Nypre and Deren woke to a girl’s voice just outside the guest room of Norris’s house. Both of them stood up quickly and looked to each other fearing that they may have done something wrong despite being told they could sleep here.
“I just can’t believe it. I can’t stand her!” Lina ranted to Norris from the other side of the doorway.
“What’s going on?” Norris asked in an attempt to calm her.
“I was told to brief a strike team, and order them to find and assassinate Wonik,” Lina explained angrily. Nypre and Deren gasped. Their mother, assassinated?
“I know that, I was right there with you when she did it. How about you tell me what Tana told you that you’re keeping from me.” Norris couldn’t hold back all of his anger when saying this. Lina let out a heavy sigh, as if she were about to utter words she was going to regret.
“You’re being replaced. I will be assigned a new personal guard tomorrow,” Lina spoke softly.
Nypre opened the door and Deren rushed through it first, followed immediately by Nypre. Both of them held their swords ready to strike if needed. They saw Lina standing there, not looking her usual beautiful self as she did in the temple. Norris stood there too, still wearing his full armor.
“So you heard that?” Norris asked.
“We have to go right now!” Nypre nearly yelled, Deren agreed. They both tried to run for the door but Norris stopped them.
“Stop, it’s far too dangerous to try to return to your territory right now. You should stay here until we are able to reassess the situation,” Norris insisted.
“Reassess the situation?” Deren yelled. “We have to get back there now!”
“You can’t, the guardian will kill you!” It was Lina who spoke this time. Her voice was more soothing than Norris’.
“Lina is right. A large strike team has been sent. Please remain calm. They will do their best to handle the situation.” Norris explained. The words that were meant to be comforting only served to further infuriate Nypre.
“Hunt her down?” Nypre yelled. “Why now? Did you finally find her? Did you use us to do it? It wouldn’t surprise me if Lumin used some of the magic they despise to trick and use us Deren.”
“What are you talking about?” Lina scoffed, offended by the mere mention of magic.
“Nypre, think about this.” Deren tried to stop Nypre from saying something stupid. Norris said nothing, but instead thrust his arm in front of Lina, moving her backwards behind him.
“Think about it Deren. The only thing Lumin cares about is obliterating magic from this world. Killing our mom is just another step to achieve this goal,” Nypre spoke darkly, glaring at Norris.
“Your mother? Dear Ana,” Lina gasped in shock, she ducked further behind Norris until she was outside of the house.
“The things I’ve read about her, saying she’s tortured and killed others in cold blood. It’s all been one sided lies to justify Lumin as being the aggressors,” Nypre continued. “I’m tired of hearing it. Tired of hearing how magic is the greatest evil of the world and how we must all bow down in worship to Ana, the goddess who would forsake her own people.”
Nypre held his sword in his right hand. He pointed to the ground while he held out his left hand holding it forward facing Norris.
“Wonik-E.” His voice was grim. Lightning arced between his fingers before shooting forward, hitting Norris in the chest. The lightning dissipated upon hitting Norris’s armor but Nypre kept channeling the spell regardless.
“Nypre, stop it!” Deren yelled. Nypre continued discharging lightning at Norris despite it having no effect. Deren jumped forward, tackling Nypre and pinning him to the ground, interrupting his spell.
“Nypre, calm down!” Deren ordered.
“Calm down? They just sent an army to murder our mother! We need to get out of here and warn her!” Nypre yelled back, pushing Deren backwards off of him. Deren held his sword up, pointing it at Nypre, who held his sword similarly. “Why are you fighting me Deren?” Nypre asked.
“If it’s a fight you need then I’ll be the one that gives it to you.” The two swords clashed fiercely. Nypre pushed Deren backwards into the main room of the home. Nypre kept forcing Deren back with his attack until Deren fell backwards onto the table. Deren had been fighting defensively on purpose. It was clear he wanted to move the battle away from Lina and Norris.
Nypre attacked with a powerful overhead two-handed swing, slashing down on Deren where he still lay on the table. Deren’s sword came up, blocking the blow just in time. Deren pushed upward with his sword, his countering the blow giving him time to jump up from the table, staggering Nypre. He lunged forward with a stabbing motion, but Nypre side stepped quickly to his right. Nypre grabbed Deren’s arm in the middle of his lunge.
“Wonik-E!” Nypre yelled. Deren could feel pain throughout his body as Nypre held his grip, continuing to electrocute Deren. He fell to his knees, finding it difficult to move with the pain. He gathered himself, and pulled away from Nypre’s grip, breaking away. He struggled to remain standing, still in pain, as Nypre stood there uninjured.
