By Alicia Steen and Nathan Steen
Cyran. RedStone, Jeshrun. Year After Shadow Two Thousand One Hundred, First Cycle.
After Vytria and I came to Jeshrun two years ago, I chose to live in the RedStone with clan NaruNova, while she preferred clan Blue Soul and the wide open sea. RedStone, so called for the red rock that surrounds its hot springs and geysers, is a thriving place. Wild beasts and greenery are found in abundance, while the Shadow is nowhere in sight.
The clan is made of two factions, hence the name, who constantly spare with each other like good-natured brothers. Much of my time finds me with the dislocated joints and battered bones of those fighters who seek my healing touch. A good healer is held in as much honor as the champions of the twice-yearly tournaments. Maybe that’s why I stayed.
So why do my eyes now wander beyond the RedStone’s borders, into a more ancient Jeshrun?
Sranus. Jeshrun. Year After Shadow Two Thousand One Hundred, First Cycle.
I stand with staff in hand in the grassy plain the Ancient of Days showed me, waiting. The young man from Nagaster will come through there presently, and I must set him on the right path before he journeys any deeper into Jeshrun.
Ah, there he is. A fine young warrior with dual blades. He is searching for me, but I do not want him to see me just yet. My voice should find him first. “Tell me, who are you?”
“My name is Ecalai.” He keeps his eyes closed, searching for me with his magic. Not yet, young Lord.
My questions are not for me, but for him to discover the answers. “Your name is irrelevant. Who are you?”
“I am from the planet Nagaster and I track the Shadows who invaded my homeland.”
“Your past is irrelevant. Who are you?”
“I don’t understand.”
Yes, there it is. Now it starts. “Whom do you serve?”
Cyran. RedStone, Jeshrun.
A gasp from the crowd circling the fight focuses my attention back on the warriors in front of me. A newcomer with a challenging gaze is facing Darrien.
At least, he was before my thoughts wandered. Now only the newcomer stands, while Darrien sits soaking wet on dry red stone. How by the flame had Darrien been defeated so quickly?
The newcomer’s expression changes to boredom. “These easy fights are a waste of my time.”
This guy must be either that good or that overconfident. Either way, it means more work for me before the day is through.
Dark hair moves into the ring as Darrien leaves. It’s Kaze, a wind wizard. “Say that after you defeat me, the champion of five tournaments,” Kaze says confidently. He is well on his way to becoming one of the best fighters in NaruNova’s fifteen-hundred-year history.
Even so, something about him doesn’t make me think he could beat Vytria, though he should still prove what this brown-haired newcomer is made of. I’d better watch the fight closely this time.
I may need the information to patch up the loser.
“I serve no man, but as a servant of the Ancient of Days I am here.”
The young Lord speaks well. This is how those of old identified their purpose to themselves and one another. I press further. “What do you seek?”
“I seek… I seek the calling which my Lord has given me. I seek justice upon the Shadow which corrupts our world. I seek the strength to live freely as the wind and escape from the hand of Shadow.
That is not all. “What more do you seek?”
The young Lord Ecalai breaths deeply. “I seek the One for whom my soul burns.”
Yes, for those who follow the Ancient of Days feel his fire. I answer him. “The call of He Who Whispers on the Wind is heard only by those who will listen. Justice will be known only by those who understand mercy. The Shadow can be fought only by those who ride the wind.”
Now is the time. I appear behind him and continue. “The fire of the Ancient of Days your Source is a strength known only to those who know his heart.
Ecalai turns around and sees me for the first time. “Who are you?”
Come now, let us not stray from the purpose of our conversation. “I am a servant of the Ancient of Days your Source, One Who Gives life and strength.”
“And you can show me what it is that I seek?”
“The Ancient of Days your Source will always answer those who call on him.”
“The Shadow is already advancing. Even now, many places are already being overrun. Is it not time for those who call on the Ancient of Days as their Source to stand up in power?”
You get ahead of yourself, young Lord. “The fire of the Ancient of Days will burn only in those who hear his whispers on the wind.
I brandish my staff. Ecalai draws his dual blades, preparing to defend himself.
Cyran. RedStone, Jeshrun.
Four referee wizards activate their cornerstones, producing the domed magical barrier that protects the crowd from stray attacks. When the barrier stabilizes, the sound signals the start of the match.
