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#10293222 Nov 16, 2014 at 02:31 PM
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Preface

It is only through their grace and care that we live. Therefore, I have made my purpose and my destiny to follow in their footsteps and help my fellows never to forget their sacrifices. We must remember: we will see tomorrow only because of the actions of the fallen gods and heroes.

I hope the stories recorded in this book can help future generations learn from the past and understand where their strength comes from.

- Pantheon Researcher Ibrua

Kyrios, God of Destruction

"There are no depths to which I would not descend to defeat an enemy."

Kyrios's sword whistles through the air, cleaving enemies in two. A natural warrior, he knows no middle ground: there are friends and there are foes. Individuals to kill and individuals to kill for. He brings victory to those who trust him and rains despair on those who resist him. The warriors who fight under his banner receive indomitable spirit and unbeatable strength.

When there are winners, there must also be losers. To them, Kyrios is a merciless god who crushed their hopes and drained the blood. To the winners, he is victory incarnate.

Though his followers fear his ruthlessness, they know they must embrace it in order to feel the surge of his power. Their fear is the very foundation of their faith.

Goddess Dahuta

"A sweet-enough whisper can conceal any truth."

Dahuta is the goddess of the seas. Even the seas of fear, which can be even deadlier than an ocean torrent. The goddess is generous about granting the wishes of her followers, but also merciless about exacting the price. Wishes so easily granted are often as capricious as dreams, taken away as easily as they are given.

The Goddess Dahuta is so beautiful in part because her powerful magic enables her to take any form she likes--as easily as a wave becomes a whirlpool becomes a ripple. While she still lives, we must always remember that not everything our eyes can see is the unblemished truth.

Gon, God of Defense

"The barriers built by prosperity can protect you for eternity... or starve your enemies."

Prosperity gives you the means to protect yourself and those around you. It enables you to put a roof over your head and food on the table. It facilitates growth and gives entire countries the strength they need to stand against invaders and divisive wars. It can be a blessing, or a weapon, forming impenetrable barriers that keep some safe, and keep others out. It is Gon's gift to the world.

Thank Gon the grace that enables us to protect ourselves and our friends.

God Haje

"Let your will be your guide."

Haje is the god of seals and doors, opening the way to alternate dimensions or locking them for eternity. These forces stem from his immense willpower. He can will an opening to appear in what was once impenetrable, or make impenetrable what was once an opening. He can will things to appear or will things to vanish. Those who channel his potent magic must have absolute faith in it, or risk crumbling under its weight.

Haje teaches followers to will their enemies into defeat and will their comrades to victory.

Nui, Goddess of the Hereafter

All living things share one absolute: unavoidable death. When that moment comes, all go to rest in the welcoming arms of the Goddess Nui.

Hundreds of shrines to Nui dot the landscapes of both Nuia and Haranya. She governs death and the Hereafter with grace and mercy, resurrecting the worthy to allow them to continue their important works.

In life, she was known for her work with the impoverished, and even now, as a goddesss, she continues to treat both rich and poor with the same care.

Tahyang

"Nought can contain the wildness of the wind as it rushes over the plains. And nought can contain our spirits."

Tahyang is a legendary Firran hero who truly symbolized the freedom and ferocity of the plains. Infamous for never letting foes escape with their lives, it's said his arrows never missed a target.

A less-celebrated, though no less powerful, gift Tahyang possessed was his ability to tame even the wildest animals. His companion snowlion, Black Night, was so well-behaved and attuned to the desires of his master that few ever realized he'd been born wild.

Animals were eager to serve Tahyang for many of the same reasons others were: he was righteous and faithful, never acting unjustly. He is the finest example for generations of Firran to follow.

Muted yet Masterful Mage: Aranzeb

Once a reclusive Elven teacher, and then a reluctant hero, Aranzeb was a master of traditional sorcery. However, he was also a master of his emotions, refusing to let them cloud his judgement, focus, or power. This made his magic flawless and perfectly balanced.

Widely recognized as the greatest Elven mage of all time, Aranzeb specialized in elemental sorcery, a traditional field dating back to the world's first experimentations with mana.

In contrast to his goddaughter's gift of disguise, Aranzeb was known for a razor intuition that could slice through constructed falsehoods, enabling him to see right to the heart of anyone, despite the facades they might erect around themselves.

Dutiful yet Deadly: Melisara

A heroic assassin, Melisara is best known for dedicating her life to a single purpose: killing Gene Evernight.

Gene eventually became a god: Kyrios, the fearful God of Destruction. However, this ascension did not put Melisara off her goal. Instead, it made her all the more determined: determined to kill a god. She is revered by those who value duty and honor.

Despite having little skill with magic, she was able to make herself one with the shadows, wearing them like a cloak to enable stealthy movement. She is known for killing targets before they even knew she was there. However, this ability to lurk in the shadows also allowed her to become an excellent spy, uncovering the darkest secrets.

Romantic Hero: Lucius

Known as the most carefree and romantic of the twelve gods and heroes, Lucius's power must not be underestimated. What he lacked in physical strength he easily made up for in his abilities to unite the disparate, boost morale, and compose a devastating song.

Lucius's followers devote themselves their musical instruments, continuously composing ballads to bolster allies and dirges to destroy enemies.

What many don't realize, however, is that Lucius also propagated the worship of the Goddess Nui. He knew her better than any who ever existed, though he downplayed his knowledge to hide the depths of his feelings.

Loving Healer: Kyprosa

Kyprosa is the keeper of dreams and love.

Many believe that love is the strongest magic on earth, capable of healing or inflicting the most devastating injuries. Kyprosa's followers use these twin traits to their every advantage.

Kyprosa's love allowed her to free her sister from eternal bonds; similarly, those who channel her power free their allies from certain death.

(Water damage has smeared the ink beyond legibility.)
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#10293234 Nov 16, 2014 at 02:33 PM
Admin
1197 Posts
The next few chapters were found in a parsed version of the game, but do not appear in the actual physical book awarded for hitting 50 in all skill trees.

Chapter 1

This is the story of the last years of the so-called Splendid Era: the decades on Auroria when civilization is considered to have reached its peak.

Its capital city, Delphinad, was in its full glory. The surrounding nations kept each other in check, maintaining a superficial peace. Meanwhile, lesser lords scattered the barren lands toward the borders, skirmishing just enough to give the bards something to write about.

Among the three most powerful kingdoms was Northern Yaer, which ruled a vast wasteland of smaller nations. Though they swore fealty to the King of Northern Yaer, their conflicts were not of his concern and he rarely got involved.

One such nation was ruled by the house Daeier, whose lord had long been nicknamed the "Fir King." Though House Daeier had sworn themselves to Yaer, their Fir Castle stood tall on a highland peak, towering over the surrounding evergreens and gazing down at visitors with pride and arrogance.

Content in their frozen highlands, the Daeiers had never spent time conquering other lands. However, they were greatly respected and had no trouble making important alliances. They commanded the most elite army of spearmen the continent had ever seen. Ferociously skilled and fiercely loyal, the Daeier spearmen were notorious far and wide.

However, by the end of the Splendid Era, the Daeiers no longer had a Fir King to lead them.

The last Fir King had fallen in battle during the eight year war between Northern Yaer and Bhiskia. He was survived by three sons and a daughter, but even his eldest son, Raeven, was deemed too young to lead the house and its army of spearmen. The boy was only 12. As the king had no brothers, either, his duties fell to his wife, Rosia.

Women of House Daeier grew up taking basic combat lessons, and Rosia was no exception. But what was demanded of her now was far beyond basic shield-maiden maneuvers; she had to earn the respect of her rough, seasoned warriors as a true commander. If she failed, the Daeier's fearsome reputation, earned and maintained over generations with blood and sweat, would crumble.

Rosia had to forge herself into a Fir Queen. And she did.

By the time Raeven came of age, Rosia was unquestioned as Fir Queen and considered an absolute master of her spearmen. Their reputation continued to solidify with every victory. These years had not been easy for Rosia, however, so when her firstborn came of age, she was more than willing to step down and surrender the throne to him.

By this time, Rosia had been Lord Daeier and Master of the Spearmen for six years. She'd never neglected these duties, but the demands had left her little time to be a mother. Her three younger children took to their nannies without complaint, but Raeven was different. He'd all of his mother's love and attention until his father passed away, and he had trouble accepting the sudden turn of events.

The scars of Raeven's jealousy and resentment ran deep; he responded to Rosia's sudden attention with aggression. His anger was compounded when he discovered her horror that he'd neglected his training as a warrior. For six years, he'd retreated into his own world and refused the essential instruction so crucial for a Lord of Daeier and Master of the Spearmen.

Rosia tried to determine what Raeven had been up to for the previous 6 years, but no one seemed to know. He had vanished from the castle like the wind, collected mysterious objects, and smuggled in strange men. He'd dressed oddly, and behaved even worse. Servants and nobles alike had begun to call him "possessed" or claim his body was being controlled by a warlock.

Raeven had taken to wandering the castle, cackling like a madman one day, only to crawl into a corner and refuse to eat or move the next. Sometimes, he'd moan about his misfortunes to anyone who'd listen, soggy with tears; other times, he'd become violently abusive, hurling insults as well as fists.

When Rosia chastised him for his behavior, Raeven protested, then sneered and stormed out. The strange men he'd been smuggling into the castle for years followed him. His young wife, fearful for the wellbeing of their infant daught, chose not to follow him, and he chose not to turn back for them.

Rosia decided she had no time for apathetic deserters and had Raeven's name expunged from the family histories. She forbade anyone from ever speaking it again. She declared her second son, Ceydric, as her successor and took firm charge of his education, overseeing cadres of tutors and instructors.

Ceydric rose to the challenge and quickly proved himself a skilled warrior and a just lord fit for the throne. By the time he came of age, he'd already earned the respect of the spearmen and taken command of their ranks. Rosia surrendered the throne to him on his birthday with a proud smile. But fate would not allow her to rest just yet.

Though Ceydric was victorious in his first battle, it ultimately cost him his life. His wife grieved, and his firstborn son wailed. Rosia returned to the Fir Throne once again, her heart hardened and her eyes dry.

Tired, and angry at the gods, Rosia became even more strict and harsh. Her youngest son, Denn, now became successor to the throne and was forced to face Rosia's fierce training alone. By now, her name was feared not only among her enemies, but also the Daeier spearmen, castle servants, and even her son. Too young at the time to remember a loving mother, he'd only ever known her as a forbidding queen. When he turned twenty, he stole the family gold and ran off with a maid.

The last thing Rosia wanted to do was leave the throne to her daughter: she could not bear to watch her loving daughter go through the same hardships she'd endured. To be transformed by the throne the same way she had. Aside from her daughter, the only family she had left was Ceydric's son and Raeven's daughter. Both were far too young to rule, and Rosia knew she would have to be Master of the Spearmen at least a little longer.

Rosia grew older and more frail, but her gaze grew ever colder and sterner. Only those who had known her the longest were able to speak to her without shrinking from her stare.
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#10293236 Nov 16, 2014 at 02:33 PM
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1197 Posts
Chapter 2

Ceydric's son was named Jaeim after his grandfather--Rosia's long-dead husband. As he grew up, he seemed prudent and mild-tempered, but lacked the battle instincts of his namesake.

Raeven's daughter was named Kyprosa, after the cypress tree. The name made many in the kingdom deeply uncomfortable, as cypresses had long symbolized death, graves, and eternal pain.

Kyprosa had never known a mother's love, because once her father left, her mother realized she would never realize her dreams of becoming a lord's wife and abandoned the castle. Elma, Ceydric's wife, volunteered to look after Kyprosa, but naturally gave more time and attention to her own son.

For Rosia, Kyprosa was a constant reminder of her greatest disappointment, and she avoided the girl as much as possible. Even the castle's servants and soldiers gave Kyprosa a wide berth, due to the fact that her father had been excommunicated.

Ultimately, the only person who cared for Kyprosa was her cousin, Jaeim. But his friendship was little comfort. Kyprosa grew up lonely and learned to hide out of sight, keep her mouth, and endure comtempt.

Despite being smart and mature for her age, Kyprosa was never offered any schooling. All educational efforts were focused on Jaeim. His studies took up more and more of his time, and he was able to spend less and less with his lonely cousin. This was partly Rosia's design: she loathed seeing Jaeim with Kyprosa and sought to prevent it as much as possible.

Kyprosa couldn't even read until she was ten; the only skills she was ever taught were cooking and sewing. Had Jaeim not taught her to read, sing, play the lute, and dance behind Rosia's back, she might have remained a kitchen maid forever.

The cousins would sneak into the ruins of a belltower for her lessons. Only the birds and the warm sun watched over them.

But Jaeim was increasingly called on to leave the castle, training with a spear, leading soldiers, and the like. Kyprosa, alone again, shut herself in the library and struggled to make do with her solitude.

Then, scandal consumed the entire Fir Castle. No one was more shocked and horrified than Rosia, however: she had been sent a baby. Rosia had always hoped that Denn would return one day, but this was neither her youngest son nor one of his heirs. This child belonged to Raeven, the traitor who'd abandoned her so many years ago. The traitor she'd taught the entire House Daeier to hate.

