Anima: The Masquerade

The Desert

I walked into the desert a year ago. I was younger then. I was a man then. Now I just am.
When I walked in, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I only knew that by the end I would forget myself, and the pain and suffering I would endure would be immense. I walked in without food, without water. I left everything behind. Everything but my goal: To create peace.
My objective has little to do with this narrative, however. When I walked in, I had to survive on as little as possible. Between the occasional sand storms, the ever shifting mirages of the desert, and the wretched creatures that lived there, my journey was fraught with peril. I had to learn the constellations. Each night I would try to memorize the faces of the stars.
One fateful day, I was attacked by a worm the size of a horse. I made quick work of it, and did my best to live off of its flesh for a short time. The taste was bitter, and awful, but that didn’t matter. The few bites would keep me sustained for the day. I continued traveling in the dry heat, but before I knew it the worm was there, crawling beside me. I turned to it and asked it why it was there with me.
It said “I am not with you.”
I couldn’t understand what that meant, but somehow I knew what it had told me was the truth.
“If you are not with me, then where are you?” I asked it.
“I am everywhere. Just like you.” It said. Then it vanished, and I sat down to meditate on what the worm had said.
Looking back, I think that the encounter with the worm was a hallucination. But, as with all hallucinations, the pieces of the illusion are still a part of the mind. There was wisdom in what the worm had told me.
With the fight against Omega so far in the distance, I couldn’t apply it at the time. Now that my journey is nearly over, however, it makes a little more sense. Omega exists with only one purpose: To destroy. If we are to succeed against Omega, we have to understand that we are saving everything. Even the villains and evils that exist in the world. They are merely a part of us made manifest in the great cosmos.
When the worm’s mother showed up, I told it I understood what it’s son had said and I asked it to impart me with more wisdom.
The giant worm tried to eat me.
It took me months to conquer it. Each encounter nearly destroyed me until I came to an understanding. After I had brought the giant down and laid it to rest in the wavering sands I continued on my journey. As I walked, the mother worm crawled beside me. I turned to ask it why it was there with me.
It said “I am not with you.”
I nodded in agreement.
Then it said “You have indigestion.”
I looked at it, perplexed. “What?”
“You shouldn’t have eaten that giant worm. What are you, insane? You can’t just eat the carcasses of everything you kill! That thing could be poisonous!”
I was about to ask it what wisdom could be found in those words, but I passed out.
When I awoke I was surrounded by a field of daffodils.
I think the heat is starting to get to me.

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Mappo clears the crystal forest
as it cleans itself

So after learning what the masked people were planning and talking them into seeing our way. Mappo thanked Harlan and his dad for the place to stay while he was in town. He also went and thanked Kaylee and her father for the use of the forge and station. He then left the big city behind and went back to what he knew to train the hardest he could while time allowed. That meant going back to the Crystal Forest and the The Rangers.
When Mappo got to the first base of operations he told the rangers that he was here to stay as long as he could to train and clear the forest. They accepted him happily with the forest retreating they needed help to keep track of things and stop things from getting out into the rest of the world.
Most of Mappo’s time was spent in the training yard becoming proficient with more weapons because as he heard the omegas weapon had to kill him and who knows what that monster uses. He learned all weapon types. Doing this let him get at home in his armor it was nothing to him anymore.
When not at the bases he was clearing the forest of the crystal golems and creations. as the lands slowly returned back to the original state so did some of the people and things crystallized. This was fun to find and get them on the way home.
Lastly when he got the message from his friends he said that if he was still around that he would come back. This was the last we heard from him. If he does come back to us then he will have a spot in our halls for all time. He has been one of the best i have seen in my lifetime.
Lord Ranger Agagonor

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Into The Flames of Tribulation: Karma is a Bitch

One week after “Through the Glass”

Garret Rodrigo sat in the usual spot in the corner of his favorite bar. It had been his meeting place to discuss matters with Captain Forde for years now. In the time since Garret had become Forde’s First Mate, the man had never been so hideously late before. It had already been nearly an hour since the decided meeting time.

Perhaps Forde had forgotten? He was getting to be an older fellow after all. Despite that, The Captain had never done anything to show that his sharp wits were growing dull.

“Another ale for you, Mr. Rodrigo?” The nearby wench who’d made the inquiry was wiping down what had previously been an occupied table.

“Of course, thank you.” The man sipped the last of his current pint as he continued to try to decide what had gone wrong. It wasn’t long before Garret was distracted by a scratching sound that appeared to be coming from something nearby. The man looked around, trying to pinpoint the location of the soft, erratic noise.

Checking under the table, Garret saw a small gray mouse scratching at his boot. He frowned before quickly raising his and foot stomping on the little rodent with considerable force. Garret smiled when he heard the bones crack and raised his boot to see how much of a mess he’d made. The lower half of it’s body had been left in ruin, leaving the pathetic thing to simply quiver in anguish and shock.

Garret scoffed in disgust and kicked the mouse a couple of feet away where it would pose no more threat to his boots. “Oi,” the man called out to the woman who’d gone behind the counter to pour some more alcohol, “seems as though you’ve got a bit of a mouse problem.”

“Welcome to the Star Islands,” she chuckled jokingly. “About all we can do is take precautions to keep them out of the food.”

“You haven’t seen Captain Forde today, have you,” Garret asked after giving it some thought. “Perhaps I missed him?”

“Not today, sugar. You’re the only other regular who’d come in this early in the day.” Garret sighed and slouched in his seat. He hated waiting, especially when it was unnecessary. The woman brought the second pint of Ale over to the table and took away the empty mug. “Enjoy the drink, Mr. Rodrigo.”

“You know I will. I’ve got to have something to pass the time.”


The morning after “Through the Glass”

Lydia awoke feeling heavy and sluggish. Her splitting headache reminded her that she’d lost a lot of blood in her failed attempt to retrieve the Mercurial Eye. Sleep had been scarce due to the constant pain around her severed limb, leaving Lydia only one to two hours of sleep during the night. The crew was too lively and noisy to do anything more than wish for more rest.

After a having the wound cauterized and dressed, Lydia had been thrown into the brig. There seemed to be a single crew-member standing guard as occasionally the varying sounds of a dead bored soul came from just outside the barred cell. Chatter between crew mates had revealed that the vessel had indeed arrived at the Star Islands. If there was ever a time to make an escape, it would have to be soon.

Lydia figured that whoever was ready to purchase someone with the kick that someone like herself carried would have their security measures set to a far higher standard than those on the ship. While docked, Lydia also had the advantage of having an entire ocean to disappear into if for whatever reason she didn’t have the time to gather the zeon for teleportation.

Slowly easing up into a sitting position against the cell wall, Lydia began to contemplate how to escape from the cell. Even if she was able to slip outside of the cell, getting off the boat and away from the docks would be improbable under normal circumstances. To add to the list of unfavorable circumstances, missing her dominant arm and suffering from anemia would work together to put the nail in the coffin; the basic idea of escaping through conventional means seemed impossible.

Lydia would need to remove the collar, she decided. Getting off a boat would be child’s play after the suppressive effects of the leather band were no longer in effect; “How” was the next question. With only a few moments of thought, Lydia’s mind quickly provided her with a solution.

The crewman just outside of her cell would be her best asset for removing the collar. It would simply have to be without the man realizing what was happening. Quickly coming up with a plan of action, Lydia crawled toward the door of the cell and knelt down with her face poking out slightly in between the metal bars.