Kaze stands between two referees with weapon in hand. In his case, two hollow wooden sticks attached by a peculiarly dark metal chain. The newcomer stands opposite Kaze, but he holds no weapon. Only those with ridiculous amounts of magic attempt such a fight.
Kaze identifies himself first. “Kaze. As a champion of the Naru warriors in the clan NaruNova, I have come.”
“Kyle. As the Wielder of the Deep, I have come.”
So the newcomer identifies himself as a water wizard, and a quite good one if he truly can command the sea itself. That would put him in Vytria’s league. I haven’t seen anyone so closely connected to their element as her since I came to the RedStone. I’m glad I came now. This match isn’t one to be missed.
Kaze attacks first, though most wouldn’t catch it. He always starts a match by separating the air in the arena – displacing the oxygen around his opponent with nitrogen and setting up for later attacks. Next he liquefies the nitrogen right above Kyle’s head. Kyle doesn’t even blink. Liquid water forms above him and engulfs the freezing nitrogen
Good counter. Even the nitrogen’s spray can cause instant frostbite. Kaze’s liquid nitrogen attack is his favorite for this reason. Kyle, it seems, won’t go down so easily, though. That’s good, since I’ve gotten tired of treating Kaze’s frostbitten or cryogenically frozen opponents.
“Not bad. You can completely counter my favorite move,” Kaze says. He’s a talker.
“Counter?” The swirling water above Kyle’s head spins faster, sending driving rain throughout the dome. Kaze reacts, but his counter is engulfed in a flash of white light.
Ecalai breaths heavily as he continues the fight. Sranus is such a master that Ecalai has no hope of standing before him. “How can a man armed with only a wooden staff wield enough power to fend off my metal blades?” he wonders.
Ecalai felt it with the first clash, but only now are his suspicions fully confirmed. Rather than backing off, Ecalai revels in the knowledge that here finally is someone with the ultimate mastery of magic he had sought for so long. Here is a chance to test how far he can really go.
With absolute faith in Sranus, Ecalai prepares to unleash himself and witness how this master of magic will respond.
Cyran. RedStone, Jeshrun.
Kaze recovers just enough from Kyle’s attack to launch a single blue bolt of plasma. Those in the crowd around me who can still see take in a breath. The only known way to deal with plasma is to dodge. Kyle isn’t moving.
Kyle counters the same way he did the first attack: with a blast of water. As plasma and water meet, the water should have been turned to steam instantly, but strangely it is the plasma that diminishes. Minutes later all that is left of the attack is Kaze’s shocked face.
The four referees depower the domed magic barrier, which means the match is over. Kyle, Wielder of the Deep, has won.
“That’s not possible!” Ecalai says, stunned. In the final phase of his fight with Sranus, his blades, forged by the master blacksmith of Nagaster, had broken beneath Sranus’ simple wooden staff. Ecalai knew that Sranus is legendary, but he never expected this.
All his life Ecalai’s blades had been part of his identity. They had been a piece of him that he kept close through the worst of the Shadow. Now the thing that had been the very expression of himself had been shown as far inferior to the true strength of one whom the Ancient of Days had called. Ecalai’s blades, his very soul, had been shattered.
“How is it that a staff could shatter my blades?”
“A man wields no strength apart from his source, in the same way that magic cannot live apart from its source. If you would seek the strength that comes from the Ancient of Days, the One Alone Who is Strong, you must lay down that strength which comes from yourself. Your magic must live by the Ancient of Days, your Source, alone.”
“If this is true, then what am I called to do?”
“Who are you?”
“What does that mean?”
“You will need this.” Sranus hands Ecalai a simple wooden staff.
“Wait a minute,” Ecalai protests. “This isn’t my kind of weapon. I have no idea how to use this thing!”
“Are you ready to find out?” Sranus raises his own staff.
“Then let us begin.”
Cyran. RedStone, Jeshrun.
If Vytria could see me now, she’d probably have that I-told-you-so look on her face, though she’d never say it. Well, standing here on the border of the RedStone, looking toward the TriCities and beyond, I guess I owe it to her this time.
Oh, there he is. Kyle. “You’re late.”
“I wasn’t aware I had a schedule.” Kyle keeps walking.
I start walking beside him. “I’m coming with you.” I knew he’d be here. There’s no way a wizard like him is staying with the NaruNova for long.
“Suit yourself. Won’t your pals miss you?”
“Those easy fights are a waste of my time.”
Kyle doesn’t react. “You didn’t do any fighting.”