lived at the college for as long as he could remember and knew only of the outside world from books. To involve himself with whoever “The Preservers” claimed to be would certainly change his life, but would it be for the better? They hadn’t given many details, but instead promised proper housing, teaching, and even both political and physical power. Tempting, for sure, but there was always a catch. A catch that they never mentioned.

“Sorik!” He turned to see his aged, diminutive headmaster hobbling through the crowd of recuperating students. The small man waddled swiftly towards him, with the sound of his bent, wooden cane echoing repeatedly across the courtyard. He was easily recognizable as not many people in the college were of advanced age, and his few wrinkles tugged heavily at his face.

“Headmaster!” The respected man approached him as Sorik quickly brushed his faulty posture away. Despite his mischievous personality, it was instinct to attempt his best appearance. Why was he coming to see him now? Did he know about the curious men that he had just spoken with?

“Come…with me… please,” the headmaster requested in labored breath, hunched over as he renewed his strength from moving so hurriedly. As he recovered, he walked to Sorik’s side and put his hand on his back, gently urging him along. Expectantly, he led him towards the main college building. Sorik said nothing, but instead allowed the elders’ guidance and moved in the direction he was led.

The headmaster escorted him into his office — a modest room filled very neatly with books of all shapes and sizes. It was practically a small library, with lounge chairs and tables, with the only exception being the desk with various documents settled on top of it. He was an organized man, and never kept a book out of place. If inquired upon, he could select a mentioned book from his inventory without even thinking. When they arrived, the headmaster motioned Sorik to a chair in front of his desk as he hobbled around it and sat down comfortably on his tall chair, resting his cane down nearby.

“I assume you know what this is about,” he stated quietly as he folded his hands together and rested them on his desk.

“If it’s about that cat, I promise Allia was in on it, too. That’s what made it so great!” Sorik laughed nonchalantly as he raised his left leg to rest it on his knee, leaning back in the chair.

“Actually, I hadn’t heard about that particular prank, but you’ll have to enlighten me with the details at a later date. I had hoped we could have a chat about those men that spoke with you. Who were they? What did they tell you?” he questioned.

“Oh, right.” Sorik’s smile flew from his face. “Well, to be honest I don’t really know what that was about. They called themselves “The Preservers” or something.” The headmaster’s eyes focused intently on Sorik. “Do you know who they are?”

“I’ve heard of them,” he bent his head downwards slightly. “Go on. What did they want?” he responded.

“Well, they told me that they could teach me skills I could never learn here and that I would be in safe hands. That I had two days to decide.”

The headmaster’s wrinkled face nodded, frowning fiercely. “They could for certain teach you things we could not, but you must ask yourself whether or not you wish to learn them,” he asked, sitting up as he reached for his cane.

“I don’t know. I’m not all that interested.” Sorik’s eyes shifted away from his mentor.

“Not in the least?”

“Not in the least.”

The headmaster stood from his chair and shuffled slowly around his desk, moving across the room as he absent-mindedly scanned his already memorized library. “You never were a good liar, Sorik. Thinking is good. It teaches you things you could never know without it.”

“I don’t want a lecture right now, thanks. It’s supposed to be student break…” Sorik complained as he turned in his chair to face the small moving man.

“But how are you supposed to learn things without thinking?”

“Learn things like what? The instructor never teaches me anything, and if I really needed to know I could just ask the Archive,” Sorik stated, scanning his fingernails as he glanced up at the headmaster.

His teacher stopped. “You’ve just crossed into dangerous waters, boy,” he murmured. Standing in the middle of his room, he stared at one of the books for over a minute. “There is a reason not even the instructors know of its presence here. Information is a powerful weapon, but it is often the death of many mages that seek too much. Sorik, I think it is best if you forget about it. Forget its existence altogether. It would likely do you more harm than good.”

“I don’t see how that thing can be dangerous. It’s just a—“ Sorik was interrupted by the headmaster slapping the back of his head with the end of his cane. Sorik gasped in pain as the headmaster walked by him.

“Nervermind about that. Its power is far beyond your control,” he declared. “This isn’t something that is up for debate.”

Sorik nodded silently.

“As I was saying,” he continued as if nothing had happened. “The mind is the biggest weapon any mage can have.”

“A thought never killed anybody,” Sorik replied while rubbing his head, judging it best to avoid more conflict.

“Ah, but it only takes one thought to start a war, Sorik. Thoughts themselves may be harmless, but what of the actions that are birthed from them? Many thoughts can be dangerous, and yet, at the same time, we are nothing without thinking. Do you understand?”

“Sure, sure.” Sorik replied, waving him off. “Just like I understand Arcane techniques.”

“Indeed,” he chuckled. “I will put this simply. Your ancestor, the Blood Sorcerer Verik himself changed the world by thinking. Anyone can do it.”

“I’m still not following you.”

The headmaster sighed. “If you want to be remembered as one who brought about change like him, you must think, boy! Nobody is going to do it for you.” The headmaster paused, taking a moment before continuing. “Forget about the Archive. Its power is best not taken lightly. Now,” he continued. “Take the rest of the day off. I’ll notify your instructor. Make the wise decision, Sorik. Dismissed.” Sorik stood quietly from his chair, trying his best to grasp what he could from his headmaster’s words.

“Thank you, headmaster,” he said finally after collecting his thoughts. He bowed with utmost respect before leaving for the door.

“Of course. Oh, and Sorik,” he called after him. Sorik stopped immediately, swiveling around on the balls of his feet. “I’ll be here awaiting your presence when classes are over. Along with Allia’s,” the old man smirked.

Sorik laughed. “You got it.”

 

 

Sorik’s Promise

Written: Sep 2013

Date: Late Third Era

 

I had thought they had forgotten about me.

Two weeks after the two men from the Preservers came to talk to me, everything at the college was still quiet. I had returned to my duties and schoolwork, even pulled another prank with Allia. Everything was back to normal after that day. That is, until they came back.

I was lying in bed, thinking about the day’s work I hadn’t quite finished. I wasn’t all that worried; since I could likely get it done by the time I had to turn it in tomorrow. In fact, I was more concerned with how Allia and I were going to pull our next prank, since I still had detention from the last one we pulled (evidently our professor wasn’t fond of us having replaced his morning coffee with manna, a powerful alcohol, but his reaction was well worth the punishment.)

I slowly drifted off to sleep thinking about what would soon become utterly pointless. At no point did it occur to me that yesterday was the last normal day I would ever experience. I must have been asleep for hours when my instructor all but kicked the door to my room down.

“Come on, Sorik, wake up. There’s no time, we’re evacuating the building.”

“What? Why?” I heard myself mumble, barely awake.

“Damn it, Sorik, there’s no time to argue. Let’s go!” he urged impatiently.

“Huh? Oh, yeah, sure. I’m going.” I slowly sat up and reached for my shoes. As I stood up somewhat disoriented and made my way out, I grabbed my cloak and pulled my arms through the sleeve holes.

“Get out to the courtyard as quickly as possible,” my professor instructed. “Use the emergency escapes if you have to. I’ll meet you down there once I make sure everyone is out of the building.”

“Uh huh. Good luck,” I replied, too tired to even comprehend his words. I still didn’t know what was so important, but it felt like the thing to say. Forcing myself awake, I walked swiftly through the candle-lit corridors of the dorms, with other students moving just as quickly next to me. There was some strange pungency in the air, but I couldn’t quite tell what it was. I ignored the buzz of confusion around me about what had happened, as I was too groggy and incoherent to think too hard. I was pretty sure any importance the professor would have mentioned would have caught my attention.

We found out what had happened as soon as we reached the courtyard. The girls’ dormitory, the building straight across from us was nearly fully engulfed in flames. Dozens of students were racing out of the building as it was slowly eaten by the blaze. I noticed a number of teachers darting in to help the students still inside, and a few more using water magic to try to quell the inferno.

Well, I was awake now.

I spun around to see the headmaster approaching, hobbling on his cane as fast as it could carry him. His eyes were wide with panic as he stared at the blaze. “What happened?!” he yelled to one of the teachers running to the scene.

“No idea!” he yelled back, not slowing down at all.

“Funny,” a voice behind me replied. Oh, no. I felt my eyes widen. It couldn’t be. “I think we’re the only ones that do. Isn’t that right, Sorik?”

I swiveled around to address the speaker. I stared back at the two Preservers in dread. The headmaster, knowing he would just get in the way, chose to remain. “Get behind me, my son,” the headmaster advised me. “So it was you two that did this,” he stated, staring at them with contempt.

“Specifically, no. My associate and I have no direct connection with your school’s current predicament. However, I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that we did manage to ensure the safety of one of your students.” He motioned to his associate, who stepped forward and removed a bound Allia from his shoulders, setting her down on the ground. Her arms were tied behind her back and her Totems removed from her person, but thankfully, she seemed unharmed. She stood firm but didn’t speak. I’m sure she was too terrified to.

“You took her hostage?” I yelled, taking an angry step toward the Preservers as the headmaster put his arm out to hold me back. “Why couldn’t you simply kidnap me if you thought I would decline your offer? People didn’t have to die!”

“Business, Sorik. It would have been a simple matter to seize you and be on our way, but we did our research. We want the Archive, too, old man,” he said to the headmaster confidently.

“You know about the Archive?” I blurted out.

The lead Preserver instantly refocused on me, his interest renewed.

Oops. “I… uh… I mean…” I stammered. The headmaster snapped in my direction, and I immediately shut up at his gesture. It was definitely best to shut up.

“Interesting. Well, in that case, that makes our job much easier. We don’t even need this stubborn old man,” he laughed. His subordinate whispered something, to which he nodded. I couldn’t make out their secretive conversation, so I took the time to glance behind me and check on the fire. It had spread to the other two buildings and, to my horror, I looked just at the moment in which the girls’ dorm had collapsed. I refused to imagine the dozens of people that just died. Instead, I refocused on the Preservers. I could still save a life if I played my cards right.

“Sorik. I need you to go and retrieve the Archive for me. If you’re good, I’ll even let your girl live,” the Preserver said.

“Sorik doesn’t know where the Archive is. Only I know how to get to it,” the headmaster reasoned. “If we can simply talk about this I’m sure–“

“Well,” the lead Preserver interrupted. “I guess your two beloved students going to die, along with the rest of this school.”

Suddenly, the headmaster grasped his blood crystal and launched it at the lead Preserver as it became a fireball of intense heat. It exploded on contact, but as the fire dissipated, I noticed that the Preserver put an arcane shield up, not even having flinched. The shield vanished and a magic circle appeared in the air in front of him. After a moment a bolt of lightning shot back at the headmaster. He cried in pain before falling to the ground in front of me. I had to watch as the one I loved most died.

 

 

Sorik’s Folly

Written: Sep 2013

Date: Late Third Era

 

Wrath came before despair. I was hardly conscious as I clenched my own blood crystal in fury. I could feel power coursing through me as I readied myself for vengeance.

“Ah-ah-ah,” the Preserver said. I wouldn’t do that if I were you. We still have your girlfriend.”

Damn it… I felt the magical power immediately drain back out of me. I was still at their mercy, but now I was on my own.

“Good. Now, go get the Archive and bring it back to me. Better be fast, too. I’m killing your friend if I don’t have it by the time that building comes down.”

I turned around to see the main building crumbling down where it stood, the fire gnawing on it like a gluttonous monster. By the looks of it, I didn’t have much time before the whole thing came down.

“Alia,” I heard myself say as I looked back to face her.

“…yeah?” she stated weakly, looking up to meet my gaze.

“I’ll keep you safe. I promise.” I have never felt more certain about anything in my life. I had already lost one of my loved ones today, and I wasn’t about to lose the other. At this point I cared more about her than anyone, everyone else in the world.

I wasn’t quite sure how I could keep that promise, but I was sure that sheer determination would prevail over traditional planning. Besides, I felt like it was better to give false hopes than tell her there was none. She smiled and nodded briskly. I moved back around and sprinted towards the headmaster’s office.

As I passed through the threshold of the building, it was like being punched in the stomach as the oxygen was ripped from my lungs. I scanned the hall, looking to see if my way to the headmaster’s office was blocked by debris. It wasn’t, but nearly everything in the hall was on fire. All I could hear was the sound of wood snapping and groaning as the fires blazed all around me. The intense heat bit at my face as I charged through the flames and up the unstable stairs to his office.

It was a miracle that the fire hadn’t quite touched this room yet. I ran to one of the walls of the library, searching for the right book. I scanned wildly. Was this the right shelf? This isn’t the right book. I turned around. I was standing in the right spot. Why wasn’t this the book? Every time I’ve been in here it was the same book. Then I realized something.

The entire library had been maneuvered around.

The headmaster resealed the Archive from me.

Panic finally crept up behind me, emerging from the shadows from my mind. There was no way I could keep my promise. I heard the fire creeping up behind me like somebody just waiting to strangle me. What would the headmaster do? He would know the code, duh. That didn’t help. I didn’t have that luxury.

What would Verik do? Ignore the fire, re-crack the code, save Allia, probably. Ah. Well, what have I got to lose? Might as well give it a shot.

Alright, what was the book before? Understanding the Elder War’s Beginnings. Left wall, center bookcase, third shelf down. It translated the order of the rest of the library. What was it now? A small book titled The Power of the Mind. Of course. I tried to ignore the pain in my chest about being reminded about the headmaster and his teachings. I took the book out and skimmed through it. My efforts were hurried by the sound of the fire licking the library shelf on the other side of the room. How much time did I have left? Not enough to worry. I quickly read the first few lines of the chapters when I realized that this was handwritten by the headmaster himself, probably in the past week or so. For me. Had I the time to read it, I would have done so out of sorrowful respect for him. Unfortunately, the fire was gaining fast. I had no idea how I was going to get out of here alive whether or not I cracked the code.

