Ravages of Glory
by Joe Sephus
R A V A G E S O F G L O R Y
Chapter One -- The Assailant
Down the spiral stone staircase, through the granite halls and branching corridors, into the circular chasm of the central commune, into the heart of this stone fortress… With some difficulty he made his way—shirking the intense spasms of pain pounding in his chest, the ancient wounds still fresh and raw—struggling to stay afoot as the ground shook violently from below.
Bodies were strewn all about the commune. Though he was still groggy from last night, he could feel the pure vacuum of life presented in the grim site before his eyes. It was nearly impossible to distinguish between the still dying and the numerous corpses which now lined the floor of the great hall. Crimson lagoons of blood. Pools of death. As cold as the blue-gray stones beneath it.
Another tremor jolted the room. He staggered forward toward the center of the commune, the echoes of battle cries and clanking armor from outside resounded eerily through the hallways. The room shook once more, this time with much greater, and he found himself too weak now to support his own weight. He fell helplessly to the polished stone floor below. Managing with much effort to raise his head up from ground level, reeling from the pain in his chest, he peered around once more. The screams reverberated from without—the silence of death from within offered no reply. He knew immediately what was occurring, what brought such death and destruction—such screaming, such shaking—such silence.
"Espers," he said aloud, in little more than a dull whisper.
Suddenly, a new sound rumbled through, closer and closer… He watched as several dozen swordsmen, archers, mage warriors jogged past his position, boots clamping, armor clanging… He could only think of the screams that would follow. The screams and then the silence.
Struggling to rise back onto his feet, he immediately recognized the sound of a familiar and for all purposes, comforting voice approaching. A scrawny yet commanding figure stood before him, entirely leather clad, sporting a pair of strong burley boots, a tightly strung layered tunic, lightweight waist-length cape flapping in back, and enormous leather gloves, which ran all the way up the man's elbows and were at least ten sizes too large. Along with his deep hazel eyes, and a mat of frizzled dark hair, the entirety of this man was a mass of brown and beige.
"Master Treskyn," the man began, with a much disapproving gaze at the wounded creature below. He offered a hefty gloved hand, which was taken gratefully.
He stood more confidently now, suppressing the pain inside with every ounce of will, yet still found it impossible not to stagger and sway awkwardly as the commune shook once again.
"You are in no condition to be out here, Sir Treskyn!" the leathery man lectured, a look of worry and agitation on his face, as he helped the man retain his baring. "You needn’t worry. The situation is…” He took a moment to search for the proper wording, “being dealt with,” taking another breath before going on. “But it is dangerous for you to be wandering around out of bed. You must return the infirmary… Are you listening, Sir Treskyn?"
He was not. Slowly lifting his head to meet eyes with the leathery man standing before him, he let out a labored gasp of air. Then, slowly, he turned toward the great oaken doors set in the entranceway nearby.
"There are… Espers… I am needed." He managed to get out, clutching his chest in agony as another tremor shook past them. He staggered backwards a bit, but kept his footing, his mind determined to reach the threshold so many paces away.
"Master Tres—Master Treskyn!" The leathered man approached him, and finally, relenting, said, "Oh all right. You want to go outside? Fine. At least I let me keep you from killing yourself before you’re killed out there."
The man sighed, taking hold on one of his companion’s arms and securing it over his shoulder. He was carried to the corridor; the wide oaken doors were kicked outward with a leather boot. The effervescent glow of an unhidden sun hit both their eyes with paralyzing strength. They came apart. Leaving the leathery servant behind, he strode forward, desperate to ignore the cutting pain at the side of his chest. And at the veranda—what was left of it—his eyes greeting a truly horrific scene, indeed.
Both intrigued and aghast at the site before him, he walked along the southern rim of the promenade to gain a better point of vantage.
Of the five main towers comprising the upper complexes and defenses of the fortress, two of these, located on the far ends, were now fully engulfed in flames. Thick columns of smoke billowed above, while the scent of black ash and burnt flesh hung in the air. The western tower had collapsed in on itself; an avalanche of stone, dust, and bodies cascaded off the north castle wall, with no signs of life anywhere in the surrounding area. The main central tower was largely in tact, as was the eastern tower, on top of which stood a large disk-shaped mirror reflecting back and forth metronomically. Directly above him lay eight, strategically placed turret platforms, each sporting a mounted heavy crossbow, which were manned by half or dozen or so soldiers each. Iron crossbow bolts jetted through the air at an elusive foe he had yet to even see.
It was outside of this stone stronghold however, that the real horror unfolded. In an open grassy field near front of the castle, hundreds of foot soldiers could be seen scattering in all directions, no sign of strategy or discipline in their frenzy. Scores more lay dying or wounded on the battlefield. For a brief instant, he saw a large smear of color rip through the air and then double back again.
Was this the Esper?
He was mesmerized by the speed and agility of the creature, which appeared to be enormous in size, watching helplessly as barrages of strange fiery balls of energy rained down upon the terrified soldiers below. Columns of troops were instantly blown away—vaporized it almost seemed—as bright, phosphorescent spheres rained down upon their intended victims. They exploded with tremendous, yet highly concentrated impacts, littering the field with dozens of ten-foot wide craters.
Fixated on the scene unfolding before him, he heard the footsteps of the leather-clad man approaching. And then, a hand gripped his shoulder.
"I see you've managed to find your way outside the confines of your bedchamber."
He turned around slowly to see the familiar figure of a soldier standing before him. The knight sported a modest grin, which he correctly interpreted to be a vain attempt at concealing the anxiety and pain, sorrow and perhaps even fear weighing heavily on this warrior.
Standing tall and with unfettered confidence, tattered rectangular shoulder plates rattling with unease, a bloody gash along the right side of his unshaven face, the soldier removed the armored hand from his friend’s shoulder.
