The Planes of Shah'Haien

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There are two new roleplays up and running. Namely, The Spark and World of Sylfe: The New Age
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The time of the Dark One has passed, ended by the heroism of Raducan, now renowned as both damnor and savior of this new age. However, there is a new threat looming over Sylfe. The Dark One left his taint on the lifestream, the magical force that connects all living things and blankets the entirety of Sylfe.

The lattice has fallen into the hands of the deranged sorceror Merun Al'Caar, who believes he is a God. Using this absolute power over the inhabitants of Sylfe, he has solidified humanity's dominance over the races of the Old Age. Under the misguidance of his "Triune Church," mankind and a few converts from elder races are converting the lands into what they see as "paradise" while paving the way for Merun's transcension of his human body.

In the sky, the Grim Moon looms over the lands, a sign of the Convergence, a sign of the coming end of times. Just what role the denizens of Sylfe will play in this coming end is yet unclear.
In the ravaged world of Ehvin, an ancient malevolence is once again stirring. The Maelstrom, an unnatural storm born from warring energies left behind by Ehvin's cataclysmic past is beginning to make itself manifest again. In the shadow of Ehvin's rifts, the Epimandu, vile creatures with even viler intentions are beginning to rouse from their sleep.

The Reven are growing restless and they are putting out the call for even more Spark bearers, creatures born with a natural affinity for magic. The Reven are beings of great power, but this power came at a price, they could not leave the rifts unless they found their bonded partners who can only be individuals carrying sparks. These Reven are the polar opposite of the Epimandu, they are as much a cause for the Maelstrom as they are a solution for it.

The Grim Moon also casts its shadow over Ehvin and the Convergence is doing nothing to aid in the quelling of the unnatural tempest. The tides are changing and chaos is on the horizon.
Ëthan was once a land of divine beauty, where the cycle of nature was gracefully long, and each season could take more than two decades. Ruled by the Ayalla, special beings chosen among the mortals, the harmony of this seasons lasted through millenia, and could run forever... if it wasn't the sin of selfishness. The fear of death, the eminence of oblivion, can be too much, even for the divine entities. This is the dark point, when even the best intentions, dreams and feelings, can be corrupted. Even the power of love...

After centuries under the power of an endless Winter, mortals are reuniting to fight back the tyranny; a strugle between eternity and mortality. Could they cultivate generosity enough to fight the egotism, or are they just trying to fulfill their own desire? Who is the new avatar of order...or chaos?

This is a roleplay by Kyrion. Visit the OOC at: Ëthan: The Ayalla War


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 The Riddle of Love.

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Malkuthe Highwind
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Join date : 2009-06-29

PostSubject: The Riddle of Love.   Wed Jun 09, 2010 11:37 am

The Melody

The peal of thunder tore through the sky. A searing beam of light ripped the roiling clouds asunder. Heaven shed its tears; a fine mist of liquid crystals swept every which way by turbulent gales. Among the crystalline droplets drifted a solitary feather; a feather white and fragile as a snowflake. As it journeyed peacefully downward, it dodged lighting and zephyr, only a hairsbreadth from harm.

Somewhere along its arduous journey it caught a soft but unwavering breeze. The wind carried it over lucid seas teeming with fish, expanses of forest covering everything in green far as the eye could see and airy peaks, peaks so high that they were capped with white. Above vast valleys unimaginable in length, plains immeasurable in size and lakes unfathomable in depth it drifted.

The wind carried it into an expanse of arid desert, bringing comfort to creatures in the sweltering heat. The air shimmered in the searing brightness of the desert sun as the wind played around the burning sands. Past dunes of sand, shifting giants governed by the wind was it carried. Around pillars of stone, ancient in all aspects, monuments of a once great city did the feather dance.

It heard the clangor of steel against steel. It heard the soft clinking of circlets in mail as men shouted and fought for victory in the ruined city. It bore witness to the muffled battle cries of countless mercenaries on the battle field. It heeded the cries of the dying which echoed in the heat only to be silenced as death’s cold embrace took them.

The wind finally faltered as the feather settled upon the forehead of a seemingly dead woman. Slowly, the woman regained consciousness, blinking sapphire eyes and raking thin fingers through midnight black hair. Beads of glistening sweat rolled down fair toned skin. Tapered ears twitched as she looked around in the sweltering heat.

Near her feet, she found herself staring into eternity as a piece of broken mirror reflected her face. Her features were elvish in appearance, a build of grace and strength. T’was a result of strong magic, she thought, realizing the folly of the past week’s events.

She and a small detachment of soldiers had left for the ruined city to eliminate an uprising, a rebellion. Upon the death of the old king, the city was thrown into uproar. A gaping divide was created, bordering the line between two opposing factions, the rebellion and the supporters of the rightful successor to the throne. Plotting to seize power, united under the black rose stood the rebellion. Determined to defend the throne, under the sun and dagger stood united the Knights of Arzen.

“Lady Angel, you are to lead a small group of knights to destroy the rebellion. Return only if you are victorious, otherwise, consider yourself exiled.” The woman recalled as her mind returned to the words of Lord Gabriel, crown prince of the Arzen Kingdom.

“Dear Lord! How am I supposed to destroy a rebellion with a hundred soldiers? We’re outnumbered ten to one!” exclaimed Angel as she fidgeted around, looking for her sword. She searched all over the ground near her looking for it. “Angel...” whispered a blond haired youth who suddenly appeared beside her. “Aah!!” exclaimed Angel in surprise, gasping for breath.

The youth was lean, but not muscular. His eyes were a deep green, his golden hair slick with perspiration in the sun. His fine toned forearms glistening with sweat and covered in grime. He was around Angel’s age, perhaps a year younger. “He’s handsome, not too bad...” thought Angel. Her eyes wandered downward and blushed when she realized that her sword was only at her belt.

“What are you doing here Joshua? I thought I told you to stay with the caravan.” exclaimed Angel. “Oh... uhh... nothing...” replied Joshua, displaying a mischievous grin. “Yeah right, then explain why you have blood on your arms” said Angel, returning the grin. “What? This? Oh, no it’s nothing, nothing...” muttered Joshua slowly as he saw that his cover was blown. “Ugh.. fine, you win..” continued the youth.

Angel’s eyes widened in shock as a figure loomed behind Joshua, hands raised, ready to crack Joshua’s skull open with a war hammer. Acting on instinct, Angel drew her blade; a glint of steel was evident as a sapphire blade plunged into the burly man’s throat. From the wound, crimson blood blossomed and spilled as the man drew his final breaths and collapsed.

Joshua turned around and paled as he saw the body behind him; concrete evidence that his life had almost been ended. “Maybe I should have stayed in the caravan...” said Joshua, smiling weakly and evidently shaken. “And now you try to be humorous...” sighed Angel.
“M’lady, the enemies in this area have been taken care of. I believe it is time to kill the leader of the rebellion” said a soldier, clutching a wound on his shoulder from where blood was gushing forth. “M’lady?! Did I not tell you to not call me that?! Sheesh! Men! Always getting themselves hurt” exclaimed Angel “Here, let me take care of that result of idiocy” she continued, pointing a finger at the wound and watching as the skin and muscle knitted back perfectly. “Thank you M’lady” said the soldier in gratitude as he limped away. “I told you not to call me that!” Angel shouted after the man.

Angel got on her feet and brushed the dirt off of her dress. She issued the order to proceed to the citadel, the place where the leader of the rebellion was hiding. She felt extremely tired as they began the journey towards the citadel. She barely raised her feet; this created a trail in the sand. She trudged along in a very un-ladylike manner.

The sun was beginning to set when they arrived at a square outside the citadel. The clouds were like pillows of different colors. Birds flitted through them, while the wind gently stirred the clouds. The bright setting circle making the sky streaked with a multitude of colors, creating a beautiful backdrop to an otherwise dreary and morbid day. The soldiers by then were rested, armor on the ready, but they decided to sit down and set up camp before the attempt to break into the citadel at dawn.

*** *** ***

The last rays of morning’s light began to disappear below the horizon. As the sky turned a deep hue of blue, the countryside around the capital city of the Arzen Kingdom began to rustle with activity. Twigs snapped, metal clinked, leaves stirred and voices whispered as men began to inch closer and closer to the towering walls. Rope rustled through the grassy landscape as grappling hooks were readied for an invasion of massive proportions. The land was quiet, compared to the revelry inside the city, except for the occasional twittering of a bird or movement from the soldiers. Mages, people adept at using magyk had gathered on top of a hill not far from the men.

