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CALDORA: Chapter 8: Echoes of Trellia

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Echoes of Trellia  

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            Aloquin sat on his throne in Kayintas, watching as some of his troops awkwardly scrubbed the burned floor and walls, thinking about how much more amusing it was having the forest nymph do it. Kentabri was sitting on the floor next to him, whittling out a new staff from a sturdy tree branch.

            Beyati scrambled excitedly in through the doorway. Quickly regaining his composure, the orc straightened up, marched boldly up to Aloquin’s throne, and dipped into a graceless bow. “I killed Raven,” he said with a smug grin.

            Kentabri’s carving knife slipped clumsily across the wood.

            Aloquin perked up. “You did?” he asked, leaning forward in his seat.

            Beyati nodded fervently and his smile widened.

            The army began to turn their heads curiously, though continuing to scrub the floor for fear of the god’s wrath.

            “How?” Kentabri asked, setting down the knife and staff.

            Beyati’s eyes gleamed with pride – pride in his ability to benefit from things he never did. He was very imaginative for an orc, and began to weave an incredulous tale of his amazing prowess. Convinced that he had the wizard’s full attention, Beyati didn’t notice that at some point in the story Aloquin’s eyes strayed from looking at him to looking past him, his gaze fixed on the shadowy figure flanking the entrance. Kentabri caught sight of it too, and slowly got to his feet.

            “He doesn’t look dead,” Aloquin raised an eyebrow at the orc.

Beyati froze in mid-word. His lips quivered with fear and his gray-purple skin turned a shade lighter, too scared to look behind.

            Raven strode confidently into the room, dressed in the green shades of the forest. Kentabri was quick to notice that he wore a pair of curved, serrated blades on his belt in place of his trademark two-handed sword. Beyati dropped to the floor with his hands on his head. The rest of the troops abandoned their washing rags and rushed to their leader’s side. Raven drew his weapons in response, never breaking pace. Aloquin waved his minions away.

            “Trellion!” the wizard shouted, “Welcome back, we were beginning to worry about you!”

            Raven tilted his head to the side.

            “Y-y-you’re d-dead,” Beyati stuttered, peeking through his fingers, “You’re dead! I saw you die!!”

            Raven frowned in thought, then turned on Beyati. “You harmed Raven?!” he scowled. A flaming red aura ignited about him and his eyes flashed a dangerous crimson. Beyati sensed a wave of paralyzing terror sweep through his being, mounting on the fear he already felt. Savoring the moment, the Warrior Spirit’s swords exploded in a metallic storm, tearing the orc apart into an unrecognizable, bleeding pulp. The Kayintas army groaned at the thought of having to clean this mess up as well.

            “Warrior Spirit!” Aloquin exclaimed, “Who lives in a castle made of gods’ bones, which is decorated with gods’ entrails, surrounded by a moat filled with gods’ blood, which is strewn with gods’ body parts!”

            The Warrior Spirit looked over to him.

            “You look… different,” Aloquin snickered, “Where are the clothes which are made of gods’ skin and sewn with gods’ hair?”

            “That can be arranged,” the Warrior Spirit lifted a bloodstained sword to the wizard’s throat.

            “You may be older than me, but I am still more powerful,” Aloquin grinned menacingly. “Now, I know you did not come here for a new wardrobe,” he smirked, moving the weapon away with the tip of his finger, “What brings you to my humble abode?”

            “Two things,” the Warrior Spirit replied, “Raven is not dead, and I want him back, alive. Also, I want revenge on the one who separated us.”

            “How can I help?” Aloquin inquired, trying to hide his anticipation. He understood that he was not after Raven’s energy after all, but the energy of the god that had possessed him. And now this god was standing right beside him, asking for help.

“I know that you held the life of this forest captive,” the Warrior Spirit explained, “She is the one who exorcized me. By capturing Trellia I could both get revenge on her and have the bait to lure Raven with.”

“I will help you with your revenge if you help me with mine,” Aloquin smiled diplomatically, attempting to forge an alliance in which the Warrior Spirit would agree to lend him energy in exchange for his assistance. Having Trellia back would be a great bonus.

“I can make a choker that blocks her power and keeps her bound to an area,” he continued, “It can only be removed by a god. I can give you this choker and a place to keep her if you agree to be my ally in the war against Dinictis. I don’t question your methods and you don’t question mine.”

“Agreed,” the Warrior Spirit nodded.

*          *            *

Lynn, Keramis, Lianna, and Lakai walked across the Open Field, carrying Raven along. Elvina and the raven followed lazily behind. Day and night they plodded through a sea of rolling grasses speckled with wildflowers. It was a refreshing change of scenery from the gloomy North Forest. To Keramis and Lianna, it seemed as if somebody had turned on the lights. At first they were uncomfortable walking under the open sun, with no security of the trees and no place to hide. But they soon began to appreciate the warmth of the sun, the feel of the cool evening breeze, and the silvery moon shining among the sparkling stars.

