Three years have passed…since that day.
Two adepts faced each other across a makeshift arena fashioned of a ring of stones in the middle of a forest meadow. The adepts were both mercury adepts, masters of water and ice magic, and each stared fixatedly at the other, waiting to see who would make the first move.
One was a bit taller, considerably heavier, and male. His eyes glimmered like chips of topaz as he keenly judged the other’s actions, and his aqua-colored hair was tied back into a short ponytail, but appeared longer at a glance due to the long, sweeping blue-patterned cloth that hung to shade his neck. He was clad in garments different from his usual--a long-sleeved shirt and long pants meant for traveling through scratchy forest undergrowth--and the scabbard of a broadsword was strapped to his side. This was Picard, the Lemurian sailor who now lived in the community of Valeheart.
His adversary was shorter, slimmer, and female. Her hair was quite long and a deeper cerulean color than his (though tied back in a ponytail as his was) and her eyes were like pools of shifting ocean water. Her garments consisted of a long-sleeved shirt and long pants, both of a sky blue color, and a cobalt blue long tunic over top of them, slit to the hip and shoulder for ease of movement. Her boots were of functional brown leather, well worn, like her gloves and the scabbard of her sword, which she wore strapped across her back. This was Mia, the Imillian healer-turned-swordswoman and the new heroine of Valeheart.
Suddenly, both of the adepts sensed something in the stance of the other, and tensed for a moment before leaping headlong towards each other, swinging their swords in wide arcs and screaming as the psynergetic powers of the weapons were unleashed.
Picard’s Legend attack struck first, and Mia watched in dismay as a purple portal opened in the rosy dawn sky. Arcane symbols gleamed and three purplish blades formed, hovering at the threshold of the otherworldly door. The female adept’s eyes narrowed in determination, and she stood ready to dodge the attacks.
The first struck Mia for a glancing blow off of the Mithril chainmail she wore under her tunic as she began a complex backflip, and the second missed her completely as she rolled to one side in midair. The third struck and barely nicked her foot, and then she landed. The whole ordeal had taken only a matter of seconds, and Picard was awestruck at the agility and grace of the other adept. This, however, was his undoing, as the blue stream of energy from Mia’s Rising Dragon attack formed itself into dragon heads, the first slamming him into the earth, and the second lifting him bodily into the air before dropping him.
Mia stood, barely winded, and walked over to the other adept, digging her foot into his side. The toe of her boot met with the man’s Xylion Armor, which was a good bit stouter than her own chainmail. Even so, the Legend attack from the revered Excalibur had not even made her wince, and the Rising Dragon attack, which was admittedly not nearly as powerful, had dropped Picard to the ground.
She allowed herself a small smile of triumph. She had won again.
“Get up, Picard,” she said, casting Ply on him to remove any bruises, then offering him a hand up to get to his feet. He accepted it gratefully and hopped to his feet, sheathing his sword and dusting off his clothes.
“No more practice this morning, I think,” he said ruefully. “You don’t do anything anymore than toss me around, in any case. You should be practicing with Felix.”
“Bah,” Mia said. “Felix is far better than I. I never claimed to be the best…I only wish for my abilities to be sufficient so that I don’t get tossed around unduly when I’m looking for Isaac…besides, Felix isn’t here,” she added, a little too hastily.
Picard glanced sidelong at the other adept as he brushed imaginary dust off of his clothes. She had changed more than one would think in three years, transforming from a shy, quiet healer into a fearless, courageous swordswoman. Anyone could tell that it was because of Isaac, but it made Picard uneasy all the same. It was like Mia had left, and left a twin in her place; a girl that looked the same…but really bore no resemblance to her sister at all.
