A young Miosi woman wandered through the streets of Velrivel. Her clothes appeared worn, as though she had been traveling. She wore a light hood, made out of cheap, non-dyed wool. She kept it drawn up close to her. As she wandered she turned her head looking around in amazement. She flipped her head around at a clatter on the flagstone road behind her. The street was busy, but no one had followed her down the alleyway she had taken.
“Just the wind or a pebble, probably,” she sighed in relief. She continued down the alleyway, squinting at all the signs as she went. She drew out a scratch piece of paper from beneath the tattered cloak. “What place was it? Naiel’s House of Wisdom? Urivie Alley?” She looked at the next street sign and recognized the name. She turned and headed down Urivie Alley. She saw a dirty shop at the end of the street and headed towards the sign to see if it was the place she needed to be. A Shadow passed above her, as though someone was watching her from the rooftops. She tilted her head up and squinted. She tried to find where the shadow had come from. She had no such luck. Anara continued down the alleyway, her goal in sight. She entered the shop.
The shop keeper looked up from his dusty tome and spoke in monotone Miosi “Welcome to Naiel’s House of Wisdom. What can I help you with?”
Anara removed her hood to reveal a beautiful face, radiating heavenly light with its fairness. Her skin had a silver sheen to it, which the shop keeper, Naiel promptly noticed. Her hair was also dark, like a Raven’s. Naiel sat straight up and spoke once more, “What is your name mi’lady.”
“Anara” she replied in a forced Miosi accent.
“What can I help you find Lady Anara?”
“I come from the city of Naerin, seeking a particular bit of knowledge and perhaps some guidance.”
Naiel came out from behind the desk. He hobbled over to Anara and brought her a lopsided stool to sit on. Even at his full hight he was dwarfed by Anara sitting down. He brought out a second stool for himself to sit on, and he spoke to her. “My dear lady, ask me any question, and we can find the answer together.” He tilted his head to disguise the lopsided face he wore.
“What do you know about other worlds?” Anara asked carefully.
“I know they are theorized to exist, but no one has ever been able to prove that claim,” Naiel said calmly.
“Is it possible to travel between worlds?” Anara hesitated, and then added “Hypothetically of course.”
Naiel looked somewhat exasperated, but replied in a kind tone nonetheless “I mean, if other worlds exist, and there was a way to get a vessel to cross the great distances of the unknown, sure.”
“Well, what about the Void? Couldn’t one use that to travel in between all the worlds?”
“First off, the Void is more mysterious than even I dare seek answers to.” His voice seemed to rise as he spoke, “second, No one even knows if the Void is survivable.” Naiel inhaled, “Third: even if someone understood the Void, and knew how to survive in it; they would still have to figure out how to control when and where they would even have access to it.”
“So it is possible?” Anara encouraged
Naiel was starting to get upset with her questions, as he spoke in a rude tone, “Did you not hear a word I just said?” His face turned beat red as he backpedaled, sighed, and then spoke in a muted tone, “It is theoretically possible, but no one has knowledge of any real substance on the matter.”
“I have another question sir,” Anara said, her accent slipping slightly.
Naiel became noticeably irritated at these words. Through gritted teeth he spoke, “Yes, mi’lady, what is your question?”
“What do you know about the Guardians?”
“My dear, surely you don’t need me to tell about the Guardians, all Miosi learn about them during their tutoring at the temples. I helped the Imperiarchs to design the current system.” Naiel raised his eyebrows in suspicion.
“I wasn’t raised in Miosi lands,” Anara began, still forcing an accent. “My parents fled during the War.”
“Ah, I see,” Naiel replied, thoroughly unconvinced. “Well, repetition is a great teacher.” He chuckled to himself. “No one can agree about what exactly the Guardians are, or where they came from, or have gone. But, even the most skeptical of scholars agree that they first appeared to us long ago when the Rivel Empire was at its height. It was a brutal Battle fought just outside the gates of Mios, the remains of the great Tyrant Rivelion Imperio Daevus Dragus Imperius IX and his army of great beasts can still be seen from the great towers of the Imperial Capital. The Guardians arrived at our ancestors’ direst time of need. They were able to slay the Rivel Emperor, his beasts, and all but one of the Imperiarchs.” Naiel paused, clearing his throat.
