The wind chilled through her cotton clothes as she traversed along the side of the mountain. She stared at her feet as the road that was barely visible under the weed and crumbled stone plates. She wondered for what purpose it was erected, and by whom, as the land was remote and uninhabited. But her mind was occupied at the path head and the people struggling behind and before her; careful, with every step that they took. Her gear weighed heavily on her back and it pained her to leave the animals behind, but it was necessary, for there was no faster way to the other side.
After hours of climbing, she became un-watchful and her legs became weary. The pressure under her foot suddenly disappeared, as one the ancient stone plates broke and half her body leaned over the edge. She wobbled as she tried to regain balance. Her heart stopped, and she held her breath as she stared in terror down the foggy abyss. Suddenly, someone grabbed her by her wrist and she was pulled back into safety.
While pressed against the mountain wall, she gasped uncontrollably; her heart beating out of her chest. But as her breath steadied, she looked at her saviour that stood hunched next to her. What she saw, was a man with a vacant expression, the expression of a man that had traveled too far and seen too much. Feelings that she could relate all too well with.
As they continue to ascend, a loud noise echoed through the mountain. She broke from the crowd and looked nervously to the front of the caravan a few hundred meters above. A smile grew on her face as she saw people weaving by the edge. They had finally reached the top. It took them many days to get this far, but even though the lead caravan had reached its destination, it would take many days before the rest did. She thought as she watched the snake-like line of hundreds of thousands of people down the path.
Suddenly, something in the distance flared in an orange light. She stared at the horizon that was engulfed in a red and yellow, and above it, a blackness formed. The smoke seemed to reach far to the heavens; a tear fell from her cheek. The destruction was unimaginable and never ending.
As she stood staring, a gush of wind caressed her face. Even in the cold northern climate, she could feel the faint warmth in the air, a warmth that traveled by westward wind. Her lips trembled. Knowing that she was torturing herself, she swallowed and turned her head away, to the opposite side, to the future.
Even at this distance, she could hear the elders argue loudly from above. The very fact that they even talk to each other was an improvement. Though, great disasters have a way of mending old grievances, if only just by a little. She shivered at the thought of what would have become of them, hadn’t her brother stepped up as he did. She prayed that he was safe.
She sighed and began inspecting the camp site. Shattered families sat all around, some in tatters and others not. At the corner of her eye, she saw a blue-eyed woman, with a man of red-eyed decent. A union impossible just a few years ago. Even when the old society is all but broken, she did not fail to notice such contradiction.
In the background, she heard a small child asking his father. “How much longer must walk?”
“As long as we need to son.”
“But where are we going?”
The father paused and then said. “Do you remember back home when we were going to grandmother’s, but we were delayed because of the wind?”
“...and then the ship had mechanical problems and we had to land in a different city but the day turned out well anyway?”
The child nodded.
“Well, this is kind of like that, something unexpected happened and now we have to make the best of things.”
Another man grunted a few meters away that said. “Except there is no turning back.”
She turned her head towards the voice. A young man sat staring at the child and the father, with the inferno raging in the background. His yellow eyes perfectly melded with the horizon. Finding herself staring, she looked away, embarrassed that she could find beauty in something so awful.
A day passed and they finally arrived at the peak of the mountain. The ground was flat, perfect for a campsite. But it was already overcrowded and the space between the camps was virtually nonexistent. They had to leave soon, to give the others the opportunity to rest as well. They were so many…
Tired from ascending, she wheezed, but she wanted to see her brother as soon as possible and she pressed on.
Asking around, she found that he and the elders camped at the far side of the mountain, overlooking the land to the east. As she approached, she saw the elders sitting at a table, arguing as intently as ever. It was strange to see the yellow, the red, and the blue without weapons at their throats. As the elders saw her approach them, they nodded in the direction of her brother.
