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Ian’s eyelids slowly flickered open. The first thing he noticed was a kink in his neck. On top of that, his brain throbbed as though repeatedly smacked by a rubber mallet. The soreness caused him to groan. Briefly, confusion swam through his mind as he tried to gather his bearings. The cool damp rag resting on his forehead certainly helped.

“Oh, you’re awake,” Bianca softly said.

In an attempt to find the origin of the voice, Ian rotated his head. A dull pop from his neck forced him to stop. Out of the corner of his eye, he could somewhat tell Bianca had dragged one of the dining chairs into the room and was sitting within arm’s reach.

“Yeah… I’m awake,” Ian mumbled. Worried about the fact that he could not recall much after the start of the spar with Gaelan, he asked, “So, what exactly happened?”

“Um… well, I think dad was training you but accidentally knocked you unconscious. Sorry,” Bianca answered, apologizing despite having no need to actually do so.

“Hmm… I guess I vaguely remember now. He really whacked me a few good ones,” Ian said, grimacing. Recalling the events only aggravated him a little. Yes, only a little…

“Well, um… my mom is finishing dinner now, so if you feel well enough to eat, it should be ready soon,” Bianca said, still looking down at him with a concerned expression.

Almost without realizing it, Ian found himself caught up in her gaze, momentarily charmed by the subtle emotions locked deep within her bright purple eyes. Gradually, his gaze fell to her lips. They looked so supple and inviting. He almost felt tempted to touch them. Suddenly realizing where his thoughts were heading, he coughed, blinked a few times, and shook himself out of the daze.

“Are you alright?” she asked.

“Don’t worry about it. I’m fine,” Ian assured her. Telling her what just went through his mind was absolutely unthinkable.

“Oh… well, I’m going to go help my mom since you’re up. You can lay here for a bit longer if you want. Dad should be back soon.”

“Thanks,” Ian gratefully replied.

With that, Bianca stood, effortlessly lifted the heavy-looking wooden chair with one hand, and walked through the doorway.

She lifted that chair like it was a piece of tofu… Ian thought. The girl he pegged as petite and cute probably saw the chair as no more than he would see a small piece of styrofoam. Truly, the common sense of Earth held no clout here. While lost in thought with hands folded over his chest, Gaelan’s voice startled him.

“You dead yet?”

“No. You disappointed?” Ian retorted, slowly opening his eyes to glare at the man standing over the back of the couch. Actually, now that he thought about it, when did the guy come in? He never heard that dull creaking sound the back door always generated.

“Not really. Anyway, just so you know, I just went to ask a friend to help out with your training,” Gaelan said, changing the subject.

“You have friends?” Ian jokingly remarked.

“I do. Do you?” Gaelan immediately retorted. Ian walked right into that comeback. After letting it sink in a little, Gaelan continued, “Either way, I don’t think I have what it takes to teach you how to fight, considering I may accidentally kill you if I’m not careful.”

“What? You’re saying I could have died?” Ian asked, totally shocked.

Gaelan shrugged. “Possibly.” He also rubbed his chin and offhandedly muttered something about needing to shave.

“Haaah… and here I thought I was lucky to have someone strong training me,” Ian complained, shutting his eyes. Unfortunately, doing so reminded him of the throbbing pain in his head and neck.

“I won’t deny my own strength, but it doesn’t mean I’m capable of actually teaching you. I got a bit ahead of myself since you’re my first apprentice, I guess,” Gaelan said.

“Speaking of which,” Ian said, opening his eyes, “I got the impression that you were adamant about not taking apprentices. Why’d you accept me?”

“Ah, yes…” Gaelan fell into thought for a few seconds before answering, “Most people use Light Matter, so it would be impossible to teach them my specific techniques for strengthening material. There was another reason in the past, but it doesn’t really matter at this point.”

“I guess that makes sense…” Ian conceded. Although he felt curious about the other reason, the first already felt like enough of an answer. One thing stuck out, however. “So, is Dark Matter stronger than Light Matter?”

Making unfamiliarly extravagant gestures, Gaelan explained, “Generally, no. As far as what I understood from what Dustin told me, they are mostly the same. Two sides of the same coin he called it. They are the same for all the normal magic and physical abilities, but they each have specialized abilities as well. Light repairs. Dark has something else. Dustin never figured out exactly how it worked, but it usually does some strange things to different people.”

“Huh? Like what?”

“Like~, I, for instance, can teleport, as Dustin called it, to places within my line of sight. Other than that, I know there are some clans of Daemonkin that can change form whenever they swear allegiance to someone and receive a new name. For some reason, it’s rather common among those particular tribes.”