“Life seems so unfair, doesn’t it?” Lydia spoke out to the man after building up the courage to proceed. There was no room for failure in her plan.

“Don’t come complaining to me about it,” he scoffed as he sat down on a creaky wooden stool.

“It was pitying you, actually. I’m sure you’ve heard how much the captain intends to sell me for?”

“The boss says he can get six hundred thousand gold crowns for you, probably more.”

“And how much is the captain paying you? Probably not even one percent,” Lydia dangled the idea over the man’s head with a subtlety taunting tone.

“What am I going to do about it anyway? It’s the Captain’s call what to do with the gold, not mine. People learn that real quick on this boat.”

“Well, you seem to be a smart fellow.”

“Watch it lady, I think you’ve got something brown on your face,” the man chuckled.

“But I’m not wrong, am I? You must realize why someone like myself would sell for so much as well?”

“Well you’re not the first mage we’ve captured, but the Captain says you’re the strongest one we’ve ever had our hands on.”

“So tell me, how did your captain get his position on the ship,” Lydia asked. Asking questions to help someone create their own answer to a problem had been a simple social technique that Anna had taught Lydia several years ago.

“He outsmarted the old captain. Robbed him blind, took the ship for himself, and left the old Captain to die on an island. I wasn’t there, but I’ve heard the story more times than I can count,” he explained. Lydia pulled away from the bars and sat in a relaxed position.

“Yet here we are, sitting idly and making small talk.”

“So?”

“So the only thing keeping you from ascending straight to the top like your captain did is the key to this collar.”

“And why would I help you?”

“I think deep down inside, you know the answer. I can give you anything you want. Gold, women, or anything else you can think up. I’m worth six hundred thousand gold crowns for a reason, you know. All you have to do is earn my gratitude by removing this collar.”

“Why should I believe you?” The man sounded suspicious, but it was clear he hadn’t made up his mind just yet.

“Where’s an injured little blind girl going to run to after lying to her captor? I’ve lost so much blood I can hardly stand. Clearly, my freedom is entirely in your hands. and I can’t go anywhere until you’re satisfied.” The man was quiet as he thought the situation over carefully. Lydia was counting on the man’s greed to bait him into agreeing to her terms and did her best to keep an honest looking, confident face.

“Fine,” the man finally spoke, "but not one foot outside that cell until you’ve given me everything I ask for.

“Not even a toe,” Lydia agreed. The wooden stool creaked as the crewman stood and walked over to Lydia’s cell. He eagerly sorted through the ring of keys and opened up the door, quickly closing it behind him. Lydia’s heart began to race as he gently pushed her head forward to reach for the small padlock that kept the collar tightly bound around her neck. With a metallic clicking sound, the lock fell to the ground.

“So what first,” the man cackled like a child taking an entire pie for himself. “Gold. Show me what you can do first and get me some crowns.” Lydia did as she was told, raising her arm slowly with her fist clenched. With a dramatic touch, the girl slowly opened her fingers and gold coins spilled onto the floor. It was fortunate that the man had no idea those coins would turn to ash the moment she stopped feeding it with her energy. “Brilliant! Give me more! I’ve been living on biscuits for too long. I want a feast fit for a king!”

Lydia stretched her hand toward the other side of the cell door. Building blocks of white energy poured from her body and flowed together to create a table loaded with the finest food imaginable. Almost immediately, the pleasant smell of roasted boar and fresh breads took hold of the room.

“And a lady,” the man continued on his rampage to fill each of his desires one by one," a nice sexy lady with elegant round curves! I’m gonna get busy while I eat!" Lydia with-held her negative reaction to the man’s lack of good taste, instead playing it cool and proceeding with her next spell. The man had completely lowered his guard, and she’d decided it was time to go.

“As you wish,” Lydia nodded obediently. The girl conjured her inner power, causing it to erupt fourth and swirl around her. In an instant, light consumed the room and Lydia dissipated into thin air along with the illumination. The man looked around in loss and confusion. As he realized what had happened, the room suddenly seemed dimmer than it had even before the girl had cast her first spell. There was no woman, and both the gold and the food were now gone.

“God damn it.”

Back in the Mercurial Lighthouse, Lydia appeared in her chambers with a flash. She took a deep breath and released it slowly as if to expel the pain and anxiety which had built up during her capture; it was finally over, but there was still much to be done.

First on her list of priorities was to take care of herself. Lydia carefully removed the bandage that hugged her ribs and covered her severed arm, poking at the festering wound. Even the slightest disturbance made her want to cry out in agony. Without waiting another moment, Lydia charged up her inner zeon pool and restored her body to its prime physical condition. She tested her new arm out, moving it around and squeezing it with a pleased smile; it was nice to have her good arm back again.

With all of the bodily ailments she’d stack up over the last few days now gone, it was far easier to think clearly. Lydia’s first thought was that despite her good health, she was still in dire need of a bath. She quickly walked to the bathing room of her quarters and held her hand over the tub. A clean, cylindrical stream of water spewed rapidly from her palm and quickly filled the large wooden oriental-style bath built into the floor. With another spell, Lydia dipped her hand into the water and adjusted the temperature to her liking.

The girl smiled with satisfaction before stripping her clothes off and slowly slipping into the hot water and melting into a slouched position that left only her eyes and nose above the surface. As the minutes passed, Lydia simply absorbed the pleasure of comfort before wandering into thinking about the future at her own pace.

The fact was that Captain Forde still had the Mercurial Eye. A part of her wanted to be done with the entire matter and let the man have his trinket. However, the object was far too precious to simply give up and Lydia wasn’t going to let it go without a fight.

For now, Lydia decided that she remained in desperate need of adequate sleep. Restoring her arm and putting on the display for the crew-man that had accidentally set her free had been costly. If she was going to confront Captain Forde, she would need all of her strength. After resting, Lydia planned to go back to the Star Islands and track Forde down by whatever means necessary.


Six days later

Captain Forde knocked on the rickety wooden door of the worn down building behind the market. He was still bitter about the loss of his fortune and had no intention of giving it up by any means. Rumor had it that the person who lived here could help him solve his problem.

“What do you want,” a female voice called from behind the door.

“I’m looking for Natalia Jennings. A friend of mine says you can help me find someone,” Forde spoke with his head close to the door. He wasn’t keen on shouting his business for all to hear if he could help it. The door popped open a crack to reveal a petite brown-skinned woman who appeared to be in her early thirties. Her head was shrouded in a humble hood, making it difficult to perceive all of her features.

“And what if I can?”

“Well, I am a wealthy man, Ms. Jennings. Perhaps this will suffice?” Forde pulled a large bag of gold crowns from his pocket and and dangled it in front of the woman’s eyes for her to see. The woman suspiciously eyed the bag for a moment before looking Forde straight in the eyes and nodding. The man stepped over the threshold as the door opened to see a humble, but quite cozy, living quarters.

With a gesture, Natalia invited Forde to sit down on the large couch. The woman sat across from a small coffee table in her own chair as the man took his seat.

“Who is this person you seek? Do you have a name?”

“Just the name Lydia.”

“I’m going to need more than that if you want me to track someone down.”

“Female, light brown hair, and clouded eyes. She’d blind, but extremely potent.”

