THE SAVIOR OF SARGOFF
“The day is upon us at long last,” roared the stout elderly man at the end of the long dining table. The nearly two dozen others that sat with him became instantly quiet and listened intently for his next words.
“The war is still young, and yet nearly every loss has been our own, pushing our livelihood and the freedom of our families near the edge of nonexistence.”
The man lifted his hands and removed a gold crown ringed with bright green and blue jewels from his head; both the crown and his empty scalp gleamed in the flickering candlelight. He solemnly placed the crown upon the table.
“Amidst war, the line between king and countrymen is faint. Each of us is a man with cares, holding closest to us those we love.” He smiled warmly at an elderly woman in an elegant dress at the opposite end of the table and winked at the young girl with bright red hair sitting next to her.
“The path I now take, I have not chosen due to my kinghood in this country. I take this course because I am a husband and a father, and a grandfather, as are each of you. As such, it is our duty to protect our families,” the king said, pausing to replace the crown upon his head. “Now, my governors and mayors of Sargoff, long traveled from the reaches of the land to be on hand for this conference, I will present to you our very honored guest, who has long been studying our enemy, and has formulated a plan to thwart their advantage. They may have powers we lack, but soon those powers will be useless. I present to you, a true mastermind here in our midst, and the savior of Sargoff: Graffyrd.”
Chairs scraped against the floor as the whole room leapt to their feet in humbling applause. Behind the head of the table, a man dressed in dark brown stepped forward and bowed deeply. He appeared middle-aged, making him obviously the youngest man in the room.
“Thank you, my king,” Graffyrd said. “I am honored to do my part to defend the lives of our people. But this is not just the task of one man. Only together will we stand in victory. This will not be painless, and a hard road now sits before us. But beyond it, my friends, is a life not ruled by fear and no longer haunted by the shadows. There we will find peace!”
Applause again rang out and lasted for several long moments. The faces of the governors and mayors beamed with hope.
Several people dressed in servant attire entered the room, carrying an assortment of food. A glass of red wine was set next to every golden plate.
“We have a long night of war strategy ahead of us,” Graffyrd said, once the clapping quieted. He approached his seat next to the king and lifted his wineglass. “Allow us now to enjoy the meal of the night and a time of lighter talk, before we delve into darker matters. But for now, to Sargoff!”
Wineglasses clanged against each other, and then the food was served. Each plate contained a segment of thick lizard tail standing upright; men plunged their spoons into the opening at the end and withdrew tender and dark meat. When the last of the plates was on the table, Graffyrd leaned toward the king and whispered.
“Please excuse me for a moment, my liege. I must be sure my materials are prepared.”
“Certainly,” the king said. “Tonight will be a night for the ages, Graffyrd. You will become a hero to us; a man of legend. Everyone will remember your name as the one who uncovered the weakness of the enemy. Through you, we are truly blessed.”
“Thank you, my lord,” Graffyrd said. The king nodded and quickly returned to the large piece of meat on his plate.
Graffyrd stood and left the room, hastily making his way outside. He walked straight down the path and turned at a large tree, leaning against it and glaring at the round building that was now in front of him.
“Is it time?” a quiet voice said from behind.
Graffyrd grinned and nodded into the darkness. “It is.”
A man dressed all in black came from behind the tree and walked quickly toward the building. Several others approached the building from all around it. Each stopped within twenty feet and stood with arms stretched forward, palms facing up.
“When will these people learn?” Graffyrd said quietly to himself. “For wizards have no weakness.”
Each figure curved the fingers on both hands inward. Thin red strands of light grew from the fingertips and met squarely in their middle, drifting from the fingers like smoke rising quickly from an extinguished candle. In each palm, small red spheres of translucent light slowly began to create themselves from the connection of the strands and spun wildly as they grew larger.
With complete silence, bright red bolts of light shot out of the sides of the spheres and connected to each other like constant lightning, forming one large ring that pulsated brightly and encircled the building. Each person gently placed the red spheres upon the ground and stepped backwards, still focusing their attention upon them. The light of the ring suddenly stretched skyward to a height just above that of the building, creating one massive column of red smoking light. It began to spin slowly, then quicker and quicker as it morphed into a giant rotating cyclone, still not making a sound. The walls of the column were innumerable strands of twisting light. The light at the top flew in the air as if overflowing from a cup, splashing into the sky and falling to the ground, continuing to burn within the dirt.
The massive pillar then began to shrink. As its walls reached the building, the structure’s stone began to crumble and disintegrate within it. Graffyrd watched through the mostly transparent outside of the pillar as the building started to collapse, though all remnants stayed within the column and left behind smoking scorched ground. He walked forward and smiled as pained screams reached his ears.
The stone of the building crumbled and then seemed to completely disappear as the swirling pillar overtook it. The column now stood at barely the width of a large tree, and all screams from its interior had subsided, leaving only the sounds of crumbling and breaking. Stone and wood spun quickly around and crashed into each other and shattered upon the edge of the column. Lifeless faces whirled among fragments. Graffyrd raised his eyebrow and moved forward.