Rosia exploded with rage. She declared that the child was not her granddaughter, because Raeven had already been excommunicated when he'd spawned it. She ordered her vassals to abandon the baby in the woods for the wolves to devour.

Kyprosa emerged from the shadows. Though she'd never spoken up for herself or anyone else, she now stood up for her sister. She volunteered to take the child as her own.

Rosia granted Kyprosa's wish, decreeing that the child was now Kyprosa's pet: a beast. If the beast were to bite anyone, it would be put to death immediately. Kyprosa didn't argue with her grandmother's terms, but simply scooped up the baby and scuttled out.

Kyprosa was determined, but knew little in general, and even less about raising children--especially since she was only a child herself. Caring for her sister proved a difficult task. Luckily, a castle nanny took pity on the pair and helped them in secret. The infant survived.

Raeven had named the baby Orchidna after the orchids he'd seen blooming on the day of her birth. He'd relayed this information on a note pinned to Orchidna's blankets, all of which Rosia had thrown in the fire. Their names were all the sisters ever received from their father.

Until her baby sister's unwelcome arrival, everyone had almost completely ignored Kyprosa--and she had returned the favor. However, having the responsibility for another life was changing her. She found herself giving orders, demanding servants, setting rules, and punishing those who ignored them. For the first time, she began acting like a Fir King's granddaughter and a true Daeier.

The rest of the castle didn't take the change lightly. The child they'd dismissed as an orphan, allowed to live in the castle only because of the Fir Queen's good grace, was suddenly ordering them around. However, they knew that such authority was her birthright, which was all that kept them from complaining to Rosia. But Rosia needed no complaints. She was aware of Kyprosa's behavior; she was simply turning a blind eye to see how the situation would develop.

Kyprosa had decided years ago that the safest path for her was isolation. She knew what people thought of her, and her father, and she hadn't wanted to cause them trouble or face their rejection. But now, to protect her sister, she would have to exert her authority. Though she knew people were surprised at first, she could also see how easily they were bending to her will. Some of them even began to genuinely like her. She realized that despite her upbringing--or lack thereof--she was good with people.

What helped Kyprosa immeasurably was her ability to read people's minds. Once she had a sense of their thoughts, doubts, and insecurities, it was easy to lead servants, nobles, and even her grandmother in certain, desirable directions. Like a surgeon, she could use her words to calm specific fears. People respected her for her empathy, and in just a few years, Kyprosa was the most influential person in the castle, beside Rosia and Jaeim.

Orchidna greatly benefitted from her sister's influence, and was no long treated like a beast. However, there was a strange wildness to the child that had nothing to do with the way she'd been raised. The first time she lost her temper in public, it was no mere tantrum. She displayed a feral rage that astonished onlookers.

However, even when not having a fit, Orchidna paid no attention whatsoever to the rules of the castle or basic etiquette. She dressed, ate, and acted as she pleased, even when she was old enough to know better. But Kyprosa was in sole charge of her, and Kyprosa never bothered to teach her manners or self-control.

Orchidna grew to be exceptionally beautiful. While Kyprosa had dark hair and eyes like most of House Daeier, Orchidna had silken champagne tresses and eyes the blue of the winter sky. Whereas Kyprosa was reserved and graceful, Orchidna was flashy and glamorous, demanding attention even when standing perfectly silent and still. However, she was rarely silent or still, as likely to run screaming through the sewers to catch a "magic snake" as to sit calmly drink her tea.

Orchidna was the only person in the castle who had no fear of Rosia. Kyprosa was the only one the girl listened to. Even the standard punishments for unruly children, such as locking Orchidna in her room, only resulted in torn wallpaper and curtains.

Because of her uncontrollable and unpredictable nature, most people were deeply afraid of Orchidna. She was more animal than human, and they wondered what her mysterious father had done to produce such kin. However, at times, she could also be downright angelic. When she was in the mood to behave, her beauty was breathtaking, and even Jaeim and Rosia couldn't help but stare.

Meanwhile, Jaeim devoted himself to his studies. He grew increasingly scholarly and religious, and it soon became abundantly clear that he wasn't meant to be either a leader or a warrior. Even Rosia was forced to accept it, though it didn't stop her from cursing the gods. Was it not enough her husband and all her sons had been taken from her? Did the gods have no mercy whatsoever?

Rosia realized she had no other options except turning to Kyprosa. The Fir Queen hated to do it, but she was nothing if not practical. Her only hope for a successor was the granddaughter she'd tried to deny for so long.

Secretly, deep within his soul, Jaeim longed to become a priest. He never admitted it out loud, but did politely reject all marriage proposals from local nobles. Rosia quickly caught on, then arranged a meeting with Kyprosa. She suggested that her granddaughter marry Jaeim and take the throne.

In exchange for Kyprosa leading House Daeier and the Daeier spearmen, Rosia offered to accept Orchidna as an official member of the family. Jaeim would be king in title only; a born commander, Kyprosa would be the true ruler. Jaeim had already agreed to the arrangement; all Rosia needed was Kyprosa's approval.

Kyprosa considered the proposal for one day, then turned it down. She'd once had feelings for the handsome cousin who'd taught her to read and write, but that was years ago. When Rosia had pulled Jaeim away from his lessons with Kyprosa, she'd also removed the girl's last remaining emotional ties to House Daeier. Kyprosa cared little for her family's plight, and cared even less that they accept Orchidna as one of them.

Rosia was furious. She sputtered that Kyprosa had no loyalty to her family or her house. Kyprosa softly agreed--the name "Daeier" had long ago lost any meaning to her. Before Rosia could say anything else, Kyprosa said that she would leave the castle with Orchidna immediately.

Kyprosa took nothing from the castle save for a few clothes, some food, and some water. She and Orchidna left before daybreak and rode until sunrise. When they crested a hilltop overlooking the castle, they found a familiar figure waiting.

Jaeim did not bother trying to convince them to return. He simply handed Kyprosa a small sack of gold, a letter of reference, and a few of her favorite books. At first she tried to refuse them, but she couldn't deny how useful they would be, and how kind he was to provide them. The two cousins said their final goodbyes. Jaeim never mentioned her refusal to marry him.
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#10293239 Nov 16, 2014 at 02:34 PM
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1197 Posts
Chapter 3

The noble kingdom of Epherium was built on the fertile plains surrounding the Nemi River. However, the region's fertility did not extend to the royal family: the king had grown old and frail, with no heir in line. None of his consorts had been able to give him a child, and the kingdom's subjects had begun to fear their king was cursed.

The rumors weren't completely unfounded. When Deonos was still a prince, he'd fathered a daughter by a traveling dancer. The royal family, horrified at the prospect of a commoner tainting the royal bloodline, had both the girl and the infant murdered. Deonos had not fathered a child since. Sabina, his third and latest queen, had grown desperate enough to hold a ceremony honoring the murdered dancer and her child. However, it did no good, and she still did not become pregnant.

Anthalon, one of the king's aides, traveled to a faraway temple to beg for divine guidance. The oracle murmured dozens of mysterious, nonsensical omens, but also stated that "an heir shall arise and make his mark where the king had taken leave."

Anthalon pondered the oracle's predictions for days, then eventually interpreted them as meaning that the king would have an heir, but only from the most unlikely of sources. He searched the alleys for another dancer, hoping to find one as similar as possible to the murdered girl, then brought her to the king. This new dancer, Tinari, became pregnant almost immediately.

The court was overjoyed. They fussed over the girl as if she were a princess. Some nobles with particularly wagging tongues liked to speculate as to the child's true paternity, but such doubts were only discussed secretly in private.

Nine months passed uneventfully, and the dancer give birth to a healthy young boy. Celebrations filled the streets, and feasts were shared around every corner. Any questions as to the prince's legitimacy were completely forgotten. The infant was named Padmos, which meant "rare and precious." Tinari was promoted to the rank of highest concubine.

Sabina, the kingdom's queen, was forgotten. As her bitterness and jealousy grew, she became convinced that Tinari was working behind her back to take her place. She had no idea that because Tinari was from the streets, with no knowledge of life at court, she practically worshipped the noble queen and could never conceive of moving against her. Nevertheless, overcome by obsessive fears, Sabina concocted a plan to kidnap and murder Tinari and Padmos before the year's end.

Sabina's men abducted the mother and her son, but had not been expecting Tinari to fight for her freedom so ferociously. Tinari and Padmos escaped to the city, where they were hidden by some of her old friends.

Sabina's men weren't about to give up, however. Not only did they know that failure would cost them their lives, but they were deeply loyal to their queen. They were as determined to complete their orders for her sake as well as their own. Unflinchingly persistant and thorough, they combed city after city, forcing Tinari to flee further and further. Back at court, all was chaos. The nobles were as obsessed with finding the missing prince as Sabina was with killing him.

The chase kept up for eight long years. Eventually, nowhere in the entire kingdom of Epherium was safe for Tinari and Padmos. The duo crossed into other countries, sailing over seas and entering new lands. Their journey was exhausting... and lonely. Friends were only friends until they were forced to move again.

Not once was the prince addressed by his real name. To keep his identity a secret, Tinari was careful to always call him by the common name of "Gene."

Gene had no memories of court, and Tinari didn't enlighten him. All he remembered was wandering: constantly moving from place to place, never quite sure where his next meal was coming from. At times, they were able to settle for a few weeks, or even months, but they would be all too soon forced to seek another refuge. When Gene was older, and Tinari admitted who his father was, he refused to take his royal name, still preferring the name Gene, the name he'd grown up with.

Tinari was always nervous and restless. She panicked easily. Each day brought a tangle of emotions with no apparent reason: bitter and angry one day, full of hope the next. Her tempestuous moods made Gene anxious, and he learned early on how best to comfort his mother.

For Tinari, these eight years were nothing short of hell. Gene, however, would remember their time spent on the run as the happiest years of his life. He became used to the life on the road and took to learning survival skills like other children learned simple games. He loved his mother deeply, and even as a boy, would give anything to protect her.

Gene was intelligent, but completely uneducated. Tinari could do little to help, as she herself was completely illiterate. He spent much of his days playing with other anonymous children in the slums. Within days of moving to a new city, Gene almost always became the ringleader of the local children, leaving them heartbroken when he had to leave.

When Gene came home at sundown, muddy and smelling of animals and sweat, he would do his best to comfort his mother and cheer her up after her backbreaking hours doing laundry and sewing for a few meager coins. He would often hum made-up songs, soothing her to sleep.

Seven years in, the chase died down. Tinari and Gene got to live in the same place for an entire year. Then, one blustery winter day, Tinari answered a knock at the door and found a familiar face: Anthalon, the king's aide who'd originally brought her to court. Terrified, she found herself frozen in place, unable to move out of pure fear.

Tinari was positive Anthalon had sided with Sabina and had come to kill both her and her son. Raising her voice so that Gene would hear her in the bedroom she insisted that her son had already died. Anthalon shoved past her and found Gene sitting on the bed in a dress, pretending to be a girl. However, it was easy to see through the disguised. Anthalon knelt at Gene's feet and said, "Hail, Prince Padmos, son of King Deonos, protector of Epherium."
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#10293242 Nov 16, 2014 at 02:34 PM
Admin
1197 Posts
Chapter 4

As soon as they returned to the palace, Tinari realized why the chase had ended, and Anthalon had no kill her son: Sabina had finally borne a prince of her own. Though only three, he had been named the new heir, for he was the son of the king and queen instead of the king and a consort. His name was Lyran, and the handsome child was already quite princely: he rarely cried and possessed an air of grace.

Gene couldn't compare to his younger half-brother in the slightest. He'd never touched a book, had no sense of manners or decorum, and was an expert pickpocket and con artist. He sang bawdy tavern chanties at inappropriate times and avoided the court feasts in favor of stealing from the market.

Tinari had never felt so resentful of her misfortunes. If only anyone had tried to teach her manners during her brief time at the palace! If only the queen hadn't tried to kill her! If only the gods had been even a little more generous! Then perhaps Gene would be a better prince by now, perhaps even good enough to be named Crown Prince. Her cheeks burned with shame during his debut banquet, when he challenged a guard to a belching contest, and won. By the end of evening, her shame had condensed into fury.

Despite her lack of education, Tinari was no fool. Those in power were busy currying favor with Sabina, so Tinari kept her mouth shut. She told no one that she'd left because the queen had tried to kill her; she let them believe she'd left out of stupidity or shame or because the rumors about Gene's paternity were true. For now, she decided to lie low.

Besides, Deonos had lost interest in Gene, especially since Gene's transformation into a thieving street rat. The king was enthralled with his new son, Lyran. Still, Tinari kept her anger to herself. Gene was the son of a consort, but he was still the oldest son. She would get him his crown.

Tinari turned to Anthalon for help. He agreed, since he'd been responsible for bringing her to the palace in the first place. However, truthfully, there were plenty of court officials who held no deep love for Sabina and her scheming; the reappearance of Gene, the former Crown Prince, was welcome news indeed.

Anthalon hired the best tutors in every discipline and began the mountainous task of educating Gene to the proper levels. Gene, of course, was immeasurably frustrated: there was suddenly a "right" way of doing everything, even holding a spoon, and none of it came naturally. He couldn't even swear anymore.