He sat alone, on the remnants of some wall. The foundation of it encompassed the entire campsite, she noticed, and curiosity crept into her heart. She found herself staring at the ruins, instead of walking directly to her brother. Fear washed over her as she glanced towards him. Furious, she slapped herself. I am not like the others! she told herself, and rallied towards him.
He glanced at her as she approached. “You don't have to come up here,” he said, while clenching his hands around his knees, as if in pain.
She didn't say anything and knelt down next to him, gently grabbing his hand. He grunted loudly as she touched him and his eyes began to glow red, almost burning. Quickly she took a tight grip around his body, holding his arms together with all her might. She knew his pain. It was the same pain that she felt, that everyone felt. But his anger, sadness and anxiety were manifested, projected by a power older than her people itself.
His body tensed but he didn’t try to break free. Slowly he relaxed. As she felt tears fall on her head she released her embrace and looked at him as the glow slowly faded from his eyes. She’d like to believe that what she does helps, but she also knows that her brother is strong.
She put her hands on his face and pressed her forehead against his. “We will get through this, brother. Together we will survive and create a new future for our people.” He nodded and stared into the distance with newly found determination. She stared in the same direction. A purple glow illuminated the horizon, a presage for the unknown world that awaited them. She whispers to herself. “…Avos help us.”
The wind blew across the paved streets, making the rooftops squeak with a whimpering sadness. He bent forward as a strong gust of wind made him stagger backwards. The wind caught in his hood and exposed his face to the elements. He pressed himself against a wall of one of the houses to avoid the rain. He squinted his eyes and glanced upwards as he stared hopeful towards the sky. As nothing happened, he frowned and placed the hood back on his head.
He navigated skillfully through the streets (despite the darkness) and eventually he exited the narrow alleys and entered the open road of the main street. As a large black blurb almost ran into him, he dashed out of its way. Back and forth, people were running. Doors echoed loudly when they were slammed shut.
He could feel the rain soaking through his robe and he felt an urge to turn back; back to the warmth and comfort of his home.
He looked to the other end of the street and saw a bright light shine above the houses. He smirked. With new found determination, he rushed towards it, while dodging between the much taller men and woman.
He stopped near an oddly shaped house. A house more reminiscent of a tree than building and it towered high above the other houses in the neighbourhood. Without knocking, he rushed inside.
As he opened, another strong wind blew on his back, making him lose the grip on the door handle. It slammed with a loud crash into the wall inside and with some effort he managed to close it.
There were grunting and a faint murmur coming from the other room. He hastily bent down and grabbed the items that lie scattered on the floor. He looked up as a man with a white neck long beard, entered the room.
He stammered. “I-I am deeply sorry, Grand Master! but the wind—“
The old man raised his hand. “It is quite alright, Fendrael. Just… be more careful next time.“
He nodded sharply.
The Grand Master was about to open his mouth when the door flung open a second time. Fendrael winced and dropped the items in his embrace as the door crashed near him. A young girl rushed inside and closed the door quickly behind her. Oblivious of them observing her, she removed her hood and revealed her long blond hair. Fendrael sat staring as she glanced at him on the floor. Her eyes flashed as she did.
The Grand Master grabbed a goblet that had rolled up to his feet and said. “It seems that we have another guest today Yve. You don’t mind, do you?”
She continued to glare at Fendrael and whispered something into the old man’s ear. The Grand Master exclaimed. “Oh, don’t be cold Yve. He should, at least, be allowed to stay until the weather clears.”
Fendrael stared in confusion at the both of them, still sitting on the floor. Several questions raced through his mind, but he held his tongue and climbed back to his feet. The Grand Master clapped his hands together and said. “Well then, please come in and sit by the fire with me. I’m curious to hear what you have to say.”
Yve made a final glare towards him as she hung her robe and walked inside before him. He swallowed and entered a moment later. The fire felt warm upon his face as he sat beside her. In the dry air, he could smell mustiness on his clothes, and he hoped that she would not smell it. Even though she most likely smelled the same.