Deren waited for another strike, but none came. Nypre stood there for a moment before his shoulders slumped, his hand opening, allowing his blade to fall to the floor.
“Deren, we shouldn’t be fighting. We need to get out of here and help mom.” Nypre’s voice was softer now. There was less anger in it.
“I agree,” Deren said to Nypre’s surprise. “But trying to kill Norris won’t change anything.”
“He is a soldier of Lumin. I am a mage. It is the order of life in this world. The order they instated,” Nypre argued.
“Don’t give me that. You’re just angry because of what you read in some book. I know you Nypre. Please, Norris has been nothing but friendly to us,” Deren countered. Nypre said nothing. He did not notice Norris had moved behind him. With one quick blow, Norris struck, and Nypre fell to the ground, unconscious.
Nypre awoke slowly, the pain in his head unlike anything he had felt before. He opened his eyes and saw Lina staring down at him. Nypre reached up toward her out of instinct. She gasped and backed away from him like he was an animal. Nypre then realized he was back in the guest room that was meant for her, lying on the bed. He let his hand fall to his side.
“He’s awake,” Lina called, and Norris walked in.
“It’s good to see you awake Nypre.” His tone was not that of anger, but it felt condescending. Nypre stood up quickly, his head still throbbing.
“Wonik-E” He tried casting a spell, weakly, but this made his head feel as if it were rupturing with pain. He held his head in agony, remembering his mother’s words about E coming from the mind. He could barely think, his head was in so much pain.
“I am not your enemy, though I understand why you would think of me that way. Deren, Lina, and I have had a long talk. Let me explain,” Norris spoke slowly.
“No, let me. I’m the one who caused this after all,” Lina interrupted. She returned to Nypre’s side hesitantly after seeing he was in too much pain to cast any spells. Nypre had never wanted to hurt her anyway. “Nypre, part of what you say about Lumin is correct. We have been the aggressors against mages. It’s wrong, and I know it.”
“Then why did you become a priestess?” Nypre asked.
“So I can help people. Priestesses and the Lumin army help people all the time, as best we can,” she explained. “However, things are becoming more corrupt around here, it’s true.”
“What do you mean?” Nypre couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He felt very lucky to be with the one priestess and soldier who weren’t completely biased against mages.
“It’s all about the Phoenix amulet. Do you know of it?” Lina asked. Nypre nodded, recalling his conversation with Ryan. “The high priestess is currently in possession of it. She wears it around her neck all of the time. She is.” Lina stopped talking for a moment before continuing, as if it were hard to say. “Over one thousand years old,” she finally finished her sentence.
“One thousand years old? How is that possible?” Nypre was shocked.
“She’s been living here ever since Lumin was established, before magic even existed. It’s been kept secret from the people,” Lina explained. “I’ve seen her. She looks even younger than me. Some believe she is the only survivor from the old land. The old land is where all humans used to live. It is now the desert. Humans spread out throughout the rest of the world. The ones who settled in the forest had their form altered over time, and they became elves. The other humans formed territory after territory. We fought with each other, killed each other, claimed land, lost it, and then claimed it again. It was a never ending cycle.” she sighed. “Then Tana, the high priestess, founded Lumin. She has been in control of it ever since, in the name of Ana. She’s been attempting to resurrect the age where all humans lived in worship of Ana. Things were going well for her, until about twenty five years ago, when the guardians with their magic appeared. She claims magic was sent here by the dark god Letum as a tool for humans to kill each other with.”
“Don’t tell me the entire religion of Ana was created for her to gain control,” Nypre asked with fear.
“No. Followers of Ana have existed for as long as the world. She has merely brought back the religion and way of life that had been lost to us for so long. Her interests have been for the good of the world. She has never forced this way of life on anyone, nor does she intend to. She grants aid to the territories, supplying food, medicine, and support when needed. The soldiers used to exist purely to defend our home. Once the guardians appeared, she started to change. She now believes that the only way to save the world and help others is to kill the four guardians, and all of those who wield magic,” Lina spoke sadly. Deren entered the room and stood beside Norris, looking down at Nypre as if he had known this all along.
“You knew this all along?” Nypre asked Deren. “Is that why you stopped me?”
“No,” Deren stated plainly. “I stopped you because I didn’t want my brother to become a killer. We are lucky that both Lina and Norris have been having second thoughts.”
“It’s true,” Norris stated gruffly. “I became a soldier to protect people, particularly the priestesses. Magic appeared after, but I refused to patrol with other soldiers. That’s why I’m a personal guard and instructor. I stay here in Lumin. I wish I could say I’ve never killed a mage, but occasionally we’d get an overzealous mage looking to destroy Lumin. I regret to say I’ve had to defend this town before.” He let out a heavy sigh.
