There is a place, on a bay, where the red tiled roofs slope gently down to the sea, a place where men go down and ply their trades as they have for thousands of years. It is a place where palm trees sway gently in the breeze, and birds sing their songs of love, and romance stirs the air. In this place, women and men go about their daily lives without the slightest idea of events beyond the borders of their land. In this place where Jasmine scents the air, and smell-by-night trees blast the unsuspecting evening with their scents, I have made my home. I found a wife, a lovely dark skinned woman, with moonlight glinting in her eyes, and my past I tried to forget.
Like every Eden, every paradise, there are venomous serpents slinking their way through the shadows, and their poison infects the hearts and minds of their victims. There is danger, lurking in the hidden places, where none but the most wary might expect. Though I have put my past behind me, the life I once lived, I have not grown less cautious, and that was my undoing. Long had I feared that my past would return to haunt me once more, indeed it was the only thing I feared.
My wife was a gentle woman, but she was fiercely jealous. Not a woman could look my way but the fire burned in her eyes. It was the way of her people, the men lived in constant fear that their wives would find out about their indiscretions. When they did, death was a relief. I never had that problem, though, for I loved my wife as only one of my kind could. Warriors are always the most passionate lovers. This goes with being fierce in battle, and I once was a warrior, though my wars are mostly forgotten, the stories mixed with legend, and turned into a fantastic myth. Yet I was an immortal once, a hunter of beasts, with two legs and more, a rider of Dragyn, and death was my constant companion, even then I prayed for peace.
It was on a long summer's evening that the price of my past came due, the price that all must pay, eventually. I sat on the porch of the house my wife and I had built, enjoying the last of the day, the soft wind gently cooling the evening, when a shadow blotted out the sun. A terrible scream filled the air, reverberating through my bones, the harmonics leaving the windows vibrating, and I knew my past had returned. Many years since had I put away my sword, my armor lay gathering dust in a chest buried beneath the floorboards, of my humble home. I had no desire to take up arms and go adventuring once more, so I sat in my chair, and tried to look the innocent.
The yard of my home had trees reaching for the sky, generations old, wherein generations of fledglings had learned that they could not stay forever in the nest, and so took wing and flew. Ancient trees which were highways of life for the insects scurrying up and down their trunks, where leaves sprouted in their time, and fell away dead once it had expired. Seasons came and passed, and the trees grew towards their inevitable demise, which should have come long after my body was turning to dust, many years in the future... but as in all things in my life destiny took a hand. All their potential turned to dust in the blink of an eye, a gust of wind, and splinters were all that was left of these majestic trees.
Swirling dust blasted my skin, splinters of my past-present-future sprayed my house, and speckled my skin. The dust began to settle, and a familiar, yet strange shape began to form. If my wife had known my past perhaps she would not have thought there was anything strange about a woman materializing on our front lawn. Then again if she knew the woman, perhaps she would have. Unfortunately for me my wife was no longer. Many years had passed since my beautiful wife had gone ahead of me to the next life, our daughter was grown, married and had children, and was beginning to go grey, and still I lingered on, waiting for my old companion to come greet me. Death I waited for, the woman riding a Dragyn I was not!!
Death was a constant companion of my past, but so was the woman. The former I was expecting, and would have welcomed with arms well spread, as it was I was looking for a sword, or a magical staff, or any sort of weapon to defend myself with. Well maybe a magic staff is an exaggeration. I after all am, or was a warrior, not a mage, not that being a mage would have helped me. The woman in my yard was the most powerful mage I had ever had the misfortune of meeting in all my years. If she had wanted me dead I would have been—death would have been much more pleasant.
