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.
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:
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
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 –
Elvina,” Lynn said, opening his eyes. She noted how they were a
lighter blue than his skin and almost seemed to shine.
surprises you, does it?” Elvina asked.
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.”
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?”
would,” Lynn nodded, “Except that now this Nothing has
The faery boy?” Elvina gasped.
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?”
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!!”
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.
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.
see you!” Jason yelled and lunged after Dinictis when he saw her
dart behind a tree.
you see me,” Dinictis giggled as she disappeared, “Now you
not fair, honey!” Jason laughed as he crashed into the air.
goes, sweetheart,” she said as she materialized floating behind
him and tapped him on the shoulder, “seventeen to one!”
I tagged you once, I can tag you again!” Jason insisted,
spinning about to face her, “One more time!”
she told him, “Lynn is here.”
Lady Queen Dinictis!” a guard called, rushing into the hall,
“Acora Lynn is here to see you!”
him to come in!” Dinictis called back from behind the bushes.
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
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
to have you back here, Lynn,” Dinictis smiled warmly, standing
up from her throne, “Why don’t we have a seat in the
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.
what brings you all the way out here?” Dinictis asked the Acora.
Lynn grinned and paused for effect, “The Nothing in the North
Forest. I believe it is dangerous.”
come to warn us about nothing?” Jason asked.
I thought we’ve decided that the Nothing isn’t doing anything,
so it’s likely just some kind of anomaly?” Dinictis inquired.
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.”
and Jason exchanged concerned glances.
if you can’t sense what it is, how can you track it?” the King
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.”
twiddled his fingers awkwardly.
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.”
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.
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.”
if you go into the Nothing area, can you figure out what it is
from the inside?” Jason asked.
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.”
period of thoughtful silence followed.
what do we do?” Dinictis asked.
Lynn laughed, “The Yi Faiye Balam is approaching. I suggest we
all be on the lookout for any abnormalities in the North
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
looked up from the ground as the electric current died down,
“F-f-father?” he asked through chattering teeth.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
father! He-he took something! He tried to kill me!” Jason
blurted out, wide-eyed.
Aloquin, your father, took the immortality that Dinictis had given
you,” Lynn reiterated, patting Jason on the back.
is my father?? How is Aloquin my father?!” Jason grabbed the
dark elf, “Why have you never told me that Aloquin is my
are many things that I don’t tell you,” Lynn shrugged. Noting
the King’s incredulous expression, he added, “Until the time
when did you think would be the right time to tell me, before or
after he killed me??”
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.”
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.
You look great!” she told him in all honesty.
blood of the Earth Dragon works wonders on the aging process,”
How are things?”
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?”
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.
what do I owe the honor of your company?” she smirked, “Do you
have another task that I need to perform?”
Aloquin attempted to smile without looking psychotic, “I just
wanted you to see my true form.”
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
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
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.”
not you then who?” Jason insisted.
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.”
is the most fitting,” Lynn faltered.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
“My Lady Queen Dinictis! Trellion the Raven is here!” a
him in!” Dinictis called back.
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.
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.”
smiled, and nodded in acknowledgement.
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!” 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.”
bowed low to Lynn again, restraining an overjoyed grin.
Raven made a half-hearted bow in Jason’s general direction.
would you like of me, my Goddess?” he turned back to Dinictis.
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
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.
Jason shouted, rising from his throne. Raven froze in mid-step.
“I’m going too!”
are mortal now,” Dinictis reminded him, “Killable by
is he!” Jason pointed at Raven.
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
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