Prologue - The Vanishing City
The idols of the East stood etched in stone against the face of the cliff. From the salty water of the coast, Rin could see that the rain had already begun. Rain, and the immense heat, she thought. Beside her in the boat, a’Tellor sat, reveling in the beauty of the coast. It was his first time in the east and Rin had hoped they would arrive before war had begun – a hope that faded quickly
He was a young man and Rin felt an air of guilt for what was bound to happen to him. The Dawn’s had come to Rin’s elders and insisted on her taking this venture, of acquiring this asset. Nothing can be lost, the Dawn’s words resonated in her head. Nothing, or everything.
The three statues were embedded along the coast – one, a man holding his hands in the air. Upon them, a large red ball was perched. Alexander, Rin thought, the first mage of fire. On the right was another, a man with his hands to his side. Beneath the hands, two streams flowed downward into the base of the statue. Jarell, the mage of water. Between the two, Rin saw her own idol. A woman, her head leaning back into the top of the cliff. Above her head, a large tree grew with vibrant purple leaves spanning out vapidly from its branches. Down the woman’s face, the trees roots lingered, moving further and further down her body. Sor, the first mage of life. Rin hoped to hone her powers as Sor had centuries before.
It was an odd rain, Rin had experienced it before. The rain came with a sweltering heat which was unmatched by anything the girl had ever experienced. The rain of war, she thought. It was an inevitable event, as far as Rin understood. The books she’d read by the wise men of the east explained the balance of magic and Rin had seen it begin to shift.
They pulled their boat ashore and began to sneak up the side of the cliff into the city. The forest was thick, but through a clearing Rin could see the coming army of mages. Fire and Water fighting together, she noticed, and black veins lead them all. It had been months since the first new mage had been discovered. The Mage of Death. She hadn’t understood how someone who represents death could truly be a worthy figure to act upon the orders of, and yet he had grown to be a revolutionary figure.
A wind blew between the branches of the trees surrounding her, rain and a burst of flame blowing through with it. The tree spawning from Sor’s head was plucked of its leaves, flying off into the world around it as if caught upon a thousand updrafts. One leaf remained, and budding new leaves seemed to appear in an instant.
She could see the spire of her humble forest town. Though it was one of the first settlements on the continent, explorers had never moved much further inland. The western coast was uncharted, little past the central town of Shalonsbury had been seen by men or mages alike.
A’Tellor followed behind Rin. His body was slender, though the black robes he wore didn’t encourage the young life mage to think of him in a more familiar manner. His hair was short, kept up on his head, blond in its knot. Rin was jealous of the shade of his hair, she’d been burdened with a dark head of hair, black and untamable. At the moment it had become quite frizzy and spread itself out strands spread out wildly from her scalp – a problem a’Tellor didn’t seem to have.
As they neared the forest town, another two people rode toward them on horses. As they grew nearer, Rin recognized the chestnut horses of Eir and Kim, two women she’d been taught alongside. They were escorted by a horde of hounds, violently barking at a’Tellor, though Rin was unsure if the animals themselves truly knew what they were barking about. Kim’s hounds were stupid beasts: loyal to the other life mage, but hostile toward all else in the town.
“Come quickly, the elders are ready,” Kim barked.
“We understand the necessity,” Rin called, trying not to worry a’Tellor. “Don’t worry, Kim, the battle won’t end before I arrive.” She was a young mage, but the wise lords within Olander were quick to notice her strengths. She was to become a wise lord when she was older, after spending many years in the forests nurturing the wildlife.
Rin looked out at her home, as the fire in the thick forest behind it continued to burn nearer and nearer to the town. A’Tellor saw the fire too, his face filling with a fear Rin hadn’t expected to see.
Rin had a pouch of ivy around her wrist. She pulled it open and sniffed a small amount of it, looking at a’Tellor and forcing herself to feel compassion. She felt bad manipulating the man’s emotions, but at a time like this they couldn’t afford to have the boy panicking.
The spreading flames were engulfing more and more. Rin pulled a’Tellor more as she walked, anxiously inching closer and closer to the final fortress - the tower of the elders.
The tower penetrated out of the cliffs peak. It was surrounded by Rin’s once thriving hometown, a hometown she hoped could survive. This is why they wanted the boy, the thought ran through her head. She’d spent several of her most recent days with the boy, a Pirosh, close to the origin of magic.
Her trip to Pirosh had been rough and undesirable. It lay across the sea, in a place known of by few outside of Olander. They were adept in the powers of life and death, and Rin hoped a’Tellor knew what fate awaited him. The Dawn’s seemed to believe he was important. She had no reason to doubt the Dawn’s.
