North and Ryo’s Apartment, September 31st,2012
Ryo sat up with a start in his bed, not knowing how long he’d been asleep. The room was faintly lit from the amber lights outside, and his clock was blinking 2 AM. He rubbed his eyes and lay back down, tracing the lines of the ceiling texture with his eyes. He tried closing his them again to no avail. Something was wrong, he could feel it. He usually knew when something bad was going to happen; it was always a sense of apprehension and slight prickling at the back of his neck, like a spider was crawling up it. He pulled the covers back and slid off the bed as the ground began to shake beneath him. An earthquake, like the ones on the news, he thought as he ran out of his room dressed only in his boxers. He found North downstairs in the living room, standing and looking dazed, also in his boxers.
“I guess it’s our turn.” North said, a sarcastic edge hiding the fear in his voice.
“What should we do?” Ryo called back.
“Put on some clothes?” It was a good suggestion, at least. They nodded as the ground continued quaking, and quickly threw on whatever they could find. Some DVDs had fallen from the bookshelf in the living room and scattered across the floor and Ryo had to carefully climb over them to avoid breaking any.
“Let’s head outside and see what’s going on.” North suggested once they were dressed.
The landscape was a disaster, all chunks of upturned concrete and destroyed vehicles. The ground was still rumbling, too, and the rumored cyan plasma was bubbling out of the many gaping holes that were forming. Some of the cars in the parking lot were on fire, including North’s, which was upside down next to a piece of exploded cement. Above the wreckage, the moon floated golden and full. A harvest moon.
Ryo and North stumbled around, shouting the names of friends and neighbors, hoping for a reply. They found Duke Powers slumped next to the wreck of his car, half bathed in the plasma, half battered and bloody. He was still breathing, so the two men carefully hauled him out. The quake began to subside, and they could hear emergency sirens going off from all directions; police, emergency medical services, fire department… Everything and everyone was there. Smoke and fire filled the sky; a gas line had broken and been set ablaze by a fallen power line somewhere in the city.
As North began to try and wake up Duke, a different kind of wailing began in the distance. Screams of pain and terror rose from the burning city like a chorus, and for a moment Ryouta thought it was just the fire. But then, in the distance, he got his first glimpse of the end of the world: a creature the size of a tall man with jet black skin and golden eyes. He couldn’t look away as a silver chain shot out of its arm and wrapped around the neck of a man nearby. The creature whipped it back, and tossed the man into the air. He landed on a chainlink fence post, belly first.
“North….” Ryo called.
North slapped Duke one more time, just to be certain the other man was awake. Quietly, he tried explaining what was going on before Ryo ran up to him screaming like a little girl about something. He turned to look, and understood. Dallas - no, probably the entire metroplex – burned in the distance, and strange creatures with gray and black skin were beginning to appear as if from nowhere. He frowned as the ground began to shake the night again.
Together, North, Duke, and Ryo began to run through the wreckage, dodging flying debris and keeping well away from the odd monsters. Duke was beginning to fall behind, likely because of his injuries. North put an arm under his shoulder to help him, but suddenly the ground beneath them disappeared and they fell.
There was a splash, and a burning feeling, and then North knew nothing.
Duke Powers woke to the sound of rain pattering outside. He opened his eyes, and looked around. Ryo was laid out next to him, a bandage wrapped around his head. He started to sit up, but felt a hand press him back down. He followed the pale arm to North’s face. He looked at the other man for a moment, and then gave up and lay back down.
“We fell into that plasma.” North said.
“I remember.” Duke replied. He did, sort of. There had been light, blue and warming. He’d thought he was dead.
“You’ve got something on your hands, Duke. I can’t really explain it well, but they’re like tattoos I guess. They definitely weren’t there before we fell. And Ryo…” North just looked over at their sleeping friend, a worried look on his face.
“What happened? Is he ok?”
“He’s stable, at least. He… has one too. It’s in his eye. “
“His eye?” Duke looked pulled his hands up to look at them. Across the back of each one, a spiral pattern was scrawled, as though he’d gotten some tribal tattoo that made him look ridiculous. Staring at them, though, they felt odd. Alive, almost. And then a thought occurred to him.
“What about you, North? Did it happen to you?”
“No,” North answered, “I must’ve gotten out of that stuff before it could happen to me. I pulled Ryo out first, since he can’t swim. And then I found you again, floating. Thought you were dead. I barely managed to get you guys under this rock before this nasty rain started. There’s no way we’re going out in it.”