However, despite his frustration, Gene endured the tortures of his education: he knew how important it was to his mother. But between the lessons, he often slumped sadly in a corner, unable to do any of the things he'd once loved. Only Lyran could cheer him during these times; Lyran practically worshipped his new older brother. Tinari was thrilled.

Gene taught Lyran the rough-and-tumble game he'd learned on the street, and Lyran felt forever in his debt. There was a whole new world of fun that Lyran had never had any idea about!

Gene grew into a flawless prince, leaving Lyran to play catch-up. Gene was unmatched horseback riding, skilled in all weapons due to his innate agility, and fluent in three languages. An excellent debater, he even sometimes defeated his teachers in arguments.

Remarkably, there was no jealousy in Lyran's heart: he idolized his brother and wanted nothing more than to spend time with him.

At night, Gene still dreamed of his time on the streets. No amount of studying and training could make him forget the fun of running through the streets, exploring new cities, new towns, and new villages. The game of survival was a real challenge with real stakes. There was nothing like it in the safety of the palace.

Tinari's love for her son condensed into an obsession. She grew willing to do anything to promote Gene to his rightful place as Crown Prince. She charmed the aging king once more, but began an affair with Anthalon at the same time. Her power and influence blossomed into that of a de facto queen. Sabina's actions years ago had finally created the monster she had so feared. Tension between Tinari and Sabina had never been higher.

Gene had come to hate spending time with his mother; he barely recognized her. He couldn't help but notice her growing relationship with Anthalon, but was sworn to silence about it. When Tinari spoke to him now, it was only to remind him to be on his guard at all times, because someone might be trying to kill him. Soon, she prevented him from going anywhere without guards. Then, the unimaginable happened.

It was a chilly, winter morning, barely after first light, when Prince Lyran's body was discovered. The palace erupted into chaos. When no culprit could be immediately found, random suspects were executed. Half of the castle's servants were beheaded, and even many nobles. Queen Sabina was beside herself with grief and rage. She accused Tinari countless times, but had no proof. The king dismissed her claims as absurd.

Gene was even more convinced of his mother's guilt than Sabina. If he testified, he knew his evidence would send Tinari to the gallows. Distraught, he ran to his mother's chamber to talk to her. However, she kept him locked out, refusing to speak. Gene waited all night, then finally broke down.

As Tinari had expected, Gene couldn't bring himself to reveal her guilt. What she did not expect was what he did instead: he fled the palace. It sickened him to think he would become Crown Prince because of Lyran's death at his mother's hand. It was the first time he'd truly disobeyed her, but he couldn't bring himself to stay.

Ten days later, Gene was found in a haggard, disheveled state. He was immediately dragged back to the castle and given the title Crown Prince. His rage exploded. He shouted that the dirt covering Lyran's coffin had barely settled. It was clear his anger was directed at his mother.

Tinari summoned Gene to her chambers and tried to console him with words as sweet as honey. She stroked his hair and told fond stories of his childhood. But all Gene heard was lies. He knew that Tinari had hated their time on the run; she was only pretending to love it now to manipulate him out of his fury.

She said all she'd ever wanted was for him to become Crown Prince. He sneered he'd gladly do that, if she would bring Lyran back from the dead. Their argument raged on.

Tinari beat her chest with her own fist. "I gave you life! I birthed you and sustained you with my own body! I gave you shelter and food!" she screamed. "Now, all I ask of you is this one thing, and you refuse! If you want another brother, fine! I'm still young. I can give you a new one!"

"Another brother? You mean Anthalon's child?" Gene spat out the name like rotten fruit. Tinari stood speechless, quaking with rage. Gene continued. "If you're planning on producing another child, make a Crown Prince out of that one. But consider me as dead as Lyran."

Gene stormed into the throne room and bowed before the king. He said the death of his brother was too much for him and asked for permission to leave the kingdom and study far away. The king granted his request without hesitation, but warned him to be careful, since he was the only heir to the throne now. Gene rode out immediately, though the king insisted on sending a grand party of attendants and escorts with him.

Less than nine months later, Tinari gave birth to another baby boy.
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#10293246 Nov 16, 2014 at 02:35 PM
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1197 Posts
Chapter 5

The Firran had lived as nomads for thousands of years. They'd originated on the southen continent of Haranya, but found true glory on the sweeping plains of Auroria. Though they sometimes attacked towns and settlers over resource disputes, they did not seek conquest. No kingdom would last forever; a massive domain over half the continent's plains would one day fall, leaving behind nothing more than a grass and wind. Therefore, the Firran did not desire such dominion.

Eventually, however, things changed. Small groups of Firran sought to settle in one place and claim the land as their own. The Lakespring tribe conquered a human kingdom and declared the castle theirs. However, many other tribes believed that the Lakespring Mahra, Mahra Ruhan, had lost the spirit of the plains.

Ten years passed. A total of fifteen human castles were seized by various Firran tribes. Mahra Ruhan decided the time had come to unite the scattered Firran tribes into one powerful kingdom. He gathered allies, warring against the stronger nomadic tribes, and bribing the smaller, poorer tribes with promises of lands and homes. A severe winter had fallen over the plains, and many tribes had lost their livestock and were living on the verge of starvation.

The Blacklion tribe was one of the first to accept the territory Mahra Ruhan offered. The Blacklions felt they had no choice; they could no longer support both their animals and themselves, but letting their animals die would provide only a short respite before they themselves followed. They needed a new territory with new resources.

Mahra Dalgoch of the Blacklion tribe had four sons. Tahyang, the oldest, was a famous warrior who possessed unparalleled skill with a bow. Tahyang's bravery, honesty, and selflessness had earned him the respect of not just the Blacklions, but many other tribes, as well. There was no doubt he would succeed his father and one day lead the Blacklions.

Mahra Ruhan gathered many of the smaller tribes, including the Blacklions, and attempted to win their favor with gifts of food, drink, luxury fabric, and thriving livestock. All of these gifts had been extorted from the humans living in his conquered castle. Ruhan paid special attention to the famous warriors of each tribe, and invited them back to his conquered lands for frequent banquets and tournaments. Tahyang was among them.

Aside from his bowmanship, Tahyang was also notable for his ability with snowlions. Most Firran warriors grew up alongside snowlions, but the noble mounts had become increasingly scarce. There were no longer enough snowlions for every Firran warrior to have his own. One day, one of Tahyang's brothers lost his snowlion in a horrible accident. To console his devasted brother, Tahyang gave him his own beloved snowlion.

Tahyang spent the next three years tracking a remote pride of wild snowlions. When he finally returned to his tribe, he was riding Blacknight, the pride's former leader, who quickly became recognized for his ferocity and intelligence. No one had ever seen a warrior ride as fast as Tahyang could ride atop Blacknight. When they went sprinting across the plains, it was as if they became a single creature, with one mind, one body, and one soul.

As autumn ended, Mahra Ruhan decided to invade the Terena kingdom. He asked the tribes now indebted to him to join the invasion. He demanded each tribe send one him one hundred warriors, led by their strongest warrior.

Tahyang had no choice but to lead the warriors of the Blacklion tribe. He did not agree with Mahra Ruhan, but wanted to repay the debt his tribe owed. He wove through the battlefield, rapid-firing his bow, Blacknight running so fast, no one could hit them.

Mahra Ruhan eventually conquered Terena and plundered the palace. He was deeply impressed by Tahyang's battle prowess, and tried to keep Tahyang at his side even when not in battle. Eventually, he asked Tahyang to officially become his second-in-command. Tahyang immediately refused. He had no wish to help rule a kingdom and give up the nomadic lifestyle.

Mahra Ruhan was not dissuaded. He offered Tahyang the best lands in Terena, the captured princess, hundreds of slaves, gold, and arcane treasures. Tahyang couldn't help but laugh--anything he couldn't carry on his back was a waste. He took his tribemates and returned to the Blacklion tribe.

Mahra Ruhan still did not give up. He was determined the fierce warrior, Tahyang, would rule at his side, because if he did, who would dare oppose them? The Mahra sent gift after gift to Tahyang's father, Mahra Dalgoch, then finally offered him the entire Terena palance in exchange for forging an alliance.

Mahra Dalgoch knew the offer was too good too refuse, but hesitated anyway. He summoned the tribal council--his sons and advisors--to discuss the offer. All agreed the tribe should settle in Terena--all except for Tahyang.

Making such a significant change required the council's unanimous consent. However, no one could persuade Tahyang to change his mind. He understood his tribemates' temptation: the last few years had been lean ones. Survival had been a challenge. They thought a settler's life would keep them safer in the future. Tahyang couldn't fault them for it, but couldn't agree with them either. He did not want to betray the heart of Firran culture and history.

However, rather than force anyone to share his opinion, or risk their lives on the plains, Tahyang offered to leave the tribe. He would sacrifice his right to become the next Mahra, but his tribe would able to do as they wished. The council tried to stop him, but before the break of dawn, Tahyang mounted Blacknight and vanished into the darkness.
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#10293250 Nov 16, 2014 at 02:35 PM
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Chapter 6

Years passed, and Tahyang and Blacknight wandered the plains by themselves. Neither his tribe nor Mahra Ruhan knew of his whereabouts. Tahyang saw many gradual changes taking place, and realized that nomadic Firran would soon disappear entirely. All of the tribes were settling. He resentfully gave his blessing to his own tribe's decision, but still refused to join them in it. It galled him to see so many Firran surrendering their traditions so easily. He determined to be a nomad forever, the ghost of a dying race.

Tahyang adopted the surname "Kahlzit," after the distant woodlands in which he'd been born, instead of continuing to associate himself with the Blacklion tribe or his father, Mahra Dalgoch. Those who met Tahyang Kahlzit had no idea of his ancestory, or even that he was actually the celebrated warrior, Tahyang, son of Dalgoch.

After visiting every corner of the plains over the course of ten years, Tahyang decided to learn more about the humans, elves, dwarves, and other races he'd encountered along the way. He decided to visit the continent's largest city and cultural center: Delphinad. He left the plains and set out for the "The Capital of the World."

Tahyang had no traveling companion other than Blacknight, and was not burdened with heavy baggage. He was able to move quickly. One day, he noticed a large group of travelers in the distance. He sped toward them out of curiosity. They appeared to be part of a procession for someone of high status.

Tahyang had rarely interacted with humans, but as the son of a Mahra, he wasn't intimidated by them, either. However, the guards escorting the procession were understandably anxious to see a ferocious Firran warrior approaching. They formed up to come after him. Tahyang obligingly backed off. Trackers pursued him, but their horses were nothing compared to Blacknight's speed.

Tahyang had rarely interacted with humans, but as the son of a Mahra, he wasn't intimidated by them, either. However, the guards escorting the procession were understandably anxious to see a ferocious Firran warrior approaching. They formed up to come after him. Tahyang obligingly backed off. Trackers pursued him, but their horses were nothing compared to Blacknight's speed.

Tahyang traveled a long distance and lost most of his pursuers. However, there was one stubborn rider who would not give up the chase. The man could never hope to catch up to Blacknight on horseback, but Tahyang was impressed that he kept trying. He grew curious--who was this man? How long could he possibly survive chasing a snowlion, one of the fastest creatures on earth? Tahyang deliberately slowed down to lure his pursuer closer, occasionally even firing a few arrows in his direction to keep him interested, but not actually injure him.

They continued like this for three days and three nights. By now, they were no longer on the path to Delphinad; they were running aimlessly across plains, forests, moutain ranges, and rivers. Even Tahyang had no idea where they were or what kingdom they were in. He doubted his pursuer knew, either.

Of course, even Blacknight couldn't run for three days straight without rest. Every now and then, through silent but mutual agreement, Tahyang and the mysterious rider would rest. They ate and they slept, careful to maintain a constant distance from each other. Neither tried to creep closer. When rested, each mounted up and began the chase once more.

Over time, the riders began to see themselves less as adversaries, and more as traveling companions. Each morning, they greeted each other. When they found a spring, Tahyang would drink first, then move away and allow his pursuer to drink. Tahyang would kill two three birds at a time, then remove his arrows and leave one bird behind for his "friend" to eat.

Occasionally, his pursuer would kill a deer. He took what he needed from it, then left the rest for Tahyang. His horse could graze anywhere, but he knew that Blacknight needed meat.

Eventually, they were finally able to get good look at each other's faces. A sudden sandstorm had erupted around them, and in the fear and confusion, they searched blindly for each other. When the snowlion neared the horse, the horse gave a terrified scream. In the swirling sands, it was the only way Tahyang and his pursuer knew they were within arm's reach.

Tahyang touched the horse's neck, and it calmed immediately. As the sands settled, Tahyang's pursuer stared at the Firran in astonishment. Tahyang spoke, and they realized they didn't share the same language. He tried a different language, but to the same result. His human pursuer tried still a different language, and they realized they both spoke it. Tahyang introduced himself as Tahyang Kahlzit, and his pursuer introduced himself as Gene Evernight.

That night, the two camped together for the first time. Gene had a lot to learn from Tahyang, who'd become quite accustomed to the life of a wanderer. Gene was especially fascinated by the Firran's snowlion, Blacknight. In fact, Blacknight was the reason Gene had begun following Tahyang in the first place. Gene took great pride in the fact that he'd been the best horseman in all of Epherium, and Tahyang was the first rider he'd ever encountered that he couldn't outrun.