On the dawn of the fifth day the group saw the glistening dome of the Crystal Castle on the horizon. They reached it at midday, no less awed by the sight of the magnificent crystalline palace towering before them. As they approached the castle spires, a guard rushed inside to announce their presence to the Queen. When he returned, four of the sentries escorted them in through the gem-studded gates.

The entire castle was made of pure crystal, with sunlight filtering through the walls and ceiling in a brilliant rainbow dance. Queen Dinictis and King Jason sat regally on their incandescent thrones at the opposite end of the room, and each of the guests took turns bowing to them reverence – except, of course, for Trellion. The raven found a comfortable perch in the trees of the castle gardens.

“I am happy to welcome you all to the Crystal Castle!” Dinictis smiled warmly upon them, her eyes like bright peridots.

“We have quarters ready for you,” Jason informed the visitors, “Soft, warm beds and the best food in the land.”

“You have nothing to fear!” Dinictis said, “No dragons will coil about you while you sleep and no ogres lie in wait for you to let your guard down. Stay here in peace.

“You will be leaving, Lynn?” she asked the dark elf.

“We need to get back to the East Forest,” Lynn nodded, hoisting Raven up, “The faeries miss their human friend.”

Elvina giggled and settled on Lakai’s shoulder to play with his hair.

After they all said their good byes, several guards came up to Lianna and Keramis offering to take them to their rooms. Lynn bowed to Dinictis and Jason once again before strolling out the door and back into the Open Field, closely followed by Lakai, Elvina, and the raven.

They walked westwards across the plain, reaching the treeline of the East Forest by the sunset of the third day. Though it would be foolish to enter the North Forest at nightfall, the East Forest was an inviting place, safe by night and by day. It was a very magical forest, home to friendly faeries that welcomed all who believed in peace and joy – those who come with an open mind and an open heart.

Stepping into the forest reminded Lynn of the first time he set foot on its soil. After he learned the ways of the Acora, he became disillusioned with life in the North Forest. He wanted to live in harmony and friendship, but others called him naïve, pointing to the mangled corpses that littered the woods as evidence of the harsh reality of the world. Being a trained Acora, he was not shaken by such influences. He knew that everybody chose how they viewed their own reality, and as long as people chose to want a life of harmony and friendship while firmly believing that it could never be achieved, that is how it would be.

Lynn left the North Forest in search of a place where people chose a different path. That is how he came to the East Forest, where life existed in what he knew to be the natural state of being. There was tranquility here and nobody lived in fear. It was good to be back, Lynn thought as he breathed in the fresh evening air.

Lakai and he exchanged parting smiles before going their separate ways. The dark elf carried Raven to his cozy little cave at the foot of a hill and laid him down on an herb-filled mattress. Setting a cauldron over the fire, he tossed healing herbs into the boiling water within, releasing a sweet incense. Lynn then lay down on the floor next to his bed and fell asleep to the sound of the crackling fire, the most restful sleep he had for weeks.

Elvina came with Lakai when he went to meet up with his friends. All of the faery kingdom rejoiced at his return and threw a celebration in his honor. He was embraced back into the land of bliss and pampered with the entire bounty of Faeryland.

*          *            *

Aloquin led the Warrior Spirit to his inner sanctum and took out the crystal that he used to communicate with Onedia. It began to glow in his hand as an image of her bedroom took shape within. In a few minutes she herself walked into the room and sat before her Dark Mirror, looking beautiful as ever.

“Hail, Queen of the Forestside Kingdom!” Aloquin greeted her.

“And hello to you, too, King of Caldora,” Onedia said in melodic tones.

“Soon we will be King and Queen of this planet,” Aloquin assured her, “For everything is going according to plan!”

“And what a lovely prospect that is,” she mused. Anybody else would tire of the wizard’s peculiar concept of ‘soon,’ but Onedia was rather enjoying her present position.

“We have a new and powerful ally!” Aloquin beamed, moving the crystal up to the Warrior Spirit who grinned darkly, “He is the God of War! And he will make our armies invincible!”

“The God of War?” Onedia smiled at him enchantingly, “Who lives in a castle made of Sidhe bones, which is decorated with Sidhe ent–?”

“Yes,” the Warrior Spirit cut her off, getting annoyed at everybody repeating his invocation when he was already present.

“Now it is time for us to move into the final phase of the plan,” Aloquin continued, “I need you, Onedia, to build an astral citadel. I want you to construct an etheric stronghold that will tie Kayintas and the Forestside Castle together so that we and our people can move freely between the two. But it will serve as more than just that. Build it with great precision for it will be the place of the final battle.”

“I can do that,” Onedia said confidently just before Aloquin faded from her sight. Shrugging it off, she lay down on her bed and went into a trance. She projected her consciousness from her body and flew over the dusky countryside, watching the last rays of sunlight disappear beyond the horizon. Fertile farmlands and candle-lit cottages, flowery meadows and hilly pastures flashed by under her. The outskirts of the Haunted Forest sprawled out in the distance.