“Then you speak of one of the Oracles of the towers?” Natalia grew curious as to why someone would be seeking on out, but decided to mind her own business as she always did for her clients.

“If that’s what you want to call her. Can you find the girl?”

""The gold first." Forde nodded and handed Natalia her payment. “This had better be worth it.”

“There’s no need for worry; I am an honorable woman. I am keeping the gold safe, but it is not mine until your target is located.”

“Fair enough,” Forde agreed. “How do you plan to find this person?”

“With the element of light. I too am skilled with magic. It can reveal many things, including the location of this person.”

“Shall we get started then?” Natalia nodded and closed her eyes to concentrate. A teal colored aura extended from the woman’s body as the room began to shimmer and shake slightly. It was clear to Captain Forde that whatever spell this was had a lot of kick to it. He’d seen many spells cast in his time, but only the big ones affected reality before they’d been cast.

Suddenly, Natalia opened her eyes and a flash of light seemed to burst from within, lighting up her skull through her flesh. The luminescence glowing strongly for several seconds before flickered and fading away.

“Well, what did you see,” inquired the man, leaning forward in his seat with eagerness.

“She’s not far. It seems she’s taken refuge in the old abandoned granary. I saw her asleep, huddled in the corner.”

“Thank you,” Forde eagerly stood from his chair. “If you’ll excuse me, I haven’t a moment to lose.”

“Of course,” she nodded. Without another word, the man rushed out the door without even bothering to close it behind him. He pushed past groups of shoppers through the market, knocking over goods and leaving a trail of angry customers as he sprinted as quickly as possible to his destination. Having been long out of shape, it wasn’t long before the captain dropped to a jog, huffing as he continued on. All the while he prayed to himself that the girl had not moved from her spot.

Finally Forde arrived at the granary. The building was practically falling apart under the ocean weather and likely did little to protect anyone inside from the elements. The man drew his sword and carefully opened the large wooden double doors. There was little he could do about the heavy creaking sound as the hinges rotated.

He quickly cleared the first room before moving down a short hallway to the storage area. There, he smiled to himself as he spotted a figure huddled up in the corner under a ragged blanket, just as he’d been told she would. Quietly, Forde crept over to the blanket before yanking it off and pointing his blade at what he assumed would be the girl he was looking for.

“Got you!” The man shouted before realizing there was nothing more than a couple of old pillows placed cleverly underneath the cloth. Forde rubbed his chin in confusion, trying to imagine how she could have known to set a decoy.

“Looking for someone, Captain Forde?” The man turned to see Lydia step out of the shadows. The girl’s arm had been restored, nor did she show any indication that she’d been lost in the city as he’d thought.

“You think you’re clever, huh? You haven’t changed the outcome of this meeting,” Forde scoffed.

“I am quite clever, Captain Forde. It took me days to track you down and isolate you under my terms. After I found you, it was only a matter of time until I found your chain of informants.”

“So it was you who led me to Natalia?”

“You catch on quickly. Now here we are like a cat with a mouse in its paws.”

“I’ll show you who the mouse is,” the man announced confidently. “I’m going to hack that arm right off of you again and drag you back to my boat covered in blood!” As he lunged forward with his blade, Forde’s sword came to a dead halt against Lydia’s shoulder instead of piercing her flesh.

“You can’t cut me, Captain,” Lydia informed the man as she touched his sword with her finger tips. As if responding to her will, the metal blade liquified into mercury and compressed itself into a neat lustrous sphere before solidifying once more and plopping to the ground with a loud ringing sound. Forde stared at his empty hilt in awe, suddenly realizing he’d picked the wrong fight. He’d been outsmarted, and overpowered.

“I’ll give you anything,” Forde begged as he look back to the girl who stood calmly before him. “Don’t kill me!”

“Oh, I’m not going to kill you Mr. Forde,” Lydia outstretched her hand and lifted the man into the air with an unseen telekinetic force. With a quick motion, she forcefully slammed the man into the wall behind her and brought her eyes in front of Forde’s for him to see. “No, I have much better things in mind for you. How many people did you sell into slavery? How many souls did you leave feeling desperate, helpless, and small so you could be rich and comfortable?” Lydia hooked her finger into the small chain around Forde’s neck, retrieving the bright violet gem which had been the entire reason for her return to the Star Islands.

“I didn’t count! Just don’t hurt me!”

“You are going to meet the same fate, Captain Forde.” Without giving the man a chance to say anything else, Lydia poked Forde’s forehead. His figure warped, shifted, and compressed, leaving behind a small gray mouse in his stead. She gently lowered the rodent to the ground and released it from her supernatural grip. “Enjoy the rest of your small, helpless little life, Mr. Forde.” Lydia turned and exited the granary as the confused little rodent looked at its vast and expansive surroundings.

Forde felt his heart thumping in his chest. Was this permanent? What could he possibly do now? He didn’t have any idea how to be a mouse. Where would he get food? How would he survive among so many dangers and predators? It was then that Forde had a brilliant idea. He began to scurry off toward the tavern. It would be a long walk, but he’d promised his first mate he would meet him there! All he had to do was get him to realize what had happened, and they would figure the rest out afterward. Medicine, a mage, he didn’t care what it took to make him human again.


It was nearly midnight, and the last of the evening crowd was wandering out of the tavern. Garret Rodrigo remained in his seat with a small stack of empty mugs on his table. He wondered on and off what might have happened to the captain to cause him to miss the appointment completely. Whatever it was, Garret expected to hear one hell of an excuse when he saw him again.

“Oi, miss,” Garret called out to the woman cleaning off the bar, “Take my coin, I’ve got to be going. I don’t think good old Captain Forde is going to be making his way over here.” Garret stood from his seat and approached the counter top before setting down a small bag of gold.

“I’m sorry you were disappointed,” apologized the woman with a look of genuine sympathy.

“Disappointed, yes. But not in your service ma’am, you can bet I’ll be back eventually.”

“Have a good one.” Garret left the tavern and closed the door behind him. It was off to the ship, he supposed. The Captain had to turn up sooner or later.

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Letter to Lydia
Mappo

Dear Lydia
I need to tell you something. After this latest bout with death i came to a realization. I have a feeling that this battle with the masked men ,and i mean all that remain against us, will take all that we have to offer. In that sense i am writing this letter to give you permission to bring me back from all manner of harm including death while we have them or their monster to fight. After we have finished with them though i wish that if i have died in that final battle to be left dead. Pleas bury my body properly if you can next to my wife in eternia and turn my armor and weapon into my tombstone if possible. This is as close to a will i get and i leave this to you lydia because of all the people i know you will still be there at that time. All my money give it to the crystal forest rangers , minus your cut for my burial and the tombstone. This i give you this in letter form so you can show the letter to the others when the time comes. If you others are reading this thank you for all the good memories. Lydia thank you most of all for carrying out this as i know it goes against everything in your being but please let me be.

Sincerly Mappo Orlong
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Into The Flames of Tribulation: Through the Glass
Part II

The following events occur 2 days after “Into The Flames of Tribulation Part I”


Lydia drifted slowly into consciousness and raised her arms to stretch her shoulders. Today was the second day she’d woken up feeling completely exhausted. Yesterday morning had brought fair business by the fountain in the square. Having been forced to leave several hours early, Lydia suspected she’d either over-exerted herself, or had stumbled upon a zeon imbalance; too little zeon regenerating to supply all of her active spells to gross any excess energy to fill her reservoirs. Such things tended to sort themselves out naturally as spells draining too much energy automatically faded away without the necessary fuel to sustain them.