I skimmed the book over and over. There seemed to be no relevance to the code. I hoped it wasn’t hidden deep inside, because I didn’t have time for actually reading it. I finally found something promising: A single chapter with more than a number for a title.

Suddenly, I heard a particularly loud snap, and I moved just in time to see the other side of the library falling on top of me. I jumped to one side as it crashed into the ground where I previously stood. Time was running out.

The chapter’s title was written in In Taqu script. I cursed myself for not having been proficient in it. I did, however, know of a book in the library that translated it. But with the switch-up, I knew it wouldn’t be where it used to.

Leaping over the fallen bookshelf, I quickly glanced over the book collection. This time I found what I was looking for quickly. The heat suddenly hit me as I realized how unstable the room was becoming. Nearly everything was burning except for the far end of the library. I knew it wouldn’t survive long, though. At this point I didn’t honestly see myself getting out alive.

I translated the chapter and found that its title was simply “Knowledge”. Great. Another book I had to find. The chance of it already being ruined was pretty high, but I didn’t have any choice. I skimmed the surviving library repeatedly. If I was right, taking out the book would release the false panel and I could get into the Archive room. But I needed to find it first.

The sound of the snapping of wood and the crackling of the inferno’s progress became apparent when a stray flame caught my leg. I was out of time. Knowledge was probably already destroyed.

I sat down on the headmaster’s chair, staring at the fire as it ate away at the furniture. I hated to give up, but I didn’t see myself getting out of this. Looking down at the desk, I saw something inscribed in it that I had never noticed before (not that I had ever sat in the headmaster’s chair). It read: “Value the lives of others more than your own. –Verik”. Under that was an inscription written in In Taqu. Glad I had the book now. I translated it into “Simply speak the word ‘Peacekeeper’”.

Even in death, the headmaster was inspiring me to do more. If I died, Allia would, too. Nobody would survive the Preservers’ coming. I couldn’t let that happen.

I walked to where I knew the sealed wall to be and spoke its password. The false wall to the Archive slid open. I could do this.

Running into the room, the entire atmosphere changed. I shut the panel to buy myself a bit more time. The room was simply a small hallway into a cylindrical space that held the book I needed. It was lit solely by the book, which gave off a dim purple radiance as its power leaked out. I walked up to the Archive, the gravity of its power making it slightly harder to move. It levitated slightly above the pedestal it was placed on, steadily moving up and down as if it was just waiting for something to do. I could simply take Verik’s masterpiece and try to escape the building before it went down, but I didn’t think that plan would succeed. Fortunately I had come up with an alternate plan on the way inside.

“Archive,” I stated.

“Yes, Sorik,” Verik’s monotone voice replied.

“I need your power, but first I need some questions answered.” The Archive didn’t respond.

“Is the headmaster dead?”

“Which headmaster?”

“Mine.”

“Yes.”

No. Why did it have to end like this? He was the only one that ever seemed to care for me… “Is Allia?” I heard myself gulp, heart pounding. I don’t know what I would do if…

“No. Predicted death is in forty point five seconds.” Good. I still had time.

“Okay. I need your power. Give me the power to keep her safe forever. That’s possible, right?”

“… Unknown. It would require more than my available power.”

“Make it happen.”

“Sorik, it could–“

Do it!

I could hear the fire breaking the panel behind me. This was it. I watched as the Archive opened up, pages flipping wildly as it infused itself with power from who-knows-where. After a moment of absorption, power started visibly coursing into me. Power I had never dreamed before.

I could save Allia, kill the Preservers, then maybe even save everyone who was still alive with this power.

I clenched my blood crystal as it started to glow a hot red. It had never done that before. I didn’t think much of it until it shattered under the force of my fist. That doesn’t happen.

The last thing I remember was the Archive itself exploding under the power it couldn’t contain.

 

 

Prison Break

Written: Apr 30 2016

Date: Early Fourth Era

 

Explosions. Shouting. Screaming. Dying.

Sorik awoke with a start, scanning his surroundings and bracing himself for an attack that did not come. The commotion was further away.

He laid on a bed, (if you could call it that) of itchy straw, complete with a small, stuffed woolen pillow. That was some comfort, at least. The cell, however, was a different story. Bleak and dark room held no heat, being constructed from stone. It was a wonder there was no pool of water in the corner, the source of which dripped down from the ceiling.

Suddenly one of the shouts was heard much closer, getting into the hallway. “This way,” he heard a feminine voice call before multiple footsteps echoing downwards. What in the world…

A young woman stepped through the hall, dressed in a light blue style of dress he had never seen before. She was obviously looking for somebody, as her head shifted from side to side to process the information her brisk walk carried her to. Their eyes met, and she slowed, judging his existence with a condescending posture. Three people wearing similar clothing followed behind her, and stopped to address her target.

“You think that’s him, milady?” one asked after a moment of silence, staring at him.

“Must be. Ever seen clothes like that?” she replied.

“No, milady. But he could be any foreigner.”

“No. He’s not from the west. He looks more ragged than that.”

“Excuse me,” Sorik cut in. “Are you referring to me? Am I some specimen to be studied?”

“A Veritian dialect, even,” she stated, pondering while still managing not to acknowledge his sentience. “Intriguing.”

Sorik’s teeth were clenched now. He wasn’t used to being looked down upon, and it itched at his head. Not even Sallus, his headmaster, ever made him unworthy to speak to. “Who do you think you are?!” he fumed.

She was not phased in the slightest. “I am Lady Senture, head of the Eventide.”

He had never heard of the -ure family suffix, but that hardly came as a surprise. Wherever he was, it was obviously far from Veritia, and he probably wouldn’t have recognized any names short of the Keepers and Kings. Obviously she thought she was important, but that didn’t explain why she was here. Especially not when she seemed to have seeked him out in specific. Once again, Sorik wondered at how nice it would be to know what was going on.

“… customary to respond with your name and title in these lands,” she was saying, offense mixing in with condescension now.

“I am Sorik, descendant of the Archon Verik.” In Veritia people would introduce themselves by attaching their name to their like-sex parent, but he decided not to bring that up this time. It was probably wiser to connect his name with the Archon than his father, Ulrik, who was exiled from the country.

Senture nodded in response to the introduction, but the nod was more of knowledge than acceptance. It was clear she didn’t entirely believe him either. Just like the people on the boat, he thought. And with that, memories came back to him. Open seas. Shouting people. That huge, impossible tear in the sky. And Allia. At least, the girl looked like her. What had happened? How had he gotten from the ship to here? He remembered defending himself, then everything faded. He must have passed out. Maybe it was sea sickness or something.

Yells came from up the stairs, snapping him back to the present.

“We need to go,” Senture said, urgent. She gestured towards one of her men, who replied affirmatively. He went up to the cell door and closed his eyes. Around his palm, a circle formed from thin air. It had intricately woven geometric shapes and patterns, and after it formed completely, water came forth and encapsulated the lock. Once it was completely submerged it hardened into ice, and another one of her men swung a club and shattered the lock with one decisive strike. The cell door creaked outwards slightly, evidently not having been constructed on a perfectly level surface.

Sorik, of course, got up and left the cell without a second thought. If these people had come to rescue him, that proved that he had been wrongly imprisoned, didn’t it? Whatever had happened, they were allies. There was no logical reason to stay.

Soldiers came down the steps, one by one, armed with spears and shields. There was no clear number, but they flooded into the hallway like water spilled from a glass. Senture’s men put themselves in between the oncoming threat and the woman they served. Senture, in turn, placed herself in between them and Sorik.

“Stay behind us,” she ordered, “and you’ll live to see the light of day. They won’t hesitate to kill you if they get the chance.”

“Why are you doing this?” he asked. “I don’t even know who you are.”

“Maybe not,” she replied. “But I know who you are. Or at least, who you claim to be. In any case, somebody who willfully connects themselves to a dead god and a dead people is worthy of some investigation, don’t you think?”

 

 

A Lost Breed

Written: May 7 2016

Date: Early Fourth Era

 

Senture closed her eyes for a moment, thinking. Four mages against two dozen soldiers was pushing it in the best of scenarios, but confined spaces such as this hallway would make this fight near impossible, since barely two men would be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with its width. Sorik racked his brain on how he would be able to help, but he wasn’t very strong in elemental magic, and being behind all of his rescuers would make that effort dangerous anyway.

The men were growing closer shouting at them as they hefted their weapons. Senture’s men readied themselves, circles of magic appearing around their hands.

Just before they got close enough, though, a large circle appeared on the ground, too hard for Sorik to see clearly with the people ahead of him, but it was big enough to catch his attention anyway.

Suddenly, a huge column of ice shot up from the circle on the ground and slammed into the ceiling above, completely cutting off their enemy’s advance. Senture let out a breath, her spell finished. From what Sorik had learned at the college, Kitsuyan magic was based in the mind. One had to envision every detail of a very specific circle to be able to cast it. And from the depictions in the books he had read, even small fireballs were intricately drawn patterns of geometric shapes and symbols. Calling up a specific spell like that so quickly was probably no small feat.

Evidently, her underlings thought so, too, because they were staring at her in awe. “What are you looking at?” she snapped. “We’re not done here. We still need to get out.” Almost by way of answer, they heard chipping against the ice column.

“Can they get through?” Sorik asked.

Senture nodded. “It won’t take them very long, either. Saruyen,” she turned to one of her men.

He stood at attention at mention of his name. “Yes, milady?”

“What does your memory of the building tell you about how deep we are right now. Can we get out with earth magic?”

He thought for a second, looking down. “I’m not sure. I don’t think so. We’re probably around twenty feet deep, and none of us are really adept at earth magic.”

“Excuse me?” she asked. “You told me earth was your strongest element.”

“It is, milady!” he panicked. “But, as I’m sure you’ll remember, I’m not a very strong mage. My memory doesn’t hold Circles very well. They all kind of look the same to me.” He shriveled back in embarrassment.

She growled in frustration. “I thought you would all be at least competent enough for this one little job.”

“Why don’t we just use wards?” Sorik put in.

Senture looked back to him. “What a-” Saruyen started to ask, but Senture cut him off with a hand gesture. The chipping at the ice had grown steadily louder. Time was running out.

“Our people aren’t very familiar with that type of magic,” she explained. “Are you capable of placing wards on others?”

“Honestly I didn’t know you could do that,” Sorik replied. “But your people don’t use defensive magic?” He found that hard to believe.

“Of course we do. But every style of magic has its strengths and weaknesses. You should know that.”

“I do,” he said. “But it just seems strange to me that you came to rescue me and you’re relying on me to get you out.” Maybe he shouldn’t have said that last part.

“Can you do it, or not? Five wards shouldn’t be too difficult.”

“Well, if it’s possible I suppose I can.”

“Just be sure to disperse the spell so every shield is the same strength,” she instructed.

He nodded in reply, concentrating. He put a hand on each person’s shoulder, infusing them with magic. One by one, a purple haze appeared around them like a translucent fire. Something about this entire scenario felt wrong to Sorik, but he couldn’t quite tell what it was. Perhaps once they got out of the building he could find out more.

When he got to Senture, he noticed that she was staring at him with a barely masked veil of… horror? It was hard to be sure, exactly. Evidently she saw something wrong, too, but she made no comment.

“These wards should protect you from any aggressive action taken towards you. Their spears will be useless. We’ll charge straight through, and if we meet any opposition on the way, have spells ready. We’ll be protected from friendly fire. Senture,” he turned to address her.

“You want me to drop the ice column,” she stated. She looked a little irked at having been addressed by name.

“Yeah. On my mark. Everybody ready?”

How did this happen? Why was he suddenly in charge? But everybody looked prepared to follow him.

“Three… two… one… go!”

 

 

What World is This?

Written: May 14 2016

Date: Early Fourth Era

 

The column of ice shattered and the five of them charged through, yelling, with Sorik at the forefront of their near single file line. Wrapped in the fiery glow of the arcane shields, they barreled through all manner of spears, shields, and limbs and the tumult raised a chaos of bodies. Sorik could hear somebody barking orders, but the sounds of the spears clashing against their wards and everybody shouting muffled the officer’s message.

Soon Sorik was the first to break free of the chaos, having run over more than one poor individual merely doing his job. He started up the narrow and steep flight of stairs, still retaining the initial momentum of his advance. When he got to the landing up to the next set, he turned right to continue his ascent, but not before stealing a glance back at what the chaos before him.

Through the storm of raised spears and collapsing, confused and surprised soldiers, he happened to make eye contact with Senture, who was staring at him as she held a finger raised, pointing at him and commanding her men with words the disarray ate up. There was something about her eyes that told him that to her, he was still a prisoner. His possession was merely in the process of exchanging hands.

He kept running up the steps. Apparently there were no friends to be made here until he knew exactly what was going on. Perhaps he could find that girl from the ship, but there was little hope of that. Having fallen unconscious on the boat and woken up in a cell, he wasn’t even sure how long he had been imprisoned. Still, it was something. But first, he had to get out of here.

When he had climbed up the last few stairs, he had entered another hallway, this one properly lit with torches and widely spaced enough for even two men on horseback to walk comfortably through. Where in the world was he?