At a signal, the mages began to weave their magyk. From the middle of their circle, a small fire flickered to life. It crackled happily and lapped at the grass daintily. The mages began to chant and the fire gained ferocity, it sent embers to the skies. The fire rose, higher and higher it went, it gained a sinuous form that oscillated as the wind blew. The end of the plume gained definition, spiraling horns and glowing ember eyes. Soon, it resembled a dragon, fierce and cunning. The guards atop the wall trembled with fear as they followed the form with their eyes.

The form detached itself from the ground and began to soar towards the walls, leaving a trail of smoke and embers behind it. It wound and twisted, it was a beautiful yet fearsome sight to behold. It ran across the perimeter of the wall, it scorched to death the sentries placed there by the rebellion. When it completed its cycle, it released a fierce roar and dissipated in a shower of molten motes. As the last residues of the burning apparition faded, a bugle blew somewhere from outside the city, signaling the beginning of the invasion.

The leaders of the invasion were the rightful heirs to the throne. They had spent weeks planning the siege, even as they had fled from the city. Two simultaneous attacks on both the rebellion’s center of power and on the capital city had been their decision. Thanks to their cunning generals it seemed as though victory was within their reach.

*** *** ***

The gray of dawn awakened the soldiers. All around the camp, the clinking of armor and the sound of swords being sheathed came. Soil was kicked over the smoldering embers of last night’s fires. All the time, the sun rose steadily higher above the horizon, morning’s grasp near at hand. The first rays of bright sunlight broke the cloud cover outside the ruined city, casting a dim light over the citadel.

The gigantic, ornamental gates of the citadel creaked noisily inward, hinges rusted by centuries exposed to the elements. Inside, the halls were dimly light, motes of dust illuminated by the still rising sun, floated along the arrow slits. Draperies, destroyed by moths and other elements, stood as a reminder of the once glorious fort. This, combined with the dim light created an eerie atmosphere, intensified by the gripping silence that hung over the entire hall. The slightest of footsteps echoed like dripping water, the clinking of chain mail, a welcome break from the terrifying silence.

Marble pillars paraded across the hallway, patterns engraved still visible under centuries of built up dust and grime. Atop the pillars stood gargoyles, crafted excellently, each crevice and curve, detailed to seem as though the stone was alive. So majestic was the citadel inside that the collapsing walls and broken chunks of ceiling that littered the floor did little to distract one from the wonders it held. The soldiers darted from room to room, hallway to hallway, checking for signs of the enemy. All was well, and Angel was getting her hopes up as the time passed and no sign of their foes were seen. That was until a soldier returned, pale and terrified to death.

*** *** ***

Wind hummed around a rope as it twirled again and again, the heavy hook at its tip lent it momentum. The iron whistled through the air as the rope spun faster and faster. The length of rope shot up its steel end glittered in the midday sun, brute hands letting the rope slide up as the coil depleted itself. Clinking across the brick at the top of the wall, the hook fastened itself, like many others on the balustrade. After a strong grip pulled on the rope to ensure its safety, it began to assist a woman on the climb.

The woman was a finely built one, her feminine figure showing through the tight leather garment she wore. Her hair, colored black as midnight, hung down as she climbed the wall. The sweat on her fair brow shimmered like tiny diamonds in the heat of the sun. Her battle-worn hands gripped the rope with strength one would not expect to see from a woman. She climbed atop the balustrade and smiled triumphantly, soon, the rightful heirs would take the throne.

Beside the woman, climbed a man, he stood at the same height as the woman. He looked around, squinting in the blinding heat of the sun. His eyes as though sapphires glittered in the light. His short, midnight black hair, glistened, for it was slick with sweat. His corded arms were at his side, his hand tightened on the hilt of his sword. With conviction he spoke “Genevieve, my queen, soon these rebels shall die, and we shall claim our throne.” The woman replied “I hope so Gabriel, but as now, fate conspires against us.”

*** *** ***

“Speak to me soldier! What happened in there? You didn’t see your mother’s ghost in there, did you?” said Angel to the frightened soldier. “N-n-n-no... m’lady... worse...” replied the soldier. “Did I not tell you to not address me that way?! And what do you mean by worse?” said Angel, evidently frustrated. The soldier’s face contorted in pure horror as the blood drained from it and he collapsed. “Probably because he was too scared of what he saw... He should come around in an hour or two. Until then, guard him with your lives.” Said Angel, growing concern clearly marked on her face.

At Angel’s command, she, Joshua and a small group of soldiers cautiously walked to the room where the soldier had gone. The door was ornate, gilded with gold, unlike any other door in the citadel. The handle was massive and well-detailed. The handle depicted a grapevine that bore a load of plump, ripe and juicy grapes, a sign that the room beyond the door was one that belonged to nobility. From behind the closed door, they heard a scream, not just any scream, but one that came from the mouth of a dying person.

*** *** ***

As Genevieve descended the spiral flight of stairs from one of the guard towers in the wall, she sensed a disturbance in the fabric of the world. She dismissed this and just hurried down, her men not far behind her. Gabriel was running down the stairs before her, legs racing to get to the ground before the alarm was rung. Genevieve knew they had not much time, and so she hurried along. Once outside, the breath rushed out of her when she saw an entire battalion waiting for them.

A stunned moment of silence wavered between the two factions, both were surprised at the presence of the other. The first to recover was Gabriel, drawing his sword and killing two men in a flash. Genevieve readied herself and began to chant wildly as she flung her magyk in every direction. Her hair flailed in the wind as bolts of lightning struck the men. The wind whistled as Gabriel attacked with speed comparable to the agile cheetah. His sword a blur as man after man fell before him. In front of Genevieve, men burned to a cinder, the earth erupted in a shower of dust and stone, the heavens split apart, roaring thunder and lightning annihilated the battalion of soldiers. In the space of a minute, the battle was over. Their allies looked on at the two, eyes glimmering with stunned, fearful awe.

*** *** ***

When the scream died down, Angel was hushed, her heart beating fast. Joshua knocked down the door, gasping in surprise as he saw what was before him. He quickly paled and looked as though he was ready to throw up. Peering inside, Angel saw hundreds of dead bodies in every corner of the room each giving off a noxious odor as they rotted. Splayed on the walls were guts, blood and other sickening objects. In the middle of the room, standing within a glowing pentagram, were three acolytes. Each drenched in blood, chanting in an insane manner. One of them looked at Angel, eyes glimmering with tears, imploring rescue as her lips moved in time with the chant. The acolytes all trembled from head to toe, as though trying to free themselves from the torment but unable to.

The pentagram became blood red and began to radiate lines of reddish light across the room. A deep, eternally dark hole appeared within the pentagram. Droplets of blood rose from the bodies, from the walls and from the floor. Soon enough, rivulets of blood began to seep towards the hole and into it. The hole grew larger, as though a creature drinking in the blood, enjoying every last drop. The acolytes’ legs buckled, they fell on their knees. Each one gave Angel one last imploring look as the flesh was stripped from their bones and even their bones fell towards the widening hole. Then, it was over, a single tear rolled down Angel’s cheek.

A hollow boom resounded across the citadel’s wall, a boom that sent a shuddering vibration across the stone walls. It sent centuries of dust and grime into the air. It created a haze that impaired vision and sent soldiers coughing. From the hole emanated a low rumble. A low growl of some sort, as though a beast lay in the clutches of the hole, feasting on the flesh that had fallen through.

Barely visible through the haze, a massive beast, gruesome even, leapt out of the hole. Its eyes, which emanated a bright crimson, allowed its face to be seen. Horrendous lines of crooked teeth that still had flesh stuck to it and a long snout that sent puffs of heated breath through the fog. Its eyes seemed as though gateways into a living hell. It roared, shaking the entire citadel. Then, it leaped, crashing through the roof and bounding away into the distance. Angel asked herself “What horror has the rebellion unleashed?”

*** *** ***

Flitting through the city’s streets as cats jumped effortlessly over rooftops, Gabriel and Genevieve worked their way towards the castle. Atop the roofs they ran, jumping over tiles and ramparts as they plowed through the rebellion’s forces. Men died screaming in agony as Genevieve’s magyk made little work of them. Others died silently, unable to react as Gabriel brought his nimble blade down on their heads, splitting apart helm and skull. The hair of both whipped around, a crazed dance as their feet were blurred in the speed at which they traveled. No man stood chance against them, no runner stood match against their speed. Soon enough, they had made it to the castle plaza.