“What happened next?” Anara asked.
Naiel coughed and then sharply retorted, “Hold up there little lady, I needed to take a pause to clear my throat, don’t interrupt. Now, after the Battle of the Guardians, the accounts vary. Some legends say that they then organized our nation’s structure and blessed the line of Iesiah the Great to rule over our people. Others say that Iesiah was the one who slew the Imperiarch Evren and was anointed Emperor by the will of the people. Most accounts do agree that the Guardians did not stay long this time, just long enough overthrow the Rivel Empire.”
Naiel coughed again, and then after clearing his throat spoke some more, “The next time the Guardians came to our aide is debated by all the scholars. I say that every account has merit, even if only to increase the legends surrounding our great protectors. But, the next time we have evidence of them helping us is during the wars in the Expansion era. There were elvish strongholds all across the Imperial Forest and up and down the Imperial Roads, and they were receiving support from the Amahlese. Accounts indicate that during a fierce storm one of our caravans carrying supplies for the people Bourivel was destroyed and many of the men lost, but the Guardians arrived and led the men to the city and lifted up a great cart full of supplies.”
“So the Guardians only protect the children of the Miosi?”
“Not at all my dear, you see, the Denthesians also see their protection. The Guardians protect all the righteous people, even if they don’t recognize it.”
“Have there been any recent appearances of the Guardians?”
Naiel laughed a little bit, “The Guardians haven’t appeared in living memory of the Miosi; only an elf would be able to remember.”
Anara looked disappointed, “Thank you for answering my questions wise master.”
Naiel sat up taller, “It was no problem mi’lady, truth be told I haven’t had many people come to me for answers, at least not since I retired from the Emperor’s service.”
“You worked for the Emperor?”
“Yes, now no more questions or I’ll start charging you!”
Anara stood stiffly at this remark. She reached into her beat up cloak and withdrew a purse. “I have 10 Seraphs for your patience wise master.” She slid the pouch into his hand and then spun around. “I really do appreciate all you have done, take care now.”
“Thank you sweet lady, come visit me anytime,” Naiel winked at her as she departed from the store.
Anara stepped down, strolling back through the alleyway. She pulled up her hood as she rounded a corner onto a busy foot-path. Muttering to herself in a strange tongue she went on and on about the information she had discovered. She paid no attention to the man watching her as she crossed the square in the Market District of the great city. The man also kept his face hidden from view. He was average build, a bit short for a Miosi, more human. His beige skin showed at his hands. He smiled and kept watching Anara from the distance. He shook his head when she ran into someone while muttering to herself.
“Raelius,” a Stranger Called.
The man with beige skin turned to address the stranger, “Ah, Vincent glad to see you.”
Vincent, a large military looking man with scars to prove his long service strode over to stand near Raelius. His skin was pale compared to Raelius’s, but not ivory or porcelain. With a giant shovel-like hand he passed Raelius a drink with bits of fruit hanging off of the side. In his other hand, he carried a similar drink for himself.
“Something interesting?” Vincent asked his voice gruff and worn.
“Yes,” Raelius replied his voice smooth and baritone, “I think I found another one of us.”
“Yes, another off-worlder.”
“Is she one of us?” Vincent asked.
“Not yet, not by the looks of her.” Raelius said, almost talking to himself, “She seems like she is still lost and confused.”
“What will we do?”
“Wait and watch, see what she does.” Raelius trailed off, “If she is an off-worlder we will need to bring her back to the island, you know?”
“Yes, Raelius, I know.” Vincent said patting Raelius on the shoulder, as he took a sip from his cup “For her sake, I hope she is just a regular foreigner and not one of the ones we are looking for.”
