The horse driven carriage rambled along the stone paved roads that led into the city of Iorys. The sun was high in the sky of clear blue, not a cloud to be seen. But what was the most notable was the large tree that stood above the bustling city. With its far reaching branches, reaching well beyond the limit of the naked eye and the twisting, some would say spirally dancing trunk and spiralling roots that reached deep into the earth.
The mythical Tree of Life, as some cultures claim.
Drayce rested his elbow upon the window of his carriage and stared up at the mighty tree. While many found the tree to be daunting, with its twisting branches and mysterious glows of purple and blue seen higher up, Drayce saw it as a dream come true to be finally allowed to traverse the mysterious labyrinth found inside.
For over a thousand years the tree and any exploration had been completely forbidden in the wake of the devastating Legendary War. It had been magically protected by powerful Celestians and feverishly guarded by Earthlain royals.
Though Yggdrasil had been sealed away, the myths and legends of the mighty tree continued still. And with it, the seemingly never ending gossip and tales of powerful treasures. The most famous, in the treasure hunting community at least, was the legendary treasures that the infamous and dangerous royal simply known as the Despot had acquired and then hidden, for he was the one responsible for the devastations of Yggdrasil all those years ago.
Drayce knew all about the treasures and myths of the Legendary War. He, after all, came from a long line of feisty treasure hunters and rebellious archaeologists. The Pendragon Boys as they were often known as. With his skills as a dragoon, there wasn’t a place on this planet that he wasn’t willing to venture.
Tearing his gaze away from the tree, Drayce looked down at the scroll in his hand. The one with the royal Iorys seal.
To think that he was lucky enough, that his family was notorious enough, to be asked by Prince Ramus of the Earthlain people to visit and to, hopefully, work with or for him in the hopes of recovering ancient treasures that were lost during the Legendary War.
Honestly, it was a dream job for anyone, let alone someone who had been raised as a treasure hunter and archaeologist.
His request to visit Iorys came at the best time, actually. His grandfather left him the deed to his ramshackle guildhouse before he took off on a so-called “Merry Adventure”. Adventures he was prone too. Old age hadn’t slowed him down in the slightest. But there was a good reason for that now.
His beloved wife passed away just a couple of months ago. And since then, he had been on many adventures.
Though it was probably wrong to think, but Drayce did believe that after his grandmother’s death, his grandfather simply lost the plot and threw himself back into exploration in order to hide his grief at his beloved wife’s death. And to, perhaps, mourn on his own for a while.
He could understand why his grandfather would do such a thing. His grandparents had been married for well over 50 years. Childhood sweethearts. He loved her to bits. They were also so affectionate in a sweet way. And his grandmamma was such a beloved and key figure in his life that Drayce himself still felt the sting of her passing. She was and always well be sorely missed by many.
It probably didn’t help matters that many people from the treasure hunting community and their village believed that his grandmother, or Grandmamma as he called her, died from a broken heart. Drayce felt that it was true. He knew it was. He just…couldn’t remember who or what it was that broke her heart.
Drayce idly rubbed at his right temple with the heel of his palm as he fingers curled into his short red hair. His Grandmamma’s heart must have been broken about the same time he lost part of his memories. When he was about nine years old. He could remember vague things of his childhood, but they were just that. Vague. And they didn’t make sense.
He couldn’t help but feel that something was missing. Something important. Something that was…very important to him. A part of him.
“Hey, Hotshot, quit daydreaming, we’re almost at the centre of Iorys.”
With a shake of his head, Drayce pulled himself from his thoughts and lifted his gaze to look at the blue-haired man that sat across from him in the carriage. With his narrow eyes and stern pout constantly on his lips, Blayke, his best friend, looked like the perpetual sour-puss. He was oh-so easy to rile up, though, and had a limit supply of patience.
But as a fencer, he was sharp-witted, quick on his feet, and willing to fight by Drayce’s side no matter what kind of trouble they found themselves in. Sure, he would bitch and moan at Drayce about it later, but Drayce knew he enjoyed the thrill of danger and adventure, too.
And Drayce love rubbing that in his face.
“Yeah, yeah,” Drayce said as he carefully placed the royal scroll into his red jacket and rested his elbow on his knees. “Do you think we should visit the Royal Council first, or stop by the guildhouse and drop off our belongings?”
