Kingdom of Aquilla, planet Mystra
King Arcus sat in his study, located high atop the castle’s main tower, and stared at the scroll lying on the desk before him. The execution order waited ominously, needing only his signature to turn it into law. The early morning sunlight streamed through the window cut into the chamber wall behind the desk, turning his auburn hair into a flaming halo. The golden rays fell on the parchment before him, highlighting the words written there in warm pools of light.
...will be put to death on her twenty first birthday.
With a curse, he flung the scroll to the floor and rose to pace before the open window. His green eyes flashed with anger. He couldn’t do it! He couldn’t sign that accursed order! He couldn’t sentence her to death! It wasn’t fair! Stopping before the window, King Arcus gazed at the land spread out before him. As far as the eye could see in any direction, he ruled. He was king of the largest and most prosperous kingdom on Mystra. He controlled the lives of thousands of people. In all things, his word was absolute law…in all things but this. No king could revoke a rule of the first ones; not if he valued the lives of his subjects. The ancients had not issued many decrees, but those they did leave behind were not to be ignored.
When colonists first settled Mystra, she was a paradise world. A temperate climate, lush vegetation, coupled with abundant wildlife made her ideal for colonization. But Mystra possessed a secret. The energy fields in and around the planet were unique and inimical to technology. The effects of these fields were not apparent at first. The colony ships landed and the settlers began to build their new world. Then, strange accidents began to happen. Generators used to power the camps exploded. Radio waves became beams of force which blew apart buildings. Soon, even the simplest machines failed to work properly. One never knew what the results would be when a machine was activated.
Then other accidents began to happen. Buildings collapsed or eroded away. Only those made of metal were affected. It was not long before the scientists confirmed the theory. Mystra did not tolerate metal of any kind. Wood, glass, and ceramics were fine. But anything made of metal either deteriorated or was warped by the planetary energy field, causing machinery containing metal components to behave erratically with often disastrous results. Since all Alliance technology depended on some metal components, the colonists made a decree. Anything containing metal was to be banned from the planet.
They loaded all machines and anything containing metal onto the colony ships and sent them on a one-way trip into the nearest sun. They turned their backs on technology and adopted a new way of life. All that is, except for a small group of scientists. These men had been outlawed from their home world for conducting experiments considered too dangerous by the Scientific Review Committee of that world. Before the authorities could seize their laboratory, they had fled off world taking their precious equipment with them.
Those who settled on Mystra were a mixed lot. The Kryllidar War had left many worlds ravaged, forcing the survivors to search for new lands. Some were the last remnants of old civilizations which had fallen to ruin. Others were species whose unique differences or abilities had caused them to be pursued and hunted. While some just wanted to escape their overcrowded home worlds or thirsted for adventure. What they all had in common was the desire for a new start. It had been easy for the scientists to change their names and forge papers that would allow them to join the expedition. They had smuggled their equipment on board with them and were ready to pick up where they had left off. The scientists could not accept the ban on technology and refused to give up their work. Instead, they moved their equipment into caves deep underground, trusting that the thick layers of rock would protect them from the planet’s unique energy. They continued their experiments in secret. Their dream was to open a portal to other dimensions; and nothing would stop them from realizing that dream. One night they attempted The Great Experiment. The resulting cataclysm almost destroyed the entire planet. A new Mystra was born that night. Fierce storms ravaged the land, earthquakes shook the earth and sea; mountains were leveled and new ones born. Volcanoes came into existence, continents shattered and, high up in the outer atmosphere, the curtain of lights was born, a barrier of death cutting the planet off from the rest of the universe.
For the colonists not killed in the initial upheaval, life became a struggle for survival. The survivors were reduced to hiding in caves and foraging for food. Battling the savage elements, they clung to life. Then, the elementals appeared. An alteration in the genetic structure of certain women gave rise to individuals who could interact with the forces of nature and bend those forces to their wills. As the number of elementals increased, the tide began to turn in the colonists’ battle to survive. Pooling their powers, they began to redirect the violent forces of nature. With the elementals monitoring and channeling the planetary forces, the settlers began the long fight back from near extinction.
During the turbulent years before the elementals, the colonists had been scattered across the planet. Now a feudal type society made up of many sects and kingdoms grew up. But, in every kingdom and population, one thing was constant—elementals were highly valued and revered; for without them life could not continue. As much as they were revered, they were also feared. Such unchecked power was frightening. The political influence wielded by the women was almost as great as the natural forces they controlled. A kingdom or group at odds with the elementals could not long survive.