A tall dark haired woman, with brilliant green eyes that burned with the intensity of youth, youth a thousand years old, her skin though unblemished had begun to fade. She had garments of flowing silk, shaded in a thousand shades of black, and the deepest shades of green, blue, and gold. It would seem to be a rainbow wrapped around a mist, trapped in the spider silk of her gown. It was an enigma wrapped around a woman, who was mystically bordered in flesh. For what seemed like ages we had ridden Dragyns side by side, and fought hideous enemies, all for a king who had in the end betrayed the Dragyn riders. What she was doing here I could not even imagine.
For years my past was hidden even from my family. I did not talk of the shame, or the glory, nor did I tell any of the stories. I did not speak of the Wyrms, nor did I show my armor, or sword, for even in this peaceful remote corner of the world such things evoked racial memories. My Sword had been fashioned to kill, and had been bestowed with the knowledge of a hundred warriors. The gems gleaming in the hilt were spell bound by the mage I was paired with, our souls woven into the very fabric of the stone. I did not desire the immortality I had been granted, for ours was an abnormal immortality, years would drag on, and we could not die, yet a fortunate battle stroke could bring us to our ultimate end, but one death would bring about the other's. Neither of us was a coward, as such we could not take our own lives, nor could we but give our best in time of battle.
As the dust settled around my reminiscence, the woman walked up, eying me up and down, critically observing, reading my thoughts, my essence. She observed me at my most fundamental level, nor would I expect a mage to do any less. An age past I had fled here, settled to a life of peace, and prayed for our souls bound in this most unholy enchantment, prayed for the freedom that had been removed from us at birth. Only twins could be bound this way, and I gazed upon my long estranged sister, only souls twined as ours were, and pure as a newborn could be encased in the terrible spell, that the Dragyn riders bore. It was our unique curse, and our family honor!
"Do you like what you see, Sister mine," I inquired. "I, for one, was enjoying the view until you, and that overgrown rodent, disrupted the stillness."
"Ever the charming one, dear Brother. How can you stand this hovel?" she asked, looking at my forlorn home.
"The stones I placed with my own hands, the boards I carved with steel, the house I constructed here has been my refuge, my solace, and the home of my family. Yet in all the years my wife lived, never once did you grace us with your presence, never once did you come to dander your niece upon your knee, never once did you come when my home was filled with life, now the only life here are the mice in the walls, and the ivy slowly covering my walls. You would have been welcomed, Sister, had you come even once. But no, you had to wait these long years 'til my beautiful wife, the only woman I have ever loved, was gone. You had to wait until your niece was grown, and had children of her own."
"Am I supposed to greet you like family, that which you have rejected," I responded.
"I am not the one who left the wild lands, the home of our clan, to this forsaken place, I did not reject family. Yet here I come to my elder Brother," The sarcasm flowed like molten rock, "and he has the nerve to complain about my lack of respect. Hmmmph!!!"
"You know why I left. Treason is treason, even when it comes from the king. I never swore an oath to the craven bastard, I never had to swear fealty to the crown, as such I never had to put up to his betrayal, and I pity those who did. Perhaps you forget the past, the monarchy swore to us, and we guarded that trust, our honor was intact when those of us who left did, I cannot speak for the others, but mine is still intact, the Red Lion still sways upon my banner, and he has not in all these years forsaken me."
"That at least is something, a dozen others have I gone to, only to find their banners empty, their sigil no longer willing to bear their dishonor. You, dearest brother, are the last to whom I would turn, yet turn I did, for you are the last of the honorable left. I would not call upon you, but as a last resort."
"For years I had to listen to you mages, to your arcane babble, and inane speeches. I grow bored easily, Brigit. For an age I have not needed to listen to you babble, nor do I choose to do so now. Treason is treason and I will not bear the dishonor of defending the traitor king. If you came for any other reason, make yourself at home, but if you came to take a Dragyn rider back to that bastard, you may as well leave now."
