Anima: The Masquerade

The Rain Subsides...

Lydia lay in her bed restlessly as she tried to fight off the dark cloud that seemed to hover over her head in recent weeks. Anxious nights and lack of sleep were almost becoming the standard in the wake of Draco’s death. On top of that, recent revelations about the true nature of the world had come to light. It was mind blowing to think that the existing world had turned out to be so much larger than was taught in her classes as a child.

Plant life she’d never even dreamed off remained undisturbed just beyond the horizon. Not to mention these “machines.” It had become apparent that the world she knew as at least held up, if not sustained entirely, by these towers of metal. How many of these machines were there? Were any more of them inhabited with human life like this one, or were they all just feral or barren as the two others had been?

There would be no answering such questions from the comfort of her bed. Even still, information on the nature of these machines was scarce. Ronald himself seemed unfamiliar with the majority of the world’s true nature.

Lydia decided there was little point to both thinking more on the matter as well as simply lying down and fruitlessly trying to sleep. She wandered over to her desk and resumed her place in her book. It spoke of the nature of souls and the soul flow. If there were to be any answers pertaining to preventing what happened to Draco in the future, it would be here.

It was unclear how to approach the problem, other than the fact that it should be done on a spiritual level. After another couple hours of reading, Lydia sighed in frustration as she closed the book and set in on her desk. There didn’t seem to be any methods of calling souls from the flow without being some form of deity or delving into necromancy She stood from her chair and decided to go out for a walk in the late night breeze. The sound of the waves at the coastline were soothing, often helpful in clearing her head and bringing about inspiration.

When she arrived at the shore, Lydia removed her shoes and strode ankle deep into the cold ocean water. The waves kissed her shins as she took a deep breath to smell the ocean air. “If only I could linger on the shore forever,” she thought to herself as she walked along. Her daydream was interrupted by the feeling of a small and blunt object that jabbed her foot.

“Ow!” It had hurt enough that she’d blurted out involuntarily. Curious as to what such a sharp object was doing so far from the rocks, Lydia bent over to find the intruder that had invaded her silky smooth blanket of sand. At first, it felt like a rock until she noticed moving bits on one side. It was a hermit crab. “Hey there little guy,” Lydia smiled and stroked the shell of the crab gently. “What are you doing all the way over here away from the shelter of the rocks? It’s dangerous out in the open.”

Her fingers brushed over the peculiar spiral shape of the shell as she made her way to the cluster of rocks that sheltered an entire zoo of life. Setting the crab down, Lydia sat on the rock to scare off any birds that might want to eat it before it had ample time to scurry off to a hiding. She got to thinking about hermit crabs and their shells as she fell into a relaxed position to lay down and listen to the waves.

Lydia cocked her head after a few moments as she considered how much could be learned from such a simple creature. Interestingly enough, after some time, it seemed that the crab may just have provided an answer to her problem.

If Draco had been a hermit crab, he’d have become vulnerable when his shell was smashed. It was obvious that such damage would be unmanagable, and that the crab may choose to run off to the ocean to seek cover. In Draco’s case, no longer having a body, his soul sought refuge in the soul flow. But what if she could catch the crab before it had time to run into the ocean and find it a new shell? Lydia smiled at the thought of it. She was certain she’d read of some way to transfer souls into objects, dead bodies, or even living people. Despite having read of it years ago, she’d dismissed it as an immortality gimmick; jumping from body to body to avoid every truly dying despite the old body being left to decay.

It was then that a sneak wave washed up over the rocks and drenched Lydia in ice cold water.. She gasped and jumped up from the rock on which she’d been so complacent only moments ago. The cool breeze now felt ice cold as the girl shivered and collected the thoughts that had been scattered by the uninvited guest.

“Shame on you,” she turned to the ocean and shook her fist at it as if it were a sentient being, “you’re mother must have taught you better than to be so rude!” Imagining the ocean snickering back mischievously, Lydia frowned and made her way back home to warm up before she had time to catch a cold. Certain she had earned funny looks from the few late-nighters she passed on her way back in the temple, Lydia pressed forward quickly to avoid as much embarrassment as possible.

The unexpected water had arguably ruined the whatever good mood the ocean might have normally brought her. Regardless of the results of the outing, she’d finally made some desperately needed progress in her research. Perhaps after a warm bath and a few pages of her favorite romance, restful sleep would finally find its way to Lydia once more.

From Fuzzy to Spanky
Or something like that...

It’s hard to say what’s possessed me. I guess there’s some semblance of desire still within my bones. When Draco died… I don’t know. Something in me changed. Draco was an ally to me, a kindred spirit. He understood more about me than perhaps I even did. He’s gone now. And with him all that he lived for, and died for. Just like that. There was nothing left. He was a difficult man to remember, due to his heritage. And what exactly did he leave behind? A small family, nothing more. His deeds will be forgotten and he left no legacy. I feel as though I am the only one who will truly bear his memory. It was I who knew him best, and even at that I feel like I knew so little.
As I thought about him in his passing, I thought more and more about my own life, and what I was leaving behind. All I seem to have done is brought danger to myself, my friends and my family. And if I were to die there would only be regret and the passing vision of a fool. My father would mourn his foolish son, and there would be a small funeral maybe. That’s all. That’s not good enough.
I spent so much time scorning personal glory, desiring to do good deeds for strangers and taking none of the credit. Now I wonder about the other version of myself, and what it can leave behind. The black mask I wear to scorn my own glory is only part of my story. The young man known as Harlan MacAlistair has much he can leave behind to better this world.
I decided to propose to her. Megan. She refreshes my spirit and makes me feel as though the other half of me has a purpose too. I know that I put her in danger when I bring her to Eternia, but I cannot help it. Maybe I can start a life with this woman, and leave behind children. Perhaps we can build a legacy together, and maybe, just maybe make this world we live in a little bit better. But I’ll have to be careful for her sake. It’ll take some practice. I know that I am reckless, and it will take some time, but I must find a way to live through this. For her.

