Story — (Spark) The Origin of the Wilds

The world wasn’t always like this. This… green. At least, evidence points towards the contrary. The Wilds—the giant forests that cover the planet—are new. Older than any of us, of course, but new in the grand scheme of things.

A long time ago, humanity was widespread. You could walk across a city for an entire day and not see a single tree. And there was no need for walls back then, either, because we had nothing to be afraid of. Civilization might have even advanced to the point where we started looking to the stars.

But then of course, things changed.

The researchers at Trellin believe that the Wilds and its connection to the aether beasts are linked. When the Wilds started to grow and spread, aether beasts began to appear. Buildings that touched the clouds came down, and humanity was forced to run. To flee as the forests spread and ate the planet. Over time we’ve gained a little ground back, but we’ve never been able to answer that one big question.

Where did the Wilds come from?

At first we thought it might have been a rapidly spreading species of tree, spreading like a plague that was nearly impossible to kill. But that theory didn’t explain the aether beasts that followed in its wake. And since aether beasts are made rather than born, knowledge of their origin is even more dubious.

Maybe the Wilds was a biological weapon that got out of hand. A technology too advanced for our science to comprehend. Maybe the aether beasts are a product of that weapon. If that’s true, it was probably far more effective than it should have been. Both the Wilds and the aether beasts adapt and grow in response to their surroundings. This theory, outlandish as it might be, does hold some ground on that front. Rapidly changing the environment of one’s enemies in times of war could be quite advantageous.

But my favorite theory is the craziest of all. It’s not really supported by our current understanding of things, and it doesn’t actually explain where the Wilds came from, but it holds far more intrigue than the other two.

What if the Wilds was an aether beast, and the tree roots were all linked into one giant organism? Aether beasts are spawned from a seed, after all, and trees grow the same way. What if there was one seed that created the Wilds?

All these ideas sound ridiculous, I know. But researchers have been actively studying it for decades, and have very little in the way of facts. There are many who think that learning the secret of the aether is key to reclaiming our world.

Perhaps there’s still a piece of civilization out there somewhere that the Wilds didn’t touch, left crumbling in a state of severe disrepair. If there were, what would be the chances that the secret to the Wilds is there?

Again, I know it’s crazy, but there are some questions the world needs answers to. And I won’t rest until I find them.

 

Story — (Spark) Lady Aimee Calico

“I’m sorry, Zai. It’s just not going to happen. It’s not in our scope.”

“I implore you to reconsider, ma’am. Just think of how much easier all sorts of travel would be If we had a fully operational underground system that connected us to the northern world.”

Lady Aimee Calico put her elbows on the desk and pressed her face into her hands, trying her best to push the sleep from her eyes. Ecco snoozed near her in the corner of the office, not a care in the world. She missed the days when the furry little Ravess slept on her shoulder. Missed those days for a lot of reasons.

She turned her attention back to the young scientist. “You just want a research base to study the Wilds and its endemic life more closely.”

Zai, blushing a little. “I think the research could be very beneficial as well.”

“I admire your courage,” she said. “But a small field base in the middle of nowhere is bound to fail. A subway connecting Redview and Trellin is one thing. Those cities are much larger. Plus it goes against everything Lord Athril believed in. The whole purpose of the foundation of this city was to establish a self sufficient town independent of the north.”

Zai frowned, glancing at the portrait of the city’s late founder that hung on the wall near Aimee’s desk.

“No, my primary focus is the safety of Athril’s Edge. Which reminds me, I have to discuss next week’s border patrol with your father. The expansion is going to be happening soon, and I want it to be seamless. So next time you see him I’d like you to send him my way. Got it?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied.

“Alright, assuming you have nothing else you wish to discuss you should be on your way, I’ve important work to be done.” She found a pen and eyed the ever awaiting stack of paperwork on her desk.

“Actually, if you don’t mind my opinion on the matter,” Zai offered.

“What matter?”

“The expansion.”

“Speak your mind.”

He shifted uncomfortably for a moment before taking a seat opposite her. “Now, obviously this isn’t my field of study, but Cadri and I have been discussing the possibility of constructing walls around the lake-facing side of the city as well.”

Aimee grimaced. “Why in the world would we do that?”