Gene had decided almost immediately that he would follow the snowlion so he could learn more about it. However, even in the same camp, there was only so much he could learn: Blacknight refused to be ridden or even touched by anyone but Tahyang. Gene had to settle for simply seeing him up close.

As they talked, Tahyang asked Gene about the procession he'd been a part of. If he was a guard, didn't he need to return to it? Gene just smiled and made a dismissive gesture.

Night fell, and they agreed to take turns standing guard in the darkness while the other slept. During his shift in the middle of the night, Gene noticed a strange shape approaching them. He assumed it was a wild animal and quietly grabbed a weapon, not wanting to wake Tahyang. The creature pounced.

It was no animal. However, neither was it a person. It seemed to be made of pure mist. It pinned Gene down with astonishing strength, but Gene found he couldn't fight back or grab hold of the creature. It pressed against his windpipe, making it harder and harder to breathe. Gene couldn't even scream. From somewhere deep within the mist, he could see a pair of eyes burning like flames staring down at him.

Gene could feel his consciousness slipping away. Then, inexplicably, the creature's grip on his neck loosened, and air rushed into his hungry lungs. The creature vanished above him. As Gene's vision cleared, he could see Tahyang wielding a torch. He helped Gene sit up, then explained the creature was a Mistfiend, an assassin conjured by black magic.

Gene tensed at the word assassin, but Tahyang apologized and offered a deep bow. Mistfiends were spells used by Firran shamans created to kill an enemy without leaving a trace. Because it was made of mist, victims had no way of resisting it. However, a bystander could stab it with a torch and vaporize it.

Tahyang knew exactly who'd sent the assassin, and that it had been after him, not Gene. Mahra Ruhan, insulted and resentful after Tahyang's disappearance, had already sent several assassins to kill or capture Tahyang. He'd even put a vast bounty on his head. When all of those attempts failed, he'd probably turned to black magic to finish the job.

If Gene hadn't sensed the Mistfiend's approach, or if Gene hadn't been there at all, the assassin would have enveloped Tahyang immediately and killed him easily. Tahyang owed Gene his life. He swore to one day repay the debt. It was the first promise either one made to the other.
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#10293253 Nov 16, 2014 at 02:36 PM
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Chapter 7

Although Gene didn't feel he had to return to the procession he'd left, Tahyang offered to accompany him, and they decided to return together. They set out again, cheerfully retracing their steps. Though they raced many times, Blacknight could not be beaten. Tahyang was also a better archer and physically stronger than his younger companion. However, Gene didn't mind, and they began to consider themselves friends.

Gene was the first non-Firran friend Tahyang had ever had, and he found he didn't mind his companion's humanness. In fact, it was fascinating to have found a kindred spirit in such a different background.

When the duo finally found the main road leading to Delphinad, they raced down it, assuming the procession had already passed. However, they soon discovered that the procession had been attacked, and the carriage shattered. The corpses of horses and guards scattered the road around it. Tahyang noticed Gene's face harden, and realized something strange was going on. Gene spent quite some time silently shifting through the remains of the carriage, and finally uncovered a decapitated corpse. Its head was nowhere to be found.

The duo abandoned the road once again and hiked into the wilderness. Gene confessed his true identity as a prince of Epherium. Wanting to have some fun on the road, he'd switched places with one of the guards on the way to Delphinad. That guard had now died in Gene's place. The attackers had taken his head to prove the kill to whoever had hired them.

Gene was certain Queen Sabina had been behind the attack. She probably wished to kill Tinari's son the way Tinari had killed hers. He described the entire tragedy to his new friend.

After listening to Gene's story, Tahyang confessed the details of how he had come to be hunted. They passed the night sharing stories of their past.

It was doubtful Gene would have survived the attack, even after having switched places with the guard. Following Tahyang had likely saved his life. In a way, they'd saved each other's lives. Both felt as if they'd been fated to meet.

Gene knew he could return to Epherium, but it was clear he wouldn't be safe there. Sabina wouldn't give up until he was dead, and he had no desire to ever see his mother again. After examining the corpses around the carriage, he determined a few of the guards had survived. They would have likely gone on to Delphinad to search for their missing prince.

Delphinad was a massive city, the capital of a vast continent. It bustled with millions of people from dozens of countries: citizens, travelers, students, merchants, entertainers. It would be difficult even for Queen Sabina to find Gene in a place like that. Gene and Tahyang decided to head for Delphinad. By now, they'd become inseparable companions.

Delphinad's splendor was a marvel to behold. Neither Gene nor Tahyang had ever seen such grand architecture, magic, and cultural attractions, a place where all races and layers of society mingled and competed for power. The rulers of Delphinad set down basic laws, but for the most part, let the varied groups who lived there determine their own laws and police themselves.

Fierce competition arose, and in some dark corners, alliances, assassinations, and betrayals were commonplace. Gene and Tahyang knew it would take time to assimilate into this new way of life, so different from what either had experienced.

Tahyang advised Gene not to seek out the surviving guards from the procession. As soon as Sabina saw that a guard had been beheaded in Gene's place, she'd send more assassins after him. It would be safest not to leave them any trails of inquiry to follow.

Gene agreed, then decided to take things a step further. What better way to hide than with a new identity? He suggested that they should join a local organization to cement their new identities, to hide in plain sight. They researched various local groups, then decided to join one called the "Almoram's Hand."

The Almoram's Hand started out as a religious organization focused on improving the welfare of local residents. However, as it grew, it was forced to change. It was common for large, well-known organizations to form patrol parties of sorts. The patrolmen safeguarded the territory, settled disputes, and fought back against aggressors. Soon, the Almoram's Hand patrolmen took over street after street, imposing an order on the neighborhood's chaos. It wasn't the safest job one could find, so it was no surprise they were always recruiting.

The Almoram patrol party consisted mainly of fugitives, criminals, poor drifters, and former soldiers from all across the continent. Some genuinely wanted a fresh start, and to do good, while others enjoyed the shadier aspects of the job. All Almoram members were expected to follow the laws of the Almoram's Hand, execute given assignments and report back, leave those who paid protection fees in peace, and stop by headquarters every morning for roll call. Beyond that, there were no other rules of discipline.

The Almoram's Hand owned a few buildings that could be used as lodging by patrolmen without homes. Their rooms housed two to three members at a time. The buildings buzzed like beehives both day and night, and the varied outlaws who lived there often ended up fighting or even killing each other. After joining the organization, Gene and Tahyang got a room together. They were still worried about their pasts catching up with them, and refused to let anyone else room with them.

Each floor of the building had a taskmaster whose word was to be taken as seriously as any of the official Almoram laws. The taskmaster of Gene and Tahyang's floor was a man known as Gallak the Crooked who expected absolute obedience. It was easy for him to respect Tahyang, who was a seasoned warrior and nomad the likes of which cityfolk grew up fearing. The young and inexperienced Gene, however, was a different story.

Gene didn't want Tahyang to protect him. Although he was a prince, he'd also lead gangs of street kids in the slums as a child. When the other patrolmen harassed him, he understood what was really going on. Gene deliberately provoked Gallak the Crooked and started a fight in the courtyard of the Almoram living quarters.

Gene was a skilled wrestler and beat Gallak thoroughly, taunting him all the while. The patrolmen stopped harassing him, but the next day, were openly hostile. They resented the way he'd treated their leader, who they felt a strange loyalty to. It was exactly the outcome Gene had wanted: he was no longer their toy, but their foe.

Every time Gene went in for roll call, he ridiculed Gallak. He called him useless and pathetic for letting himself be beaten by a kid. He said he'd face him one-on-one anytime, and if Gallak wasn't complete trash, he should be able to beat a kid like Gene with one hand tied behind his back. It was aggravating not only to Gallak, but to his toadies, as well. They attacked Gene at every opportunity, first with fists, then eventually with weapons.

Gene pretended to be fine, but at night, Tahyang knew he was suffering. Once, Gallak's men tried to ambush Gene in his room at night, only to find themselves face-to-face with Tahyang and Blacknight. Their fearsome appearance, especially in the shadows, was enough to make even the toughest attacker cringe.

Tahyang and Gene soon distinguished themselves from the others in their day-to-day patrol activities. As a former commander in real battles, Tahyang had sharp tactics and excellent command of various weapons, especially the bow. Furthermore, because he'd grown up in a tribe that lived off the land and had a strong connection to nature, he had excellent instincts and could often intuitively discern enemies' plans and motives.

Gene, despite his youth, had learned swordsmanship from the best teachers and was quick to pick up other skills. The more difficult the situation, the more he adapted. People said he was lucky, but it was far more skill than luck. He also had the distinct gift of eloquence, which Tahyang lacked. Gene could often resolve tricky situations with words instead of fists.

In spite of their other skills, Gene and Tahyang became famous first of all for their speed. Though Blacknight's speed was indescribable, Gene could seemingly transform any horse he rode. Gene could coax even the most swaybacked nags into winning races. The two friends appeared and disappeared on streets and around corners like apparitions; when in a chase, they never lost their target. People began calling them the "Shadowhawk's Twin Swords."

Decades ago, an assassin nicknamed "Shadowhawk" had ruled Delphinad's back alleys. He was famous for the speed of his horse and the speed of his two blades. When he disappeared, he began to be worshiped as a kind of god in the criminal underworld. In taverns and behind dice boards, prayers to Shadowhawk were common.

Gene and Tahyang seemed to have picked up their new nickname because both possessed Shadowhawk's speed. Along with the nickname came the fear: though they weren't assassins, innocent civilians began seeming as afraid of them they'd once been of Shadowhawk. They didn't mind. Fear could be as useful as a physical weapon.

However, in spite of everything, Gene continued to be victimized by Gallak and his men. One day, he gathered all of Almoram's disgruntled patrolmen together and turned the tables, driving Gallak out of the Almoram lodge. From then on, the building was known as the Shadowhawk House.

Tahyang kept the low profile of a nomad throughout these proceedings. However, Gene sought to establish a new set of standards for the patrolmen in the Shadowhawk House. He instituted mandatory combat and tactical training, as well as group activities to strengthen comaraderie and pride. Gradually, the patrolmen from the Shadowhawk House became the most well-known in all of Almoram's Hand. Gene not only developed their combat skills, but also taught them to read and write.

Gene came to be considered the undisputed leader of the Shadowhawk House. Over time, Gene and Tahyang's fame spread throughout all of the vast city of Delphinad.
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#10293255 Nov 16, 2014 at 02:37 PM
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Chapter 8

Just two years after their arrival in the capital city, Gene and Tahyang were well-known to everyone, even those in the narrowest back streets. They were committed to their duties as patrolmen, and even though their duties necessitated some level of violence, they developed firm laws and guidelines. They didn't steal from honest merchants, they didn't rape, and they didn't smash tables in bars. Overall, they had a good reputation.

Gene and Tahyang did not rule unchallenged, however. Famous patrolmen and soldiers from other neighborhoods often tried to start fights with them. Gene and Tahyang usually declined, but would occasionally agree to the fights to teach their challengers a lesson. No matter who they fought, they were undefeated.

Eventually, the surviving guards from Gene's procession recognized the Shadowhawk as their prince and approached him. He was overjoyed to see them, and the contact no longer put him in any danger. Even if Queen Sabina learned of his new identity, it would be nearly impossible to kill him. The members of the Shadowhawk House--now called the "Hawk Brothers"--surrounded Gene like so many shadows.

At first, his old guards tried to persuade Gene to return to the Epherium palace. They soon realized that their place was at his side wherever he chose to be. They joined the Hawk Brothers and became Gene's right-hand men.

One day, Gene and Tahyang were having lunch at their favorite tavern. It was quite large and rather crowded. Students from all over had apparently gathered for an examination the next day at the city's famous library. Only those who passed the exam could ever hope to teach there. Even students not yet qualified to take the exam had come to the city, just to see who the library's next generation of teachers would be.

A young woman and a slight girl sat eating in a corner of the bustling tavern. They weren't particularly noteworthy... until a bard began to play. As the music picked up, the girl took off her cloak and began to dance. The young woman, apparently the girl's guardian, had stepped away.

The girl, though young, was incredibly beautiful, and her dancing was hypnotizing. Everyone in the room was mezmerized, including Gene and Tahyang. When her dance ended with the music, she vanished amid cheering fans. Gene and Tahyang continued their lunch. Suddenly, a commotion broke out. The young woman had returned, but the girl was nowhere to be seen.

The young woman grabbed at random bystanders, asking if they'd seen the girl, but no one had any clue. Few people were even interested. When she approached Gene and Tahyang, the honest Firran told her how the girl had attracted so much attention by dancing, and how she'd been swallowed up by a crowd when the dance ended. He said that someone in the crowd could have easily abducted the child.

The young woman scrutinized Gene and Tahyang's faces, then asked them to help her find her sister. Just as Gene was about to refuse, she tossed a bag of gold coins on the table. She said it was only a deposit and promised the other half when her sister was found safe.