Consumed by Bitterness

Two months after “Eye for an eye”

“Hold still,” Lydia scolded, “you’re only making it harder on yourself every time I’ve got to find the wound again.” Lydia was knelt on the floor of Markus’ bedroom next to the bed where Markus sat. The skin on his lower thigh was red and irritated around the edges of a ragged laceration.

“Yeah,” Markus grunted as the girl dabbed the wound with a warm cloth, “well it wasn’t so bad a few days ago.”

“You shouldn’t have waited so long to seek medical attention. You’re lucky the infection isn’t worse than it is.”

“Well, I am a hunter. I can’t exactly afford a doctor.”

“You could be more careful then,” she suggested. “Surely you had to have seen that boar coming?”

“Have you ever been chased by a boar? They’re fast. I was lucky to get away with just a cut.” Markus cringed once again as Lydia rinsed the rag and applied it to the open skin once more.

“Well, I’ve never been foolish enough to get in the way of one,” Lydia teased with a chuckle.

“Are you done? That boar got my leg, but you’re sure not doing my pride any favors.”

“Yes, fine, I’m done. I’m just about finished with your leg as well, just let me dress it and it’ll be fine if you take good care of it.” Lydia wrapped a couple of passes of bandage over the injury before cutting the length away from the roll and securing it in such a fashion that it wouldn’t come undone too easily.

“Thank you. Why are you doing this exactly? Is it because you love me so much?”

“Well sure, but that’s not the only reason. As an Oracle, I do my best to provide comfort to anyone who seeks it. That includes alleviating physical pain physical pain from wounds like yours,” she explained as she placed the roll of bandage back in her bag and pushed the bowl of water to the side.

“I know, I’m just too difficult to resist,” Markus flexed with playful arrogance as if Lydia could see what he was doing.

“Oh, hush. Looks mean nothing to a blind girl.”

“Ouch. I’m not sure whether that was a compliment or not,” Markus noted.

“You know I didn’t mean anything malicious. All I’m saying is that I found beauty deep inside that was more than some infatuation that only runs in the skin.” Lydia stood and slung her bag over her shoulder.

“Uh, thanks,” Markus finally managed to say after nothing nearly as gracious came to his mind. “Are you leaving already?”

“As much as I’d love to stay and talk, I do have other duties to attend to. I can’t forsake those even for you,” Lydia forced a smile through her disappointment.

“Actually, uh, I think my um… back hurts. Yeah. my back hurts. Can you fix it?” Lydia barely managed to contain a snicker at Markus’ pathetic excuse to convince her to prolong her stay. Lydia hesitated with a mischievous yet nervous smirk like a school girl ditching class for the first time before finally setting her bag back on the floor.

“Lay down on your chest then, I’ll see what I can do,” Lydia played along with his plea for help. Markus did as he was told with an ecstatic grin and Lydia found her way to the bed and climbed on top to straddle his lower back.

She pressed her hands to his spine and rolled her palms up toward his neck before veering off to each shoulder and massaging the thick muscles. The girl explored his shoulder blades and mid-back with her finger tips then repeated the process with varying patterns to keep any one sensation from being predictable.

“Actually, your back is a mess,” Lydia finally commented after several minutes of silence.

“Of course it is. It had to be to get you to stay longer. I won’t complain about having your legs around me like this either-OW!” Markus cried out in pain as Lydia pressed down with a sudden jolt of surprising force, earning an audible pop from his upper spine. “Oh, that feels good. I didn’t even know that was there.”

“You really should take better care of yourself. You’re going to be a ruined old man one day if you keep this up.” Lydia continued to work the knots out of his back with her palms.

“Maybe I will,” he replied before thinking a moment, “or maybe you’ll be here to take care of me until I die.”

“Back massages won’t save you forever,” Lydia giggled as she bent over and pecked Markus on the cheek, “but they’ll do for now.”

“Then you’ll just have to get creative, won’t you?”

“I suppose I will.” Many minutes passed and Markus practically melted on the bed under Lydia’s experienced hands. Without realizing it, he was soon overcome by the somnolence that followed the warmth and comfort and slipped into unconsciousness. Lydia noticed the shift in his breathing and smiled. His body was still taxed in its effort to fight of the beginnings of infection that had developed and required rest to continue its effort. “Sweet dreams Markus,” she whispered before delivering yet another kiss to the top of his head.

Lydia crept off of the bed slowly and felt around on the floor until she found her bag. She slung it over her shoulder and quietly walked over to the door and slipped outside, using the magic aura from the tower to slowly find her way home.

The evening after arriving in Mercuria

Lydia faded into reality from her daydream. The memory had been a pleasant one while it lasted at the very least. Sitting up in her chair from her slumped position over the table, Lydia emptied the remaining half of her pint of ale into her throat before refilling it again and resuming her position one more.

Why did Draco have to die? It seemed as if time had frozen as she heard the muffled scream of pain followed by the gut wrenching sound of tearing bone, muscle, and cartilage. She remembered the warm spray of blood that had hit her in the face, causing her to wonder for just a moment if it was her own that had been spilled. But it had to be his.

Could she even have stopped it? Her rational mind would always promptly answer “no” every time she asked herself the question. Yet, the storm of anger, fear, and sorrow overpowered its quiet voice and left her to wonder if she really could have prevented his fate. If there had only been some way of knowing what was to come.

On that note, Lydia pulled on the silver chain that draped under her shirt around her neck and stared at the smooth, spherical, light violet stone that hung from it. It glowed brightly in her fingers unwaveringly.

“Damn you,” she cursed at the stone before tearing it off and throwing it on the ground behind her, “we could have saved him if you’d only work for once!” It bounced once and rolled into the corner of her chambers as if to wait patiently for its companion to love it once more. Lydia emptied another pint of ale before leaning back on the table.

She badly wanted to talk to Markus. He’d been there for her as soon as she was allowed visitors during her recovery from her punctured lung. However this time she couldn’t stand the thought of allowing him to see her in such a sorry state, simply keeping faith that he would someday understand why she hadn’t come to see him after months of absence. Instead Lydia continued to drown out her sorrow and self-hatred with alcohol in hopes that such bitter feelings would trouble her no more.