“Well, to be honest I’m growing more concerned about the dangers of aquatic aether beasts.”

“It’s not going to happen, Zai. It would be a waste of resources to build that much wall and effective walls would hinder food production. We’ve been over this.”

“I know, but hear me out. We only build walls on the shorelines. The cliffs don’t need them. And we fortify the docks with constant patrols of tamed beasts. Minimal resource loss. Also, Cadri explained that we wouldn’t even have to build them to regulation height because no aerial threats would be coming from that direction.”

Aimee sighed. “We’ve been fine for years. The lake is half the reason we even picked this spot. We only have to defend on two sides and it’s a good source of food. No significant threat has ever come from the lake, and you’ve given me no reason to believe that that is likely to change anytime soon.”

The scientist looked like he wanted to say something, but either decided not to, or couldn’t put it into words. “It’s just a hunch.”

“I don’t have time for hunches, Zai,” Aimee snapped. “I have work that needs doing. And I don’t want you bringing this up again until you show me evidence that I should be concerned. got it?”

“Understood.”

“Good. Don’t forget to have your father come see me.”

“Very well, ma’am,” Zai nodded before turning and leaving the office.

“Oh, and Zai?” Aimee said, looking up just as he opened the door.

“Yes?”

She returned her gaze to her work. “It’s not going to work out between you and my sister.”

“I’m sorry?”

“You’re not her type. I’m just informing you now. Don’t get your hopes up.”

“Is that an order?” Zai asked.

She shook her head. “No, just an observation. Dismissed.”

The door closed without another word, and Aimee turned to her aether beast, who was still sleeping peacefully as usual.

“Becoming Lady of the city has ruined both of us, Ecco,” she told him. “You get too much sleep, and I get too little.”

She glanced back at the portrait of Lord Athril Mores. His chair was too big for her.

Story — (Spark) The Founding of Athril’s Edge

Athril Mores stood at the edge of the world, pondering the metal grave. Waves crashed below at a slow, thoughtful rhythm, like the heart of Naya breathing alongside him. Athril placed a hand on the grave as he looked out over the Gulf. “I will not forget your kindness, old friend. May you find your place among the aether.”

The sound of footsteps broke his reverie, and he turned to see the Calico sisters in their padded leather uniforms approaching him from the bottom of the slope.

“I hope we’re not disturbing you, Lord Athril,” Aimee, the older one said, saluting. The tiny form of a baby Ravess perched on one of her shoulders. Its feathers were much smaller than normal, almost like strands of fur, indicating an unusual subtype. Athril had seen the girl training with it a lot over the past few days. She was convinced the beast would become one of the next prime defenders of their little outpost. “We have some news to report.”

“No need for the formalities, just tell me what you want,” Athril sighed. The decade he felt like he had aged in the past few days came out as he said that. They were not the words of a leader come to conquer.

“We’ve finished mapping out the area,” Aimee continued. “The masons back at the camp think they have a solid wall design that can house over a thousand people.”

“Oh!” Cadri chimed in, brimming with excitement. “And with your approval, they say they can have the walls built within a month! And I also heard that they’re outlining ideas for future wall expansions, once we reach capacity. Athril’s Edge will be a bustling city in no time!”

Athril glanced back to the gravestone. “It’s called Greydale,” he muttered under his breath.

“I’m sorry?” Aimee said, taking half a step closer.

He turned around to address them. “This establishment is called Greydale. I didn’t mount this expedition and march halfway down the continent to take orders from the likes of you. There will be no talk of wall expansions. I don’t want Greydale to be a bustling city. It was never meant to be a bustling city. I picked this spot because we only have to defend ourselves on two sides. The further our breadth of walls, the more we area we have to protect and the greater risk we run of a breach and succumbing to the Wilds!” He took a breath and realized how tightly his hands were balled into fists. He had been yelling again. Damn.

The Calico sisters seemed a bit stunned at his outburst. Aimee regained her composure but was careful not to offend him again. “Apologies, sir. We’re sorry to disturb you. Rest assured that the aether beast population in the immediate area has been dealt with. There will be no expected danger to the encampment for the next several days, but we still have trainer patrols running perimeter constantly.”

Athril nodded. “Good.”