"Gare!” the startled man could only reply, comforted at the site of his comrade. "How has this happened?" he entreated, almost in tears. "How have the Espers broken through? We have to be at least a hundred miles from the front lines, are we not?"
The labored smile dropped from the soldiers face, and he turned to greet the leather-clad man who had finally caught up with the two.
"I am terribly sorry, Sir Garo!" the leathery man pleaded. "But he insisted on coming out here."
Another tremor jolted the fortress.
"You needn't worry about it, Rueben," the soldier nodded briskly at the man, now turning again to address them both. "We haven't a clue how this esper has broken so deep past our defenses—undetected," the soldier turned his head at the scorched battlefield below him, but kept his eyes pointing at the granite floor. "I have never come across an esper of this power before. It apparently can take flight; my men on the field have been unable to even touch it."
"And you have no aerial support?" his friend quickly interjected, trembling slightly for the pain in his midsection. The soldier’s response was to only to point briefly at a mass of burning wood and canvas.
"I'm afraid Aerothopters aren't capable of much in our present situation." The soldier gripped the weakened man’s arm as the castle was jolted once again. Upon some scrutiny by his friend, the soldier’s face betrayed an unmistakable look of hopelessness and despair.
"This Esper is of incredible determination, and rage. It has taken at least a dozen crossbow rounds in the chest... and appears only further agitated by each injury."
"Perhaps it would be best if Master Treskyn retired to the infirmary," the man of leather beckoned.
"Gare, you know what has to be done." he let out, ignoring the other man's summon.
“No!” the soldier stated definitively, turning away from them both. “I will not put this entire castle in jeopardy.”
"Are there any sign of reinforcements, Sir Garo?" the man in leather asked, trying to shift the conversation in a more hopeful direction.
"None." The soldier stared at the shimmering signal mirror above. "I will gather the remainder of our ground forces and storm the field once more. If our mages can bring the creature to our level… hopefully… we'll manage to subdue it," the soldier said with uncertainty. He wiped a plume of blood from his face.
"Suicide," was his response. "You know we have no choice now. There is only one hope to save the fortress, to save the Queen, to save the entire Eastern front!"
"That's enough, Tresk.” The soldier directed. “I will hear no more of this. The power within that relic is too great for any to wield, and I’m not going to be the one to unleash it."
"I like this none better than you. But dire times call for dire measures.” He stood his ground, now standing fully upright, ignoring entirely the pain within his chest. “That relic is the only hope we have left!"
“You know not what you say, my friend.” The soldier’s tone was informal, and he again cracked a smile. “That item contains a force we have yet to even begin to understand, let alone wield to our advantage. We can’t risk what might happen by unleashing it in our hour of desperation.” The soldier put a hand on his companion’s back and led him slowly away toward the entrance. “Your mind is not rational, Tresk. You are not well. You’re still recovering from the effects of your injuries. Listen to me. We’ve fought off espers by the handful, and we’ll take care of this one too. You should rest now. We can worry about that relic later.”
Without pause the two separated, and the soldier’s eyes were directed toward the field below.
"Look," the knight was beckoned.
The soldier obeyed, turning to survey the scene below. There was no more movement on the blood-ridden battlefield, no more scattering of soldiers, no more clanking armor. Only stillness and silence. Bodies, hundreds of bodies, lined the grassy field, piled in the smoldering craters. The last moans of the dying echoed quietly. And then… Silence.
“This isn’t right, Garo. It’s never been like this before. There’s something different about this esper—he fights with a kind of rage and ferocity we’ve never encountered before.” Another shockwave jolted the castle. “It looks to me like we’re losing this battle, Garo. That can’t be allowed to happen. Thousands and thousands of lives hang in the balance. We have to use every weapon available to us, no matter the risk. I’m sorry, Garo, but I’m ordering—“
"That's enough!" the soldier finally interjected, his face hardening. "I will hear no more of this. You are not of sound mind or body, and therefore I retain my command of this operation. You will escort yourself back to the infirmary or I will have one of my men do it for you." The two men locked eyes, both unmoving. “Sir.”
The leather clad man tried to calm the atmosphere. "Perhaps it would be best if—" but he was soon interrupted by the sound of a tremendous roaring from above.
All three gazed up to see the east tower consumed by a dark orange burst, flames rapidly spreading outward. Another explosion rocked the tower from below. All of the men turned just in time to see a third fiery ball raging through the sky which impacted the crippled structure yet again, this time delivering a death blow. The tower swayed, began to collapse from within, stood for a moment, and then toppled over the castle side with an ear shattering CRASH, granite blocks and rubble tumbling earthward in all directions.
The soldier quickly ran toward nearest turret platform and began climbing up the shaft, all the while shouting orders to the men above. A ghostly figure streaked through the air just above, with what appeared to be a silvery blade extended from his massive arm. The Esper swung forward at the platforms—a frenzy of crossbow fire was launched in haste—and then a blinding flash cut through the air. The shouts of soldiers could be heard briefly above as all eight of the turrets came crashing down in succession over the promenade.
Brushing the debris off, and rising to his feet, he looked around desperately for where the Esper had eluded. A crash came from behind, and he turned once more to view two fiery explosions rocked the south wall. A scream was heard nearby, one that he immediately recognized, calling out as the carnage continued.
"Rueben!" Suddenly, he saw a large leather glove gripping the stone masonry of the south wall from the other side. "Hang on, I'm coming!"
He sprinted toward the wall, the pain in his chest now slowly resurfacing, and grasped the leathery hand with his. "Give me your other hand!" he called out. Yet no answer came.
Rising over the edge of the great wall, he suddenly recoiled in horror, almost losing his grip. Attached to the leather glove was a blackened and charred skeleton, parts of the corpse still burning, with tattered pieces of leather strewn about its remains.
