A young woman runs across barren and cracked earth, panting heavily. Her legs whip back and forth incessantly as if they had a life of their own, driving her deeper into a treacherous and callous unknown.
With reckless abandon she struggles surreptitiously, daring only to pass momentary glances over her shoulder, dreading the thought of her pursuers gaining on her.
There was no uncertainty in her mind, she knew that a life as fragile as hers would be easily snuffed by these wayward foes in swift pursuit.
“This may be the outlands, but I must escape.”
For an instant, she thought about where it was that she was headed, but soon her thoughts were swept up in a hurricane of emotions that spurred her on. There was little time before her strength waned and if she were to collapse there, she could only hope for a swift death.
“I can’t hold on much longer…”
Sounds of screeching from a distant creature drifted along a calming wind reminding the young and hapless woman of the terror lurking all around her. Even in broad daylight only a brave, and foolish few, would dare venture into the ‘Outlands’.
It was a place where the veil between the dead and the living was paper thin. A single breath was all that was needed to bring about one’s death in this forlorn place.
However, what choice did she have?
Memories clouded her vision. Blood, nothing more than blood. Dripping and sliding across the dark floor.
“Mother, where are you…”
It was not necessary to step lightly within her own home, but she felt sudden fear and immediately quieted her steps. The quiet and silence observed by others were for her own benefit and so if it were she who broke that silence, there would be no repercussions.
Her slippers scampered along the vast expanse of her bedroom as she made her way towards the bedroom door. A strange sound had startled her while she lay in her bed. So much so that she dared not call out because she was afraid.
Having reached what was considered to be the age of adulthood, she was no longer a child, but she sometimes felt as if she still were. Her immaturity would occasionally rear its ugly head, and now was one of those times. There was no such thing as a monster that hid within the palace walls and hungered after young girls, but then she wondered what could have made that sound.
Reaching the door took mere moments even if her bedroom was enormous, enough so that dozens of bedrooms could fit with room to spare. Her hand reached out to grab the doorknob, but she was forced to steady herself and couldn’t gather the strength to turn it. Steeling her nerves proved to be a difficult task, but she eventually found enough strength to open her door.
There was no light in the hallway and this limited her visibility. Shuffling her way out of her bedroom, her feet suddenly felt wet and warm. This sensation caused her to involuntarily step back.
“Did someone spill something on the floor?” She thought while crouching and stretching her finger towards the area where her slippers were a moment ago.
“Hmm, what is this…. It is somewhat thick and warm…” She touched her finger to her tongue and the liquid had a metallic taste.
She had tasted this before…. It tasted like blood.
Realization dawned on her and she fell back in shock as her fear returned, gripping her in its embrace.
The young woman lost her balance having become fixated on recent memories and tumbled forward sending her body skittering across the rocky surface.
Her legs refused to cooperate and she struggled to lift her weary body.
An unrecognizable screeching echoed from somewhere nearby.
“No.. I can’t die here. Mother give me strength..”
Lifting herself up was no small feat, but the screeching sounds were coming closer. If she didn’t hurry, her suffering would worsen.
When she stood, the fearful young woman noticed something peculiar on a rock face not far from where she fell.
It appeared to be a large circular metal door which was partially damaged and because of the damage it was slightly ajar.
She approached the metal door in shock, not expecting to have found such a thing within this barren mountainous valley where once a million souls were extinguished in an instant. A place that only the defiled could call home.
The screeching was even closer now and she nervously looked back over her shoulder. She thought she could see movement, although it was difficult making anything out with just the dim light of the moon.
A pebble from somewhere nearby suddenly bounced towards her and her fear immediately surged. It was closer than she thought.
Without anymore hesitation, she put all her strength into opening the large metal door and it slowly but surely swung open. There was no way to know what was within, but she knew that something dangerous was swiftly closing the distance between them.
Once the door had opened enough for her body to squeeze through, she struggled and wiggled her body into the dark and foreboding tunnel. It was just in time because as soon as she entered the dark tunnel that was behind the door, something crashed right into the metal door with a loud ‘thunk’.
After the initial crash, it became eerily quiet. The young woman had fallen on her rear when she squeezed through the door and she finally stood up, brushing dirt from her clothing. There was no way for her to know what was going on beyond the door without sticking her head out and she had no intention of doing that.
With no other recourse, she plunged into the depths of the tunnel.
In a time long forgotten…
Across a vast plain, two colossal armies clashed, their magic shattering the very earth the armies tread.
Thundering drums beat across the windswept valley and the march of boots shook the gravel, sending rocks sputtering across the plain.