“Sir?” Cadri said, avoiding his gaze as she recovered from Athril’s rage. “T-the reason we came to see you. The wall designs? You’re the only one that can approve them.”

“I’m sure they’re no different from the walls at Redview or Trellin,” Athril said.

“Not quite, sir,” Aimee said. “The masons explained that the saltwater from the Gulf would erode the wooden supports in the walls much more quickly than in the north. If we made them using the conventional method they would fall into disrepair nearly three times as fast.” She frowned and scratched the back of her head. Her Ravess squawked in agreement, and she moved her hand to start petting it. “Or, something like that. With all due respect, it’s best you hear it from them, sir. They can explain it better than me.”

“Nothing is ever simple,” Athril sighed.

“Although,” she added. “Maybe you could discuss with them the possibility of making the walls out of pure concrete instead of segmented modules. If we don’t want to worry about future expansions, we don’t need to build the wall to be portable. We wouldn’t have to worry about the wood at all.”

“No,” Cadri said. “Walls aren’t modulated just to be moved. If they’re structured in chunks they are easy to replace in times of need. A portion can be torn down by wild aether beasts and replaced by a new one within a day if the new wall segment is ready to be implemented. The segmentation may make the overall strength of a wall weaker, but the beasts aren’t smart enough to capitalize on it, and the convenience of maintenance more than makes up for it.”

Athril nodded approvingly. That just about summed it up. “Have you ever considered masonry, Cadri?”

The girl shrugged, uneasy at the compliment.

Aimee grinned at her sister, then looked back to Athril. “Either way, you should discuss it with the masons, sir.”

“Alright, alright,” Athril said. “I’ll meet with them this afternoon over lunch. Anything else?”

“No, sir,” the girls said.

“Very well. Dismissed.”

The Calico sisters saluted again and retired back down the hill. Athril returned his attention to the grave and the Gulf beyond it.

“Oh! And sir!” Aimee shouted back. “If you ever need time to relax and… you know… forget… I know a few people. Just let me know and I’ll buy you a drink.”‘

“Much appreciated, Aimee,” Athril smiled as he called back.

Soon, the only sound was the rising and falling of the waves as they beat against the shoreline of the cliffs below. Naya herself voiced her approval of the settlement in the steady heartbeat of those waves. Not Athril’s Edge.

Greydale.

It wasn’t fame he was after. Naming the town after himself seemed ridiculously self-serving. Better to name it after somebody more selfless.

He nodded his thanks to the metal gravestone once more, then made to leave down the slope and into the campsite below.

Greywacke
The foundation of a city newly forged.

Life — Upgrade!

So, I’ve finally gotten my new computer, and it’s a pretty interesting experience. All my life has been spent playing the hand-me-downs as far as video games are concerned. Usually, this means getting the old computer when my brother made a new one for himself. That is to say, the systems I had available could usually play all the newest games, but just barely. They would run poorly and the frame rate would be terrible— and this would already be at the lowest graphics settings possible.

So yesterday was the first day of an entirely new experience. When I played Overwatch, for example, there were many heroes I simply could not play. I couldn’t use sniper rifles because it required too much precision on a fast paced game. So I stuck with characters that didn’t really have to aim, and I was usually fine.

This new computer has literally transformed the way I play a game like that. I can do whatever I want, regardless of the circumstances, and now the only thing holding me back is my own skill. It feels great to be able to try new things and test my boundaries.

So, while I’ve only had it for a few days, I’m already super stoked. For me, the concept of opening a YouTube video and having the automatic quality adjuster playing HD without having to buffer is insane. My old computer wasn’t able to play seamless videos on high settings even if you gave it time to load!

One interesting thing to note is the fact that I couldn’t really even perceive graphics well enough to be jealous of other people. I would see one of my brother’s playing on his computer with high graphics and I wouldn’t notice much of a difference between what his game looked like and what my game looked like. But now that I’m doing it, I can feel how drastic the change is. It’s not even the visual aspect that I even care about. In a game like Heroes of the Storm, there were particle effects I had never experienced because of the graphics barrier. Little things like adding a targeting reticle on the ground as opposed to a highlighted circle.