"Reuben… No…" He gaped, horror-struck, and then quickly scrambled backwards, releasing the icy grip from his hands. Another figure now came into view, this one nearly entombed by toppling rubble. "Gare… Not you too!" He ran to the where the soldier lay, unsure of his condition, painfully aware of the sense of urgency to the situation.
"Forgive me," he said aloud to the fallen soldier, heaving his body from the granite stones, and searching through his pockets, eventually gripping a rusted, iron key. He examined the object briefly and then pocketed it himself. Rising to his feet, he turned toward his fallen comrade once more. "But I must do what I believe is right."
With that he started off, but something caught the corner of his eye. He turned around instinctively, and soon found his entire body paralyzed with fear.
"No… It can't be."
Rising slowly from below the stone ridge, the enormous figure of the esper stood directly before him. The creature could seem almost human at first glance, though the true nature of the beast was soon profoundly evident. Fully dressed in what seemed to be a thick suit of armor, stopping only at the esper's head, which looked so unfathomably demonic and twisted, huge jagged horns rising from the crown of its skull. The creature held a large rounded shield in his right hand, and a long single-edged sword in the other, which curled with cracks and rivets in its blade, peaking at a sharp, piercing point. The esper seemed to be just as interested in the human figure standing before him as his own petrified observer.
A small, but distinct voice inside commanded, "Run."
He ran. He ran without another thought away from this creature, looking back only briefly to see the Esper swing his enormous blade, and the blinding silver light that followed. He ran back around the promenade and through the great oaken doors, just as an earth-shattering tremor rang through the halls, which he could assume was the south wall collapsing. Wading through the bodies in the commune, he turned to greet a large iron door just off to the side. As a fresh round of shaking jolted the castle, he pulled forth the rusty key acquired from the soldier, and, his hands shaking with anxiety, a similar key from his tunic. Placing and each in its respective locks, the keys turned themselves, opening the sturdy iron door. Inside was a square stone room, which light from window slits above cascaded into, right onto the room's centerpiece—a great wooden treasure chest.
He moved now to stand in front of the chest, his vigor from the battle suddenly giving way to a hesitance at unleashing such a power, which, as the soldier had accurately put it, which he had no means of controlling. The violent shaking of another tremor from underneath quickly belayed this doubt.
Thousands of lives…
Resolved, he extended an arm outward, opened the palm of his moistened hand, and declared, "I call upon thee…" he thought for a moment. "Er... Re- Rema… Ra—That's it!" he let out, triumphantly.
With this, he fully expected, as had occurred the last time he had uttered the name of this ancient weapon, for the great sparkling blade to emerge from its wooden chamber and rest at his palm. But now the chest was still, without movement. He stood there, arm hung limply in desperate pleading. Once again, "I call upon thee! Ragnarok!" Still, his words elicited no reaction from the object. He yelled out once more in desperate rage. "Ragnarok! I CALL UPON THEE!" He fell to his knees, stunned, unsure how to proceed. Another quake shook the castle, and to his amazement, the wooden chest opened, falling off one of its hinges. There were scorch marks and splintered oak visible from within. It was empty.
Aghast, he stood, mouth gaping in shock and horror at the site before him.
"This weapon… this savior… gone? It cannot be…"
Suddenly, from above a great crashing came, as the entire stone ceiling was unroofed with a silvery flash. As a dark creature flew past, he noticed briefly the tail of a fiery energy ball speeding unmistakably in his direction. He ran from the square room just as a great orange explosion engulfed the chamber. In frenzied desperation, he tried to shield himself by wrenching the iron door shut, but the blast shot both the door, and him, hurdling backward.
He landed on his back, as small tentacles of pain worked their way through his body. He cried out in agony as they reached his chest, and shook profusely. Gritting his teeth hard, he managed to grasp a small glass vile hanging from his belt, uncapped it and drank the translucent white fluid inside. The pain subsided, but he could no longer feel the left half of his body.
With some difficulty, he dragged himself along the stone floor back into the commune, where he perched his head upon the coldness of the granite wall, sweat dripping from his face, and simply lay there, motionless. The great hall shook once more for several seconds—which, he imagined, was the sound of the central tower collapsing. And then, silence. The esper has entered the castle. Yet it seemed really to matter little. He knew not who, if anyone had survived the assault, yet that as well did not occupy his thoughts for long.
Lying there, amongst the many corpses and mangled bodies of the commune… this was a scene he by now knew all too well. Yet he had never become fully accustomed to nature of it. It wasn’t so much the cadavers, or the blood, or screams of the dying. It was the silence—bitter silence that stung the air with its torturous melody.
"What have I become?” he pondered. Am I just as they... just a pawn to this wretched war...? When will it all end? If ever? How many more friends must I lose? How many more battles shall be fought and mass graves dug before these creatures are vanquished? Or perhaps it is we who shall be defeated... perhaps then might peace resound? Peace in death, yes! But must there always be death to achieve peace?"
His head began to spin. Such questions had troubled him before, but he knew there was no escaping the harsh reality before him: This was his life now... and perhaps would be his death as well.
As darkness fell from outside the stone walls, his thoughts turned away from the future, away from the pain and suffering it held. He turned his mind on the past, which once, he recalled, did hold a shred of sanity to it?
He thought of how his life had come to this bitter juncture, how this war had began. Had it been months now, years? It didn't matter. He thought back, before this war which had consumed his world, enslaved his existence, tortured him in body and soul… This war for which only death and pain and silence—oh, cruel silence!—have come… This war fought between humanity and the creatures known as espers… This war of madness, futility, death and silent fury…
This War of the Magi.
R A V A G E S O F G L O R Y
Chapter Two -- The Proposal
One year prior...
A single ray of sunlight, blotted out by earlier clouds of the day, now shone down from its heavenly progenitor, passing through the stone castle window into the chamber where a solitary figure dwelled, deep in thought.