“Wait,” he said to the figures dressed in black, still intently focused. The pillar stopped contracting. Graffyrd approached the outside of the column, watching something on the inside. He stretched out his arm and turned his palm face up; a bright white sphere of light quickly assembled itself and hovered in the air. It moved forward and stretched into a hollow tube, creating a small gap in the column’s red wall, which continued to spin. Grinning widely, Graffyrd stretched his arm into the tube and snatched at the air. He quickly brought his hand back.
“A little artifact for our Lord Hamrin,” he said aloud, as he stared down at the king’s crown. Its jewels shined brightly and appeared full of flame in the red light of the column. He wiped some blood off the crown onto his sleeve. “Continue.”
Graffyrd backed away as the white tube disappeared and the pillar again began to shrink. After more crumbling and disintegrating, the column was nearly the size of a walking stick. It soon became a thread, and then disappeared, leaving Graffyrd and the other figures standing in a massive open area of black and smoking ground. Red magical residue still glowed amongst the dirt.
The building was gone.
In the middle of a dimly lit room sat a man in a chair of sleek black marble. He wore a dark blood red robe and a twisted smile. The man’s open palm held a small round black rock with a thin green line that encircled it, except for a small gap. He glared at the rock with an obvious amount of loathing.
He stretched out his other hand and turned that palm up as well, curving its fingers inward and quickly created a sphere of light: an essence of magic.
The door to the room opened suddenly and the sphere increased in transparency until it completely faded away, but the man did not remove his gaze from the rock.
“We have returned from the conference, my Lord Hamrin,” came the voice of the man who had entered. It was Graffyrd, dressed mostly in black and wearing a dull red robe. “Your plan worked perfectly.”
“As expected,” Lord Hamrin replied, his voice dark and stormy.
“And I have brought the king’s crown as—”
“A magnificent relic of a deplorable monarch,” Lord Hamrin said, not glancing toward the door. “Leave it here.”
“Yes, my lord. And… we have collected them.”
“All fifty? I certainly hope they are as I requested them to be.” Graffyrd shuddered in fear as his eyes darted anxiously around in the darkness.
“Yes, my lord,” Graffyrd said. “All seem to be possible candidates.”
“Good. Tell the rest of the Malumar to send word to those who would care about this theft, and to all surrounding areas: show up on the castle grounds one week from today, or choose to never again see your loved ones alive.”
“Yes, my lord. If you do not mind my inquiring,” his shaking voice said, “what is your plan for the fifty?”
“Do not concern yourself with such matters. Throw the prisoners in the dungeons and make sure they are treated with every ounce of respect they deserve, and deliver the message I have given you to the countryside. And make sure each notice has a… personal touch to it.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Graffyrd left the room and closed the door behind him. Lord Hamrin continued to stare at the rock in his palm.
“Magic,” he whispered to himself. “So long have I clung to you. Now, after so many years, you bring me at long last to my death.”
His smile twisted more as he squeezed the orb tightly in his fist. He glared at a long piece of parchment in front of him, still wet with ink from the long black-feathered quill next to it.
“Which is exactly the punishment this world deserves.”
Lord Hamrin reopened his palm and created a white ball of essence with his other hand, but this time he was not disturbed and the essence did not disappear. He slowly moved the rock toward the floating light, until he held it directly in the floating ball’s center. The man’s smooth dark red hair emitted a slight glow as the green line around the rock’s perimeter began pulsating brightly with green light. He grinned widely and placed the rock into a basket on the floor by his side. Fifty identical rocks with pulsating green lines now rested inside the basket.
THE MEETING PLACE
It was dawn by the clock’s standards, but darkness still spread over the plains of Sargoff. Not a star was in the sky; no moon or moon crescent hung there to shine. No sound was heard, no breeze was felt, no creatures moved. In a grove of trees stood a man who had been there for hours, waiting. He had not slept nor grown tired, his mind glued to the task at hand.
A deep scar stretched along the man’s cheek. His clothes were all faded brown and in rough shape, from his thick steel-toed boots up to his rimmed hat. Several scratches and dried bloodstains were visible in the dark fabric of his coat. A thick leather pack hung from his back, and a sheathed dagger dangled from his belt.
The maple and fir trees, organized in a perfect circle, surrounded him densely on all sides and left an open area in the middle nearly an acre in size. It was mostly empty, except for two large rocks that sat next to each other and were long overtaken with moss and plant life. A circular patch of grassless dirt and mud sat in the middle. Otherwise, the grass stood up nearly to the man’s waist.
He watched through one of the few gaps in the trees as a dull light emerged on the black horizon and sped through the air. It came to an abrupt halt high above the waiting man, hung there for a few moments, and then dropped. It stopped falling directly in front of the man and hovered at near his eye-level.
“You’re late,” the man said, his voice deep and fiery.
“Yes, my lord,” the high-pitched response came. The outline of a mouth made of light appeared on the shining sphere. “I apologize, but—”
“No time. Where is it?”