As I wrote this blog post, in fact, I opened up the game. I entered practice mode, changed the graphics, restarted the game, and did it again to compare the two. This process took less than three minutes. With my old computer, it would take up most of that time just getting to the start menu!

The best part about all of this, is that it’s mine. As I said, most of my life has been spent with hand-me-downs, and indeed that’s pretty true in all aspects as I’m the youngest of six. But not only is this relatively high quality, but it’s also something I did entirely independently of anyone else (save the putting it together part). There was no charity here, nobody offering to help pay for a new computer because my old one stopped working. Just me deciding that enough is enough, and I can do this thing for myself for once.

That said, I probably won’t be doing a whole lot for myself again for a while. Computers are expensive!

Story — Blowing Off Steam (475)

(This is the first fanfiction I’ve written in over a year, and it was actually inspired by one of the Destiny 2 ads that came out recently. This ended up being far more indulgent than I usually write, as I’ve never written actual people I know into my writing before. I intended to make one ‘Destiny veteran’ version and one ‘less familiar’ version where I leave out a lot of the names, but the content ended up so game-specific that it doesn’t really work if you’ve never played. So if you’ve never played it, be warned that a lot of names are thrown out that aren’t explained.)

 

“Hold position,” Aria said, using her scope to scan the field from the outcropping they stood on. It was doted with small craters, and there was sporadic gunfire throughout the landscape. “I’ve got sight on the shooting. Looks like Vex and Cabal.”

Zul rolled his eyes. “It makes sense for Vex to be here. This has been their territory for decades. I still don’t understand why we’re here. Especially all four of us. Isn’t this a little overkill?”

She shook her head. “It isn’t necessary to know why. We just follow orders. The Red Legion started a drilling operation here just before the attack on the Last City.” She returned her focus to the battlefield, where the Cabal was defending against a Vex assault. “We need to stop it before it continues any further. The Vex don’t have enough presence to do that.”

“I don’t know. Seems like we could be a lot more useful defending Earth than coming all the way here.”

“I’m not sure a few more guns will deter the Red Legion,” P-2 chimed in. “Their leader seemed pretty set on claiming the Traveler for his own purposes.”

“Either way, we should wait for the Cabal to clear out the Vex before we engage,” Aria said. “The fewer we have to face ourselves, the better.”

The sound of a gunshot blasted next to them. Aria aimed her pistol to face the threat, only to see Nex-52 crouched down, aiming his sniper rifle down into the battle.

“Nex, did you hear what I just said? Do not engage,” she scolded.

“Yeah,” he said, still looking through the scope. Another shot rang out. “But if we pick off a few of the Cabal, the Vex won’t be taken out as quickly. Easier for us this way.”

“Not if they engage on us now that they know we’re here.”

Another gunshot, but this time to Aria’s right. She turned to see Zul also aiming down his sights with his rifle. “He’s got a point,” he shrugged.

She groaned. “The Hunter going against orders is understandable, but you, too?” P-2 patted her shoulder and shrugged.

“Wait a minute,” Nex said. “The Cabal found a new toy.”

“You mean the giant drill? The one we knew about before we came here?” P-2 asked, sarcasm coloring his tone.

“No, of course not,” he replied. “They’ve got some new dog with them. Maybe half a dozen down there. Running in to attack the Vex head on.”

“I’ve got sight on them,” Aria replied. “Don’t shoot. Watch how they move and attack. We should know what they’re capable of before we–”

A gunshot to her left, and the beast she was looking at immediately fell to the floor, dead. “They don’t seem very durable,” Nex concluded.

“Damn it, Nex, can’t you at least try to follow orders?” She sighed. “I’m suddenly very glad we don’t work together very often.”

“Well, technically,” P-2 said. “The only official orders are over comms. Like Zavala advising us. All the Guardians in a strike team are often the same rank. It just makes sense to have a leader on the field, so that’s how it’s usually done.”

“Can we cut the chatter and get a move on?” Zul took out his empty magazine and replaced it, turning to the rest of the group. “It looks pretty safe to go down, now. There’s only about two dozen left, both Vex and Cabal.” Without waiting for a response, he leaped off the precipice, still shooting on his way down.