Enormous defensive domes spread out encompassing the marching soldiers, protecting them from a deadly barrage of magic which crashed into the powerful defensive barriers before dissipating.
Illustrious mages poured their might into spells that raged as the elements were molded into fearsome magic, cascading onto the barriers, in a valiant attempt to break the powerful protective domes.
Hundreds of mages of each respective army struggled to maintain their army’s barrier, while others exerted their strength to tear open their opponent’s. Over two thousand Magic Casters were participating in this conflict. One that would determine the fate of an entire continent for a thousand years.
However, even with all the mages present, they made up only a small part of the military might of each of these empires. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers, marched across the battlefield, under the protection of their respective domes, ready to engage in gruesome close quarter combat.In the skies above, darting between the falling spells, dragon riders were locked in combat with gryphon riders as both sides were struggling to gain air superiority.
Eventually, the barriers would fall, and so would begin, an indelible bloodbath of Human lives.
A red and white banner fluttered in the breeze. At its center was the symbol of a grasping golden-beaked Gryphon with a jewel encrusted crown on its head. It rose proudly above an encampment on a raised plateau. From here, one could see the battle stretching forth to the horizon clearly.
A tall man with bright blond hair, clear sky blue eyes, and pale features stood, pointing towards the enemy left flank. He was covered from neck to toe in silver colored steel plate armor, with luxurious gold and silver embellishments throughout.
It was armor that cost an incredible fortune and was not something which could easily be crafted or bought, armor befitting only an emperor. This was no ordinary armor. It had powerful enchantments cast on it which made it lighter and more maneuverable than it seemed, not to mention its enhanced sturdiness and magical defensive properties.
This man wore no helmet, instead on his head was a delicate crown of simple, yet beautiful, craftsmanship. In every way, he bore the regal majesty of a ruler befitting his place atop the world.
“General Jerll, the enemy’s left flank appears vulnerable, perhaps we should send our heavy cavalry to strike there first. What say you?”
Another man stood besides the emperor arrayed in shining full plate armor. He was a man in his latter years, much older than the current emperor, and had even served his father. If not for the magically enhanced suit of armor he wore, he would not have the strength to wear full plate anymore.
His armor was nothing like the armor worn by the emperor but it was still magically enhanced armor. A shapely moustache graced his face and his dark brown hair had already been turning gray, signalling his age. Of course he still had many years left in him, but it was becoming more and more difficult to fulfil his military responsibilities.
Worry lines now creased his face and his once vibrant green eyes no longer shone fiercely. Years of duty had caused his once pristine visage to be overcome with exhaustion.
“Your majesty, it may be a trap to lure us in. I would suggest that once our armies are in range and after the barriers collapse, we use our light cavalry to test the enemy’s strength. If successful then this would expose their flank to our heavy cavalry.
The young man considered the other’s advice, gently pulling at his lower lip with his right hand. After a moment of thought he acquiesced, “what you say has merit, so be it. We shall use our light cavalry as a feint and see how they respond. If the flank is indeed vulnerable, order the knights to charge.”
These particular knights he mentioned were the greatest war potential he possessed among his ground forces. They were the bravest and strongest of his soldiers, fully clad in heavy plate mail and riding powerful Land Dragons.
Their main weapon was the lance, but they also carried a sword as a last resort should they be entrenched in combat and unable to swiftly regroup and charge. Of course the dragons themselves were also mighty weapons that could rend the flesh of a man easily, even through heavy armor.
Their enemy possessed an equally powerful unit which had not made an appearance yet, and this was what they were concerned about. Scorpion Riders were what they were weary about, while a single giant scorpion could not match the strength of a land dragon, the scorpion possessed the ability to tunnel beneath the earth and could strike at a dragon’s most vulnerable point. Without knowing their location it would be foolish to commit their Land Dragons.
While the emperor continued to survey the battlefield below, a subordinate came running towards the king and lowered himself on one knee before getting too close.
“My Liege, the barriers will soon fall. What are your orders Sire?”
The Emperor calmly turned towards his subordinate, “Order the mages to bombard the center of the enemy formation as soon as the barrier goes down. Once our forces engage with theirs, order them to then change their focus to the rear of the opposing army. We will have our light horse cavalry charge the left flank as a feint to provoke them. Is there any word from our Dragon Riders?”
“No my Emperor, our Dragon Riders are having difficulty establishing dominance in the skies. The enemy Gryphon Riders are proving to be more formidable than we anticipated.” The subordinate reported.
“Hmmm..” The Emperor considered his subordinate’s words while stroking his well trimmed goatee. “It can’t be helped then. Relay my orders and report if the circumstances change.”