"That creature you despise, Dear Brother, died many years ago. His grandchild's grandchild reigns now, and this new king has returned honor to his house, but that is not why I have come," Brigit told me. Her eyes darkened, like a cloud had passed over them. I could smell her terror rising. Whatever reason she came to me was so horrendous that even a Mistress of the Arcane could not control her fear of it. My sister never was one to be afraid—she would charge into battle against any creature, man or otherwise, and never taste fear, yet now the stench of it arose like fragrant clouds of incense.
"An ancient evil has awoken, and stalks the lands," she continued. "An evil not bound by neither mortal, nor by arcane means. A year past the Mage council learned of it, we went to fight it..."
"I presume you lost, else you would not be here, Little Sister," I commented.
"Lost does not even begin to describe what happened. We did not merely lose, we were annihilated. It appeared first as some creature we had no record of, armored by something indescribable. It absorbed all the power we threw at it, like pebbles tossed into the sea, our arcane knowledge had so little effect. The warriors rode against it, and fell back shattered, having inflicted no damage. It was at this point it decided to fight back. We had our shields up yet it never even seemed to notice. A dozen mages were incinerated as the creature turned a malevolent eye toward them. The last of the Dragyn riders attacked, and were slain, and still the creature advanced. The last of our army retreated, and still the creature burned them. Of a hundred thousand that rode out, less than fifty of us survived."
"I put that life behind me years ago. When I married my beloved wife, I settled here in the land of her birth, nevermore to ride out against creatures foul, nevermore to make war with mages against arcane evils, nevermore to wonder if death would finally claim his due in the midst of battle. I settled, and raised a family, and I was happy at least I learned the meaning of that word. I learned other things too, Sister of Mine, things your Council of Magistry must either never have learned, or conveniently forgot about. I learned about love, about overwhelming passion, and about peace."
"You come here, after so many years, disrupting my solitude, destroying my serenity, telling me I have one more war to win, because everything else has failed. You expect me to pick up my armor, to unsheathe my sword, to recall my Dragyn to go off and battle a creature that has destroyed an entire army. A creature you call an ancient evil, you have told me of the creature, of how you went to war against it, how you lost, how your mighty army was shattered, but you tell me nothing that makes me think that this creature does anything but unnerve you because you cannot understand it. I want no part of this. I am going to bed. You can sleep here, or under the night sky if you wish, but know that nothing you have said or will say can make me leave here now." Having said my piece, I went off to my bedroom and went to sleep.
The next morning I awoke as the sun rose, and smiled. A beautiful day, the events of the previous evening did not deter the birds from greeting the dawn musically, their chorus of love, and worship to their creator filling the tattered shards of my soul with indescribable emotions. As morning brings new life, so too does it spring forth new hope. My hope was that my sister had decided to leave during the night... My hope was dashed as I came out to find her sleeping in my daughter’s old bed. Oh well, perhaps I will go fishing today. It might be nice to have some fish for supper...
"I hate fish", Brigit said, coming awake.
"Well you do not have to eat it then. There are taverns in town that might sell you some stringy old goat, but if you go down there I would suggest wearing something a bit different. The people here do not much like mages. They still remember the first Mage wars, and how the mages turned on them, burning the seas, knocking the stars from the heavens, turning the waters into blood. They still remember, and they remember how the High King of Heaven intervened and saved them from destruction at the hands of Mages. If you go amongst them dressed as you are, they will hang you, and burn the tree on which you hang, then the priests will shatter our soulstone, and when they realize I died when you did, my descendants will be the next to burn, so please change, not for my sake, but for my daughter's."
I turned and walked out, leaving the mage, who was my baby sister, to silently fume. At some point in life, a brother has to make his little sister clean up her own messes. I reached that point over a century past when I turned away and left her and her fellow mages to their mutterings, and nonsensical chanting, locked away in their tower. I turned away and found the peace that had eluded me for so long, and I never looked back!