Once there, their men followed not far behind. Their men were dressed in armor, but not heavy and blindingly bright steel. Their men wore armor made from magically imbued leather and wood. This granted them flexibility and speed that normally would be sacrificed if they wore steel armor, but provided far more protection than steel. Their men were part of an elite corps of soldiers belonging to the Dameron family, trained by Gabriel himself. They were called the “Falzen” which in the old tongue, translated into the “falcons”.

The men were greatly diminished, not in number but in energy. And they were confronted with another battalion of soldiers. The men leaped, dodged, parried and slashed, their foes fell one after the other. Some of the opponents turned tail and ran as soon as they saw the mark of the Falzen on the soldier’s arms. Soon, the battle was over, as Gabriel’s men greatly overpowered the hired mercenaries of the rebellion.

Looking up, Gabriel saw atop the highest tower of the castle a flag waving in the breeze, bearing the black rose. This was the ensign of the Vlarui family. The Vlarui was a family that vied for the throne, looking with jealousy at the Dameron family which had held the crown for over seven millenia. Gabriel smirked at the sight of this, knowing that the rebellion would be over once they were inside the castle.

Gabriel and Genevieve ascended the marble steps, instructing the soldiers to guard their backs. At the top of the stairs, Genevieve looked back and a tear rolled down her cheek, seeing almost half of the city in ruins. It seemed to her as an unfair price to pay for the sake of power.

Inside the castle, the two immediately sought out the throne room. Inside was the eldest of the Vlarui sons, Jairon. Jairon laughed, seeing the state which the two were in. “This is what the Dameron family sends against me?” he said, as he doubled over in laughter. Just then, the wall to the side of the castle burst apart. When the dust settled, a menacing black creature stood, a deep growl rumbled from its throat. “You see, fate conspires against you, it sends a creature to aid in your destruction” said Jairon, an evil smile crossing his face.

His smile faded when he looked at the creature’s evilly red eyes focused on him. It smacked its lips, as though looking at a sumptuous meal. “G-g-get away f-f-from me y-y-you beast! T-t-take them i-i-instead!” stuttered Jairon as he fell to his knees. Crawling backward with a horrified expression as the beast took a step closer to him. A sigh of relief escaped his lips when the creature seemed to sit down on the pile of rubble beneath it. This relief quickly turned into horror as the creature pounced on him, sealing his fate.

Genevieve looked at the events that unfolded before her. Her eyes brimmed with tears as she saw Jairon’s arms torn from his body and taken into the beast’s gullet. The crunch of Jairon’s bones and the sound of his blood squirting was enough to bring bile from Genevieve’s stomach into her throat as both she and Gabriel stood stunned. Soon, not one bone nor inch of flesh remained of Jairon, only a pool of blood where the eldest son of the Vlarui once stood. Even this pool of blood was drunk up by the beast that loomed menacingly over the site. The crown that was lodged in the beast’s teeth fell with a clink on the marble floor and rolled away.

*** *** ***

“Go! Go! Go! Get out of this damned place before it falls on you!” shouted Angel, voice echoing in the vastness of the citadel. She screamed wildly as she felt something slimy and wet hold on to her ankle. Looking down she saw a bloodied hand at her feet. When she saw its owner she immediately knew that it was the rebellion’s battle general. His lips formed the words “H...el....p m....e” but he was silenced by Angel’s blade as it severed his head.

“Dammit! This place is sending shivers down my spine. I told you, GET OUT!!” she bellowed at the top of her lungs when she saw a soldier idling around inside the citadel. “Yes m’lady, I will do as you wish” replied the soldier. “I told you not to call me that!” Angel shouted after the soldier. “Men these days...” she muttered. Once again, she screamed as she felt something on her foot, her look of horror dissolved into rage as she saw that it was Joshua playing a prank on her. “And here I thought you were a grown man! You and your immature behavior! And didn’t I tell you to get out already?” berated Angel. “Yes m’lady” replied Joshua, a mischievous grin splitting his face. “What did I tell you about calling me that?” said Angel, as she took a hold of Joshua’s hand and dragged him outside. Meanwhile, Joshua blushed furiously as his heart beat faster.

Outside, the two joined the others on the march back towards the city. They raised a white flag, signaling that they had succeeded in destroying the enemy. The heat of noon beat down on them, but they joyously cajoled and walked, with the knowledge that they had dealt a great blow against the enemy.

*** *** ***

Gabriel and Genevieve remained petrified in their places as the beast turned to face them. It bared its blood-stained teeth with its nostrils flaring. It stared at them, and they stared back into the hellish flames of its crimson eyes. It breathed a cloud of air at them, the foul smell made them lose consciousness. The beast dragged them away into the dungeon afterwards.

*** *** ***

Tar and brick walls stood menacingly around a large enclosed space, and a barred wooden door. Dripping water echoed eerily in the wide room, creating a puddle around one of the rusting chains. Light filtered through wooden shutters, casting a dim illumination over the dungeon. A man was bound to chains dangling from the ceiling, his brow slick with perspiration. Dark brown hair hung before eyes the color of a clear morning sky. His eyes were somber and worn, as though having lived an entire lifetime in the short span of his young life. His eyes glimmered with years of wisdom and reckoning, far beyond those of his age. His pale skin was beaded with perspiration, transparent pearls rolling down a vast pale plain. His body was fine and graceful, much like a feline that ran free across grasslands far as the eye can see. Arms were strong but not muscled, rather, finely tuned like a feline. His body had been built by years of training in both the ways of the sword and the ways of the staff. Both an excellent swordsmaster and mage, he was an important asset in the Arzen kingdom’s army. No wonder he was captured by the rebellion and drugged to prevent him from doing much damage.

Weakly, he pulled against one of the chains, but did nothing short of making them clink in the stagnant air. His mind wandered, his thoughts straying, but in one glorious moment of enlightenment, he realized that his captors had not yet given him the drug. Slowly, he breathed into one nostril and out the other. His breaths alternating from shallow to deep. And then, the lethargy that bound his body began to ease away, as though he was being pulled from a pit of quicksand. His magyk returned, and he spoke a few words in the ancient language, and lines of light shot across the chains and spider webbed across the surface. Then, the chains exploded in a cacophony of screeches and whistles, this created a fine mist of metal fragments that hung in the air, glinting as they caught the dim light. Speaking a few more words, the man’s magyk gathered the fragments into a large axe that hacked at the door. This sent splinters and larger pieces of wood flying.

The man stood up, and was unsteady on his feet. By chance he looked down and saw the puddle of water. Perfectly reflected on its pristine surface was his face. Young, handsome and fair, but it was his eyes that drew him. He saw in them a greater depth of wisdom than he knew he had. That was of little consequence for him now, with a slight limp he headed for a nearby room. Inside he saw a small table, laden with food. It seemed as though everyone had left in a hurry. He gorged himself on what was present. That was when he noticed that the prison was strangely lifeless. Looking around, he saw that everyone was dead. He didn’t know why everyone was dead, but he saw on their faces the same mottled black pattern.

He heard a hoarse voice calling “S..ir... Jo...h..n...” Frantically he looked around, fearing for the worst. He saw one of his fellow country men, the pattern spreading on his face as well. “h...el...p... m....e” pleaded the other. John placed his hands before the man, and released the healing magyk. Tendrils of blue light shot from his palms, wrapping around the ailed man. Ripples of blue light emanated wherever they touched. The light began to solidify and took the form of liquid glass which glimmered with a suffused tender blue. All of a sudden the magyk solidified as darkness spider webbed across the magic. The magyk began to shatter as the darkness worked its way towards John’s open hands. He stemmed the flow of magyk and let the incantation go, as soon as he did, the man’s heart stopped.