The old man settled in his chair next to the fire, overlooking them both. “Now, for what reason have you all come this stormy evening?” he asked.
Yve looked to the ground, avoiding his gaze. “I would rather not say,” she said and stared into the fire.
“I see…” he paused.
Suddenly, there was a loud bang that made the house quiver. The Grand Master sat quietly on his chair while the both of them glanced nervously through the window. But, the thunder and the drumming rain upon the windows mesmerised them. They all sat quietly and listened while light flashed through the windows. The distance between the flashes and the sounds became broader and broader, by a few seconds at the time. The atmosphere was peaceful, almost serene. Fendrael looked over at Yve in the dim light, her blond hair curled down to her waist. Her eyes glimmered by the light of the fire. So blue…
As he kept staring, Yve turned her head slightly towards him. He looked away and fixated his eyes at the stripes on the carpet that they sat on. The Grand Master noticed his distress and broke the silence. “So, Fendrael. Was there something you wanted to discuss with me?”
Thankful for the interruption, he rose his head and grinned. “I do! At school, they taught us about these people called the Vaan. A people that supposedly lived here before us. Exciting isn’t it?! An entire civilisation that lived here before us!” Yve and the Grand Master remained silent as he went on. “I wanted to learn more about them, but I couldn’t find much in the public library. I was hoping to use yours, or hear from you if you knew anything about them, beyond the common wisdom.”
The Grand Master’s body suddenly tensed, and he stared blankly at the wall. Fendrael eyes flickered between the Grand Master and Yve, who looked as uncomfortable as he felt.
The old man turned his eyes towards him and said. “Have you ever considered that there might be a reason, for the records to be few?”
Fendrael stammered. “W-well… I-I just assumed—“
The Grand Master’s voice deepened. “You know what they did, don’t you, Fendrael?”
“S-surely the stories must be exaggerated?” Fendrael said. “It can’t honestly be the truth! You yourself always taught me to think critically and for that matter—“
Suddenly, his words stuck in his throat as the Grand Master's red eyes turned darker, piercing him. It hurt and it was difficult to breathe. Hate. There is only hatred in his eyes.
The Grand Master blinked and looked around, as if he had been somewhere else, to another time, for just a moment. The pressure disappeared. He looked at them both as they cowered on the floor.
“I am sorry,” the Grand Master said while looking into the fire. His eyes showed a weariness that Fendrael had never seen before. The old man continued to stare at the fire as he said. “You know I would gladly talk with you on any matter, Fendrael. Just, not about ‘them’.
A stream of constant light entered through the window, soothing the tense atmosphere in the room. The Grand Master looked outside and smiled half-heartedly. “Your clothes should be dry now,” he said. “I'll go get them for you.”
Yve had already left as Fendrael made ready to exit as well. She did not say goodbye, and he did not blame her. He also wanted to leave as quickly as possible. As he was about to exit, the Grand Master stopped him by the door. “I know I can’t force you to stop your search,” he said, “but remember this; never doubt the evil and deception of the Vaan, Fendrael. Promise me this.”
Fendrael nodded and hurried out the door. He made sure not to look back, afraid to meet the old man’s gaze again. The air was damp and day had turned into night, but the night was clear. What happened to the man he respected so, he wondered, as he went. A man who he thought and no faults. And what of the Vaan? Curiosity welled within him and he felt an urge to rush home, to continue on the books that he had collected.
As he made ready to sprint, a small flare of light floated at the corner of his eye. He relaxed and smiled. Hundreds upon hundreds of small wisp of light descended from the sky and hovered just a few feet above his head, illuminating the before darkened street. At a porch on the other side of the street, a family stood and pointed towards the small star-like creatures. The child looked in awe at them and he remembered the same feelings when he saw them for the first time as well. He reached out his hand and stood perfectly still, facing the family on the other side. They glanced at him as a wisp circled around his hand and stayed with him as he lowered it again.