When he heard the girl was her sister, Tahyang grew more sympathetic and told Gene they should help. Gene remained reluctant, because he suspected who might have taken the girl. He'd spotted a few slave traders in the crowd. It was difficult to prove the identity of foreigners, so if they'd taken her, it wouldn't be easy to get her back.

However, the young lady's gold coins did look quite plentiful. Furthermore, you never knew who was watching, and he didn't want the Shadowhawk's Twin Swords to seem fearful of slave traders. Gene finally agreed to the job.

Pursuing them wasn't difficult; Gene and Tahyang had been around long enough to know where in the city the traders might have taken the girl. After winding through the market and back alleys, Gene, Tahyang, and the young woman finally made it to the slave market. If a foreigner was kidnapped, it was common to sell her off as quickly as possible to avoid repercussions.

Gene and Tahyang were surprised by the young woman's calm demeanor. Most people in such circumstances would have succumbed to panic, but the young woman was handling things with great fortitude. Gene warned her that in a location as chaotic as the slave market, it might be near impossible to find her sister.

The young woman said that even if they failed, they had to try. And if they waited long enough, surely they'd eventually see her sister on the auction block. Of course, once she was on stage, it wouldn't be easy to simply walk off with her, but Gene supposed they should take things one step at a time.

Hundreds of people were waiting to see the new slaves go up for auction. The air was warm and smelled of sweat. Several hours passed, but finally, the young girl appeared on the stage. She seemed drugged and half-asleep. Her arm was covered in bruises and lacerations... as was her slave trader's face.

The auction began. As the third bid was called out, a black fog enveloped the crowd. Gene and Tahyang couldn't see their hands right in front of their faces. The young woman's voice rang out: "Now!" Immediately, they could make out a clear silhouette within the blinding fog: the girl.

Tahyang leapt up, Gene following close behind. They seized the girl effortlessly, still shrouded in the strange fog. Tahyang slung the girl over his shoulder, and the foursome fled the slave market.

They didn't stop until they reached the home of one of Gene's guards. In the safety of its walls, they waited for the girl to regain consciousness. When she did, her sister scolded her thoroughly. The girl didn't respond, but simply clung to the young woman, who eventually began to treat the injuries on her arm. Tahyang took the opportunity to ask about the fog; Gene asked the young woman if she was a mage. With a sigh, she set aside her bandages, and said, "It's a bit late, but let's introduce ourselves."

The young woman introduced herself as Rosa and her sister as Nona. They were actually Kyprosa and Orchidna from the Fir Castle, princesses in their own right, but they chose to keep the truth to themselves.

Kyprosa refused to answer any questions about magic, but she did give them the other half of their payment. Unfortunately, she was short by a single coin.

Tahyang was willing to let it go, but Gene gave a mischievous grin and insisted she pay the last gold coin. When Kyprosa apologized and asked for more time to pay, he asked her to explain the magic instead. Kyprosa considered the request, then asked them to meet her at sundown. They agreed and parted ways.

That night, the foursome met up once again. Kyprosa led them to the outskirts of the city. As they strolled alongside the city walls, they came to a closed, worn door. Tahyang had explored the city extensively, and said that the door led to a private house, but had been sealed off. Open it, and you'd find nothing but a wall.

Kyprosa gave a mysterious smile and touched the door. It swung open and revealed a street unlike anything they'd ever seen. Great buildings lined the cobblestones, which were lit by strange, floating lights.
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#10293257 Nov 16, 2014 at 02:37 PM
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1197 Posts
Chapter 9

If Gene and Tahyang had lived in the city for the next hundred years, they would have never discovered this secret. The door could only be used by mages; anyone else would open it and see only the wall that Tahyang had described. Beyond the door stood the Delphinad of an alternate dimension: a mirror image of the city, built with magic by powerful wizards. It was called Ayanad.

The layout of the city of Ayanad was nearly identical to Delphinad. However, because the structures had been erected by magic, they didn't have to obey the normal rules of nature or architecture. Buildings could move like windchimes or mobiles. The entire landscape changed and evolved with the power of magic.

People walking down the street would disappear in a blink, then later be seen walking through the Ayanad sky.

Magic in Ayanad was amplified to the point of natural law. The most powerful warrior from the outside world was as weak as an infant in Ayanad if he didn't know any magic. Wizards performed fantastic experiments, making tremendous discoveries with minimal effort. If anything was broken or anyone injured, it could be easily repaired with tender threads of magic, made even better than it was before.

Wizards and mages could immediately recognize the door to Ayanad, even if it was their first time in Delphinad. They could enter and exit at will, but did not live there. The only mages who lived in Ayanad were the Ayanad Council, a group of great wizards who ruled the city.

The councillors didn't restrict anyone from entering or exiting the city, but they did magically record the face of everyone who entered. It was impossible to avoid the magical eyes of the councillors in Ayanad. That was the real reason no one lived in Ayanad: you couldn't lead a private life in a place where secrets didn't exist.

Ayanad had a library in the exact same location as the library in Delphinad. The Ayanad Library only pursued the study of magic--even dangerous magic. It wasn't uncommon to see strange lifeforms called forth from other dimensions roaming the grounds. Magical constructs performed most of the library's maintenance, and magic shaped and tended the flourishing gardens.

Of course, not all wizards were noble; some of the younger ones were downright mischievous. Since Gene and Tahyang didn't know any magic and couldn't defend themselves, it wasn't safe for them to stay very long. Kyprosa soon led them back out.

Gene was shocked that a place like Ayanad existed and was full of questions. In the last two years, he thought he'd come to know Delphinad like the back of his hand. The discovery that he'd missed an entire other world within the city hurt his pride.

Kyprosa said it was impossible to fully understand the world of Ayanad without learning magic. She admitted that even she didn't understand all the details of its existence.

She warned Gene and Tahyang that they could never reenter Ayanad without the help of a mage. However, she knew she owed Gene a debt, so she promised to teach him some of the magic she learned in the future.

Kyprosa and Orchidna--or Rosa and Nona, as they had introduced themselves to Gene and Tahyang--had only just arrived in Delphinad. It had been nearly a year since they left the Fir Castle. Kyprosa had brought them to Delphinad in the hopes of finding a good master in the library so she could continue her study of magic. She already had a master in mind; rumors held that all of his disciples had to pass a special test.

Kyprosa had already spent years studying the books on magic in the Fir Castle. However, she'd made precious little progress without a teacher. Her father had left many strange records of magic, and these at least had taught her that she possessed unusually strong magic abilities and potential. The spell she'd used to create the fog while saving Orchidna was her own creation. It should have been impossible for someone of so little education to create such a spell, but she'd managed anyway.

Kyprosa and Orchidna did not have a place to stay. Kyprosa had given all her money to Gene and Tahyang for helping find her sister. Tahyang tried to return the money, but Kyprosa refused to take it. She felt the men had earned it; it was only fair they keep the payment she'd promised them.

Gene and Tahyang soon decided to take the sisters back to the Shadowhawk House. It was like their own kingdom, and they were sure the sisters would be safe there.

Kyprosa offered to help with the cooking and laundry in lieu of rent. She'd learned both as a child, and found the habits easy to slip back into. She was a good enough cook that she quickly earned the other lodgers' gratitude and respect. Her ability to read minds and predict behavior only deeped their admiration.

The Hawk Brothers were perplexed at first, but Kyprosa gave them such good advice, they soon began coming to her with all of their concerns. In addition to cooking and cleaning, she became an unofficial Hawk Brother mediator, calmly helping resolve even the most complex grudges and problems.

Having spent most of his life wandering, Tahyang was especially grateful for the creature comforts Kyprosa provided. As for Gene, he began to find Kyprosa mildly annoying: she was too perfect. How could anyone be that perfect? How dare anyone be that perfect? However, the first time he saw Orchidna during one of her wild episodes, he realized that Kyprosa's outward calm and composure had been forged by enormous difficulty.

Once he started to see Kyprosa in this new light--a young woman struggling to care for her sister in impossible circumstances--she began to remind him of his mother during their time on the run. Gene still missed those times, the hardships and challenges as much as the joys.

However, despite Kyprosa reminding Gene of Tinari, he saw no similarities between himself and Orchidna. Orchidna had hated Gene from the first. There was no reason for it; it was a purely instinctive hostility. The girl adored Tahyang, however. Even Blacknight liked the bold, eccentric Orchidna; he not only allowed her to touch him, but even to ride him.

Orchidna seemed to have an even deeper relationship with Blacknight than with Tahyang. Often the three of them would stroll through Delphinad with Orchidna riding on Blacknight's back. Sometimes, Orchidna would insist on joining Tahyang for dangerous missions; Tahyang usually allowed it, because he knew Blacknight would protect her.
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#10293260 Nov 16, 2014 at 02:38 PM
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Chapter 10

Kyprosa was well-liked in the Shadowhawk House, but ultimately, it didn't matter to her. Her main concern was still to find a master of magic that she could study with.

One night, she found herself lost amid Ayanad's ever-changing streets. She wandered until dawn, but couldn't find the exit. No matter where she turned, she always ended up back at the Ayanad Library.

Finally, she stepped inside the hallowed place. It was usually crowded with people, but right now, it was strangely quiet and empty. Even the corridors themselves seeemd different. She entered an amphitheater in the garden that she'd never seen before. A lone figure sat inside.

He was sketching something on the ground with his finger, seemingly unaware of Kyprosa's presence. He stood, and paced thoughtfully, then continued drawing. The light of early dawn brightened the amphitheater incrementally. Kyprosa could just make out the man's sketch in the dirt. It was part of a complicated spell intended to modify the basic principles of magic.

Kyprosa couldn't help but be intrigued and found herself trying to discern the spell's meaning. It should have been impossible, but a mysterious knowledge filled her mind. The spell became clear. She could even imagine the conclusion to the spell, which the man hadn't drawn yet. Without thinking, she called out the final calculations. The man turned toward her.

He was a young and incredibly handsome Elf. Kyprosa had never met an Elf before, and his fine features make her gasp aloud. Flustered, she quickly silenced herself. The Elf motioned her closer, then asked if she knew what he'd been drawing. Words failed her, but the Elf could read her mind and sensed that knew the end of the spell. He repeated his question.

After much hesitation and many halting silences, they began to talk. At the Elf's earnest request, Kyprosa corrected part of the spell. The Elf immediately completed the rest of it. The symbols drawn in the dirt began to shine, and a strange image appeared.

Kyprosa didn't know what world the image displayed, or why. But it looked like a beautiful place, full of wonder. The world vanished, and Kyprosa asked the Elf if he knew anything about it. He didn't, though it seemed the answer to an age-old problem was hidden in the image.

They finally introduced themselves. The Elf said his name was Aranzeb, then asked Kyprosa if she was interested in studying magic. It was a question she'd always longed to be asked, and she told him so.

Aranzeb said they should return to Delphinad, but asked Kyprosa to meet him the next day at this location in the Delphinad Library. When Kyprosa confessed that she'd become lost and couldn't find Ayanad's exit, he magically summoned the door back to Delphinad. It was unimaginabel magic for Kyprosa. She murmured goodbye and left.

The next day, Kyprosa headed to the Delphinad Library. Gene followed, and they chatted on the way. Kyprosa found Delphinad's version of the amphitheater she'd wandered into in Ayanad. The place was packed with students. Their teacher was not Aranzeb, but a graceful, elderly Elf. Scanning the crowd, Kyprosa didn't see Aranzeb anywhere.

Gene asked around, then told Kyprosa the Elf teaching was Rowan Alexander, the greatest teacher of magic in all of Delphinad. He was also the wizard that Kyprosa had wanted so badly to learn from.

Kyprosa wanted to enter the amphitheater, but the entrance was guarded. Only Alexander's disciples were allowed to sit inside. However, the door was open, and Kyprosa could at least listen in. She stood outside the door for five hours, taking in as much as she could.

Gene waited with her, but quickly grew bored; he had no experience with magic and couldn't understand any of the lecture. Eventually, he angrily considered just pushing their way into the class. But Kyprosa was listening so earnestly, he decided to wait.

Kyprosa had crumpled to the floor from pain in her legs, and Gene was dozing against a pillar, when a teaching assistant stepped out from the amphitheater. It was Aranzeb. He was one of Alexander's head disciples, and he recognized Kyprosa immediately. He allowed both Kyprosa and Gene into the amphitheater.

When the lecture was over, Aranzeb introduced Kyprosa to Alexander while the other disciples looked on in shock. They respected Aranzeb greatly, but he rarely congregated with the other disciples. He only engaged in private research and teaching.

Alexander had already spoken with Aranzeb about Kyprosa; now, the elderly mage gave her official permission to begin the next day as one of his disciples. Since Gene was standing beside her, the gracious Elf gave him permission as well.

The Elves would know Kyprosa was lying if she tried to introduce herself as Rosa, so she revealed her real name and history. That was how Gene learned she was Kyprosa Daeier from Northern Yaer. Though he didn't care, Yaer and Epherium weren't on good terms.
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#10293262 Nov 16, 2014 at 02:38 PM
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Chapter 11

Gene didn't want to go to the magic classes at first. He had no foundation for understanding them and was afraid of being embarrassed. Even Kyprosa was worried. Since Alexander and Aranzeb were Elves, she should be able to speak their language before taking their classes. However, she didn't know a single word.