Turning, he saw two of Senture’s men climbing the stairs just behind him, still wrapped in his arcane shields. Sorik conjured his magic. He was thankful for their help in his escape, but Senture had not given any real reason to trust her, either. Knowing a lot didn’t mean you were friendly, especially if that knowledge came with power. He had already learned that lesson.

Having noticed something was amiss, he looked up at Sorik. When he realized he was about to use a spell, his alarm grew significantly and he tried to reach the hall before he finished. He was too late. In one wave of motion Sorik shot a blast of fire down the narrow passageway. The force of it launched the man off his feet, searing the magical ward off and sending him flying backward into the two unsuspecting men behind him.

Without pausing to inspect the damage, Sorik gestured his hands again and summoned an arcane barrier in the threshold, a purple haze of magic similar to the wards obscuring vision between him and the stairway. It would take a considerable amount of energy to break, but nonetheless he had to keep moving. Three spells in quick succession had drained his energy quite a bit, but if he lingered he would be thrown back into a cell, or worse.

 

Not knowing how to get out, or even where he was, exactly (except perhaps the fact that he was probably in the nation of Kitsuya, hundreds of miles away from his home), he simply picked a direction. Moving through the hallways had made him all the more confused as to what this structure was for. He couldn’t think of many buildings that would have reason to have holding cells, much less prisons, but there didn’t seem to be many people here in any case. He ran past the occasional soldier, and obviously running suspiciously away from something, they tried to stop him, but with his ward still on their weapons would clash uselessly against the magic haze, followed shortly by them toppling to the ground when Sorik barreled through them.

Eventually, the corridor came to a dead end. With two doorways on either side of him, he picked the left, and the door slammed open into a huge room filled with dozens of previously sleeping soldiers. Previously being the operative word, having heard the door burst open. Sorik started to back out into the hall, but heard commotion back the way he had come. He got the sense that this was less a prison and more a garrison. That would explain all of the soldiers, at least, and the cells.

Which left the question of where to go. The soldiers he had just woken up were grabbing their weapons to face this strange, unknown person, with men ordering to surrender, but it seemed that he was being followed, too, though whether it was Senture and her men or not was impossible to tell. He probably had enough stamina to cast one more spell, but he would have to make it count.

But then something caught his eye. In the barracks, on the other side of the room, was a window. It was dark outside, but it clearly was outside. He had nearly made it out after all. He ran into the room containing an entire platoon of soldiers.

Sorik held in a breath as he prepared one more spell. Under the clash of more steel, the ward began to fade when several soldiers began to attack him simultaneously. One particular spear that was swept in front of him cut through the haze entirely like a sword through a steady water flow. With that, the ward failed. This was it.

Sorik cast a wave of ice out around his entire body. His intent was that he would freeze the soldiers’ legs to the ground and be able to maneuver his way out, but the result was that the entire room was completely coated in a sheet of ice. Every man in the barracks was frozen completely. Verik’s blood, Sorik thought. He had never seen such a display of power. Except for perhaps the column of fire he brought down from the sky on the boat. What in the world is going on?

Sorik left the room, finally breathing in fresh air. He stumbled onto the grass growing in front of the garrison. He looked out over the sea, though which sea it was exactly was hard to gather. In the dead of night, especially, there was still no conclusive answer to what world he had woken up in.

He looked up to the sky, and to his horror was met with an unfamiliar tear through the heavens themselves. It was as though the Archons themselves had disapproved of the state of affairs, and had cut open a hole with which to watch more carefully.

It was there, in the grass, that Sorik passed out from another sudden wave of fatigue.

 

 

Archeus’ Beginnings

Written: 2014? (Oudated)

Date: Early Fourth Era

 

“What’s your name, son?”

I didn’t want to respond. I couldn’t trust anybody here. I wasn’t home. I wasn’t safe.

“Son? It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you.”

Yeah, right. I looked down at the small, cold hands that rested in my lap, held together by an uncomfortably tight and scratchy cord. My situation was not going to change by blindly following orders.

I raised my hands up limply, holding them in in front of the graying man that addressed me. His eyes moved from mine to the hands between us. He almost looked surprised, as if he didn’t realize I was bound. He presented a knife from his side and cut the cord off, careful not to cut my hands. I was more audible in my breath of relief than I had intended, and I couldn’t help but smile a little as I massaged the displeasure out of my wrists.

The man chuckled, amused at my satisfaction. “Have I earned your name, son?”

“No,” I replied in a firm tone. “But you may know it. My father calls—called me Archeus.”

“Archeus? Strong name for a strong boy,” he nodded in approval. “But don’t your people use two names? One your family all share?”

“They do. But I don’t intend to tell you that one. My first name should suffice.”

“Boy, just because you’re old enough to threaten tallo pups with a stick doesn’t mean you have the authority. When I ask you for something it’s because I’m being kind to a child, not because I wish your permission. Your name,” he repeated, his tone more harsh this time.

“Look, I hate to break it to you but you don’t make the rules here. As far as you’re concerned I do. I won’t allow your… staunch independence, let’s call it, to slide all of the time.” I nodded warily.

“Good. My name is Lieutenant Tavin, and you will address me as such. Get yourself settled in and get some sleep. We start tomorrow.”

 

That was what the first day away from home was like. That day I couldn’t have been ten years old, but back then I was every bit as distrustful as I am now. Lieutenant Tavin was the first one of the Preservers I had met. Or at least, the first one that openly admitted it. Over the next few months he would be my teacher, and I came to respect him. First, he taught me the origin of magic itself.

According to Lieutenant Tavin, Nacre Then and the four sentient races—yes, I said four—were created in the First Era by a being he called Khuros. The four races were all beings that drew magic from different sources: The boar-like Rinla Bulven to the West, who draw power from the earth, the bird hive of the Koh Liir to the East, drawing power from the air, the extinct Al Tari, who were said to take it from the Moon, and us, the Fide Torru, using the stars. The four races soon clashed with each other, and of course the endless battle between the Rinla Bulven and Koh Liir on the other continent still rages on. Tavin told me that the Al Tari defeated and enslaved us before too long, and they even cursed us, stripping us of our ability to use magic.

Eventually, though, a man named Autlan rose up against the Al Tari and the Empire he created soon snowballed into the powerful military force it is today, driving the Al Tari to extinction and beginning the Second Era.

He didn’t tell me much about the Second Era, or in the very least I don’t remember much about what he told me. Of course, though, I remember the rise of the Archons.

The Archons were originally a part of a secret group of researchers under the King. Their job was to investigate any possible development of the containment and harnessing of magic, just as we supposedly once did long ago. This team had apparently been searching for years, and it was only by sheer chance that they came upon a piece of the Skyshard, which they used to expand upon and find a way to go around the curse by channeling their power into other things like totems or weapons. They learned more about magic as they developed new styles, and eventually there was a magic style for each of the seven stars. They trained hard and used their new found power to turn against the corruption of the Empire, and of course, the War of Archons happened after that.

What many people don’t know, however, was that Kitsuki, one of the Archons, declared neutrality fairly quickly, and began the nation of Kitsuya long before the Archon War even reached its second stage. After that, she founded the Preservers. The Preservers was an organization created to seek and record knowledge about everything. I think it was intended to be a peaceful sort of committee that would result in this immense public library that anyone could visit and read about the past. I have no way of knowing for sure, but while Kitsuki was head of the Preservers I believe that that was its real goal, but once she died it lost its way. It began its slow transformation into what it is today: an international military power that transcends governments and undermines authority to destroy businesses families in the name of research and information. I’m certain that vast library actually exists somewhere, but it is by no means public, and the Preservers use it solely for personal gain. Of course, I didn’t find out any of that part until many years later. All Tavin told me was that Kitsuki was the founder of the Preservers, and that it was an organization designed to obtain knowledge in all forms, and that I was now a part of it.

My job was to be the guinea pig. The whole reason I was taken was so that the Preservers could train me in the ways of magic—which is also why I was told so much history. The Preservers apparently wanted to see if an Empiran like me could be taught magic.

“Enter,” I called, responding to the three swift knocks that came from the door to my little hut.

Lieutenant Tavin came in as soon as I spoke, but it was more of a coincidence that he seemed to wait. He always came in regardless of what sort of response I made. “Archeus. You know enough of the basics. It’s time you chose your Star.”

I had been waiting for this day. Magic form was all well and good, but manifestation and manipulation required more than knowledge. It required a Source. Sources were what mages use to cast magic through, and it was only through them that magic was able to be reinvented. There were seven Sources—one for each of the exceptionally brilliant stars in the sky—and each required a different form of energy output. Each source required one’s energy to be used. For example, Aluvalians could only cast magic through tools with which they physically made, like a sword, or an axe. Kitsuyans didn’t need to make anything, but they needed to memorize extremely complex circles with which the elements’ powers were called from elsewhere. In order to cast any sort of spell, one needed to visualize every single little detail of that particular circle at once, and force it to materialize almost from sheer will.

Still another was Veritian Blood Magic. The energy they put into making their source was literal: they cut themselves and drain a lot of their own blood, which they then solidify, compressing it until it is smaller than one’s fist. This one was a favorite of mine.

“I choose Verik,” I replied. “I want to use Blood Magic.”

Lieutenant Tavin grunted in disapproval at my words, and I soon saw him shaking his head. “We can’t teach you Blood Magic. It is an extinct magic style. There is nobody left alive that can teach it. Even Veritia itself is a dead land. I’ve already told you this, boy. Pick a different one.”

While I knew that the Verik’s people had all died when the Rupture happened decades ago, I still silently hoped to myself that perhaps there was some way I could have learned it. That being said, the hope I managed to conjure for it wasn’t well-grounded.

“Kitsuyan Circles, then.”

It was no coincidence that Kitsuyan magic was my second choice. I had a knack for memorization. In fact, I had already seen and memorized some of the basic circle designs, and though I had not actually attempted it. Actively practicing one style of magic essentially binds you to that style. People can only learn one style of magic because learning the fundamentals and inner-workings of one style render other styles’ mechanics seem nonsensical. One simply cannot learn two different magic styles.

Tavin nodded to himself in silent approval at this. I knew he would agree with this choice. But it wasn’t just my capability of memorizing things that drove my choice. The Lieutenant’s own style was Kitsuyan, though I knew that he was not really from Kitsuya. Over the months he had been training me, I had grown to respect him. Perhaps if I chose his magic, he would remain my teacher, and I would not be stuck with someone I would disagree with.

“Very well, Archeus,” he replied. “Outside in five minutes. We start today.” He left without another word.

 

 

White Tower

Written: 2014? (Outdated)

Date: Early Fourth Era

 

It started out just like any other morning. I woke up at the same time, waited for my teacher just as long, and, most importantly, woke up from the same dream.

Every day it was the same dream. I would stand at the foot of a tall white tower, the entrance of which always having two armored guards. I would walk past them and inside would be an enormous empty space. The only thing that was ever inside the tower was a long spiral staircase in the middle. I would take what seemed like days to climb them, get to a trap door at the top, open it, then I would wake up. Every time. What could it mean?

On another note it was my birthday. Every year they gave me something that wasn’t really a present. Last year they gave me the Lieutenant. Tavin was nice enough, and he was a good teacher, but we had never connected.

There was a knock on the door to my room. Speaking of Lieutenant Tavin…

He came in and looked to me. “Good morning, Archeus. Are you ready for today’s lesson?” he asked. There was no point in saying no. I would have to go regardless of what I said or did, so just like every other day, I nodded.

We left my room in the middle of the small forest enclave they had put me in. Today wasn’t a very foggy one, and I could see three Elder Stars in the sky1. I recognized them as Aluvair, Cedrine, and Kitsuki. The latter was the star in which I drew my magic power from. A month after the day they took me, teaching me the basics, they asked me what style of magic I wished to be trained in2. Instantly, I chose Verik’s Blood Crystal Magic, but they told me nobody was left to teach it. My second choice was Kitsuki’s magic. Her people used Magic Circles to channel their magic power through, and among the other choices, it was easily second.

The Lieutenant also used the magic of Kitsuya, which was probably why he had been made my teacher. He was my second teacher, and although I wasn’t particularly fond of being forced to do things, he was at least the person I enjoyed being around the most.

Today we practiced Arcane magic. It was my worst school, simply because it was so vastly different from the other magics. Molding my magic into its purest form was the hardest thing for me to do, which was probably why he made me do it so often. I hated it. As we tossed arcane bolts at a dummy, I felt my magic slowly warming up. Eventually I was able to break the dummy, as I usually did after a few minutes of warming up.

That was when I saw it. The tower. The white tower that I had seen every day in my dreams for months. What should I do? I stood there, frozen, staring at the tower. I knew the lieutenant was sure to be suspicious as to what I was doing, but for the moment I lacked the ability to care. Nothing was going to stop me from getting the birthday present I was about to give myself.

“No, Archeus! Please!” Tavin called, reaching his hand out to stop me. He was too slow. I was already sprinting towards it, and soon I was charging through the trees that surrounded the tower.

I came to the clearing where the whitewashed large stone tree had been planted. As I did I felt a massive change in atmosphere, like a haunting pressure being pressed against my body. I didn’t know what to make of it, so I decided it best to ignore, focusing on the real threat of the guards at the tower’s entrance. I doubted I could take them both. In my dream, I somehow knew they were both mages (one of which wearing Aluvalian pelts and the other Zephiran robes,), and since my dream was accurate so far I had no reason to believe otherwise. The best shot I had for beating them was by using the all-important element of surprise. Time to make my move before the lieutenant could blow my cover.