By chance, John once again looked down, and to his astonishment saw pulsating lines of darkness spider webbed across the floor. The intricate lattice of darkness spread as far as the eye could see. That was when John sensed a peculiar insentient evil in the area. Following his magic, John traversed the rest of the prison. He found himself descending a flight of spiral staircases into the basement of the dungeon. Soon enough, daylight was sparse and he had to use magyk to see clearly. Down there, the air was thick and seemed as though a menacing force. When he reached the bottom of the pit, he saw what seemed to be a gigantic black rock. It emanated tendrils of darkness and it seemed to be where the lattice of darkness came from. Illuminated a suffused blue by the hovering flame that floated above John’s shoulder, the stone seemed to pulsate with hatred and negative emotions. Along its length ran a crack that leaked dark magyk. John hurled a bolt of lightning at it and was amazed when the bolt was stopped in midair by an invisible barrier. Instead, John just wove a spell, creating a green substance to flood into the crack and seal the stone. When the last vestiges of the crack were filled in, the lines of darkness flashed a bright green and vanished. John knew that the seal would not last long, although he had put in enough energy to last for three years. He knew that three years was not nearly as long as he had hoped for to seal any such dark magyk. Unbeknownst to him was that within the stone, awaiting her rebirth slept an evil entity. So vast was she in her power that the very earth shook when she willed it to.

John raced up the stairs and into the searing heat of the desert sun. From the sand, he created a dome that shielded him from the intense heat, but also prevented him from seeing outside of it. The last thing he saw before darkness enveloped him was the distant glimmer of burnished steel. The last thing he heard was the cheerful parade of victors of a battle from the distance. In the darkness, he created a compass from his magic, a tiny blue arrow that pointed him in the direction to the Arzen kingdom’s capital city. Somehow, he knew that the day had only just begun.

*** *** ***

Angel and her men looked around in surprise and worry as they felt that the sand beneath their feet had begun to shift. A slow rumble was heard near the group. One of the soldiers looked back to the ruin and paled as he saw a massive cloud of sand rushing towards them, at its head was a great bulge that seemed as though the head of a gigantic sand worm as it attempted to break the surface. Angel’s men steeled themselves for what was to come, but the dome simply passed them, and the cloud of sand made them go coughing haphazardly.

*** *** ***

John neared the marble walls of the capital city. He made his way in the direction of the palace. He broke through the gigantic metal gate which exploded inward with a flash of blue light. The dome of sand, no longer of any use to him, melted into the earth. John leaped into the air, and muttered a few words of magyk. As he remained suspended in the air, time seemed to slow as the magyk took effect. Tendrils of flame gently wrapped around his feet, lapping gently at the tender flesh. The flame did not hurt him, it continued to wrap around his legs up to his thighs. Then they slowly turned blue and time returned to its normal pace.
John shot through the air with a deafening bang as he used the flame to propel himself through it. Fruit, insects, small carts, flying papers and the like were all incinerated as John flew towards the castle. John stopped for a moment as he sensed the presence of evil within the castle. He pressed onward, knowing that if Genevieve and Gabriel were there, they would be in peril. As he reached the palace wall, he stretched out his hand and blasted his way into the throne room.

*** *** ***

A muffled explosion and a small shower of rocks and sand woke Gabriel. Slowly, he opened his eyes, and looked around. When his vision cleared, he saw that he was in a dungeon cell. He looked on in dismay as he saw there was no easy chance of escape. He realized that slumped against him was Genevieve, still clad for battle. Her face, however, was set in peaceful repose, beautiful even in the dim light, growing ever brighter as her slow breathing showed that she was sleeping serenely.

Slowly, Genevieve regained consciousness and looked at her husband with a concerned smile. She queried “What is it my love? You look troubled.” Gabriel simply nodded in response. Genevieve’s eyesight cleared and even her beautiful smile was wiped off her face when she saw where they were. “Where are we?!” She screamed, terror gripping her beautiful features. Gabriel then told her what had happened. He smiled at her and her fear seemed to simply slide away. Unbeknownst to Gabriel, it was because she had sensed the presence of an old friend in the castle.

*** *** ***

John wove his compass spell again. This time, it pointed to Gabriel’s location. It led him to the flight of stairs into a dungeon. He was ready to go down and rescue the two when he saw the entranceway of the stairs. It was crackling with flames and lighting. It seemed as though the gateway to hell. He opened his mind and pried around the magyk that sealed the gateway. To his surprise, it was a primitive, instinctual form of magyk, but behind it lurked a dark and eerie intelligence, one that belonged to a born killer. This heightened his concern for Gabriel and Genevieve. Slowly, he began to fray the magyk that stood in his way.
After a few more minutes, the searing flames and the crackling bolts had dissipated into the air. John made his way down the flight and upon reaching a bolted dungeon door, blew it open with his own fire.

*** *** ***

Outside, in the capital city, Genevieve’s men facilitated a massive exodus. They knew that the real battle was just about to begin. They told the people that when the bugle blew, they will be able to return to the city. When the citizens had fled into the countryside, the men steeled themselves for war.

Over the horizon, Angel’s men were seen. They waved the white flag of victory overhead. Genevieve’s men waved the flag of Arzen in return. The two parties began to travel toward the gate but were surprised to see the gate blown open by magyk. Luckily, Angel could see who had cast the spell, and with great joy announced that it was by John. The knights rejoiced, but their smiles slipped when in the distance, trumpeting its arrival, they saw the battle standard of the black rose as it rippled in the breeze.

*** *** ***

John easily found the cell where both Gabriel and Genevieve were. Upon seeing both staring wide eyed at him. He immediately broke down the cell door. The two remained speechless at the arrival of their unexpected savior. However, one of them was simply faking it. Faced with the promise of freedom, Gabriel spoke softly “Thank heavens, John, you’ve saved us!”

Soon as the two left the cell and stepped out into the dimly lit corridor, a pair of glowing red eyes appeared at the opposite end. A low, menacing growl emanated as yellowish teeth were bared in a snarl. The creature advanced, its claws clicked on the stone floor. When it stood just a few feet away, all of a sudden, it stopped in its tracks as a sweet melody echoed down the corridor. The air glimmered with magyk; specks of light suddenly began dancing all around the three. The melody grew stronger, louder and gained tempo. It began to take on the form of a war song. The light began to dance frenziedly and they began to attach to the beast. The beast was burned wherever the specks landed. It began to shy away from the source of the song, who turned out to be Genevieve.

The song soon reached its climax and the specks of light gathered around the beast. Extremely weakened by the proximity of the strong magyk, the beast uttered something that was barely audible and sounded like a corrupted version of a human tongue. It sputtered “Y...u sh...l pa... Y..u.. e..d ...s n..ar... T..e p...h...y w...ll ...e ful...il..d!” Strangely, it seemed that only John had heard this. When the song finally ended, the beast was dead, and all that remained was a pile of scorched bones. The specks of light drifted slowly away and dissipated.

John never mentioned the beast’s last words to the two. He barely even thought about doing so when the two finally ascended to the dais before the throne. Gabriel picked up the crown from where it had rolled off. Genevieve retrieved the diadem that sat upon the queen’s throne. Upon laying their hands upon the solid gold symbols of monarchy, the crowns glowed and even the grime and blood that encrusted the king’s crown were forcefully expelled by centuries old magyk. The kingdom had once again found its worthy rulers, proven by eons of magyk set upon the crowns. The happy moment was ruined, however, by the blaring of the horns of war from afar.

*** *** ***

Angel saw Genevieve, Gabriel and John as they hurried down the marble steps of the palace. She informed the three that the battle at the ruins was a success, but she also informed them that the Vlarui house had assembled a formidable army and was ready to once again lay siege upon the city. The four immediately went to the stable and saddled their horses; John on his pure white stallion Talen which meant light in the ancient language, Genevieve on her dappled mare Aroral which meant grace, Gabriel on his black warhorse Geran which meant courage, Joshua on his brown stallion Falem which meant compassion and Angel on her mare Shera which meant love.

The four, along with their men rode to meet the advancing foes. It was midday when the two factions came face to face. House Vlarui sent a messenger to negotiate, but Gabriel refused. “For your infidelity to the kingdom’s cause, I the newly anointed king, brand each and every one of you as rebels. Let those in doubt leave now and be granted innocence.” He proclaimed, but no one moved. He continued “Then as such be thy will. We shed blood at dawn!” Both parties retreated and set up camp, each side unwilling to show weakness. The soldiers and the four leaders waited agonizingly as the sun made its way across the sky. Sounds of preparations for war resounded throughout the camp; whetstones being dragged across blades, armor being polished and horses whinnying. Overhead, the clouds of war gathered. The squawking of ravens drifted downward and aggravated the tense atmosphere in the camp.