Before long, Onedia was gliding through the mist-swept woods as a luminous apparition. She sang a haunting faery melody that resounded through the forest, beckoning her trickster minions to her side. They crept from under leaves and rocks, emerged from beneath the waters, slid from the hollows of trees, crawled from underground caverns, and rose from underfoot to their Mistress’s call.

When she felt that she gathered enough tricksters to build the astral fortress, she began to slowly drift back to the Forestside Castle. With Onedia in the lead, they soared over the land in an eerie procession of ghoulish nightmare creatures. No house they passed got any sleep that night, for the host cursed all they saw with turbulent dreams. The swarm poured into Onedia’s bedroom through the window and she awoke from the sensation of overflowing energy pressing against her physical body.

“Tingly,” the goddess giggled, stretching drowsily, “I need your help, my pets! Build for me an astral castle of my design!”

In tune with her wishes, the tricksters immediately took on the task. They bustled about, fashioning surrealistic walls, floors, ceilings, doors, stairs, windows, corridors, dungeons, and rooms. Slithering around, they weaved elaborate rugs and tapestries with their delicate fingers, shaped luxurious beds and armchairs at their slightest whim. They flitted to and fro, interlacing stone with stone. But this was no ordinary castle, made of cement and plaster. The building blocks of this palace were the tricksters themselves. They formed the foundation and substance of the citadel, binding and being the very bricks that held it together. The castle was alive, all-seeing and all-hearing. It was a conscious, thinking, changing entity. Everything in it was an intricate illusion and every step was a potential trap. Thus was built the Dark Fortress.

*          *            *

Aeli Neicla watched his apprentice Nexus go about her duties as Guardian. The Guardians and Aelis’ jobs were very much tied. The Guardians regulated traffic between worlds, leading the dead to the afterlife in the Land of Truth while protecting the dimensional gates from those who were not ready for them. The Aelis recorded everything that happened in the worlds and kept track of karma, balancing all actions in the universe so that everyone would reap what they sow.

Though Nexus was a bright student and learned quickly, Aeli Neicla was worried about what she may become. She was a fascinating creature, haunted by memories of the horrors she had to endure as the mortal Tshushani: of beatings, rape, starvation, ridicule, and torture – all by men. In fact, she hated men with a passion.

After becoming a Guardian, she returned to earth to carry out her vengeance on all who had abused her in the past. By taking on her aspect of Nightshade, she killed her male victims by seduction, draining away their lifeforce through their lust. Nightshade made it her karmic duty to be protector of all women and enemy to all men. Her rage ran deep and Aeli Neicla knew she had to deal with it her own way.

Nevertheless, he wished she would show her other aspect, that of the wise and cleansing Sage, more often. Recently, he devised a strategy that he hoped would challenge her priorities.

“Guardian Nexus!” he called to her across the worlds.

“Aeli Neicla,” she appeared, bowing humbly before him.

“I have a new job for you, Nexus,” Neicla said matter-of-factly, “There is a certain soul that has wandered into the Land of Illusions prematurely. His name is Raven, but he is known as Trellion in most of Caldora. I want you to stop him from getting into the Land of Truth while alive.”

“By any means necessary?” Nexus asked with a mischievous smirk.

“Yes,” Neicla nodded solemnly.

“It shall be done,” she said, her voice growing faint as she disappeared.

*          *            *

Raven stirred to the feel of a breeze brushing up against him. He awoke on the ground, under the drooping, naked branches of a dead willow. Sitting up, he rose to his feet and proceeded to wander aimlessly through the landscape.

Though it vaguely resembled Caldora, it was vacant and lifeless. The trees were bare, and the sky was clouded with dust. He realized that this must be the Land of Illusions, a dimension parallel to physical reality. This was the mirror world in which Dinictis had trapped Aloquin for centuries. Bending down, he felt at the earth and saw that it was dry and flaky. Chills ran down his spine as he understood what all this pointed to. The Earth-Dragon was dying. Which could only mean one thing – it was pregnant.

At some point in an Earth Dragon’s lifespan it would clone itself from its own genetic material. The embryo would grow inside the parent dragon, slowly tearing through its innards before ripping it apart from the inside. Though one such embryo was destroyed by Jason in the physical world, its corresponding mirror in the Land of Illusions must have remained and by this time was already in the final stages of development.

Raven sat down on the decaying ground, trying to comprehend his predicament. Was he dead? And if so, why hadn’t a Guardian come to take him to the Land of Truth? It was said that all things are known in the Land of Truth, and he could think of quite a few questions he wanted answered.

Just then, the form of a beautiful woman took shape above him, suspended effortlessly in thin air. Her lustrous black hair was pulled back in a ponytail and she wore a translucent, revealing top of the same fabric as her scarlet skirt, which split off her curving thighs in free-flowing ribbons. Faint henna designs decorated her exposed abdomen and golden bracelets adorned her wrists. She rolled out a parchment.