Gene was fluent in the Elven language, so Kyprosa promised to teach him the basics of magic if he taught her the Elven language. Gene agreed, and they began to study into the early morning hours every night. Soon Tahyang was patrolling on his own, and rumors spread that the Shadowhawk's Twin Swords had left the city.

Aranzeb was very interested in Kyprosa's potential. From time to time, he'd summon her to his study chamber so he could learn more about her. She told him her father was Raeven, and that he was very eccentric and had kept meticulous and strange records. Fascinated with her story, Aranzeb shared it with Alexander later.

Alexander knew exactly who Raeven was. Raeven had gone to the Amaitan Highlands after leaving the Fir Castle. He secreted himself away in a cave and began a series of dark experiments the likes of which had never been tried before. Many wizards began to call him the "Wizard of Amaitan," and he was widely recognized as someone with exceptional abilities.

Raeven wielded powerful magic, but it had a different source than the rest of the magic on the continent. Though Alexander knew this, he didn't mention it to Aranzeb. Instead, he told Aranzeb to watch Kyprosa closely and find out if there was anything unique about her magic.

A year passed. Kyprosa became one of the most highly recognized disciples in Alexander's school. Many other disciples resented her, suspecting she'd received preferential treatment. The fact that solitary Aranzeb spent so much time with her didn't help these rumors.

Kyprosa had grown close with Aranzeb, but she knew that he was over 300 years old, so she was careful to always behave as a respectful student and nothing more. However, she was openly friendly with Gene, who she shared a home and studied with.

Gene was the worst student in Alexander's school. However, the other disciples respected him anyway: they knew he was a patrolman with Almoram's Hand and one of the Shadowhawk's Twin Swords. They couldn't help but be afraid of him.

Gene was spending more and more time with Kyprosa and was finding himself more and more drawn to her. He spent his days bickering with everyone, even Tahyang. After being a tough outlaw patrol captain in the back alleys, how could he suddenly allow the weakness of becoming a romantic?

Since Kyprosa could read minds, she sensed the change in Gene's feelings early on. But when she rejected Jaeim and left the Fir Castle, she'd promised herself to focus only on her magic studies until they were complete. Aside from simply learning magic, however, she also hoped to find a way to understand, or even tame, Orchidna's wildness.

Kyprosa had been able to see what was in people's hearts ever since she was young--especially their hatred and scorn. She was never as at peace as when she was isolated from other people and their thoughts, and had built high walls around her heart. Allowing someone past them was difficult, so she avoided it.

The more Kyprosa tried to push thoughts of Gene from her mind, the harder it became to focus on her studies. They spent more and more time together, and her will began to crumble.

Aranzeb was skilled enough to lead his own school of magic, but he remained a disciple of Alexander's because he also hated meeting people.

One day, Kyprosa was mentally exhausted. She tried to study with Aranzeb, but couldn't focus at all.

Aranzeb taught her the Elven method of meditation. Kyprosa felt calm and peaceful for the first time in a long while. She asked why he didn't teach a class on it, and he simply smiled.

The next day, Kyprosa saw an announcement that Aranzeb would be teaching a class on Elven meditation and poetry.
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#10293263 Nov 16, 2014 at 02:39 PM · Edited over 7 years ago
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Chapter 12

Rumor spread that Kyprosa was romantically involved with Aranzeb. Gene dismissed them, because he'd never seen evidence of it himself. However, so many students wanted to take Aranzeb's new class that the class had to be moved from the Delphinad Library to the Ayanad Library.

Of course, thanks to his magical training, Gene could now enter Ayanad on his own. But his limited abilities were little match for any other mage, and it was still a dangerous place for him to be. He avoided it at all costs. Kyprosa went to Aranzeb's class without him.

One night, someone told Gene he'd seen Kyprosa being intimate with Aranzeb. Gene couldn't take the unending rumors and stormed into Ayanad to see for himself. However, before he could reach the library, strange wizards appeared and abducted him. They left not a trace of evidence.

Kyprosa returned to the Shadowhawk House after class and learned that Gene hadn't. Never imagining he'd ventured into Ayanad, she assumed that the Hawk Brother informants scattered around Delphinad would find him soon enough. When Gene still hadn't turned up by the following night, Tahyang launched a citywide search. No one had seen Gene since the night before.

Tahyang's search lasted several days. Even Kyprosa put her studies on hold to help find him. When there was still no sign of him, it struck her that perhaps he'd ventured into Ayanad. Since no one in Delphinad had seen him, it seemed like the only other possibility.

Around that time, Tahyang caught wind of some new strangers in the city. Gene's old guards investigated, then confirmed the strangers were from Epherium. Something strange had happened.

Kyprosa requested a meeting with the Ayanad Council. They tried to refuse her, but she wouldn't leave until they agreed. She negotiated to be able to view the magical Ayanad recordings of everyone in the city on the night Gene died. Within minutes, she spotted his face.

Meanwhile, Tahyang and the Hawk Brothers captured and interrogated the strangers from Epherium. The men were members of a famous group of assassins called the Black Sands. Most of their assignments involved the nobility. They employed just as many dark mages as assassins experienced with physical weapons.

Tahyang explained Gene's rocky relationship with Queen Sabina to Kyprosa. In all likelihood, the queen had sent the Black Sands to assassinate Gene. However, Kyprosa had seen Gene being abducted on the Ayanad recordings. Since Sabina would have wanted him dead, the assassins were probably hoping to hold him for ransom.

They believed that the Black Sands members Tahyang had caught were sent because the initial assassins--the Black Sands mages in Ayanad--had not immediately killed Gene.

Kyprosa suggested that they release the Black Sands assassins they'd caught, then follow them to see where they went. Almost immediately, the men were seen entering a suspicious house. Tahyang and Kyprosa decided to investigate; Orchidna insisted on tagging along. When they got close, she let out a cry: she could already sense Gene's presence.

Orchidna sometimes displayed strange abilities like this. Though both Tahyang and Kyprosa had their doubts, it was the best lead they had. However, they wanted to end this legally, not with back alley deals and more violence. Therefore, they couldn't enter the building without a search warrant.

Kyprosa went to Alexander for help. He promised to introduce her to a Delphinad official who was studying under him. He wrote a letter of introduction and sent her to a luxurious residence. Though the official wasn't home, his lovely daughter was. She greeted Kyprosa warmly. Her name was Eanna.

Kyprosa explained that a dear friend had been kidnapped. Eanna promised to persuade her father to issue the search warrant. Her father wasn't just a Delphinad official: he was the governor! When he returned home, he read Alexander's letter, listened to his daughter's story, and wrote out the warrant immediately. He even sent some of his own guards to help.

Warrant in hand and with a cadre of Delphinad guards behind them, Kyprosa and Tahyang entered the suspicious house. Tahyang and the men subdued the Black Sands members present, and Kyprosa found Gene in a back room. He was heavily drugged, but he was alive.

They brought Gene back to the Shadowhawk House, but even after he regained consciousness, he could only speak nonsense. Apparently, his abductors had had a difficult time controlling him and had given him with powerful drugs. Kyprosa cared for Gene for several days, refusing to go to her classes. She could feel her heart softening toward him.

Finally, Gene regained his senses, though he remained weak. One night, he mustered the courage to ask Kyprosa about her relationship with Aranzeb, and she realized why he must've entered Ayanad that night in the first place. They talked until dawn, honestly revealing their feelings for each other.

Several days later, Kyprosa returned to the governor's mansion to thank him and his daughter. However, neither was home. Servants told her Eanna was working in the charity station near the entrance to the city's slums.

Kyprosa thought she must've heard wrong, but sure enough, when she reached the charity station, she saw Eanna dishing out food for a long line of hungry, impoverished citizens. Eanna was thrilled to see Kyprosa. It turned out the governer had built the charity station at Eanna's request, and she managed the place herself.

Moved, Kyprosa offered to help. The two young women quickly became friends and met up often. Eanna dreamed of becoming a historian and took a variety of classes at the library, so they were even able to study together.

Eanna soon became acquainted with Gene, Tahyang, and Orchidna as well. Ignoring her noble status as the governor's daughter, she could often be found in the Shadowhawk House. She grew interested in magic and easily joined the Alexander School.

Gene and Kyprosa became lovers, and Gene was able to release his jealousy of Aranzeb. A happy year passed. Kyprosa, Gene, and Eanna learned much from Aranzeb. Sometimes, after leaving their classes in Ayanad, they all met up with Tahyang and Orchidna for dinner.
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#10293264 Nov 16, 2014 at 02:39 PM
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Chapter 13

A few more people joined their group of students at the library. Gene ordered all of the Shadowhawk patrolmen to take classes in whatever interested them. Those who knew how to read immediately signed up for various classes.

Among them was a new, female Shadowhawk named Melisara. She wasn't able to officially join the Alexander School, but was always trying to audit Gene's classes. She was literate and seemed refined. She began to join Kyprosa, Gene, Eanna, and Aranzeb more and more at the library.

No one knew Melisara's true purpose. She'd been sent by Queen Sabina to assassinate Gene. She was skilled in battle, but knew she couldn't compare to Gene--not yet. She was working hard to develop her skills and earn Gene's trust. It worked. By the end of the year, Gene, Tahyang, and Kyprosa trusted her completely.

Melisara was no ordinary thug. She hailed from the noble Epherium family of Livolla. Her father was one of Queen Sabina's top guards and began teaching Melisara how to handle weapons as soon as she could stand. She always imagined she'd follow in his footsteps and become a soldier herself.

However, when Tinari rose to power in the court, she sought to erode Sabina's power. She ordered Melisara's entire family, including her father, killed. Melisara, visiting a friend, was the only one who escaped.

Queen Sabina was furious when she heard about what happened to the Livollas. However, since Tinari had earned the king's favor, there was nothing that could be done. Sabina sent Melisara to another loyal family and ordered them to raise her well. Melisara continued to follow the path of a soldier, focusing on learning the skills of an assassin.

Years later, Queen Sabina summoned Melisara and gave her a secret mission. She wanted her to go to Delphinad and assassinate Gene, Tinari's son.

Melisara was eager to kill Gene as revenge for her father's murder and left for Delphinad immediately. She investigated his whereabouts and soon applied to join the Almoram's Hand. She then worked her way into the Shadowhawk House, going about her assignments with gusto in order to gain Gene's trust.

Eventually, she began to frequent the library with Gene and Kyprosa. Queen Sabina, however, couldn't wait any longer. She sent the Black Sands to finish Melisara's job. The abduction made Gene wary, and made it even harder for Melisara to find the right time. She sent the queen a letter to tell her that she would kill him eventually, no matter how long it took.

When Gene instructed the rest of the Shadowhawks to study at the library, Melisara was overjoyed. She could now follow Gene without arousing suspicion. Over time, she even began to enjoy her studies for their own sake.

After becoming Gene's friend, Melisara learned that the father she'd loved and respected had tracked Gene and Tinari ruthlessly for eight long years. Gene and Tinari had both suffered greatly. She also learned that Gene had come to hate his mother as much as she did, and that was why he'd left Epherium.

Melisara also found it hard not to genuinely like Gene, Kyprosa, Eanna, and Aranzeb. She couldn't help but consider them friends. She began to lose interest in finishing her mission, but knew she couldn't abandon her promise to Queen Sabina. She chose to delay indefinitely.
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#10293270 Nov 16, 2014 at 02:41 PM
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Chapter 14

September in Delphinad was still summer. Despite the heat, Eanna was preparing lunch at the charity station. She noticed a rogueish drifter waiting in the line.

The man looked quite poor, but didn't seem embarrassed or ashamed about it. He was examining his surroundings with interest. When he reached the front of the line, he locked eyes with Eanna and smiled.

When she'd finished serving everyone, Eanna went to buy supplies. The drifter followed. Eanna was used to grateful hangers-on and felt no fear. When the drifter caught up to her, he offered to help her carry her purchases in exchange for the lunch. She could tell that in reality, he was trying to flirt. She couldn't help but laugh.

They strolled through the marketplace side-by-side. It was a good afternoon. The man was charming and funny, even reciting some awkward poems. Eanna bought bundles of fish, cabbage, and carrots until the man buckled under their weight. He whined like a child, but continued to trail after her.

Eventually, they rested on some barrels in the corner of the marketplace and shared a carrot. Later, they laughed all the way back to the charity station, the setting sun highlighting the market's red and yellow tents. Neither knew that years from now, both would long for this day.

The drifter's name was Lucius. Lucius came to the charity station for lunch every day for the next ten. He always lingered near Eanna, hoping to continue their conversation. Then, finally, she spoke to him again. However, his eager smile soon faded. Eanna only wanted to chastise him: an able-bodied young man should be able to find a job and not continue needing free food from the charity station.

Lucius stared, dumbfounded, then burst out laughing. The next day was a holiday, with many plays and performances planned. He gave Eanna two tickets to one of the plays and disappeared.

Lucius was no poor drifter, but Lucius Quinto, a famous poet and playwright. His performances were always wildly popular. He was staying in Delphinad for about a year and had already produced several highly successful plays. Commoners, celebrities, and nobles alike celebrated him.