The sun set and the darkness was absolute, with the exception of the full moon, each man allowed himself what sleep he could muster. John stood guard over the entire camp; the moon cast its beautiful light upon his pale white cloak. The moon’s light surrounded him in a nimbus of colors, making him a glorious spectacle to behold. From the light, he channeled energy into the sapphire encrusted hilt of his sword. From the stones, he drew strength and thus, needed no further sleep. His eyes, however, were out of focus. His mind dwelt on memories of a childhood that had seemed so far away. He was young, yes, but he thought he’d been through most of what one could ever go through in the course of his entire life. His mind dwelt on the love he had fought for and by his own fault, lost.

Angel lay awake in a patch of grass. Beside her, a small white flower wavered in the breeze. Its petals glowed softly in the moon’s pale light. In her mind roiled thoughts of Joshua. She knew not why, she knew not at all. All she had in mind was that ever since they were children, she had known that they shared something more than just friendship but Joshua had become distant. They had both grown up, different families, different backgrounds. If there was something Angel knew however, it was that Joshua meant something special to her.

In his makeshift tent, Joshua tossed and turned, unable to sleep. Around his arm was an ivory armlet imbued with magyk. His father had given it to him as a child and reassured him that no matter how big he got, it would always fit him. It came as a comfort, now that his father was gone. It had been years since his family had left him alone in the world. Being the only child of aged parents, he had known the time will come. He longed for their loving presence once again, but knew he cannot have it back. He was puzzled though, why he found peace and warmth around Angel. Ever since they were children, he had thought of her fondly. He suddenly spoke out loud “Dear Lord, I might be in love!” He pondered what he had just said and blushed when he knew it was true. He seriously considered telling Angel, but that was when fear gripped him. He thought that one way or another, Angel didn’t think the same way about him. He thought that the other would just plain hate him if he did so. Little did he know, Angel felt the same way about confessing to him.

Genevieve sat bolt upright in the tent she shared with Gabriel. Light filtered through the hole at the top. The moonlight illuminated the pendant she wore around her neck. It was fashioned of a greatly detailed carving in ivory, with an inset sapphire in the center. The carving was made with extreme precision and beauty, when the moonlight hit it just right, the miniature leaves, vines and other such things seemed to move in a petrified breeze. It was from a love she had shared once, long ago, but she had lost it. She loved Gabriel, but only as a brother, it was upon her request that he had married her. She knew that Gabriel needed someone close to him to guide him when he finally took the throne. She knew that Gabriel only felt the same way about her. She turned the sapphire in her hand, it glinted in the moonlight. Her eyes filled with sorrow, she missed the love she once had sorely, but if it was for the good of the nation, she would stay with Gabriel. She knew it was also for the good of her past love. A single tear rolled down her cheek.

Gabriel saw Genevieve, sitting in the patch of grass not far from the blankets he had strewn over the floor to make things comfortable. He knew that she was deep in contemplation; she liked to do such things when the moon was full. He was her husband, but he did not want to disturb her. He loved her, but only as sister. After all, it was by her whim that he had married her. He knew that he needed Genevieve’s experience in ruling. She was descended from the royal family, but was no direct relative of Gabriel’s. She had once ruled a faraway kingdom, but she was truly of Arzen descent. It was her homeland and she had returned to it not too long ago.

He took out from under the folds of his garment the ivory dagger his mother, the late queen, had given him. The ivory shone in the moonlight, its pale sheen illuminated his face. He had been searching for love, and was unsure of whether or not he would find it. Genevieve had told him “Worry not, the moment I am gone, you will find the person for you.” He trusted her, but his mind was full of doubts. He did not want to die without descendants. He did not want Arzen to be torn apart once more because of greed for power. As he contemplated on what to do, he felt Genevieve lie down beside him. Soon afterward, he himself drifted off to sleep.

The light of dawn broke upon the weary men. The low drumbeat of war resounded through the camp. With increasing vigor, the camp began to buzz with activity. Soon enough, the small army was ready for war. They topped the crest of the nearby hill and saw the enemy there as well. A messenger began to ride, but John took one soldier’s spear, imbued the spear tip with flames and flung it at the man. The horse reared and dropped the messenger as he scrambled for safety when the spear landed and exploded on impact with the ground. “What did you do that for?!” exclaimed Angel. “There’s no use negotiating, when Gabriel says we shed blood, we shed blood!” replied John. Angel shied away, noticing a revived ferocity in his eyes.

The ground thundered with the pounding of hooves and feet as both armies met. Gabriel’s men seemed extremely outnumbered, but foe after foe fell before them. John was taken down early on in the battle. He stayed with Genevieve instead, working on his wounds. He berated himself for being so weak and vowed to become stronger. The battle wore on, and losses were astounding on both sides. That was when the opponent released their mages. Bolts of lightning descended from the heavens and the earth split open beneath the Arzen’s feet. Genevieve created a dome of magyk that prevented the enemy mages from attacking. Gabriel roared “Retreat!” and the men did so. Only John and Genevieve were left on the battlefield. Gabriel looked back and said to Genevieve, do what you must. John then stood in front of the dome and began to chant. Tendrils of energy emanated from his sword, and were absorbed into the space between his open palms. A blue sphere of magyk then spun in the air. John raised his hands and the sphere vanished. A single dot of light appeared on the ground in the middle of the oncoming opponents. John commanded Genevieve to be ready to shield him and everyone else on their side from the enormous power. The single dot exploded into a sigil of ancient roots. Glowing and pulsating with the essence of life itself. As it continued to grow, plants around the area began to wither and die.

The life force of the vegetation provided energy for the ticking bomb. The horses whinnied as the lines of light continued to pulsate. John collapsed, Genevieve expanded the barrier and all hell broke loose. In a single flash of light, the entire landscape around them had turned into barren desert. The magyk released seeped into the ground beneath their feet. Even the ground behind the barrier was devastated. The barrier had only protected human life. The entire army of the enemy was annihilated. Their battle standard stuck in the middle of a lifeless expanse, the cloth charred and tattered. It rippled in the harsh and arid wind, symbol of a titanic display of magyk. Such was the price of greed for power and it was a heavy expense to pay.

Soon, the entire party returned to Arzen, the bugle was sounded and the people returned. On the day of his coronation, Gabriel stood before the people, face solemn and eyes filled with pity. The crowd was tired and insatiable, thus deafening noise filled the plaza of the castle. Upon a balcony that overlooked the plaza, Gabriel was crowned king, with Genevieve as his queen.
He spoke to the people “I come before you today, your newly anointed king. I speak before you, however, not as one above you, but as one among you. The city has taken incredible losses. Lives have been sacrificed. Families have been torn apart, friendships ripped asunder. I have been there, through everything you had. I have been there, with the best interests of the people at heart. It will be difficult, but no matter what fate throws at us, we will be ready. I know, you have lost so much. You have little if not nothing at all left. The city lies in ruins, the people’s spirit in shambles. But we will stand up! We will restore what was lost! We will fight for our freedom! But most of all, we will fight for each other! Let brotherhood and friendship reign in the city. Help and be ready to accept help. Swallow your pride and start anew. Perhaps someday, the glory of the Arzen Kingdom will rise once more!”

The crowd stood in deafening silence. The king’s words working their way into their hearts. Slowly, they broke into applause. Slowly, the chanted “Long live King Gabriel! Long live Queen Genevieve!” Gabriel smiled as he saw the people’s eyes filled with hope. The Arzen Kingdom was rising anew from the ashes of the old age. Now was the beginning of a new age of peace and prosperity.

Time passed and slowly, the capital city was regaining its former splendor. People lived with smiles on their faces. They lived for each other, as true brothers. Each helped and gave their neighbor. Such was the happiness in the city. Soon it was completely restored and it was more than what it was before.

It wasn’t long however before his failure on the battlefield caught up to John. He decided that it was time to spend time in the distant city of the elves to train. That very same day, he began his journey. Joshua, Angel, Gabriel and Genevieve, all gathered at the city gate to wave him goodbye. The sky was dark and the rain was pouring. It did little to hide the fact that tears were streaming down Genevieve and Angel’s faces. As John rode over the horizon, the heavens split open and light shone on his path. A sweet melody was heard and two feathers alighted upon the open palms of Joshua and Angel. Soon enough, the sky was once again clear, and the air of happiness hung over the city once again.