Blayke folded his arms across his chest. “It’s your call. But personally I think we should visit the Council Hall first. Knowing you, you’ll get caught up inspecting every nook and cranny at your grandfather’s old guildhouse that you would forget to visit the Council at all.”
Drayce gave him a disgruntled pout. “Wow, rude.”
Blayke, however, just gave him a bland look. “Am I wrong?”
“I didn’t say you were wrong, only that you were rude,” Drayce quickly countered with a grin.
As per usual after their bantering, Blayke just rolled his eyes and ignored him. Well, appear as if he was ignoring him.
When Blayke heard that Drayce had virtually been summoned to Iorys by the Council, he agreed to accompany him. Something along the lines of Drayce needing a keeper because he would often get too caught up in his treasure hunting duties that he would forget to eat. Or something like that. But Drayce was fairly certain, almost a hundred precent certain, that Blayke was just using that as an excuse to cover up the fact that he enjoyed and dreamed of being an explorer as well.
Besides, Drayce couldn’t traverse the labyrinth alone. He was energetic and gung-ho for certain, but he wasn’t stupid. He knew that trapesing along the dangerous paths of the ancient maze alone, without any prior knowledge at least, would be all but suicidal.
“But you’re right. Let’s head to the Council Hall first,” Drayce said. “Prince Ramus would be waiting, after all.”
With a nod of his head, Blayke unfolded his arms and turned in his seat to speak up to their driver, directing him to stop by the council building first. They then fell into silence as they turned their attention to the passing scenery outside of their windows.
The streets of Iorys were bustling with people of all shapes and sizes. Some dressed in normal attire, seemingly going about their normal lives, while others were in explorer clothing, weapons and shields at their sides. And there were quite a large number of would-be adventurers to be seen. The four races of Earthlain, Celestian, Brounii, and Therian mingling together effortlessly, all excited to venture into the labyrinth and hopefully place their guildname into the royal achieves as the one to have conquered the labyrinth.
Seeing everyone, seeing all the potential explorers increased Drayce’s own enthusiasm and energy. He couldn’t wait to establish his own guild and head into the labyrinth himself. He had heard so many tales and myths regarding the mysterious but naturally formed pathways, after all.
After a few minutes of openly admiring the beautiful scenery of Iorys, the driver of their horse-driven carriage announced to them that they have reached their destination.
Drayce was the first to step from the carriage with Blayke close behind him. He took a few moments to stretch his legs and to look around. The first thing he noticed, besides the marble white architecture and brick red roofing tiles of the Council Building was the fact that the building was perched atop of a rocky curvature overlooking the city below. And that the thick truck of Yggdrasil was so close, almost as if he could reach out and touch it.
He would also get vertigo if he tried to tilt his head back enough to look up at its tallest branches.
From where he stood, he could sense the magmatic energy of Yggdrasil. And how it seemed to reach beyond even the heavens.
It was truly beautiful.
“I’ve asked the driver to wait for us here,” Blayke’s voice pulled Drayce from his thoughts. “So let’s get going.”
Drayce nodded his head as he turned his gaze away from Yggdrasil and followed Blakye to the entrance of the Council Building. As they walked silently up the stone steps, they both noticed that groups of explorers were venturing in and out as well. Some appeared to be excitedly talking amongst themselves, while others appeared huffy and annoyed.
Their varying expressions were most likely in response to a particular mission. Drayce had heard on the grapevine that though the labyrinth was open to explorers, they weren’t willing to have anyone and everyone enter at will. A mission was created to prove themselves, not only as explorers but as citizens of Iorys.
Made perfect sense, but many were no doubt annoyed at the so-called restrictions.
As they made their way inside, Drayce had to pause once again to admire his surroundings.
The architecture was incredible. Exquisite. The sandstone pillars with gold trimmings, the chess-inspired flooring of precision made stones of high quality, the marble statues that stood at attention; time and loving dedication was clear to be seen.
The building had to be more than three-hundred years old. He could tell by the mosaic designs on the walls and ceiling. Yet it was in remarkably good shape. Well taken care of.
Hmm…since it was made over three-hundred years ago, there was the high possibility that there were hidden servant quarters and passageways. There would also be quite an extensive library. Perhaps even a hidden library.