“I carry it.” An illuminated arm grew out from behind the light, and it reached over its body and inside the mouth. It rummaged underneath the bright tongue with its human-like hand. Loud noises came from within its body: clangs and rumbles as if large heavy objects battered against each other. The bright hand soon emerged holding a small grey box that was at least twice the size of the light’s fist-sized body. The box was exquisitely decorated with sparkling gold, diamonds and pearls.
An eyeball stuck out of the mouth of the glowing sphere, attached to a thin string of sagging light that seemed to drip small drops of brightness inside the mouth and onto the ground below. The eyeball was completely bright like the rest of its body, except for a small black dot on its front side.
The man took the box into his gloved hand.
“Gorgeous, isn’t it?” the sphere said.
The man grunted. “How does it open?”
“Open? Why would it need to open? It’s a ceremonial piece—”
The man walked to the large moss-covered rocks and threw the box against one of them. It broke open and even more rare jewels fell from its insides onto the ground. The sphere of light gasped and turned a bright reddish color. “What are you doing? That relic is worth enough to buy the whole country!”
“Indeed it is,” the man said. “Or powerful enough to rule the world.”
He knelt down on his knees and used his fingers to sift through what had become a small mound of miscellaneous gems and stones in the grass. “One of these is much more special than the rest.”
“Those big diamonds are beautiful,” the light said, returning to its normal hue. “Those are much more special.”
“Here it is,” the man said as his palm held a dull round rock of black marbled stone.
“That? Why that?”
“Because this is power.”
“That? That is nothing,” the sphere said, eyeing the man oddly. “A rock you’d find anywhere. Nothing that the eye finds pleasing, my lord.”
“Yet ever more useful.”
The man nodded.
“But sire, these are the lowest of the stones, created by the lowest of stone makers. Even the slaves are given them. How is such a rock useful?”
“Because this is no mere rock at all. It brings life, and only through life can you bring death, and only through death can there be peace.”
“Peace? From what war?” the sphere said, his eye darting around in all directions.
“Peace from those who bring war to create death, and peace for those who bring war to create life.”
“And this little thing can accomplish that?”
The man looked slowly from the small object in his hand to the light, his lip curling up on one side.
“Power is not the same thing as size. I thought you of all beings would know that.”
“My power is the same as my size; I have no great powers,” the shining ball of light said. “I am just… but this thing; it is just a simple rock, my lord. Thousands of them rest upon the bottom of the waters—”
“This one is different,” the man said sternly. He pointed at a thin green line that encircled the object, except for a small gap. “This is the mark of Lord Hamrin, the great warlock of the forest. This is no stone, but an orb of great magical powers.”
“An orb? But magical orbs are much bigger and brighter—”
“Most of them are.”
“—and they leave no question of what they are. What makes you think this is an orb, my lord?”
“Because I have seen it before. Several years ago, in the palm of Lord Hamrin himself. This line glows green when its magic is at work. For now, the light lies dormant within, awaiting the purposes of a future master.”
The man held out his hand, and the light silenced.
“Cymor, my friend, this has been my life’s quest,” he said, holding the rock between his fingers. “And here it is, at long last.”
Cymor’s eyeball stared at the man, squinting. “It must be special, then, Jothan,” he said. His voice was not entirely lacking in doubt. Cymor glanced back at the rock in the man’s hand. “And this Lord Hamrin wants the orb back?”
“He has been dead for many years.”
“Then who wants it? What does the orb do?”
Jothan scowled slightly and ignored these questions.
“We must move out.”
“We go to Irkinoth,” Jothan said. “We must speak with the king. He will have the deepest of interests in the orb.”
“Irkinoth,” Cymor repeated. “Though I have no memory of being there, or seeing it on a map, somehow, I know just where it is.”
Jothan looked at him awkwardly and dropped the orb into his pack. The pair of them moved south through the field as the bright morning sun started to peak over the horizon.
AN AUDIENCE WITH THE KING
The noise of a waterfall slowly became louder as they came upon a cliff that overlooked a large lake; the edge of the lake weaved around randomly on both sides. In the distance, they could make out the mist created by the powerful falls. Ahead of them, the towering structure of Irkinoth sat on the edge of a steep cliff and overlooked the lake, directly across from the waterfall. The city was of beautiful white stone and appeared to have been cut like a pie into a perfectly shaped half-circle. The curved side banked up along the arced edge of the lake, while the flat side faced east into the city. Irkinoth rested on a small peninsula that extended from the land, and thick stone walls stood in between the extension and the mainland.
“Are you sure you want me along, my lord?” Cymor asked, his eyes transfixed on Irkinoth as they continued to move along the lake’s edge.
“Your presence may be helpful in proving the orb’s legitimacy.”
“But… all those people…”
“Are you shy, my little friend?”
“Well, I’ve just… never spoken to one before.”
Jothan stopped walking and raised his eyebrow oddly at Cymor.
“Never spoken to one before? I’m the first human you’ve interacted with?”
“Yes, my lord.”
“And how long have you been wandering around?”
“I have no concept of your time, but I do not remember anything before it.”