Then, the change occurred. Suddenly, some elementals started to go mad. Their powers ran out of control, destroying themselves and everything around them. Mystra’s second great crisis had begun. In time, a solution was found. The forces wielded by the elementals destabilized their biochemistry, destroying them at a cellular level. The very trait which allowed them to become Mystra’s saviors, was now causing them to be her destroyers. Elementals were all women from an ancient Druidic line, direct descendants of an alien race of magi who had visited the earth long ago and mixed with the native population. A weaker version of the gene that allowed those ancient mages to wield the power of creation had until now lay dormant in their descendants. Upon activation, it gave them the ability to manipulate vast power.
When the elementals first appeared, little attention had been paid to the males of the species. Like the women, the men also carried the gene. In the male line, rather than allowing the bearer to wield the forces of nature, the gene bestowed more spiritual gifts. When the colonists lost their technology, they also lost access to the ships’ databases. Since most knowledge was stored in electronic format, they now had no way to retrieve the knowledge stored by the ships’ computers. Men with the alien gene were gifted with the ability to travel to the spiritual realms. One of those realms was the great library which stored the sum of human knowledge and experience, including the written word. While in a trance, the traveler could access the stored knowledge; and using automatic writing, record it back on the physical plane. If more technical skills were needed, such as the ability to build a boat without the use of metal parts, the departed spirits of ancient craftsmen were more than willing to teach an apt pupil. The ability to connect with the unseen world brought its own dangers, as it was too easy for the dreamers to abandon this reality and become trapped in the world of their visions. But nature had a solution to both dilemmas. When an elemental’s gene activated, it triggered the dormant gene of her male complement. The two halves were drawn to each other. Guided by visions, the male made his way to his bondmate’s side. Once together, the two joined on a spiritual level. This binding brought control to the elemental and stabilized her biochemistry, while giving the male an anchor in this reality. No matter how deep the trance, an elemental could always reach her bondmate, or kiosan, and guide him home. Together, elemental and kiosan protected the colonists, gave them the necessary skills to survive and insured that they retained the knowledge of the past; even if they were no longer able to use much of it in this new world.
An elemental’s power came fully online at midnight on her twenty first birthday. Up until then, she had been using only a fraction of her full potential. Unbonded, she could not control the sudden increase in power. If the bond was not in place before the critical hour, the elemental would not survive.
As well as stabilizing an elemental’s system, the kiosan was also responsible for ensuring that his mate did not misuse her abilities. At the time of bonding, he was entrusted with a shutdown command buried deep in the elemental’s genetic code. Using the command, he could neutralize his mate’s powers temporarily. It took an exceptional man to bond with an elemental. The shutdown order gave him the ability to access her powers temporarily, but it was up to him to enforce the command. He had to be able to overcome any opposition she threw at him, and hold firm. An elemental could not use her powers directly against her bondmate, but she could resist his command. If a man wavered or was unsure, he could easily be consumed by the powers she wielded.
With each generation, more elementals of exceptional strength were born. Elementals who could control more than one element were rare in the ancients’ time. With each generation, the number of those possessing mastery over multiple forces increased. Elementals who could control all four elements with equal strength were still a rarity, and thankfully so. The more powerful the elemental, the stronger the bondmate needed to be to match her. There was only one kiosan match for each elemental and their bond was for life. If an elemental’s kiosan was not found, for whatever reason, the elemental did not survive. Only twice, in the following generations, had an elemental failed to find an appropriate mate before her powers matured. The results of the destruction unleashed before death claimed them were stilled remembered. The ruling council had passed a decree and made sure that it was passed down to each generation.
Any elemental not bonded by midnight on her twenty first birthday must be put to death for the good of herself and Mystra.
That decree had stood for centuries; and, no matter the pain, it had to be upheld. King Arcus turned from the window and searched the floor for the scroll he had flung away only moments before. Locating it in the far corner of the room, he picked it up and returned to his desk. Sitting down, he unrolled the parchment and read it one last time.
By order of the King, in accordance with the law of the ancients: Unless a suitable bondmate can be located by midnight tomorrow, Tivonna, daughter of King Arcus of Aquilla, will be put to death on her twenty first birthday.