Despite her general lack of energy, she remained determined to make any sort of progress in her training. After all, a little studying at the library would be a relaxing adventure for a change as opposed to slaving away in town and hoping for donations.

First on the list was a hearty breakfast to help with recovery and a nice warm bath to soothe the knots in her back that naturally followed sitting on the fountain edge with no support. When finished, she dried herself with a thick and fluffy towel before getting dressed in casual attire.

For finishing touches, Lydia pulled back her long hair in the same bun with which she was familiar and held it in place with a band and some chopsticks. Supposedly, according to both George and Markus, the look suited her quite well. Finally, Lydia felt for the bracelet on her nightstand by her bed and slipped it on her wrist.

She was fairly certain that she’d never meet the man who’d given it to her again, but the much needed compliment on her eyes had made the accessory precious to her. It had occurred to Lydia that the entire matter was likely nothing more than flattery, but there was a lot of comfort in compliments with no way to judge her appearance herself.

With everything in order, Lydia felt as prepared as possible to head outside and make her way to the library for some learning and mental exercises. Making her way slowly to the door to her chambers, she counted her paces carefully with her hands out in front of her until she reached the door.

The guardsman outside stood with a clinking sound as bits of his armor shifted while he stood.

“Good morning to you, your Holiness.”

“I really wish you wouldn’t call me that,” she replied bitterly. Lydia absolutely despised her new escort. He’d been around for some time now, and she didn’t even know his name. After hearing no reply in her brief pause, she closed her door and continued speaking. “I’m going to the library, I imagine I’ll be out late.”

“I will escort you, your Grace.”

“Leave me well enough alone, please. I know the way just fine, thank you,” Lydia stated forcefully as she tried to ignore the second unwanted title that had been thrown at her by the guardsman. Without allowing any chance for argument, the girl strode off down the hall and carefully made her way down the stairs. Of course, he wasn’t about to argue.

The man had once before attempted to do his duty and follow Lydia despite her protests. He recalled as the girl slowly turned to face him and the halls began to shake under her fury. Foolishly he tried to stand his ground and remain unwilling to be intimidated. The man immediately regretted his decision as she yelled something about no one being able to replace “George” and froze everything in the hallway solid with a thick sheet of ice, including the poor guard himself before storming off.

Hell hath no fury indeed.

Today was going to be a good day for Lydia, and she wasn’t going to let anyone, even one of her personal escorts, get in the way. As she said she would, the girl found the library with enough ease by means of distinctive land marks. Using the sound of the docks, or the trickling of the fountain in the city square, combined with counting the rough number of paces needed to reach each one, it was only ten minutes or so before Lydia arrived at the steps of the library. She knew each one by heart, having walked up and down their worn surface countless times.

The interior of the building was quite comfortable. It was practically the perfect temperature and almost quiet enough to be haunted. Only the occasional sound of footsteps and polite whispers made their way through the silent atmosphere.

This was indeed going to be a good day.


With a yawn, Lydia walked down the steps of the library and thanked the man who’d willingly stayed behind several hours late to lock up after she’d finally left. Her eyes were heavy with somnolence and her brain practically begged for sleep to allow proper processing of all the new information obtained.

“Just a while longer,” she told herself and ignored the urge to curl up on the steps and simply sleep outside.

The city was fast asleep as she wanted to be, with barely anything but the sound of her own footsteps and the faint breeze to let her know that she was still conscious. Lydia’s feet practically dragged, and her head was slumped forward as she slowly made her way back home.

As the girl crossed a long alleyway, the scuff of a boot behind her caused Lydia to perk up into attentiveness. She stood still for several moments listening for any further sounds that might indicate the presence of another living thing. There seemed to be nothing.

“Hello,” Lydia called out, “is someone there?” With no reply, and nothing further to go on, she warily pressed forward. Telling herself there was nothing to worry about and hurrying home was the only real option. Perhaps the escort would have been a fair option after all.

A strange mechanical “clunk” sound preceded a sharp and painful thud in Lydia’s lower neck. She staggered forward under the unexpected attack and reach up with her hand to feel the wound. There was now a thin wooden shaft lodged in her flesh. Gritting her teeth, she yanked it out to inspect the object. It seemed to be some form of projectile from a small hand-sized crossbow.

“Hello,” she called again as she slowly backed away from the approximate direction of the attack. Her voice betrayed her emotions by faltering under the fear and uncertainty that threatened to send her thoughts spiraling into chaos and panic. The alleged assassin didn’t seem terribly interested in coming out to meet her despite missing a killing blow.

Poison.

Lydia’s eyes widened at the realization. It was the only explanation for using such a small projectile clearly not admired for its stand-alone killing power. Her attacker would simply let the venom run its course rather than directly confronting her.

“Anyone? Somebody help me,” she cried out as loudly as possible. Her desperate words echoed uselessly in the dead of the night. Lydia found a wall with her fingers and followed it as quickly as possible without being reckless. Running wouldn’t do any good if she knocked herself out cold sprinting face first into brick.

A sudden surge of dizziness sent Lydia stumbling to her knees. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest as her breaths became increasingly short. It seemed impossible that she would be attacked when her magical defenses were so unusually weak. No, this had to be a coordinated assault. But why?

That, Lydia quickly decided, was something to think about later. Refusing to give up, she pushed herself to her feet and entered a dead run. The important thing now was to find the public eye before the poison could take her. Only moments later, Lydia fell once again, scraping her hands and knees on the brick tile. Moving was become difficult as a cold numbness spread through Lydia’s limbs and ate away at her consciousness.

As she could no longer stand, Lydia crawled forward on her stomach. There had to be someone close by who would see her; Lydia’s life depended on it. Finally, the sound of footsteps made themselves known again.

“Who are you? What do you want with me?” Her questions were met only with a harsh stomp from a boot on her back that ripped the wind from her lungs. Lydia coughed violently, trying to control herself to insist the man answer her inquiries. However, her body was reaching its limit, and Lydia soon faded into the restful grasp of the poison that flowed through her blood.


The air was stagnant and humid from Lydia’s breath. She’d woken up inside the cramped confines of what seemed to be a cargo crate. Banging on the walls with her fist and crying out for assistance hadn’t yielded any results. For the time being, Lydia had decided all she could do was wait patiently for the crate to be opened by her captor.

Whoever had taken her hadn’t left her with anything more than her pants and the flimsy undershirt that did little to protect her body from the cold. However, Lydia’s concern remained more with the priceless gemstone that she always kept around her neck on a small chain. There was no telling where it was now, or if it was even possible to retrieve it. Despite her desire to get it back, Lydia was well aware that her own safety had to come first. It was as good as lost if she was killed in the liberation process.

Along with her losses, Lydia had also involuntarily gained a thick leather collar around her neck to add to her list of possessions. She’d tried casting some of her most simple spells with the innate zeon in the air, but the cruel device injected a chaotic interference into her body that made keeping her grip on any accumulated zeon impossible. Not unlike trying to catch a swarm of flies in her bare hands, she was unable to gather more without losing the tiny bit already contained.

It was likely similar in function to the bracelet that in hindsight was an obvious trap. The dart and the poison would have been like firing a spit-wad at a brick wall if any of Lydia’s magic had been functioning properly. Without the ability hold onto her zeon reserves, all of her wards and protections quickly faded away in only a couple of days.