The child cried in excitement but the parents forced her inside and glared angrily at him. He understood their reaction well, for it is forbidden to touch these creatures. A penalty that is proceeded by death. They, of course, didn’t want their child to adopt any bad habits, but he could not help himself. He just hoped that they would not be too hard on her. He took a closer look of the wisp who shimmered with bright light, he fought an urge to pet it.
The priests say that they are a gift from god Avos, and by having them, the city has god’s favour. As he walked further along the street, he encountered a lookout. He stood at the edge and stared down at the districts below, engulfed in darkness, saved for lone lights from torches that lit the corners of every street. It was where the common people lived, the fishermen, the craftsmen and the traders. Why do they not receive god’s favour? he wondered; he found the priests reasoning hard to believe.
He continued his way home, with the wisp still circling around him. His home was situated on the edge of the district, a good spot with a view over the city, and indeed the ocean (and its surrounding islands) to the west. Though some had an even better view, he thought, as he rose his head upwards and looked at the palace above. It was cut into the mountain, with a beautiful garden at its entrance.
Even higher was the temple; a reminder of the social order of the world. They both had plenty of light.
Being swallowed by his own thoughts, he found himself already home. He stopped by the door, trying to clear his mind before heading inside. He reminded himself of last year’s festival and the carefree excitement that he felt a year from tomorrow. “A thousand years,” he whispered to himself. A millennium since the birth the empire and tomorrow will be its anniversary. Lord Humphrey had announced for weeks about the spectacular events that he had planned for them. Naturally Fendrael was excited, for Lord Humphrey knew how to entertain his citizens.
Now in much better spirit, he allowed his brain some respite and entered his home. As he was about to open the door, the wisp hovered in front of his face, as if warning him to take it inside. He reached out his hand once again, and after a moment, it caressed his finger as it flew away, and joined its brethren in the sky. “I guess I’m a criminal now,” he said aloud with despise in his voice. He still felt the touch from the mysterious being still linger on his finger.
Inside he heard two men argue loudly through the corridor. The house was large, with eight rooms in the main hallway, his father's study being one of them. As he got closer he heard a voice that he didn't recognise. “…we should consider it at least. They are getting closer and stronger by the day,” the voice said.
“Don’t be ridicules! they wouldn't dare try their luck against our walls. Besides, we are far away from the centre of the conflict. Or do you honestly believe they can cut their way so deeply into the empire’s core territories?” Fendrael recognised his father confident, yet, condescending voice.
He entered the room, mid-discussion. “Perael, listen to me—” the man looked up as he noticed Fendrael by the door. “Oh, if it isn’t Fendrael?! My you have grown!”
Fendrael looked at the man and smiled widely. “Good evening uncle,” he said politely and stared at the goat-like beard that hung down his chest. A staple for every advisor of the emperor.
His father craned around and looked at his son with a big smile. “My boy! he exclaimed, “did you learn anything at school today?”
There was no school today, he wanted to say. But instead, Fendrael forced a smile and said. “It was great dad, I learned a lot.”
“That's great son. Can we talk later? I need to speak with Mr. Sura here,” he said and continued the discussion almost immediately. Sura glanced at him, unsure whether he should leave the two of them alone. However, Fendrael waved his hand, assuring Sura that it is okay, and closed the door behind him. He leaned against the door as it closed. He sighed heavily and wondered why he bothered. They were so different. Unlike him, his father is a strong believer of preserving the bloodline; of prestige and other such nonsense. Things that he couldn't care less about.
He continued to walk to the end of the hallway until he faced a large door, and inside, the room was filled with books and other trinkets on the walls. His father’s and Sura’s voices disappeared completely as he closed the door behind him. There was complete silence. The house’s sanctum. Built with one person in mind. He looked to his right and found her sitting in her favourite chair, like she usually did. Her red hair hung from the backrest, looking like blood streaking over the leather.