Jothan stared at the bright sphere in awe and scowled slightly. “Do you fear us?”
“I… I do not know. Maybe. I have not wanted to get in the way.”
“Considering how useful you’ve been to me, I can’t imagine that would happen,” Jothan said, as they started to move again. Jothan looked forward to the structure of Irkinoth. “Though the city residents may not know how to react to your coming. But yet… how do you know about slaves and stone makers?”
“I notice everything around me… even if nothing notices me.”
“And orbs? Knowledge of magical orbs is more difficult to come by.”
“I…” Cymor said. His eye widened and his light dulled slightly. “I… I know all about them. But how? I just…I cannot quite pinpoint why. They are simply in my mind.”
Two guards stood at the gate in the thick stone wall as Jothan and Cymor approached. They both wore thick armor that showed large amounts of wear. Thick swords hung from their belts and their faded red shields lay flat on the ground. A weapon rack containing several other swords and shields, most dulling and rusted, sat just inside the gate. Both guards leaned relaxingly against the stone, glanced quickly at Jothan and nervously at Cymor, but did not move or speak.
The road from the gate went directly straight and was relatively empty. Large, beautiful homes flanked the road on both sides, most molded from the same spotless white stone as the fortress. Each house was nearly identical, with large bright gold pillars and collections of rare brightly-colored plants with flowers in full bloom. Great windows with detailed glass carvings fronted each home and gave each structure one of its only unique features.
Jothan and Cymor approached a much busier section of the city that sat around several angled road intersections. People walked in all directions, to and from several shops of different sizes and kinds. Some were small booths sitting around the center of the area, while others were buildings around its outside. No one seemed to notice Jothan or the odd creature by his side. The great activity of his surroundings filled Cymor with anxiousness and made his light fade noticeably. Ahead of them, a large family walked toward a stand selling a wide variety of food. Their clothes were ripped and faded, and several of the children did not have shoes, while others did not have shirts. The family’s mother held a screaming infant tightly to her chest.
On the other side of the food merchant was a man and a woman, each well dressed and groomed. The man took a change purse out of his pocket and started sifting through the coins.
“The city marketplace,” Jothan said to Cymor. “The only place in the city where people of different classes interact. Usually the lower classes stay away from the main road, away from the upper class: those people the city wants to advertise to its visitors.” Jothan nodded toward the large houses they had passed by previously.
Cymor barely listened, but instead stared at the baby in the woman’s arms. “Oh, how beautiful,” Cymor said excitedly to Jothan, pointing at the infant. “I’ve never seen a young human before. Breathtaking.”
Jothan murmured softly and continued to look around the area.
“How can you not want to stare at it and take delight in its beauty?”
“It’s a baby,” Jothan said curtly. “I’ve seen them before.”
“Even so,” Cymor said, “I could never tire of such a sight.”
Everyone around them seemed to be talking at once, but they could pick out several voices clearly through the rumbling.
“Get your meat here! The least diseased in the city!”
“Quilts! Thick and warm and beautiful!”
“Find your past and your future! Realize your purpose!”
“This land is nothing compared to the rest of the world! Come and travel and see things you never knew existed! Amaze yourself with what’s out there!”
“Sheep here! Cows! Horses! Any animal you could want to train or eat!”
“Find your lost loved ones who have moved on! I will contact the dead! You can speak once more to those who are gone!”
The last voice caused Cymor to shudder; it was high pitched and creepy, and Jothan chose that moment to continue through marketplace.
“I will contact… hey you there!”
A strange sight came lunging at them from the side. A small bent-over woman with a wrinkled face and dressed in a ripped orange robe lunged at him quicker than Jothan could react and grabbed his wrist.
“You! You come here with lost loved ones! You must come and talk to them! Through me you can do that!”
“No thank you,” he said, shaking the woman’s grip loose.
“What are you scared of, boy?”
“Just you,” he said, and they quickly left the market.
The road continued perfectly straight. More of the same type of luxurious houses sat on both sides. They approached another large wall and gate, nearly identical to the one they had already passed. The guards were dressed the same and reacted in the same manner. Jothan and Cymor quickly passed through.
“Wow,” Cymor said softly, floating through the gate and looking up as the wall of the city rose high into the sky in front of them.
“Must be a hundred feet tall…”
On either side of the road, attached to the inside of the wall, were several more houses, stylistically similar to the ones they had seen before, but larger and more grandiose.
“These are the people who truly do have an overabundance of wealth,” Jothan said. “For the right price, they get almost as much protection and glory as the king and queen.”
Just to the left of the city were stables. Jothan stopped and lightly smiled into the opening of the small building, which caused Cymor to freeze and follow his gaze.
Standing in the stables was a horse of a bright, beautiful white. The brilliance of the animal dulled with impressiveness that of the nearby city, but this was not the only thing that caused this animal to stand out. Attached to both sides were great feathered wings, equaling the rest of its body in brightness.
Hanging inside on one of the stable walls were glimmering decorations, sized and shaped to fit perfectly on the animal’s head and body, though they appeared to still be in mint condition.
