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CALDORA: Chapter 3: Much Ado About Nothing

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Much Ado About Nothing  

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            Lynn sat cross-legged on a moss-covered boulder, in the middle of a beautiful grove of trees that he found particularly conductive to his meditations. With eyes closed, he could feel the warmth of sunlight filtering through the leafy branches. He heard the chirping of birds, and the drumming of a woodpecker in the distance. He heard the sound of the wind as it rustled the foliage, and smelled the floral aromas that it carried.

            He also knew that Elvina, his faery friend, was coming to visit him today. He knew when, he knew how, he knew why. He knew everything – everything about Caldora’s past, everything about Caldora’s present, and everything about Caldora’s future as conveyed to him by Caldor itself. All descended from the blood of the living Earth Dragon were subject to his sight. He was an Acora, trained by Queen Dinictis. His visionary powers were even greater than hers, for Dinictis had given up her knowledge of the future after she taught it to him. Lynn could now understand why: boredom.

            But after the years he spent in the treacherous North Forest, Lynn didn’t mind not having to worry, not having uncertainties, not feeling fear. Something was bothering him, though, and it was Nothing. It was as if a psychic veil has been draped over the entire North Forest, and all his attempts to see past it have been deflected.

            Elvina floated into the grove as silently as she could, not wanting to disturb Lynn’s meditation. She stopped to just stare at the elf: at his blue skin, lighter than indigo but darker than the sky, at his silvery white hair, not due to old age but healthy and vibrant. Her thoughts drifted to how graceful he was in battle: the flow of his movements, the elegance of his posture, the skill with which he –

            “Hello Elvina,” Lynn said, opening his eyes. She noted how they were a lighter blue than his skin and almost seemed to shine.

            “Nothing surprises you, does it?” Elvina asked.

            “No,” Lynn corrected thoughtfully, “Nothing does surprise me. But between trying to figure out what the Nothing is and why it is there, exploring your thoughts has never ceased to amuse me.”

            “All in good fun!” Elvina teased, “Still troubled by that Nothing, eh? You know it was nothing for twenty years, can’t you just forget about it?”

            “I would,” Lynn nodded, “Except that now this Nothing has kidnapped Lakai.”

            “Lakai? The faery boy?” Elvina gasped.

            “Yes, Lakai the faery boy,” Lynn repeated, hopping off his boulder, “I am going to the Crystal Castle to tell Dinictis about this. It seems she has abandoned the idea that the Nothing is dangerous sooner than I did. Want to come with?”

            “For the good of Caldora!” Elvina saluted Lynn in jest, “It sounds like fun!” She fluttered onto his shoulder, pointed her index finger eastwards, and hollered, “Onward!!”

            And so they set off on the several days’ walk across the East Forest and towards the Crystal Castle in the middle of the Open Field. Normally, they should have been walking westwards. But when the Earth Dragon Caldor collided with the planet Lossi, it did so backward: the South Forest now faced the Lossian North, the North Forest now faced the Lossian South, the West Forest now faced the Lossian East, and the East Forest now faced the Lossian West. Although one would think that the complete reversal of cardinal directions might be confusing, the Caldorians refused to change any of their traditional names. Without delay, Lynn and Elvina merrily made their way eastwards.

*          *            *

            The Crystal Castle was a palace roughly cut out of an ancient piece of multi-colored crystal that crashed into the very center of the Earth Dragon’s back before any other life existed upon it. It was home of Queen Dinictis and King Jason, the divine rulers of Caldora. They could not command, only rule by the respect that the Caldorians bore them. All said and done, they were the symbolic unifiers of the four sovereign Caldorian forests: North, East, South, and West.

            Dinictis and Jason lived in the central chamber of the Crystal Castle. It was a spacious hall, with room for their thrones, their bed, and for the palace gardens. The handful of guards, who served mainly as watchmen for the castle, lived in rooms that could be accessed through corridors that stemmed from the main hall. They served on a post at the castle gates, which meant that most of the time Dinictis and Jason were left alone in their throne room.

            “I see you!” Jason yelled and lunged after Dinictis when he saw her dart behind a tree.

            “Now you see me,” Dinictis giggled as she disappeared, “Now you don’t!”

            “That’s not fair, honey!” Jason laughed as he crashed into the air.

            “Anything goes, sweetheart,” she said as she materialized floating behind him and tapped him on the shoulder, “seventeen to one!”