Vincent turned from where Raelius stood. Raelius was still watching over Anara as she disappeared into the crowd. Raelius drained his cup, sighed while passing it back to Vincent. He stepped down from the raised platform and began to silently follow Anara as she wandered the city. He tracked her effortlessly, she made little effort to conceal her destination and put less thought into being cautious. As they went along her path, his thoughts began to wander just as Anara’s footsteps. He thought back to when he first was taken to the island. Pain and misery flooded his emotions as he remembers the agony he was put through in order to become what he was. The tracking sensor he set up went off, bringing an alert to the forefront of his mind. Anara had gone into the great library. Great, she might be in there for hours or even days. Raelius thought, well at least I have a lot of spare time.
After adjusting something on his wrist a great glowing dial appeared in front of him with all kinds of strange markings on the face of it. It resembled a strange clock, although blue and almost ethereal looking. He tapped on some of the strange energy like surface. Raelius’s surroundings began to spin with a couple clicks and a burst of electricity. And then suddenly, the lights and swirling world stopped, revealing the great library, but it was dusk and the street-lamps were being lit. Raelius seemed un-phased by the sudden change in lighting, instead opting to look around for Anara’s distinctive strut across the courtyard. After a few minutes of taking in the night air a tattered cloak flowed behind a feminine figure as she departed the library and went down the steps. Raelius walked over to her.
As Raelius approached the long sweeping steps up the library he saw Anara turn around, peeking over her shoulder only to bump into him. She whirled on the ball of her foot to face him.
“You would think tracking a foreigner would be easy. It was even easier than I thought,” said Raelius in Miosi.
Anara replied in Miosi “I am no foreigner, I am from the city Naerin and this is my first time in Velrivel.”
“Oh good, you already speak the language” Raelius said in different, yet familiar tongue to Anara “This will make things easier.
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“You understand me, I know you do.”
“I understand the words, but not what you are saying.”
“Going around town asking about traveling between worlds is a good way to attract attention to oneself, especially, if one is not from this world.” Raelius spoke in a gentle tone, attempting to smooth things over.
Anara cursed, “That old man, Naiel, he ratted on me didn’t he?”
“Oh no. Of course not. Naiel is too senile to remember anyone who comes through his shop. His memory on other topics is remarkably un-phased by his advanced age. No, we have been watching you for a while.”
Anara looked visibly upset and unnerved by this revelation, “You have been following me all this time!” She screeched, “How dare you!”
“Now, now,” Raelius interjected, “you do not want to make a scene dear one. We are not here to harm you, we want you to succeed.”
“Ah, yes. I forgot to mention my associate, he isn’t nearby at the moment, but you need not worry, he is an upstanding man who has seen a lot of harm come to young people at the hands of others. He doesn’t want anyone else to get hurt. His name is Vincent de Valeaux, although I suspect you may know him as Veisze Valeaux du Praetor.”
“What did you say?” Anara snapped back in the language Raelius spoke in.
“Veisze the Praetor, my dear. Have you heard of him?”
“How do you know him?”
“He arrived shortly after myself on this strange world, just like yourself. Ah, what is your name my dear?”
“I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours!” Anara grumbled back.
“Oh, yes, how rude of me I completely forgot my manners; you’ll have to forgive me. My name is Raphael, although many people here call me Raelius as they can never get my proper name right.”
“Alright then, Raelius, my name is Anara.”
“How wonderful,” Raelius remarked, “It is time I take you to the island.”
“What, I asked Where?” Anara said grumpily.
“You know if you keep up your impertinence you may never find the answers to the questions you have.”
“How do you know what questions I have?”
“My point exactly,” Raelius replied.
“Harumph!” Anara exclaimed. “I’ll wait right here until you answer my questions.”
Raelius used his eye scanner to detect if Anara was likely to accept the answers here or he was better off leaving her behind until she cooled her jets. After a few moments he sighed and spoke, “Your first question, where? It is not a matter of distance, but of time. The correct question is when. For your second, I have no clue what answers you seek, but I know that you have questions. I also know we can find the answer in the place I am going to take you. Are you satisfied?”