Suddenly, the door to the room that housed Lydia’s crate flung open, and footsteps followed. The man grunted and looked around momentarily before approaching the crate. The jingling of keys indicated that the crate would soon have its lid popped up open and Lydia instinctively curled up tightly and covered her head with her arms for fear of what was to come in her extremely vulnerable position.

Instead of a sharp blade, or any number of imaginable outcomes, a firm hand gripped Lydia’s bicep and yanked her out of the crate and onto her feet. She wanted a moment to stretch her back and knees which had now felt stiff after being confined for so many hours, but immediately the man forced her wrists together behind her back and pushed her forward.

“Where are we going,” Lydia asked timidly, uncertain if there would be an answer or retaliation for speaking out of turn.

“To see the captain,” the man replied without slowing down.

“The captain?” Lydia decided to risk pressing for more information as far as the man would allow.

“This is a cargo ship, girly. The captain wants to inspect the goods.” Lydia’s heart sank under the weight of his words. These men wanted her for her magic. It would still be nearly three months before any of her friends knew she was missing and the escort in the Temple of the Eleven would be far to used to Lydia disappearing for months at a time to make a report.

Fortunately, it was unlikely that she’d been selected at random for labor or prostitution given the effort they’d put into her capture if she had indeed been forced into slavery as was implied. Even still, Lydia was certain that enslaving mages was no longer a legal trade, and punishments for ignoring the law were dangerously steep. With a sigh, Lydia decided that more information was needed to truly understand what was happening.

The two arrived at the upper level where the sounds of deck hands working filled the open ocean air. Lydia shivered as the misty wind pierced her clothes and hoped that she’d either be given protection or brought below deck once again. Between the size of the crew in the area, and the time it took to cross the deck, it was easy to suspect that this was a vessel of considerable size. Lydia was pushed through yet another door into a warm and quiet room. The atmosphere was still and unsettling, with only the sound of a nearby clock to break the silence.

“Kneel,” the man spoke harshly, “or I’ll make you.” Lydia did as she was told without hesitation. It was unlikely that force or defiance would accomplish much here. However, she figured, perhaps diplomacy would prove to be a valuable asset.

“You may leave us,” spoke a new and unfamiliar voice just ahead of Lydia, who now figured herself to be in the captain’s cabin. Without a word the man did so and the door to the cabin slammed shut. Lydia bowed her head humbly and remained silent.

“The name is Captain Forde. Welcome aboard my ship. What’s your name, little lady?” Forde stood from his chair and walked around his desk to stand in front of the girl.

“Lydia.” She had a flood of questions for the captain, but was unwilling to push her luck for this man as she had the one before.

“And do you know why you’re here?”

“Not with certainty, Sir.”

“Sir? My, my, you are quite sophisticated, aren’t you?” Lydia held her tongue and continued to wait for the proper moment to discuss her release. “But I think you do know, don’t you? You’d just rather not believe it. People such as yourself who possess ‘the gift’ are quite rare these days. Those who do tend to linger publicly don’t quite have the potency as someone like yourself.”

“So what exactly is it that you want from me?”

“I’m not stupid enough to keep you around long enough to let you rip my vessel’s hull to shreds and wipe out my crew. However, there are plenty of clients out and about who would pay tens of thousands of gold for a chance to control a pretty lass with so much talent,” Forde explained.

“Pardon me, but I thought the enslaving of mages was outlawed,” Lydia countered. “You’ll be hanged when the Eternia Navy hears what you’re doing.”

“Will I, now,” Forde chuckled. “I’ve been running this gig for twenty years. I can sell whatever I want at the Star Islands, honey. There sure as hell aren’t any anti-slavery laws over there. You see, as far as Eternia is concerned, I’m just a legitimate businessman trying to make some honest gold.”

“Then nothing I say can make you set me free. Perhaps you’ll take my final request, then?”

“I’ll hear it. I don’t make promises to anybody.”

“I had a gemstone around my neck. It is more valuable than my life and must be returned to the Mercurial Lighthouse.”

“What, this little old thing,” Forde asked as he pulled the gem from his pocket and began to swing it around on it’s chain. Lydia could clearly see the familiar aura emitting from the object. “This can’t be worth more than a few hundred gold.”

“Please, my request is imperative. If I’m going away, then they will need it back. If for nothing else, do it for my honor.”

“Your honor? I left you with honor when I ordered my men to leave a shirt on your back and keep their hands off of your unconscious body. You’ve got what shred of honor you’re going to keep under my watch, little lady.” Forde set the trinket in his hand on the desk before standing up and walking over to the girl kneeling on the floor. “Well, I’m not going to sit here and let you beg if that’s where this is going. I’d hoped we could have some pleasant conversation over a couple of glasses of rum.”

“I’m not in any mood for a drink, thank you. If you won’t release me, then take me back to my crate to allow me some peace to think things over for my final days of freedom.”

“I didn’t have anything so generous in mind,” Forde chuckled as he yanked on the back of Lydia’s collar and forced her to her feet. “It’s like I said before, the kindness stops with the shirt on your back. If you don’t like it, I can arrange to have it removed.”

“The shirt is quite enough then, thank you,” Lydia forced herself to speak calmly and politely despite the flaming anger that burned inside, “I am grateful for your generosity.” It would have been easy to talk smart or spit in the captain’s face in the moment, but the humiliation of submission was of a far lesser magnitude than the consequences that would have followed if the captain decided he wanted to go through with his threats.

“That’s too bad,” Forde sighed with exaggerated disappointment as he led her back out to the main deck. “Garret,” he called out.

“Aye, Captain?” It seemed the man from before had been waiting just outside the door.

“Have one of the crew bring us two buckets of fresh water along with a rag.”

“Aye Captain. Trevor! You heard the man! Two buckets and a rag!” A faint reply of acknowledgment could be heard from across the deck.

“You intend to have a blind woman clean your deck,” Lydia asked as she turned her head toward the captain and raised an eyebrow.

“I don’t like idle hands,” Forde remarked to answer her question.

“I’m quite certain that I can take care of a deck with just the one bucket of water.” The sounds of sloshing water and footsteps quickly approaching soon ending with the clunk of the buckets on the wooden deck.

“As am I,” Forde assured her as he struggled to contain a laugh. An unexpected torrent of water poured over Lydia and caused her to gasp as she was instantly soaked from head to toe. Lydia pressed her thighs together and clung tightly with her arms to her chest shivered to fend off the cold. The ocean breeze, which had been chilly before, now felt unbearably frigid. As the crew laughed at the spectacle, Forde decided to make an ever larger scene by delivering a swift kick to Lydia’s butt that sent her staggering forward and face first on the deck. “This boat had better be spotless when I get back, or you can do it again while topless.”

With the slam of the captain’s door to signal he’d left, the crew cheered and whistled loudly. Lydia spent the next half hour scrubbing on her knees like a golem and ignoring the fusillade of harassment thrown by the crew before they’d finally grown bored of her unresponsiveness and left her be. Though the rest of her body dried and warmed up to a degree, her hands and forearms were numb and tingled painfully if she moved the joints too much.