For the first time, Duke Powers turned his attention to the background. They were sheltering under a slab of upturned parking lot, supported on either side by other pieces of parking lot. North was leaning against the back ‘wall’ of their little cave, wearing tan pants and a green t-shirt with a gold triangular logo on it. Outside, he realized the rain sounded off. He sat up and turned around, despite North’s protests. Outside, a hail of swords was falling from the sky, hitting the ground, and disappearing. He turned back to North, his eyes wide.
“Yeah, I know. I can’t explain it. It just started up. Definitely not the kind of storm we’re used to around here. More importantly, we need to get Ryo some help.”
“You’re surprisingly calm, aren’t you, North?” Duke asked.
“I’m in danger mode. I can’t really process anything right now. Time’s just kind of slowing down as I react to everything.”
“The adrenaline is getting to your head, you mean.”
“You going to be alright?”
“I’ll let you know when I find out.”
Duke drifted back to sleep, his hands aching and throbbing.
Scion of Blades
The Scion of Blades looked down from atop the apartment building, his glowing eyes darting back and forth, watching the mayhem in the distance as the incredible new creatures began to tear the city apart and murder its citizens. He kept the Blade Rain going strong, to protect the ones down below and help mask his presence from the interlopers. Nothing got through the Blade Rain, except him. He began to flex his arms, wondering what all he could do now. The ancient enemy of his ancestors had returned, and with that, he’d been rocketed into power unfathomable. He closed his eyes and tried to call on the Holy Blade, tried to conjure it before him. When he opened them, he held nothing but a rusty shortsword, imperfect in every way and worthless. He tossed it away and tried again. After several failures, he gave up and turned his attention once more to the battle in the distance and the people below.
‘Manite’ was the name his mentor had given him for this new kind of human, and ‘manaburn’ for the strange markings on their bodies, which seemed to allow them to channel magical energy. He liked the sound of it. A strong name, for those that will be strong. And so they would, he knew, when they learned what they had become. Scions. The strongest manites.
They weren’t the only ones, either. Not by a long shot. Now, as the world began to crumble under the weight of eons of strife and the arrival of a new menace, he could feel the other Scions awakening. Some, like him, would learn of magic and long-forgotten secrets not long after awakening, but more still would reel with the weight of their destiny as though it were an anvil and struggle with their power. He pitied them.
Something was approaching the manites below. It felt at once familiar and alien, and he knew he had to hide. The Scion of Blades sunk back into the shadows, letting off one last blast of his mana to keep the Blade Rain going for awhile more. He was going to have to be careful now.
He was dreaming. He had to be dreaming. Things like this didn’t happen to him and his friends, only to people far away that he didn’t know. His eyes opened slowly, one to find a storm of falling blades, and the other to darkness. He bolted upright and turned to see North sitting next to him, and Duke passed out nearby.
“My eye…” he said.
“Is fine, I think.” North finished for him.
“I can’t see. It’s just... black.”
“That’d be the bandage.”
Ryo lifted his hand to his face, and felt the gauze covering his left eye. Slowly, he began to unwrap it.
“I don’t know if you can really see out of it, honestly, but it’s all red… and there’s something in there, too. Designs, like the one’s on Duke’s hands. I thought it was gone at first, but like I said before, it seems to be fine.”
Ryo looked up, and began to freak out. While his right eye was normal, his left seemed as though it magnified everything it looked at. He screamed, and North grabbed him and pushed him down. Ryo continued flailing, trying to comprehend what he was seeing. He looked at North again, and his left eye could see the retina behind North’s green eyes. He reeled again at that. His eye began to focus in and out wildly, and he screamed even louder. Suddenly a white light filled both of his eyes, and he slept again.
“It seems I’ve arrived just in time to be of use,” a voice called out to North as Ryo passed out in front of him, “He was on the verge of collapsing. Sensory overload.” The speaker was a strange looking fellow, garbed in a black robe with pale blue skin and yellow eyes. His head was bald, and his ears pointed. White, feathered wings protruded from his back.
“Thank you, whoever you are.” North replied.
“Of course, how rude of me. My name is Azrael, and I am the Angel of Death.”
The Aionian High Council was in a meeting when Mazkus arrived with his communications officer and accountant, Rei Scant, in tow. Rei was a sprightly young woman they’d found in the Desert of Kal seven years earlier, half-starved and dying. They’d taken her in, and acted as a surrogate family. In return, she learned how to use the communications equipment and balance the accounts for the ship. He studied her for a moment, noting how much taller she’d grown, and that her scarlet locks had reached her waist. She was growing up, turning into a woman, and a good-looking one at that. He smiled to himself and wondered for a brief moment what she thought of him; doting father? Big brother? Regardless, he watched the way she stood: poised, confident, a little bored, and decided he’d taught her well.