Treskyn lay on his stomach on top of the fair silk carpet which laced the floor of his dormitory. Three or four open books and manuscripts lay about, the boy skimming the pages of a particularly large volume. He read but had no passion for this study, day-dreaming whilst lazily reading through texts of history, social theory, the arts and natural sciences.
The radiant light from outside ran quickly across the small chamber, blinding the boy mockingly as he read, beckoning the youth to greet the day outside while he knew his confinement inside these stonewalls to be absolute. How he wished he could escape this captivity, to walk freely under the open bright sky, as every other living thing was able.
No, he wasn’t a prisoner; at least, not in the traditional sense.
He was the nephew of King Sabil, ruler of the richest and mightiest kingdom known to all the five continents, Sabylia. Treskyn’s father had served as Chancellor to the king before he had died while the boy was still very young, which made Treskyn, at the tender age of 17 now, Crown Prince of the Chancellery. He was to take on his father’s position in less than one year’s time.
It hadn’t been an easy life for him, though. Treskyn grew up in tenure of sheltered nobility, studying constantly, making few friends and seldom engaging in normal social endeavors; he rarely ventured outside the walls of the castle, Koltsgard. The boy had spent many a night yearning to taste the same freedom the common folk out there took for granted, to savor the ability to venture wherever his impetuous will so desired. But it’s not as though he had a lot of say in the matter.
“Enough of this,” he said aloud, though to no one in particular, discarding the still open book and exiting his dormitory chamber.
The boy walked along the narrow stone hallway to where it bisected the wide flat of the castle’s main promenade. He casually glanced around, noticing a few guards milling about, and eventually recognizing one armor-clad individual who moved toward the youth as he entered the hall.
“Tresk!” The lightly armored guardsman jogged the rest of the way to greet the visitor. He was visibly beaming with pride.
“Geez, Gare—Look at you!” Treskyn examined his friend’s new attire. “A full-fledged soldier now, huh?”
The swordsman only smirked.
Garo was a year older than Treskyn, and had spent the last seven years of his life in knight apprenticeship. He was also the only friend the prince had to speak of, and given his present condition, Treskyn was mad with jealousy.
The boy shook his head in mock disbelief. “You made it through, Gare…” He stopped for a second. “You don’t know how much I’d give to have what you’ve got, my friend.” Treskyn grinned, betraying only the faintest hint of irony.
Garo laughed a bit at that last comment. “What are you talking about Tresk? I mean, you’re the Crown Prince Chancellor. I’m just a soldier…” The word soldier lingered on his tongue for the briefest instant longer than self-description usually called for.
“Just a soldier...” Treskyn echoed his friend’s statement. “Well look, it’s not worth getting into. I’m glad for you Gare, I really am.”
“Well, so am I.” Garo pulled off a silver-buckled glove. “It’s been a really exciting day so far. I keep thinking... remember when we were younger, much younger? And we used to dream about serving as knights in the king’s army when we came of age, and—” he stopped himself, noticing a growing look of contempt on his friend’s face. “Er—I mean—well, never mind…”
Treskyn tried to change the subject. “I’m sure you’ll make a fine soldier Gare. You never had any trouble taking me down.” Treskyn pierced his friend’s shoulder with a mock blade; both boys laughed.
“I wish we could talk further, but I am needed elsewhere. Technically, I’m still on duty. Perhaps I’ll see you tonight?”
Treskyn only nodded in response and raised a hand to wave, but turned it into a two-finger salute as the soldier turned and walked briskly down the rest of the promenade.
The boy strode across the great hall to a nearby doorway which led outside to an overlooking balcony. He followed the path before him and gazing upon the city below as he walked: the castle towers and stonewalls above and around. He felt the warm summer breeze across his face and looked longingly to the myriad houses, streets and buildings strung about below.
Then, something caught his attention. Along the outer walls of Koltsgard, the boy saw something—no some one trying to ascend the outer fortifications and climb into the main courtyard.
He reached into his left tunic pocket and took out a small, telescoping eyepiece—a relic from his father he often used to gaze from his bedchamber on idle mornings. He extended the cylinder and peered at the valiant soul below.
It was a girl. Not just any girl, though, Treskyn noted. This was a girl of a beauty the boy had never seen before, with the fairest milky white skin, a slim figure, exotic, silky shoulder-length golden hair, and the deepest, most radiant blue-lavender eyes he had ever seen. Treskyn could feel his heart beating away in his chest.
“That’s the most gorgeous creature I’ve ever seen... Goddess herself could not rival such beauty...” The boy felt his thoughts and his heart melt away in the presence of this girl, this girl with the eyes that could turn a man to ice if she so wished it.
And then, suddenly, she was gone.
Treskyn was startled by the girl’s sudden disappearance and darted the eyepiece frantically around the area where she had last been.
“Demons! Where’d she go!?”
The boy heard footsteps approaching and quickly turned around to see a court servant fully clad in leather standing before him across the balcony threshold, whom he could identify by the squeak of his leather boots as he approached.
“Oh, Reuben, how goes it?”
Treskyn pocketed the eyescope behind his back.
“Forgive me, Master Treskyn, but I’m afraid your... bird watching will have to wait for another time,” the man recited with a raised eyebrow. “As your presence is requested in the dining hall.”
He bade the boy follow him back inside onto the promenade, which Treskyn quietly obeyed. The ends of his lips curled into a knowing grin.
“Bird watching, indeed.”
Candlelight radiated from either side of the dining hall, and a gold-laced chandelier illuminated the enormous table below, which hung regally as the centerpiece of this great chamber.
The dining table was a long, rectangular wooden frame with wide convex outer wings on both of the long sides, designed to accommodate a fairly large number of people at once. Here, only the highest regarded individuals of the realm dined; everyone from delegates to the King’s top advisors, ambassadors from Thamas and Albryk and Crescyn and every known kingdom and city-state on the five continents, every human civilization known had a representative at that table, save only for the roaming tribes of Domania. All of them, some forty in number, would dine at here, in this chamber, at this table.