The captain never did emerge from his cabin over the next several hours of labor, or if he did he hadn’t made a fuss about the quality of her work. Lydia was grateful as there was only so much she could do being blind and in an area she hadn’t had time to map out in her mind. By the end of the day, her shoulders and back ached with stiffness. The upper decks had quieted down a considerable amount as only the hands on deck dropped to its minimum functioning amount.

Long exhausted after working from morning to dusk, Lydia became curious if the captain had forgotten about her. She stood casually while continuing to swab the deck from a crouched position on her feet and slowly made her way towards the captain’s cabin to avoid any unwanted attention. When Lydia finally reached the door, she built the courage to stand upright and open the door to slip inside. After all, what were the crew members going to do? Throw her back in the crate like she’d asked for in the first place?

As quietly as possible, Lydia eased the door closed and turned to face the captain, expecting a scolding or some sort for abandoning her task. She cleared her throat and prepared to speak before being interrupted by a long, and deep sound. Captain Forde was… snoring? Lydia grinned at the opportunity. She was practically alone in the captain’s cabin and none of the crew seemed to have seen her creep inside. The Mercurial Eye, which was the gemstone Lydia had stressed so much over, still sat in plain sight on the captain’s desk.

All she had to do, Lydia decided, was to get to it without bumping into anything else and make her way back out the door. Perhaps she could hide it somewhere until circumstances were more in her favor. Slowly and carefully, Lydia crept toward desk, trying to feel for any obstacles in the floor in front of her. It would be disastrous to assume everything was kept clean only to trip and in turn awaken the captain. Finally, the precious gem was in reach, and the girl outstretched her hand to grasp it from the surface of the desk.

Clank

Some glass object fell over and the sound of liquid spilling out of a small opening sent chills down Lydia’s spine as it told her she’d just been caught. The chair in which the captain had been resting creaked as he groaned groggily to see what the commotion was.

“That,” Forde breathed deeply to keep from yelling in anger, “was the best rum I’ve tasted in my twenty years of running this cargo vessel. You just poured it all over my lap.” Rum? Lydia hadn’t suspected that a glass object would be conveniently sitting in front of the gem. Magical aura’s could travel, to some degree, through tough materials like cloth and some thin sheets of metal. Unlike light, the glass held no authority over the aura’s travel therefore allowing it to pass like nothing had been there in the first place.

Lydia instinctively backed up several steps as the quick stride of the captain could be heard rapidly approaching. The man gripped her neck and shoved her roughly against the wall next to the cabin door.

“I would kill you right here if you weren’t worth so much damn gold alive! All for your stupid little rock, you thieving little brat! You think I wouldn’t notice if it went missing?” Lydia gagged and let out a whine of desperation as she tried to pull his increasingly tight grip off of her neck. “No,” he reminded himself and let Lydia fall to the floor, “I ain’t gonna kill you.” The girl coughed and gasped for air, relieved to finally be released from what she thought would certainly be her death. “But, I don’t mind ripping a few petals off of a rose before I deliver.”

“Please, I’m sorry, it won’t happen again,” Lydia begged with tears now streaming down her face. She couldn’t be certain what exactly he was threatening to do.

“When I’m through with you, you’ll regret even thinking of stealing from me.” Forde grabbed Lydia by the wrist and pulled her up before pinning her wrist to the wall. Before she could utter a single word, the ring of a metal blade being unsheathed barely gave the girl enough time to flinch before a cold steel dagger pierced her forearm and lodged itself deeply into the wood behind her.

Lydia grunted loudly as her own warm blood began to trickle down her arm and onto the floor. She tried forcing the blade out of the wall, but she was too fatigued and weakened ever further by the pain it caused in her arm.

“You know,” Forde spoke with a tone that was calmer after exerting some violence to ease his anger, “my father was the barbaric sort. He was a bandit, and taught me everything I know about wielding a blade.” Lydia could hear the captain walking away toward the back of the cabin as he spoke. “I wasn’t as big as he was though. I had a smaller stature and naturally had taken a liking to the rapier, a weapon of great finesse and dexterity. But my father, he liked nothing more than to sink a large axe into the chest of his opponents.” Captain Forde pulled a mounted combat axe off of the wall. “I’m sure you can’t see what I’m holding, but this axe was his.” Slowly, Forde walked back toward Lydia who’d gone pale and sweaty. She’d settled into a wilted posture as she squeeze her arm to stop the bleeding.

“Please don’t do this,” she managed to say with a trembling voice. She knew anything involving an axe couldn’t be painless.

“It’s far too late for that sort of talk, little lady. This axe hasn’t tasted human blood in a long time. I don’t figure it’s too late to change that.” Forde held the weapon with both hands over his head and took a deep breath to ensure precision. “You might want to hold still girly, I wouldn’t want to miss and hit you in the face.” Lydia cringed and braced for the inevitable.

As the axe came down with full force, Lydia’s agonized scream could be heard by the entirety of the crew. The girl’s senses blurred as she sank back down to the floor of the captain’s cabin. Her arm had been severed just below the shoulder and still hung like a slab of meat draining on a butchers hook on the wall. Blood coated her ribs and hip as it flooded onto the floor. Breathing heavy and labored breathes, Lydia grimaced and pressed her hand against her shoulder before growing dizzy and falling over onto her good arm.

The bloody axe dropped to the floor, causing it to ring as it bounced briefly before setting down on the hard wood.

“Don’t you ever try to steal from me again, little lady.”

(To be Continued)

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Into The Flames of Tribulation
Part I

The following events occur three weeks after Lydia has departed from the group to train by herself and gain some gold to support the upcoming expedition for artifacts.


Lydia sat on the edge of a large fountain in one of the central squares of Eternia. She was surrounded by onlookers, many of which were curious to see the miraculous works rumored to be happening. Her patient was a male, likely mid thirties by the sound of his voice, who’d sought relief from an infection which had begun to consume the flesh on his arm. The man grimaced as the girl found the wound with her finger tips and set her palm firmly on the moist, exposed flesh.

“If you’re ready, we will begin. It won’t hurt a bit, I promise,” Lydia explained.

“I am ready,” the man stated. Lydia nodded and slowly drew a deep breath to begin gathering the large amount of energy that would be required to heal such a wound. The air in the vicinity began to shimmer slightly as transparent white cubes appeared at her hands. The slowly floated toward the wound while shaping themselves into flat organic shapes that would fit together like a completed puzzle. As the final cube fell into place on the man’s arm, they glowed an intense white before transforming themselves into the missing skin and muscle fibers that melded perfectly. All traces of the infection had vanished.

“Thank you,” the man spoke quietly as he stared in awe at what had once been a festering mess. “I am in your debt, but I have no gold or silver. What would you have as payment?”

“I only ask that you return happily to your home and tell others in need that I am here. I accept donations, but healing services are free,” she explained as she gestured to the humble wooden bowl at her feet.

“Thank you, young lady.” The man walked away with a renewed cheer about his countenance. Lydia gave a fatigued sigh as she arched her unsupported back to loosen the knots that had formed in the couple of hours of sitting over the morning.

“I can help whoever is next,” Lydia spoke out to the crowd. Not a soul answered, and a fair majority looked at each other before deciding they’d seen enough and dispersed from the crowd. Income had been short so far, and Lydia was visited by the familiar feeling of wanting to give up and go home.

“Excuse me miss,” spoke out a voice suddenly, “can you see to my wound?” Turning her attention to the man, she nodded and held out her hand to gesture for his approach. He knelt down next to her and presented his bleeding palm.