I walked casually up to the guards, making no move to conceal my presence. Before they had time to react I shot a lightning bolt at the Aluvalian, then shot an ice bolt through his chest in what was, if I do say so myself, a well executed combo indeed. Who needs arcane, anyway? To deal with the Zephirian, I ducked and spun around in one action, dodging a fire punch and countering with a close range fireball of my own. It was pretty weak compared to fireballs I could do to a dummy, but being my first real fight, I chose to forgive myself. I jumped back and focused my energy, charging an arcane blast. He didn’t make it easy, since I felt more accustomed to longer ranged magic than the close range combat techniques of Zephira. When by some miracle he missed a shot that would have knocked me out cold (or worse), I was able to slip around his legs and fire my arcane blast. The blow seared through his robes as he fell to the ground, and as I looked up I saw Lieutenant Tavin staring straight at me, with an expression of shock and sadness on his face. I felt guilty, but I had gone too far not to get what I wanted. I turned around and ran through the door and into the tower.

The inside was just like I had dreamt. The only thing the interior held was the giant spiral staircase in the center and the room that it led to. I ran up them, but not before firing a few fireballs at the door to set it ablaze. I didn’t want Tavin following me.

Running up the stairs I could see a light coming from the trapdoor. What if this was just another dream? I don’t think I could bear it if it was. I needed to see what was up there. My legs simply couldn’t carry me fast enough to keep up with my mind, which was already pushing against the door. I was so close.

I heard a loud crash that snapped me back to reality. I slowed a little, and looking down to the entrance I could see that the door was thrown off its hinges, laying on the floor still on fire. Behind it, the Lieutenant stormed in and stared at me. “STOP!” he yelled behind me. “You know not what you’re doing!” His words barely got through to me. He didn’t understand that I would go insane if I never knew what was in that room, especially since I now knew that the tower was so close. How could I not have spotted it before? We trained in that field nearly every day.

As I reached the trapdoor, Tavin was too far away to do anything. While he may have been my senior, even he had to admit I was a genius. I had gained too much ground for him to catch up in time. I burst open the door and climbed through. Finally.

I looked around once I got in. The room was much larger than I would have thought. The walls were painted yellow, and there were a small child’s toys scattered on the ground. What in the world?

Behind me I noticed an enormous bed. You could fit three of mine in the same space. In the middle, cuddled under the thick blankets and pillows, was a little girl. She must have been even younger than me, and I couldn’t make out her features. The blanket only allowed me to see the eyes that were carefully looking back at me.

“Hi,” I said uneasily, unprepared for a peaceful conversation with so much adrenaline flowing through me. I approached the bed slowly, which made the girl cover up ever so slightly more, apparently scared for her safety. Had she heard me fighting her guards from so high up?

“Hi,” she replied. Her voice was barely audible from being either too scared or cautious to speak louder. The blanket over her mouth didn’t help.

“Don’t be scared. My name’s Archeus. What’s yours?” I asked, trying to either persuade her to be less fearful. If she wasn’t scared, she was a good actress.

“I…”

“That’s enough, girl. Keep quiet or I’ll beat you,” Lieutenant Tavin came in silently, his voice bringing forth several times the fear I was able to shave off of her consciousness in the few precious seconds we had.

“N-no!” she whispered, shielding herself from his presence with the blanket. Why was Tavin acting so strangely? He had never once been cruel to me. In fact, if anything, I had been less faithful with my stunt today than he had ever been to me. Not surprisingly, he seized my forearm and pulled me towards the trapdoor. I finally conceded to his will. I got what I wanted. I had given him far more than enough reason to punish me, but anything he could have done would have paled in comparison to facing the same dream any longer.

An hour later I was back in my room, lying in my bed, forced to remain here for the rest of the day. Tavin was sitting on a chair at the foot of it, eyes yearning for rest. He sighed deeply and shook his head. “Could you not consult me about your dreams?” he asked.

“You knew about them? Wait, at least tell me her name,” I pleaded, bewildered.

Tavin shook his head. “Don’t concern yourself with her anymore. You shouldn’t have those dreams, either. I don’t know how they’ll punish you. But rest assured they will. I’m sorry it had to be this way, Archeus.” He got up and left my room quietly.

That was the last time I ever saw him.

 

The next day I was given a new teacher. He was tall for a Kitsuyan. Imposing, too. He told me his name was Kalkenshi, but gave me no title. I found this odd, because I had never been introduced to somebody with no title. In order to make sense of it in my head, I told myself that he had a title, but for some reason chose not to inform me of it.

Training was much less pleasant. He could see I was a powerful mage, even for those who were much older, but refused to acknowledge it. Instead, he pushed me through lessons several times harder to understand, much less learn and utilize, than the ones Lieutenant Tavin gave me. I felt like I was trying to budge a door hundreds of feet tall that Kitsuki herself discovered and only the most powerful mages over the centuries were ever able to open. It didn’t make it easier that I found it hard to think about anything other than the girl, especially since our training grounds were still where Tavin and I had trained, though I could no longer see the white tower the little girl was in. That unusual fact I considered a much more serious and immediate matter to think over than the lessons my new, harsh teacher had to drill into me.

Imagine my confusion when a week later they told me I was to see the little girl every so often. If she had been kept so secretive that not even I, a little boy isolated from the rest of the world, could know, then why would I suddenly be allowed to see her every once in a while? Nothing added up.

 

Not only were we allowed to see each other, but we were even able to communicate in a safe, alone environment. Kalkenshi even proved we were alone by completely leaving the entire tower. (It was easy to tell, since I could see all the way down that it was empty.) Every day they allowed us to see each other they gave us half an hour exactly, which didn’t wasn’t much, but we made do. After three months, we were seeing each other every day and had become very good friends, though it had taken a month to coax her out of her fear for me, especially with the incident with Tavin.

In return for our meetings, there would be one thing that they asked: Magic was to never be mentioned. After our talks, the two of us would be relayed on our conversation and compared for accuracy. All this information, including every bit of news, was relayed through Kalkenshi. After Tavin and the guards, he would be the only one of them that I would see for several years.

This was a small price to pay for a single friend. Twice I almost told her how silly it was that they would ask it, but stopped myself because that in and of itself would have been a violation. Such stupid mistakes would have been catastrophic to the relationship I had somehow managed to construct.

 

It took me two years to realize that the two of us were nearly the same age. She looked so much younger because she was hardly fed and as a result had become awfully malnourished. She had never really talked about herself, and even when she did, I never caught her cries for help. She never told me how long she had been in this room, only that she had never left. That was the first cry. I hadn’t even taken any thought on it that day. In fact, I had only realized how little she ate when she had looked surprised after a fleeting comment about not eating before I came that day. Not concerned, surprised. When I explained to her I usually ate four times a day, she looked almost horrified, wondering how I wasn’t obese. That was the second cry. Thankfully, this one I heard. Without asking for it, I started smuggling food to her. It was usually bread, because that was typically the only food I had in the morning.

One day, she told me to tell her what I knew of her country, Kitsuya. The third and last cry. This was the first thing she had ever asked of me, and as much as it pained me to tell her, at the time, I had known nothing about it, since they had never given me outside knowledge of the world. (Looking back now, I don’t think it would have changed any of the events that occurred afterwards, though.) In response, she asked if I wanted to go with her to see it someday. Of course, I accepted, but there was no way I could have known what I was getting myself into.

It had taken me more than two years, but eventually I had gotten used to my training with Kalkenshi. In what would be my final days of training, we had become sparring partners. I never had grasped Arcane fully, and though Kalkenshi was grievously disappointed in my lacking skill, he was forced to accept it and agreed that I would only excel in the elemental schools. While he still refreshed my mind with the basics and some advanced skills of Arcane often, he never forced lessons too difficult for me, saying there was no point in teaching skills I would never be comfortable enough with to use.

At some point in our time together, Kalkenshi grew suspicious of my conversations with the girl. He started to demand that I quote back part of the exact conversation to him, which was hard as I grew uneasy with our recent conversations about leaving the tower or giving her food. Had I trained in repeating false conversations, it would have been a simple task, but since his demands had been brought up suddenly, I felt unprepared. In order to counteract it, I started writing down fake conversations when I should have been sleeping and memorizing them as I went to bed. I began to wake up earlier too, so I could make sure they were in my mind before Kalkenshi came and took me to the tower. Since I already knew I was breaking the rules, I decided to break them even more and told her of magic as well. After a week or two of telling her how magic worked (using the Kitsuyan magic style of course). She seemed to be most attached to water magic and understood Arcane even less than I did (though I credited that to the fact that I probably wasn’t a very good teacher in something I wasn’t good at myself).

The system of waking up, eating a little bit of breakfast while I reviewed a fake conversation, hiding most of my breakfast, getting picked up by Kalkenshi and being taken to the tower, teaching the girl magic, going to the training ground while I told Kalkenshi of our “conversation” then writing a new one in bed had become quite routine.

That is, it was routine until Kalkenshi had found out about it.

It happened just after I woke up. Kalkenshi had showed up a full hour earlier than he had done the past few years, and even to this day I curse myself for not having been able to conceal the paper of that day’s conversation in time. He stormed into my room and swiped it from my hand that would have impressed a mantis. Reading it swiftly, I watched as his eyes slowly narrowed as they brimmed with fury. He finished reading and buried his head in his left hand, sighing deeply. Placing the sheet of paper on the table, he looked calmly at me, and in my childish eyes I could see no anger in them.

“You disappoint me,” was all he said before calling fire into his hands and throwing it at my stomach. The fireball hit me like a good sucker punch, knocking all air out of my lungs. I couldn’t call the air back before Kalkenshi took out his magic disruption handcuffs and latched them around my wrists. This was it. I was sure he would kill me for lying to him. I just hoped they wouldn’t punish the girl too harshly.

Could I have been more wrong?

 

Fifteen minutes later the two of us walked into the girl’s room, and as we walked in I tried to maintain an expression of indifference. I guess it didn’t matter how well I pulled it off, because the fact that Kalkenshi walked in in the first place indicated a problem, not to mention the fact that I was handcuffed. When I saw her face looking at mine, she looked like the same, terrified little girl from when I had first met her. She had the same expression of panic and fear, but this time her fears were probably well placed. I could do nothing to stop what Kalkenshi had in mind for us. “I’m sorry,” I heard myself say, eyes watering as the troupe of tears began their march down my cheeks.

He took me to one of the walls and sat me down with my hands behind my back so that even getting up would be an arduous task. “Stand up,” Kalkenshi ordered the girl. It was her turn to cry as she uncovered herself and stood up. I had never seen her out of the bed, and even though I had been given her food, she was still very thin and very pale, even for a Kitsuyan. Kalkenshi breathed slowly and clenched his fist. There was nothing either of us could do to prepare myself for the judgment he was about to pass on us.

One arcane blast was all it took. The girl let out a faint cry before collapsing to the floor, behind the bed where I could not see her.

I did not have the willpower to act. Instead, I looked away. The tears, at least, had not been in vain. Kalkenshi turned around, looking down on me to record the response of his final lesson. It didn’t make sense. If he could have just killed her, why hadn’t they done so years ago? What was her purpose? Was she simply a part of my lessons? I had never even been told her name. Just who was she?

“Perhaps now you can truly understand what magic can do in the wrong hands. You may hate me, but you will at least know not to take magic so lightly. I’ll co-“ he suddenly cried out in pain, falling to his hands and knees. I looked up to see the girl, who was standing up as though she had not just been mortally wounded. Her hand was outstretched, and the magic circle from which she had used magic still hung in the air. The fact that I had never actually taught her how to use magic hadn’t occurred to me, since I was so glad that she wasn’t dead.

Kalkenshi made to get back up as the girl conjured an ice spear from her circle. Once it passed through, she shot it straight at him, teaching him his final lesson.

The girl made her way over to me and took off my handcuffs. Even though she avoiding my gaze, I could see that hers were not the same eyes. Most importantly, they were most definitely not the eyes of a twelve year old. “Thank you for all your help,” she started. “I’m sorry, but you can’t come to my home like I said you could. I have far too much work to do that I couldn’t have done without being awaken.”

She was talking so fast I had only thought of one thing to say: “Who are you?”

“Kitsuki. The Mist and Tides, as they say. Until next we meet,” she waved me off before leaving down the trapdoor.

Elder Stars in the sky1: The world of Nacre Then has no sun. Instead, it is heated and lit by seven stars called the Elders (after the seven sages that invented/discovered magic). The planet sits in the middle, orbiting nothing and sitting in place.

Style of magic I wished to be trained in2: Seven of the Eight Nations of Nacre Then wield unique “styles of magic”. The short answer is simply that their style is how they express magic out of themselves. Aluvalia uses weaponry, Cedria uses totems, Kitsuya uses magic circles that appear upon command of will.

 

 

The Fall of the Preservers

Written: Mar 19 2016

Date: N/A

 

The Preservers from long ago were researchers and librarians. They were men and women obsessed with knowledge of every facet. Some sectors were tasked with obtaining, copying, and reproducing all written texts ever produced. Others were tasked with writing other texts. Records of battles, important men and women, and shedding light on the many mysteries that cloaked the world as we know it.