I loaded my fishing boat with the necessary supplies, and with a haunch of roast goat for my lunch, and set sail for my secret fishing grounds. Every fisherman has places he prefers over all the rest, and I was no different. I had found many years ago that the best fishing was in close to the Cursed Isles. That might have been because all others left it alone. The region was known to be a devourer of sea going vessels, and reports of strange monsters were not unheard of for the region. Thing is, I knew the true reason the people left it alone, a secret forgotten these many years, that it was in distant times a haven for the mages. Cut off from the rest of the world when the face of the Earth was rewritten by the Mage wars, the mages soon died off. Though they were dead more than a thousand years still there were ancient devices that they left that awakened, that destroyed ships of metal, and sometimes surfaced with eyes glittering with infernal intent. Even I walked cautiously in these lands, my sister would have died of terror were she forced to enter, for many of the artifacts left were of science, and not of the arcane, and magic would have no hold on them!
For several hours I fished, and caught two sailfish, a Tarpon, and a Dorado. It was a sufficient catch to feed myself, and sell some in town. Midday came and I devoured my goat haunch, its congealed fat glistening in the midday sun, the spices slavering upon my tongue, and I knew some semblance of the peace every fisherman knows when coursing upon the deep blue sea! After a short siesta, I decided to go ashore on one of the Cursed Isles, stretch my legs, and maybe find a relic or two for my grandchildren to play with. My oldest Grandson, Padraic, at the bright age of fifteen, was a veritable genius with the devices I brought him. Indeed when his schooling had ended this year he had taken to trading the artifacts I had given him over the years, and his customers loved the fact that he could make these ancient devices shine, and function as though they were new. His twin sister Maria Elena was the most beauteous lass in the town, and all the boys tried to court her, but she was the master trader for her brother’s business, and could manipulate the young lads into almost any kind of trouble she could imagine.
Walking down the deserted beach I noticed the patterns of erosion upon the grassy banks, and found that some artifacts had come to the surface as a result, many were little more than rusting metal, or rotting wood, and some were of a hard looking substance that crumbled away at the first touch. Searching the ancient ruins took time, and I knew the regions I had searched recently before, so I gambled on a new area. Deep within the twisted forgotten remnants of some poor sod's house I hit the Motherload. I found perfectly preserved books, in an almost legible language, and toys too numerous to count, a box with intricate carvings on its sides, even some sort of fancy ball in a frame. But what I found that was worth the most to me was a set of ancient writing devices that still held their ancient ink. My vessel was near overloaded before I decided to return home, and as I sailed towards the bay I looked upon a toy and saw that which my sister might have described.
Waiting upon the shore were my grandchildren, waiting for the fish, and any other treasures I may have found! As I pulled in, I found that their mother Isabella was with them also, so I invited them to come by for supper this evening. I thought a little family reunion was in order, especially for my sister. I purposefully kept such thoughts from my mind reading sister, as I came home. By now I could sense her presence just as I could sense the presence of my Wyrm, in his nest, high in the mountains where no man dared stray!
Somewhere my sister's Dragyn lurked, out of sight of any spying eyes, yet the destruction of the trees would not have gone unnoticed, but without the creature as evidence none could claim arcane evidence as a tool against me. For all of the mage's skills in the art of Magic, they could not bring life from death, they could not reconstitute destroyed beauty, they could not bring peace, for they were meant only for war, and it was to war they dedicated their studies. Death and destruction followed in their wake, and their haunts were known as the blasted lands, where never a green thing grew, nor butterfly flitted, and this grey blight infected their minds, still she was my sister, and perhaps there was still something left that could appreciate beauty, then again maybe not!
My sister was in high dudgeon when I returned, yet she was in the simple garb of a towns person, so she must have taken my advice and gone to a tavern for lunch.
“Do you know what these people are saying,” she screeched.
“Sister dear, there is no need for you to screech like a door hinge wanting oil, and as for these people you are talking about, I have not got the foggiest clue as to whom you are referring,” I told her.