At the far end of the table sat the king and queen, easily visible from every other angle of seating (though as of now, those seats lay vacant). To right of the king, where the long edge of the oval semi-circle began, sat the Knight General, Sir Drake. He was a largely built man with three or more decades of experience behind him and a stoic sense of duty toward his position. Drake was also one very intimidating figure; the man kept a trimly cut beard that hung on his round face, and was the only one of the king’s high officers who insisted on wearing his full battle garb while in the dining hall, the bulky armor gleaming while he ate.
To the left of the queen, in a similar position to Sir Drake, sat the kingdom’s only known mage, a sorcerer named Murdock. He was a quite, mysterious man, dressed in fine robes of various shades of metallic blue. The man was also completely bald, the only hair noticeable on his head being a pair of thin, but unusually long black eyebrows which curled upwards the ends. Murdock seemed to have an attitude of intent indifference towards anything and everything that he encountered in life, never showing a faculty of anger or fear, happiness or contentment in his person.
The seat at the opposite end of the dining table was usually reserved for the Chancellor, but seeing as that title would not befall him for another ten months or so, Treskyn sat now in an obscure position somewhere amongst a throng of delegates and diplomatic envoys. He wasn’t even sure why he attended the dining sessions; Reuben had called it an ‘exercise in social etiquette’, though the boy would certainly have preferred a more traditional form of exercise considering his likely confinement to that table for a good two hours.
Treskyn took a swig of mead from his goblet, noting the light air of conversation around him. He could not recall having ever, during the course of this nightly ritual, actually having spoken anything. It’s fair to say the boy probably assumed his voice was not valued here, his opinion not respected by the other attendants. And it’s fair to say that this was probably so. But after a few minutes at most, a silence came over the chamber, dwarfed only by the hollow resonance of a single voice.
“In the name of His Majesty, King Sabil, this banquet is hereby come to commence,” the voice of a food servant called out shrilly, his well-rehearsed statement meeting with scattered echoes of acknowledgment from the assembled guests.
Then, from a side doorway, flanked by two more servants, the King and his wife entered, arms locked together, striding to their seats gracefully, while everyone else present rose in respect.
King Sabil was dressed in his usual fine royal robes with gold trimmings, a jewel-encrusted, open-faced crown adorning his head. The king was a large man, though still fit and able, impressive in both stance and presence. His accompanying partner, Queen Sabil, wore an eloquent silver silk gown, her long, flowing brown hair bundled in its usual fashion, highlighting her often overdone maquillage.
She was beautiful, Treskyn had always thought to himself, but unimpressive tonight, at least compared to the girl he had seen in the courtyard a few hours ago. She still languished in the back of his mind, he realized, taking another drink from his goblet.
There was something unusual about tonight’s proceedings though. While everyone else had sat in their places, the king remained standing, his eyes scanning the expression of the assembled guests. Eventually, a long silence developed, all eyes turning toward the host and ruler in anticipation.
“Countrymen...” he began at last, “Honored guests...” the king bowed respectfully at the entourage of ambassadors. “After much personal contemplation and deliberation with my advisors, I have made a decision tonight, which I believe shall ensure this day to be remembered as an historic occasion for all mankind. I am truly grateful to be able to say I have had you all in my company.” King Sabil sat down now, and after a short pause, continued with his oration.
“The kingdom of Sabylia is the most powerful and prosperous nation this world has ever known; we’ve built great cities and expanded our borders, tamed the farthest frontier and enjoyed a peace throughout the realm since the days of my grandfather. Truly a golden age, my friends...”
At this point, Treskyn had put his attention elsewhere entirely; he knew very well of the King’s ability to ramble aimlessly into the dark hours. The boy had instead pulled out a quill from his pocket and was trying to draw a rendition of the blue-eyed girl on a cloth napkin in his lap. He struggled to recall her image, her slender torso, her creamy skin, the grace with which she scaled the castle wall...
“...But all of it, all of it, my compatriots, is for naught, for we are ignorant of the world which we claim to dominate.” The king paused briefly and emptied his mead goblet in one motion. “There is another realm within our own, a sister world we know next to nothing of, yet has a potential for knowledge, wealth, and even power, that is simply incalculable. Yet it has remained untapped since long before the Sabil dynasty rose to prominence. I intend to change the state of things, my friends. No longer shall we remain isolated from and unknowing of the world which is known by men to be the land where reside the Espers.”
At this, virtually everyone present in the dining hall flinched a little, including Treskyn, who suddenly found himself paying devout attention to the sovereign’s words.
“Espers?” the boy thought to himself, recalling his studies. “Magical creatures, created by the Goddesses as instruments of war, millennia ago... The king has never expressed an interest in them before. Why is suddenly so intruiged?”
“…There is much we can gain from these beings, this race of magic users,” he continued on. “Which is why I have offered invitation for one of them to join use here, in Koltsgard.”
After a moment of intense quiet, a frenzy of conversation erupted after the king’s statement, which did not quiet down as the ruler attempted to go on. In fact, it only provoked increasingly vocal outbursts of protest.
“King Sabil, you cannot be serious in this pursuit!” one of the delegates—a fat nobleman from Albryk—cried out, erupting onto his feet.
“I speak with the absolute resolve and seriousness of intention, my good sir,” the king replied. “We can no longer allow ourselves to be—” but his voice was drowned out by the shouts of another.
“Majesty, with all due respect, what you are proposing is madness!” Sir Drake sudeenly rose from his seat, interrupting the king as he spoke in a flustered and threatening tone. “These Espers, they are demons, terrible creatures! We cannot allow them into our fair and noble kingdom, let alone the capitol. We are delivering ourselves to their evil will and hellish machinations of Goddesses know what!”