Mind if I use your couch?
Just for a night or two...

A tired and grumbling Draco awoke in the black of night to the sound of someone tapping on his bedroom window pane. It took him a moment to recognize the sound, and twice as long to decide that it deserved his attention. Who on earth could it be in the dead of night? He fumbled around for the oil lamp on the bedside table, and eventually got it lit. He was hesitant to go to the window. Was someone trying to break into his home? It was hard to say.
“Draco.” Came a faint whisper from the window.
Draco raised an eyebrow and stumbled over to the window. He set down the lamp and grabbed a knife from the bedside table. Just in case. He pulled back the curtain and waited to strike, lest someone should make a sudden move. However, his fears were not realized and were replaced by surprise. He opened the window. “Harlan?”
The youth was slumped against the outer wall of the house and breathing heavily. “Yeah. It’s me.”
“What are you up to?” Draco asked, wondering if perhaps his childhood rival had some sort of trick up his sleeve.
“Nothing. I need your help.”
Draco couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Yeah, right.” Draco said, shutting the window.
Another rap at his window and he opened it again.
“I need your help. Please.” Harlan repeated.
Draco could hear the desperation in Harlan’s voice, but he was still leery. “Why would you want help from me?”
“Just get out here and give me a hand, will you?”
Draco shook his head and shut the window. He had half a mind to leave Harlan out in the dark of the night. However, he had a feeling the somewhat persistent boy wouldn’t let him rest unless he went out there, so he resigned to sneak out of the house and see what his rival wanted at this ungodly hour.
Outside, his eyes went wide as he saw Harlan still slumped against the building and noticed a dark splotch on the wall in the pale moonlight. He held up his lamp to get a better look and saw that Harlan had been cut deep just below the ribs.
“What the hell happened to you?” Draco asked.
“I just need a place to stay until I heal. Okay?”
“What the hell did you do?”
“I just got into a fight is all.” Harlan lied.
“Right. And I’m sure you didn’t start it.”
“He didn’t need to steal from the blacksmith’s forge. I just did what was right.”
A very confused conversation, involving a thief, Harlan and a seemingly enraged mule, later Draco helped Harlan into his home to give the boy some room on his couch.
“I didn’t know he had a knife.”
Draco slapped his palm on his face. “He was stealing weapons from the blacksmith…”
“Look, the point is, there was a knife and I’m not invincible, okay?” Harlan sighed.
“Okay. So why were you out there in the first place?”
“Have you seen what has happened to this town lately?”
Draco could hear the sorrow in his rival’s voice.
“Someone has to stop all this criminal bullshit. The guards aren’t doing anything. I had to do something.”
“Yeah, but why you? Let someone else do it. Oh, wait. You’re in it for the glory.”
“Don’t you dare tell anyone it was me. That’s not what this is about.”
“Then what is it about?”
“Someone has to protect the people in this city. These people deserve better than that.”
“The people in this city are the people who are committing these crimes. You want to save them from themselves or something? You’re wierd, dude.”
“Yeah. Well, that’s what needs to be done, and I’m the only one stupid enough to do it.”
“You got that right.” Draco folded his arms. “Why did you come to me. I’m the last person who wants to hear from you.”
“Because you’re the only one strong enough to understand.”
“What do you mean?”
“You may not be as incredibly awesome as me, but I’ve seen you. You fight for what you believe in. Even if it’s not against criminals or monsters or whatever. You’re a good man somewhere under that cold, scaly, ugly exterior.”
“I mean it. So just let me stay here until I can go back home. And don’t tell a soul, okay?”
Draco thought about it for a while. It would almost be satisfying to watch his archenemy suffer under the stifling gaze of his authoritative father. But something inside him told him not to. There was something more between the two of them at that moment. A bond, almost like a brotherhood. He wondered what would happen when he let Harlan stay. Then he yawned and decided to figure it out in the morning.

Crouching Titan, Hidden Ronald

Lydia trudged forward monotonously through the cool and shin-deep sand as she and her companions pressed forward through the night. The dry air left a thirst for water in her mouth that she worked hard to ignore. Everyone else was busy keeping a close eye on the stars and working together to make certain the path traveled was the correct one through the shroud of illusion that would otherwise trick any who entered into wandering aimlessly.

It hadn’t taken long for Lydia to realize that the keen sense of direction she’d obtained in her blindness had been rendered worthless by the illusive trickery. It was more than simply sight that would fall prey to falsified sensations, but all five senses together for a terrifyingly disorienting surprise. Having been able to contribute very little, Lydia had settled for wandering in thought as she kept her left hand on the cliff-side with her right hand around Kaylee’s wrist.

Every so often Kaylee would give Lydia a soft tug to pull her out of the path of a rock or around a sinkhole. The treacherous environment made walking unassisted nearly impossible without suffering serious injury or risking death in some cases. Lydia felt a little embarrassed that she was unable to handle a task as simple as walking through the sand which had been so trivial for all of her companions. It was easy enough to dismiss the thought and try to remember her presence was well worth the extra trouble when injury or illness came about, but somehow it continued to gnaw at her in the back of her mind.

“Hold up,” Mappo outstretched his hand to signal the group to stop. “The stars are not right,” he pointed to the sky. Lydia sighed as she remained unable to see what he was talking about. As far as she was concerned, her point of contact on the wall should have made it impossible to get turned around. While it frustrated her, she was also wise enough to know that such was the nature of powerful illusion magic. Kaylee put her hands on Lydia’s shoulders and pointed her in the correct direction of travel. Once again Lydia placed her hand on the wall in hopes of catching the illusion magic with its hands in the cookie jar.

It wasn’t long until Lydia once again went into autopilot and began to process her thoughts and memories. Her mind settled on Ronald, a figure she’d now met twice: Once in the Trial of Darkness, and again only a couple of days prior as Ray placed the orb he carried on a mysterious pedestal.