He was calm now, her magic having worked. He was looking at the burning town as they rushed toward the tower. The door stood before them. Rin looked back once, seeing the mage of death now within the city. His masked face was cruel and vile – a mask worn to hide his veins. It is a mystery to all how much magic is held within.
The mask was forged from the bark of a tree, white and carved to fit his face. A red substance had been used to form bloody tears around its eyes.
Rin grabbed a’Tellor’s hand and pushed him into the tower, yelling at him to climb up. She stood outside for a moment, staring into the eyes of the Mage of Death. She pulled more ivy from her wrist pouch, putting it in her mouth and swallowing it swiftly. A feeling of power coursed within her.
Rin could feel the grass beneath her covered feet. She looked forward at the mage, the world outside of her glance fading into darkness. She and the mage were the only people left in the world - and she had to hold him back. She spoke to the grass, long stalks of which began to spread forth from the ground and bind the man in place. She heard him shout, but had turned and began running up the stairs of the tower before he could retort.
Up the spire she ran, catching up to a’Tellor and practically dragging him the rest of the way to the elder’s hold.
“Do you have the Pirosh boy, Rin?” The elder Tirst called out to her, anxiously turning his bulbous eyes to the portcullis within the tower. “We haven’t much time, did you get him?”
Rin briefly forgot about Tirst’s blindness. She wondered why he would bother gazing out the window, but realized now wasn’t a good time to ask questions. Perhaps the sheer amount of ivy he’d consumed had allowed him to see the grass once more, had attuned him to nature’s vibrations. “Yes, I have the boy.”
“Bring him here,” another elder called. He held a black dagger with a white hilt, imbued with a weaving of ivy throughout. An emerald was tied into the pommel of the small knife, glowing and swirling with energy. The elders swarmed around a’Tellor, who, Rin’s magic having worn off, was barking in opposition. His words were incoherent, spoken in the language of the Pirosh. He spoke poorly in the native tongue, but were the elders to succeed, he would have much time to learn.
Tirst held down his arms as the youthful Elder Spear placed the dagger elegantly within the boy’s chest.
The elders spoke no words. Black blood filtered out of the Pirosh boy, as a spectral body emerged from him. The elders closed their eyes and formed a circle, while Rin followed suit. The group began to mumble incoherently. Rin knew not what they were saying - she’d known no reason for an incantation in their magic.
With her eyes shut tight, the sound of the storming army was amplified within her mind. The roar of horses and hellfire grew and grew. She heard footsteps storming up the stairs around her. She could hear the screams of dying mages, friends and foes alike. The roar of the mage’s wicked chant resonated and twisted up the stairway.
She could almost feel the heat of the enemy torches, but suddenly, it was all gone. No sound remained, no heat from the flames consuming the city. Rin opened her eyes again.
The dead bodies of her Elders was something of a shock. So, too, was the spectral being that had once been a’Tellor. She looked down the staircase which was being stormed in her most recent memory, but all she saw was soil and grass.
“Come,” the specter of a’Tellor spoke quickly to her. “Come, there isn’t much time.”
The spectral being led her up the staircase further, to the door of the balcony. The rooms were unrecognizable, tables and chairs collapsed and disturbed from their normal state. She’d been briefed about the final act of the Elders, but she hadn’t expected it to be like this.
Her hair fell before her eyes, and she saw it, she noticed it had become white and straight. “Come, please, Rin. You haven’t much time.”
From the top of the tower she could see all - a few, small buildings from her city survived. The light within this new place seemed fake, but she far preferred it to the lighting of murderous fire. There was no more forest protecting her, but there seemed to be no threat before her. Eir and Kim remained, laying on the ground within the city square. “Don’t mind them, I will have time to sort them out later.” a’Tellor assured. “Go in there and write what you were told. That is the entrance,” he gestured toward the old library within the city.
She felt her arms becoming weak. Her legs, too. They’d said this would happen, they said she would only have a few minutes to live, but she’d been chosen by the elders, chosen to survive when another came. Is this what the Dawn’s had anticipated? She wondered, but doubted she would hear the answer. The city square had the statue of Sor, the tree coming from it spawning new leaves.
She quickly scrawled down the instructions to resurrect within the library. She left the page open, and put her remaining pouch of ground ivy into a premade pot of water.
“Now sleep, Rin. You’ll be awoken when another comes,” a’Tellor told her, dragging the bodies of Eir and Kim in behind him. “And another will come - in time.” The Pirosh seemed to have some sort of clairvoyance since his death. She felt guilty for it, but figured she had little time to linger on that.
She obeyed him, not by choice but out of necessity. Her head slammed down into the table before her as her eyes closed and her breath stopped.