This is where the Histories would start. In a hundred years, five hundred, one thousand years; long after all the details got altered or forgotten or made up, even after new myths and theories began, this would be the part that stays the same. When everything else changes and is debated on, when nothing is certain, this would be the one unquestionable fact.
Even now as it was happening the histories were being written, documenting this fateful day. One day it would be just a sad story of long ago, important to know but no one to truly understand.
Urvi had fallen. Slain by a Nurian girl. The powers she’d been trusted to hold were scattering, hiding, waiting to be found and put in the hands of the worthy. Waiting to be with themselves again. The Foretold would sing of the Reunion day, and the powers would pass from hand to bloody hand as wars would be fought to obtain such divinity.
He slumped in his throne, head in his hands, unable to look out the castle windows to the smoke from the still raging fire. Thick smoke polluted the air as far as the eye could see, half of Evaska was in flames. He knew his people were waiting, looking to him for guidance, for direction, for hope. For something good to hold on to. He could give them nothing. Hell, he couldn’t even look them in the eye. He wasn’t ready for this. Wasn’t qualified for this. Yet he was king on the highest throne of all the land, Ichtacka was his responsibility, he had to find a solution.
Thousands of years he’d been on the throne, thousands of years of peace. Ever since his father took the crown there had been no need to fight, no cause for war. This wasn’t about land or poverty or rights. This was about power. Or so they said.
No, this was about so much more. The dragons were crying. A noise as strong as thunder, as soft as rain, powerful as heartbreak. Dragons only cried if their mates, offspring, or owner dies. Or if a god dies. This was the first time he’d heard a dragon cry for this reason, but there was something heartbreakingly familiar about it. He knew, as they all did, that this cry had happened eight times before. Though he hadn’t been around for them, Urvi was the only god he’d met. She was the last of them.
Dragon cries tended to be loud, there was no way the people hadn’t heard. They all knew what it meant. The death of a god often invokes fear, and fear is the greatest weapon. It had been proven time and time again in this world and in any world, that people are capable of anything when the threat of fear is present. They will do anything to feel safe again. It might have been about power for the fire starter, but now it was about fear and control.
“My Lord?” Zarall, an eons long friend of the crown, took a step forward. When his advances went ignored, he tried again. “Anaxagoras?”
Finally, after several moments of silent panic, Anax lifted his eyes to meet his friends gaze. The room was silent, everyone holding their breath, waiting. It didn’t matter that there were only a handful of his most trusted citizens and most treasured friends here. It didn’t matter how long he’d known them or how close they all were. All that mattered right now was that they looked to their king for an answer they knew he didn’t have. Even in the darkest moment when he was meant to be their ray of light, they knew he didn’t have the power to fix anything. He could see it in their faces, in their eyes. He didn’t blame them, Anax didn’t even believe in himself right now.
“Ichtacka looks to you now, my Lord.” Zarall glanced to the waiting citizens before moving to the king’s side and whispering in his ear. “I suggest you get it together soon. With the other high power gone, you are our strength.”
“You think I don’t know that?” Anax snapped, his voice hard, his eyes wet. They all knew Urvi well, she had breathed into each of them their immortality, their spirit, their life. She was the oldest of the gods, she’d guided them all. Anax, more than the rest of them, had reason to grieve her loss. “I do. I know they expect everything from me. And I know I can’t give that to them. Not now.”
Zarall pursed his lips and backed away, joining his equals at the foot of the throne. Of all his qualities patience wasn’t his strongest. Anax knew that even if he was too on edge to keep it friendly he’d keep it professional, at least while they had an audience. “What do you propose we do, my lord? We haven’t the time to sit idly back while the land falls to chaos.”
“It’s already in chaos!” Mihr’s strong voice carried through the room, echoing against the walls.
“Already?” Anax glanced to his left, where Arariel always stood faithful.
She was kneeling, gently stroking the furry head of her beast as it rested in her lap. Golden wings wrapped around the catlike creature in a comforting embrace. “It’s true, my king. The fire started hours ago. Everyones seen the smoke. They know of the gifts, and have already set out to find them. This will start many wars, I can feel it.”