He’d told Lydia she was once more in the Realm Between Worlds, and that it was curious that a mortal had been in contact with the soul flow so many times without death ever being the cause. What Lydia had found peculiar was that Ronald knew of the second instance, something she’d never told anyone about, not even Annabelle, lest her secret be exploited if it reached the wrong ears.

Lydia had always taken Ronald for an ordinary man who’d been a figment of her imagination, but such an assumption was being quickly crushed by each new visit to the Realm Between Worlds. Her second journey had been the only reason she knew the first was involving the soul flow to any degree. All on its own, this fact negated the theory that Ronald was any sort of ordinary mortal at all. Furthermore, on her third journey to the Realm, she’d met Ronald yet again where he not only revealed seemingly omnipotent knowledge, but had told her she was always welcome to visit him at the Scarlet Precipice.

Lydia recalled how her heart felt as if it had stopped in that moment as she heard those words. Her mind flooded with questions that thirsted for answers, but before she could even peep the first syllable, she’d found herself flat on her chest on the stone floor she’d fallen unconscious on in the first place.

Having never been to the Scarlet Precipice, the only conclusion she found herself able to come to was that the massive titan she’d seen only twice before, once on the horizon sitting atop the Precipice, was indeed Ronald. There was no solid proof, but all of the facts seemed to point to him.

“Wait!” This time Harlan had spoken up. Lydia sighed as once again her companions readjusted their direction of travel. No sooner than she’d tried to re-obtain her train of thought, an ominous howl shattered the silence. Lydia clung tightly to Kaylee who’d she still been holding by the wrist.

She’d been lucky enough to remain unscathed in battle, but for how long? Despite the fear of an early end to a would be disappointing life, Lydia took a deep breath and released her grip on her companion. Kaylee would need to move to fight the terrors that would soon prance down the cliff side.

So would Lydia if they decided she looked like a delicious target.

Eye for an eye: Part II

Lydia awoke shivering cold and soaked as the water from a shallow stream only an inch in depth tickled her cheek. She cringed at a familiar sense; pain that shot through her leg when she tried to move. The cave, thanks to a sort of skylight formation in the top, was lit just brightly enough for her to inspect the damage from the wound. Finding her calf in a bloody and dysfunctional mess, the girl shuddered and poked at the torn flesh on the edge of the injury. It was the same wound that had been left by the beast in the Trial of Darkness. Looking around, she could see trees that had managed to form out of the small amounts of sunlight in the cave, various smaller formations of plant-life, and a spring that had pooled off to the side.

“Hello? Is anyone there? I need help,” Lydia called out. As she listened for a response over the trickling water, only her echo throughout the caves returned a reply. Unable to think of another course of action, the girl stood on her weak, trembling legs and hobbled downstream to seek assistance. Her progress was slow and painful, but in time she saw a change in scenery.

The stream flowed into a river of massive proportion. At its edge stood a small dock to which a humble boat was anchored. On the edge of the dock stood an old robed man with a long beard. He held a pipe in one hand and a staff with a lantern tied off to the end in the other. Lydia hurried with a heavy limp down to the dock to meet the old man as he puffed on his pipe as if waiting for someone to come along. As she grew closer, the man looked up and squinted suspiciously while he exhaled a small cloud of smoke into the air.

“This is no place for you, child,” the old man stated, “go back to wherever it is you came from.” Lydia swallowed nervously as she built up the courage to disobey his orders. She’d been told countless times to obey her elders, but this was hardly the time to respect such a rule.

“Can you help me?” Lydia shivered and hugged her chest to try to keep her freezing bones warm. There was no telling how long she’d been laying in ice cold water and the blood loss wasn’t helping at all.

“No. Be gone,” the man answered stubbornly. Lydia looked around for further options, but the robed man was the only thing in sight.

“Please, I’m lost and hurt. I think I might be hypothermic.”

“I can offer you no help, young lady. Wounds like yours are not easily healed. The soul does not simply regenerate like the body.”

“S-soul?” Lydia stuttered anxiously at the context of the word.

“Perhaps you were unaware that you are not in the world that you know, girl. There is fair reason for you to have regained your vision. You dwell in the realm between worlds. I guard passage to the soul flow.” Lydia cocked her head in confusion. How could he know so much about her? Even still, it hadn’t occurred to her until now, for some reason, that she was in fact blind.

“Am I dead then?” Lydia asked promptly, eager for an answer.

“Dying. Your lung is punctured and your carotid artery has been nicked. If your shot had been any cleaner you would already be dead. Though I suppose you have not escaped such a fate just yet. Until your connection to your body is completely severed I cannot allow you to pass beyond this point, nor may I leave to assist you.”

“What exactly are you saying?” She couldn’t imagine she’d shot herself with a bow, even if Markus hadn’t been there to help.

“Foolish girl,” the old man chuckled, “so young and ignorant of your own feelings. Few live to be injured like you have,” explained the man as he gestured to her leg. “Damage suffered to the soul is more often than not fatal, and yet here you are like a resilient little amaranth in the snow.”

“ A very beautiful bit of poetry sir, but what does that have to do with anything?”

“My point is that reactions to such damage are always different. Souls are just as diverse as people. You have chosen to suffer as you make your enemies suffer. Penance for spilled blood as an exact copy of any harm done to a living thing. ”

“I haven’t chosen anything.” Puzzled by the man’s words, she tilted her head slightly.

“Oh, but you have. Your mind may simply not realize it. I think you’ll find that if you search deeply enough, the wound that threatens your life at this moment is entirely self-inflicted. You see, pain in the soul affects you far more strongly than that of physical pain. Your very essence knows suffering greater that most men who fight in war. But, unlike those men, you have a kind soul,” the man explained, “and you wouldn’t see anyone harmed by your own hand. Not even a simple boar. So you rip yourself apart from the inside to pay for your crimes by inflicting the same wounds on your body as you delivered to theirs.”

“I don’t completely understand how I’m supposedly so committed to this. I feel bad about killing that boar, and yes I’d feel terrible if I ever hurt or, heaven forbid, killed someone. That hardly means I want to kill myself over a stupid pig,” Lydia raised her voice irritably.