P-2 jumped after him, and Nex-52 pulled the sniper rifle to his side to pull out a hand cannon before following suit. “I hate you all,” Aria mumbled. After making sure her weapons were loaded, she joined them.

The battle was already fading when the Guardians landed. With the Vex cleared out, the Red Legion turned their attention to the new arrivals. While Zul and Nex fired at the Centurions in their backline, Aria and P-2 charged in, taking on the enemy Phalanx and War Beasts. A few well-placed shots staggered the Cabal, exposing the massive bodies behind their shields, and a solid punch was all it took to bring them down.

The strike team made quick work of the squadron, but out of one of the bunkers shambled a giant, hulking frame. Armed with missiles and a minigun, staying in sight of it would be a death sentence.

“Colossus!” P-2 shouted. “Get down!”

The team dove to cover inside the many craters that dotted the landscape. “You guys distract it,” Aria said over their comms. “I’ll go around and flank him.”

“You remember what happened last time you did that?” Zul replied.

She ignored it. Racing out of the crater, she sprinted parallel to the Cabal, getting further and further away from whatever he was shooting at. As soon as she was behind him, she rounded the bunker and jumped onto it.

With a breath, she pulled out her own minigun, Sweet Business. “Surprise!” she yelled before unloading into him.

As soon as he fell, a bullet whizzed by her face, almost grazing her helmet.

“Whoops. Sorry about that,” Nex called. “I wanted to steal the kill.”

“You could have killed me with that, you idiot,” she scolded.

“I’ll try harder next time.”

“This isn’t all fun and games you know. People are counting on us.”

Zul sighed. “Relax, Aria. There’s no reason to be fighting. Let’s just move on.”

“Tell you what,” Nex said. “Why don’t we have a little Crucible match here and now?”

“What?” she asked, incredulous. “Why? We’ve got a job to do.”

“And we’ll get it done, don’t worry. But let’s raise the stakes a little bit. You beat me and I’ll follow your lead from here on out. I win, you take a chill pill and we can all get this over with sooner.”

Aria’s eyes squinted from inside her helmet. “Just me and you?”

“I don’t see why the Warlocks can’t get in on the action, too. What do you say? Last man standing? Like the Trials?”

Zul nodded. “No Shaxx and his useless commentary.”

“Think we can beat these two?” Aria asked P-2, who was pacing up from behind and picking up some ammo the colossus had left.

“Maybe. I think we could all benefit from blowing off a little steam, though. We haven’t really gotten a break since the Red Legion came.”

“Alright, Nex. You’re on. Rules?”

Nex was walking away, getting some distance on the two of them. “Anything goes except your stupid shoulder charge.” She rolled her eyes. “Last team standing wins.”

“Alright,” she nodded. “On my mark.”

As she said this, the four of them got into place. Zul ducked into a nearby crater, out of sight of his adversaries. Aria pulled out her sidearm and looked to P-2, who already held a shotgun at the ready.

“Three! Two! One! Go!”

The two of them rushed into motion, charging out opposite sides of the crater to flank them. P-2 blinked across the battlefield just as Zul held up a fusion rifle aimed at Aria.

His reaction was immediate. He ducked down and turned to face the other warlock, pulling the gun up and firing. A charged bolt of purple energy shot into the air, barely searing P-2’s robes as he aimed and shot.

The blast tore through the armor, a haze of void energy dissipating as Zul’s shield was shattered at the impact. Aria held her gun up to assist right as a familiar shot whizzed by. Cursing, she dove for cover instantly. Whether Nex had genuinely missed or was just teasing, she could only guess.

But she couldn’t leave P-2 unaided. She ran back out to see the two warlocks continuing their struggle. They extended their palms out, and the blasts of blue and violet that shot out rippled through the air and distorted the light between them.

Aria pulled out a grenade and sent it towards the crater Nex was holed in, then ran in to help P-2.

Despite his initial lead, he seemed worse for wear. She shot at Zul, but soon ran out of ammo. Upon seeing he was outnumbered, he leaped into the air and pulled his hands close to his chest.

P-2 shot again, but at this distance the shotgun’s range did little. Aria jumped up to meet the warlock just as the mass of void energy was leaving his palms.

She hammered a fist into his gut as hard as she could, enforcing the blow with her own void power.