In the years after the Legendary War, there was still a great amount of uncertainty. The architects of that time period were renowned for creating secret safe rooms and passageways. Preparing for the possibility of another devastating war.
Blayke hitting the back of his head with his hand pulled Drayce from his musings and he immediately turned to look at him with a disgruntled pout. Before he could mutter the words “You didn’t need to hit me” as he raked his hand through his short red hair, something he always did just after Blayke physically pulled him from his ponderings, the blue-haired fencer arched an annoyed eyebrow at him.
“We’re here to explore the labyrinth, not the council building,” he said, seemingly responding as if he had somehow read his mind. Or simply knew what he was thinking.
The fact that Drayce had been holding his chin as he stared at his surroundings and mumbling under his breath probably gave it away, too.
“Try to keep your head on straight when you’re speaking with Prince Ramus,” Blayke continued to scold and fuss.
Drayce rolled his eyes and reached into his jacket to pull out the scroll requesting his presence. “I promise not to make a fool of myself and get us kicked out. But get ready to run before he calls the guards.”
Entering into a long and brightly lit hallway that was lined with white statues of various classes and standings, they approached a set of stairs where other explorers had gathered. At the top of the small staircase was a figure in royal garbs flanked by two guards who watched everyone with caution.
A young man, seemingly no older than sixteen, with dark blue hair and bright blue eyes, smiled politely at Drayce and Blayke as the two approached him. “Hello,” he greeted simply. “Are you explorers wishing to enter the labyrinth?”
“Well, yes,” Drayce said as he held out his summoning letter to the young man. “But for good reason.”
The young man looked both puzzled but expectant as he took the scroll from him. As he unfurled his, his eyes widened and for a fraction of a second, an expression of excitement appeared in his eyes. He soon squashed that, however, with a look of royal politeness.
“Ah, yes, thank you for coming all this way,” he said as he handed the scroll back to Drayce before he bowed his head slightly as he introduced himself. “I am Ramus, Prince of Earthlain Royalty. Please, call me Ramus.”
“It’s nice to meet you, and to be here,” Drayce said in earnest. “My name is Drayce Pendragon,” he introduced himself and reached around to loop an arm around Blayke’s neck in order to drag him closer and to poke his cheek with his finger.
“And this is my partner in crime, Blayke.”
Blayke immediately frowned and squirmed in Drayce’s grip, tugging at his arm with both hands. “I’m here to keep you out of trouble,” he all but hissed.
The corner of Ramus’ mouth twitched for a moment, as if wanting to break out into an amused smile, but royal protocol seemed to prohibit it, so he simply nodded his head.
“Come, let us speak more in my office,” Ramus said as he turned to lead them.
Drayce released his hold on Blayke and silently the two followed the young prince. After a moment of walking along plush blue carpet and taking a few corners, they reached a set of doors with gold trimming of eccentric designs. With a single push of his hand, Ramus opened one of the doors and motioned for Drayce and Blayke to step inside before him.
Ramus’ office was as grand and beautiful as the architecture outside the room. A large desk made of red wood, polished to a bright sheen was situated in the middle of the room, surrounded by cabinets and bookcases, all filled to capacity.
True to his treasure hunting nature, Drayce felt the urge and need to look through the bookcases and drawers for anything hidden or interesting. He, however, shook it off as even though he meant no harm, the need born out of sheer intrigue rather than malicious nosiness, it was still seen as highly intrusive to dig through someone else’s belongings.
But, man, were his fingers twitching.
“Again, thank you for coming all this way,” Ramus said as he led Drayce and Blayke to his desk and to the two chairs that sat before it. “It is reassuring to have someone from the famous treasure hunting clan here in the city of Iorys.”
Drayce smiled a friendly smile as he sat down and rested his hands atop of his knees. “It’s an honour to be here,” he said, sounding like a true professional. Wouldn’t Grandmamma be proud?
Ramus moved to the other side of his desk, of which honestly looked too big for him, and sat down in a red-velvet, high back chair. That also looked too big for him. “Do you mind if I get straight to the point?” he unexpectedly asked.
“Not at all,” Drayce immediately responded. “In fact, I prefer it.”