“They blame the mages for the destruction of the world. There is a painting in their temple showing this horrific lie,” she declared. I had not thought she would have had the nerve to enter a temple of the High King of Heaven.
“That depiction is an accurate portrayal of the events that actually occurred. Further, it is an ancient account from a survivor of that war. It is difficult to disagree with a witness. As a witness of the end of that war I recall it very much like the priests tell it, and yet I as so many others, wandered in the darkness of ignorance for so many years before the light of truth dawned upon me. Why do you think we all left when we did? Why do you think that damned king tried to get us to swear allegiance to him?”
“This might be a new thing for you to grasp, little sister, but the defining moment of our order came with the destruction of the world, not the destruction of sciences you Mages decided to be blasphemous… but blasphemous against whom, or what—did that ever occur to you to ask?” I queried. Her face was a brilliant scarlet, and fire danced in her eyes!
“I told you, dear Sister, that I had a family, I had a wife, who was more beautiful than the sunset, and as passionate as you, if only in a different way, and with my wife, we raised a family. I told you this, and you blasted me for an ungrateful wretch, but I was always honest with my family, and they knew of your existence. I was always honest, but I did not give them information they did not need to know. They do know of you, and always they wondered why my beloved sister would never visit. I told them you were busy studying ancient things. Know then, my dear sister, that you must mask your hatred, mask your magic, mask your contempt for all things mundane, and pretend to be a human for once. I say this, because as you now glimpse with your mindsight, my child and her family are coming for a visit shortly.” As I spoke her face drained itself of all color, and finally I saw my sister truly terrified, for family was the one thing she had denied herself all these years, and yet I could see the great High mage was about to see that which could have been. Still could be, if she made the right decisions. So I decided to surprise her even more.
“We hold different ways here, sister, and in the culture here twins are not locked away, nor cursed with immortality, locked to each other for eternity by dark blood magic. No, twins are raised and loved, as if they were not out of the ordinary, and in truth, many are the twins that are born here. My grandchildren Padraic and Maria Elena are an example of such twins, yet even they bear a semblance of that ancient magic that has long eluded the scholars of the High Magistry. This you will note, I am certain, when you meet them. They deal in artefacts, the same type of which would make your blood turn to ice, and screech blasphemy. Artifacts made by men from before that ancient war into which we were born, from before the maelstrom that remade the world, and I dear sister, am the purveyor of such goods for them to sell. Padraic is a genius when it comes to repairing all things mechanical, and his sister, who is the spitting image of her grandmother, is the Mistress of Trade for their business. Merchants come from hundreds of miles just to obtain the chance to bid on the items they sell. I gather items on an island no other man dares approach, an island where the mundane still holds sway, where your magic would be as fruitless as it was when you and your army were slaughtered. You described a creature from the pit of Hel, which shrugged off your arcane power, whose armor shattered swords, and whose breath burned all in its path, and I think I know what such a creature might have been, though by whose hand it was guided I cannot say!!”
Her face went through an entire gamut of emotions, and palette of colors as I spoke, and her face went into contortions as I reached into my satchel and brought out the little artifact. I knew she could feel nothing, there was no sense of anything arcane surrounding this tiny thing, no life force, and yet she could see it move of its own volition. She heard the thing screech. What might have been a roar at one time was now a screech as age had rusted its voice. It opened its mouth and a red light blazed forth, and my sister fainted.
When she awoke a few minutes later the toy was silently glaring at her with baleful eyes. I saw her go through the ancient ritual of discernment of one’s own body. It was this method that told us where we had been wounded, and sometimes how to heal it, if we had the opportunity, and the time. “You are completely unharmed, sister. This toy merely frightened you into a state of incomprehension. This child’s toy is a mechanical dragon, which emits a laser from its mouth. I imagine your entire military effort was defeated by a larger version of this toy. I must smile to think of the entire High Magistry defeated by an overgrown toy, but perhaps the toy was merely a miniature of a larger weapon, or animal.”