With his orders relayed, his subordinate rises, salutes and then runs to execute them. The Emperor turns back to his view of the battlefield and continues to observe as the magic barriers which had surrounded both armies begin to falter.
General Jerll moves to stand beside the Emperor and whispers, “and so begins the slaughter.”
Not far from the vast plain where two massive armies clash, a lone figure watches from a high cliff in solitude. His brittle bones barely hold up his frame and he struggles to scrawl strange symbols along the surface of the cliff with a red chalk-like object. This chalk is a type of magic tool created from his own blood, mixed with other alchemic materials, and is indispensable in various magic rituals or even in a variety of different large scale spells.
A series of connecting circles and glyphs have already been drawn in a wide area around the aged man. While it is normally a simple matter for a mage to draw magic formations with chalk, for a man in his advanced years it can be a laborious process. Despite the man’s difficulty, he continues his work with determination.
He knows that if his experiment is unsuccessful, that his life will soon come to an end and that this will be his defining moment. With his formation finally complete, he observes the battle in the valley below one last time. With the fall of the magical barriers that defend the two armies, they were now engaged in close quarter combat. To his eyes, it appeared only as a huge mass of people. He couldn’t make out faces, or any individual traits, just two behemoth sized columns crashing against each other.
With a look of irritation, the old man spits in disgust towards the men that look like ants from up above and grumbles to himself as an old man would, “scorned…. mocked… let your lives be a testament to the truth.”
The old and haggard mage looked once more at the magic formation that took many years of his life to construct and cackled insanely to himself. His sanity was hanging by a single thread. His many years of seclusion in his workshop under the mountain while researching the secrets behind the mana veins had consumed him. He had fled from civilization and chose to come to this barren wasteland to live in solitude after he was laughed out of the academy, and driven from his own family.
With one last look over the battle below, he turned back to the magic formation. Channeling his magic power into the formation, it began to glow an ominous red color which soon expanded and extended into a pillar that touched the heavens. As his magic activated, the man’s body disappeared into the earth leaving naught but a pillar of immense magic pouring into the sky above.
Those who were watching the battle from the safety of their command posts, overlooking the valley where the two armies clashed, were the first to see the strange pillar of magic stretching high into the clouds. Those in the midst of battle could not afford to look away from combat and were oblivious to the ill omen that now illuminated the sky.
The sky then began to darken and all within the valley could sense a dark foreboding, but there was very little they could do. With their magic barriers exhausted and with the battle having already commenced, they were helpless against their coming doom.
There was a stillness that seemed to last an eternity despite the thousands engaged in mortal combat. Even the din of the battle could not mask the forlorn solemnity of an existence bound to be snuffed by a woeful tide.
A raging inferno of destruction rained upon the battlefield as the sky opened its gaping maw and unleashed fury upon the hapless mortals below.
The heavens above began to weep, but it was not tears wrested from its brow. Instead, a torrent of ice and stone coated in fire cascaded downwards tearing up the very earth that the armies stood on
No, it was not a dream…
A red light flashes momentarily, lighting up the darkness as it continuously beeps.
“Hmm… my eyes…”
There was finally movement in a place that hadn’t seen any in a very long time, other than the quiet breathing of one who was not quite yet dead.
A shadowy figure slowly rose from a sleeping position in order to sit, but had difficulty rising due to grogginess. The person moaned and rubbed eyes that were expected to be rough and wrinkled, but were instead smooth and soft.
Though with some trouble, the individual managed to utter a command. There was a growing noise, the sound of something powering up. Glaring lights brightened up the room where the person slept, illuminating the darkness and causing quite a bit of pain for the one who had been shrouded in darkness.
“Welcome back master….”
A familiar voice filled the empty silence. It was a woman’s voice, but the voice was unnatural as if belonging to a spirit and not one of flesh. Its owner was in fact not among the living, but a soul who had been trapped by the one it called master.
“Mmm… yes… I..”
It was difficult to speak, but the more words spoken, the easier it became.
“Ah.. I need… water.”
A thirst that felt unquenchable assailed the one called master. Who knew how long it had been since a cool liquid had flowed down the master’s dry throat.
“Unfortunately I can’t comply master. I do not have a physical body as you know.”
Ah, that’s right.
Rising from the bed was a chore, but soon the master was finally standing on two feet, although walking was still difficult. Using whatever was in the vicinity to walk, the tired figure made its way to a large mirror at the corner of the sealed room.
“Show.. yourself.. Mariam..”
Those words were forced, it still took much effort to speak.
“Yes master. I am here.”
“… so the mirror of souls still functions does it? Good, Good!…. Now, let me see myself.”
