The moon peeked out of the horizon; duskrise was upon them.
Jynn bowed. “Preparations are complete, Your Grace.”
“Stand up, Jynn!” Sora said, holding out a hand to the caster.
His eyes rose with a smile. He took Sora’s hand, who pulled him into an embrace.
“How fare you, kin?” Sora asked, his voice cheerful. “It’s been a good while.”
“Well – and how is His Majesty this night?”
Sora gave a small laugh. “Very well, myself. Are the horicons saddled and packed?”
“Indeed, we can depart when you are ready.”
“Excellent.” Sora’s voice echoed through the dark and empty Grand Hall. “Make haste. Let’s not waste precious night.”
As a twenty-five-year-old caster, Jynn was born of Nim in Vahar’gul, in the mystic hills and forests of West Eden, He was blessed with the gift of the Magi. Not all Nimborn were granted this gift however: at birth, only ones who the Old Gods deemed worthy were granted the abilities of a Sigilcaster – or Signcaster, as some called them.
Jynn was one of the few bestowed with such power, and was exceptionally gifted in his art, learning more complex sigils like kinesis and illusion by the time he was only of six years. Sigils that even the more pronounced scholars failed to execute, let alone a Nim tot. By age ten, he was rivaling the top casters in all West Eden. Word made it around the land and eventually into the ears of King Azrael.
At eleven, he received a sealed invitation directly from Lord Azrael himself, who requested an audience with this miraculous little sigilcaster. Honored, he traveled by king-sent escort to the royal palace in Providence, Central Eden. He arrived on a pleasant summer’s night and was escorted to the throne by some heavily armored highborn guards. Many court servants and royal bystanders gathered and watched the Nim child, fascinated, as he walked through the tremendous gold-trimmed, ivory doors of the throne room.
Earthlight beamed through the enormous palace windows, and the checker-tiled, marble floor gleamed with the light of flickering torches and candles. A rug, the same white and gold of the door, stretched across the center of the room, while several intricately, sculpted marble pillars lined the approach to the throne. At the end stood a pale, sickly man, dressed in fancy regalia of fine leather and silk. Rings of varying gemstones lined his fingers and a golden crown littered with jewels sat crooked atop his head. Next to him was a small, curious boy who looked the age of no more than five years.
“Welcome, sigilcaster!” the sickly man called, his voice frail and raspy. “Welcome to Providence. I must say you are smaller than I had expected.”
Murmurs and quiet laughter spread amongst the crowd.
“I am Azrael Ryzael,” the king said. “Please, child, tell us your name.”
Not hearing the question, Jynn stood quiet, gazing around at a room full of wide, watchful eyes.
Azrael cleared his throat. “Perhaps you did not hear me?” His tone hinted a slight impatience. “I say again, what is your name?”
“Oh, Jynn, Your Grace.” His eyes were drawn to the boy at the king’s side. He took notice the boy had bruises littering his body. His left eye was blackened and his lip, swollen. He tried to watch him without making it obvious, seeing that the bruised boy kept mouthing something from behind the king. The boy discreetly put his hands together, in a praying gesture, and nodded his head slightly. It clicked. He felt so drawn in by it all, he had forgotten his manners. He swung an arm to his chest and performed a gracious bow in front of the King. “My name is Jynn, Jynn of Vahar’gul. Forgive me, Your Majesty. It is a great honor to be in your presence.”
The King smiled. His stained-yellow teeth fit well with his aged, wrinkled face. His long, salt and pepper hair matched his scraggly beard, both thin and splotchy. Small sores spotted his head and what was visible of his arms. If Jynn had to guess, he would say the King was at least in his late fifties, maybe older. Little did he know; the dying King was only thirty-two.
“Well met, Jynn of Vahar’gul.” The King sat down in his enormous throne, placed a hand atop the curious boy’s right shoulder, and watched Jynn with anxious eyes. “Let us see what the young signcaster can do, shall we!” he bellowed to the crowd.
They cheered. Most of the people watching had never even seen a Nim before, more or less an advanced caster.
“Go on then,” Azrael said, “Show us what your magi can do.”