Yet it was still Mia; it was simply that the more quiet facets of her personality had been abandoned, and this creature of steel and nails brought forth instead. No one could blame her for changing; losing your beloved only three days after really finding him could do a lot to hurt a person. All the same, Mia was still kind and caring; she had not left Imil alone, but made sure the Water of Hermes flowed yet, and still visited every week to make sure her apprentices were handling matters well. Also, she had been instrumental in the planning and construction of Valeheart, the new village the Valeans had built near the ‘gravesite’ of Vale and Mt. Aleph. Mia had even been unofficially ‘adopted’ by Kyle and Dora, who both missed Isaac terribly, especially since the three had only been reunited for a short time. They took her under their proverbial wing, bound together by chains of sorrow.
In fact, Mia was supposed to run an errand for her ‘parents.’ They had asked her to pick up a bushel of apples from Vault, and she did not intend to shirk on this duty. She looked at the dawn sky, the sun not yet visible over the trees of the forest that surrounded Valeheart, and then turned to Picard.
“I have to go,” she said. “Kyle and Dora asked me to get a bushel of apples for them from Vault.”
“Go and go safely then,” Picard said with a sigh. The other adept nodded and darted off, slipping through the trees in the direction of the other town. Picard, however, turned in the direction of Valeheart--after all, he had not yet had breakfast, and there was a promising feast every morning at Jenna’s house…
Mia walked steadily towards Vault, letting her thoughts fall into the steady cadence of her leather boots hitting the packed dirt. She rarely allowed herself to dwell on things for long anymore, as more and more her thoughts drifted to one thing: Isaac.
The lovely adept turned her mind quickly from the matter and continued on down the path. She had hardened herself, and now threw the thoughts away as rapidly as they came. Perhaps it was not the best method, but it was the only one that really worked anymore.
From then on, the adept’s thoughts drifted only towards how Imil was faring (she would check up in two days) and how her teacher--and friend--Picard was doing away from his homeland of Lemuria (quite well). She even thought to Jenna and Garet, who were now an ‘item’…in Sheba’s own words. That led to something else--the Jupiter adepts. Sheba was somewhat reserved, mostly due to Felix’s absence, but clearly burning with a fire to find out about her origins. Ivan, on the other hand, spent his days with Kraden, and it was looking like the slight sorcerer would become the next sage of alchemy.
That led to the last member of the group--Felix. Felix was an enigma, and like Mia, he constantly searched for Isaac. He was gone from Valeheart even now on one of those journeys, and his return did not promise to be swift, much to the dismay of his friends. Felix returned from each journey a little bit leaner and far more depressed. It seemed like he blamed himself personally for the loss of Isaac, even though everybody assured him it was not so.
In the middle of her thoughts, Mia’s footsteps brought her to Vault, and she immediately looked around, seeing if anything looked out of the ordinary. Nothing did, so she continued on uneventfully, nodding polite greetings to townsfolk, many of which were only just coming out of their homes for the day. The adept located a farmer selling apples, and bartered a bushel of his wares from him, for more coin than a week previous--prices continued to rise as winter grew nearer. Nevertheless, the apples were still well worth what Mia gave for them, and both parties left satisfied.
Now, Mia was ready to leave, though she always looked over the wares in the weapon- and armorsmith’s stalls before leaving. Nothing of particular interest here--a broadsword, maybe, and the Cloud Brand, sold to the merchant by Felix after his return. All of the weapons Mia saw were either inferior to her own blade, too heavy for her to wield, or not to her liking. Disgusted by the lack of decent weaponry, the swordswoman turned to leave.
“Hey! You there!” a voice suddenly exclaimed.
Mia had a feeling that the shout was directed at herself, so she turned slightly. The source of the outburst was a young girl, who couldn’t have been more than ten years old, with skin paler than snow and bright, flaming red hair, which was pulled back into two braids. The girl was also dressed in garments Mia had never seen the like of, pitch-black linen robes with flame designs embroidered at the cuffs, collars and hem, along with simple wooden-soled sandals. The mercury adept had never seen someone quite like the girl, and began to wonder where she was from.
The girl pranced over, almost gliding above the dirt even as her wooden sandals clicked erratically on the few stones in the road. She sized Mia up in a self-confident manner, then nodded and spoke again.