King Sabil looked up at the armor-clad Knight General, waiting until he had finished, and then replied, in the calmest of demeanors, “You speak with the prejudices of our times, my good general. But tell me, Sir Drake, have you ever actually seen an Esper?” The question was not rhetorical, but Drake regarded it as such, and did not answer. “Have any of you seen for yourselves what you so readily fear and distrust?”
Several tense seconds passed by in utter silence.
“If I may be so bold, Excellency, I have not.” The soldier Drake slumped into his seat again. “But if I may so entreat, sire—have you?”
“Nay, I have seen no more of these creatures as yourself, good knight,” the king shifted his gaze as he spoke, “There is only one among us who has. Perhaps he can enlighten us to the truth of falsity of such descriptions.”
Everyone present knew of whom the king referred to. They all watched as, slowly but gracefully, the Thamasian envoy, the court sorcerer, the mage-lord Murdock rose to his feet and stood. In a calm and eerily quiet voice, he addressed the assemably.
“I have spent eight long years living in the kingdom of Thamas, where Espers and humans have forged a peaceful coexistence which has lasted for centuries. The espers are creatures of great power, yet they possess a hesitance to exercise it. All mages have been trained in that land, among those creatures, and have enriched the well being of the kingdoms to which they return. The espers lack many of the more unsavory qualities of man—hatred, contempt, jealousy, deception, though their less noble human neighbors often give them reason to exercise such failings. In many ways they are our betters, in thought, in power and in deed. I feel there is much we could benefit from their presence.”
His oration finished, Murdock sat.
“You see?” the king began again. “We have only to gain from this visitation. I invite everyone in joining myself and Murdock in abating our present skepticism. The Esper emissary will be arriving within three days’ time, and I expect preparations to be fully made to Koltsgard before then...”
While the king spoke, Drake, infuriated by his dishonor, threw down his cloth napkin, rose from his seat and left the dining table.
Treskyn wondered why the king tolerated this show of disrespect, yet he continued speaking as if nothing had occurred.
“A ceremony for the arrival will be arranged, and I want it understood that our guests shall be treated with all the respect and ceremony as you would regard myself or the queen in at any public venue.”
Quietly, the sorcerer Murdock also departed from his seat and quickly made his way to where Drake stood near the chamber exit. He placed a serpentine hand on the knight’s shoulder plating and whispered something inaudible into his ear. They both left the dining hall.
The king stopped. “I trust there are no further concerns?”
One of the delegates stood and addressed the assembly. “Forgive me, sire. We will carry out your will if you so decree it...” The king nodded approvingly at this. “However, there are concerns which run deeper than protocol.” The man slowly took a breath before continuing. “Many year ago, the Oracle at Tyr predicted that if the Creatures of Magic ever returned to Sabylia, the kingdom would fall to ashes…”
Solemn nods came from many of the assembled as the delegate finished.
The king broke the pregnant pause that followed with a short, guttural laugh at what had been said. “Is this what upsets you all so? Why, the Oracle has not been consulted for decades! You would place your trust in superstition and soothsayers?”
“Sire,” the delegate replied cautiously. “The Oracle has never been wrong.”
“Then perhaps the Oracle’s message was misinterpreted.”
Treskyn followed the conversation closely, thinking to himself, as another long pause followed, none among them willing to speak.
“...W-Well, perhaps some one should consult the Oracle again!” the 17-year-old boy cried out, rising to his feet. All eyes suddenly turned on him, and Treskyn immediately found himself regretting his sudden outcry. But he couldn’t back down now.
“M-Majesty,” the boy turned to address the thoroughly frustrated king, “I volunteer to ride to the caves of Tyr and ask the Oracle to speak of the coming of the espers.”
Another commotion erupted in the hall with the boy’s statement. Treskyn tried desperately to retain his composure.
“This boy?” the delegate still standing let out a disgusted laugh. “We are to entrust the fate of the mightiest nation among the five continents to an incompetent child such as this unseasoned lad?”
Ouch. Treskyn suddenly felt as though his surroundings had become very hot, and he found himself sweating profusely, wishing to the Goddesses he had just kept his idea to himself…
“This boy,” King Sabil began, rising from his seat. “Is to become the Chancellor of this kingdom, and I suggest you all pay him his fair entitlement of respect.” The king gave a harsh stare at the delegate, whom had by now already sat back down.
“Treskyn,” the boy flinched as the king addressed him by name. “Nephew, I have watched you long since your father’s death. You have grown much, young one, matured physically as well as mentally.”
Treskyn could only manage a nod in response, but listened intently.
“I believe it would be a fine test of your character and ability for you to embark on this journey. Go you to Tyr, and speak to the Oracle of the caverns. Ask what is the fate of my kingdom and myself in the coming weeks.”
At these words, Treskyn couldn’t help but smile widely and proud. “It will take me two days hence to arrive, Sire.”
“Then I suggest you depart immediately.” The king’s tone was once again earnestly serious.
“I will do so with haste, my king.”
From within the darkness, five solitary shapes moved effortlessly forward into the circular cavernous chamber, the very center of their world—practically gliding as they went—through the blackened scene.
From above, a bright luminescence lighted the room below where the five patron Espers stood in council, forming a pentagonal circle in their stance. On a separate elevated platform within view, the three Goddesses of creation stood, motionless, entombed for all eternity within their stone sarcophagi.
On the far left side of the council assembly stood Odin, leader of the warrior Espers. Next to him was Ramuh, elder of the elementals. To right stood Necromancer, lord of the dead and death stricken Espers. Across from Odin lay Bahamut, king of dragons and beast Espers. And at the head of the assembly stood Freyja, Esper of beauty and serenity, she was the fairest of the Espers. Though their society had no one ruler, all looked to her for guidance, holdingher word above that of any other individual. An eerie glow emanated from within each of the magical creatures, illuminating the subterranean caver with a dazzling harmony of silvers, crimsons and emerald light.