Lucius enjoyed his fame, but was always looking for inspiration for his next great piece of art, something that would set him apart from all other once-popular, easily-forgotten playwrights. He labored toward his future masterpiece, studying, experiencing, acting eccentric. Visiting the charity station was simply an experiment for inspiration.

Lucius paid special attention to the audience during his play the next day. Acting like a drifter had been fun, but he wanted Eanna to see his real talents. He'd truly grown to like her in the little time they'd spent together. However, he couldn't find her anywhere in the audience.

Lucius was disappointed. He returned to the charity station the next day and found Eanna preparing the day's lunch as usual. When she saw him, she smiled and said she'd enjoyed the play. Lucius asked where she'd been sitting, but she only smiled again and refused to respond.

Lucius visited Eanna at the charity station every day after that. When he went in his normal clothes, which were quite nice, he couldn't get close to her; her focus was always on the poor she was there to help. He went back to pretending to be a drifter and waiting in the line for food. The only times they were alone together were when they went to the marketplace.

People got used to seeing Lucius at the charity station. He and Eanna had become close friends, and he'd even come to know Kyprosa and Gene. However, he still had no idea where Eanna lived.

Lucius gave Eanna tickets to all of his plays, and she always claimed she'd gone to see them. However, he never saw her at the theater. When one of his plays became a huge hit, he was invited to a grand party. He was introduced to the governor, and then to the governer's beautiful daughter: Eanna.

Eanna was surprised to see him, but Lucius was even moreso. He left immediately. That was why he'd never seen Eanna at the theater: Eanna had watched from the boxes reserved for the nobility, not from the main audience.

Lucius locked himself in a rundown inn for ten days, thinking. Then, finally, he returned to the charity station, looking as rough as a real drifter.

Lucius forgave Eanna for keeping her identity from him. She'd understood him well enough to know he'd be reluctant to become involved with a noble, and she hadn't wanted to frighten him away.

Both knew the governor would never allow their romance, so they became secret lovers. Only their closest friends knew the truth. They would meet up at the library, their friends covering for their absence from classes. Eanna gave Lucius a simple, gold rin as a symbol of their growing affection. It never left Lucius's finger.
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#10293274 Nov 16, 2014 at 02:41 PM
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Chapter 15

The next year, a dwarf appeared at the library. He introduced himself as Ollo; everyone agreed it was a strange name.

Ollo proved to be just as strange as his name. He signed up for a wide variety of classes at the library, but showed the most interest in magic. He was the first dwarf to gain entrance to Alexander's school, and the other students were quite curious about him. Even Alexander wasn't sure how to treat him; he'd never met a dwarf interested in magic.

Ollo didn't mingle much with the other students in Alexander's school, which was founded around Elven culture. He only came to know the Shadowhawks and their friends after attending Aranzeb's class on poetry and meditation.

Ollo thirsted for knowledge. He acted with books like a starving man with a loaf of bread. Eanna pitied him and cared for him, making certain he ate and bathed. However, she began to suspect he was being chased by something.

One day, during supper after Aranzeb's class, Ollo revealed that he only had one year to spend in Delphinad, so he had to learn as much as possible while he had the chance. However, he didn't explain why.

Aranzeb was the first to realize what Ollo's varied classes had in common. The dwarf was taking every class that had anything to do with manipulating time.

One day during his lecture, Aranzeb began idly discussing different methods for turning back time. Once Ollo was fully engrossed, Aranzeb clearly stated that despite all theories and attempts, turning back time was completely impossible.

It might be possible to briefly return to the past, but no matter what you did there, once you returned to the present, nothing would be different. Aranzeb said the only reason people wanted to travel backward was to change something, but it would never work.

Ollo asked how it could be possible that changing the past didn't also alter the present?

Aranzeb answered that he was no expert, and could only hypothesize. He imagined that whenever you make a choice, say between A, B, or C, you are put on a certain path. If you choose A, you are forever a part of that reality. Even if you returned to the past and chose B or C, when you returned to the present, you would still be in the A reality.

If you really wanted to choose B, you would have to settle for knowing that your alternate self in another dimension had chosen it.

Ollo wasn't satisfied. Flustered, he argued that this was just a student teacher's opinion. He maintained he was not trapped in time or in a certain dimension. He believed he was a free being who could pass between worlds.

Aranzeb heard Ollo out, then said he'd heard of a researcher who wanted to join an alternate future. He went back to the past and chose a different path, then stayed there. He lived out the rest of the life in that other dimension. Aranzeb ended the class without elaborating further.

Though he'd argued confidentally with Aranzeb, Ollo was actually full of doubt. After class, he seemed deeply depressed. Eanna convinced him to join her friends for drinks. With enough ale, he finally explained his obsession with time manipulation.
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#10293280 Nov 16, 2014 at 02:42 PM
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Chapter 16

Ollo was born to a wealthy merchant family. When he was young, his kingdom had been annexed by another powerful Dwarven kingdom. Ollo's family refused to surrender to their former enemies and were killed. Only his uncle, a cleric, pledged loyalty to the new kingdom and was allowed to survive. It was he who raised Ollo.

Ollo hated having to bow and scrape to the new Hadiza rulers. He even began to hate his uncle for giving them his family's fortune and pledging them his life.

One day, Ollo uncovered that his uncle had traded the lives of Ollo's parents and brothers to save himself. However, Ollo was too young to fully understand the implications. His uncle named Ollo as his heir, since he'd never had children.

In spite of everything, Ollo's uncle loved him and did his best to raise and educate him. Ollo grew up torn between loving his uncle for keeping him safe, and hating him for letting the rest of their family be killed.

Finally, Ollo abandoned his life and ran away. He went seaching for the great Dwarven master, Gollog, then finally found the man on a high mountain peak. The search had taken years, and Ollo was already thirty. He begged Gollog to either tell him how best to punish his uncle, or how best to end his obsession with revenge.

Gollog took on Ollo as a student and taught him the "Mountain Slumber" meditation technique. Gollog had developed the technique to free practioners from everyday emotions. Ollo trained diligently, and eventually rid himself of all emotion... except his thirst for revenge.

When Ollo reached the point where he could not only free himself of emotion, but even magically alter his environment, Gollog renamed him. It was Gollog who gave him the name Ollo; Ollo felt like it was his true name, and vowed never to reveal his original name again.

Time passed. Gollog knew that Ollo hadn't been able to release his desire for revenge. He had taught Ollo all he could, and if even that wasn't enough, there was nothing left he could do. He told Ollo to leave the mountain and return to the world.

Gollog introduced Ollo to his daughter, and they fell in love almost immediately. Gollog had known they would. Ollo's love was so deep, he was unable to meditate his other emotions away. He returned to being a normal person.

Gollog's daughter, Lizella, brought Ollo a happiness he'd never known. He didn't regret losing his meditation abilities. His only problem was his continuing desire for revenge. Listening to Gollog teach other students, Ollo realized that his former ability to alter his environment could also be used to alter time.

If he could alter time, perhaps he could return to the past. What if he could save his parents before his uncle's betrayal? What if he could help his kingdom defend against Hadiza's attack? What if he could change everything?

However, Ollo had lost his meditation abilities. He could no longer manipulate time, but he also couldn't bear to leave Lizella. He decided not to relearn the "Mountain Slumber" meditation technique, and instead began to research methods of manipulating time through other means.

Ollo and Lizella became engaged. Unfortunately, his obsession with revenge and time manipulation only grew. When Ollo learned about Delphinad, where the entire world's knowledge, best teachers, and oldest books were stored, he grew positive he'd find his answers there.

Gollog agreed to send Ollo to study in Delphinad if he promised to return in one year and get married. Ollo agreed. The night before he left, he was overcome with sadness at the thought of spending a full year away from Lizella, and ended up spending the night in her bed. He left for Delphinad at dawn's first light.

He soon received word that Lizella was pregnant. Pregnant and unmarried. He had shamed her. He felt terrible, but continued toward Delphinad.

By this point in Ollo's story, his new friends felt like they were beginning to understand his heart. Eanna and Lucius thought he should return to Lizella and his baby, but Kyprosa advised that he should study hard for one year, then return with no regrets. Only Gene admitted he understood Ollo's thirst for revenge. Melisara remained silent.
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#10293284 Nov 16, 2014 at 02:43 PM
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1197 Posts
Chapter 17

Meanwhile, Kyprosa and Gene's relationship was growing rocky. Kyprosa's difficult childhood made it hard for her to trust people. She was accustomed to solitude and often wanted time alone. Gene, on the other hand, felt incredibly lonely after his mother's betrayal and was overly-needy of her attention.

The two lovers argued often. Gene wanted Kyprosa to spend more time by his side, but Kyprosa felt like she was losing herself as an individual.

Kyprosa often deliberately disappeared so that she could be alone. Gene would then do everything he could to track her down. Fights and arguments often resulted, and it fell to Tahyang and Melisara to calm the lovers down.

They once decided to part ways after a particularly vicious fight. Gene wandered the city, day and night, alternately depressed and angry. Kyprosa entered Ayanad and refused to leave. Both clearly missed the other desperately. Their friends convinced them to reconcile.

Since he wasn't her lover, but just a friend, Kyprosa talked to Aranzeb freely and often. He listened and offered advice as any friend would. She was extremely grateful for the meditation he'd taught her, which was the only thing that could calm her after particularly bad fights with Gene.

One day, while Aranzeb was lecturing, a stunning Elven maiden entered the class. She sauntered up to the lectern and kissed Aranzeb on both cheeks. The other students stared. Aranzeb calmly told her to go wait in the back of the hall.

The class lasted several more hours. The Elven beauty waited patiently, occasionally resting her feet on a desk and enjoying an elegant nap. When Aranzeb's lecture finished, he called for her, and they disappeared.

The students were curious about the Elf maiden; Elves lived so long, it was difficult to guess ages, which also made it difficult to guess relationships. Was she Aranzeb's lover. The next day, she registered herself in Alexander's school. She even participated in the lecture, and answered many of the students' questions.

She loved to talk, but was a bit shy because she was barely an adult. At only one hundred years old, she was quite young for an Elf.

Her name was Aranzebia; as Aranzeb's goddaughter, her name had been derived from his. The information was surprising; it was unusual for an unmarried man to becomea godfather.

Aranzeb was tight-lipped about his personal life, so one knew that he'd once been married. Aranzebia explained nothing, honoring his privacy.

Aranzeb had always been a bit of a hemit, but he was also refined, sincere, and well-respected. However, once Aranzebia arrived, he began to miss classes, speak sharply, and roam Ayanad for hours by himself. He had lost his peace of mind.

Kyprosa tried to talk to him, but he seemed to be intentionally avoiding her. Then, one day, Aranzeb vanished without a trace. Worried, Kyprosa went to speak with Alexander. The story he told was incredible.

Elves usually married later in life, and almost never before turning 100. However, Aranzeb had married a childhood friend when he was in his twenties. Their love was astoundingly deep, and they were rarely seen apart.

They lived together happily in the Elven homeland of Enoa for 300 years. Then, just nine years ago, Aranzeb's wife, Nyn, had stepped on a venomous snake in the forest. There was nothing the Elven healers could do; she died within minutes.

Aranzeb had lost his mind with grief. For years, no one and nothing could help. He and his wife had been beloved disciples of Alexander's, and Alexander hated to see Aranzeb in so much pain. He traveled to Enoa and brought Aranzeb to Delphinad.

Very slowly, Aranzeb recovered. Several years later, he'd become the man Kyprosa knew. However, Aranzebia's arrival was a serious setback. Nyn had been Aranzebia's godmother, and Aranzeb couldn't look at her and not think of his dead wife.

Alexander was worried about Aranzeb, but could hardly tell his goddaughter to return to Enoa. Kyprosa left, stunned. Days later, an emaciated Aranzeb came to speak with Alexander. Before he said a word, Alexander told him to go wherever his heart led. Aranzeb said he could not.

Aranzeb wasn't suffering because Aranzebia reminded him of Nyn. At some point, Nyn had faded from his heart... and Kyprosa had entered it. Aranzebia reminded him of the love he'd once had, and the fact a new love was growing in its place.

But Kyprosa was a human, with a fraction of an Elf's lifespan. Aranzeb couldn't face the pain of eventually losing her, just as he'd lost Nyn.

Alexander loved Aranzeb more than any of his other disciples; he loved him like a son. He'd seen Aranzeb returning to his old self after meeting Kyprosa. He'd wanted nothing more than for Aranzeb to find love again with the young human girl. But Aranzeb was determined not to let that happen.

Around this time, Aranzebia got suspicious. She'd always been like a daughter to Aranzeb and Nyn. However, once Elves reach adulthood, age becomes rather meaningless. What was a few hundred years when Elves could live for centuries and centuries? She'd tried to forget about Aranzeb when Alexander took him to Delphinad, but it was no use. She'd fallen in love with him.

Aranzebia thought that after nine years, Nyn's shadow would have retreated from Aranzeb's heart. She'd come to Delphinad to take her place at his side, but now it seemed there was someone else--and a human at that.