“I am Kaitichey. I’m a Fire Wizard from the Isle Esscheniel, and I seek the warrior called Isaac.”
This was an immediate blow to Mia’s senses, and she stared at the girl as if she’d grown a third eye. Kaitichey stared back in puzzlement and scowled.
“Well, what’s the matter?” the girl asked sharply.
“Isaac’s missing,” Mia barely managed to get out.
“Missing? Impossible!” Kaitichey exclaimed. “We sent him back with one of our finest wyrms a year and a half ago! Tresriel has never lost a rider! Ever!”
Many thoughts flew through Mia’s mind at that moment. Isaac had been alive a year and a half ago, at least…but where? Mia had never heard of this Isle Esscheniel, or of Fire Wizards, though she guessed the girl was simply a mars adept. She was also dying to ask what a wyrm was, but found herself entirely too shocked by the news of Isaac to get the words out.
“You…sent him back…a year and a half ago?” Mia muttered.
“Yes,” Kaitichey replied impatiently.
“So he…he was alive…” The mercury adept stuttered.
Kaitichey finally realized that all was not well, and decided to interrogate the woman before her in hopes of answers.
“You sound…shocked at my news,” the diminutive Fire Wizard said, probing gently.
“Yes,” Mia replied. “Isaac vanished three years ago.”
The young wizard blinked in reply to this news. Three years? Isaac had told them that he was trying to find a way back to his hometown, that he had been traveling for some time…but a year and a half, prior to reaching their island? Quite a record. They had tested Isaac, then sent him on his way with one of their Eight Wyrms--eight fantastic flying dragons that lived in the massive volcano on Isle Esscheniel. Tresriel, the wyrm of earth, had promised to deliver the foreigner back to his home. What had gone wrong?
“Is this where Isaac lived?” Kaitichey inquired.
“It was near here,” Mia said, quickly explaining what had happened to Vale. The fire magician nodded as Mia explained what happened, and when the swordswoman mentioned Valeheart, the Fire Wizard immediately interrupted with “Take me there.”
Mia saw no reason not to--if the girl knew something of Isaac, it was worth a try, and if she meant harm, there were enough adepts in Valeheart to stop her.
“Fine, follow me,” the mercury adept replied, and led the girl towards her home.
Back in Valeheart, it was just after breakfast, and Jenna cleaned up the last of the dishes from the wooden trestle table with the aid of her friends. Picard grabbed the thick wooden mugs, and Garet the sturdy plates, leaving Sheba and Ivan to flit about, gathering up the cutlery. In short order, the five adepts had cleaned off the table, and Jenna placed a jar filled with fall flowers in the center of the table before she went to wash dishes.
Garet stopped her and gazed into her eyes for a moment, the other three adepts quickly getting the picture and scurrying off to begin washing dishes. The two mars adepts met in a brief kiss, then pulled apart, Garet stroking Jenna’s cheek comfortingly and then stepping away, stepping out of the house and into the growing sunlight, off to help harvest the crop of pumpkins.
Jenna turned, with a sigh, only to see Sheba watching. The young jupiter adept didn’t seem perturbed in the least, and looked at the mars adept pityingly, shaking her head.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she said. “You wish he’d say something.”
“He’s awfully sweet,” Jenna began, in defense, then realized what her friend said was true, and sighed again. “But he is awfully dense, too…”
“Ivan! No!” A terrified shout called from the kitchen, shortly followed by an enormous clatter and the sound of cracking wood. The two girls shared identical annoyed glances and then walked calmly into the kitchen, only to find Ivan on his back, surrounded by plates, with only a puddle of soapy water to indicate what had led to his fall. One plate was broken, and Ivan looked a little dazed.
“Ivan,” Jenna sighed in exasperation. “Or perhaps I should be after you, Picard…you must have been the one that sloshed the water on the floor…”
“Well…I warned him,” the Lemurian said defensively. He then half-turned and began washing dishes again, while Sheba and Jenna got Ivan back to his feet.