“Trellion the Raven,” the woman read, “Born in Nastra, raised in Trellia, became first rank of the North Forest…”

Raven looked up at her.

“…Moved back to Nastra,” she went on, “Was called on by Queen Dinictis as a guide through the North Forest to spy on Aloquin,” she looked down on him from the text, “And now you’re here.”

Raven watched her roll up the manuscript.

“Impressive record you got there,” she smiled dryly.

Raven nodded stiffly.

“You don’t talk much, do you?” Nexus asked rhetorically.

“Who are you?” the half-elf spoke up.

“I am Nexus,” she introduced herself, “Guardian of the Gate.”

“Am I dead?”

“Not quite,” Nexus clarified, “Some tree dwellers tried dropping a rock on your head and hit you pretty hard, but it did not kill you.”

“Is it true that in the Land of Truth you have access to any information?” Raven asked after a long pause.


“Then I must go there.”

“It doesn’t work that way.”

“I have to go there!”

“You’re not dead yet,” Nexus tried to explain, “Only the dead are allowed there.”

“I need to go there!” Raven insisted.

“Look, the only way you’re getting into the Land of Truth is through me!”

“Then take me there!”

“No!!” she reeled in outrage.

“I don’t have much time,” Raven begged, knowing he could be summoned to his body any moment, “I have to go there now!”

Nexus blinked at him blankly; she had never seen anybody this eager to die. “Alright, I will take you there,” she licked her nightshade-tainted lips as they spread into an enticing grin, “But you have to do something for me first...” Nightshade leisurely made her way over to him, never taking her eyes off his. Coiling an arm around the half-elf, she passed her palm over his shoulders and down his chest. She rubbed her lithe, warm body against his, and whispered softly in his ear, “Lie with me.”

Raven stared at her wide-eyed. A pungent perfume of exotic spices filled his nostrils.

Running her other hand up his neck, she put her finger to his chin and turned his face to meet hers. “I know you want to,” Nightshade purred. She was showering him with the passionate, primal energies of lust that she used on all the previous men, but this time they kept being repelled. “What? Don’t you like me?” she cooed playfully, wrapping a firm leg about his waist and pressing into him, “I know you like me, you can’t hide anything from me.”

Raven gaped at her speechlessly, fighting his own impulses by calling on the face of another.

“There are so many things we can do,” she teased, intensifying the bombardment. But the energy only bounced back at Nightshade twice as fast. Puzzled by his peculiar immunity to her advances, she made a light scan of his mind.

“It’s that pesky forest nymph, isn’t it?” Nightshade smirked. “Forget about her!” she smiled provocatively, gazing up at him with beguiling dark eyes, “What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.” Leaning in on him, she reached down and began unlacing his belt.

Raven stepped away defiantly.

“You are trying my patience,” Nightshade growled.

“Take me to the Land of Truth,” he managed to say.

“What is wrong with you?!” Nexus shouted in frustration and disappeared as suddenly as she came, leaving Raven alone in the desolate wasteland of the dying dragon.

*          *            *

Aurora sat within a leafy glade, one of the few places in Trellia where the sun shone freely and pastel-colored flowers peeked out from amidst the verdant grass. She stared vacantly at the greenery, unable to get Raven out of her mind. What she wouldn’t give to see him again, to comfort and protect him through all his ordeals. He has been gone for over twenty days, more than enough time for him to come out of his coma. But there was no telling when or if he would return, and her soul grew restless with worry.

Aurora’s heart leapt with joy at the sight of the elven form that parted the blossoming branches and stepped into the clearing. All thoughts of doubt fled her mind, chased away by a brimming happiness, and questioning the validity of his presence never occurred to her.

“Raven!” she gasped, running up to him and draping herself on his shoulders, “You’re back! I missed you so much!”

“I came back for you,” Raven smiled, wrapping his arms around her and drawing her closer. With an almost dreamlike quality, her emerald-green eyes met his azure gaze. Aurora felt the undeniable pull of desire as their lips joined in a long, euphoric kiss. She sensed his hands glide over her body, contouring her arms, dipping under her hair and moving up to her face. Then she heard a lock snap into place at her throat.

Trellia pushed him away in panic, but his hand roughly clamped onto her wrist.

“I came back for you,” the Warrior Spirit sneered, vicious fires burning in his crimson eyes.

Aurora stared at him in horror.

*          *            *

Though Nightshade was too proud to give up after one trial, she had to admit that it had never taken more than one trial before, let alone effort. Her mesmerizing aura could disarm any hint of resistance. But after yet another failed attempt at seduction, Nexus recognized that something was very different about this scenario and decided to seek advice.

“Aeli Neicla,” she appeared before him.

“Guardian Nexus,” Neicla greeted her, then noticed her downcast eyes, “What happened?”