“The soul and the mind have a will of their own. It is the combination of the two that define the individual. But enough of this, it is time for you to leave. Your will to live is weaker while here at the threshold of the soul flow, and it is not yet your time to die. I cannot allow you to heed its call. Not yet.”

“What? I still have so many questions!” Before she could say anything else, the old man outstretched his hand toward the girl. She grew dizzy as her vision blurred before falling limp on the dock and blacking out.

What seemed like moments later, Lydia awoke and gasped for air, immediately followed by a tearing sensation in her chest. Her body felt like lead and breathing was difficult and extremely painful.

“Am I dead?” Lydia was completely disoriented and her memory of events in the realm between worlds was foggy at best.

“Thankfully not,” Annabelle, Lydia’s mentor through most of her journey to becoming an Oracle, gave a sigh of relief. “You’re lucky a physician happened to be nearby during the festival. Mr. Hewitt spent all night making certain you didn’t bleed to death. He had to go in through your sternum since your wound isn’t responding to magic.” Lydia remained silent for a long moment as she touched the stitched incision on her chest.

“Am I going to die then?”

“I don’t think so. I’m not as seasoned as Dr. Hewitt, but I believe you’ve finally stabilized.” Annabelle softly touched Lydia’s head and brushed the girl’s hair out of her face. “I’ll let you rest, you’re going to need as much as possible.” Annabelle stood and walked to the door before turning to speak one last time. “Just call out if you need anything, don’t try to get up and do it yourself.”

“Alright, Anna. Tell Mr. Hewitt I am grateful for my life.” The woman departed from the room and Lydia was left alone. She thought on the words from the old robed man, coming to no further conclusion on what to do about her new-found helplessness. “How am I to defend myself or those around me if the need arises?” The thought of being even more defenseless than she already was in such a terrifying situation made her sick to her stomach. Deciding it was unhealthy to dwell on such dark possibilities, Lydia quickly disposed of the thought and rolled over on her good side to get some much needed sleep.

Roving in the Shadows
and the darkness found there...

Harlan pushed his way from the abandoned ruins, powdery grey dust covering the front of his shirt. He coughed for a moment before getting back onto his feet. His legs were sore and he knew he would need to stop to rest somewhere safe. Draco, Lydia, Mappo and Kaylee followed close behind and made their way out into the vast plains that spanned the greater part of the Eternian mainland. The clouds overhead hid the sun from view and the dreariness of a frustrating and difficult journey set in.
Harlan walked over to Mappo, hopeful to spark a pleasant conversation and ease the weariness of his mind. However, the great giant was of little conversation. He shrugged and said a few words, but it seemed to Harlan the great man wanted nothing to do with his conversation.
Disappointed, but hopeful, Harlan approached Draco. The young man scoffed and told Harlan to leave him alone. Not wanting to spark more conflict, Harlan went on his way.
The future of the MacAlistair family went next to Kaylee, who seemed reluctant to have a conversation. “No offense, but I’d prefer to have an intellectual conversation or none at all.”
A little put off, Harlan went next to his favorite companion, the Oracle Lydia. He sat down on the edge of the wagon whilst the Oracle rested within. He waited a moment, for fear she might chastise him, and after he was certain that she was willing to tolerate his company, he asked simply “How are you doing?”
“I’m fine, thanks.” She said simply. “How are you doing?”
Pleased that the conversation might turn to a pleasant one, Harlan answered. “To be honest, a little tired and a little down. Nobody seems to be eager to talk and everyone’s quiet. We had a rough task solving those puzzles, I thought everyone might be keen to celebrate a small victory. I don’t know why everyone is so quiet right now.”
The Oracle smiled and said simply “It’s because you’re an imbecile.”
Harlan shook his head in confusion, not certain he had heard her correctly. “I’m sorry, what was that?”
“I said you’re an imbecile.”
“That’s not a very nice thing to say, I mean…” He went on before she interrupted.
“No, it’s accurate. You’re an imbecile. You’re the single most unintelligent human being I’ve ever had the misfortune of knowing. You run your mouth with nothing but stupidity. You have nothing constructive to say…”
“Hey! What’s the deal?”
The Oracle ignored him and continued. “All you do is run off foolishly into danger, ruin every attempt to do anything constructive and the only thing we can figure out that you are good for is punching things like some unintelligent oaf. You’re worth nothing to me or anyone else, and you can’t seem to figure out that none of us like you one bit. Are you simply deaf, that you don’t hear our discontent with your company? Go! Get lost somewhere and don’t trouble us again. We’d rather be alone and on our own out here in the dangerous wild than have you as a complete and total liability whilst you remain in our company. Get lost. You are a worthless person.”
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing…” Harlan said quietly in disbelief.
“Believe it!” The Oracle said, standing from the wagon and staring right at Harlan, her eyes suddenly no longer clouded. “You are nothing more than a pest.” Even as she said it, her mouth unhinged and opened twice as wide as it should. From her mouth poured the horrid form of a monstrous snake, black and terrifying. It hissed and opened it’s mouth, its eyes no more than slits as it threatened to devour its prey. Its fangs extended and it snapped.

Harlan woke in a sweat, his skin cold, his pulse racing.
“Is everything alright?” Came the Oracle’s voice.
“Huh? Yeah, I’m fine.” Harlan said hesitantly. “I’m fine.”
“Were you having a dream?” She asked.
“Oh. Um. Yeah. Just a dream.”
“What was it about?”
“Nothing.” Harlan said, looking down. “Just the dark.”
“Will you be alright?” She asked him.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. I’ll be by your side to look after you.” He said. After a brief pause, he turned quietly over and pulled his blanket over himself. Come what may. He thought.