A loud slam sent a shockwave through the air. The strength of the blow was just enough to take Zul out, and the two landed back on the ground as the echo subsided.

Aria glanced towards where she thought Nex might be, then turned to P-2. “Nice one,” he nodded in approval.

As soon as he turned away, a knife embedded itself into his helmet, a ripple of flame streaking along its path. He fell to his knees, and Aria swiveled around to see Nex at the crest the crater.

“Game over,” he said.

He grabbed for his gun, channeling solar energy into it as his entire body erupted into flames.

No time. That gun had three shots, and any one of them would be fatal.

She called her own strength, summoning all the void power she had stored up and sent it outwards. A bubble formed around her, shrouding her in a field of glowing purple. His gun couldn’t shoot through that.

A crack like a cannon igniting, and the purple haze shimmered as fire spilled around it. The light bent as the gunshot tried to push its way through, but it held firm.

Nex fired again as he descended into the crater. Again, the streak of fire slammed into the shield, right in the same spot. The void energy curved against it, but the second shot was too much, and the purple glow cut short.

Her protection faded, and she was met face to face with a Gunslinger in full power. Aria pulled the trigger, and only then realized that her sidearm was still out of ammo.

He fired again.

The flaming cannon went off, and the bullet left a trail of fire, burning the air as it soared past her head, missing by a hair.

Aria halted, dropping her guard in her confusion. She had been standing still, and he was right in front of her.

She caught the sound of burning and growling, and turned to see one of the Cabal war beasts writhing on the ground behind her, incinerating into nothingness from the shot that, she assumed, had missed its target.

Nex-52 was already using his Ghost to help the warlocks back on their feet by the time she turned to face him.

“So, what does that mean?”

He shrugged. “I got the extra kill I was looking for. We’ll call this one a draw. Besides, we’ve got work to do, and by my count I’ve still got fifteen kills on you. You’ll have to step up your game if you want to catch up by the time we face whatever is down there.” He nodded towards the giant drill that still spun in the distance.

“I got cocky,” Zul muttered as he palmed the place Aria had hit him. “Thought I had enough time to take you both out at once.”

“I wouldn’t have charged right in if I realized we would be going all out,” P-2 said, laughing.

“By the way,” Nex said. “I’m going to need my knife back, P-2.”

“What? No way. You gave it to me fair and square. It’s mine now.”

“I don’t think it works that way,” Zul replied.

Aria couldn’t help but chuckle as the three of them kept bickering. The stress the Red Legion’s assault had brought seemed to have melted away. Blowing off a little steam was just what they needed. Maybe she’d thank Nex later.

Story — Warp Drift

The Starseeker lurched as it halted its warp. The view from the pilot’s chair shifted from streaming lines of stars to a huge red landscape–a new planet. Undocumented and, likely, uninhabited. Just like all the rest.

There was no time for rest, however. The malfunctioning warp drive brought the Starseeker into the planet’s atmosphere, and already it was plummeting. It’s momentum and aerodynamic hull made its descent little more comforting than a nose dive.

With a curse, the pilot thrust back the throttle, trying to slow its descent, but it was no use: the thrusters were already off. “This ship can’t take another hit like last time,” he thought. Where was the damn parachute button?

He found it, breathing a sigh of relief, and the last emergency chutes the ship were deployed. Immediately the Starseeker leveled out, and though the jagged slopes and fissures of the planet’s surface were still magnifying at an alarming rate, at least its descent was more tangential. A rough landing was better than a fatal one.

No time for anything else. He cursed his lack of knowledge of the controls. A true pilot could properly land this ship. But then, a true pilot would never be in this situation in the first place. He squeezed his eyes shut and braced for impact.

The Starseeker landed with a horrible crunch, followed by a screeching slide as the ground ate at the ship’s plating. She was durable, but every dent and scratch was one he couldn’t repair without the right materials. In fact, with his benightedness, that might not even matter. Every piece of the ship was an asset he couldn’t afford to waste.

This was the third uncharted planet he had warped to. With a damaged warp drive, the Starseeker would warp continuously without any input or any way to deactivate it. The particular malfunction was referred to as “warp drift”, if he recalled correctly. A common problem with this model. Often a fatal one for any pilot, eventually. Even experienced ones.