“I don’t know!” Nexus burst out in frustration, “I tried! I really, really did! He just deflected it, all of it!”

“How is that possible?” Neicla tried to act surprised.

“I don’t know,” she paced back and forth anxiously, “I don’t know! This is very unusual, it is unprecedented, I never saw anything like it before! I just don’t know! Is he gay?

“Is this some kind of joke?” she turned to glare at Neicla, her hands crossed, “I happen to take my job as Guardian very serio… No, no he can’t be gay, he was thinking of–”

“Calm down, Nexus,” Neicla smiled casually, “Go meditate for a while, get your thoughts in order. Don’t let a mortal get to you.”

“You’re right,” she sighed.

Neicla nodded encouragingly.

Nexus bowed to him and disappeared, leaving to spend some quiet time in solitude. She materialized on a lonely cloud cluster, and lay back upon it as it lazily drifted over the land. All things past and present were known in the Land of Truth, one only had to ask for the answers to be revealed. It was a storehouse of meticulous Aeli recordings, updated continuously. Emotions, thoughts, essences, and ideas could be experienced firsthand.

Nexus immersed herself in the soothing tranquility of the ancient library, for one had to be at peace in order to hear the gentle whisperings of the ages. Closing her eyes, she let go of all irritation and anxiety, allowing them to float away with the wind-chased clouds. Sufficiently infused with serenity, she gazed up into the pinkish sky and asked to be shown Raven’s life.

It flashed rapidly before her eyes, but she absorbed every detail in its entirety. Sometimes pleasant, though more often so painful that she had to break off from the firsthand experience and look on as an observer. She lived through her own share of horrors, and suffering them all over again did not lessen their impact. But none of this resolved her original dilemma of why and how Trellion could resist her allure.

The more she thought about it, the more information passed through her. Nexus found herself remembering the forest nymph that Raven called to mind during their encounters. Figuring it to be relevant, she meditated on his relationship with Aurora. She saw how he always came to her for support, how she always reassured him, and how an intense bond had developed between them.

Looking deeper and deeper into the connection, she noticed something extremely odd. At its very foundation, she felt a force more powerful than any she had ever experienced. Not domineering, or oppressive, or controlling, or lustful, or anything else she had previously associated with power. This was much stronger than that. It was nurturing and unconditional, healing and revitalizing, comforting and caring, warm and fuzzy.

She saw that single link branch out into a beautiful web of light that knit the universe together, interconnecting every part with every other part. The new energy engulfed her completely, flooding her with a profound sense of harmony and… love? She tried to fight it, but the thoughts and feelings would not go away.

*          *            *

Raven sat on the arid ground of the crumbling Earth Dragon, contemplating his situation. Being left alone in a collapsing world was not conductive to optimistic thought. He pondered about Aloquin’s plans and what they could possibly entail. What were his motives? Did he want to kill Dinictis? Did he want to destroy Caldor by transferring this living embryo into the physical world? He felt ill as he envisioned the world he loved falling apart before his eyes, all its inhabitants being plunged into Lossi’s vast ocean or thrust into outer space. Why was it taking Aloquin so long? Was he waiting for something?

Nexus appeared next to him, her transparent garb billowing in the wind like shimmering scarlet haze over the golden form of her spirit body. Her eyes shone with pure light.

Raven fell to his knees, “Please take me to the Land of Truth or my world will die!” he pleaded with Sage in desperation.

She looked on him impassively. “You have shown yourself worthy of entering the Land of Truth,” Nexus said after a few moments. She lifted her hand and passed it through Trellion, dissipating him into a sparkling green mist. Raven sensed himself being drawn into and merging with the Guardian, and then feeling propelled through a network of twisting tunnels that wound across the Overworld. Nexus released him into a radiant jungle in the Land of Truth and vanished.

She materialized by Aeli Neicla, too shocked by what she had done to utter a greeting.

“What did you do?” Neicla leaned forward in his seat.

“I…” Nexus stammered, “I-”

“Why did you let him in?” Neicla asked.

“I don’t know,” she looked down, perplexed.

“Why didn’t you kill him?”

“I couldn’t! He wouldn’t give in to lust!” she protested.

“You couldn’t, or you wouldn’t?” Neicla demanded.

“I.. I… I don’t know!” Nexus broke down crying, “I failed!”

“You didn’t fail!” Neicla laughed, “You have passed your final test! You proved you have a capacity for compassion. You tapped into the most powerful energy in the universe. You discovered love!”

“Love?” Nexus looked up at him.

“The force that binds the universe together – love,” Neicla smiled.

“You are no longer my apprentice, but a full-fledged Guardian!” he reclined back in his seat, “You’ve shown yourself to be flexible by being open to new ideas. The universe is not static, Nexus, you know that. It is always changing, always evolving. And that is what is happening to you now. You are going through a transformation into a wiser, more advanced being. Many of your old beliefs are breaking down because you have no use for them anymore. Leave them in the past and make room for the new. Soon you will know a larger world.”