“And I became a priestess because I want to help bring peace to this world. I didn’t know the job entailed staying in the temple all day, praying with others and hearing about their problems, then sending soldiers off to handle it. I feel more like a general than a priestess. I love Ana, and believe she is always watching over us, helping us in her own way. I do not think this is ever what she expected from her followers, especially those who devote their lives to her.”
“Why are you telling me all of this?” Nypre was confused. “I mean, in a way, I feel grateful.” He turned to Norris. “And I’m sorry I attacked you. I was angry, and afraid. This still doesn’t change the fact that an army has been sent to hunt down my mother.”
It was Deren who intervened this time. “Nypre, Norris explained this to me. They say Wonik is laying waste to the land of Tawarln, and it’s true. The report says that she’s going from town to town wreaking havoc. She’s not doing it alone, either, but leads an army of men and beasts. I know, it doesn’t sound like mom to me either. Something is wrong. I can only guess it’s an imposter, but if so, why didn’t she stop them? She’s been protecting the Tawarln territory since before we were born.”
“Then we need to get going now. We need to see what’s going on!” Nypre stated. He jumped out of bed, feeling rejuvenated emotionally, though his head was still in pain. He knew it couldn’t be his mother doing this. There was some kind of trickery going on.
“You two won’t be going alone,” Norris said. “Lina and I will be joining you.”
“You’ll join us?” Nypre asked. “But I attacked you.”
“You attacked me out of love and concern for your mother. I forgive you,” Norris replied, as if it were obvious.
“And I’m tired of staying in the temple and doing nothing. I want to truly help people,” Lina seemed cheerful. Her happiness felt out of place at first, but Nypre and Deren didn’t argue with her cute smile or the thought of her joining.
“We’ll go by horseback. Getting out of Lumin will be tricky since the priestesses are forbidden to leave, but I’m well trusted, I can get us the horses and supplies we’ll need with few questions asked,” Norris explained. “You two stay here with Lina, I will return with the horses.”
“Wait, Norris. I need to talk to you,” Lina said. The two of them left Nypre and Deren alone in the guest room. Lina and Norris walked to the main room and took a seat at the table.
“Thank you again for agreeing with my decision to leave. I just can’t stand the thought of living a life of sending out soldiers to kill. I didn’t know Wonik had children.” Lina felt like crying again from the guilt that weighed so heavily on her heart. It was so rare for her to cry, especially twice in the same night.
“Well, I am still your personal guard. It is my job to protect you. Just know that once we leave Lumin there will be no coming back. You may want to say goodbye to your parents now before you lose the chance,” Norris suggested. Lina shook her head
“I said goodbye to them when I became a priestess. They likely won’t even know I’ve gone,” Lina sighed. “I feel responsible for all of this. I’m the one who sent the squadron to kill their mother. If I can find those soldiers and negate those orders then maybe I can make up for what I’ve done. I’m the only one they’ll listen too.”
“We can’t do that right away Lina. We need to find the truth of what’s going on with their mother first. While I agree with Nypre and Deren that her actions do seem strange, we need to find the whole truth of what’s going on first. In the end, her death may be the only solution. I just hope Nypre and Deren are willing to accept it,” Norris said seriously.
“Accept it? She’s their mother. As a priestess I want to try to solve problems without any killing,” Lina argued. Norris said nothing. He stood up from the table.
“I will get the horses. You should tell Nypre the truth about how you’re the one who sent the soldiers to kill her,” he told her as if he were a father telling a daughter to do her chores, only this was much grimmer.
“I know. Deren understood once I explained what was going on. I just hope Nypre will too.”
While Norris went to retrieve the horses, Deren, Nypre, and Lina gathered at the table. Lina was nervous, but, as usual, she hid it well.
“Nypre, there is something I have to tell you about the soldiers that were sent off. I’m the cause of it. I was the one who gave them their orders. I’m sorry,” Lina decided to get it out all at once, quickly. She hoped Deren would jump to her aide.
“Deren told me while you were talking to Norris. Given what you were told, I understand why you did it. I don’t agree with it, but I understand,” Nypre responded relatively calmly.
“I’m sorry.” Lina held her head down, admiring the table. “I told myself I would never become like that, a priestess who orders soldiers. Before I knew it, I was just like the soldiers I sent to the Tawarln Territory. I did what I was told, and did not stop to ask any questions. I disagreed with it, I screamed in my mind, but still I obeyed. I told myself I was different from the others, but my actions speak louder than my words. Thank you for letting me to travel with you. If I can find the soldiers, I can cancel their orders.”