Mappo's journal
Bandits Hurt

I was told by a wise man that to know where you are going you have to know where you have been. As such i have decided to make a journal to tell where i have been. Starting when the bear hunt was over because I have know the rest of my life to well that it is burned into my very soul.
As I walked back into town i said my goodbyes to my friends and headed over to the merchant district. I had to look for a while to try and find me a proper set of armor and a weapon. After spending all day wandering the marketplace i found that the only weapon even close to suitable is a regular greataxe, Bah weaklings weapon. But even worse than that is there is no armor for someone of my size. So i had an idea i got 3 bear pelts i will make myself a good fur armor. After 2 months and 1 failed attempt i got what i was looking for a quality fur armor.
While i was working on my fur armor I was in my off time looking at the job board in town. I found a few pieces of jewelry or clothing out in the woods. got me a few tussles with one animal a wolf it kept hitting me and running away i would hit it once and it ran. finally i got my hit just right and took its head. On the job board there were a few other jobs that i mostly stayed out of because i knew they were part of a bigger kidnapping plot but there was this one kid that was on the board he had brown hair, blue eyes, 7 years old, and 4 6 tall nothing like the common missing person so i went searching.
I went to his home and talked to his parents they were decent and successful merchants so they had good money probably the reason for this kidnapping. They knew nothing of who would have taken their boy but they told me that they would pay to see him back. I told them not worry and went to his last place seen his bedroom. I started checking for tracks and marks i found that there was the marks of 3 men coming into his room to take the boy and they left though the window. At the base of the window there was cart tracks so i followed into the city and through it heading out but there the tacks died so i followed their direction. 5 hours later i found a camp. it had 4 men in it 3 of them asleep and one on watch. I took out the man on watch in one clean swipe but i didn’t silence him and he awoke one of the others. That man looked around for the man on watch and found me then screamed ”jayan!”. So not knowing what else to do i waded into the camp and started swinging my axe and stopping all life and sound. They could not send me to join them. Oh how i miss you sofia, kelly, and alex i will meet you again. After i was done with them i looked through camp to find the boy tied up to the tent pole lookin scared and hungry so i told him to close his eyes and i will take him back home as fast as i can. after we were out of camp i stopped and fed him. in about 3 hours time we got back to his house it was then i realized that i was not only hurt but seriously injured so i took a visit to my friend the oracle. she helped me to recover much quicker, thank you Lydia.
After this i realized that my combat skill were lacking and i decided on the weekends i traveled to the nearest outpost of the rangers. When i approached i found i knew a few of the men that ran it. I talked to them and they were more than happy to bring me back up to speed with them, Thanks Boys. As i was training realized my weak point is my armor. I need to find how to wear it and how to make it better. They had a master armor smith at the outpost as they should so i learned tips and tricks i could. But how to wear the armor that would be much harder. The next day as i went back home and went to the smithy Kaylee returned and told me of some adventure they had been on. She mentioned the edge tower and how they have a trainer for everything. I got an idea so i asked her if she was going back soon and she said that she would in a week so i asked to go along and she let me. When we reached the edge tower i went on a search for a summoner. I found one i told him could i talk to one of the ancient heroes so that i could learn the way to train with armor. He understood and allowed me to do this. After weeks of training i now understand how to properly train and wear armor.
Now there isn’t a whole lot left to tell oh here comes Harland to my room he doesn’t look happy this is either an adventure or no booze i’ll tell you later which is which.

A Recollection of Excitement
…my life ceased to be boring…

These past couples of months have been interesting. I’ve traveled even outside the Capital, more on the traveling later. The excitement started at the election ceremony. But the first strange event was a giant man came to my forge looking for some work. I later found out his name was Mappo, but more about the people later. Apparently sometime during the banquette one of the oracles disappeared. But I didn’t find out about that until after the elections. By the way during the elections I saw something weird. I’ll try to describe it later. I first heard about the disappearance while I was in the hot springs. It was shortly after I met Lydia. Lydia is an oracle who I have since become friends with. Again more later. When we heard, Neither one of us knew what we could do. We were in the hot spring having a nice conversation, so we just continued our relaxing conversation. I bit later we had left the hot spring and were wandering around the temple enjoying the atmosphere. Then we ran into him; Harlan. Again more on people later. Back to the story. He was all gung-ho about finding the lost oracle, and convinced Lydia to help find her. I just decided to tag along because it sounded intrusting. Eventually Mappo found some tracks to fallow. The tracks led us to a sewer where some guards told us we needed a permit to enter. We ignored them… we forced open the grate and went in. There I was able to see some faint traces of magic that we could follow so we lit a torch in order to see. In hind sight lighting a torch in a sewer wasn’t a very smart idea. Thankfully it didn’t blow up on us. A little ways into the sewer we found a side tunnel that led to what I can only describe as a torture chamber. Unfortunately the missing oracle was in the room. Fortunately she hadn’t been harmed. It was bloody and not good sight. Well there was a flash of light and Harlan hit the floor. I went straight for the oracle. Lydia’s guard George entered the room and killed the man that made the light. I know I’ve been saying later about the people but George is amazing. He stepped into the room and thrust his spear, lodging it in the man head. The man died on the spot. It was the most amazing display of soldiery I’d ever seen. He’s just amazing. He’s a naval officer that’s been acting as Lydia’s guide and guard while she’s in the capitol. I’ve also seen him drop a wolf and a bear. After that we freed the oracle and left the tunnels. On the way out we ran into the guards again. Harlan tried to talk our way of trouble but didn’t get very far. However George stepped up and got us off. It was one of the most peculiar situations I had ever experienced. But that’s not where the story ends.
Ok so I said more about the people later. Well now is later.
The first would have to be Mappo. When I said a giant man, I meant it. He’s more than 3 feet taller than me. And apparently he is very good at working with leather. Good enough my dad let him work at the main shop. He doesn’t have the most fluid of speech but from what I can tell he’s a good man. Graham hired him to make a suit of armor with the house crest on it. So we’ll see how things turn out. As it turns out he also handy with an axe, plus he knows how to handle himself in a fight.
Let’s see after Mappo I guess its Harlan’s turn. When I first saw him he was trying to get Draco another of our band of misfits to eat some very spicy food. Apparently Draco had just tricked Harlan into eating it so it was for revenge. It was rather amusing to watch. It broke up the monotony of the banquet. As it turns out Harlan is the son of a merchant. He seems like his heart is in the right place but I not sure if he thinks things through. My evidence for this is the phrase “Gonna punch a bear.” When we decided to go hunting, Harlan spoke said phrase several times. I’m not sure he knows how absurd it sounds. But as I said it seems like his heart is in the right place so I’ve come to trust him.
After Harlan I think Draco is next. It seems there is some kind of rivalry between him and Harlan, but all in good-natured fun. They’re constantly competing in one way or another. Seems like they’ve know each other for a long time. Of the people in the group I know him the least but I’m pretty sure he does what’s right when the time comes.
Last there’s Lydia. I’ve taken a liking to her. She is the oracle of the mercury tower. She can see, but not in the normal sense. Her eyes are blind but she can still see the things that I can see. Not normal things like color and light, but the magic and the tendrils. The stuff Harlan calls fuzzies’. She knows magic and seems quite adept at it. She’s quiet and reserved, but willing to help. She even taught me how to read brail. I then figured out how to write it. I plan on transcribing books into brail so she can read them. I don’t know much about her past but I intend to get to know her. I hope our paths travel along side each other for a long time.
Earlier I said I would try to describe the strange thing I saw. It looked to be very big. It had 4 legs, a set of wings and an eye. That’s it. It seemed to look right at me. It was a little unnerving. Later at the edge tower the Arch-Mage said people who can see it call it the guardian. That’s all we know about it.
This was the first chapter of how my life has shaken off the shackles of boredom. The monotony of life has faded and now I’m having fun.