“Fentrex,” Jothan said. “The king’s royal Pegasus.”
Cymor stared at it, bright mouth wide open.
“And a much more noble transport than a wingless horse. Very expensive creatures.” He glanced at the exquisite houses and then started to move toward the city as an elderly balding man peered out of the stables at them oddly. On the other side of the path sat a medium sized building where several guards stood outside talking to each other.
“The barracks,” Jothan said. “Houses the country’s army, though it’s been many a year since there’s been a real need to have one. However,” Jothan said, hesitating in mid sentence, “I fear their inactivity may soon be a thing of the past.”
The pair moved past two more guards and into the city. Hallways went off to both sides and directly ahead. They turned and took the passage and stairs to the right. The walls were ornamentally decorated with all sorts of mint-conditioned items. Brilliantly colored tapestries, wall murals and other paintings, statues, and full suits of armor flanked them on all sides throughout the halls and staircases of the city. All the people in the paintings seemed to be happy and perfectly content; even the suits of armor seemed to smile. The steps curved completely around the backside of the city and ended at a hallway that went to the left and extended the length of the city’s flat front side. They took the hallway to the next flight of stairs and continued up to the eighth level. A door to the left was guarded by two large men wearing heavy armor; thick sheathed blades hung from their leather belts. The guards’ armor was similar in styling to the guards outside, but showed no signs of wear and no fading. They shined brightly and colorfully.
“What business do you have on the royal floor?” one of them snarled, moving forward.
“I request an audience with the king,” Jothan said, half bowing, his voice soft and shaky.
“What would a peasant have to say to the king?” the guard said, completely ignoring Cymor, whose light had dulled a little and become slightly transparent.
“The king’s time is more valuable than your life,” the guard said, now standing directly in front of Jothan and glaring down at him. Jothan backed away slightly from the large man, but the guard moved forward again.
“Wasting the king’s time is a crime that is punishable by death, or worse.”
Jothan’s eyes widened and he stepped back again, now feeling the cold stone wall behind him. The guard advanced again, pushing his large body against Jothan.
“I promise you, I come with a matter of the utmost importance—”
“To who? A king’s priorities are not of peasants.”
“You do not understand this matter!”
“Do I not, now? Now you’ve insulted my intelligence and wasted my time, and that’s nearly as unfortunate as wasting the time of the royals!”
The guard drew his sword, swung his arms back, and Jothan closed his eyes and braced for his flesh to be ripped into by the guard’s blade. He stood there for what seemed like an eternity and waited for the end to come, but nothing happened. Instead, the guard burst out in uncontrollable laughter and held his stomach as he leaned his heavyset body against the wall. The other guard merely rolled his eyes.
“Just determining how important your visit to the king truly was,” the guard said as he continued to chuckle to himself. “Those whose issues are ultimately trivial flee quickly and don’t look back.”
Jothan stared at him, his eyes wide open.
“Oh don’t get angry, it was just a little bit of fun,” the guard said. He patted Jothan on the shoulder, but Jothan pushed the guard’s hand away and took a couple steps backwards toward the stairs.
“Does that mean I can speak with the king now?”
“Of course not,” the guard replied.
“What?” Jothan yelled; his face contorted and turned deep red.
“Oh, just kidding again, you really should lighten up,” the guard said, and he smiled happily.
“There you go, that’s a little better. I will notify the king of your arrival,” the guard said. “Who should I say is requesting an audience?”
“Jothan, son of Zothan.”
The guard bowed and disappeared into the hallway.
“My apologies for Guard Pilmar,” the other guard said. “He’s still learning.”
Jothan nodded. Guard Pilmar returned from the hallway.
“Says he’s never heard of you.”
Jothan glared at him and waited for him to say that he was only joking again.
“I know he’s never heard of me,” Jothan said, an obvious annoyance in his voice, “but I still need to speak with him.”
“What is the business you wish speak to him about?”
“Can’t I just tell him that?”
“The king is quite a busy man—”
“I’m sure he is, but it is essential that I speak with him now.”
“I shall ask again,” the guard said, and he disappeared once more and reappeared even quicker this time.
“I’m sorry, but the king’s time is very val—”
“Fine. Tell him that Lord Hamrin’s successor has appeared, and that his orb has at long last been located.”
“Lord Hamrin?” the guard said as his eyes narrowed.
“A peasant has located the dark lord’s orb?”
Jothan’s voice became stronger and louder. “I am no peasant,” he replied irately. “But I have located the orb.”
“Where is it?”
“This is no matter to discuss with a guard,” Jothan said sarcastically. “The king will want to see me. Do you want to discover the punishment for wasting the king’s time? Now tell him!” Jothan nearly yelled.
“Alright,” the guard said as he rolled his eyes. “Kind of an annoying lad, aren’t you?”
“Okay, one moment,” the guard said, walking back up the hallway. After a few moments, Jothan heard feet running, and the guard reappeared.
“You may enter, with my apologies,” he said, and pointed down the hall.