“What the hell’s taking them so long in there, Rei?” he asked, exasperated.
“They’re seeing someone from a military group, from what their records show. Looks like Prince Brayden Demor recommended the meeting himself. We could be here for quite some time, Captain.“ Rei replied curtly. Always business-like when the situation calls for it, Mazkus thought. He’d taught her that.
“Take a break, Rei. I’ll wait here for the Council in case they finish in the next hour. Go see the city.” Mazkus said, hoping to get some time to himself while they waited, so he could finish working out what to do when they were done.
“It’s not my first time in Aionia, sir. I can wait with you.”
“Go on, go on. There’s no reason to wait around with me.” He handed her a small pouch of coins, and gestured out one of the decorative windows and toward the market in the distance. “Get some food. Meet some people. That’s an order.”
Rei nodded and took the pouch.
“Captain.” she called as she turned to leave.
“If they adjourn before I get back, make sure you play nice.” She smiled and he smirked back.
“Please, Rei. I always play nice.”
After she was gone, he sat down on one of the ornate white benches outside the Council’s chamber. The wood was expensive, no doubt imported from Galeia’s Garden itself. He laid his head back against the wall and put an arm over his eyes. He didn’t know how long he stayed like that. Behind the massive obsidian doors to the chamber, he could hear fervent arguing. Politicians, he told himself, always arguing instead of doing something. The din grew louder and then suddenly silent as his vision turned to black.
Fires raged behind his eyelids as the capital city – Van – burned to the ground under a barrage of ballistics and magical energy raining from the mineral-powered air-ships of the Ra’Zaan Empire. He could feel the leather strap that kept his father’s sword – the Starblade Azerak – held tightly to his back digging itself into the bare, pale skin of his shoulder. The weight had made him slow, back then. He was only twelve – something between boy and man that made no sense and looked like neither. He was running down a burning stretch of rampart-dotted wall, smoke swirling before and behind him. His mouth tasted of copper and dirt. Mikail ran next to Makzus, his yellow eyes wide and his body covered in sweat. They passed a knight as a magical lightning bolt took him in the chest, frying a hole through him and cauterizing the wound instantly. The two boys didn’t stop to watch him fall. Everywhere below them, the sounds of suffering rang in great wails and shrieks; explosions rocked the air and filled it with grime and fire. And then, they were there: the Grand Castle’s Secret Hangar, a hotbed of engineering innovation and mechanical artistry. It was the first time he’d laid eyes on the Dream, the day they’d met Arden. It was the beginning.
The sun was shifting to dusk by the time the doors opened to wake Mazkus from his memories, and a woman who looked about his age stormed out of the Council Chamber. Her hair was a light brown that looked radiant in the light of the waning sun, but the roots were showing signs of being blonde. Her eyes were sea-green, and a frown covered her pale lips with a contemptuous pall. He stood, slightly entranced.
“Hi” was all he managed before she shoved him out of the way and continued down the hall.
“I’m sorry,” said the man trailing behind her, who appeared to be her subordinate, “Lady Fox is… rather angry right now.”
“You don’t say.” Mazkus replied. “Who is she, though?”
“Lady Fox of the VanLib. Our leader.”
“The Vanguard Liberators? What are you doing here?” This was news, and not the kind he’d wanted hear. The Vanguard Liberators were a very active, very destructive semi-terrorist organization fighting against the Ra’Zaan Empire in an ill-conceived attempt to reclaim the fallen kingdom of Vanguardia. Mazkus was just as much Vanguardian as they were, but the idea of sticking his head out for the chopping block like that didn’t sit well with him. He was a freelancer now, a Starchaser, and so belonged to no nation.
“We came to ask the Council for assistance. Prince Brayden himself supports our cause, but the Council would not hear reason. Lady Fox needs arms and men, and all she got were nods and apologies.” The older man – Lady Fox’s aide – continued.
“The Council is like that. My condolences.” Mazkus told him.
“Who are you, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Mazkus Stream, Captain of the Star-ship Infinite Dream.” He offered the aide his hand.
“A fortune seeker, then. Does your ship take passengers, sir?” the man said, taking his hand and shaking it politely.
“From time to time. Is there pay?”
“When we reach our destination. Here.” He offered up a card with a frequency written on it. “This is our comm frequency. If you could let us know when your business here is concluded, we may be able to offer you a new job.”
“Thanks. I’ll be sure to get in contact with you.” Mazkus took it, wondering if it was a direct frequency to Lady Fox.
Then the man was off down the hall, and Rei was standing next to him.
“Did I miss something, sir?” she asked.
“Not really. Come on, we’ve got some stars to sell.”