"It is time for the departure."
Freyja's remark resounded across the chamber, her calm and lucid voice instantly harnessing the attention of each Esper in attendance. A brief silence followed, and then one voice rose from the quiescence.
"Mistress Freyja, are you certain this course of action does not betray the virtue of caution?” the loud, booming voice of the warrior Odin queried. His inquiry was followed by a further silence, as all eyes gazed upon the fair esper beauty, awaiting her response.
"Patron warrior, your concern is admirable, but unwarranted." A warmth was hidden in Freyja's voice as she spoke. "We have been invited to attend the court of the mightiest human realm. There is much I believe our two peoples can benefit from an occasion of diplomacy. It would be unwise to turn down an opportunity for harmonious relations with the humans of the West."
"These humans are a vile, belligerent peopl, who seek the destruction of that which they do not understand or control," hissed the voice of the death Esper, Necromancer. "I sense much death from them. Leave them to their primitive and violent ways." Sentiments of agreement were echoed from all those present, save for Freyja herself, who, retained her impressive composure waited for their reply to subside before continuing.
"My brothers," she began, looking each of them over individually. “I am struck by the breadth of your intolerance toward that which you do not understand.” Despite her criticism, her tone remained as benevolent and matronly as ever. “Here in this chamber you practice the same fear and prejudgment you so readily ascribed to men.”
“I would not call it fearfulness, Mistress, but cautious skepticism,” the wise and reasoned voice of the elder Esper Ramuh replied. “I am not certain our two peoples were made to peaceably inhabit the same world.” The others nodded as he spoke.
“History has shown us that different as our two race may be, humans and espers have been able to forge a prosperous co-existence.” Freyja motioned her arms in an outward gesture as she spoke, as if to beckon the assembly into her hold. “In the place the humans call “Thamas,” our two peoples have lived side-by-side for centuries without incident. And we have gained an invaluable understanding of the other world in that experiment. I know your feelings are ridden with doubt, but you must understand me. For the sake of peace, for the sake of progress, for the sake of both our worlds, I must go to.”
It was obvious her stance was could not be shaken by the words of the others, all of whom resolutely respected the voice of Freyja.
“If you must, fair Mistress,” Odin stepped forward as he spoke. “Please allow me to accompany you, to ensure no harm comes to the fairest among us. Allow I, the Warrior Esper, to escort you to the human realm.” He bowed.
Freyja put a hand on Odin’s enormous left shoulder. “If it does so please you, patron of warriors, you may accompany me.”
Odin rose from his stance and stepped backward. “I swear by the Goddesses to ensure the protection of our fair Mistress Freyja from harm. The Esper Crusader shall take my place during this absence, as chieftain of the warrior clan.”
“Then it is settled. We depart for the human world immediately.”
As she finished, darkness fell upon the chamber of council once more, and the high Espers of their world parted in silence.
“You’re going where?”
The knight’s apprehension had risen steadily throughout the conversation. And it was approaching a boiling point.
“I told you, Gare,” Treskyn responded, stuffing a wool overcoat into his pack as he spoke. “I’m riding tonight for the southern caves of Tyr to meet with the Oracle of Sabylia.”
Garo frowned. “But... you can’t do that! I mean, what if something happens to you? They’ll be no heir to the chancellery and…” He stopped as the other boy shot him a look of knowing disdain.
“I thought you were my friend,” Treskyn retorted, tightening the strap of his pack shut. “Not my mother.”
The soldier shook his head. “It’s a dangerous world out there, Tresk… And you’ve responsibilities here. Maybe you should leave this to a trained knight, or at the very least let me accompany you there so that if anything should happen…” He decided not to finish that thought. “I mean, just at least listen to reason, Tresk, we’re both—”
“No, YOU listen!” The leather sack was thrown violently to the ground. “You don’t know what’s it like, do you Gare? Having to sit in this castle, this stone prison for practically my entire life.” A brief silence followed. “You think it was easy for me? Watching my best friend go off and become a soldier—out there training and fighting monsters—while I was confined to study and… etiquette. I never wanted to be Chancellor. I envied what you had, Gare,” the boy’s voice calmed slightly as he went on. “And, well, I just hope you can understand why I have to do this.” Treskyn picked up his fallen pack and slung the leather strap around his shoulder.
Garo was dumbstruck. “I... I never knew you felt that way, Tresk...” He looked to the ground, “I’m sorry... You must do what your heart compels you.”
Treskyn grinned. “Thanks, Gare. I know you’re just looking out for me like you always have. But anyway, it’s the king’s orders.”
“You’ll miss the esper, you know,” the soldier replied half-jokingly, returning the boy’s grin.
“Somehow I think I’ll manage.” Treskyn stood and turned for the door.
“Hey Tresk,” the soldier rose to his feet again. “Be careful, okay?”
Treskyn winked at his friend. The boy turned one final time, and, gear in hand, walked through the stone threshold and into the night.
The night air was still and hung in silence. The pale moonlight radiated from above, lighting the courtyard enough so that the lone visitor could catch every detail of it. She sat atop the outer wall, watching below as a solitary figure moved along a stone pathway away from the castle.
He was a boy, young, but on the fringes of maturity—about her age. He was wearing the finest travel garb she had ever seen: a finely sewn tunic which fit every contour of his body perfectly, fanning out at the shoulders, with a flapping teal half-cape on the back, a large pack strapped across his torso. Obviously a member of the court. He walked briskly, yet smoothly, as if having trod the same path an hundred times before.
She found him attractive; the boy was physically fit, tall and lean, with wavy, well-groomed blonde-brown hair, deep green eyes, and a sharp, well-proportioned face. She recognized him as the one who had watched her sneak into the courtyard from above.