This took some time, as Ivan continually slipped in the puddle of water, and once the diminutive sorcerer was back on his feet, Jenna opened her mouth to deliver a stinging retort to Picard, but was stopped when a huge commotion began outside. Confused as to what could be causing such a loud noise, the mars adept walked into the front room and peered through the curtains…
…only to see Mia and a red-haired savage of a girl, who was currently engaged in a screaming match with her very own Garet.
Jenna snarled in anger and stormed out of the house, followed by shouts of ‘Jenna!’ from her three friends. As she drew nearer to the spectacle, she could hear the things the two were saying…
“Well, you shouldn’t have gotten in my way, you big oaf! I’m the daughter of the shaman!”
“I don’t care if you’re the daughter of Iris! I had the right-of-way!”
Jenna then saw the cause of the screaming match--three busted pumpkins, and a large amount of pumpkin goo on the robes of the girl. Jenna surmised that the two had run into each other, Garet dropping the pumpkins in the process.
“Right of way! Ha! You’re nothing but a lowly commoner!” the girl sniffed, turning to Mia. “Warriormaiden, show me to your shaman! Immediately!”
Garet grumbled and turned, then saw Jenna and flushed. “Aah…Jenna…”
The female Mars Adept walked over to the three, gazing past her boyfriend and Mia and looking at the barbaric young girl.
“You, what’s your name?” Jenna demanded.
“How dare you demand such of me!” the girl snapped. “I’m the daughter of--“
“Yes, the daughter of the shaman, we’ve heard,” Jenna drawled. “We also don’t give a whit.”
That shut the girl up quite efficiently, and she opened and closed her mouth several times in outrage, unable to speak.
“You don’t care?” The girl finally uttered, as if shocked.
“No, we don’t,” Jenna replied. “Now, what is your name?”
“Kaitichey Lavawrath,” the girl replied, somewhat more civilized.
“And your purpose?”
“To speak with your shaman, concerning the warrior Isaac,” Kaitichey replied, as if she’d said nothing out of the ordinary.
Her words, however,
caused Jenna and Garet to gasp, staring at the diminutive magician in purest
shock. Isaac? How did she know Isaac?
Mia seemed to read their minds on the matter, however.
“Isaac traveled to their village…when he was trying to find his way home,” Mia explained. “It was…a year and a half ago.”
She also accurately gauged their expressions of dual relief and worry.
“They don’t know what happened to him,” she further explained. “He apparently left with one of their…wyrms…something like a dragon, I take it, but never made it back here.”
“And that is why I must speak with your shaman!” Kaitichey burst in, voice full of impatience. “Our wyrms are strong and wise! They would never idly lose a passenger--or their way!”
Jenna just stared at the girl for a moment before finally speaking.
“I’ll take you to our ‘shaman’…” she offered. “Follow me, please, miss…Kaitichey, was it?”
She didn’t even wait for the girl to nod, however, before she darted off.
Not even half an hour later, Jenna and all her friends were gathered in Kraden’s cottage, in his large experiment room, as the girl, Kaitichey, was seated in a chair and examined by the sage himself.
Jenna and Mia whispered to each other in solemn tones about the demanding young mage as Garet and Picard muttered to each other, probably about the same matter. Ivan and Sheba, however, simply looked through Kraden’s records, at his request. The adepts all waited for the same thing; for Kaitichey to say something, anything, about Isaac.
“Well…I…” the girl began, after Kraden handed her a mug of honeyed tea. She took a sip, and her eyes lit up. “This is good! It’s sweet!” she exclaimed, starting to gulp down the beverage.
“Take it easy, there’s more where it came from,” Kraden assured her, barely restraining his curiosity. “Tell me, where are you from?”
“I’m from the Isle Esscheniel,” she offered, as if it were nothing special, and continued to sip at the tea, a look of contentment sneaking across her face. The adepts that hadn’t yet heard the name of the island wrinkled their brows in confusion--they’d been everywhere, hadn’t they, from the far northern wastelands to the far southern? Yet, they’d never heard of this place…
Kraden, too, was confused.