A good king listens to his people, relies on them as much as they rely on him. Right now they were his only option, his only answer. Anax let his eyes roam the room, resting his gaze on Mydaeil, who stood as close to the throne room doors as possible. She was as beautiful as she was quiet, with her raven hair that mirrored the faint curl of her dark wings. She loved her king and people as much as anyone else, but wouldn’t hesitate to run from conflict. She met his eyes with a frown, hating to be called upon, yet she dutifully stepped up to the kings side.
“Mydaeil, I trust you have an answer?” She was older than most, older even than Anax. Old enough to have been around when his father had taken the throne. “You must know something that could help.”
She bowed her head in respect, eyes focused on the marble ground. “Your assumptions are correct my king. Though our people won’t be thrilled, and I doubt you would go for it.”
Anaxagoras was Lord, king, leader. Everyone in this land looked to him, he was expected to stay strong and have every answer. Usually he could keep up that charade, but not now. Not in a room full of friends with the same desire - a land of peace and unity once again. With something as tremendous as the burning of Urvi to threaten that, Anax would be lying if he claimed not to be scared, and his friends deserved more than to be led by a liar. “I’m desperate. Whatever you say, I will listen, I am open. Please, speak freely.”
Mydaeil nodded and faced her king, obviously trying not to focus on the onlookers. “It’s no secret that in times of trial you are not a fit king—”
Shouts of protest erupted from Valoe, Mihr, Karael, and even Arariel who was normally so silent unless prompted for speech. The room silenced once more at the slight wave of Anaxagoras’ hand; he had given permission of truth, there was no treason here.
Mydaeil continued, ignoring the insults that had been thrown at her. “You’ve told all of us at some point, individually or as a group, that you never wanted to inherit the throne. We all know how you and Valoe quarreled when your father passed over who wouldn’t be crowned. Your father’s father, the first king of Ichtacka, felt the same.”
Anax nodded, trying to remember stories of the Great King Onoel. His grandfather. Died hundreds of years before Anax existed. He was a god, one of the creators of this world. Ichtacka was made to be a safe haven, an escape. Eartherners grew fearful of mighty beasts, merfolk, and the fae, slaying them to near extinction. This land was meant to keep them alive, free. And the gods, immortal as they were, had children amongst themselves and mortals, birthing magik. Histories spoke of the demigod uprising, how they enslaved those of lesser power. The gods had grown furious and declared war with their tratorus descendants. Onoel was the first god to die. Or disappear. The Histories were not exactly clear on that. “And what did he do?”
Mydaeil’s face grew dark as she stepped down and reclaimed her previous spot. To speak ill of the living was one thing, that was easily forgiven. But to disrespect the dead? To do that would be to put a curse upon yourself and feel the pain of the deads demise and sins tenfold. Only superstition, but still, not worth the risk.
Anaxagoras grew worried suddenly, for normally Mydaeil paid no heed to superstition. What had Onoel done that was so horrible? Even his father had hardly mentioned the Great King of Gods. He glanced around the room once more, searching for answers. Everyone here was exceptionally old, old enough to be considered immortal. But Anax knew, as did everyone, that the only true immortals were gods, for even in death their soul would return. Even so, there was one in this room ancient enough to have met Onoel.
“Karael.” Anax swallowed hard, trying to forget the disappearance of his grandfather that erased the god from history. “You were there. What happened?”
Karael, every inch of her down to every last wing point, was covered in armor as always. She unsheathed her sword and plunged it into the ground, cracking the marble. She placed her forehead to the hild and spun six times. In any other situation, Anax would have found it humorous the lengths his people went through to avoid a curse. “He went for the Appraisal. He failed.”
Anax had heard about an Appraisal only once, so long ago he’d forgotten. His brother, Valoe, had threatened to purposefully fail one just so he wouldn’t have to sit on the throne. Even back then Anax had known he’d end up as king. It was his destiny, no matter how much he hated the idea. Yes he loved his people and wanted to serve them, but he wasn’t ready to be king. Wasn’t ready to have their pain on his shoulders.
“My king?” Anax nearly jumped from his seat, he hadn’t noticed Zarall had returned to his side until he felt the familiar hand on his shoulder. “Are you alright? You’ve grown paler than the moon.”
Anax nodded quickly, taking a deep breath and swallowing the bile rising in his throat. “The wars stopped. He failed, but peace was still possible.”