“Not really, no.”
Raelius responded with silence.
“But, I’ll accept it for the moment.” Anara added.
“Very well,” Raelius said stiffly, “You’d best get ready.
Raelius twisted the device on his wrist again and the great ethereal clock-like device appeared before him again, this time with even more strange markings on it. As he fiddled with the display Anara stared in shock. Raelius held up his hand to silence her before she got out any sort of exclamation. He tapped on a different space on the dial, seizing Anara’s hand, and all the buildings began to blur. As their surroundings whooshed past the two of them a burst of electricity shot out from the device and jolted them away, leaving the steps of the library empty. The only sign of movement on the entire street were small particles of dust floating down from the air. The dust settled, and the courtyard was still.
It was quiet in the village, the crackling torch I held screamed in the dark night as I patrolled the lonely, empty streets. I remember when I first came to the village – It was a night like this one, strangely quiet, a fact which made the thunderous bolt of lightning more ominous. When I arrived, I could not remember anything about my past – save only one word. My name, the only clue to who I was and where I came from and no one could be bothered to remember how to say it, so they just called me Raelius, meaning “from the storm.”
I quickly learned their language – a tongue not so dissimilar from my own, but with noticeable differences. I joined the Guard and remembered my proficiency with blades and other weapons. I quickly gained ranks within the guard, progressing into the Honor Guard of the late Qoru, Kaelius, meaning “from the Light.” Later he allowed me to marry his youngest daughter, Joete. Ever since the Qoru died, life has not been the same in the village. Life carried on even if it was almost soulless.
My Patrol took me near the fields where I was first discovered. The many years since my arrival have left the field fallow for far too long. Somehow I think that the people fear this place as many avoid it entirely and I am often assigned this patrol ever since my dismissal from the Honor Guard. Tonight, at least, it gives me peace and solace to contemplate my existence. Perhaps I should accept my fate and live out my wisp of an existence here, among this people, or perhaps I am destined for more. My beloved Joete helped me see that before she died.
I stood there all night, planning to leave it all behind, since it no longer held any meaning for me. As the first rays of dawn crept into my weary eyes, I saw figures moving in the tree line. I approached, cautiously. I entered the forest and could see nothing; I took a look around and found a small object on the ground – clearly not from here by the looks of its polished metal and curious design. I knelt to pick it up and held it in my hands. It felt good in my hands. From what I could tell the part I held was some sort of handle. I tried figuring out what it could be used for, but I could not. I put it away in my bag – I would have to take this to our seer, the man who could tell us anything we wanted to know – except where I came from.
He claims to know where I came from, but he cannot, or will not tell me. I have asked him about it with increasing frequency ever since Joete passed. His reply is always the same “I cannot tell you, you must figure it out on your own. It is your destiny.” I turned to leave the forest, but as I stood up I heard a twig snap and before I could do anything a large piece of wood smashed against the right side of my face knocking me the ground. I crawled and made it just a few feet before the club-wielding man above me smashed the club over my head again. The dawning sun faded from view and the world turned dark.
I woke to sounds of screaming and explosions. As I came to, I realized I was bound at the wrist and tied to a tree. My head ached, and I could barely keep my eyes open as I struggled to look around the small clearing of trees. A hooded man paced before me as I stirred. He wore a green-blue cloak that covered his entire body, fitting very loosely. His breathing slowed as he looked over and spoke in an ominously familiar voice, “We finally met at last Raphael, at long last.”
“Who are you?” I asked cringing at the pain in my head.
“That is not your concern,” the hooded man replied, “Nothing is as important as how long we have been searching for you.”
“Do you think I would be able to find you on my own, in this godforsaken place?” He came over and knelt down to look into my eyes, he then grabbed my face and threw it aside as he continued “No, I needed help.”
More pain in my head sent me bending over, “What do you want from me?”
“You’ll see when we get there,” The hooded man said, getting to his feet and waving his arm to his side.