“Where is it?” he asked.
“Where?” she said. She wrinkled her brow in confusion. “It…it’s where it is.”
Kraden sighed. “No, in relation to other places…other continents, like this one.”
“Oh, well…um…” She seemed to think. “Well…alright. The continent SOUTH of this one…you call it…Gondalan, or something?”
“Gondowan,” Ivan corrected absently, pausing in his search for a moment to look at the girl. “It’s Gondowan.”
“Right,” she began, apparently thinking of the best way to describe, and apparently changed her mind about going from Gondowan, if that had even originally been her intent. “Then, west of here, and there, there are the two island continents…umm…”
“Atteka and Hesperia,” Sheba provided helpfully.
“Again, right,” the fire mage continued. “Well, west of those…a long way…um…there is a chain of islands. We call the group, together, Hannai.”
The adepts all stared in utter confusion. West? No, west of Atteka and Hesperia, there was nothing but open sea--and then the Gaia Falls. They had never found any islands called ‘Hannai’ in their journeys. So what did this mean?
Garet was the first to break the silence. “Are you certain?” he asked the girl.
She stared at him oddly. “Yes, quite,” she offered. “I flew here on the back of Skaield. He can vouch for it as well!”
Mia could only assume from what the girl had told her that Skaield was another of these wyrms the girl went on about endlessly. She couldn’t fathom how a dragon could tell them anything, however. Thinking about other matters, the mercury adept looked at Kaitichey and asked, “You didn’t have to cross a large waterfall of some sorts, did you? To get here?”
“No…” the young mage replied, in some confusion, apparently wondering how Mia had even come up with the question, which, to her, made no sense whatsoever.
“…let’s get back to the subject of your home another time,” Kraden said, though he obviously wanted to keep talking about the mysterious island. “Why are you seeking out Isaac?”
Kaitichey didn’t answer. One by one, all the adepts fixed their gazes on the girl, until she squirmed beneath the weight of their stares. Finally she spoke, though she sounded embarrassed by her words.
“We…need his help,” she muttered. “He is the only one who can save us at present.”
“Why? What’s happening?” Jenna inquired.
“All of Hannai is being attacked by a rogue wyrm. He is not one of ours,” Kaitichey muttered, sounding profoundly glad at that, “but he is still very powerful.”
“What are wyrms, exactly?” Picard asked.
“Come outside, and I will show you,” was all that the Fire Wizard said, before she ran from Kraden’s cottage.
The adepts, naturally, gave chase, and when they reached Kaitichey, she was well out of town, and lunchtime was approaching. The young girl looked around, then began chanting, in a voice far different and much older than her own, a voice that created its own echoes and reverberated strangely. Without warning, the girl stopped, then whistled three sharp notes, notes that rose into the air like spiraling hawks before evaporating into the noon sky.
“He’s coming,” was all that the girl said.
The adepts had no time to ponder this comment before a shadow blotted out the sun. It was an enormous dragon; easily the same size as their summoned friend Eclipse, with bright, flaming red overscales and an orange underbelly and underneck of thick orange armored plates. Two horns sprang from his head, jagged and wicked-looking, and they shifted and glimmered in all the colors of flame, as did the membranes of his massive wings.
The giant beast landed, towering over the group, then twisted his neck, hunkering down so that his head was level with the adepts. He surveyed the group disdainfully with one giant golden eye, opening his mouth slightly to reveal rows of hooked white fangs and to emit what must have qualified as a small spurt of flame to the dragon himself, but to the adepts, qualified as a full-blown Pyroclasm of raging fire.
If it was meant to inspire awe in the adepts, it succeeded, at least to a degree.
Kraden was immediately filled with a terrified wonder, trying to imagine how such a great beast managed to live on the world among mortals, as Eclipse did not, and yet remain a secret. From this, his thoughts easily tracked to how the island-chain of Hannai could remain secret, and he no longer wondered…as much.
For this, there was always room to wonder.