The walls of the royal hall glistened of bright red; the painted flame of dragons paraded Jothan on both sides. Small knights in the murals were in fighting stances with the dragons, and all appeared to be winning their battles with the massive beasts. Two large chandeliers hung from the ceiling; the stunning crystal illuminated the room with the light of the candles that hung in the middle of the sparkling stones.
Directly in front of him at the end of the large hall sat two identical deep red thrones, in which sat the king and the queen. They looked in their middle years and were both dressed in exceptionally royal attire, though the king’s appearance was a little rougher than the queen’s. A brilliantly glittering crown sat upon the queen’s dark blonde hair, while the king’s crown resided on the pole of his throne, his light brown hair slightly messy.
To the king’s right, in a smaller throne, sat a bright-blonde haired boy that appeared to be squarely in the middle of his teenage years, who sported a rather bored look. He spun his crown in circles around one of his wrists and was dressed in royal attire, though slightly less rough than the king. Jothan assumed he was the son of the king and queen: the prince of Sargoff.
The king and queen stared at Jothan inquisitively as he walked toward them. The king spoke first.
“I was just in the middle of something incredibly important. You better have real news here, or I’m going to be very angry.”
The queen nodded her agreement. The prince yawned.
“Oh, yes, your majesty—”
“Oh don’t start with that royal treatment nonsense. I’ve never really enjoyed this part of kinghood,” the king said, glancing over at his wife, who beamed down at her emerald and diamond ring.
“Yes, sir, I bring news of Lord Hamrin’s successor and his orb.”
“I was there on the day Lord Hamrin revealed the magical orbs. My father was there—”
“Who was your father again?” asked the king impatiently.
“His name was Zothan—”
“Never heard of him.”
There was an awkward silence and Jothan felt like becoming defensive, but he managed to continue.
“Well, on that day, Lord Hamrin said that the orb would be placed in a decorated box and hidden, only to be discovered and used by a new dark lord that would arrive sometime later, though he did not speculate as to when. He also found a new disciple to join the ranks of his dark followers, the Malumar – a man named Vyren.
“Eights years ago, I saw that same man in the forest, talking to another, mentioning the rise of a new leader, someone named Arien. They believed this Arien was to be the new leader that Hamrin referred to before he died. They also mentioned that Arien came to them full of information from Lord Hamrin himself, some that may point to the orb’s location, and how best to retrieve it. This Arien also came bearing an artifact of some importance that proved she was the rightful successor. Vyren said that their new lord had been appointed to the role in some way unknown to them, but nevertheless, Lord Arien is their master now.”
The prince made a purposefully loud yawning noise and stretched his arms.
“Father, may I go?”
“Not yet son,” he said. “Continue, please.”
“I have made it my goal since the day I saw Vyren to find the orb before Arien does first,” Jothan said. “If they find it, it could mean the end of our way of life, and would send us back decades. We do not want the fields of our land drenched again in the blood of war. Thousands could be killed and our society would once again crumble. I searched the countryside for the orb, for any sign of it. The desert, the forests, everywhere. But for eight years, I found nothing. Until one day, I found Cymor.”
The king and queen looked at him confusedly.
“Cymor is my friend here,” he said, and the little ball of light floated out from behind Jothan. The eyes of the king and queen opened widely, as they had not yet seen him.
“You’re a… you’re a…” the queen said, her eyebrow raised high.
“That’s right,” Cymor said proudly. “I’m a Cymor.”
“Well, yes, that you are,” the king said.
“That is your name, though, correct? Cymor?” the queen asked curiously.
“Yes, that is his name,” Jothan said. The prince fidgeted in his chair.
“I was not aware our world had any more of your kind,” the queen said lightly.
“You know what I am?” Cymor said enthusiastically.
“I might,” she replied, and a smile crept onto Cymor’s face. “I know much about the bizarre creatures that roam the countryside of Sargoff. Those in the forests and the prairies, the mountains and the sands—”
“Yes, Ethenia, strange creatures are very interesting, but is not the important subject matter here.”
The smile on Cymor’s face vanished.
“You’re always ignoring those who are not human,” said the queen.
“I have problems enough with those who are human. I can’t always be worrying about every other species, especially when some of them don’t even exist.”
The queen glared angrily at her husband.
“The absconditas do exist and their location is known to be—”
“Come on now,” the king blurted irritably, then seemed to remember they were standing in front of someone else and brought himself quickly to a calm.
“Even if they do exist, my dear,” he said with an obviously fake and articulated sweetness, “they’re better off staying in their place. The hidden ones were dangerous, cruel people, with no love for the lives of others, who took great advantage of their invisibility. If they existed and we contacted them, we may start a war. Okay?”
“Those who have seen past their invisibility say they are some of the most beautiful creatures in the land. They say only the stars outshine them.”
“Yes, but the most beautiful of creatures can still leap from the shadows and take away all you hold so dear. Murder and deception are not a fair trade for beauty.”
“There is no proof that they are the monsters legend has made them to be.”
The queen continued to glare at him. The king cleared his throat.
“Continue,” the king said to Jothan, who took a careful moment to respond.