There is no one man that holds all the authority in the Preservers, but instead each nation in Northern Torreth delegates a single person to operate as a teacher and observer. These people were called the Keepers. The Keepers watch over and guide the path of the Preservers in each of their lands, and they were also tasked with teaching new Preservers and any interested parties in the ways of the land and the world. One must seek out the Keeper of each nation and gain an extensive wealth of knowledge before becoming a true Preserver. The original Keepers were the founders of the Preservers: the ones who reinvented magic itself. They created the Endless Halls, an enormous library intended for public access to any and all knowledge they would seek. They were the rulers and founders of their nations as well, but they thought it would be best to separate the rule of the nation and knowledge so that they could work side by side, but neither overpowering the other.

In a way, though, the Preservers became stronger than the nations, since they were one power that bowed to no king. As centuries drove on the Keepers were not content with their station. They began to take action to use the knowledge they had for personal gain. The Endless Halls, once open for any to study, became shrouded to the public eye. Knowledge became a resource when the Preservers grew frugal with the information they dispensed. A resource they held no shortage of. Soon they took action to take what knowledge everyone else had, too. They destroyed books and bribed officials. Being above the law and having the population on their knees for everything outside basic knowledge, the nations teemed with unrest.

When the Rupture happened and the world shook with the incineration of the nation of Veritia, hysteria spread at the damage magic was truly capable of. The Preservers seized this opportunity to monopolize the use of magic, too, tearing down the colleges and clenching the fist of control they had on Torreth.

But where darkness rises, there is always a light to battle against it, and in a pitch dark world, a candle can shine as bright as the sun. The Redeemed are a secret sect of the Preservers that operate under their noses. They cling to the old ways of learning for its own sake, and seek not international rule. While their numbers are small, they are a resilient group that fight in the shadows to curb the rising tide of Preserver influence. They hope one day to restore their order to days long past, and bring about new days of hope and peace.

 

 

Kneel to the King

Written: Mar 26 2016

Date: Early Fourth Era

 

I measure days by how much one can accomplish. Some days don’t mean much. Others can change the course of one’s life, and, if careful and ambitious enough, the course of an Era. I had planned this day for years. Decades, in fact.

I am going to kill my mentor, Keeper of the Preservers of Kitsuya.

The harsh clacks of my boots hitting the stone echoed through the cold, dark corridor, and the steady pound of my step brought the air of confidence and determination. The torches’ flames wavered as I passed. Soon I came up to the thick steel door, guarded by four mages standing at ease near the threshold. Usually there was just the one guard, but today things were different.

I approached them, exuding certainty that I would not be stopped. Of course, I knew I would be stopped, but superiority forced some strange social norms. “Evening, sir,” one greeted me. Saidan, I think his name was. “Did you see the sunset today?”

I nodded, gripping my left hand over my other wrist and calling flame to warm my skin. Soon a vague impression of a book permeated the surface of my skin, encompassing the real inked tattoo of the Preservers. I showed it to them. “I did. And I will see it rise tomorrow.” The four of them offered the same salute, revealing identical markings. Perfect.

Saidan opened the door and I passed through into the main hall. It was the size of a cathedral, and it was the part of the Endless Hall that contained the live specimens. It was a nice way of calling it a facility where we performed experiments on our prisoners. I passed by more Preservers as I walked, people going about their jobs taking notes or moving creatures into and out of cells. I acknowledged everyone I passed, exchanging nods, but there was no further communication.

After some time I reached a cell near the far end of the chamber. It was over ten times the size of every other one in the hall, and for a specific entity. One I happened to catch the day before: a near mythical beast of godlike power.

A dozen Preservers stood before the cell, taking notes and staring with unmasked amazement. One man stood ahead of them all, inspecting its contents with a speculative expression, as if pondering something that was amiss. He noticed my approach and gave me his full attention. “Archeus! Good to see you, boy. I wanted to speak with you about capturing this thing last night, but you retired to your quarters immediately after having bound it. You are well, I presume.”

“Yes, sir,” I replied.

His brow furrowed as he looked back into the cell.”I’m afraid I’m having trouble understanding what it is you’ve found. It seems to be empty except for this tree. You reported that you had captured a strider.”

I followed his gaze and noticed that there was indeed a tree occupying the center of the cell. It was several stories tall, its height nearly touching the hall’s ceiling, if indeed it did not. Being on the ground floor made that hard to judge. “That, Kalkenshi, is a strider.”

“You’ll address me as Keeper in my presence, boy,” he shot back. “I know its a strider. Tell me more about it. How you caught it. What kind of barriers you placed on the cell to keep it in. Explain it to the people who are not so informed as you or I.” What a pathetic attempt to save face. I felt anger build up in my chest, but breathed it out. Patience. Today was the day. Only a bit longer.

“Well, sir,” I stated, careful to avoid using his title as he demanded. “You can’t have expected me to have carried a tree that large into the Endless Hall. Especially not in one night. Obviously, it wasn’t like that when I brought it in here.” Stupid. He was so stupid.

“Watch your tongue. So it’s shapeshifted.” Nobody had ever seen a strider shapeshift. They always managed to do it when nobody was looking. It’s why they were legendary. Nobody outside the Preservers even knew they really existed. Tracking it down had been a real pain.

“Seems that way,” I noted, a bored tone seeping into the words.

“I thought they had to keep to an animal form when they did that.”

“Doesn’t look like it.”

“You’re trying my patience, Archeus.” Likewise, I wanted to shoot back. I glanced at the others who were near, listening to our conversation with barely veiled interest.

“Fine, fine. The truth is, that thing isn’t contained. There are no barriers. No spells. It is sitting inside that cell of its own volition.”

“You dare lie to my face?!” he spat. His fists were clenched. He had had enough.

“It’s the truth. I told him what he wanted to hear in exchange for him helping me kill you.” Kalkenshi seemed taken aback at this. I suppose anyone hearing that statement would be. I reveled in the sheer terror on his face at having such a powerful creature in his sacred hall unbound. Not all of it was true, of course. The strider wasn’t exactly on speaking terms with me. I doubted if they even knew human speech. But I didn’t bother with barriers. It would be like trying to stop the wind by watering the grass.

“That’s it. Your insolence has drawn the line. As Keeper and guide of the Preservers, I outcast you, Archeus. You will leave this place at once or I will kill you here and now.”

I smiled. Finally. Everyone around us stopped what they were doing altogether now. I placed a hand on my wrist, heating it up as before. And I showed Kalkenshi the mark of the Redeemed, the secret society of Preservers that aimed to stop its tyranny.

His eyes flushed with rage, and looked around, only to realize that everyone around him had done the same thing. I had planned this day. Everybody working in this hall was a Redeemed. “This isn’t an act of defiance, Kalkenshi. This is a coup.” I called the magic of Kitsuki into my mind, extending it into my palm and raised a spear of ice towards his throat.

And he laughed. “You poor fools.” He didn’t look scared anymore. “I guess my plans will have to be enacted a bit sooner than schedule, but no matter. You will all be dead just the same.” A circle appeared on the ground around him. It grew larger with every second, more intricately detailed than any magic circle I had ever seen. It pulsed red.

Then exploded.

The room grew still as everything stopped. Even the various creatures inside grew quiet with their strange inexplicable sense of danger. Everyone in Kalkenshi’s immediate area had been thrown off their feet, and I was no exception. I struggled to my feet, my body feeling heavier than I was accustomed to. I was hurting everywhere, but it was too universal a pain to pinpoint any muscles.

“You will be the first to see the true extent of my power, boy. You’ve never been more than a pawn in this game of yours. You have no idea what you’re dealing with. Overthrow me? You must be joking.” I realized very few people had gotten up. Something seemed to have been pulling them to the ground, as if by some sort of magnetic force. The same force that was trying to pull me down, I realized.

I used the magic power again and duplicated the ice spear. (The old one dissipated when I dropped it, as all magic not connected to a source does.) “Still defiant, eh?” he scoffed. “You’re lucky I can’t kill you. No. I need you to stand witness to the strength of the true Keeper. Kitsuya’s new King.”

“Kitsuya will never bow to you,” I argued through gritted teeth.

“It will. Starting with you.” And with that, he took a step forward. His movement made it that much harder to stay on my feet. It was like I was getting heavier than I should be.

He began walking towards me, with a leisurely yet very deliberate pace. Every second I found my own weight unbearable, struggle as I might. I jabbed the spear into the ground for support, but it shattered under my grip.

Then, I fell to my knees. He knelt down next to me, and whispered in my ear. “It would be so easy to kill you now when you can’t fight back, but I think it more prudent to use you as a tool to tell the world of what is coming. The Preservers are already a force of nature. But now I have become a force in a literal sense. This god of yours yields not to you, but it will bend to me. By force if necessary.” All of my plans, tossed aside and spat on by this unknown power. Despicable.

He stood, and spoke in a louder tone. He still addressed me, but he wanted everyone to hear this part. “Now go. You may tell the rest of your little secret sect that your grand scheme has failed. In fact, all you really accomplished was setting my plans in motion. My grand scheme has only just begun.”

 

 

Rude Awakening

Written: Jun 6 2015

Date: Early Fourth Era

 

“Get up. That’s right you, with the face. Get up.” After the boot hit the side of my rib cage I choked out a sound halfway between agony and confusion. As my senses returned to me, all of the pain did as well. The cold hard stone of the floor pressed hard against the side of my head, and the ache on my ribs burned with a fiery passion that threatened to be eternal. There seemed to be only one candle in the room, what seemed fifty feet away at the entryway to the stairs. There were barred cells of various sizes down the hall of the room.

The thing first and foremost on my mind, though, was how I got here in the first place. Had the inapprehensible Jin finally been caught in the act, taken to Calitha’s deepest, darkest, and dampest catacombs to be tortured and killed for his crimes against the aristocracy? The low class shadow that had somehow snuck his way into the great Spires of Kalinport, the once-unconquerable garrison of the Koh Liiran people? Had my reign of vigilante justice ultimately ended with whomever had captured me?

There is always a way out, my father’s voice trailed into my head. If you can’t find it, make it. I looked up to my captor, who seemed to be nine feet tall, but that was probably just the fact that he was looming over me with a menacing posture. His frame was clearly on the burly side, though. He was probably even bigger for me, in width if not heighth. I’d have shied away more had it not been the fact that I was bound up, my wrists chained together to the floor.

“You interrupted a pleasant nap,” I mumbled. The hulking mass didn’t seem to be amused at that, but he didn’t make any reply either. “What do you guys want, anyway?” I choked out a little louder. Maybe he just hadn’t heard me, and in the meantime I needed all the information I could get.

“We’ve already got it,” he smirked. “Now we just need to deal with you.” The way he said that brought a chill up my spine. He strolled over to one of the larger cells near the entrance to the cell, and pulled out a keychain from under his tunic, presumably tied to his belt. He unlocked the cell and swung it open, then picked up what seemed to be a large rock on the inside. He looked at me one final time and chuckled to himself before throwing it as hard as he could into the cell out of eyesight.

It landed not with the clack I expected of stone hitting stone, but with a thump of it hitting something first. There was a roar of rage and my captor bolted up the stairs, leaving me to whatever he had just woken up. I heard the echo of a door slam in the distance before a huge beast that probably was nine feet tall burst out of the cell, equipped with a gnarled club and two horribly misshapen heads. It turned its four sunken eyes to see the only breathing thing easily accessible. Calitha’s eyes, they had an ettin caged up in here?

I couldn’t help but mutter under my breath how rude it was to wake me up for such a terrible death.

 

 

Call of the Depths

Written: Apr 16 2016

Date: Early Fourth Era

 

There was something serene about the shores of Kitsuya. The cool humidity of the gentle morning mist could soothe the most restless of souls, here. It was why Beldrun always set to port here when he had the excuse to. He let his timberhorns off the ship to roam the beaches without burden of the usual shipments, though they never strayed out of eyesight. They were big beasts, these lizards. Especially his three. They had no habit of haste.

So it was that, on mornings such as this, he felt happy. After having spent the previous few days at Kalisport selling a shipment of copper all the way from Ketha, he was, as always, amazed at the difference in how the air felt there versus here. Barely a hundred nautical miles away. He never liked the all the pistons and machinery of Kalisport, even if most of the labor could be handled by their golems. Though magic was technically banned internationally, the Preservers had allowed Calitha the use of their own magic so long as it was solely for their suitability for the work force.

He had no knowledge of the legalities of magic, of course. He hadn’t been born with any such talent, though sometimes he wished he had. He waved a hand through the air in front of him and imagined a circle appearing before him, throwing a fictitious ball of fire at the nearest beast, Selly. Her wooden horns would catch fire instantly, to be sure, but he wondered for a minute how flammable an adult timberhorn’s scales would be. A ludicrous thought, he knew.

But, as he told himself, magic was no business of Beldrun’s. It was easy to dream of the days of old, where people ran about free to use the arts to craft and fight. But no. He just moved the stuff from here to there and got paid doing it. It was easy, and he loved his job, so it couldn’t be fair to dream for more. He got to see the world. Not many people were able to claim having tasted the airs of each nation of Torreth. But of all of them, Kitsuya was by far his favorite. He didn’t come to the islands often, though. It was true that Kitsuya was small and relied on exports from all across the continent, but as that was plainly obvious, it was a less profitable business to get into. Everybody shipped to Kitsuya. Beldrun just liked to stop by when he found himself at Kalisport.

Today seemed different, though. The mist was unusually thick, even for the early morning on the beach. Perhaps he could use it as an excuse to stay longer, though he knew he should be setting off soon. He called his three timberhorns back on board before making his way back to the docks.