“They ended when you were born.” Valoe grumbled. He was older, if only by a few centuries. He still had some memory, however fuzzy they might be, of a land ruled by war and bloodshed. “The disorderly had all but destroyed themselves, the remaining were locked up and punished. Dad gave us peace before he handed you the throne.”
Anax knew his brother, knew the hidden meaning in his words. Anax was young, naive. He hadn’t the wisdom to lead in time of war. He’d only known Sanctuary as such - eternal and peaceful, prosperous and good.
The Appraisal was made to be a test to the gods, a trial to see if they could conquer anything with diplomacy and mercy. If he went through it and passed, he’d be what his people deserved. But if he failed… He was godborn, but not a god himself. There were ways to make him cease to exist.
“My king.” Zarall frowned, too much time was passing with no plan of action. “What do you decide?”
He thought through his options quickly. He knew who he was, his destiny, what the Foretold sang of him. He knew of the Reunion. Would this change things? Slow it down, speed it up, or stop it all together? “Should I.. Would it.. If I were to be Appraised, could it fix this? Would it help? What about you all?”
Mydaeil gave him a small but encouraging smile. “We are a patient people, my Lord. Either way, we are waiting. Might as well prepare yourself for it.”
Anax glanced to Karael, who had yet to remove her blade from the stone. “Do you think I could pass?”
“As my king, I must have faith in you. That said, I also had faith in Onoel.” Her jaw set in a hard line, she knew better than to say something foolish like it’s not for me to decide or you are not your grandfather. “Stay who you are, remember what you’ve learned, and failure is improbable.”
Improbable, not impossible. Not a great confidence boost, but it was honest. “Alright. No time to waste, I’ll begin immediately.”
“And what are we to do in your absence, dear brother?” Valoe protested, almost begging, despite already knowing the answer. “It could take hundreds of years. What happens here?”
“You’ll run the throne in my stead.” An easy decision, truly. Anax knew he could trust his brother, he only regretted knowing how much Valoe would hate him for it.
“Your king commands it, it is done.”
“You’ll need guidance.” Arariel’s words were but a faint whisper, but everyone heard. Everyone agreed.
Anax glanced around the room once more at the faces of his friends that he’d memorized thousands of years ago. He’d take them all, if he could. Arariel would be his first choice, but Valoe would need her more. She’d probably end up doing all the ruling while his brother moped. This kingdom needed Karael and Zarall. “Cynzia. Conroy. Would you do me the honor?”
The twins, still relatively young, stood tall and beamed with pride. “Gladly, my king.”
Anaxagoras rose from the throne, hiding a laugh as Zarall pushed Valoe into the seat. He ran over everything in his head quickly, making sure he had everything important taken care of. They could figure out the rest. He stepped down and joined his people, his friends, his equals. “Effective immediately. I leave you in good hands. Mydaeil, join me for a walk?”
Anax strolled out of the throne room, Mydaeil following a few paces back. Nobody chased after them or tried to stop them or tried to say goodbye. Another superstition; never say goodbye for goodbye’s are always final. The word was whispered in mourning, or on a deathbed, or during a war. Though not sure what exactly Onoel had done wrong, Anax fully intended to return and see his people again. He would come home, however long it took.
They left the castle and followed the spiraling floating earth to the ground where the pair crossed hill after hill in silence, trying to ignore the distant screams and smoke filled sky. Anaxagoras stopped only once they’d reached the edge of the land, when he turned to look at his home one last time. Rolling hills and peaceful streams. Beyond that tall, lively trees and a vast, snow covered mountain range. From the waters rose the floating islands. He could see bit of each land; Sanctuary, Nuria, Evaska, Kren, Avel. Everything under his power. No, his brothers power. Anax had yet to earn his place.
Mydaeil observed him silently, probably wondering why he’d singled her out from all his other friends. Oh, how he would miss them all. His friends, his family. The ones in the castle who’d seen it first hand. The ones running to it now, just discovering the new rulership. The others all across the land. They were all his, and he was theirs. Anaxagoras belonged here, this was his home, and he would return. He would pass his Appraisal. He had to.
Anaxagoras, in a rare moment of weakness, lifted a hand to Mydaeil’s wings, gently stroking her soft feathers. He had his own of course, as did Valoe and Cynzia and Conroy and all the other godborn Sanctuary natives. Mydaeil’s wings had long feathers of a translucent light gray, and curled as gently as her hair. They’d lain together a handful of times in the past, and Anax suspected that if he ever got married he’d take her as his mistress. “You are so beautiful.”