Aranzebia knew why Aranzeb was reluctant to be with Kyprosa. Nyn had been taken from him far too soon at only 300 years; the longest he could spend with a human was 50 or 60. That was a mere moment for an Elf. Aranzebia decided she still had a chance.
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#10293299 Nov 16, 2014 at 02:46 PM
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1197 Posts
Chapter 18

Meanwhile, Kyprosa's magic abilities were growing at an amazing rate. Other students had admired her at first. Then came the jealousy, and now, it was fear. In just two years, she'd surpassed students who'd been studying under Alexander for more than ten. She was one of his top five students.

Even other teachers had grown suspicious of the young woman. When Alexander heard who Kyprosa's father was, he'd begun to do some additional research into the mysterious "Wizard of Amaitan."

The day came for the festival of the sea goddess. She was primarily worshipped in the Elven kingdom of Mortsand, but a variety of gods had come to be worshipped in Delphinad.

Kyprosa brought Orchidna to the festival. Gene, Tahyang, and Eanna joined them. They recognized a number of celebrants as other members of Alexander's school, then even noticed Alexander himself.

Alexander greeted Kyprosa, then her younger sister, Orchidna. It was the first time he'd met the girl, and he sensed a strange energy within her. Suddenly, Orchidna lashed out and bit his hand. She'd already drawn blood by the time Tahyang could pry her off.

Alexander's disciples were flustered by the incident. Alexander, however, remained calm. Although he could have easily healed himself with the slightest magic, he didn't. Instead, he wrapped his hand in cloth from his sash and returned home.

That night, Alexander summoned Aranzeb and asked him to report everything he knew about Kyprosa and Orchidna. He quickly realized that Aranzeb was hiding something.

Aranzeb knew that Kyprosa and her sister possessed a different power than that which was commonly called "magic." He didn't know its source, but also felt it was a private matter that shouldn't be discussed by others.

Alexander had already sensed it as well. It was weak in Kyprosa, but violently strong in Orchidna. It was the power of the Akasch.

Aranzeb was stunned. The Akasch were an evil serpent race that had ruled Erenor ages ago. Their physical strength and magical power were tremendous; modern humans and Elves would be as sparrows before gods.

The Akasch shed their skin every few years, allowing them to live for incredibly long periods. However, the one thing they hungered for was eternal life. They saw the other races on the world as their test subjects. They performed magical experiments on them, torturing them before eventually killing and devouring them.

An ancient race known as the Ipnya had eventually banished the Akasch from the world. Their methods weren't recorded in history, but they'd created a separate dimension, then exiled the Akasch into it.

Alexander had heard that Raeven had wanted to attain magic from outside of this world. As soon as he met Orchidna, Alexander realized that Raeven had succeeded. The Ipnya's descendants were the Astra and the Elves. Alexander could sense within Orchidna the power his ancestors had sought to banish.

As soon as Alexander touched Orchidna, an image of the Akasch filled his mind. Kyprosa had studied her father's books and notes; it was how she'd first begun to learn magic. It had corrupted her with the power of the Akasch. But somehow, their twisted power had even deeper roots in Orchidna, and Kyprosa's proximity to the girl had only strengthened their hold.

Alexander said he would not teach a student who possessed any part of the Akasch's power. The Akasch had the might to bring an end to all lives in Erenor. If Kyprosa's magic grew, she might inadvertantly open a portal to allow them back into this world. Alexander acknowledged it was unlikely, but the results were so dangerous, he refused to take the risk.

Aranzeb could not agree with this decision. He knew how hard Kyprosa worked at her magic and how much she relied on it for her future. Cutting off all her hopes and dreams based on a hypothesis, on an unlikely outcome, was cruel. Alexander's only proof was a vision that had appeared in only his mind.

The two could not reach an agreement. The next day, Alexander began the process of expelling Kyprosa. She was prohibited from entering all lecture halls, laboratories, and research rooms. Disciples were ordered not to study with her. The sanctions were unusually strict.

Gene withdrew from the school as soon as he heard the news. Melisara followed. Eanna dared them to expel her and continued studying with Kyprosa. Ollo hesitated, but ultimately followed suit. The only problem was Aranzeb.

Aranzeb was expected to set an example. He also owed Alexander a great debt. He couldn't leave, but also couldn't see Kyprosa. She understood, but he was devastated.

Days later, he found himself standing outside the Shadowhawk House. Though he'd known his friends for quite awhile, it was the first time he'd been there. He met Gene's cold gaze evenly and explained Alexander's concerns about Kyprosa and her sister.

Kyprosa couldn't believe ancient legends like the Akasch had anything to do with her or her sister. She vowed to research the situation herself. She would prove to Alexander that there was no connection between her magic and the evil of the Akasch.

Aranzeb gave her all the research materials he'd managed to gather. Apparently, many of the most powerful and notorious ancient races, such as the Akasch and the Ipnya, had become the subject of modern day religious cults. He advised her to research the cult that worshipped the Akasch.

Aranzeb told her to let him know if she needed additional books or records from the Ayanad Library. He hated that Alexander had prohibited her from going there without even giving her the chance to resolve the problem. He could not obey a command he disagreed with so vehemently.

Mages were often religious, but did not study religion the way they studied magic. Nevertheless, Eanna, Lucius, Melisara, and Ollo all offered to help Kyprosa study the Akasch cult.

Orchidna certainly possessed a strange, uncontrollable wildness. No one knew the identity of her mother. What if she was somehow connected to the Akasch? What would Kyprosa do?
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#10293300 Nov 16, 2014 at 02:47 PM
Admin
1197 Posts
Chapter 19

Another new year was born. Kyprosa and her friends researched all the gods in the Delphinad Pantheon, even those considered evil. They learned about each god's authority, personality, origins, and taboos. Many of the gods overlapped, or possessed odd similiarities. They couldn't help but wonder--why was Auroria home to so many different gods and religions? Where had they all come from?

They'd each only known the gods of their individual races and kingdoms. But many of the legends were identical. It seemed every god was a copy of another, older god. But if each god was a powerful as his worshippers believed, why didn't worshippers follow each other's gods?

Learning the history of the gods they'd grown up worshipping, the friends found their faith in these gods faltering. One day, Eanna, who'd once had the strongest faith of the group, asked what kind of a person would have designed a world with so many different gods?

The more they talked, the more they realized that was exactly the point: only mortals, with their prejudices and rivalries, would have devised a world with so many gods. But a true god would never create such a confusing milieu.

Ollo told a story he'd learned from his master, Gollog. While learning the Mountain Slumber meditation technique, he'd asked about the origins of the world. Gollog had said that long, long ago, a divine mother had given birth to the world.

The umbilical cord was severed when the world was born, but the world still had a navel where it had once attached. Supposedly, this existed at the very center of the world, and if you could get close enough to it, you could feel waves of the mother's power washing over you. Gollog didn't know exactly where this navel was, just that it was north of the Nemi River.

Gene said that the Amaitan Highlands stood north of the Nemi River. Kyprosa's father had been the "Wizard of Amaitan." Could the magic Kyprosa and Orchidna had inherited from him actually be the power of the mother of creation, and not the Akasch?

The friends agreed it was plausible, but there was no way to prove it. Other than traveling to the Amaitan Highlands and trying to find the navel of the world themselves, of course.

Lucius had been listening to the conversations quite closely. He'd traveled the continent extensively, and had long ago developed some of the same doubts about the many similar gods. In fact, he tended to look down on people who swore blind allegiance to such religions.

If Erenor had truly been created by an All-Goddess, she might've created a pantheon to help guide the new world. Mortals, with their wars and fears and passions, would have added to and complicated the pantheon.

Lucius didn't actually care whether or not the story was true: true or false, it was inspiration. He went home that night and took up a pen for the first time in a long time. He wrote all night long, then all day, then finished a play titled "Scoundrel."

The play reached the stage in less than a month. It was a satire about people who believed in the pantheon of gods, comparing them to people who worshipped wooden dolls, who chased shadows, and who fell in love with paintings. It was an instant sensation.

Rebellious youths acted out parts of the play in the streets and hurled insults at those who knelt to pray. Priests spoke out against it as their congregations went to see it in droves. Newspapers were filled with scholarly debates over its content. The play shocked and horrified many, but ticket sales were astronomical.

Lucius gave his friends front-row seats to the opening performance. By the time the play ended, Eanna was worried. Religion was a powerful force in Delphinad; she worried that the play's popularity wouldn't protect him forever from the anger of the faithful.

Meanwhile, Aranzeb ventured into the deepest depths of the Ayanad Library to research the legend Ollo had shared. Past the Amaitan Highlands, other legends spoke of a beautiful paradise called the navel of the world. It was said if you entered them, you could never leave.

Supposedly, colors in this paradise were ever-changing, eternal spring and eternal winter existed together, and magic was greatly amplified. However, the stories were just that: stories. Everyone who'd tried to find the place had either failed or never returned.

Ollo's first year in Delphinad was coming to a close. He began to worry he'd have to return to his homeland without the answers he'd been seeking. However, researching the navel of the world gave him an idea.

One legend said the paradise was "the place where time began." As you approached it, time warped and shifted, and if you actually reached the center, you could travel to any other point in time. Ollo had to wonder if he could change his history by finding the mythic paradise.

"Scoundrel" continued to gain in popularity. One evening, a stranger came to Lucius and his friends in the library. He wore a cloak, the hood hiding his face, and asked to speak with Lucius alone.

Lucius obliged and stepped away from the group. The stranger asked him about his inspiration for "Scoundrel." Lucius explained the play had grown out of deep conversations with his friends, then asked the stranger who he was.

The stranger removed his cloak, revealing a pair of large, white wings on his back. He was an Astra. Lucius gasped. The Astra were a sacred race, often working as priests. They possessed abilities and knowledge that other priests did not, no matter how much they studied. They were both revered and feared.

Astras were generally believed to be somewhat divine, halfway between mortals and the gods. They rarely associated with non-Astras, and even more rarely with non-priests. Lucius, like most people, had never met one.

"Scoundrel" had been nothing if not controversial, and getting moreso every day, but this was the first time Lucius had felt afraid. The Astra said his name was Inoch, and that he had not come to harm anyone, but would like to meet Lucius's friends. The ones who'd inspired the play.

Lucius arranged a meeting. An Astra tended to stand out in public, so he found a remote location and told everyone to arrive just after sundown.

As soon as everyone was seated, Inoch began to speak. He said Astras were usually born from two Astra parents, but that they could also be born from other races. They were long thought to be mutants; it had been centuries until they were recognized as a distinct race.

Now, some Astras spent their entire lives traveling the continent and searching for any children born with wings to take and raise among other Astras. However, many distant tribes still weren't aware of the Astra race. When a winged child was born, they worshipped it, abandoned it, or killed it.

Inoch was from the Hiram kingdom. It was an incredibly distant place many had never heard of. Wings had sprouted from Inoch's shoulder blades when he was a boy.

He was feared, persecuted, and starved. When an Astra priest from Delphinad happened through the distant kingdom, Inoch was on the verge of death. The priest saved him.

Inoch survived, but never saw his family again. His childhood was not a happy one. The varied religions in Delphinad confused him. In Hiram, only the "Mother of All Creation" was worshipped. The myths about her were identical to the theories in Lucius's play.

Inoch was drafted into service as a priest in the Delphinad pantheon. However, he continued to have doubts: the Mother Goddess he'd grown up worshipping didn't seem to represented. This far from Hiram, no one had even heard of her. Then, Inoch saw "Scoundrel."

When he finished his story, everyone erupted into conversation. Lucius explained his thought process while writing "Scoundrel, and Ollo related the legend he'd learned from Gollog. Even Aranzeb shared what he'd discovered in old Elven myths.

All the stories seemed to point north. Upstream of the Nemi River, past the Amaitan Highlands, toward Hiram.

Finally, Inoch spoke again. Going to Hiram would be the only way for everyone to fully understand the faith of his youth. And he'd been longing to return for years.

When the meeting ended, everyone was filled with the desire to see Hiram for themselves... especially Ollo. However, he had only a month left in Delphinad, and the journey to Hiram would take far longer.

Ollo decided to make the journey with or without the others. He wrote a letter to Gollog and Lizella requesting their blessing.

Meanwhile, Inoch met with Lucius again. They shared dozens of stories and ideas about content for the "Scoundrel." They decided to write some changes together.

They decided to decrease the satire about the rest of the pantheon, and increase the content about the All-Mother. Of course, this would reqire finding an actor to play the All-Mother. None came to mind, until Inoch remembered a dancer he'd seen in the plaza.

Her name was Naima. There were many dancers and bards working for coin in the plaza, but Naima was different. More striking, more graceful, and more mysterious. She was from the Misak tribe, which didn't serve any of the gods in the pantheon.

Naima was the tribe's priestess. She danced in the plaza to make money, which she used to feed her tribesmen. Priestesses were deeply respected by the Misak and acted like mothers for the entire tribe.

Lucius and Inoch agreed that a Misak priestess would be a perfect symbol of the All-Goddess in "Scoundrel." Lucius was honored to have the holy Astra's help and blessing.

The next day, Lucius and Inoch asked Naima if she was interested in the role. She agreed immediately. Neither realized that Misak priestesses were not allowed to refuse any request. Naime had no choice but to agree.
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