Not long after John, Genevieve also disappeared. Gabriel wasn’t concerned because he knew that she was very capable of defending herself. The city enjoyed its era of peace and prosperity. The people looked forward to the brightness of tomorrow. This was what they had always desired in their deepest thoughts and they had attained it. Simply thinking about this could bring the smile to anyone’s face. They thought evil would simply walk away from their lives. But alas! How wrong they were to think that way. The desert around the prison which John had escaped from shook with frenzied, evil laughter. This was just the beginning. Fate still had much in store for the people of Arzen and the people who lead them.
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PostSubject: Re: The Riddle of Love.   Sun Jun 20, 2010 9:32 am

Three Years and a Warning

The sun shone brightly upon the path taken by John three years past. Faded horse prints marred the compact surface. Years of heavy use had flattened the trail. A cool wind blew in, carrying with it the scent of a refreshing spring day. Sure enough, clouds had gathered across the distant horizon. The wind blew once more and with it was a slight drizzle. The droplets of water threw up miniature dust clouds that rose from the beaten path. Countless trips by everything from carriages to human feet had extinguished all signs of life upon the parched surface. The clacking of horse hooves in the distance echoed eerily in the countryside.
In the distance were snowcapped mountains that rose from a landscape of rolling hills and verdant plains. Upon the airy peaks, clouds embraced the earth. The first rains of spring were arriving. They served to renew the land that was cleansed by the frigid winter. Every here and there, daisies sprouted and grass covered the land.
A cool breeze wafted into a finely furnished room in the rain manor. Light filtered into the room and cast everything in its brass glow. With it was the scent of newly furrowed earth and rain beaten ground. The smells of the countryside did little to calm troubled spirits; least they can do is allow clarity of mind. Angel inhaled the wonderful scent, lavishing in the freshness of the air. Her rapidly beating heart slowed from its breakneck pace.
Sapphires turned skyward as a pallid mask looked up. The deep blue jewels watched in awe as the first drops of rain fell. Her chest rose and fell rhythmically, as though in a trance. The soft breathing of her companion was barely audible amongst the cacophony of sounds that at that moment erupted from the hunting grounds.
Angel sat upon the windowsill of exquisite marble. Her tender skin rested upon carvings of vines so lifelike that they seemed to shiver in a petrified breeze. Her delicate lips moved out of whimsy, they spoke “What beauty does the rain bring? That of renewed life the hills sing. That of fresh water cry the rivers and that of cool air the trees quiver.” The other woman barely looked up from her embroidery and said. “Lines of the great poets m’lady? I see you’ve taken after your mother. Indeed m’lady, the spring rain brings about beauty unseen elsewhere. But m’lady, is it not awkward that a frozen rain plunges the world into ice but the spring rain thaws it out? An awkward beginning if I say so myself m’lady…” Angel cocked her head when the other woman trailed off and descended into a fit of silence.
As though freed from a trance, she said “Does he love me back?” The other almost dropped her needle, startled by the question. Slowly, she mouthed, choosing her words carefully “Of course m’lady… Why don’t you just try to tell him?” “R-r-rikki! Are you saying that just because you’re my maid and that your salary depends on it?” stammered Angel, flushing a violent shade of red as she glared indignantly at Rikki for the directness of the question. Rikki simply raised her eyebrow and said “Of course not m’lady… My liege… Why don’t you confess how you truly feel?” “W-w-why? Well… because he’ll hate me… Or so I believe,” stuttered Angel. “How confident are you m’lady?” replied Rikki. Angel waved away the curtsied title for she no longer opposed it. Unsure of an answer, she simply spilled the first thing that came to mind.
“Well… he’s grown oh-so distant!” said Angel, obviously harassed. “I don’t think that would be a valid excuse. I do believe he did not state that he hated you personally,” replied Rikki. “But…but…” said Angel as the words faltered in her mouth. Her face turned a brilliant pink at Rikki’s words. She raised an eyebrow when Rikki scoffed in an I-told-you-so manner. Angel’s face flushed deeper when in the moments of awkward silence as she stared dreamily outside the window, Rikki giggled.
*** *** ***
Enormous trees towered around a hardly visible path. Light filtered through the dense net of branches and cast the forest floor in a dim amber glow. This gave the impression of a perpetual and unchanging sylvan twilight. The dew on the grass created freshness in the air that contributed to the cool of the forest shade. The twittering of birds echoed eerily in the forest but created a calm atmosphere in the tiny clearing. The last remaining embers of a long-doused fire crackled merrily beside a gurgling brook that added to the tranquil ambiance. In the distance, the clacking of horse hooves against the occasional stone echoed across the dimly lit forest.
A white horse trotted along the forest floor. Its coat shimmered in the amber light. Motionless atop it was a rider clothed in white. Strangely, no apparent grime was evident on either, even if the dense canopy provided little space for cleanliness. Both resembled a pristine speck of white in the thick greenery. The rider stirred for a moment his eyes scanned the ground. Not far off, a river could be heard. Rapids that churned the waters white crashed through boulders embedded in the riverbed. The hiss of the breakneck current hitting the rocks was a welcome break from the ambient silence. Sure enough, both rider and steed came upon the source of the sound. It soon became apparent that the river was too wide, its depth too deep and its current too fast to cross. Both seemed to trot away, downcast.
“Talen, Jump!” came the command. White stallion reared and broke into a gallop and stopped just short of the bank to launch itself into the air. The fine spray lapped at the horse’s hooves. Light as a feather, the horse landed on the opposite bank and effortlessly trotted on.
The dense foliage began to thin out and Talen, smelling the fresh air burst through the forest and stopped short of a cliff side. The rider dismounted, heaved a heavy sigh and set his sights upon a small manor in the distance. Just then, the sun broke through the clouds that had, by then, gathered. Its light revealed the true grandeur of the Arzen Kingdom. Rolling hills, snow-capped mountains, roaring rivers and majestic plains lay majestic upon the landscape. The beauty of the kingdom shone a mark of the change it had undergone in his three year absence. The wind blew around his cloak and revealed a sapphire encrusted hilt that glinted in the sunlight.
*** *** ***
A young man lay on his cot, surrounded by thick gray walls of brick and tar. Light barely penetrated the wooden slats of the closed window. His shirt laid cast off to one side and his bare chest heaved in the darkness. Enveloped by the shadow his mind roiled with thoughts of Angel. He knew that one way or another, he would have to confess to her, but his thoughts told him that Angel would hate him for doing so. He stared at the blank ceiling and heaved a sigh. Just then, the door creaked inward and light flooded into the room. Deep green eyes squinted at the sudden brightness and were barely able to distinguish the figure that stood in the doorway.
The voice came, thick and rich with experience “Still dwelling on thoughts of your beloved, aren’t you Joshua?” Sure enough, when Joshua’s eyes adjusted, he immediately recognized the silhouette that stood in doorway. The familiar brown eyes, scrawny hair and thin arms unmistakably belonged to his mentor and friend. The other man was just a few years older than Joshua but seemed as though he’d lived through his entire life.
His mentor and close friend sat at the edge of Joshua’s cot. Joshua was thankful for the darkness that shielded his rapidly reddening face. He was burning up with passion, passion which he mistakenly took as a forbidden one. The shadows, however, did little to hide the childish grin on his mentor’s face. Joshua finally spoke and mouthed “Well… perhaps?” The reply hung in the air, an unspoken answer bouncing around in Joshua’s head. The other simply raised his eyebrow at the green-eyed youth, evidently, he too knew the answer. “Joshua, you do know that I have been with you for some time now. No more than a fortnight ago, you were bawling, screaming at the top of your lungs your devotion to Angel. I suggest you do a better job the next time you wish to deceive me,” was the other man’s response. Joshua turned a few more shades of red and realized that the room had become stiflingly hot.
“Santiago… well, if you must really know. Yes, it is the very thought of her that sends my heart running for the hills! Her beautiful blue eyes, her silky black hair and that kind personality…” went Joshua’s slow response. “You mean to say I am correct?” asked Santiago. “Indeed, O-master-of-all-arts, all-knowing-and-wise,” replied Joshua with sarcasm and a mischievous grin. “I believe I am dead serious young man, what makes your heart beat for Angel anyway?” said Santiago sternly. “You’re not so old yourself,” replied Joshua as he waved away the question. Joshua insisted that he was fine, but Santiago simply heaved another sigh.