“As are you, my king.” It was the expected answer, the respectful answer. But not the truth. Yes his wings of gold and white were magnificent and he was considered fairly attractive, but he wasn’t beautiful. Because he wasn’t patient like Mydaeil, wasn’t strong like Arariel, wasn’t just like Karael, wasn’t kind or wise like Zarall or Conroy. Anaxagoras wasn’t beautiful, not yet.
“I mean it. You are gorgeous. Magnificent. Perfect. And one day, however long this Appraisal takes, I’ll come back. I’ll learn. Then I’ll be beautiful.”
“Why did you bring me here, my Lord?”
Anax offered her a small apologetic smile. “You might hate me for it, but I need someone with patience and determination. I have a task for you, if you’ll accept?”
“Happily, my king.”
“You’ll have to distance yourself from everyone…”
“I do that already, my Lord.”
“This land, these people, they need this.”’
“Just tell me what it is.”
Anax pursed his lips, he hated to ask this of anyone, especially Mydaeil, but it had to be done. With a wave of his hand he produced two women pitchers of neverending potion and handed them over. “One for concealment. One for protection. Fly high and pour. Don’t stop until I return. Not just me, but me. Anaxagoras.”
“You know how the Appraisal works. I need to make sure our home is safe until it’s over.” Until the judgement. Until the reunion. So many untills. The day would come, the Foretold said so. Anax only hoped that until would happen sooner rather than later. They hadn’t the time to wait for him to be reborn again.
Mydaeil rose in the sky, slow and graceful and remorseful. With a silent wish of luck for her king, she began to pour the potion. Anax watched the infinite water fall, circling the land, closing it off from the rest. As it hit the ground it spread and turned to a thick fog, hiding his home from view. As Mydaeil rose so did the wall of fog, higher than the heavens.
The smoke of Urvi’s fire faded, as did the screaming. All that remained was silence and white, nothing else mattered. By now Valoe would have spread word of his brothers choice. By now Anax was already being mourned by those who thought he’d make the same mistakes as his grandfather. By now his people were losing faith in him, but gaining hope in their protective bubble.
Eventually the other lands would take notice. They’d notice the fog, the unreachability of the godborn, the isolation to save themselves. Because Anax wasn’t strong enough to take control. Because he wasn’t ready to lead and fix. Because he couldn’t heal the damage done by a simple Nurian girl. Because he’d rather go through an Appraisal than wait it out like the rest of them.
The other nations, oh how they’d hate him. How they’d curse his name. How they’d erase him from history. How they’d forget about the world that forgot about them. But it had to be done. For the Foretold. For the reunion. For the hope of tomorrow.
He’d prolonged this far long enough. This last part he had to do alone.
Anax sighed and waved his hand again, producing a simple chalice, filled with the waters of life. Urvi had taught him all he knew, and now she was gone. He wanted to weep for her, as the dragons did, but there was time for that later. Now he needed to be king. Now he had to make a sacrifice for the good of his people.
He took a small sip. Though the vile was cool to the touch it burned going down, far worse than any liquor. When he came back, he’d deal with all this. When he came back, he’d fix everything.
He took another sip, wincing less as he expected the bitterness of it. The Appraisal was fifty fifty, either he’d win or he wouldn’t. That would be between him and his judge.
Another small sip. The vial was small, but impossible to down in one go. It hurt everywhere, mind body and soul. Like he was being torn apart.
Another sip. He’d have to find his way back to himself, as did the other gods.
Another. His blood was on fire. He wanted to scream but had no voice. Wanted to cry but had no tears.
Another. Nuria, Evaska, Kren, Avel, home. He’d miss it all. But how do you miss something you don’t remember?
Another. His brother, his mother, his friends, his advisors and warriors and citizens. He’d feel empty without them, he was certain.
Another. He could feel his wings disappearing, felt where they were and where they were not. He was losing himself already. He tried desperately to hold onto something, anything from this life. Stay who you are, and failure is improbable. That’s what Karael had said. Stay who you are.
One more. He closed his eyes, embracing the Appraisal.
This is where the Histories would start.