*          *            *

Aloquin sat meditating in his chamber in Kayintas. He was always meditating when there was nothing else to be done, adding more of his power to secure the psychic veil he had draped over all of the North Forest. Of course, this became easier now that he could draw on the Warrior Spirit’s power as well.

A while ago Onedia had contacted him to inform that the Dark Fortress was complete, and now he waited for her to open a portal inside. It did not take too long before he felt a swirling current of energy nearby. Slowly coming out of the meditation, he rose to his feet and stepped through the dimensional doorway.

Reality blurred, then became clear again as Aloquin found himself in room of white marble. The domed ceiling was supported by ivory-white columns, about which wound flowers carved of precious stones. Gorgeous tapestries adorned the walls, depicting relaxing scenes of courtly life. A fountain bubbled from a statue of a mermaid riding on ocean waves. It was hard to tell whether the room was lit by moonlight or radiated it, but it made the whites shine with a magical loveliness. There was a pervading scent of rose in the air and a faint choir of voices chanted a delicate melody. At the center of it all was Onedia herself, resting comfortably on a lavish couch piled with decorative pillows. Beautiful as always, she was dressed in a shimmering white gown and the braids in her hair were laced with multi-colored ribbons.

“How do you like it?” she asked, smiling invitingly.

Aloquin scanned the room again, cringing. “Too…” he tried to find the right word, “Happy. We want to scare them, not pamper them.”

Onedia’s amused laughter rang like silver bells. “It could be anything you wish, my lord,” with a wave of her hand reality rearranged itself into a hall carved out of the blackest obsidian. The rough walls reached upwards like jagged cliffs towards a ceiling either too high or too dark to see. Fearsome gargoyles with glowing red eyes were perched on the outcroppings and screeching bats fluttered to and fro at unfathomable heights. Though the room had no windows, some innate light kept things visible, if only to allow the eerie play of light and shadow against the misshapen walls.

“Ahh much better!” Aloquin clapped in glee, “Very nice work! I’m sure we can shape the castle into something even more terrifying before the time comes!”

Onedia smiled back cryptically.

*          *            *

Back in the crystalline halls of the Crystal Castle, Keramis sat in the treetops of the palace gardens, sharpening his faery metal daggers. Though faeries detested iron, they had developed a far superior metal. It looked like silver, but was much sturdier, sharper, and balanced. It was also a lot lighter than iron, maneuverable by the frailest of races with ease.

Faery metal was very responsive to magic, both in sensing and absorbing it. Incidentally, Keramis has developed a charm of his own for the knives. If the blood of another got on the blades then any damage done to the wielder would instantly backfire on the attacker as well. However, since Keramis did not make a good punching bag, he used this strategy only as a last resort. He did not have a high opinion of magic anyway, feeling it should compliment but never substitute for proficient melee skills. In fact, the charm had come about by accident during his younger years.

Keramis’ teen years were not very pleasant. It was a time of confusion, when Lynn left the North Forest and much of the top ranks have died off. There was chaos in the hierarchy and many were contending to fill the vacancies, which included intimidating and eliminating the competition.

Him being a mere elf, and a small one even by elven standards, had made Keramis the object of much taunting by the bigger, stronger races such as the orcs, half-weres, and gnolls. Kranti and his thugs have been some of the more violent persecutors. They insisted that he would never amount to anything and backed up the claim by regularly beating him to an inch of his life – not killing him only because they found his torture an exceptionally amusing pastime.

One particularly bad day, Keramis sat in the Trellian treetops, sharpening his daggers just as he did now. He was brooding over his life and how much he wanted his enemies to feel his pain. As his anger piled up, the energy reached a climax so powerful that it imprinted the daggers with a highly concentrated spell.

Nevertheless, Keramis was picked on constantly. Many of his friends abandoned him, and a good deal of his own cave belittled him. Ever the optimist, the elf never gave up hope. Their relentless ridicule only proved to him that it was they who were afraid. The North Forest hierarchy boasted a significant amount of elven high ranks, a prime example being Lynn himself.

After much training in the discipline of speed over strength, the earning of a faery favor, and a tournament, he proved them all wrong by securing the place of fifth rank. It did not take him long to win the respect of the North Forest by both his skill and his charm.

Keramis did not think about the old days very often. He had left them far behind, always focusing on the present and looking forward to the future. But Karaci’s death had revived some of his deep-rooted feelings of helplessness and self-hatred. It took him a while to make himself understand that stepping between him and Kranti was Karaci’s own decision, and Karaci would want him to honor it as such instead of using it as an excuse to feel sorry for being born.

Kranti believed that a sure way to provoke Keramis was by prodding at emotional wounds from his past. But the elf knew himself to be stronger than that, and made it a point to never fall for such petty teasing again.