“This is Skaield,” Kaitichey noted, walking up to the gigantic wyrm, completely unafraid. “He is the wyrm of fire.” That said, she easily slipped up onto his neck, taking a seat on the reddish scales. The adepts were amazed to see that the beast regarded her with kindness and perhaps even love instead of the scornful disdain he saved for the others.
Mia could think of but one thing. “You sent Isaac home on one of these?” she asked.
“Don’t sound so frightened. Wyrms possess a great intuition about the placement of their rider or riders at any given time. They will put their own lives in danger to make sure their passengers do not fall,” she informed them, voice full of pride.
Kraden was apparently eager to begin asking questions once again, but the wyrm interrupted him by speaking in a voice that shook the very ground, frightening every adept.
“Well, if the warrior Isaac and brother Tresriel is not here, we have no business here, and we must search elsewhere to find him,” the dragon muttered, though even his mutter was loud enough to give the others a headache. “Miss Kaitichey, shall we be off?”
The girl looked at the band of adepts and seemed to be considering something for a moment before a glimmer of an idea passed through her eyes.
“Skaield,” she said, tugging on one of the thick spines protruding from his neck, “why don’t we take a couple of them with us? I’m sure they’d be a help--and the warrior may be glad to see his friends, if indeed he has not been home in three years!”
Mia was instantly taking a step forward, ready to plead and petition with the wyrm, but he silenced her with a look--strangely, a conspiratorial one.
“Yes,” he hissed. “We will take a couple. They would prove most useful, I believe. But two only. No more.”
All the adepts looked at each other in confusion. How could they decide who went with Mia? It was, of course, a given that Mia would go--who was more deserving to see Isaac first than she? The next person to speak surprised them all.
“I’ll go,” Sheba murmured, stepping forward.
“Sheba?” Jenna asked, blinking in confusion. “Why…?”
“Felix has not been back for a while…I was thinking that perhaps I could find him in my travels,” she said, with perfect poise, not allowing even the smallest amount of emotion to creep into her voice, despite her reasoning.
The others blinked at this, but then found reasons that they should not go, perhaps to smooth things over.
“Ah…yes, I must assist Kraden,” Ivan offered.
“And I must teach that swordsmanship class…” Picard noted.
“I have to stay in Vale and work,” Garet said with a sigh.
“And I have to make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid,” Jenna proclaimed, smiling at Garet, even as he groaned at the comment.
“Good,” Mia said, smothering a smile. “I can always check up on you from time to time, since Sheba has the Teleport Lapis…”
“Of course,” Jenna said. She nodded to Mia. “When you find him, punch him, and tell him he’s an awful person for staying away for so long, all right?” she ordered, with a grin.
Mia smiled. “Will do,” she said.
“Fine,” Skaield finally broke in with his forbidding murmur. “Let’s just get ready and go, can we?”
The others agreed, and scurried off to help their friends pack.
It was dusk before they left, all three seated on Skaield’s back as the massive wyrm took off for parts unknown.
‘Isaac, I hope we find you,’ Mia thought to herself as the dragon flew into the coming night.
Isaac, I hope we find you.
Daniel, the lone venus adept and wanderer supreme, woke in a cold sweat. What was this force invading his dreams? He could remember almost none of the dream, only the ethereal voice of a girl, or perhaps a woman, and a flash of blue.
What scared the wandering warrior was that the dreams gave him an odd sense of contentment, of peace--feelings he had no time to enjoy any longer. He and the wyrm, Tresriel, his only friend for as long as he could remember, were engaged in a dangerous business, and besides, who was this Isaac the voice spoke of? Daniel had never met anybody named Isaac in all his travels. It failed to make sense.
Even stranger, the dream always made the scar across the bridge of the earth mage’s nose hurt like fire, as well as make the angelsteel segments in his arm feel even more alien than they should. The adept had finally given up explaining it, chalking it up to magic, much like the magic that had made the scar across his face, and the gouges in his arm. Just a remnant of days gone by, a random memory absorbed by one he had slain.
He hoped that was all.
And yet he knew that it wasn’t.