The ship was the only constant these days. He could leave it behind, of course. Grab his gear and set up a camp outside, trying to tame the wilds of whatever unknown world he was on now. But before long, the ship would go, whether he was on it or not. The broken and battered vestige of civilization was the only thing he had left. He would almost certainly die without it.

But he was short on time. He had to find food. Fire. Collect resources. Repair the ship, if he could. And in the off chance he found any free time, familiarizing himself with the ship’s controls would never be a bad option. Luckily the last planet he had been on had lots of fresh water. He was well stocked in that regard, but every other resource was woefully lacking.

But, fate willing, he could survive. Perhaps if he found how to tame the wilds and the ship he could find a way to fix the warp drive. If he did that, he could return home. That was wishful thinking, of course.

But it wasn’t impossible.

Story — (Spark) Road to Redview

Last Edited: Jan 19 2017

 

Iruna sat on the wall, feet rocking back and forth against the concrete. He gazed outwards into the Wilds, the green treetops overwhelming the landscape. The Garnet Hills and Sinodon Peak stood further away, far to the north. Those red slopes commanded a certain authority over the Wilds. Iruna always wondered why trees didn’t grow on the mountain. They grew everywhere else, after all.

“Excuse me,” somebody called from behind him. Iruna turned to see a woman with her hair in a ponytail, wearing a uniform of light green and white. “No civilians on the wall.”

“Oh,” Iruna said, getting to his feet. “Sorry, ma’am, I didn’t know.” He started walking in the direction of the stairs when he noticed something. Or, rather, the lack of something.

He swiveled around, glancing back and forth. Not again, he thought.

“What’s the matter?” the guard asked, brow furrowed.

“Sterling’s gone! I can’t believe he wandered off again!” Iruna was frantic now, but Sterling was nowhere to be seen. He started running, but the woman stopped him by putting a gentle but firm hand on his shoulder.

“Allow me to help,” she consoled. “Midwatch is a small place. Your friend can’t have gone far. What does he look like?”

“He’s a wisp. Just a wisp. He does this all the time. I have to find him before the train to Redview gets here!”

The woman crossed her arms. “You look a little young to have your Crafter’s license.”

“I’ve had it for over a month now! But… my mom says that’s not very long. She says that’s why Sterling keeps leaving. He doesn’t listen to me all the time.”

“And where is your mother?” she scanned the immediate area.

“Oh, my parents are back at Trellin,” Iruna shrugged. “We couldn’t afford more than one ticket round trip.”

“You’re here all alone?” she looked astonished.

“No! Sterling’s here! Somewhere. Can I go? I gotta find him.”

The guard looked concerned. “Well, I …. Your wisp is probably around nearby. You’ll find him without too much trouble.”

“Thanks!” he took a hurried step forward, then stopped. “What if he went into the Wilds?”

She grimaced. “There would be at least some sort of alarm if one of the ether was outside the walls.  Besides, a tame ether beast should know better than that,” she said.

Iruna gulped and nodded. Bolting down the stairs, he was fueled by a new fear that Sterling might be in danger. He hoped she wasn’t lying.

He ran through the narrow alleyways, looking for the wisp. Buildings were always set up close together to conserve space, which meant few open areas. Midwatch really was tiny compared to Trellin, and especially Redview. It was barely a village, only housing a few hundred people. But space was always an issue when civilizations had to be confined by walls. Looking for a little ball of energy would prove difficult and may take a while through these alleys. Maybe the train would be running late.

Iruna heard shouting. It was echoing from a nearby alley. It was the best place to start.

Skirting through the last two buildings, he came to a small clearing in between the houses and the south section of the wall. He was relieved to see Sterling there, but his exaltation evaporated as soon as he recognized the situation. The little blue ball of light bobbed gently up and down, surrounded by four kids. The kids were all jeering and shouting, and in the middle of the circle, across from the wisp, there stood a tall, imposing insectoid creature, covered in armored chitin. Two arms folded behind it’s back, relaxed, but its bladed arms were raised in an aggressive posture. A chitaphract.

Sterling had found himself in a duel.

“Hey, wait!” Iruna shouted. The two nearest kids turned to him, grinning. “That’s my wisp!”