He heard Jason tramping through the bushes below, “Hail King Jason! How are you today?”

Jason looked about, startled. “Very well,” he said, then looked up, “Thank you.”

Keramis sheathed his daggers and jumped down from the tree, landing lightly on the ground.

“I was actually looking for you,” the King confessed.

“Oh?” Keramis asked, curious.

“I wanted to ask you something,” Jason told him, “Can you – Can you possibly… Can you train me?”

“In fighting?” Keramis blinked.

“With weapons,” Jason added, “In fighting with weapons – swords, axes, daggers – dagger would be nice–”

“Sure thing, your highness,” Keramis smiled merrily, “Right now?”

“Uhmm… Sure! Why not,” the King returned the smile.

The elf handed Jason one of his daggers and hopped back, “Before we get to offence and defense, you need to learn balance and coordination…”

*          *            *

Raven knew he was in the land where souls spend time between lives. This was a place far lovelier than mortal eyes could ever comprehend, and he marveled at its breathtaking beauty. Nothing in the Land of Truth knew death or decay, it was an eternal paradise where life existed without end.

He strolled through the lush, blooming jungle. Colors were so much more vivid in the Overworld; they shone with an innate brilliance. The landscape was comparable to a painting inlaid with jewels – ruby flowers blossomed among emerald foliage that grew on branches made of tiger’s eye, dew drops gathered on the leaves like glistening diamonds, sapphire hummingbirds and dazzling parrots flitted from tree to tree under the amethyst sky.

Amidst the brightly colored birds, Raven noticed a dark spot. It was a raven, and it was circling down towards him. Settling on the grass, it changed into the radiant form of his old friend Gaisa. She smiled at him amiably, but he took a step away.

“I come all this way to see you and this is the reception I get?” she snickered, walking towards him, “Relax! Tricksters have no power in the Land of Truth. I am real!”

Raven stared at her uneasily, looking for any flaws that would denote an illusion. “But,” he looked away, “Everything that trickster said is true. If it wasn’t for me then–”

“Then I would have never known my best friend,” Gaisa hugged him, “Tricksters may distort the truth, but they can not change it. Their imperfect deceptions give away their falsities.” She looked up at him, “Here we know that everything happens for a reason, even if we don’t understand what it is while we are alive. Everybody is responsible for their own destiny.”

“Then tell me why you died,” Raven demanded.

“Only you could have stopped Kranti,” she explained, “But you would have never done it without incentive, you’re too much of a sweetheart,” she giggled, “I loved the North Forest and I couldn’t bear to see it under Kranti’s rule, that is why I chose to die.”

“So is that what the Overworld does – play with people’s lives?” Raven was unconvinced.

Gaisa shook her head. “The experience has made you strong, and you gave strength to others,” she hugged him again and he clung back tightly. Surrendering to overpowering emotions, he cried quietly into her shoulder.

“It’s all right now,” she assured him, gently stroking his hair, “Know that we never die. We come back again and again, see each other over the course of many lifetimes. Bodies may break, deteriorate, and perish, but the spirit is everlasting. My time with you in this lifetime has ended, and my spirit must move on to the next life.”

Gaisa lifted his head. “You have Aurora now, and I am very happy for you both!” she wiped away his tears, “I will not remain as a gloomy reminder of your past, nor will I get in the way of your future,” she paused, then told him solemnly, “You will not see your raven again.”

Raven nodded reluctantly. “I will never forget you,” he took her hand.

“Think of the good times,” Gaisa laughed, stepping back, “I don’t want to be remembered as a flaming corpse!”

He took a last, long look into her eyes.

“Be at peace,” she smiled, her hand slipping from his grasp. “I have known you before, I will know you again, our bond is eternal…” her voice trailed off to a whisper as she dissolved away. Raven stared into the spot where Gaisa had stood for a long time, searing the moment into his memory. “Until we meet again,” he said under his breath.

Forcing himself to look around, he saw three ethereal beings swathed in luminous white robes hovering in the air, watching him.

“Welcome to the Land of Truth, Trellion,” one of them said, “I am Aeli Neicla.”

“I am Aeli Shnavi-dae,” said another.

“I am Aeli Nisea,” said the third.

Raven blinked.

“You are a visitor here,” Neicla explained, “So we have blocked your ability to access our information networks. However, you may ask each of us one question.”

A thousand questions rushed to his mind at the thought of being able to know anything in the entire universe. What is the meaning of existence? What was his purpose in the world? Was there life anywhere else in the cosmos? After some reflection, he settled on three of the most important.

“How is Aloquin planning to establish his rule in Caldora?” he asked Neicla.

“Both the life of the Chaos Dragon and the life of the Order Dragon are tied to Caldor,” Neicla answered, “The Chaos Dragon is angry. His world is dying and he could die with it. He wants to kill the Order Dragon by making her take his place.