Jynn focused himself, and in an instant, his hands glowed brilliantly with a colorful plethora of light. His arms danced through the air leaving a floating bright-red sigil. He finished and again glanced up at the boy who watched with fascination. Jynn reared back and thrust a hand through the circular sign he had drawn loudly shattering it into hundreds of pieces. Instantly, both his hands combusted with fire and the crowd let out a collective gasp.
His body danced like a cyclone. Spinning and whirling, flailing his flaming hands through the air, and ending with a fiery palm raised towards the ceiling. Out of his hand spewed a mesmerizing hot flame that ascended towards the towering marble ceilings of the throne room. The crowd and the curious boy stared in amazement at the Nim child, but Jynn could tell by the sour look on the King’s face that he was unimpressed.
“Is that it, boy?” Azrael barked. “I had expected more than a stream of fire pissing from your palm. Where is this powerful Nim prodigy of which was foretold?”
The fire retracted back to Jynn’s palm, and he dip his head in embarrassment.
“I’ll say it once more. Show us the true power of what this,” Azrael threw up his hands in a patronizing flourish, “Magi, can do! If your means was to impress me with a bit of fire, it will require more than that.”
Jynn stared into the King’s solemn faded brown eyes and nodded. He almost felt a spark of anger strike him. Pissing from your palm, he thought, laughing to himself, A bit of fire huh? He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, hands still ablaze. With arms out, he held one hand parallel atop the other. A small light began to form. It grew larger by the second until he had a melon sized, swirling orb of fire.
The audience watched with bated breath as the raw energy of the large fireball crackled and hummed. Its white glow grew hot as a miniature sun shining between his hands. He opened his eyes. No longer the color of his innocent crystal-grey, they ignited and blazed the same scorching red flame as his hands. His eyes fixed on Azrael’s. He felt the corner of his mouth tug into a wry smile.
He gritted his teeth as he turned and threw the fireball with great force. It whizzed through the throne room, blasting through a palace window, shattering it with a loud crash. Without slowing, it soared up and into a clear, night sky. He turned, held up a hand, placing his index finger and thumb together. “His Grace requests power?” he said, smiling at the King. He snapped his fingers.
The fireball detonated, erupting into a booming inferno that could not only be seen, but heard for miles. The whole city of Providence lit up as large embers rained down from the night sky, showering the city like a barrage of flaming arrows from an enemy siege. The force of the explosion shook the palace, nearly shook the whole city even.
There was an outcry of screaming and horror as Jynn surveyed the crowd now. His eyes still blazed. Besides striking fear into the people of Providence and shattering the throne room’s window, the fireball did no major damage other than setting a few tarps of lower city market stalls and large castle tapestries alight. It was clear enough to convince the King that Jynn was indeed who the stories said he was.
Azrael stood. “Enough!” he roared, turning into a violent cough.
The crowd calmed, as did Jynn, his eyes returning to their normal state, hands still glowing a multitude of color. He raised one, drew a subtle white sign, and pierced it with the other. He held up an arm and quickly clenched a fist together. Within a blink of an eye, all the flames in the entire city extinguished. The burning tarps and tapestries, lanterns, candles, and even the torches of the throne room, all snuffed out. Everyone stood in an unsettling darkness. The only presence of light was the faint beams from the earth and moon streaming through the windows. Drained, he dropped to all fours and in that moment, there was complete and utter silence.
There was a slow clap, followed by a short fit of coughing. “By the gods,” Azrael said, standing from his throne. “Quite a gift indeed. I have seen a bit of pyromancy in my life, but never of that magnitude, especially from a caster so young.” He paused and called out to his guards, “Someone relight these damned torches!”
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Jynn said, breathing heavily, still on his knees.
The room filled with sounds clanking armor and choice words as the guards fumbled around getting the torches alight. Once relit, Azrael beckoned a tall, bulky guard over.
“Your Grace.” the guard said. His armor differed greatly from the standard iron mail of the other palace guards. A metallic-white cuirass fit over his torso cut off at the shoulders, leaving his chiseled, muscular arms exposed. Matching metal bracers wrapped around his wrists and a gorget and two gold ribbed pauldrons sat atop his shoulders, all reflecting the torchlight. Gaudy plate leggings and greaves of the same metallic-white covered his lower body. He didn’t carry the same spear or long-swords of the standard court guards, but rather dual, short, and wide blades at his waist. Connected to lengthy chains at the hilt.