After the youth had passed out of sight, the girl stood and moved silently along the wall’s top edge, toward the castle entrance. Suddenly, she felt her feet slip from underneath her, as she tripped over an unseen rock, hitting the stone below with a loud thud.
Small rocks scattered down the wall face as she rose again to her feet, and then ducked down, hearing footsteps approaching.
“Hey! Some one’s up there!” a guardsman yelled from a nearby watchtower to two other soldiers patrolling the courtyard grounds.
The guards quickly looked up and saw the figure of the blue-eyed girl crouching atop the wall perimeter. They ran for a nearby stairwell to her location.
Realizing her position had been compromised, the girl ran to the far side of the wall and began to descend it from the outside, climbing down the stone face, using cracks in the masonry as footholds. She jumped to ground level a few feet from the bottom of the wall, and quickly disappeared into the night.
Treskyn halted his journey outside the castle upon reaching a tall wooden doorway in his path, the entrance to a large rectangular building which glistened in the moonlight above. The boy set down the pack he had been shouldering until now and rummaged through it, eventually coming upon a metal key, which he used to unlock the doorway before him. He re-slung the pack, pushed the wooden frame open and stepped into the lighted chamber within.
The boy walked through a long hall. On either side of him stood rows of fenced off stables, hay strewn all about; he could hear the occasional squawks of the chocobos who inhabited them as he passed.
At the end of the hallway, a particularly large pen stood, which Treskyn opened the gate to and let himself in. Under the dim lamplight, a young albino bird could be seen sleeping near the far corner. The boy cautiously approached the chocobo, which jumped up and down furiously upon spotting him.
“Calm down, calm down. I’m here,” Treskyn called out to the bird, stroking its forehead. “Sorry I haven’t been by lately, Jodo.”
The giant yellow bird let out a squawk as the boy fastened his pack to the creature’s back. Treskyn then turned his attention to a long wooden chest near another corner, partially covered with straw. He brushed the chest off and opened the cover, revealing a shimmering, polished sword within. It’s hilt was highly decorated, embroidered with ancient runes, curving elegantly into a perfect circle around the base of the blade. The boy took the weapon in hand, feeling its balance and grip, noting the ease with which it sliced through the air.
The sword had been forged for his father, but finished after he had died, thus falling to the hands of his only son. Treskyn had kept the blade hidden in the chocobo stable and came here secretly at night to practice wielding it (in tandem with more than a few off-the-record riding sessions with Jodo). He was a self-taught swordsman, and this was the only weapon he had ever known.
The boy slung the blade in a leather mooring on his back and led the much anxious Jodo from his pen, out the stable doorway and into the night.
Under the moonlight, Treskyn reexamined his belongings and tightened the pack onto the chocobo one last time. He turned to lead the bird down through the city streets, but paused and glanced around toward the castle just as a sharp noise pierced the night air from that direction. It sounded like a scream.
Then the boy saw movement: a girl on the far side of the courtyard wall was rounding a corner at full sprint, two guards pursuing her from not far behind. He only caught a momentary glimpse of her, but immediately recognized the girl as the one he had spotted earlier—the blue-eyed girl he couldn’t get his mind off of.
Without a second thought, Treskyn mounted the chocobo and rode off at a blinding pace toward the scene. He reached the outer wall and drove the bird right for the guards, stopping directly in their path. The soldiers nearly fell over backwards as the chocobo reared up in front of them, beak raised and squawking threateningly.
“Hey you! Get out of the way!” one of the guardsmen bellowed, breathing heavily with fatigue.
“Forgive me, noble guardsmen,” Treskyn began, still blocking their passage. “He does get a bit excited around people.” The boy patted Jodo on the neck.
Treskyn then spun the bird around and, extending his own leg, kicked one of the guards in the stomach, knocking the man onto his back. Noticing the other soldier was now brandishing a short sword, the boy pulled out the blade from his back and swiped low at the guardsman’s feet, knocking him to the ground with his comrade in one fell swoop.
The young man grinned at his success, but realized that time was now of the essence, as several more soldiers could be heard emerging from the castle barracks. He rode round the west side of the courtyard wall at a steady pace and then stopped alongside a figure crouching against the stone face. It was the girl.
She was still as beautiful as Treskyn had remembered her to be. Her deep lavender eyes glowed like the moon under the night sky, her fair golden hair resting on her sloping shoulders. She wore a suit of tight silk fabric, nearly the shade of her creamy white skin, with dark leather trimmings. He could tell by her expression, she was frightened.
“Come with me, there’s not much time.” The boy reached a hand towards her, still mounted on the chocobo.
She didn’t respond, but remained still, holding her knees close to her chest in fear.
Treskyn swallowed, hearing the clanging of iron armor growing ever closer. “It’s okay, I’m a friend.” He smiled, motioning his hand closer.
Reluctantly she rose to her feet, but didn’t move from her position.
“Are you headed south?” she asked, directly and with a sudden confidence.
The boy was puzzled as to why she was so concerned with their destination under the present conditions. “Yes! South! Where ever you want, but we have to get out of here now!”
Spotting a garrison of soldiers round the corner, she quickly took the boy’s hand and mounted herself behind him on the chocobo. Treskyn felt a bit uneasy as he felt the girl’s arms grip around his stomach for support, but retained his equilibrium and rode hard and fast from the courtyard, leaving their pursuers in the dust.
They rode down the center street of town, darkness falling as passing clouds eclipsed the moonlight. The three of them reached the city’s edge, passed under the immense stone arch which was its entrance, and jaunted out into the open countryside.
Treskyn smiled, noticing the girl’s head resting on his shoulder, asleep. He rode the chocobo more slowly so as not to wake her. Noting the position of the stars visible, he headed southward. The great towering city behind them soon appeared small and diminutive as they made distance from it and rode into the night.
Click here for chapters 3 and 4