            “If I tagged you once, I can tag you again!” Jason insisted, spinning about to face her, “One more time!”

            “No,” she told him, “Lynn is here.”

            “My Lady Queen Dinictis!” a guard called, rushing into the hall, “Acora Lynn is here to see you!”

            Jason shrugged helplessly.

            “Tell him to come in!” Dinictis called back from behind the bushes.

            Dinictis and Jason hurried to fix themselves up and get back on their thrones as soon as the guard left. No sooner had they done so that Lynn casually strode into the hall with Elvina bobbing on his shoulder.

            “Greetings to you, my Queen,” the dark elf dipped in an exaggerated bow before Dinictis. “And to you, Jason,” the Acora patted him on the head and flashed him a mocking smirk, “My how you’ve grown.”

            “Nice to have you back here, Lynn,” Dinictis smiled warmly, standing up from her throne, “Why don’t we have a seat in the gardens?”

            Lynn, Dinictis, and Jason moved to sit on the grassy floor of the palace gardens. Elvina flew over to bury herself in the dark elf’s thick hair, parting it from time to time to peek at what’s going on around her.

            “So what brings you all the way out here?” Dinictis asked the Acora.

            “Nothing,” Lynn grinned and paused for effect, “The Nothing in the North Forest. I believe it is dangerous.”

            “You’ve come to warn us about nothing?” Jason asked.

            “But I thought we’ve decided that the Nothing isn’t doing anything, so it’s likely just some kind of anomaly?” Dinictis inquired.

            “Well,” the dark elf explained, “I have learned that this Nothing is mobile. It has the ability to leave the North Forest, move into the East Forest, kidnap Lakai, and move back into the North Forest with him. It is sentient.”

            Dinictis and Jason exchanged concerned glances.

            “But if you can’t sense what it is, how can you track it?” the King asked.

            “Normally I would have a clear view of all of Caldora, but the sphere of influence this Nothing occupies appears as negative space to my sight. I can tell where it is by the empty gaps it leaves in my field of vision. You have encountered this Nothing before,” the Acora told Dinictis, “When it moved from the Crystal Castle to the North Forest.”

            Jason twiddled his fingers awkwardly.

            “It is centered in the North Forest, that much I know,” Lynn continued, “It is like a veil, an etheric barrier. Whenever I try to break through it, I feel myself plunge into a void, a psychic vacuum that sucks up all my powers of knowing. If I try to go against the current, it repels me and spits me back out.”

            “Isn’t there a way to maybe go to a time after the Nothing is gone and look into the past to find out what it was?” Dinictis reasoned.

            “No,” the Acora replied, “All information regarding the Nothing is blocked directly from the present. There is no way to do that until the block is lifted.”

            “What if you go into the Nothing area, can you figure out what it is from the inside?” Jason asked.

            “I think…” Lynn said hesitantly, the use of tentative terms was alien to him, “I think all Caldor-based powers of psychic knowing might stop functioning in the Nothing area.”

            A period of thoughtful silence followed.

            “So what do we do?” Dinictis asked.

            “Nothing!” Lynn laughed, “The Yi Faiye Balam is approaching. I suggest we all be on the lookout for any abnormalities in the North Foresters’ behavior.”

            They all cringed at those words. There was nothing a North Forester could do that could be considered an ‘abnormality.’

*          *            *

            Several days before the Yi Faiye Balam, creatures from all over Caldora left their homes to make the trek to the mouth of the Earth Dragon. Yi Faiye Balam, the Celebration of Souls, was an annual festival held in honor of the Earth Dragon Caldor – upon whom all Caldorians lived – to ensure the continuation of life upon it.

            In the Crystal Castle, Dinictis, Jason, and the guards were hard at work creating the royal caravan: a carriage drawn by unipegs and followed by carts of fruits, vegetables, and flowers from the gardens which were to be given to the Caldor. When all was ready, Dinictis and Jason got into their carriage and the caravan headed southwards to the mouth of the Earth Dragon, with mounted guards dragging the carts behind them.

            Thousands upon thousands came to the festival bringing their own gifts for the Earth Dragon Caldor. The celebration grounds were huge and spanned several miles. Elves, faeries, ogres, trolls, tamunid, goblins, orcs, weres, gnomes, dwarves, karaci, dragons, tricksters, changelings, and many other Caldorian races came together in relative peace and friendship.