Eye for an eye
You thought I'd say "tooth for a tooth" here? Shame on you.

Lydia nervously sat on a large log by herself with her head supported by her hands as she listened to all the sounds that came with a gathering around a bonfire. In light of her recent rise to the position of Oracle, Lydia had been chosen by the civilians of the Mercurial City around the lighthouse to be the guest of honor for the week-long Autumn festival that occurred during the week of the fall equinox; a three day celebration prior, a particularly large feast on the night of, and two more days of celebration after the matter.

Tonight marked the opening of the festivities on the edge of town near the tree orchard. Though the sun was still setting, the civilians were already busy with preemptive drinking and merry-making fun. The flames from the fire burned hot, and children danced about as they skirmished with sticks.

“Hey lady,” Lydia heard a young female voice that followed eager little footsteps through the grass. The child didn’t sound much older than seven or eight years of age.

“Hello,” Lydia looked up from her slumped position and smiled. She’d come to love the curiosity and energy that younger kids carried despite the fact that she herself hadn’t quite hit adult-hood.

“What happened to your eyes? They look weird,” the little girl comment without realizing how rude she was being.

“Oh. I uh,” Lydia scratched her head as she felt her face turn beet red. Mortified, she found herself at a loss for anything to say and unable to come up with an answer for the child. Without another word, Lydia stood and walked off as the beginnings of tears welled up in her eyes.

“Hey! What’s wrong,” the girl called out. Uncertain of what had happened, the young girl shrugged and skipped off to play with her friends. Lydia blindly wandered off as quickly as she could without tripping on the small inconsistencies of the dirt. She didn’t know where she was going, nor did she care. The girl she knew could find her way back so long as she didn’t wander so far off that the sounds of the festival disappeared.

It was then that Lydia rammed into a solid obstacle. She hadn’t been hit hard, but it had startled her badly enough that she fell backward onto her butt.

“Hey! Would watch where you’re-” the young male voice that had spoke so harshly paused before lightening up, “Oh, I’m terribly sorry, I didn’t realize. Let me help you up Oracle Lydia,”

“I’m fine,” Lydia stated bitterly as she wiped the tears from her eyes and simply sat cross-legged to try to preserve her now twice wounded pride.

“Are you alright Oracle?”

“Please, stop calling me that. It’s just Lydia. And no, you didn’t hurt me.”

“It’s just I wasn’t expecting someone to come marching out here while I was making a shot at a pheasant. So I guess I got a little upset when your impeccable timing caused me to miss the mark.” The young man paused as he realized Lydia was uninterested in his explanation. “Uh, my name is Markus. Good to meet you.” Lydia remained silent with her head turned away in hopes that Markus would miss her sniffling. “So, is something wrong? I mean I’m not mad at you or anything.”

“I know, I just need to be left alone right now. I don’t want to talk to anyone,” Lydia managed to keep a respectful tone despite the maelstrom of anger and embarrassment that flooded her mind.

“It sounds to me like you should talk to someone then,” Markus chuckled. Lydia could hear the young man sit down next to her before laying his arm across her shoulder. “If it’ll make you feel better I’m all ears.” Lydia shrank when met with the unexpected physical contact. She didn’t know him, but his flesh was warm and admirably firm.

“It’s really stupid, I just need time,” Lydia replied. Markus remained silent to prompt the girl to continue speaking. When the girl realized he wasn’t going to back down, she decided it was impossible to make more a fool of herself than she already had. “My father and I were very close when I was younger. That was before… well it was before a lot of stuff I’d rather not talk about. We always went to the docks to work. I could only help for a while before I got tired or bored and went off to play,” Lydia leaned toward Markus almost subconsciously as she began to grow more comfortable. She couldn’t explain why she’d decided to display such affection toward someone she’d only just met under such humiliating circumstances. “At the end of the long twelve hour days I was always exhausted. He’d carry me home in his arms, stare into my eyes and tell me how much I looked like my mother. How I had the same beautiful deep brown eyes that he fell in love with.”

“That sounds wonderful,” Markus commented after Lydia had gone quiet. “So what’s wrong then?”

“It was just some dumb kid telling me how ugly my eyes look now, after I was shrouded. I know its silly, I shouldn’t have taken a thoughtless comment from a child so personally. It just hurt to have one of my fondest memories assaulted,”

“I understand,” Markus assured her. Lydia took a deep breath while her new companion waited to see if she had anything else to say on the matter.

“I’m going to go back to the festival. It was rude of me to run off in the first place being the guest of honor and all. I guess if you want you can go after that pheasant.”