“Cymor also has been wandering around for many years, longer than I have, it would seem. I made his acquaintance only yesterday, in fact, and we started talking. I told him of my quest, of the exquisite box that the orb had been placed into. He said that he remembered seeing one deep in a certain cave, so I sent him to retrieve it for me. And so he did,” he said. Jothan smiled down at Cymor, whose light gained a pinkish hue.
“We scheduled a meeting in the grove of trees, and he brought it to me there.”
“And you have it now? You have the orb?”
“I do,” he said as he pulled the small rock out of his pack. The prince groaned loudly.
“And does it work?”
Jothan scowled slightly at this question.
“I don’t know,” he said, and indicated the gloves he was still wearing. “I haven’t touched it.”
The king stroked his chin, apparently deep in thought. Jothan held out his hand and offered the rock to the king. The king sat back in his seat.
“Father, please, can I go?”
The king gave his son the stern look of a very disappointed father.
“Son, you’re going to have to learn how to deal with things such as this for when you become king.”
“Yeah, yeah, it’s all very interesting.”
The prince scowled at his father. “Yes, Linneus?”
The king’s expressed turn angry, but he did not shout. “Fine. Go. We will talk about this later.”
“Same old talk, I can hardly—”
The prince stood quickly, his crown falling from his lap and clanging loudly. He left the room as the crown rolled across the floor and hit the wall. The king glanced at his wife, fury still written upon his face. She rubbed her eyes and returned her husband’s gaze. He sighed, then they both looked back and Jothan.
“The orb. Is it safe?” the queen said.
Jothan said nothing. Cymor peered confusedly at the small rock.
“This is the magical orb of Lord Hamrin, the evil warlock, the man who brought this county down in a crumbling mess,” the queen said, an anxious tone in her voice. “His dark magic ripped this country apart limb from limb, taking out its very foundation of life. We believe that when Lord Hamrin died, the powers of his followers went with him. But we fear the powers the dark wizard placed upon the orb; for finding it may be the Malumar's key to reclaiming their lost power and continuing their lord's work. We cannot guess the extent of the orb’s power. How do we know that the one who touches it will not be cursed?”
Jothan peered down at the rock, not having considered this possibility. “I suppose… we don’t know. It could be filled with a wealth of dark magic that…” Jothan stopped in midsentence. The three of them sat in silence for several moments.
“We could ask for a volunteer from the city…” said the king.
“And risk the life of one of our people?” asked the queen.
“They would know what they were getting into…”
“And what if they were cursed from it? Would you want that hanging over your head, Linneus?”
“Why do we even need to use it at all?” asked the queen. “The mere fact that we have it and the enemy does not is victory in itself.”
“We do not need to risk the enemy gaining strength by our greed, especially when—”
“But Ethenia,” the king said, interrupting the queen. “Imagine the power, if it wasn’t cursed…” said the king, staring at the rock in Jothan’s hand. “Just imagine…” His hand started to reach out toward it, and Jothan’s hand didn’t move. Just inches from it and –
“Brunch is served, your highnesses!”
“Would you please stop calling me that!” the king bellowed, and his hand returned to the armrest of his throne.
“Please never stop calling me that,” the queen said as she smiled at the plump elderly woman wearing a red striped apron who had just entered the room.
Jothan peered through the open doorway from which the woman had entered. In that room sat a long, brilliantly decorated table, lined with bright gold goblets and shining silver plates. Above the table hung a large chandelier, where dozens of candles hung by strips of wrought iron from the rather flat top. The wall on either side of the table was lined with servants who stood motionless and appeared ready to take orders at any moment.
“Will your guest be joining us for brunch?” the woman asked, leering at Jothan awkwardly.
“No,” the king replied harshly, “he will not.”
The woman left, and the king turned to Jothan.
“Come back in two hours, and we will discuss this further, and,” he said as he watched the orb return to Jothan’s pack, “keep it hidden.”
Jothan nodded, turned around and left, while Cymor followed behind him.
As he leaned against the back wall of Irkinoth, Jothan took his pack and removed a small canteen and took a drink. Cymor floated next to him and stared out over the lake, his awestruck eye fixed upon the waterfall.
“So, do you creatures ever eat?” Jothan asked and turned to look at Cymor.
“No, my lord,” Cymor replied, his eye fixed on the waterfall. “I do not require additional energy to function.” His voice was monotone.
“Amazing creature, you are. I’ve never seen anything similar.”
“Nor have I.”
“One of a kind then.”
“Or an outcast from society, not sure what I am, or where I came from.”
“None, my lord. I simply remember being lost in the world. Not knowing where I was, and not having anywhere to go. I feel like those hidden ones that the queen was talking about. I’m here, but no one can see me. No one even knows or cares that I’m here.”
“But you are no killer. According to legend, that race would slaughter by the hundreds. Evil beings without a trace of mercy. You are not like them.”
“I am no killer, but I still feel invisible. And why couldn’t the king let the queen tell me what I am?” His light turned a slight reddish color.
“There will be time.”
“I do hope so, yet for now, I’m an unknown, just lost.”