“Thank you for doing that for us Lina. Please keep in mind that our mom has protected the Tawarln Territory since before we were born. It’s very unlikely that she would wake up one day and decide to destroy it.” Deren tried to work as a mediator in the conversation. He knew that Nypre was angry with Lina, and knew that Lina was feeling guilty about the whole thing. He also knew that, unless they all worked together, finding the truth would be difficult.
Finally Norris returned, interrupting the conversation the three teenagers were having. He walked into the house calmly, as if trying too hard to act inconspicuous.
“I have the horses, but we’re going to have to go now. I drew more attention at the stables than I originally intended,” Norris whispered despite there being no one within earshot. The three all stood up from the table. Norris ordered them to follow silently. As Nypre walked out of the house with the others he saw it was midday. It made him realize how long he had been unconscious. This made his head start hurting again. Nypre and Deren knew a little when it came to riding horses. A mage had once showed up at their home on horseback to learn wind magic from Wonik. He had been a peculiar fellow named Ben. He had offered to teach Nypre and Deren how to ride his horse in return for wind magic, to which Wonik had agreed. Despite Ben being a little strange and anti-social he had been nice to the boys. He stayed for a week while Wonik taught him a few tricks with wind magic. It was only a year ago, and Nypre and Deren hadn’t seen or heard of Ben since.
“I was only able to procure three horses,” Norris explained. “It’s lucky the stable master saw you two arrive with another person. He believes the horses are meant for you and him. I will ride with Lina, while the two of you take the smaller horses.”
Norris mounted the largest of the horses. Nypre and Deren mounted their horses as well Nypre didn’t know very much about horses, but the one Norris rode was massive. It was a large black stallion, and it made the two Nypre and Deren look like they were astride ponies. Nypre and Deren’s horses had a light brown coat with white hooves. All of the horses were not only very well groomed, but also well trained, which made riding them easy enough. Norris helped Lina on to his horse, and she grasped him for her life. It was clear she was frightened by the thought of riding the horse. Following Norris’s lead, the three of them quickly rode off before too many people could see them.
Nypre couldn’t help but feel some of Lina’s fear as he rode down the mountainside alongside Deren. The path had seemed much wider when they were riding in a wagon on the way up, but now that they were on horses, and moving considerably faster to get away from Lumin, the path seemed much narrower. The only thing that calmed Nypre’s nerves was the fact that he was riding another living creature which wasn’t about to go jump off any cliffs. He had to relax and trust that the horse had probably done this same run multiple times. Before they reached the town that was under construction on the mountain trail, Norris slowed and then stopped his horse, giving them plenty of time to do the same.
“We’ll have to get through the new town to get out of here. It’s not going to be easy, if they see me with a priestess they’ll likely try to stop us,” Norris explained calmly.
“What is the point of that town anyway?” Nypre asked.
“It’s a mining town that should have been set up a long time ago. Inside the cave there is a rare mineral we call dragon’s blood. The ore is resistant to magic much like the dragon of legend. The high priestess discovered it through a vision shortly after magic entered this world. I think it’s because of the recent activity of mages that the high priestess wishes to expend the resources and create a town here, which serves a dual purpose to protect Lumin as well,” Norris educated them. Lina looked like she wanted to say something, but with her fear of being on the horse she couldn’t seem to make any noise but whimpers.
“That explains the dragon metal armor I read about, it was confusing before,” Nypre mused to himself.
“I will admit that this is interesting, but what should we do about getting through this guardian town?” Deren asked.
“We’ll have to surprise them,” Norris stated simply. “The best way to do that is to run through the town as fast as possible and don’t stop until we reach the base of the mountain.”
“What if something gets in our way?” Nypre asked, uncertain about the idea.
“I have a feeling the only thing that will get in our way are people, and they’ll likely jump out of the way to avoid being trampled,” Norris replied. “Now, we were likely spotted leaving Lumin, so we can’t linger here for long. They’ll be unprepared for someone coming down from the mountain.”
Before Nypre or Deren could object, and possibly while Lina was in the middle of objecting, Norris let out a loud “hee-yah” and the horse began galloping quickly down the path. Nypre and Deren followed, trying to keep up. They entered the town shortly after Norris, and much like Norris had predicted, the people of the town were quick to get out of their way. Several soldiers yelled out at them, while some others even threw their spears, but with the speed of the horses they were able to escape the town uninjured.
Upon exiting the town, Nypre felt his mood changing. It felt like his journey was really just beginning. His mom would talk about how each mage should have a journey, increasing their knowledge and helping others with their magical ability, visiting the four guardians and unlocking even more magical potential. He knew that even though his homeland was likely being ravaged, that his journey was truly starting.