“I’ll come with you, if you don’t mind. It’ll be long gone by now anyway.” Markus stood and assisted Lydia to her feet.

“Thanks. I don’t make a habit of spilling my issues all over the place, I’m sorry,” Lydia apologized as she followed Markus toward the sound of the per-festivities.

“I asked, and you spoke. Don’t worry about it.” Markus sat Lydia down on the same log she’d been sitting on only a while back.

“Are we friends now? I don’t meet new people very often. I mean, I see new people all the time, but I don’t really meet them. Well obviously I don’t really see them because I’m blind. And you knew that,” Lydia rambled nervously.

“Yes, we’re friends,” Markus chuckled. “It’s okay to relax. We’re here to have fun, remember, not make public impressions.”

“Yeah,” she forced a laugh as her face once again grew warm with embarrassment. “So what do you do,” Lydia asked to force the subject matter away from her own idiocy.

“I’m a hunter by trade. I helped catch the boar for the Autumn Festival this year. I’m still learning from the veterans who’ve been at it for twenty years, but I like to think I’m a fair shot,” Markus explained. “What about you? I mean, what do you even do as an Oracle?”

“A lot. But mostly I sit on the base level and try to offer wisdom to those who seek it.”

“That sounds difficult.”

“It is. A lot of people don’t realize how much weight they’re putting on my shoulders. I don’t have all the answers.” Lydia paused for a moment as she thought on her words. “I don’t have any answers. I can’t actually help most people who come to me. I’m still not sure what to do about that.”

“You are the eyes and ears of the temple, aren’t you?”

“So they say.” She wasn’t entirely sure where Markus was taking the conversation.

“So go out and live. Get into trouble and get your hands dirty.”

“I don’t know, I would have loved that idea when I was younger. I’d be too scared to ever leave the city now,” Lydia admitted.

“Well, you won’t learn anything from staying cooped up in one spot. If you want to give advice on how to live, you need to live first.” The girl nodded as she realized there was truth to his words.

“Maybe you’re right.” Before she could continue any further, she was interrupted by the voice of the Mayor as he took command of everyone’s attention in front of the bonfire.

“Ladies and gentlemen! This year has been good to all of us. The fields have thrived and the cattle are fat. I did not do this alone but it is you, the citizens of the Mercurial City, that have allowed us to thrive and reap what we’ve all worked so hard to sow. But enough of this. I won’t bore you all with a long speech,” the mayor smiled and the crowd gave a hushed chuckle. “Tonight, let us start by formally introducing our Guest of Honor, Oracle Lydia!” As the citizens cheered and applauded, Markus pulled her up by the hand. “Lydia, front and center, if you would,” the mayor managed to say over the crowd.

Lydia followed Markus as he guided her to the mayor in front of the blazing fire. The older man took her hand and kissed it softly to signify he was honored by her presence.

“Do you have anything to say to the citizens of the Mercurial City?” The people went quiet at the mayor’s signal to allow her to speak.

“Um, thank you,” she managed to say under the unexpected spotlight. “Oracle Jannice was an amazing woman. It was hard to see her go only five short weeks ago. But I hope that I can follow in her steps despite her early departure from this life.” Lydia gave a quick bow and the citizens cheered once more as the sound of mugs colliding rang from every direction.

“So, Lydia, are you ready to start the Autumn Festival,” the Mayor asked. Lydia nodded quickly. She had already had more than her share of publicity for the week. “As our Guest of Honor, you have the privilege of delivering the killing blow to the biggest boar that our hunters caught over the course of the day.”

“What?” Lydia was startled. She had no desire to deliver a killing blow to anything. She felt the mayor hand her a wooden bow with one arrow. “I’ve never fired a bow before, shouldn’t we let someone else do it?”

“Nonsense,” Markus piped up. She hadn’t realized he was still standing at her side. “I’ll help you make the shot.”

“O-okay,” she hesitantly agreed after her only real excuse had been shot down. The mayor and Markus both guided Lydia to her position as several men carried a sedated boar that had been tied down to a custom made wooden table before setting it in front of her approximately 10 meters away. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”

“It’ll be fantastic,” Markus assured as he guided her bow arm toward the boar and helped her nock the arrow on the bow-string. The taller young man pressed his chest against Lydia’s back and rested his head next to hers. The excited crowd fell to a low chatter as everyone waited for the big moment. “Now pull it back,” he instructed with a whisper in her ear. Lydia pulled on the arrow as her arm trembled under the tension of the bow. After he realized she was straining, he held onto her wrist firmly to take hold of some of the pressure. “Now aim right there,” he adjusted the aim of the bow toward the heart of the boar, “and hold it steady.”

“I can’t concentrate with you breathing in my ear like that,” Lydia hissed quietly. The young man briefly massaged her shoulder before bringing his hand down Lydia’s side and onto her abdomen as he gently embraced her.

“Take the shot,” Markus smiled as he whispered heavily into her ear. Lydia blinked rapidly to focus on the shot and avoid melting in Markus’ arms.

The arrow flew straight as Lydia released her grip and the metal tip buried itself into the flesh of the boar. The pig gave a grunt, still alive, but it’s mind was too clouded with magic to care or respond to the damage done.

Meanwhile, Lydia felt a cold sensation in her side while her legs buckled and caused her to fall weakly to her knees. Quickly the numbing cold transitioned into searing hot pain that made it impossible to breathe, Lydia felt her side to discover an uncomfortable abundance of blood flowing from a wound that seemed to come from no where.

“What’s wrong,” Markus asked, suspecting the girl had become nauseous at the thought of killing the boar.

“I’m bleeding,” she strained between labored breaths. “Help me, I can’t breathe!” Lydia coughed violently and the unpleasant taste of iron filled her mouth as blood dripped onto her chest and on the grass beneath her. Panic ensued in the crowd, but the cries of the citizens quickly grew distant.

“Lydia,” Markus called to her urgently. The young man’s voice was only barely audible, and it was the last thing Lydia heard before slipping into unconsciousness.



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