It was a gathering where creatures that lived far apart could meet, see the heroes of their land in person, and share many a tale around the bonfire. All marveled at Dinictis, their Queen, who had defeated Aloquin and rescued Caldora from dictatorial rule; at Jason, their King, who saved Caldora by destroying an embryo which would have otherwise eaten away at the dragon from inside out; at Lynn, the wise Acora and legendary fighter of the North Forest. Many gossiped about the pervading tension between Raven, the first rank of the North Forest, and Kranti, the second rank.

More food and alcohol was consumed during this one festivity than at any other time of the year. Rivers of liquor ran across the ground upon which the celebrants danced wildly to the energetic beating of North Forest drums and the whimsical melodies of East Forest flutes. Those not dancing were busy chugging down whole barrels of beer, lapping the liquor off the floor on their hands and knees, bathing in wine, engaging in food fights, and staggering off with a drunken partner or four to participate in more lustful pursuits.

The highlight of Yi Faiye Balam was when one lucky creature – in this case a goblin – was to be sacrificed to the Earth Dragon. It was a highly revered deed that brought honor to his family and immortalized him in the eyes of the spectators. To prepare, orcs and gnolls carried bundles of food into the Mouth Cave, set them down on the dragon’s massive tongue, and hurriedly scampered back out. The goblin, decked in wreaths of flowers, fearlessly marched inside the Mouth Cave and took a seat amidst the generous offerings, solemnly waiting to meet his fate.

The crowd stared in hushed silence for a few long moments, but nothing happened. Suddenly there was a mighty tremor, and those gathered watched in awe as the Mouth Cave – the very jaws of Caldor itself – slammed shut. When they slowly reopened several minutes later, both the food and the goblin were gone. The spectators cheered at the prospect of life renewed and the celebration picked up louder than before.

Jason decided to get away from the deafening noise of the festivities and spend some reflective time in the Mouth Cave when the dragon was not hungry anymore. It was a vast and imposing cave, a cave into which Jason was once thrust under less friendly circumstances. The Earth Dragon’s teeth shot up from the bottom and top jaw in the form of stalagmites and stalactites. Now able to face the fears from his past, he stared right down the Earth Dragon’s throat.

But the King was not alone. Another being had been tailing him throughout the Yi Faiye Balam, patiently waiting for him to isolate himself from the crowds. Aloquin still wished to keep his identity a secret and could afford no witnesses. Hiding among rows of stone teeth, the god grinned hungrily from under his hood.

Jason was lost in thought and did not notice the shrouded figure that floated into the cave. He did, however, notice the shock of a powerful electric surge that rammed into his back and sent him flying into a rocky wall. Quickly regaining his senses, he tried to glimpse the source of the spell, but all he could see was the crackling tendrils of electricity that danced across his body.

“Who are you?!” Jason managed to yell through clenched teeth. Aloquin withdrew the electricity, dropped Jason to the ground, and lifted his hood to reveal the face of a withered old man.

“I am your father,” he answered bluntly. Without pausing to note Jason’s reaction, he let loose another stream of lightning. This one rocked Jason to the core of his soul, tugging at something that was deeply embedded into his being. Slowly but surely he felt that something being unbraided from his spirit and drawn through the energy stream into its wielder.

With every bit he drained away, Aloquin grew younger. The wrinkles on his skin faded away, the white hair turned its natural lustrous midnight-black, his strength returned. He was every bit Dinictis’ twin except that his eyes were a striking silver, while hers were bright emerald. Aloquin breathed in his regained immortality, feeling it securely in place within his own being.

Jason looked up from the ground as the electric current died down, “F-f-father?” he asked through chattering teeth.

“Yes, I am,” Aloquin said, gleaming with joy, “Unfortunately, we won’t have time to catch up on things. Your father is a very busy man. Thanks for the immortality, you die now.” He raised his hand and shot yet another bolt at Jason, this one filled with the raw destructive power of lightning. Writhing and screaming on the ground from the intensity of the pain, Jason truly thought he would die. If the onslaught went on much longer he felt his insides would burst.

It was at that moment that Aloquin felt a sharp pain at the back of his head and down his spine. He roughly fell forward, leaving Jason twitching on the floor.

“So you’re the Nothing!” Lynn exclaimed, happier that he finally figured out what the Nothing was than worried about Aloquin’s unexpected return. Aloquin rolled over and glared at Lynn.

“Not here, not now,” Aloquin hissed, “But after I’m through with Dinictis, I will enjoy searing the flesh from your bones, Lynn!” And then he was gone.