“Craetys, help our new guest to his room. Take him to the spare chamber on the north side of the inner circle. Take Sora with you as well; get him off to bed.”
Craetys bowed. “Yes, Your Grace.”
The highguard was clearly of Grim lineage, tall and imposing, but his accent sure wasn’t that of his kin. He spoke with someone of authority – baritone and rugged, but oddly rich and silken at the same time. The kind of voice that when heard, people heads turned to listen, powerful around its edges but with a gentle center, like an eye of a storm.
Azrael turned to the young, prince Sora. “And as for you, no sneaking off mingling with the lowborn, do you understand me, boy? If I catch you again you will work like one and shovel shit out of the horicon stables.”
“Say you, are you well?” Craetys asked Jynn, the caster slowly regained his strength to stand
Jynn groaned. “I am, allow me a moment.”
“What you did was quite remarkable.”
“What I did was quite remarkably stupid, and dangerous.”
“Well, using magi on a scale such as that is dangerous, indeed, even deadly under certain circumstances. Not for you or the kingdom, mind you, I made sure of that - my apologies for the window - but deadly upon myself.”
“Not to worry about the window, Jynn. It’s good to see King Azrael put in his place from time to time. But why dangerous for yourself?”
“It’s complicated,” Jynn said. “In simple terms, a caster cannot use more energy than their body allows.”
“Energy you say?”
Jynn chuckled. “You wouldn’t understand, and I would not expect a non-caster to.”
Craetys nodded. “Fair enough. Can you walk?”
“All right, follow me and I’ll lead you to our guest chambers.” Craetys turned to Sora, who was sitting on the arm of his father’s throne while Azrael ordered a terrified servant to go find the local glassmaker to fix the shattered, palace window.
“Sora!” Craetys called. “To me.”
The young wild-eyed boy that Jynn now knew as Sora, hopped out of the large throne, and ran to Craetys as he escorted Jynn out of the throne room. They entered the Grand Hall through one of the two large doors on both sides of the throne. A candlelit, crystal chandelier hung over a dual stairway which curved into one at the palace’s upper deck. Streams of gray waved through the ivory-colored marble floor and ceilings, radiating their waxy glow. Beige tapestries, with the symbol of the Vaer woven into them, hung from the high walls along with ornate pottery, sculptures, and other decorative pieces.
“This place is incredible,” Jynn said, taking in its beauty. Large doors stood to the left and right, and an open passage led under the stairway. “Where does that go?” he asked, pointing to a door on the left.
“That leads to the Dining Hall,” Craetys replied. “Up there—” he pointed at the large, arched opening above the stairway,“—is the Hall of Council. The door to the right will take you to the barracks, but we’ll be going this way.” he nodded at the passage that led under the stairs. “That will take us to the outer circle.”
Then went, and ahead, Jynn observed many portraits of men that lined the walls. On the right a dozen or more paintings of the late Kings of Eden, and on the left, only five, five portraits of the Old Gods “Quite a talented artist”
Craetys cocked him an eye.
“The portraits, they’re well painted.”
The highguard looked at the wall. “Aye, the works of Lord Veril. Talented man, indeed.”
Jynn stopped and looked at one of the Old God’s portraits. “Vaeryn, I assume?” The frame gleamed with polished brass. A plaque in the frame had writing inscribed upon it in a language he didn’t understand.
“Aye,” Craetys said, “That would be Vaeryn, the father of all creation and beside him his four sons.” He went down the row naming each one. “Nimyk, Grimok, Kosmir, and Cinhdyr.”
Jynn looked back at the painting. The face inside wore a long icy-blonde beard, and matching hair that dropped past his shoulders. His pupils were nonexistent, his eyes solid white. The artist outlined them to express a whiteglow “My Lord, have you ever pondered creation?”
“An odd question, but I doubt no man hasn’t.”
“Difficult to comprehend, isn’t it?”
“We cannot comprehend it,” Craetys expressed, “Our minds simply cannot wrap around the idea of the infinite. Come let me show you your chamber.”