The mirror swirled as the soul within it dissipated and in its place stood a young man. He looked at the mirror in shock as he began to gently pat his now supple and smooth skin.
“What.. is this?”
Reflected in the mirror was a young handsome man somewhere around the age of twenty, with pristine pale skin, bright hazel eyes, and dark brown hair. He still wore the same robes that he had on before his long slumber.
How many years has it been? He thought as he continued to touch his unfamiliar body.
Before casting the ritual, time had caught up to him and death was following suit. If the war had not started when it did, then he would have surely encountered man’s oldest friend before he could accomplish his aspirations.
“Could it be that I slept for almost sixty years…”
There was no way for him to be certain about the number of years that he had been unconscious for. Yet despite the unknown amount of time, his body had rejuvenated to a more pristine form.
“Mariam.. How long was I asleep for?”
At his question, the mirror swirled once again and on its crystal surface now stood a ghostly yet beautiful and voluptuous woman.
“Apologies master, I am unable to answer your question.” She replied emotionless.
“What!? What do you mean you are unable? You were instructed to monitor this facility and record all data regarding the mana well!”
His emotions temporarily exploded forth uncontrollably, causing his body to rock back and forth with dizziness from a sudden headache.
“There was an unexpected anomaly that caused the facility to lose power from its mana source rapidly. I was forced to shut down most of the facilities functions and enter a low consciousness state, otherwise your life would have been in danger.”
“I see…I’m sorry for my outburst. Do you know what was the cause of the anomaly?”
“It was caused by an unknown outside source.”
This was indeed a troublesome situation. I could have very well lost my life if not for the quick actions of Mariam.
He considered the implications of what happened, but was soon interrupted.
“Master.. Now that I have restored power to the magical detection array, there appears to be an intruder within the facility.”
“An intruder? Grant all administrative authorization to me, activate the enchanted golems but keep them in reserve. Let us first see who this intruder is.”
Even without sufficient power, the door should not have been able to be unsealed.
At his order the mirror swirled once more and what was shown on its surface was a dark tunnel.
“Did you only localize the power to this area Mariam? It seems the lights in the entry tunnel have no magical energy to power them.”
“Until the mana within the facility is restored, the most I am able to power is this room.”
“Well.. at least some of the defenses are still functioning. So be it, can you at least tell me what has intruded into my sanctuary?” He said growing impatient.
“Detecting Human lifeform. Female. Threat level is low.” Mariam chimed in her disembodied voice.
“Hmm… then let’s pay our little trespasser a visit. All other matters can wait.”
Having to deal with an unknown element as soon as he awoke was certainly an encumbrance to him.
Before leaving the stasis chamber where he slumbered, he grabbed a cup of water from a preservation device he created to store fresh water. The water felt cool and refreshing as if he had just drank from a clear spring. After his drink, he walked slowly towards the entry tunnel where the Human female had began to roam around in.
While he walked, he looked down at his hand and wiggled his fingers while considering his physical and spiritual condition.
I can feel immense power flowing within me, but my body has not been properly attuned to it. It is imperative that I meditate to align my spiritual form with my physical body…
It seems my body had to undergo extreme regression and transmutation in order to become a proper vessel for the enormous mana within the mana well. My body may be containing the energy well for now, but the power is chaotic and unruly. I won’t be able to use it like this….
It had been a long time since he was a novice, but in order to control his newfound power he would need to spend time once again developing his body and spirit from the beginning.
He attempted to channel the energy within his body to summon a simple ball of light. Surprisingly he was successful, but still had difficulty maintaining the shape of his creation. It felt as if the mana was being obstructed and it moved like molasses through the spiritual passageways throughout his body causing visible instability in his orb.
Fortunately for him and despite the form, the orb served its function and provided a source of light which aided him greatly with navigating the darkened laboratory. This particular facility was of moderate size and also hosted most of his workspaces, such as his alchemical workspace as well as his research space for spells, spell formations, and runic lore. He had spent decades in constructing this place and it had proved quite difficult since he had to build it under a mountain.
While he wanted to check the status of the different sections, he had a guest that needed entertaining, thus he headed straight towards the entry tunnel which also functioned as a trap to deter enemies. It had the form of a small maze and without knowing the proper sequence of pathways, you would struggle to find the entrance to his lab.
The seemingly young man made his way into the dark tunnel and towards where the young woman desperately wandered around in the dark. He could hear the sound of a woman crying coming from the opposite end of the tunnel he was in and he canceled the light ball while he slowly approached.
“You seem to be lost.” He said into the dark.