The Acora narrowed his eyes in one of his rare expressions of seriousness. Somewhere off to the side he heard Jason’s desperate gaspings for air. Lynn ran over to him and brought him to a sitting position, supporting him until he regained his breath and the residual twitching stopped.

“My father! He-he took something! He tried to kill me!” Jason blurted out, wide-eyed.

“Yes, Aloquin, your father, took the immortality that Dinictis had given you,” Lynn reiterated, patting Jason on the back.

“Aloquin is my father?? How is Aloquin my father?!” Jason grabbed the dark elf, “Why have you never told me that Aloquin is my father?!”

“There are many things that I don’t tell you,” Lynn shrugged. Noting the King’s incredulous expression, he added, “Until the time is right.”

“And-and-and when did you think would be the right time to tell me, before or after he killed me??”

“He didn’t kill you,” Lynn said dryly, putting a hand on Jason’s shoulder, “Fix yourself up and calm down, we need to discuss all this with Dinictis.”

*          *            *

Onedia sat in her chambers before a crystal mirror that she had custom-made after the King’s death. Humming a cheery tune, she was putting the finishing touches onto the daily illusions that had kept her ageless. For the first time in eleven years, the image within the crystal began to stir. The fog dissipated to reveal the visage of a handsome man with hypnotic silver eyes, his face rimmed by a halo of black hair. She recognized those eyes.

“Aloquin?” Onedia gasped.

“Yes,” Aloquin beamed.

“Wow! You look great!” she told him in all honesty.

“The blood of the Earth Dragon works wonders on the aging process,” he lied.

“So! How are things?”

“Perfect,” Aloquin replied, “The North Forest is mine. The great dragon Kranti is my ally. Kranti, the second rank, and Kentabri, the third rank, are at my side. I keep the spirit of the forest as my prisoner and servant. And how are things with you?”

“Oh, it’s great, it’s all great,” Onedia turned to braid the other side of her hair, “I rule by divine right of Osenya and nobody dares question me. I get to throw parties, have ballads written in my name, and pretty much do whatever I want.

“To what do I owe the honor of your company?” she smirked, “Do you have another task that I need to perform?”

“No,” Aloquin attempted to smile without looking psychotic, “I just wanted you to see my true form.”

“Oh!” Onedia blushed, giggling inanely. But when she looked up, the image in the mirror was gone. Sighing dreamily, she continued humming her cheery tune, musing about her future with this elusive specter of a god.

*          *            *

            Dinictis, Lynn, and Jason returned to the Crystal Castle after Yi Faiye Balam. They sat in the gardens in silence, pondering the new revelation. Aloquin back?… again?? And in the North Forest, of all places! A god like Aloquin would find no trouble rallying followers in the North Forest. And a North Forest force made up of the finest and shrewdest fighters in Caldora unified under the command of a power-hungry deity was not to be taken lightly.

            “It seems that the only thing left to do, as suicidal as it may be,” Lynn spoke up, “Is to send a scout into the North Forest. Somebody from the outside who knows people in the area that they trust enough to question about what has gone on for the past twenty years. Somebody who knows the area enough to be able to locate Aloquin’s headquarters. Somebody who is strong enough to survive the North Forest and return back to us with the information.”

            “You?” Jason asked.

            “I wish it was as simple as that,” Lynn muttered, “But after being away from the North Forest for over five hundred years, my memory of it is blurry. All the contacts that I had there are dead. And frankly, Acora Lynn returning to the North Forest out of nowhere would seem a bit suspicious.”

            “If not you then who?” Jason insisted.

  Lynn shifted uncomfortably.

            “Raven,” Dinictis beamed a knowing smile at Lynn, “Trellion the Raven. First rank of the North Forest who has been staying with his mother in Nastra in the West Forest for just over twenty years.”

            “He is the most fitting,” Lynn faltered.

            “That settles it, then!” Dinictis clapped her hands together, “Guards!” she yelled, and several rushed in to answer her call. “Send out a messenger to Nastra and inform Trellion the Raven that I wish to speak with him.”

A horseman promptly rode out eastwards to the West Forest.

*          *            *

            The West Forest was tamer than the other forests. It was crisscrossed by networks of cement roads that connected the various cities and towns. Technologically speaking, it was far more advanced than the other forests. The people here lived in permanent, multi-story buildings. There was even a system of organized labor and agriculture. In this stratified three-class society, the nobility enjoyed the benefits of a wellspring of new ideas, philosophies, and inventions, while the peasants slaved away doing menial tasks under the supervision of a harsh military class. Though armed to the teeth and skilled in the ways of battle, the only war this military legion had ever known was quelling the riots of lower-class rebellion.