Jynn rolled his neck wearily, he had used a bit more energy than he intended. They went on.
“Caster, you travel alone?” Craetys asked. “You bring not your mother, a friend?”
“I never knew my Ma.” Jynn could sense a bit of remorse from Craetys for asking.
“Forgive me,” Craetys said, “I meant no ill.”
“No ill caused. She died during my birth, I’m told.”
“Sorry to hear.”
“It’s fine.” Jynn changed the subject. “I mean not to come off as rude, My Lord, but are you of Grim descent.”
“I am. Why do you ask?”
“I figured so, but I noticed your accent, vastly different.”
Craetos laughed. “Years and years of serving the crown will do that to you I suppose.”
“I suppose so.” Jynn smiled. “From where do you rein, My Lord?”
“Why none other than the great mountains of the North, child,” he bowed.
“Home of the fearsome Algeddon.”
“The one and only.”
“Do you think dragons are real?” A voice chimed in behind them.
Jynn turned around to see the prince. He had almost forgotten he was even there.
“Dragons?” Jynn countered the question. “Do you?”
“I don’t know.” The prince said cheerfully. “But I like the story of Algeddon, oh, and the story of the Eyes. It’s my favorite. Big monsters guard them, like Algeddon.” He outraised his little arms for effect.
Jynn laughed. “Monsters you say?”
“Yes! The guardians.”
“Well, I come from a place near where one of the guardians live.” Jynn said.
“Really?” The prince beamed. He looked up at him with wide eyes.
Jynn nodded. “Indeed. In a place we call the The Lost Wood.”
“Ooh, can you tell—”
“No, Sora” Craetys interrupted. “The caster is weary and it passed the hour for you to sleep.”
“No problem, My Lord, I would tell a bit while we walk if it suit you. I’m a fan of stories myself.” Jynn insisted.
Craetys agreed. “It’s just that his father would have my head if I were keeping him up. No one knows what has come over him lately,” he trailed off. “But yes, come. Tell us caster, Naryell is a dreadful place I hear.”
“Quite,” Jynn said, “Old Nim folktales say when people entered its misty thicket, you lost sense of direction, and most often never return.” He regarded Sora’s eyes with sudden suspense. “They say the ones that have are better off dead. Even after all of these years, nobody dares to enter, even over a myth ages old. The stories speak of this spirit named Gruel, whose gaze alone would feed on your soul.”
“Oh!” Sora grinned.
“Well, only two people have survived to tell the tale, and both eventually went mad.”
“What happens to them?”
“They lose their minds, but I hear they never truly die. Their spirits return to wander the forest forever.“Jynn saw Craetys find pleasure in watching young Sora’s expression beam with curiosity.
“Have you ever gone there?” the prince asked.
“I haven’t. The tale terrified me when I was younger. I suppose that fear was enough to keep me away.”
They chatted and proceeded on down the hallway entering the outer circle. From there, they made their way around, and took a right through a windowed corridor. The Earth shone beautifully tonight with its blue and verdant sheen. All heads turned to marvel as they passed by the tall, arched windows.
“Jynn?” Sora asked, “Why did the gods choose you?”
Craetys cleared his throat, insinuating the question deemed rude. Jynn gave him a nod in a gesture to let him know he didn’t mind. “I can’t answer that. I’m not sure why I was chosen?”
“The gods work in mysterious ways, Sora.” Craetys added.
“Will I ever get power?”
“Magi? No.” Craetys said.
“When Vaeryn created his sons, he bestowed upon each of them a gift. Nimyk was given the power we call magi. For whomever he saw fit, he passed some of that ability on to his people, the Nim.”
“What about me?”
“The Vaer haven’t received a gift in centuries. No one knows why.”
“As I said, the gods work in mysterious ways, boy, but don’t lose your hope. You may be the one Vaeryn’s awaited. It’s written the gods have a special purpose for bearers of the gift. Nimyk has chosen Jynn be a bearer of the magi, and seeing as how talented is our friend here, and at such a young age, I’d say they quite like him.” Craetys gave Jynn a genuine smile. “Quite like him, indeed.”
A smile played across Jynn’s own. He rubbed the back of his neck. Of all the people, why me? he thought. What purpose could they possibly have for me?