*** *** ***
Over the horizon, a glorious last ray of sunlight shone. It cast the sky in a multitude of colors. Opalescent clouds rolled with hues in the myriad of shades above. The rapidly dimming light created an atmosphere of awe over the land of grandiose and beauty. The crimson glow bathed a small room. In burnished bronze, the words “Maid’s Quarters” were emblazoned on a small plaque above the Cyprus door. A quick look around gave on the impression of a simple living. A sink, closet, mirror, bed and lone chair gave the idea of a quaint lifestyle. On the contrary, the woman who sat on the windowsill beside the bed was one with a complex life. Looking to the horizon, she sighed as she recounted her conversation with Angel earlier on in the day. An embroidery hoop with a half-finished pattern lay discarded in one corner. It seemed as though its crafter had gotten lazy in the middle of making the design. Upon the solitary chair stood an unlit candle, around its base a pool of hardened wax. The woman’s eyes widened when she spotted a deep blue glint in the distance. Recognition washed over the young woman’s face.
Her heart pounded, it had been quite a while since she last saw that glint. The last vestiges of the sun’s golden hair retreated upon the rolling plains. Beads of silver rolled down the woman’s face as the claws of shadow engulfed the room. The candle was engulfed in darkness.
A voice sweet, strong and melodic drifted from somewhere in the darkness. “Perhaps Arzen would do well to see its queen once more,” softly came the whispered words. The lone candle flickered into life. It bore witness to an already empty room. A cold wind swept in and blew the tiny flame out.
*** *** ***
Bars of brass light illuminated a kingly bedchamber. Its luminosity shone upon motes of dust floating in midair. The marble floors were frigid and they gleamed like polished mirrors. The walls of purest white were streaked with black obsidian. Massive draperies hung upon them, each depicting a different chapter of the world’s creation. The two deities that fought to bring the world to existence were shown in exquisite detail. The malevolent being, Faith and the benevolent benefactor Doubt. Only the kings of the Arzen kingdom knew the true tale beyond the origin of the words “faith” and “doubt.” Most found irony in their roots.
A massive bed lay in the middle of the chamber. Annexed to the room were a study and a closet. The bed’s sheets were made and creaseless. Nothing disturbed the pristine blankets but a sword and a shield that lay upon the mattress.
The crown was finely wrought in pure gold. Etched upon it were laurels that were so majestically crafted that they seemed real. The gold and etching showed a surreal landscape that caught the eye. Slender curls and thin wires paraded along the top of the crown. Each facet of the symbol of power was crafted with much skill and artistry that they seemed to come to life. The light was caught in the crevices and made the leaves appear as though blown by a petrified breeze. Set in the glittering field of yellow was a deep green emerald. Colors rolled across its surface as light was caught in it.
The sword was made with unearthly grace. The blade was thin enough to slide through ribs, but tough enough to hack through armor. It glittered silver in the morning light and created a surreal atmosphere. The hilt was of purest emerald, imbued with strength from magyk. Around the emerald coiled glittering serpents of gold, their lengths intertwining to make a sort of mesh. Set at the base of the blade was a massive onyx. The depth of the black gemstone seemed to pull in the very light. Set upon the pristine blade was the symbol of the Arzen Empire.
A cool breeze carried the misty cerulean windows inward and slightly disturbed the tapestries that hung upon the walls. It swept from the open balcony that overlooked the imperial gardens. A man stood upon the marble overhang. His youthful face was marred with years of tiresome work. His eyebrows met in a dark V as worry rolled across the pallid features. His sight was set upon the gnarled tree that stood in the middle of the sylvan expanse. Around its base lay a mass of brown. Its branches were thin and lifeless, the few leaves that remained shivered at the slightest wind.
Around its base was a rapidly drying pond. Already, the banks were becoming barren and cracking. Clinging to a final lifeline, a swath of frogspawn near the left bank began to dry like a desert. The very stalk of the reed it clung to had started sagging. The water was brown and muddy.
The man’s face grew ever more concerned. His mind was a chaotic sea of emotion. His lips moved as he invoked a blessing of bounty upon the tree and pond. From the plump rubies, a plume of green fog issued. It drifted down and circled the affected life. Slowly, the pond began to clear, froth returned to the frogspawn and the reed stood proudly once more. Shoots of green erupted from the ground around the tree as the spent light-catchers sank into the earth. The gnarled trunk took on a new, lively sheen. The branches burst into a cacophony of squeaks and rustlings as they exploded into a sea of green leaves and white flowers. A single flower dropped and rippled the pond’s now crystalline surface.
The man spoke “The corruption is spreading faster, only time will tell when it will erupt. A cure must be found soon, otherwise, we must vacate the kingdom. If we don’t we’ll die…” With the flap of a cloak, he turned back. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a familiar blue glint. Immediately, he commanded that preparations be made for the arrival of an important guest.
*** *** ***
The twang of an arrow being released exploded into the silence that enveloped the small clearing. All around, trees towered and created a green expanse far as the eye could see. Lonely caws resounded from the forested depths. The arrow whizzed through the cool air. The shaft rapidly oscillated as it carved its path through the lofty barrier. The thwack of an arrowhead burying itself in a wooden trunk further broke the already shattered silence and sent a few aves to the hills.
The clacking of horse hooves followed the sound of hollow applause. A dappled mare trotted from the edge of the clearing. The man atop it said “Angel, let us return to the mansion. I must get back to the fort before nightfall.” “Of course Santiago, but if you may, leave me a few moments of silence,” replied the fair skinned lady. “You have improved much in archery since last we met, but it seems to me that there is something bothering you,” stated Santiago, concern in his voice. “Santiago…” replied Angel with a warning tone. “If you wish not to talk about it, then so be it. Just know that you may approach me if need be,” said Santiago, unwilling to pursue the topic further.
The two rode out of the woods together and set their sights for the mansion in the distance. The landscape was green and hilly. The road was beaten and dirty. Above, the sun gleamed in the flawlessly blue sky. Sparse patches of clouds hung still in the lofty domain. A single eagle cawed up high; its shriek pierced the very silence. It swooped down, aiming for a nearby hill. Angel saw the opportunity, knocked an arrow and let it loose. She was too focused on the whizzing of the shaft through the air to hear the high pitched whistle that blasted from the distant side of the hill.
A few inches short of the bird’s exposed breast, a fair hand caught the arrow. The shaft was barely splintered and was as pristine as ever. The eagle cooed happily and landed on the yet unseen visitor’s shoulder. For a few moments, only the lone clopping of horse hooves was heard. The top of a white stallion’s head and its mare rested regally upon the stately expanse of white. When the stallion topped the hill and the rider became fully clear, Angel gasped in surprise.
Angel dismounted her dappled mare and ran to the rider. Tears brimmed in her eyes as she ran up the hill to the rider. Before she got there though, the rider raised his hand and said. “Angel, let us talk later. I will meet you at the mansion,” with that, the man galloped towards the mansion. Angel walked back towards her steed and placed her foot in the stirrup. She looked at Santiago; her eyes bore a puzzled look. With nary a word uttered, both rode towards the stately house in the distance
Horse hooves clacked upon the stone of the stable yard. A ways off was a white stallion, its mane was being combed and a bag of fodder hung from its muzzle. Angel dismounted and patted the majestic beast upon the crown. The white neighed happily and looked at Angel with sparkling eyes. Santiago dismounted as well and beckoned for her to enter the mansion already. Inside, a young man was waiting; he stood immediately upon Angel’s entrance.
“Angel! How joyous is it to see you once more!” the man cried out in joy. Angel ran to him and gave him a warm hug. “John! It has been years! Welcome back!” she said. Santiago followed and gave John an embrace as he patted the other man’s back like a brother that was reunited with his long lost sibling. “Welcome back old friend,” said Santiago as a smile split his face.
“You seem… taller,” remarked Angel. John smiled at her, his face beaming in the presence of dear acquaintances. “We have much to talk about Angel. Us as well, Santiago,” he uttered. “I fear I might not be around long, I must begin the journey back to the capital. I am expected at the fort before nightfall,” replied Santiago expression turning impeccably serious. He left after paying a few more curtsies to the guest. “He may be hiding something,” thought John, but he simply shrugged it off. He looked at Angel who immediately understood the let-us-talk-later-after-I-freshen-up stare that he flashed at her.
*** *** ***
The wind blew in Santiago’s face as he made for the capital city. The cool breeze threw his hair in disarray. His mind was chaotic, his heart was beating fast. John had arrived, he thought fondly but also with growing dread. His only true pillar in need, John had left three years past to train with the elves. Some considered him dead for it was nigh impossible to locate the lofty elven cities. Now that he had returned, the implications were immense.