“The Chaos Dragon has many powerful friends who are willing to help him destroy the Order Dragon,” he continued, “The Mistress of Illusions has built a great astral castle for him–” Neicla felt Raven’s unfamiliarity with who he was referring to, “Onedia, Queen of the Forestside Kingdom has built a great astral castle for him in which he has opened an inter-dimensional gateway. The Chaos Dragon will wait for Caldor’s embryo to fully mature, and then lure the Order Dragon into the portal.”

Neicla fell silent and Raven understood that he should ask the next question. “How is Aurora?” he faced Shnavi-dae.

“The Life of the Forest has been captured by Yuga-shii and taken to the Chaos Dragon,” she replied.

Raven hesitated, not knowing if asking who Yuga-shii was counted as another question. Sensing his uncertainty, the Aelis clarified.

“The Tempest of Blood,” Neicla translated the name.

“The God of War,” Nisea echoed.

“The Warrior Spirit has captured the Life of the Forest and keeps her imprisoned in the Chaos Dragon’s astral castle,” Shnavi-dae repeated.

Raven felt faint and swayed as he nearly lost strength in his legs, but the Aelis only smiled back peacefully. Trying to stay calm, he pondered over how to phrase his next question. Did he care more about who his father was, or why he left? Deciding that he could question his father as to why he left after he knew who he was, Raven turned to Nisea and asked, “Who is my father?”

“Acora Lynn is your father,” she told him.

He gawked at her in shock, not sure whether to feel outraged or thrilled. But before he could make up his mind, he felt a pulling sensation tug at his feet. Looking down, Raven saw a whirlpool form in the ground, extending into the earth in the shape of a churning tunnel.

“You must go back now,” Nisea said, but her voice seemed far away as he spun through the passageway of swirling energy into oblivion.

*          *            *

Raven fell through a womb-like darkness between the worlds, though it felt more like gentle drifting on the unseen current of astral winds. The stillness of the experience was broken by the muffled sounds of a heartbeat as he gradually began to sink back into his own body. His senses were revived: he heard the crackling of the fire, smelled the fragrance of boiling herbs, and felt the grassy bed on which he lay.

Raven opened his eyes. He felt refreshed, as if awakening from a wonderful dream. His vision strained to focus in the dim firelight and he saw Lynn gazing down at him. The Acora handed him a cup filled with a curative herbal infusion.

“You must be hungry,” Lynn whispered and went to get some fruit.

Raven rose feebly from the bed, becoming aware that this body was much heavier than his spirit form. He gulped down a mouthful of the tea, never taking his eyes off the Acora.

Lynn brought him an apple and some cherries. Raven stared at him tentatively.

“Take one,” Lynn said cheerfully, “You’ve been in a coma for forty two days, don’t tell me you’re not hungry.”

Part of Raven wanted to rave at him furiously, another part was simply happy to have found his father, but both were equally starving. Raven reluctantly took the apple.

Lynn smiled cordially, watching his son devour the food. “I’m not such a bad guy once you get to know me,” he muttered.

Raven looked up from his meal.

“I have always watched you,” Lynn told him, “I experienced your pain and reveled in your triumphs. I have watched you earn a title for yourself and take your rightful place in the North Forest–”

“Why did you leave?”

“Why did I leave?” Lynn sighed, “Believe me when I say it was nothing personal. I love your mother very much. I wanted nothing more than to have a child, to live with Shalaya as a happy family. However, this was not about what I wanted.

“As an Acora I had a responsibility not just to myself but to all of Caldora,” the dark elf explained, “And an Acora is not allowed to have personal contacts, because an Acora is not supposed to be biased. I was forced to leave your mother. It is true that I told her not to have you – because I feared this very moment.

“But I knew she would have you anyway,” he continued, “She loved me too much, she loved you too much. No matter how hard her mind tried to protest, it is her heart and her love that formed you. You were born of love and you are always loved.

“I told her to make you look as little like me as possible,” Lynn chuckled, “So that even though you are half dark elf, one fourth elf, and one fourth human, you resemble your half-elf mother more than me. You still have my eyes, and have inherited many of my melee skills.”

Raven nodded soberly, taking another bite out of the apple.

“If I had admitted to having a son the day I was proclaimed Acora, it would have been scandalous,” Lynn said, “The people would lose respect for their prophet, and Dinictis couldn’t have that. She told me that I had to win their trust first, and I have been trying hard to do just that for all these years just so I can be with you two again.

“I can’t change the past, Raven,” Lynn smiled at him weakly, “But now that I have earned the loyalty of the people, I promise you that after this war is over, things will be different. Both between you and me, and between Shalaya and me.

“Until then, can we still be friends?” he stretched out a hand.

“It is an honor to have you for a father,” Raven said softly, taking the Acora’s hand and bowing low.

“No formalities!” Lynn laughed, patting him lightly on the back.



Copyright © 2003 by Yumeni www.twilightvisions.com. All rights reserved.
Revised: 27 Jan 2013 22:58:06 -0700 .



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