He stopped in his tracks, though, when he noticed something was approaching his path. Out of the water, walking out of the very tides themselves, was a woman. It was not a woman exactly, though. The shape and form was right, but the appearance most certainly was not. In fact she was distinctly inhuman, as her skin held something of a red-tinged translucency to it, as a thin piece of hide held up to the sun. It wasn’t transparent enough to see through, but instead had a clear tone at the edges where light could more easily pass through. Her face was covered by some sort of mask, though of what material he couldn’t say. It was covered in colorful decorative patterns rather than conventional facial features, but maintained a sort of symmetry nonetheless. She had no hair, but one long fin was pronounced from head to spine, like a horse’s mane that didn’t end at the neck. Her legs were almost enshrouded in a layer of skin that sprouted from the hip, almost like a dress that extended from knee length in the front to grazing the floor in the back. Needless to say, she was somewhat glossy, as she was still soaked in water.

“You are needed,” she stated. Her tone was fluid, like a flowing creek.

She was… what was the word? A nymph? He had heard the tales of ships being dragged into the ocean by these creatures. Beings more beautiful than even possible. This was nothing like he had imagined, yet this creature presented a majesty he simply could not oppose.

“Where do I go?” his voice sounded. He did not put thought to words, they simply happened in response to her remark.

She stepped up, and he realized how large she really was. She stood no less than six feet tall, yet seeing her made it feel as though he was the wrong size. She placed a smooth, inhumanly flat hand on his chest. It suddenly felt as though Beldrun had pulled on a tunic that had exposed to the harsh spray of ocean waves, water already soaking through to his skin. “There is a continent your people do not know of,” she whispered. “It is to the north. You will find it. You are needed there.”

He nodded. People did not go north of Aluvalia and Kitsuya. The ocean and its denizens more terrible than nymphs swallowed all those who dared try. Of course he would go. Who was he to disobey such a creature? “I will go. I will leave today.”

“Make haste, Beldrun of the Surface. Great strife is upon us. We will guide your path.”

 

 

Shield Brothers

Written: May 21 2016

Date: Early Fourth Era

 

“I thought I told you to come alone.” The slight figure of a man squeaked when two stout men materialized through the trees. He brushed the shoulders to his Calithan-tailored suit, sweeping away the dust that collects when one is especially nervous. The bodyguard behind him, carrying a small crate, was almost noticeably shocked when the men came into view. Even an experienced fighter had reason to look twice when men a full foot taller and wider entered within charging range. Especially when they carried one sword and one shield between the two of them, both the size of their wielders.

“I am alone,” Roshak-Sel replied in his thick northern accent with a smirk on his face. He clasped the little man’s hand in his own, almost engulfing it with how much larger the Aluvalian was. “This is my shield brother, Svarhald-Sel. I am his sword, and he my shield.”

His brother, in reply, shook the man’s hand with the same overpowering amount of muscle. “Talliden,” the little man introduced himself as he shook, trying to put extra slack in his arm in order to avoid any damage from the other’s grip.

“Where I come from,” the Calithan took a few steps back as he retorted, not daring to make eye contact. “People adhere to the rules they are given.”

Roshak laughed. “Ah, but from my home, alone is alone, shield brother or no. Besides, we have no reason to harm you. My brother is just security in case our dealings were less congenial. We have had some poor business with others in the past, if you understand my meaning.”

Talliden visibly relaxed. “Well, smuggling tends to bring in some bad crowds, if you would believe it. I’ve never heard of people smuggling manna from an illegal nation into a legal one, though, if you don’t mind the question.”

“Of course not! Simply put our clan chief enjoys Calithan manna more than our home brews. I believe it’s the ravager venom your people put in it. It adds a unique kick, though I myself have never enjoyed the prospect of willfully injecting poison. Still, there is something to be said fo-“

DRAGON!” Svarhald yelled, stepping behind his brother and shoving him out of the way, towards Talliden.

A thunderous crash boomed into the forest, the thin trees of Cedria snapping under the weight of something monstrous, descending down into the glade. Svarhald wasted no time. Throwing his shield up to defend himself, he planted it into the ground, summoning a fiery ball to envelop him as protection from the beast.

As stray leaves drifted onto the ground, a wyvern cloaked in the feathers of a mottled black on white, scanned the area for its meal. Talliden and his bodyguard, encapsulated by sheer terror, dropped everything and fled in the opposite direction. The dragon spewed a wave of icy fury into the clearing, sweeping over all four of them. Roshak dove out of the way to be more comfortably behind his brother and the warmth of his defense, but further back the wave caught the little man, and the force of the ice blast paled his skin as his body temperature plummeted so thoroughly that he died almost instantly.

“I’ve never seen a wyvern this far east,” Roshak yelled. “We’re not even in the mountains anymore!”

“Calm yourself, brother.” Svarhald dispelled his magic and studied the dragon before them, it’s pointed horn jutting out from its snout. It seemed to be judging its next move. “It must have followed us here.”

Roshak sighed, unlatching the greatsword from his back. “We fight?”

“We’ll have to,” he nodded. “Fortunately it should have trouble taking flight in the forest. We may be far from civilization but the trees will work to our advantage. Don’t use magic unless you have to. And no big moves like you’re so fond of. It’ll wear you out.”

“I can’t wait to surprise the clan with a Horn when we get back. We’ll be the talk of all of Kjolnhelm for a week!”

The dragon unfurled it’s feathered wings, slamming them against nearby trees and bellowed a roar that shook the very ground.

Svarhald punched his brother on the shoulder. “Beauty, isn’t she?” Roshak nodded, a smirk on his face. Then the two charged.

The Wyvern leaped forward at them, bringing its hind claws up to rake at them. They dove out of the way, Svarhald to his left, Roshak to his right. He swept his sword around at the thing’s head, but it swung down and slammed its snout into his chest. The force of the blow threw him across the clearing and into one of the previously unscathed trees.

Svarhald, charging magic into his shield, smashed it into the other side of the dragon’s head, enhancing the attack with a jolt of electricity. The beast roared in anger as Roshak, getting up, channeled a column of fire at the beast, using his sword as the conduit. Shying away from the blast it protected itself with its wing, also turning to snap at Svarhald. He rose his shield in defense of it, but his arm got caught in its jaw and the thing clamped down with unprecedented force.

The bone snapped. Svarhald bit back the pain in clenched teeth, just as the wyvern held him in its own. Roshak charged at the dragon, striking at the feathered wings with all his might. The blade struck and bit through, reflexively moving away. He used the opportunity to keep moving towards the head, to assist his brother.

In response, the beast threw Svarhald at the other, and the man crashed into him. The wyvern jumped to the other side of the clearing, turning back around to gain more distance. With one more roar, it launched itself back into the air and flew back from where it had come.

Roshak, heaving with exertion, helped his brother up with his good arm. He had left the shield on the ground. “Are you going to be okay?”

“Broken arm,” Svarhald replied. “I’ll manage.”

“So much for using the trees,” Roshak chuckled through breaths. “Why wouldn’t it stay for the kill? Why come all this way just to leave when we put up a fight?”

“Hard to say. I’d imagine there is easier food to be had in these parts, but that doesn’t explain why it came all the way here in the first place.”

Roshak addressed Talliden’s corpse, a few dozen feet away. “Looks like we’ll get the manna without having to pay for it this time.” Then he looked back to his brother’s arm. “Well, I guess it was just an unconventional payment method. Let’s get back.” He heaved up the crate the bodyguard had dropped in his flight. “Rest well, friend,” he added to Talliden. “You’re among the stars now. I’ll look for yours tonight.”

 

 

New Life

Written: Dec 17 2012

Date: Early Fourth Era

 

“Good morning, Roshak. You shouldn’t be drinking this early,” Khir walked into the nearly tavern, stepping right up to the bar where his brother sat drinking another mug of ale. He laid an envelope with a broken seal on the counter where his Roshak could see it without turning his head. He would have to interest him to get him to even pay him any attention anyway. “Can you guess what that is?” he asked his brother.

“Can you guess whether or not I care?” Roshak’s deep voice sounded as he pulled his head back to take another swig.

“You will once you know, trust me. It’s from mom.”

He stopped drinking and gently put his mug onto the counter, then glanced at Khir. “What kind of game are you playing? What does she want?”

“She’s giving you a choice between finding a wife or forfeiting your inheritance to me.”

Roshak sighed and grabbed his mug again. “Have it. That woman can give me all the money she wants but it won’t make me stupid enough to go chasing after women,” he paused to finish the last of his ale before carelessly tossing it back onto the counter. “Bartender!” he called unnecessarily loud. “Another!”

“Brother,” Khir pressed on. “Can you please at least think about this decision for once in your life? Do you really want to spend your life fighting dragons?”

He shrugged as the bartender refilled his mug and slid it back to him. “Better than what you’ve got. May not pay much but at least I feel like I’m being productive. What are you? The king’s adviser?”

“Sorcerer and alchemist, too,” Khir added. “Pays generously, so I really don’t need mom’s money, even if I do have some extra mouths to feed. But I wouldn’t feel very good just giving it to you anyway. I don’t want to dishonor her.”

“Her money, she can do what she wants with it. If she gives it to you, then have it. As for me, I don’t need money. What would I spend it on? I don’t care how much she wants to spread her bloodline. Love is a fool’s game that only the lucky win.”

“Oh, come on, you can’t be serious. You know what they say: There’s somebody out there for everybody.”

“And that’s why everybody is a fool. Optimism isn’t the key to survival, realism is. That’s how I got to be the best dragon slayer in this area. Maybe even the country if I tried hard enough.”

“What’s so wrong about just seeing somebody every once in a while? It could make you less of a cynic. Who knows? Your nephew and wife may even start to want to be around you.”

“Remind me how that’s a good thing? Love is just a way to escape reality. To make the world seem less cruel than it really is. Worst of all if a dragon attacks a town but I’m too distracted with some stupid girl it could kill dozens of people. It’s been almost a month since a dragon killed anyone in these parts, you know. Here, let’s go for a walk,” Roshak stood from the bar stool, stretching as he did. “You’re paying, right?”

Khir shook his head. “I guess,” he replied as he put the money by the counter, feeling a little abused. Then he followed his brother out the door and into the quiet streets. “But don’t you want to be happy?” he asked.

“All men are born alone, Khir,” he answered. “But it’s a man’s choice to die alone, too. At least, that’s the way I see it. I personally don’t see how a woman could make me happy for a long period of time. A relationship between two people should be a partnership where each does the same for the other. Much greater chance of them ripping your heart out just as you were about to give them it of your free will.”

“Don’t you think you’re being a little to judgmental on the subject? It isn’t like you love somebody the moment you see them, that’s only a fairy tale,” Khir reasoned.

Roshak sighed. “You don’t cut a bud from its stem to take it home and look at it, brother. You have to water it until it blooms and becomes a flower. Doesn’t matter what kind, a flower always looks better than a bud. Especially since as a bud, it’s hard to tell what kind of flower it will bloom into. You may turn out not liking it. Or like a carnivorous plant it waits for you to get close, then quickly engulfs you before you have time to react. Do you see my point of view yet?”

Khir chuckled and patted his brother on the back. “Not really. I think you’re reading too far into it. You’ve never even had a lover, so how would you know?”

Roshak glared at him. “As far as you know. You’ve only had one.”

Khir looked at him, astonished. “You have had a lover?”

“No.”

He nodded. “Didn’t think so. Well, at least you seem to know what you’re talking about. Are you sure you won’t give mom’s offer a second thought? Could change your life.”

Roshak smirked. “I rather like this one. Dragons are arrogant, even if the arrogance is well placed. I enjoy putting them in their place. They don’t realize they can’t simply do what they want. My job to put them in their place and discipline them,” he stood in the middle of the road, staring into the rising sun in the distance. Then he looked down and smiled. “Nah. Too attached to this one. Born alone, die alone. But I’ll still die happy. You can count on that.”

 

 

Cloak and Dagger

Written: Jul 30 2016

Date: Early Fourth Era

 

“Ten minutes, Aron. Ten minutes until showtime.”

The dagger sat on the nightstand next to the bed, propped up against the cobblestone of the room’s wall.

“It’s a big day today, you know,” Jin stated. “Our biggest heist yet. I can hardly hold in my excitement.” He approached the closet in the corner of the room and opened it up. Tossing the folded clothes out, he pushed his way to the drawer that was hidden behind the pile. One normally couldn’t see it because it was quite small, and a tunic could be placed atop it to conceal the drawer’s presence. When Jin slid it out, however, it revealed that it was far larger than it seemed. Carefully, he pulled out his bandolier, and slipped it through one of his arms. The leather rested comfortably over his jerkin. Before continuing, he glanced outside the window to check the bell tower of Kalisport. Nine minutes.

“Everything is going to change after today.” He started going through the pouches on the bandolier, taking out each individual glass vial and examining them. With some, he shook, others he flicked, with the varying colors of liquids swishing around awaiting their calling. Only one of the vials seemed unsatisfactory to Jin, so he placed it in the secret drawer from which the bandolier had been stored. “The ravager venom seems to have dissipated somewhat. Guess I didn’t seal that one properly. We’ll have to go down and get a new one before we leave.”

The dagger remained where it was, point jutting out into the wood a little even though it sat cozy in its sheathe.

“No, I don’t think we’ll need it. If everything goes according to plan I won’t even be seen. Still, I like to be prepared. Besides, it doesn’t feel quite right to go out without a full stock of potions. Come on, it won’t take long.”

He scooped up the dagger, the spot on the nightstand from which it stood worn through a few shades of brown. Jin glanced out the window before leaving. Eight minutes.