“This is very fresh,” Lydia commented, “what did you do?”

“I was carving up the calf I killed this morning and cut my hand on the blade. I heard you were in town and immediately came to seek your aid.” This man’s wound would be a simple task.

Lydia placed her palm over the man’s wound and sealed it closed in a brief flash of light. The man looked with astonishment at his hand where not even a scar remained.

“Thank you. At first I wasn’t certain what to do when I couldn’t finish making the cuts on the meat. I don’t have enough money to hire a butcher. Thanks to you, I don’t have to worry.”

“The pleasure is all mine,” Lydia smiled politely and nodded.

“Unfortunately, I can’t spare any coin,” he explained, “but I can give you this.” He gently took hold of Lydia’s hand before slipping a chain bracelet over her wrist. The girl felt it curiously. “A beautiful bracelet for beautiful lass,” the man placed a kiss on her hand as a finishing touch.

“I’m flattered,” Lydia raised an eyebrow at the gesture, “but I don’t make a habit of excepting material offerings. If everyone dropped their things with me, I would never make it home with everything.”

“Who says just once will make it a habit? Besides, I really think the sapphires bring out your eyes.” Lydia hesitated as she tried to decide whether or not to make an exception for the man. “It would really make me feel better if you allowed me to pay a fine lady like yourself for her services. I wouldn’t want to seek you out with a wound on my flesh only to leave with a cut on my heart,” he explained with subtlety poetic tone.

“You’ve got quite the silver tongue, kind sir,” Lydia giggled at his dramatic display of words. “I will except your gift with gratitude.” With another kiss to the girl’s hand, the man swiftly departed. Afterward, Lydia waited an over hour for another patient to approach, occasionally calling out to the long dispersed crowd that had once gathered to see her at the fountain. She sighed, and picked up her nearly empty bowl from the ground before heading back to the temple of the eleven.

Deciding she was interested in a nap before transitioning into studying and meditation with her mentor, Lydia undressed and curled up in her bed.


Garret Rodrigo sat in the corner of the bar with a nearly empty pint of ale resting on the table in front of him. It was just past noon and he’d been waiting for his contact to show up at the meeting place for some time now. Although showing up 20 minutes early had seemed like a good idea at the time, he had no way of anticipating the other man would be so late. It was hard to want to wait around knowing the captain would be expecting to hear from him soon, but it would be better to report later than come back empty handed.

Finally a familiar face entered the bar and stopped at the counter-top to order a drink before sitting down at the table with Garret.

“You’re late,” Garret scolded.

“It took me a bit to figure out how to get her to take the damn thing. You can’t just slip a bracelet on a gal and expect her not to find it and take it off even if she is blind.”

“But you think she’ll use it? We’ve been tracking her for two weeks now, the buyer is getting anxious and there’s no room for further delay.” Garret took another sip of ale and savored it in his mouth before gulping it down.

“I’m certain. She’s not our run of the mill mage, so we’ll need to give it a couple of days to work.”

“If you insist, I’ll inform the captain,” Garret sighed. “He won’t be happy about it.” The man stood and finished his ale before leaving a small sack of coin on the table. “Half now as we agreed, and half after the delivery. Don’t you try to screw me either, I swim with big fish.”

“Never in my life, sir,” the other man nodded, deciding to stay at the table a while and enjoy some alcohol with his hard earned coin. With their business finished, Garret exited the bar and headed out to make a progress report to his superior.

To be continued


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A Little Insomnia Never Hurt Anyone...
...But A Lot Can Kill You

Lydia sighed and closed the book in her hands with a soft thud. Preoccupation was making research difficult to want to concentrate on. It didn’t help that Lydia didn’t feel she was getting anywhere with her work. There were plenty of solutions to dealing with high temperatures, but none of the options were going to provide the heavy duty protection she was looking for. It would seem that even her masked friends would find it a difficult task to take on.

Meanwhile in the corner of the study, Jacquez slept peacefully on his chair. He occasionally grumbled a proposition to some imaginary fair maiden under his breathe before shifting his weight and finally settling down once more. Lydia smirked at the man and envied his ease of rest. Her own peace of mind had proven difficult to find after emerging from the lower levels of the Temple of the Eleven. Between the remnants of fear that still lingered in her mind and the recently acquired news of Markus, Lydia knew she would find no sleep tonight, and possibly for some time.

There was no way of being sure where he was, or if he was even alright. The uncertainty grew continuously and now it felt as if there was a black and heavy weight lodged in her stomach.

The girl shook her head as if to disperse the fog surrounding her mind that distracted her from the work at hand. “There’s no time for your childish concerns, Lydia,” she whispered to herself. Grabbing the next book on the stack, Lydia once more buried herself in the old texts in search of insight.

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A (Hopefully) Unneeded Contingency

My Dearest Markus,

I regret to inform you that the news I bring is not of good tidings, but of a bitter tribulation for the both of us to face. To speak plainly, I am going some place from which I can never return. It would seem the court has deemed me irrecoverably influenced by necromancy. I am too much of a risk to keep within society and must be cast into the basement level of The Temple of The Eleven for safe keeping.

While the world may be safe from any damage I may unintentionally inflict upon it, I fear that my own safety is far from guaranteed. I can only imagine what may be within the lower level of the temple. Given my lack of self defense this ordeal is more than likely a death sentence for me, so even now I may be nothing more than a corpse rotting on the cold stone floor.

I am frightened of what I may find, and it is unlikely that sleep will come to me tonight. I know that you may be angry at those putting me away, but neither you nor I have anyone to blame but myself.

In my recent travels, I found myself in a toxic environment surrounded by the corpses of my friends. I was offered shelter by what seemed like a kind soul who snatched my friends from the brink of being lost forever: something I would have struggled to do in my state of exhaustion at the time. It was only later that I found out this “friend” was necrotic in nature.

I told myself it didn’t matter so long as I could save my friends from the slow and painful death that would be brought on over the next several days. But, I knew better. I should have turned everyone around and found a different solution. It wasn’t that I couldn’t pull my allies together and survive, but that I didn’t.

Now I find myself full of regret and shame for what my actions brought upon not only myself, but several other innocents who’ve performed countless acts of heroism. With this in mind, if I am to be found guilty of such a crime in the eyes of the law, then I will gladly except whatever punishment follows.

Just know that I never stopped loving you for even a moment. I would have done anything for a chance to feel your beautiful face on my finger tips one more time before leaving for good. Even though I long for you it does not mean your heart should linger on me. I beg you to bury your bitterness and find not only peace and closure, but to once more find love if you ever feel the time is right. I can die in peace knowing you will live a long and happy life.

Thank you for everything you’ve done for me, Markus. I don’t regret a single second we spent together, whether in laughter or sadness. The time we shared is more precious than any amount of gold or material wealth in this world; Never forget that.

Your lover,

Lydia


Satisfied with the contents of the letter, Lydia folded it neatly and sealed it closed in an envelope. She carefully wrote Markus’ full name on the front and blew on the ink to accelerate the drying process. Certain that everything pertaining to the message was in order, Lydia tucked it in her over-shirt for safe keeping. It was unlikely that it would ever need to be used, but it was better to be cautious than to be locked away without ever having a chance to say goodbye. She only hoped that the judgment would see things her way and it would never have to be delivered.

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Can you say "Acrophobia?"
If she couldn't before, she can now.