Santiago had grown up with John, and as so, became his closest friend. In times of need or emotional stress, he had always found solace in John’s word. The security which John had offered vanished when he had gone to the forests. Now that John had returned, Santiago felt relieved as the tension in his gut began to unwind. But Santiago couldn’t keep from dwelling upon what had brought John back. In the back of his mind, he knew something dire was about to happen. His thoughts went unperturbed for a moment. They were only disturbed when the grating of the iron portcullis against stone signaled his arrival at the fort.
*** *** ***
“Rikki? Rikki? Rikki! Now where has that woman gone?” shouted Angel. Her maid, Rikki had all of a sudden vanished. The last time that Angel had set sights upon the woman was when Rikki had scoffed after an embarrassing conversation. After an arduous search, Angel gave the cause up as impossible. She tossed her hair back angrily as she dragged her feet into her room. She stormed into her dressing chambers and threw the closet doors open. She dressed in as fine attire as she could manage by herself. Through all this her mind tossed and turned with a thousand questions for John.
*** *** ***
While John was waiting for Angel, he slipped into a trance. In this state, he found a dream. He was walking in a verdant forest, clearly alone, yet he felt as though eyes bore upon his back. He looked around hoping to find some company, but the only thing that looked up at him was a lone squirrel.
Bars of light shot through holes in the canopy and illuminated motes of dust in the air. The forest was tranquil, but John sensed a tension in the air, as though the forest was poised for an attack. Just then, an elf appeared in front of him. It emanated high pitched laugh as it darted through the trees. His eyes followed the delicate curves of the body as it played along the forest grounds. Its amber hair swept every which way as it ran through the foliage.
Like every other elf, feathers adorned its fair crown. They weren’t simply put there; they grew upon the same spot like hair. Only a feather or two grew upon an elf’s crown, it was rare to find an elf with three. Their features bore a feline look, one aggravated by the tail they possessed. Their knuckles were matted with a bed of soft fur. If an elf is undressed, their finely sculpted bodies had beautiful fur growing in places. An elf seemed like a strange animal, but they put everything together so perfectly, that no matter what combination of beast they were, they looked beautiful and flawless nonetheless.
John chased the elf through the forest, but to no avail. She was simply too fast. The swishing of her tail and the high pitched echo of her laugh haunted him as he struggled to find his elven mark. Just as he was about to give up, he stumbled upon a clearing. There, the elf was sitting on a log, playing with some critters.
The elf looked at him with shockingly purple eyes. It spoke, but not with the voice of a youngling. It spoke in a voice deep and ancient, full of wisdom and knowledge. It said “I am the oracle of D’ameran and my soul resides in the body of the youngest elf. John, the time you spent with my kin has taught you many things and prepared you for even more. But do not be fooled, nothing can prepare you for what is to come. I speak courage and nobility upon your people, bring this message to your queen. Tell her that the time has come for a change,” As the girl finished her message, her eyes turned stormy gray. And the innocence of a child shone in them.
Just then, flames shot past John’s vision and the forest was turned into a vast burning plain. In the distance, two mighty entities stood. One was a woman. She had tattered clothes and an evil cackle. The other was a man. He was dressed in full armor that shone like the sun. John thought that the two were Faith and Doubt, the old gods that created the world. They fought as evil fought light. But their war was one between truth and falsity. Faith was the woman while Doubt was the man.
John then witnessed an astounding display of power. An old, shriveled hag then pulled at the two. The two fought with all their might against the crippling strings, but were unable to. They sank onto their knees before the hag. She issued a strange, evil laugh that made the air shiver and the ground shake in fear. She looked at John with evil, delirious eyes and a tingle of fear ran down his spine. Just as she was about to destroy him, he was pulled out of his dream. He broke out in a cold sweat, and the last thing he heard was his name being called.
*** *** ***
“John! Arise!” commanded Angel sternly as the other man appeared asleep. He even seemed unconscious for a time being. She heaved a sigh of relief when John stirred from his slumber. He then awoke, squinting in the sunlight. “So tell me John, what has brought you back to our humble abode?” said Angel, face stiff as that of an interrogator. “If you must know, because I sensed a disturbance in the fabric of the world. Well, I also thought I might come by for a visit,” he said.
Angel said “What do you mean?” “I am not in the right position to inform you, nor are you the person to whom I shall relay my message. You must simply wait until this person tells you,” replied John sternly as he waved away any further inquiries. “Now, tell me Angel, have you told Joshua of your infatuation yet?” he continued. “W-w-well… Not exactly,” stammered Angel. John raised an eyebrow at the reddening face of Angel.
“Ugh… No… no I haven’t,” said Angel clearly abashed. “Do you have to wait for a war or maybe even the end of the world to pass before you confess to a person just because you’re afraid of what he has to say?” asked John, concerned. “I guess so…” replied Angel, who had, by then turned a violent shade of pink. “You know, there is but one sure way of finding out what he truly feels…” trailed John off as though teasing Angel with his words. “W-w-what?” asked Angel as her face turned a deep red color. “Confess. I shall see you tomorrow Angel. Now, where may I stay for the night?” said John unabashedly. Angel looked at him with a remorseful expression which made John smile empathetically. She then called a servant to take John to his quarters. When John had left, she heaved a heavy sighed, walked up to a window and stared at the full moon. It surprised her, because it was early in the morning when she had met John. It must have taken her more than a few hours to get ready she thought.
The next day seemed a lot more boring than the previous three years, which is to Angel’s eye. Angel simply failed to see that it was going to be a turning point in the fabric of destiny. She trotted out of the house after another failed attempt at looking for Rikki. The maid’s absence was starting to take a toll on her aesthetic looks. Out in the courtyard, Angel saw John teaching a couple of youngsters in the way of the sword. A small crowd had gathered to witness the passing of skill.
John performed each figure perfectly and each stroke with absolute precision. He showed a balance of strength and feline grace. He seemed as though a tiger readying to pounce on the unwary prey. The children, however, fumbled with their wooden practice swords. Some banged into each other and others stabbed their own feet. John just smiled at the children while the girls on the side giggled in enthusiasm.
Just then, a cloud of dust blew over the courtyard which blotted out the sun. Atop the roof of the marvelous mansion, a silhouette stood silent. When the dust cleared, the mysterious figure had but vanished. All of a sudden, a cloaked man landed in the middle of the yard. The children scurried back to their parents as fear welled in their eyes.
Even in the darkness of the cloak, eyes bore upon John from underneath the cloth. The figure emanated an aura of defiance and strength. John knew all too well who it was, but decided to remain silent. “Take up your sword, O-master-of-arts. I challenge you to a duel!” came the shout. John winked at Angel and he walked past the man wearing the cloak. “Are you a coward? Do not turn your back on me! We cross our swords now!” taunted the cloaked figure. “I believe you are in no position to issue a challenge young man. A pathetic disguise shows how naïve you are,” retorted John as he faced the figure sharply, bent, put his outstretched hands in front of his face and blew. The cloak soared high into the blue, revealing Joshua as the mysterious figure.
“H-h-how did you know?!” exclaimed Joshua in outrage as he charged towards John. He brandished his sword which gleamed in the light of morning. His eyes mirrored the ferocity of a lion, its roar his battle cry. Joshua rushed headlong towards John who still had yet to raise his sword. A fraction of a second before his impact and steel flashed in the bright sunlight. It was followed by the clamorous collision of steel against steel that echoed in the yard.
John stood there, sword in hand, smiling triumphantly. He then executed a series of forms that threw Joshua back against the audience. The crowd gasped at the speed of John’s reaction. Joshua bared his teeth as the sun neared its noonday position. The battle was taking far too long and John seemed not to tire.
Each stroke of Joshua’s was matched perfectly by John. Slash, parry and retreat, the battle was too predictable. Each stroke clamored into the yard, sparks flew as each stroke gained strength. Angel’s face was flushing pink as she watched Joshua fight against John. The sun was beginning to set, but neither wished to give up. In a final burst of desperation, Joshua employed magic upon John.
The heavens split apart as a ball of flame descended rapidly upon the unaware foe. John looked skyward as he followed the dwindling crowd’s gaze skyward. John bit back a curse as he dodged the ball and disintegrated it before it reached the ground.
John executed another series of forms that knocked Joshua’s sword out of his hands and forced Joshua onto his back. He put the point of his blade against the other’s exposed neck, near enough that Joshua felt the cold metal against his skin but far enough to not draw blood. “We will discuss on the morrow,” growled John. The sun had set upon the horizon and cast everything in the shadows of evening.
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The Riddle of Love.
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