The two of them walked down into the cellar of the turret, traversing down the spiral staircase as his steps made quiet, assured contact with the stone beneath. Years ago, there would have been a breath of dust on the stair as Jin walked, but his regularity among these abandoned halls had done measures to quiet that.

At the end of the stair, an old, rotting door stood guard against any would be trespassers. Jin guessed that it probably wouldn’t last another week at this rate, but it didn’t matter anymore. Time was short, and he doubted this city would ever see him again after tonight. Pushing the door aside, he entered into the dark hall.

The only light was filtered in through the stair he had entered, and so it was difficult to make out anything inside. He knew his lab well, however. Making his way around the poorly illuminated tables with alchemical projects left unfinished, he heard rats scurry away, further into the darkness. He unlatched a cabinet door and swung it open. Selecting one of the vials from the bottom shelves, he uncorked the small flask and sniffed. The acrid, unmistakable stench of diluted ravager venom nearly made him gag, even with how familiar it was to him. He placed the vial and its cork on one of the nearby tables, and pulled out the dagger.

“Let’s hope this is all the blood you must taste today, Aron,” he said. Cutting a bit of his pinkie, he put the knife on the table and carefully held the cork up to the open vial. He aimed his wound over the flask, and as soon as it dropped, he immediately slammed the cork down on it. The venom ate up the blood instantly, bubbling up. It would have quickly spilled out onto the table if Jin had been any slower. He put the knife to his tunic and cleaned the blood off before sheathing it. He pondered the bubbling liquid for a moment before taking the vial and sliding it into the empty slot of his bandolier, leaving the way he had come as he did. He didn’t close the door. There was no point.

“I don’t know why you ask me how that works every time,” Jin commented as he ascended up the spiral. “Ravager blood catalyzes once it comes into contact with blood. Stings real sharp and can eat bones if there’s enough of it. It isn’t harmful in its dormant state. That’s why the best way to kill one is to stab it in the venom sacs.”

When he got back into the bedroom, he looked out the window once again to the clock. Only two minutes left. He tossed the dagger onto the bed and sat next to it as he kept his gaze outwards. The shadows were lengthening over the buildings and docks further off. The sun would disappear over the horizon soon, but for now the city was still clearly visible. It remained appallingly unaffected by four years of hard work.

“Did I ever tell you what I hate most about this city, Aron?”

The dagger laid on his bed and made no reply.

“I hate how nothing I’ve done has made any difference. I hate how people in this day and age can still walk over those less fortunate and still feel good about themselves at the end of the day. When I left home to go find you, I swore that I would never kill anyone ever again.”

One minute.

He picked up the dagger again and fit it onto his belt. Just before he stepped out the door, he grabbed his cloak from the closet and threw it on, pulling the hood over his head. “What I do today, brother, I do not to kill. In fact I can only hope the poor idiots have the sense not to die. But I am tired of petty schemes and tricks. Today the center of commerce loses its hold on the world. But while everyone is distracted with the party,” he stroked the handle of the dagger. “You and I will have some important meetings to attend to.”

Zero. The bell tower and many surrounding buildings suddenly erupted into flames. The lower city of Kalisport was mostly made of wood. It would burn easily. While chaos broke out below him, Jin made his way south, towards where the highborn resided.

 

 

Ponderous Visit

Written: Dec. 15 2015

Date: N/A

 

The worst day of my life ended just as quickly as it began, but I couldn’t tell you how.

The next thing I knew, I woke up in a field.

I stood up slowly, and the grass straightened itself as the weight had been lifted from it. Peering into the distance, I saw that the plains extended outwards endlessly, with the breeze flowing gently through its soft blades and the surrounding trees that dotted the expanse sporadically. I grasped a blade of grass in my hand, looking down as I smoothed it through my fingers. The grass brushed against my arm as the winds glided through, but I didn’t feel its touch, as the sleeves of my dress traveled all the way down to my wrists. The odd thing was that I don’t wear dresses. Archons preserve, I didn’t even own one. As nice as this was, it still wasn’t as practical as a simple tunic and breeches were.

I glanced up at the sky, gazing into the deep blue sprinkled with occasional shift to the light grey of clouds. Not being able to locate the sun, I at first thought it hidden behind the cover of clouds, but as I looked harder it seemed as though the sun had altogether vanished. There was no apparent source of light, yet its radiance filled the air around me, with not a shadow to be seen.

Other than the sound of the breeze swaying the grass and the trees, I heard absolutely nothing. Everything was somehow kept still, despite the constant breeze. As beautiful as it was, the atmosphere felt strange, almost as the air was gently pressing a single word into me: Peace.

“Odd,” I mumbled aloud, pondering.

“Does it not suit you?” said a voice behind me, distinctly that of a deep male’s.

I turned to see a man, wrapped in a warm grey cloak, hood pulled back. He carried a long and dark brown staff holding a clear blue crystal atop it. His hair and goatee were vaguely brown, and bore the streaks of silver remarkably well. He had the face one earned with age and wisdom, but he had no wrinkles, and the combination gave him an almost alien appearance. Especially with that quiet, knowing smile he wore.

“No, of course I like it! It’s beautiful, I just… Are you an Archon?” I heard myself ask without thinking. Nobody knew much about Archons, but they were said to be beings of magic, wielding power to level mountains and throw oceans. They watched and oversaw the growth and prosperity of the world.

The man chuckled. “No, child,” he replied, amusement in his demeanor. “Not as you know them, at least. Though perhaps it is closer to the truth than you could reasonably hope to understand. Welcome to my land.”

“Am I dead?” I barely whispered, fearful of the answer.

The man stroked his facial hair with the index finger and thumb of his left hand, choosing his words. “In some ways. It is a difficult question to answer, to be sure. By your current standards, I would say so.”

I thought about that for a minute. “So this is the After, then. I’ve died and fallen into the After.”

The old man smirked. “Not quite. It would be more accurate to call this the Yet.”

I felt my brow furrow in confusion. “I’ve died and fallen into the future?”

He nodded. “And the Was.”

“I’m confused.” I corrected the creases in my dress, feeling awkward and having a lack of anything else to do.

He laughed at that. It was a hearty and warm gesture. He was such a strange man, with both the features of youth and seniority, of ignorance and wisdom. “Who are you?” I asked once his laughter died down.

“As I said, I am like an Archon. But perhaps you can think of me more as a leader of kings, or a watchman to the world, I suppose, just as I have been watching you, child. I have been called by many names. Today, though, I am called Khuros, and you may address me as such.”

I considered that, thinking about the familiarity that name carried; as though it were the name of an old friend I hadn’t seen or even thought about in years. He didn’t look familiar in the slightest, though, which made it all the more confusing.

“You find it difficult to remember what happened before you woke up here, do you not?” he stated, reading my thoughts.

I nodded slightly, looking out to the distant forest. “Yes… But I remember terrible pain… and fear.”

“Dying often brings no less.”

“I suppose so, but why can’t I remember?”

The man smiled. “Hard to remember things that have not happened yet, wouldn’t you agree?”

“You’re telling me my life hasn’t happened yet?”

“And it happened long, long ago. Have you not been listening?” he scolded.

“Hard to listen to the words of a man I can’t ‘reasonably hope to understand’,” I shot back, mocking his earlier tone.

He laughed again. “I can see why Tiel likes you so much.”

Tiel. That name gave me some recollection. It was vague, but I remembered the shadow of the man that I gave my heart to so long ago. Or was it just yesterday? I noticed, too, that used the current tense when he said he ‘likes’ me. Maybe his words really did provide some accuracy to the situation.

“I thought you were supposed to get wings when you died,” I huffed after a minute.

“Would you like some? It is no trouble at all, really, but there are many different types of wings. Perhaps you would want the swift wings of the falcon?”

I felt a surge of unnatural growth spurt from my back, and I heard the back of my dress tear, followed by what sounded like cloth unfolding behind me. The feeling of growing wings is one that is quite difficult to explain. I wouldn’t describe it as painful, but the feeling of suddenly having more sensation is one utterly incomparable to anything else. I turned my head back to look at them.

They were beautiful, with the feathers endowed with the same shade of auburn as my hair, touched with gentle streaks of white. Closing my eyes and spreading them as far as I could, I felt wind’s force on me suddenly strengthen, and found myself struck with the desire to test my newfound capabilities.

But before I could, the wings I had just now acquired suddenly began to sink back into the spot in between my shoulder blades.

If the feeling of gaining wings was unpleasant, the sensation of losing them again was unbelievably worse.

This time, though, the feeling was unmistakably one of pain. The pain of losing feeling so suddenly made me gasp at the discomfort. Falling to my knees, I clenched my teeth as the flesh forced its way back in.

“Or perhaps something warmer?” I heard Khuros muse. “Maybe the powerful wings of the wyvern?”

Once more, that feeling of growth came upon me. This time it was much easier to bear, because the experience wasn’t as foreign as before. I immediately felt the difference between these new wings and the old ones, because these ones seemed to expand far more than the other ones had, especially in height. When it was over, I rose, still panting, to inspect my wings again.

This time, my wings were white, warm, and huge; large enough to encompass my body entirely. Twice, perhaps. Each feather was at least the length of my forearm. The tips of the wings almost touched the ground at their lowest, yet rose above my head at their highest. I had never heard of a “wyvern” before, but whatever beast was fortunate enough to be born with wings such as these had to have been enormous.

“Or,” he continued. “Perhaps a Koh Liiran style of wing would suit you best?”

These wings didn’t sink back into my skin. Instead, they kept growing. Well, maybe it would be more accurate to say that they grew out of me. With the sound of my dress tearing even more, I was back on my knees, crying out in pain as the mass grew into a foreign weight on my back. Soon I lost feeling in the wings, and it took a moment for me to realize that it was because they had now belonged to something else entirely.

The creature leapt off of me, and glancing up I saw the beast land gently on the ground next to me, softly flattening the grass under it.

It was a curious creature indeed. The terms bird and reptile both fell short in describing it, for though it was covered in long, white feathers, it carried itself more like a large lizard, but instead of having two forearms, it extended its wings out before it and used the claws on them as hands. The truly remarkable thing about it, though, was its size. It was larger than me, even when you excluded its wings, and by the way it moved, it looked like a mere whelp of its kind, an infant that promised to grow dramatically in size and strength in the years to come.

And that was when it dawned on me that I was nothing more than prey to this thing. I felt almost embarrassed to have ignorantly carried the wings of such a beast.

Turning to Khuros, he seemed to have taken no notice of it. Instead, he was staring at me, thinking hard, but remaining silent. I tentatively stepped towards him, away from the beast, but when I turned to face it once more, it was gone: vanished as though it had never been.

Suddenly, the sleeves of my dress split at the seams, and long feathers began growing straight out of my arms. The feathers grew from my shoulders to my wrists, and soon my arms were wings, as if I had adorned my dress with the long, sky blue feathers of some great bird. These new wings were magnificent, yet repulsive due to the unfamiliarity of a sight so different from anything I had grown accustomed to.

“Or maybe—”

“No!” I interrupted. “Please, stop this.”

The old man frowned. “You like the Koh Liiran wings, then?”

“This is simply too much. I was joking when I said I wanted wings,” I explained.

“I see,” he replied, still frowning. And with that, the feathers that had grown from my arms fell away, one by one, creating a small puddle of sad blue below me until they had all fallen, at which point they started dissipating into nothingness. I watched as the seams of my sleeves came together, resealing as if they had never been torn. “Forgive me if I misconstrued the meaning of your words. By your definitions, it has been some time indeed since I have had company. But I think you will find a new home for yourself here, in time.” He paused and looked towards the forest. “Now, I have matters to attend to. I would advise you to head west, into that forest. You will find my temple there.” He nodded towards the forest at which he stared. He turned to go the other way, but paused and swiveled back around to say something else. “And should you encounter any trouble along the way, use this.” With that, he drove the staff into the ground and began leaving in the opposite direction.

“What about my memories?”

“In time, child,” he said, waving me off as if that would explain everything.

“Am I to stay here as your plaything, condemned to stay here and forever kept away from the After?”

He paused that that. “I am quite certain you will come to enjoy my Isle, Shiah. Chin up! Go to the temple first. There are things I would like to show you.”

And with that, he was gone.

 

 

Nightmares & Bells

Written: Apr 24 2015

Date: Early Fourth Era

 

Nightmares. Every night, now. I’m afraid to go to bed because of it. If I do, I’ll see them standing there. Only they’re not there. They’re dead.

I sat there, staring at my reflection as I sat by the pond behind my aunt’s cottage. My hair was a mess and my face was red and tear-stained. I could only imagine the fit my aunt would have for getting grass stains in my nightgown again. Another tear fell into the pond, breaking the reflection as the water rippled outwards. I glanced upward, into the mists that blanketed the water’s surface. I sniffled a little into the Silence, a quiet stab of defiance at what life had so forcefully thrown at me. I hated the Silence, but that’s all I had these days. Aunt Saylure’s lands were always so peaceful, especially at night, but it wasn’t fair. What had nature been through to deserve such tranquility? What suffering had the grass or the pond endured?

“Excuse me, child,” a voice said behind me, breaking the awful Silence and startling me. I leapt to my feet and spun around, on guard. The man who stood before me was tall and wore a grey cloak. He carried a staff with a crystal on it, and his hair and goatee looked brown, but the dim moonlight made it difficult to distinguish colors. He raised an empty palm up in apology at seeing my reaction to him. “Apologies,” he said. “I seem to have gotten lost down the road. May I sit with you a while?”