“You hear that, Raz? This isn’t some wild monster that made it past the walls!”

One of the boys addressed Iruna. He looked to be the oldest of the group, easily four years Iruna’s senior.  He broke the circle to walk over to Iruna. “Oh, yeah? What’s a runt like you doing in Midwatch?”

Iruna looked to the two ether beasts. They weren’t attacking each other. It seems he had come just in time, and the fight hadn’t begun. “I… Sterling and I are entering in the tournament in Redview tomorrow. We have to go before the train leaves!”

The other boys laughed at that. “You’re planning on entering a tournament with this wimp?” Raz smirked. “It’s not even a real monster.”

“Yes he is! Look, I don’t want any trouble. Can we just go?”

“I’ll tell you what,” Raz furrowed his brow, as if deep in thought. “We’ll see for ourselves if your wisp is worthy for the big leagues. You beat ol’ Lancer here and we’ll let you go.”

Iruna clenched his fists. He had no idea how strong the chitaphract was, and he certainly didn’t want Sterling fighting the day before the tournament, but there was nothing he could do. He could only hope Sterling wouldn’t get too worn out.

Iruna nodded. “If that’s the only way.”

Raz’s smirk widened. “Fantastic.” He returned to the circle. “Lance, I want you to destroy this thing. Don’t let up.”

“Sterling,” Iruna replied from the opposite side of the circle. “Don’t hold back.”

“Go!” Raz shouted.

The chitaphract lept forward, swinging its arms up and slicing down towards its target. Sterling dodged to the side, but Lancer spun after, bladed arms arced  at the wisp. A strike  connected, ethereal goop spraying out from the little ball of energy.

“No!” Iruna shouted as the other boys cheered.

Sterling rushed forward into the chitaphract’s face, slamming into it and making it stagger backwards. As Lancer gathered his bearings, Sterling began to glow intensely.

A radiant blue blast pulsated out of the wisp, flowing like a tidal wave in all directions.  The wave of ether was nothing more than the tug of a strong breeze to the children, but . when it connected, the chitaphract was thrown back, landing several feet away and skidding across the dirt.

After a few moments, Lancer made an attempt to get up, but lost his footing and collapsed back to the ground.

The boys were silent now. Even Iruna was speechless. Sterling had never done anything like that before.

“C… come on Sterling,” he muttered, stunned. “We have a train to catch.”

Sterling followed as Iruna backed away from the circle. None of the boys made any move to stop them.

“Are you okay?” he asked as soon as they had distanced themselves.

The wisp glowed reassuringly in reply.

They walked down the main road of Midwatch, following signs to the stairs down into the subway. “It really worries me that you wander off sometimes,” Iruna said as they descended them. “You could find yourself in a lot of trouble. We’re lucky that chitaphract had low willpower, but next time it won’t be so easy.”

The sounds of Iruna’s footsteps started echoing as they got to the underground levels. Ether lamps illuminated the subway, and dozens of people were walking this way and that. A few of them were even wearing the military uniforms of both Redview and Trellin, which was to be expected. Midwatch didn’t have its own mayor, it was technically a part of both provinces.

The train to Redview was already here. Iruna jogged up to the door where the ticket inspector stood. He pulled the ticket out of his pocket and unfolded the crumpled piece of paper. Handing it to the inspector, the man made a second stamp next to the first. “You’re just in time, we’re about to depart,” the inspector said with a charming smile. Iruna smiled back and stepped onto the train.

Most ether beasts required a separate ticket and had to sit on the stables car, but wisps were an exception, since they were so small they rarely caused any disruptions. Iruna walked down the aisle and sat down on one of the padded seats, glancing out the window to see the dark underground tunnels lit by the occasional dull blue of an ether lamp. “We’re finally going to see Redview, Sterling. Isn’t that exciting?”

He turned and saw that the wisp wasn’t behind him. “Sterling?” he repeated as he heard the doors close and the train grumble into motion.

He swung back around, frantically searching for the little wisp. When was the last time he had seen him?

Just as he started to panic, the wisp floated gently into view from above.

With a sigh of relief, Iruna sat back down in his seat. “You’re the worst,” he huffed.

Sterling glowed brightly by way of reply.