            This was the only forest headed by a Kanitezi, an emperor that held full authority over all things in the West Forest and was its spokesperson to the Crystal Castle. The Kanitezi ruled from the magnificent capital city, Nastra, representative of the finest West Forest achievements in all their glory.

            Dinictis’ envoy rode through the sun-baked streets of Nastra, all making way for him for he carried the royal seal. He galloped past lofty pyramid-shaped buildings, and past sweating commoners building more pyramid-shaped buildings. He rode through the bustling streets of the city, all of which led to the central plaza where the elite spent their recreation time. He walked his horse through busy markets, which flaunted a diverse array of exotic goods from all over Caldora. At long last he came to the foot of the pyramid inside which Raven lived with his mother, Shalaya.

            Bowing to both Shalaya and her son, he presented his message and offered to escort Raven to the Crystal Castle. Raven was a man with a strong sense of duty and was not one to question a royal summons. Hugging his mother goodbye, he agreed and left with the messenger at dawn.

*          *            *

            “My Lady Queen Dinictis! Trellion the Raven is here!” a guard announced.

            “Bring him in!” Dinictis called back.

            Raven cautiously entered the main hall. He was a half-elf, slightly bulkier than a full-blooded elf and as tall as a human. His sky blue eyes were cold as ice and his pale skin stood in stark contrast to his silky, raven-black hair. A raven flew through the doorway behind him and settled on one of the trees in the garden. Though truly awed by the grandeur of the towering crystal dome above him, Raven managed to keep a straight face. It did not take him long to notice Dinictis and Jason perched on their thrones at the opposite end of the hall, with Lynn crouched on the floor to the right of the Queen. Wasting no time, he strode over.

            “Great Goddess Dinictis,” Raven said softly, bowing low in reverence before the Queen, “It is an enormous honor to meet you, Bringer of All Life, in person.”

            Dinictis smiled, and nodded in acknowledgement.

            “Acora Lynn,” Raven bowed with outstretched hands to Lynn in the North Forest gesture of submission, “It is a great honor to meet you, as well. I am humbled to have the privilege of the title of first rank, though I know I am nothing compared to you.”

            “No, no, no!” Lynn assured him taking his hands and raising him upright, “You are worthy! It does not take an Acora to see that you are truly a great warrior.”

            Raven bowed low to Lynn again, restraining an overjoyed grin.

            “Jason…” Raven made a half-hearted bow in Jason’s general direction.

  Jason blinked blankly.

            “What would you like of me, my Goddess?” he turned back to Dinictis.

            “Aloquin has returned,” Dinictis explained, “And we believe that he has amassed a following in the North Forest. We need somebody from the outside to come in as a scout. We need somebody who knows people in the North Forest who they can contact and question about what has been going on there for the past twenty years. We need somebody who knows the area enough to be able to locate Alquin’s headquarters. And lastly, we need somebody who is strong enough to survive and return to us with this information. Can you do that?”

            “I understand,” Raven nodded sincerely, “I will do anything my Queen asks of me.” Dipping into another bow, he twirled around and marched towards the gates. The raven pushed off its perch and fluttered over to Raven’s shoulder as he walked past. Lynn and Dinictis almost believed this occasion would be over without incident, but their expressions quickly soured.

            “Wait!” Jason shouted, rising from his throne. Raven froze in mid-step. “I’m going too!”

            “You are mortal now,” Dinictis reminded him, “Killable by mortals.”

            “So is he!” Jason pointed at Raven.

            “Jason, remember how I said that I can’t go because it would be too suspicious?” Lynn reminded, “Don’t you think that the King of Caldora waltzing into the North Forest would compromise the mission?”

“I don’t care!” Jason persisted, “Aloquin being my father automatically makes this my personal business! And I’m going!” Jason ran over to Raven. The half-elf’s eyes widened in disbelief and he shot a questioning look to Dinictis, who simply nodded her assent. There was no logic behind Jason’s argument, but Jason was never a logical man. And when this one had his hopes set on something, nothing could deter him from his goal, not if you threw him down the gullet of the Earth Dragon Caldor itself.



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Revised: 27 Jan 2013 22:57:07 -0700 .



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