“Thank you,” Ramus once again spoke politely before he folded his hands atop of his desk and a serious expression appeared on his face. “I’m sure you you’ve already concluded to the reason why I’ve summoned you here. And in short, yes, I wish for you to find information on the whereabouts on the lost treasures of the Legendary War.”
Ah, just finding information? Drayce was hoping to actually find the legendary treasures, too. Not so much for himself, but more so to keep them away and safe from others as, if legends and tales were any indication, these treasures were so important, so powerful that the Despot himself hid them in magically sealed vaults. These treasures were reputed to be powerful.
Myth or not, it would be best if they don’t fall in the wrong hands.
“Yeah, I know all about the Lost Treasures,” Drayce said as he leaned back into his chair. “Legend says that the Despot took the knowledge and information of whereabouts of his precious treasures with him to his grave. These treasures were so important to him that he created vaults to seal them away in. Vaults with three locks; a physical lock that requires a key, a magic lock that requires a spell to release, and a mental lock that requires the one trying to open the vault to solve a seemingly unsolvable puzzle.”
“Doesn’t legend also say that there are at least ten of them?” Blayke asked. “And that doesn’t count the myths and tales regarding the Despot’s most trusted war generals and commanders. They have their own legends about their ruthlessness before and during the war.”
Ramus gave them a sympathetic look as he nodded his head. “Yggdrasil itself has many myths and legends pertaining to it. Tales of before and after the Legendary War. In the search for information regarding the Lost Treasures, you are likely to encounter other fables of hidden treasures, too. Perhaps some tales that are meant to draw you away from seeking the Lost Treasures.”
Yggdrasil was over a thousand years old. Plenty of time for legends and myths, as well as beliefs and cults, to rise and fall.
So much to learn and find.
“Sounds awesome,” Drayce said as he smiled broadly. “I can’t wait to get started.”
Ramus smiled an honest smile but he soon frowned slightly. “But…” he unexpectedly paused for a moment to bite his lips together. “I can’t necessarily allow you free reign of the labyrinth. Well, not yet. There are certain protocols in place. Even for professionals.”
Drayce immediately knew what he was inferring. “Ah, you want to test my mantle with a mission, right? The same one that other guilds and explorers are having to complete?”
Ramus gave him a small, polite smile and almost hesitantly, as if afraid of offending him, nodded his head.
“No, that’s completely fair,” Drayce replied good-naturedly and smiled when he saw Ramus’ shoulder drop a fraction in relief. “I didn’t come here expecting special treatment or to step on anyone’s toes. Besides, this mission would be a good indicator to what to expect in the labyrinth. A win for the both of us in the end.”
“I’m honestly pleased by your understanding and enthusiasm,” Ramus said, his smile still courteously polite, and yet appeared more sincere nonetheless. “If you wish, I will give you the information and supplies needed to start on your first mission now. There is no need for you to rush, though, as you have only just arrived in Iorys. Please take your time. You will need to form a band of fellow explorers first, yes?”
Drayce nodded his head. “This is our first time visiting Iorys, so I’m sure there’s still a lot for us to see outside the labyrinth, too. But we will take the first mission now. At least register for it.”
“Hm,” Ramus simply said as he rummaged around in his desk before pulling out a parchment of paper and a form of some kind. “I suggest that you visit Egar, the guild leader, and register a guildname for yourselves.”
“Good place to start,” Drayce answered back idly.
“Would you like for me to suggest an inn where you can take up lodgings?” Ramus asked as he handed over the documents.
Drayce shook his head as he reached forward to retrieve the information on the first mission and pushed himself to his feet. “Nah, we’re good,” he said with a smile. “We have a place already planned.”
Ramus looked somewhat surprised, but that soon turned to intrigue. “But this is your first time setting foot upon Iorys’ soil, yes?”
“It is,” Drayce answered before a large grin slipped across his lips. “But I’m from a longline of treasure hunters, remember? I have connections. My grandfather owns an estate here in Iorys. We have all the accommodation we need. Don’t you worry too much about us.”
With a few polite farewells, Drayce and Blayke walked out of the Council Building and back to their awaiting horse and carriage.
Their next stop was his grandfather’s estate, where they were to meet up with Ashton, his father’s trusted understudy who had already migrated to Iorys a few months before. And after that? Well, looks like he would need to head out into Iorys and find some willing guild members to drag along on his adventures.
Shouldn’t be too difficult, right?