Lydia huffed for air as she ran as fast as she could across the bridge. Harlan, Mappo, Glasgow had all been practically slaughtered the moment their opponents started taking the fight seriously. Panic raced through her mind and a blur of “what ifs” rushed in circles and disrupted any trace of rational thought. Right now she had to run for her life, or everything they’d fought for and sacrificed would be gone.

Without allowing another step, Lydia was pulled to hard stone that made the bridge. It had taken only a few moments for the masked figure that had just finished off the last of her friends to make up the hundreds of feet she’d put between them. It easily overwhelmed her with its strength and tugged her head back to pull her ear close to it’s mouth.

“You and your little gang of heros were useful for a long time,” it whispered almost gently in her ear as she fought to escape his grasp. Lydia felt a cold hand grip her neck and lift her off of the ground. The girl released a choked scream as she was overwhelmed by both fear and pain as the fibers in her neck threatened to tear. Gripping the masked figure’s wrist with both of her hands, she supported as much of her weight as she could despite the feeling of her throat collapsing under it’s fingers. “But not anymore,” it sneered as Lydia felt it begin to drain her life energy.

She kicked and struggled feebly as it slowly walked with her held up off of the ground. Lydia was uncertain how much longer she could remain conscious from the lack of oxygen, and that was if she wasn’t sucked dry first. The wind picked up as the masked figure approached the edge of the world’s surface. “Good bye, little Oracle,” it taunted cruelly before releasing its grip. Feeling herself plummet, Lydia reached for the cliff-side, but her hands found only air. Her speed quickly increased and Lydia realized this was the end of everything. Disappearing into the fog below, her scream of terror faded with her.


“You don’t think this is even a little silly,” Markus asked playfully.

“Of course not, star-gazing is romantic blind or not,” Lydia assured him as she lay in the middle of an open meadow chest down with her head on Markus chest.

“So what, you want me to enjoy it all by myself while you lie her bored out of your mind?”

“I’m not bored. What made you think that?” Lydia raised her head to direct her attention to Markus.

“You went quiet, that’s all.”

“I was just listening to your heart,” she explained as she set her head back down, “it makes such a beautiful sound.”

“That’s because it’s madly in love. Hadn’t you heard?”

“With who,” Lydia asked curiously to play along.

“The most beautiful little brown-haired girl it’s ever seen.” Lydia smiled and brought herself into a close embrace.

“I love you too, Markus.” The two remained together quietly under the stars for nearly an hour, both simply enjoying the presence of the other. Lydia had been mulling over how to approach a difficult subject of conversation. “I know I haven’t told you yet,” she finally managed before hesitating and taking a deep breath.

“Tell me what?”

“I’m leaving again. I have to attend the matter of the new Mars Tower Grand Cleric in Eternia, but this time I’ll be gone for a long time.”

“How long is a long time?”

“Until I’m ready to come home, I suppose.”

“This all seems rather sudden don’t you think,” Markus suggested. “Where is all of this coming from?”

“I suppose it would seem that way. I’ve actually been thinking a lot about what you told me several years ago. How I needed to live first before I could help others to live. To solve my own problems before I could help solve theirs.” Markus breathed deeply and thought on his words while selecting them carefully.

“I suppose I did say that. A part of me wishes I hadn’t.”

“You don’t think I should go then? I guess I can stay if that’s what you want.”

“No, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I did say it was only a part of me. The rest of wants you to go out and see the world if that’s how you feel.”

“Well, I won’t be actually seeing anything in a literal sense,” Lydia giggled. Her expression softened before she reached up to stroke Markus’ hair. “Will you wait for me? I understand if you can’t, I just need to know, please.”

“Every morning on the cliff overlooking the docks until my heart gives out and my body turns to dust.” Lydia laughed to hide how flattered she felt by his commitment.

“Thank you, Markus.”


Lydia flopped onto the hard ground after having her momentum slowed by some form of magic. She could feel her arms shaking uncontrollably as she pushed herself into a sitting position. Her heart was still pounding and her mind still rich with the surge of adrenaline. A strange smell filled Lydia’s nose in her first few breaths before her eyes and lungs began to burn. She coughed violently and covered her mouth and nose with her cloak.

“Mm? You’re alive!” Spoke a strange, high pitched voice. Lydia froze under the unexpected attention.

“Hello?” Was it hostile, or malicious? Perhaps whoever this was could be of aid. She would soon find out for sure.

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Back in Black
Fade to Black

The light faded from my eyes and I experienced the most pervading pain I have ever felt right down to my very bones. Then I was dead. I don’t remember anything during that time. Then the pervasive pain was reversed and air filled my lungs. I sorely wished I had been left in peace. No man should bear the pain of death more than once.
It got me thinking about Draco. All I could think about when he passed was if there was any way to bring him back. Now, I doubt myself. I saw him in the soul flow. Or at least I think it was him. He was at peace. He was free. Free from all this suffering and pain. I do not think it would be fair of me to take that peace away from him, simply because I could not cope with his loss, or even if I felt he could do so much more good. It is not my place to decide such things. Instead I should honor his memory and leave him to his well deserved rest.
I had died fighting. I could not have asked for a more honorable death. But that honor was taken from me and now I am filled with fear.
When I awoke, I was in the worst place I could possibly be. A punishment worst than death. I had failed Eternia. At every turn I was blocked by magic, by powerful figures and circumstances beyond my control. Every stride I took to try to stop events from transpiring ended in failure. Since I met the Oracle, I have been imprisoned, tortured, possessed, beaten, ridiculed by friend and foe alike and bullied by those who bed with power. My best friend died and I was unable to protect the people of my city. The only good thing that had happened to me in that time was the unlikely meeting with my beloved, Megan.
But I was tossed over the edge. Torn from the world I had known, I was still alive, yet possessed no way to return to my beloved. I pictured her on the alter six months hence and the tears that would fill her eyes. Her heart broken and it would be me that had made her so. I had left her nothing. Just some money to keep her happy and a fading dream that was our love.
I wasn’t dead yet. There was still a chance to make it to my wedding. The single thought consumed my mind. I would try every second so long as I drew breath to return to the world above and reunite with my beloved. If I could not, if there was no way to return and all that remained for me was to wait beneath the world I had known, I may as well be dead, for no punishment could be worse. To know the pain and despair that would follow and being unable to do anything to prevent it. Trapped in a hole with an undead court jester. No. To have the world I had known, my love and my life torn from me, and then my own honorable death even stolen from me and to know that I could do nothing to prevent the disasters that await… That would be hell.
So I must try. With every fiber of my being. I must not rest until I return. For not doing so would be a fate worse than death.
I have done some thinking upon it. Upon the fevered dream of my return. If I return to that world, to my beloved I would leave all of this behind. I would marry my beloved and start a family. Take over the family business for my father in his old age. Create a life that I could leave behind and say “I did this. This was my work” and leave something for my beloved should I die.
If I leave it behind, someone else will rise up in my place. Wherever there is evil, good will rise up to meet it. There are plenty of powerful figures in this world to set it aright, once they see the world for what it is. Why should it be my responsibility? I’m just one man. I’ve been given a second chance to live a normal life. I have nothing the masqueraders want anymore. They would have no quarrel with me. If I let them be, I would be free to live a happy and normal life.
So I must try to return to the world, or else die trying, for there is nothing else I can be. For my beloved, for my father, and for myself.

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