A small vortex of energy whirled around us and gathered in a rounded sphere which pulsed with energy.
“What is that?” I demanded to know.
“Your Destiny.” He approached me and untied me from the tree.
He grabbed hold of me and began guiding me towards the sphere. He threw me towards it. I tried to move, but to no avail. As I struggled despair clenched me tighter. I writhed in my bonds, struggling to get free of the typhoon of whatever power held me there, be it death, chaos, or desolation, or some unfamiliar dark force. I finally broke out of the shrinking sphere and I began to run, my legs stumbling beneath me.
“How is that possible?” A voice called out from somewhere behind me.
The trees went by in a blur, the clash of swords rang from the distance; everything seeming to slow down as I sent all my energy into each of my legs heading towards the edge of the forest. My hands were still bound, but that hardly mattered now. The only thing that mattered was getting out of the forest and making it back to the village. I heard a noise, turned and saw three hooded figures chasing after me led by the man I had spoken with. As I ran I noticed that the forest that had surrounded my home was now the scene of a massive battle, the guard led a small army surrounded on all fronts. I wanted to help them; but the men were so close to me now.
“Stop him, stop him at all costs!” The lead man yelled.
Arrows whizzed by face as I ran at breakneck speed, one more clipped the top of my ear and I stumbled. Rolling forward to maintain my momentum and beginning to run once more my cloak flapped almost as if it were a flag. I breathed slowly to let the air reach my legs as they pounded footprints into the nearly silent chaos I was trying so desperately to escape. In what felt like hours I breached the line of trees marking the edge of the forest. I realized too late where I was, as I ran right off the edge of the cliff; falling.
The three figures followed me down the cliff, remaining calm as they matched my descent. As they were falling they unsheathed their swords, curious swords they were though – made of some kind of material I had never seen. I reached beneath my waving cloak to unsheathe my blade. With my hands still tied together I could not draw it out fully, but I managed to uncover enough of the blade to slice through my bonds. I did slice into my hands though, but there was little pain.
By the time I had managed to withdraw my sword they had caught up to me. I slowed my descent by spreading my arms. The hooded figures reached me and I slashed out at the one wearing a gray hood, slicing his hand off. I grabbed hold of him, stood on his belly and brought my knees to my chest; the remaining two figures held their distance. Hoods and cloaks waved wildly as we fell, even though the hoods were not covering their faces I could not make out the faces of my attackers. I pushed off against his belly; sending the handless man down and myself upwards.
Once my ascent had reached it extent, I landed on the man’s shoulder, the one who had tortured me, and the brown cloaked man standing next to him immediately struck out at me with his own blade. I kicked the blade away and sent him tumbling into the side of the cliff. I pushed off again, this time intending to flip over enough to kick the last guy in the stomach. Just as I pushed off he grabbed my ankle and swung me down so that I was looking up at him. I kicked him, and he let go. I slashed out with the blade, and he dodged. He grabbed me and brought me near, taking the blade from my hand; he stabbed with my own blade.
I saw what had happened, and I knew what to expect, but the pain did not register until the blade was ripped out of my belly, spilling my guts into the dawn streaked air. Blood spewed forth from the wound that the now hoodless, and still masked figure made with the blade I knew so well; the blade that would never fail. His mask was simple, a faceless covering made out of some material I did not recognize. It was almost beautiful; the way the mask hid his identity and made my enemy seem so nameless. I stretched forth my free hand letting the wind circle around me, wrapping my cloak around me. Time slowed as I fell; even the blood and the rain droplets sat frozen in air as I reached up removing the mask of my would-be killer.
“Before I die, tell me the name of the man who killed me,” I commanded softly.
“We share more than a face, Raphael, it is a cruel paradox of fate for us, we who come from the storm”
Time resumed, and as the realization slammed into me, so did my own blood and guts. There staring at me with a snarl of hatred and rage, mixed with sadness and regret was my own face. Just as his hands were covered with my blood so were mine – I slammed into the ground and the last thing I saw before my eyes closed was a flash of light.
To be continued…