Taking a deep breath, King Arcus reached for a quill and dipped it into the ink well on the desk. He was a King first, a father second. His people depended on him; he couldn’t risk their lives, not even for his own daughter. With tears streaming down his face, he signed and sealed the execution order.
An hour later, King Arcus left his study and handed the scroll to the guard captain waiting outside the door. Dismissing the guard, he headed down the corridor toward his chambers. His wife would need to be told.
As the king entered his chambers, the Lady Sivena looked up from the needlework she had been stitching. The light from the window beside her accented her beauty. Her long golden hair was caught back from her forehead by a wooden circlet and she was dressed in a velvet gown of sapphire blue the exact shade of her eyes. Those eyes studied her husband closely as he entered the room. He looked tired, like a man who had been wrestling with his own personal demons and lost. His auburn hair was disheveled, and there was no sparkle in the emerald eyes. The fate of their daughter had been decided, and she could see what it had cost him to make that decision. Restraining her grief, she marshaled her strength. He needed her support and comfort now; there would be time for tears later.
“It is done?”
Nodding his head, Arcus walked across the room and stood looking out the chamber window, unable to face his wife’s reproach. With the catch of unshed tears in his voice, he answered, “If she is not bonded by midnight tomorrow, our daughter will be executed. I’m sorry.”
Rising from her chair, Sivena walked over and stood silently behind her husband. She could feel his pain. He loved their daughter dearly, as did she. Gently, she slipped her arms around his waist and rested her cheek against his broad back, offering what comfort she could.
“You had no choice. Tivonna is the strongest elemental to be born in many generations. If she loses control of her powers, she could destroy the entire city. Already she is stronger than many mature adepts. When her powers mature, she will be formidable. You just can’t take the chance. You are a king. The safety and prosperity of your people come first, no matter what the personal sacrifice.”
“This sacrifice is too great! If only there were some other way. If I could send her away or lock her away somewhere ’til we knew for sure. Maybe the ancients were wrong; maybe things have changed. Maybe the madness no longer comes.”
“No, my husband. Take my word for it; things haven’t changed. We elementals are still cursed by the change. And where would you send her that she couldn’t endanger others; what prison could hold her once the madness struck? Believe me, I have experienced a touch of that madness. As the fatal hour draws closer the darkness grows stronger. You saved me from that horror. I remember the feel of your spirit wrapping around mine, bringing order and calm. But the brief glimpse I had was enough. I would spare Tivonna that trial. If she is not bonded, then death will come anyway. This way is less painful, and she will harm no one else with her madness.”
Sighing, Arcus turned and faced his wife. Taking her in his arms, he held her tightly, taking comfort from her nearness and her love. How could she forgive him? How could she still love him? “I remember the fear that gripped my heart. The fear that I would not be able to reach you in time. I just wish we could do something. I feel so helpless. I have sent ships to the far corners of the planet searching for a suitable mate, and found none. No one seeks her. On this entire world, there is no man with the necessary gene able to match her power. My visions have been quiet. If there is a way to avoid this, I have not seen it.”
“There is nothing we can do except spare our daughter a painful death. If we love her, we must do this for her. And you must do this for our people. You are king. You must do what is necessary for your subjects.”
Taking a deep breath, Arcus let it out slowly. She was right. He had no time for self-pity or grief. He was king and he had duties. “I must go, as you say, I am the king. I can fall apart in here; but out there, I must be the perfect monarch.”
Releasing her from his embrace, he turned and slowly walked across the room. Reaching the door, he paused with one hand on the doorknob and looked back at Sivena, still standing near the window. “We’ll go on because we must. But I don’t think I’ll ever know joy again. Will you tell her?”
Not trusting herself to speak, Sivena nodded her head in agreement. As the door closed behind her husband, Sivena sank to the floor and allowed the tears she had been hiding to fall freely. Yes, they would go on, they were monarchs trained to live for the good of their people no matter the cost. But, like her husband, she too would never be the same. Tomorrow, her daughter would die, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. Outside, gray storm clouds gathered in response to Sivena’s despair, and the earth groaned in sympathy to her pain. Gently, the rain began to fall, an accompaniment to her tears.
