“For thousands upon thousands of years, mankind has believed that his world will soon end. That come hell or high water, the apocalypse is nigh and there will be nothing we can do about it. Dates. Facts. Charts. Scriptures. Prophecies. Every generation thinks they know exactly when and how it’s all going to end, and that it’ll be on their watch.
Maybe that’s why it snuck up on
us so easily. Fire rained from the sky, earthquakes began to tear the world
asunder. Great trees suddenly and violently sprang forth from the ground. And
all over the world, there was a cry of terror from humanity. Panic broke out,
and the world truly began to fall apart.
What else could they do? They had no King. “
- From Visions of the Scribe, by Jackson Whitefall, circa P.R. 000
The Pendragon Protectorate, 48 Days Post-Cataclysm
Someone once said that every story starts at the beginning. They were probably rolling in their graves, then, since this one started at the end. The world as humanity knew it, crumbled and gone and replaced with a strange and wild place, dangerous and crawling with all manner of unearthly beings. It was his world.
Standing amidst the wreckage of his hometown, the Scion of Blades tried again to accept the new world, the new order of things and his place in it all. Vines and moss had crawled over the highways, houses, and corporate buildings. Like ominous sentinels, huge stone towers and walls had been thrust up from the earth through magical means. And there, around the river that had once been the lifeblood of the city, its civilization was being reborn. It had been the town of Beaumont once, not far from the Texas coastline and bustling with shipping docks and oil refineries. The refineries were mostly gone now, and those that were left had been converted into small fortresses and storage areas. Food and water had been scarce since The Cataclysm, and what little good there was left was under guard. A small, feudalistic government had taken over the area following the disaster. The Pendragon Protectorate they called it, named after its leader, who claimed to be a descendant of the legendary King Arthur.
The Scion of Blades walked around the city, greeting the few people he met, making eye contact with few of them and saying little more than hellos and how-do-you-do’s. He hadn’t run into anyone he knew yet, and counted that a blessing. It was not the home he remembered, and not the homecoming he’d wanted. He picked his way past a broken-down pickup truck, stopping only for a moment to read the license plate. Once, it had belonged to his father. The white body of the mechanical monster was mostly intact, as was the cab. And, judging from the name that had been painted on the walls surrounding the ‘Pendragon Protectorate’, his father and family were most likely alright. He stiffened for a moment, taking in a breath of air and letting his consciousness expand out around him. He could sense the mana in the walls behind him as they arced up into the sky, dividing wilderness from populace. He felt the people around him, some in their now-overgrown houses, some walking through the streets and scavenging things from the wreckage of vehicles and buildings. Ahead of him, at least three miles away, he could sense something else: a gathering of people like himself – manites, those who had come into contact with the soul of the Earth and lived to tell the tale. He began to move again, faster this time. An upturned eighteen-wheeler blocked the road ahead, covered with some creeper vines and a smattering of flowers. He leapt over it as though it were a fallen log, a trail of lime-green mana following his bare heels. He abandoned his brown, scratchy cloak then, letting it fall to the ground as he raced across the concrete highways, his hair flapping in the wind as he ran. A pale, gloved hand grabbed the railing on an overpass as he vaulted over onto the ground below.
In the distance, he finally saw the building he needed: a large, strange looking structure of stone and ice, its frosty-blue surface glinting in the heat of a winter sun. He remembered then that he’d once told a friend from the New England area that there was no winter in Texas. It had snowed eleven inches in a single day in Dallas that same year, a record. Not that the records seemed to matter now, with the world gone to hell and the seasons with it.
A small stretch of forest was all that lay between him and the structure where the other manites were. He entered it without a second thought, plunging headfirst into the dense shrubbery and trees with nary a pause to consider that it might be guarded. That, he would realize shortly, had been a mistake. The first dart took him in the side of his neck, forcing its tiny, needle-thin point into his skin and muscle. It struck the vertebrae there and stopped short. He ripped it out and studied it for a moment, checking to see if it was poisoned. It wasn’t. No blood covered the tip; all of it had stayed in. He scratched at the tiny hole as infinitesimal needles sewed it shut and re-formed the skin around it. Wincing at the sensation, he began to stride forward again, this time watching the forest floor and surrounding trees for traps. He pulled his dark-blue t-shirt off and wrapped it around his face, to protect the soft tissue there that the Blades hadn’t taken yet. The only things uncovered were his eyes. He made it another thirty meters or so before a vine wrapped around his ankle and ripped him from the dirt and grass with a violent tug. He cried out in surprise before summoning a blade into his hand, its hilt and pommel materializing just in time for him to grab it and slice the vine asunder. He managed to right himself before he landed, and took off with a leap. He landed on a tree branch a few meters above the ground, and stared at the forest floor again. Nothing.
The Scion of Blades leapt again, this time deciding to stay off the ground until he reached the building on the other side of the wood. He was almost there; he could see the sun glinting off of the icy shell again, tracing a dazzling rainbow across the clearing it rested in. The other manites were definitely inside. He was a moment away from dropping to the ground and dashing to the entrance when the tree opened its trunk and twisted around him. Again, he cried out in surprise and shock as the tree’s insides brought him down to ground-level and eye-to-eye with someone he never thought he’d see again.
“Well,” said Lyria Hannson, her hands on her hips and a smile crossing her pale lips, “look what the cat dragged in.” Behind her, he could see the others: Steven Gate, Jackson Whitefall, some other men he didn’t know, and behind them all, his father.
“I’m home.” He wheezed, not sure if he should smile or grimace.
“Welcome back.” Lyria said. “We’re glad you aren’t dead yet, Prince Pendragon.”
“Please,” the young man replied, his emerald eyes flashing as he opted for a sly grin, “call me the Scion of Blades.”