“Who’s there?” A frantic and fearful womanly voice cried out.
“I think that’s what I should be asking you, seeing how you are trespassing in my sanctuary.”
There was no response for several moments, but he heard the sound of shuffling feet.
“I’m… sorry.. I didn’t mean to… I was being chased, please help me..” She said while sniffling.
“And why should I do that? Perhaps where you come from, all it takes are some tears and someone will come running to your aid.” Said the young master while moving closer.
“I know I’ve trespassed in your… home, but I had no choice. I would have died, and I didn’t know anyone was here. There was an open door…… where are you?” As she spoke, she became more fearful of the unfamiliar voice.
“Hmm, well I suppose that you may be of some use to me, but you will do as I say while here in my sanctuary, is that clear?”
“Of course.. Thank you, thank you!”
She still couldn’t see who the owner of the voice was, but a sudden light appeared revealing a young man around the same age as herself. The young man laid eyes on her and with the light of his magic, he caught a clear glimpse of her appearance.
Her age was similar to the current body that he possessed and she was clearly a peerless beauty despite her current rugged appearance. No doubt, constant travel and wear had dirtied and exhausted her body, but it didn’t detract much from her beauty in his eyes. He noticed her uniquely colored hair, which was a deep burgundy and reached well down her back. Her crystalline blue eyes stared up at him in fear, and her perfectly proportioned face was covered in tears.
“What’s the problem? Come along, follow closely otherwise you will be lost in here.”
He didn’t wait for her response, didn’t even bother to look at her, but just turned and began walking down the tunnel. She quickly followed him, but she was still in a state of shock. Many thoughts muddled her mind.
“Past this point is my sanctuary, do not touch anything.”
As he said that, she saw him reach for something and heard a clicking sound. A door that wasn’t there before opened and they walked into a dimly lit room.
She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. It was a complete surprise to find a hidden facility like this at the base of a mountain. The greatest shock was that the one leading her through the facility was no older than herself.
“Where is your master?” She asked cautiously.
“Master, what are you talking about? He replied.
“Isn’t this your master’s facility? Aren’t you an apprentice, or maybe a novice?”
“I live here alone.”
He turned and looked at her. It was the first time she had seen his face well enough to get a sense of what he looked like. He was a young handsome man with brown hair and bright hazel eyes.
His skin was flawless without any imperfections, but it was pale as if he had never been in the sun. Because he was wearing robes, she couldn’t see much of his physique, but she felt that his body was somewhat muscular and well toned. Most likely because she was staring at him, he looked at her awkwardly and when he did, she felt his eyes pierce through her and it sent shivers down her spine.
Even within her sheltered life of luxury, she had never seen a man with such radiance, but also with such darkness.
“I’m just surprised because you are so young. And this place is, amazing! You have so many devices I have never seen before!” She swung her arm around as she spoke with slight excitement.
For a moment, she had forgotten where she was or why as she stared in amazement at all the strange things in front of her.
“For someone who was just begging for help, you sure do seem carefree.”
“Oh, what’s that!?”
Before she even finished her sentence she had run over to a piece of equipment and started touching it.
“What are you doing! I told you not to touch anything! You are going to ruin the alignment. I specifically adjusted it to my specifications.”
While he yelled at her and frantically returned his device to its proper place, she had already moved onto another piece of equipment.
“Oh! Is this a magiscope? But it looks so archaic…. What’s this thing?”
He couldn’t keep up with her as she moved excitedly from one piece of equipment to another.
She was startled by his outburst and turned towards him apologetically.
“Sorry… You’re just like an old man…. I was just curious..”
Calming himself, he once again addressed the young woman.
“I will not tell you again, the next time you touch my equipment I will throw you out. Is that understood?”
“Alright, alright…. I’m sorry okay. I just was excited. What is all this?”
“That’s not something you need to concern yourself with. Now, you are going to answer some of my questions. Come sit.”
The two sat down on wooden chairs that were in peak condition despite the fact that they had been in his lab for a considerably long time.
“First, I need to know something. What is the year?”
“The year? How do you not know… It is 575 A.E.”
“575!? I can’t believe this…”
It had not been only sixty or so years that had passed, but close to four hundred.
His calculations had been way off and now he sat in his chair looking downcast and holding his head while mumbling.
“Um.. well maybe we should introduce ourselves? I’m Lisanna, or Lia for short. What’s your name?”
He didn’t answer straight away and the atmosphere became somewhat awkward as she watched the young man looking dejected. The awkward atmosphere lasted for a few minutes until he finally looked up at her with his radiant eyes.
“My name, is Shen.”
Of course, it wasn’t his real name.