The Lady Tivonna was much like her father. As well as possessing the auburn hair and emerald eyes of the king, she also possessed his stubbornness and strength of will. Picking up a spare blanket, she shoved it into the open pack resting on her bed. Earlier today, her mother had brought the news of her impending execution. The news had not been unexpected. Tivonna was well versed in the lore of the first ones. Past history was a hobby of hers. Her father had no choice but to order her death. But that didn’t mean she was going to meekly submit herself for execution. Death might claim her, but not without a fight. Tivonna was not a fool. She knew her potential and what that potential could do if uncontrolled. She also knew that the ancients did not leave decrees without good cause. The madness was real. But, was bonding the only answer? Maybe she wouldn’t go mad, maybe she would be able to control the increase in her abilities. She meant to try. Besides, she knew her parents loved her dearly. She knew the pain ordering her death had caused them. She was determined to spare them the pain of actually putting her to death. If she were to die, it would not be at her parents’ hands. She could do that much for them at least. Nor would she willingly endanger others. The ancients were seldom wrong and she suspected that they were not wrong now. She would go to the ruins in the mountains on the other side of the Painted Forest. There were no people there and she would be far enough away that any forces she unleashed in her madness would not harm others.
Having made her decision, Tivonna set about collecting the supplies she would need. She was wilderness trained like all royal heirs, and would have little trouble living off the land. She exchanged her court gown for a forest green tunic of soft suede with matching pants and boots. Gathering her long auburn hair into a tight braid, she tied it securely with a strip of green leather. Rummaging through her closet, she pulled out a black hooded cloak and added it to her supplies. That should do it. She glanced around the room one last time. No, she hadn’t forgotten anything. If all went well, she should be back here in a few days. If not, well at least she would have spared her parents the guilt of her death. Collecting her gear, Tivonna left her chambers and headed for the stairs leading to the servants’ quarters. It was midnight and the area was empty; everyone was sleeping. Passing through the living area, she made for the servants’ entrance located in the rear of the castle. Checking to make sure she was unobserved, she crept out the door and headed for the stables.
Dodging the guards was easy; she had been doing it since she was a child. When she was little and couldn’t sleep, she would creep out of her chambers and hurry to the stables where Jonas would always welcome her. Jonas was her father’s master trainer, but he was also her friend and confidant. It was Jonas who had taught her to ride, to pull a bow, and to survive in the wilderness. He had always welcomed her late night excursions, and would let her pet his precious chargers or tell her wondrous stories of the races and places of Mystra. When her plans were ready, she had gone to Jonas for help. The mountains were far away. If she was going to make it there by midnight tomorrow, she would need transportation and no animal ever left the stable without Jonas’s knowledge.
When Tivonna reached the stables, Jonas was waiting for her, as she knew he would be. He was tall and lean with the look and bearing of a soldier. His short brown hair was tinged at the temples with gray and his clear gray eyes missed nothing. Jonas had changed little over the years she had known him. Beside him, stood three mounts saddled and carrying packs. Stopping before the animals, Tivonna looked at Jonas in surprise.
“What’s all this? I had intended to take only Midnight?”
Jonas looked down in embarrassment, “Take them, my lady. I have a hunch you’ll be needing these extra mounts and supplies.”
Jonas was descended from the Eurodians, a race hunted and persecuted for their ability to foresee the future. The surviving members of the race had fled to Mystra. After the cataclysm, most of the races on Mystra became intermixed. There were no true Eurodians anymore, but traces of their ability could still be found in their descendants. If Jonas said she would need the extra supplies and mounts, so be it.
“Thank you. How will you explain their absence? I don’t want you to be in any trouble.”
“Don’t worry about me. I’ve known your father a long time; no harm will come to me. He’ll probably be relieved. Now, you’d best hurry, you have a long way to go and little time.”
Tivonna handed him her pack to be secured with the other supplies and turned to the large black stallion waiting serenely beside the other two mounts. As she approached, he dipped his head in greeting. The horn on his forehead shimmered with a soft golden light. Her people had brought the almost extinct unicorn with them when they settled on Mystra. They were the perfect transport in this no technology world. They were intelligent, loyal, swift and of course beautiful. Midnight was her own personal mount; she had raised him from a colt. It was nice to know that she would not be alone in her exile. The other two mounts were both exceptional animals. Jonas had picked only the best for her. Both were a sparkling white, one with a horn that glowed with an inner silver light, while the other gleamed with a burnished gold. Mounting quickly, she secured the lead ropes of the other two mounts to her saddle and turned to face her friend.