I relaxed, huffing as I folded my arms, suspicious. “You’re not going to take me away like they did my sister, are you?”

The stranger smiled, somehow diffusing my fears a little as he took a slow and careful step forward. “Of course not, child. Actually, I wished to give you something.”

I sighed and sat back down at the pond’s bank, looking into its waters as I had done before. “I kind of wish you had come to kidnap me. At least I’d get to see sis again.”

“You’ll see her,” he replied as he sat next to me, crossing his legs innocently. He didn’t look at me, but instead stared into the water as I did. “It will take time, but luck will come your way.”

I had trouble believing that. No girl whose parents were murdered and sisters taken could be considered lucky. Especially when the next closest relative had apparently declared war on the concept of fun, and was decidedly winning.

“How could you possibly know that?” I scowled, wrapping my arms around my knees.

He didn’t answer right away, instead looking into the mists as the Silence encroached upon us once again. “Perhaps,” he warded it back, “it would be easiest to call it experience, child,” he finally stated.

“Stop calling me a child!” I chided.

The stranger nodded knowingly. “Of course. My apologies, young lady.”

“My name is Xelfure.”

“A good name for a strong young mage.”

I paled at that. How could he possibly…? He chuckled softly. “I forget this is not a good time to be called that. Worry not, I will not divulge your secret, though in the future I would refrain from practicing as often as you do, even covertly.”

“Who are you?” I finally asked.

The man frowned, scratching his goatee as he thought. “Everybody seems to ask that at some point or another. To be sure, it is not an easy question to answer. Most certainly, I am a friend. Call me Khuros.”

“’Ros’? I’ve never heard that family suffix.”

“I am not from here,” he responded, smiling.

I looked at him suspiciously. He was still staring at the still pond, the wisps of mist dancing gently on its surface. What an odd man.

As the conversation died, I felt the chill of the Silence upon me once again. The horror of my nightmares came once again. There was never any sound in my dreams, and that was in all honesty the worst part. My parents dead. My sisters gone. My childhood ruined. The only thing I had left was magic. Senture and I used to practice together, and now it was all that broke the Silence. Doing it with my own voice felt analogous of poking a sleeping great wolf with a stick, which is never a good idea. Besides, people who talk to themselves are crazy.

Once more, it was dispelled by the stranger’s voice. “If you don’t mind, miss, I brought you a present.” He pushed a hand into the side of his cloak, shuffling for something in a hidden pocket.

“A gift? For me? Why?”

“Because a young lady as pretty and talented as you deserves something. And because silence is a terrible thing.” He pulled out a small silver bell from his cloak and handed it to me. I took it and inspected the gift. The handle was of a deep, sturdy wood I had never seen before, and the silver shone beautifully in the moonlight. Somehow, the exchange of the present hadn’t set it ringing yet, and now it seemed like an inappropriate time. It was amazing. Who was I to be presented with such an amazing piece of art?

He was looking at the bell with pride. “Ring it when the Silence comes,” he instructed. “Things will get worse before they get better, but this will help you along the way.”

“It’s beautiful, but I don’t see how a bell could save me from the Silence.”

“What if I told you it is a magic bell?”

I was skeptical at that. “That isn’t how magic works,” I thought aloud. He laughed at that.

“Undoubtedly, you know more about the subject than I. But nonetheless, do as I say and only ring it when you must. Now,” he continued, getting up and brushing his cloak off. “I have other matters to attend to.”

“Isn’t it a little late to have other commitments?”

He chuckled again as he placed a calloused hand on my thin nightgown. “Is it not a little late for a little girl to be outside all alone?”

I frowned at that. He smiled and placed a hand in the waters of the pond, brushing them over my knees and somehow rubbing the grass stains away. When he was finished, he stood up, bowed to me, and began pacing away.

“Why?” I called after him.

He turned back and looked into my eyes. “I already told you, ch—miss. Perhaps some listening methods would do you some good. Goodbye, Xelfure. May you shine in days to come.”

And then he was gone. I was alone with the Silence.

And this time it hit harder than ever before.

It was ironically deafening, and my world collapsed in on me as the mists seemed to grow thicker and more menacing. They grew and formed shapes of terrible, twisted beings, bent on my destruction. They grew closer, and the terror filled every fiber of my being. Alone. I was so alone. Mother. Senture. Help…

The bell. Ring it when the Silence comes. I looked down. In the palm of my hand was the small silver bell the stranger had given me. As the swarms of beings converged on me, I squeezed my eyes shut and rang it as hard as I could.

My aunt came into my room as promptly as she did every morning, carrying the usual bread roll and cup of tea. “Morning, Xelfure,” she greeted, tone as respectfully polite as ever. She placed the saucer at my nightstand.

“Morning, auntie,” I yawned, rubbing my eyes open.

“No grass stains on your gown,” she noted. “You slept better than usual?”

I gripped the handle to the bell under my blanket. It hadn’t been a dream, then. But how did I get in bed? Lost in thought, I didn’t reply to my aunt, which caused her to sigh and leave, muttering something about how strange children are.

I pushed back the covers and looked down at the bell. Not a dream. But perhaps it was a sign.

A sign that things would soon be better.

 

 

Solitary Pondering

Written: May 28 2016

Date: N/A

 

As the moon passed overhead, I took notice that it passed in the forefront of the Rupture, the immense tear that was always so visible in the night sky. Not for the first time, I wondered what had truly caused it and what it was. Was it an intentional occurrence? Would it have lasting effects on the world that were too subtle to notice over the course of a human lifetime? I hadn’t been living in this land when the rupture happened, but it was one of the major factors that brought me here.

I was fairly certain that its consequences wouldn’t have disastrous long term effects, but there was no way to tell for sure without more information. I had gotten as close as I physically could to the phenomenon, but even standing on the tallest mountain and stretching my neck out as far as possible yielded no conclusive results. In fact, it didn’t even look any larger than before, even though at that height I could see the curvature of the planet. Fascinating sight. One of the questions that had always bothered me about the Rupture is that startlingly little had changed since it occurred. Well, perhaps that wasn’t quite true, because so much was different now than it was then. My point is that I couldn’t contribute any of the change to the Rupture, which seems incredibly odd to me. Shouldn’t an event with such astrological significance change things?

I was interrupted from my musings by the sound of something I couldn’t immediately place. It was a throaty, choking sound, and when I tried to place it, I realized I could no longer see. That was odd. My vision had blacked out. Feeling my surroundings, they were very wet and… sharp? Oh, goodness. I had been eaten again. One of my weakest attributes is that I get so easily distracted by my own thoughts that I completely lose touch of everything that’s going on around me. But at the same time I couldn’t put the blame wholly on myself. After all, I had already seen most of what there was to see, so my mind was the only new and interesting thing I regularly had access to.

I was doing it again: thinking when I should be concerned with not getting eaten. It was probably my own fault. Natural selection of white fur can only take rabbits so far when you’re standing in the middle of a snow barren field. I shouldn’t be surprised that whatever had just been strolling by, going about its day, had found its way to a free meal. Well, perhaps that wasn’t quite true. I was certainly no free meal, regardless of how vulnerable I appeared. It occurred to me that I was considerably heavier than this would-be predator would have accounted for, and in its attempts to swallow me whole, had only succeeded on thoroughly encasing me in saliva. I wondered if any creature killed its prey by drowning it in such a manner. Was it even possible? Surely it could be. Perhaps a mammoth could do that, if mammoths were carnivores. Their mouths wouldn’t me large enough to swallow anything whole, though, even if they were. Surely there was another creature more suited to such a task.

But I was losing track of myself. I had to rid myself of this poor beast or it would dehydrate itself all over me. I concentrated my form and shifted it into a hawk, forearms expanding as they grew into wings. I was released from the beasts jaws immediately. I’m sure it wasn’t too happy about realizing whatever it had in its mouth was not whatever it thought it had in its mouth. As soon as I was free, I took note that it was an arctic fox. Probably a big one, if I had to guess, but I couldn’t remember the last time I was this close to one to really know for sure.

As I lifted from the ground, I decided to head south. This land was too dangerous for contemplative pondering. Besides, there were huge beasts here that controlled the winds. Wyverns, the humans called them. I wasn’t sure I could easily brush one of them off if it wanted me for dinner. Why did I even come here?

Oh, that’s right. I was trying to gather more information about the Rupture. I had heard there was some distant land north of Aluvalia, where I currently was. I had never been there myself, which was intriguing. Nearly three thousand years on this world and I had only recently heard of a piece of it just a few hundred miles offshore of Torreth. I turned around. This land may not provide me with any more information, but it stood to reason that I was more likely I’d find out something there than I place I had already been. Besides, I had never been there. That fact alone was reason enough. I had been everywhere else, after all. Well, perhaps that wasn’t quite true…

 

 

People are Weird (Monologue)

Written: May 6 2014

Date: Late Third Era

 

Rules were not meant to be broken. They were meant to be circumvented. Basically, it’s either you do or what you’re told or you read between the lines. You know, loop holes. The way I see it, rules are basically instructions on how not to have fun. And I don’t know about you, but having fun is what I’m all about.

This one time, I saw a field of grass that had a sign peeking out saying “Keep off the grass”. Now I didn’t know why there was a sign there, but could I really just… comply? I mean come on, that sign doesn’t know what’s best! That sign had nothing on me! It can’t think for itself, or have intelligent conversations, or pretend to have friends, or even laugh in the face of pain! And I would know. I made sure.

Well, to put a long story short I kept off the grass. Mostly because I set the whole field on fire, but hey, it still counts, doesn’t it? It said “Keep off the grass” not “Don’t light this grass on fire”! Technically I didn’t break any rules. Not only that, but I got to beat my record for biggest fire of the year!

Same thing goes for those societal rules about people. I was taught that a lady must be kind, gentle, proper, and not use small animals as kindling. Whoever made those kinds of rules deserves nothing less than to be drawn and quartered. It isn’t my fault nobody would tell me what happens when living things like squirrels are ignited! I wouldn’t have had to find out for myself if I had just gotten a clear-cut answer in the first place! But no! Where I considered myself scholarly or studious, they considered me “sick” and “uncultured”! I just don’t understand how other people think.

 

 

It Takes a Thief (Monologue)

Written: Feb 25 2014

Date: Early Fourth Era

 

*Jin is sitting down tied to a chair in a somewhat dark storage room. He is surrounded by a dozen soldiers and Captain Han*

-*Looks up. Springy* Evening, gentlemen. Fancy meeting you here.

(*Captain Han approaches. Serious* Cut the chatter, Jin. Sorik. Tell me everything you know about him.)

*shrugs* Sorik? Never heard of him. *yawns* Besides, why do you care? You’ve already caught the biggest fish you ever will. And look how handsome it is! *winks*

(Jin. We’ve seen you with him. Don’t give me any of your classic evasion.)

-Fine. Figured that was a long shot. And I know why you want to know, too. *Sighs. More serious* I can tell you right now that you have no idea who or what you’re dealing with. That boy is far more powerful than any of you could possibly imagine. *pauses* The Rupture was his fault. You know, the giant hole in the sky? *chuckles* Look at you fools, chasing after something you know nothing about.

(It doesn’t matter. *slams his fist on a nearby crate* Tell me where he is!)

-*Innocent* Honestly, captain, I don’t know where he is. But do you really think I would I tell you even if I did?

(*Sighs* Didn’t peg you for the honor bound type.)

-Honor bound? Of course not! That’s not my style! *More serious* …but unlike you pawns I understand that the fate of all of Nacre Then is in his hands. If you interfere with him, you’ll manage nothing other than the mass genocide of our entire race. *Jubilant again* Is that what you really want, Captain? You know, if you stop him, you’ll be far more of a criminal than both me and Sorik combi-

(How DARE you?! I didn’t come this far to be insulted by a hypocrite like you!)

-Do you even hear yourself? I don’t care who you think you are or what you think this world is coming to. The only reason I’m not fighting this war is because it isn’t mine to fight. Besides, it’s more fun to put the greedy in their place than it is to help the needy. *Smiles mockingly* Now, I know you were probably planning to take me to the capital now, but I’ve gotta be honest here—I’m pretty busy. If we’re done here, I’ll take my leave. *Stands up* Be seeing you, Captain.

 

 

Senture’s Wish (Monologue)

Written: Apr 14 2014

Date: Early Fourth Era

 

*Senture walks into Sorik’s room, who lies unconscious in a bed. Senture looks at him, sighs, and sits down on a wooden chair next to him*

Still asleep? It’s been nearly two days now… I’ve been meaning to speak to you, you know, and I must say, I am losing my patience with you. I guess I don’t necessarily need you to respond, so I’ll just say it. *pauses, thinking about how to phrase her next words*

I’m beginning to believe that you are who you say you are, Sorik. I’m sure if we had spoken calmly about it earlier we could have worked out a peaceful solution, and for that I apologize for being so hasty to fight you. Perhaps one day you’ll find the kindness to forgive me for hurting you. *smiles*

I don’t really know how, but you seem to be profoundly sheltered from the rest of the world. My, you don’t even know what The Rupture is! It’s almost as if you’ve been raised under a rock like an insect. You’ve got a lot of learning to do if you are to survive around here. This world isn’t the same one you grew up in.

*Somebody calls for Senture from the distance, and she turns to look behind her before standing*

It seems I am needed. I… you remind me of an old friend. *chuckles* He was at least as hotheaded as you, though he knew what he was doing… I hope you can be a friend, too. *Smirks* For your sake. Because next time… I won’t lose. *leaves*