“Well,” Jothan said, turning to his side and lying down in the grass, “I’m sure you’ll find your place.”
Cymor finally pulled his gaze away from the waterfall and looked upon Jothan’s face, whose eyes were now closed. He glanced down at the grass below him, his eye stopping on a small flower, just beginning to bud.
Just starting, Cymor thought to himself as he continued to stare at the bright yellow flower. Your purpose is simply to be beautiful. You never have to question where to go next, for your place has already been decided. Cymor sighed deeply and then looked toward the horizon, Sargoff’s rolling plains covering all the land he could see. Some of us can go anywhere, but don’t know where or why. I sometimes long for a simpler purpose, for at least then I would have one.
An hour later, Jothan awoke.
“Time to head back inside,” he said as he looked up at the sun. He stood and walked along the wall, watching the water of the lake. In front of them, Fentrex, the king’s Pegasus, flew from beyond the outside wall of Irkinoth and glided over the lake, landing on the ground just near the lake’s edge. Jothan stopped with jolt.
“Wonder why he’s loose; a creature like that, of such great value, is never allowed to roam freely.”
The Pegasus had its back turned to the city and was grazing on the green grass. Suddenly, another creature came and flew the same path Fentrex had: horse-like and winged, nearly physically identical, but sleek black, with a single long and sharp horn protruding from its forehead. It landed to Fentrex’s left, slammed hard into his side, and knocked him over. The white Pegasus landed on the ground with a thud and struggled to stand up again, but the black creature slashed its horn deep into Fentrex’s neck. The white Pegasus’ wings fluttered wildly, and it slowly fell upon its front knees as violent screeches came from its mouth. Fentrex toppled onto the ground and its body went limp. The black creature started shredding into the Pegasus’ flesh with its sharp teeth.
Jothan pulled out his dagger and started to run toward the fallen creature. As he passed the corner of the city, something came at him from in front. He didn’t know what it was at first, but he suddenly found himself on the ground with a man whose face he did not recognize on top of him, attempting to pin him to the ground. His dagger had fallen from his hands and now lay nearby in the grass.
The man threw his elbow into Jothan’s chest, knocking the wind out of him.
“Where is it?” the man screamed, holding Jothan’s neck to the ground. “Where is the orb?”
“I… I…” Jothan managed, barely able to breathe under the man’s weight. His eyes were flashing around their sockets as he tried to figure out what was going on and what course of action to take. Cymor floated by him anxiously.
“Where is it?” the man said again.
“Finish your sentence!”
“I… I will get it! Just… just get off of me!”
“If you run, you will be captured,” the man said, pointing at another man standing behind him who was wielding a crossbow. “Rylyn here is the sharpest shot in the land.”
“I will not run!”
The man stood, and Jothan put his hand into the pack he was carrying, and pulled out the rock. A grin swam across the man’s face.
“Hand it over,” he said. Jothan breathed deep, closed his eyes, and slowly got to his feet.
“Cymor,” he said, and the little ball of light looked up at him.
“What?” asked the man.
“The meeting place is safe. Stay until I am gone. Then go back to the king, and continue our conversation.”
Jothan started to move his hand toward the man, holding the rock in his open palm, but then instead, tossed it at Cymor. His illuminated arm instantly grew out of his back; he caught the rock and threw it in his mouth, then quickly flew high in the air, vanishing into the clouds.
“Fool! How dare you!” the man yelled, cracking Jothan across the face with his hand. “You have brought death upon yourself!” The man swiftly drew his sword, but then noticed Jothan’s dagger on the ground and resheathed his sword.
“Perhaps your blood should be spilled with your own blade?” He picked up the dagger and made to strike, but a voice from behind him made him stop.
“Wait, Thyrik,” Rylyn said.
Jothan rubbed his nose and blood poured onto his hand. He slowly pushed himself up off the ground and stood.
“You intend to show this man mercy?” asked Thyrik. “He may have just cost us years of searching time!”
“You obviously were not paying attention, were you?”
“What? Paying attention? I was paying close enough attention to realize that this man just sent the orb – the thing we’ve been seeking for who knows how long – up into the cosmos! Or did you not notice that? Did you forget our purpose?”
“I know you do not wish to show this man mercy. However, perhaps you would be less… merciful… by letting him live. Perhaps Arien has a better way to…to thank him for the assistance he’s provided us.”
Jothan looked over at the black winged creature who continued to rip into the now-lifeless body of Fentrex the Pegasus. Thyrik grinned at him as he noticed his gaze.
“Oh, don’t mind our beast; Venk’s just having himself a royal treat. A Pegasus is a beautiful creature, no doubt, but I’d trade a thousand of them for a Pennemalus like this one. Looks like he’s rather enjoying his snack. I’d rather be that dead creature than you right now.”
“Time to go, Thyrik,” Rylyn said. “Bind him.”
Thyrik took ropes out of a pack and, grinning at Jothan, cracked him across the face once more and caused his head to collide violently with the stone wall of Irkinoth. Jothan’s vision went black.