“I don’t know how to thank you. You are the best friend I’ve ever had.”
“Just come back safely. That’s all I ask. Now go, you haven’t time to waste.”
With a wave, Tivonna turned Midnight and headed for the trail to the Painted Forest. Skirting the city which sprawled beyond the castle’s boundaries, she kept to the little used trails. It would not do to be seen. Midnight was restless from being cooped up in the stables and wanted to run. Giving him his head, she was soon flying down one of the secret trails, which wended through the great forest. At this pace, she would reach her goal in record time.
The Painted Forest lived up to its name. It was one of the rare wonders of Mystra. The trees of the forest were not green like the other plants on Mystra, but instead displayed a kaleidoscope of colors. Entering the cool shelter of the forest, Tivonna traveled the winding trail until she reached a tree whose trunk was crimson shot through with bands of gold and silver and whose leaves were a riot of crimson, silver and gold. This was the King Tree, halfway point between the castle and the ruins. Stopping beneath the tree, Tivonna set up a temporary camp. It was just past daybreak. She was making good time. She would eat and rest a few moments before going on. After freeing the animals to graze, they would not stray far and Midnight would return to her call, Tivonna prepared a light breakfast. Then, rolling up in her blanket, she lay down at the foot of the great tree and drifted off to sleep.
After what seemed to be only a few minutes, Tivonna was jerked awake by something cold and wet being pressed to her cheek. She opened her eyes to see Midnight standing over her; it was he who had awakened her. Shaking his head and tossing back his long dark mane, he turned and went to join the other animals waiting quietly by the trail. Judging by the sun’s position, she had been asleep for a few hours. Thankfully, Midnight had woken her. She was tired enough to have slept the day away, and she still had a long way to go. Rising from her place beneath the tree, Tivonna quickly broke camp and prepared to travel. She was halfway through the forest; and the mountain ruins were a good half-day journey beyond the Painted Forest. It was time to be going. In moments, she was astride Midnight and heading for the mountains.
Tivonna was almost to the forest edge when a strange feeling began to come over her. She felt fevered and light headed. She was just passing the Sea Tree, a tree whose colors mirrored those of the ocean, when she was struck by a wave of dizziness and plunged from the saddle. Too dizzy to rise, she lay huddled on the ground, her body racked with alternating waves of fever and chills. It was too soon! The change had come half a day early! Tivonna sobbed in despair. She was too close to the castle. If she could not control what was about to happen to her, she would destroy not only this beautiful forest but those she loved as well.
It was becoming harder to think. Her awareness began to expand. Suddenly, she could sense the entire planet. Earth, air, fire, and water, all called to her. She was power; nothing was beyond her. No! That way led to madness! She must not lose control! Tivonna’s world faded to be replaced with a vortex of swirling colors. Red, blue, green and yellow, they dominated her awareness. Her body burned as forces of tremendous power rose and clashed within her. She could not contain all that power; her body was disintegrating under the stress. It was only a matter of time before her mind broke under the strain. The four opposing forces racked her body with waves of pain, consuming her from within. After what seemed like hours but was in reality only minutes, Tivonna could hold out no longer. With a mental scream, she fell forward into a bottomless black pit, oblivious to the forces tearing apart the fabric of her being. As the blackness closed in, her mind cleared for a moment. She had lost. Without her will to check them, the forces would run out of control. Striking at everything around her, they would leave destruction in their wake. She had been a fool; the ancients were right. She should have died. Now it was too late. Then, the blackness descended, and she knew no more.
How long she lingered in the void between life and death she didn’t know; but suddenly, Tivonna became aware of a calm, soothing presence within her mind calling her up out of the darkness. The presence was gentle but strong. It cooled her fevered body and brought order to the forces clashing within her. Where chaos had reigned only moments before, now four bands of color flowed serenely. The bands of her power waited quietly for her commands, now completely under her control. As she returned to awareness, she felt the presence retreat from her mind. Yet, even after she knew he had gone, a trace of his essence remained. Taking comfort from this, she began to slide into an exhausted sleep. She had so many questions. Who was the man who had rescued her? How she knew that the presence was a man she did not know, but she was certain that was the case. Where had he come from? How had he saved her? Was she now bonded to this strange man? She was too tired to search for answers now. She had survived the change. Her parents were safe. Everything else could wait.