He smiled and walked towards her without trying to be quiet, as he knew that she was too enthralled in her books to notice. He stood beside her and glanced at the book she was reading. The symbols were rough, looking more like shapes than symbols with meaning. He knew which book she was reading, but that was all he knew. Still unnoticed, he said aloud. “When are you going to tell me what the book is about, mother?”
To his surprise, she wasn’t startled. She turned her head calmly and gave him a warm smile. “Hello dear. Did you get to Grand Master’s before the rain?”
Fendrael sighed. “Do not change the subject mother,” he said while sitting down on the arm of the chair. She continued to look at him, expecting an answer. He pretended that he hadn’t noticed and just stared at the open book on her lap. But her gaze bore into him, and she had her way; she always had. He rose and scratched the back of his head. “I didn’t. We became completely soak.”
“We?” she asked.
“Yes. The strangest thing happened. Yve and I visited the Grand Master’s at the same time! I didn’t even know she visited him at all.”
“She is such a nice girl, isn’t she? did you give her our best wishes for her mother’s recovery?” she said.
Honestly, he had forgotten and quickly changed the subject. “It is your turn to answer me, mother. Isn’t it? When will you tell me what is written in this book?”
She closed the book and put her hand on Fendrael’s cheeks. “I will tell you one day, I promise,” she said and kissed his forehead.
Fendrael smiled but his eyes were still fixated on the book as she rose and placed it back on its shelf. There was no title, no author, nor any illustration, only a stone with a grey-bluish shimmer engraved on the cover. The colour changed depending on the angle that he looked, adding to the mystery. The stone was shaped like an egg, the same size too. There was only one fact that he knew, something she’d told him long ago; and that was its age, 900 years old. It certainly did not show, he thought as the leather and its pages was yet in one piece.
As she placed the book on the shelf she asked. “Would you like some tea?”
“Please,” Fendrael replied.
She left the room, leaving him alone. He glanced towards the kitchen, hearing her mother rattle through the kitchenware. It struck him as odd that they did not have servants that stayed after sundown. Though he supposed it made their lives all the more… personal.
Now sure that she was busy in the kitchen he lurched towards the bookshelf and scanned the books that were stacked seemingly without order. Eventually, he found the mysterious book amongst the rest, as if the it were just like any other in her collection. He glanced at the kitchen a final time before changing his focus back towards the book. The stone at the cover still shimmered, even when shadowed from the candlelight. He felt an urge to touch it, but for some reason, he hesitated to do so.
After a few moments of hesitation, he touched his index finger along the stone. It was very smooth. Suddenly the stone pulsed. It felt like a thousand needles stung through his finger and the pain transferred throughout his body. A scream was drenched in the gasps as he writhed in pain, still standing. But as quickly as it emerged, as quickly it disappeared.
Exhaustion washed over him and he fell to his knees. He dropped the book and inspected his body, and the finger who touched the stone. There was nothing to indicate the pain he went through. Breathing heavily, he looked down at the stone. It pulsed with a clear blue colour until it died out completely. Like a heart that slowly stopped beating. From the kitchen, his mother shouted. “Would you like Evergreen or red stone dear?”
Still trying to catch his breath he is able to utter one word without stammering. “Evergreen,” he said abruptly, climbing to his feet and entered the kitchen.
In the kitchen Fendrael was greeted by his mother holding two cups of tea, she smiled at him with a glimmer in her eyes, almost glowing.
“What is it mother?” he asked.
“Nothing dear,” she said with a calm voice.
He accepted the teacup and leaned with his other hand against a table. “I think I’m gonna go to bed now,” he said while spilling the words out. She nodded and Fendrael headed up the stairs to the second floor. He felt like an old man as each step sapped the little energy that he had left. With nothing on his mind except sleep, he placed the teacup on his table and collapsed on the bed. With a last look at his palm, he drifted into sleep.