“Explains how you got here so quickly earlier.”

“Um, dinner is ready…” Bianca called from the dining room doorway. She looked like she had been waiting for an opportune moment to speak up.

“Oh! Thank you, my sweet pumpkin!” Gaelan exclaimed, quickly darting over to hug her in his massive arms. He followed up by rubbing his beard on her cheek.

Practically ignoring her father, Bianca turned her attention to Ian and asked, “Will you be eating?”

“Yeah, I could use some grub,” Ian happily replied. Too much new info was getting pounded into his brain nowadays and some good food would definitely help relieve the tension of learning.

“Um… There aren’t any grubs in the food…” Bianca replied, visibly confused and slightly disturbed.

“Uh, nevermind.”

* * * * *

Later that night, Ian plopped down on the new memory foam pad atop his bed and breathed a heavy sigh of relief. He rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. Candlelight danced on the wooden planks, generating strange shadows. Thoughts about Gaelan’s previous words filled his mind. He wondered how much Dark Matter affected his emotions. He pondered what sort of unique ability he could possibly get.

Mind swimming madly, he focused on the small flame dancing above the candlestick sitting on his nightstand. A silly grin appeared on his face, and he pointed a finger at it. He could feel the movement of the Dark Matter within him as it raced forth to connect his thoughts to the small flame. A gentle wave of his finger stretched the flame into the air until it burned as long as the candle itself at an angle that defied physics. A wave in the other direction pulled the flame with it. Gradually, his thoughts eased as he directed the small flame to dance through the air. He became a conductor and the flame played as his orchestra. He pulled the flame away from the wick and into the air. A memory popped into his head about when he and his siblings used to play with sparklers, he spun the little flame in a circle through the air directly above him.

*Throb*

A dull pain slowly surfaced near his temples. Immediately, his smile vanished and he stopped playing with the little flame. He mentally pulled at it until it floated directly above his finger.

Looks a lot bigger than before… he thought while bringing it back toward the candle. The closer his finger drew to the candlestick, the more he realized the flame had grown far too big. Almost instinctively, he attempted to shrink the flame by floating it between both hands and imagining himself squeezing a balloon. It ended up feeling as strenuous as squeezing a rock. After a brief struggle that increased the throbbing in his temples tenfold and caused sweat to form on his forehead, he succeeded in shrinking the flame to its original size. He hurriedly returned it to its place atop the candlestick and allowed himself to go limp on the mattress pad.

“Haaah… wasn’t expecting that to be so difficult…” He said, staring at the ceiling again. Despite the minor headache, his thoughts gradually returned to everything that had transpired over the last few days and he quietly reflected, “I’ve learned quite a bit here. Been incredibly lucky, too… How long will it last, I wonder?” For a few seconds, he remained silent, but then he rolled onto his side and mumbled, “Not like anyone is going to answer me…”

Gradually, his view blurred and his eyes shut. He quickly fell into a deep slumber, completely unaware of events taking place in the greater world of Regnoras.

* * * * *

Far from the comforts of Conncinnata and deep within the bounds of Beastkin territory, a lone wolf darted through the shadows below the canopy of the sacred Aesirr Forest. His dark silhouette blended into the darkness of night. Two streaks of silver fur along his spine stuck out when viewed from above. His tail whipped back and forth with his rapid movements. Predatory eyes, one green and one blue, pierced the darkness in his path. A sharp glint of moonlight filtering through the massive Saafir trees native to the forest reflected off them. In contrast to his massive size, each powerful step generated no more than a soft padding sound.

Suddenly, an unfamiliar scent drifted into his nostrils. Out of curiosity, he changed directions and followed it until reaching a small clearing. Several bipedal creatures wandered into the clearing seemingly from nowhere. The sight surprised the wolf. So many things were wrong with this picture. First of all, what were humans doing in the sacred forest? Why were they wearing ferns, or even nothing, unlike the other humans he had occasionally crossed paths with in the past? Upon hearing voices, he listened carefully to sate his curiosity.

“Isn’t this place beautiful?” the obvious head of the group asked the others, wonder oozing from voice.

“Indeed it is, Brother Cohen,” a woman answered with a similar tone. Several others murmured in agreement.

Nodding, the Cohen human raised his arms toward the sky and exclaimed, “Here we can see Mother Earth’s beauty as it originally was!”

Instantly, the wolf wondered, What is this crazy human talking about?

In response to Cohen’s exclamation, several more murmurs of agreement sounded out, louder than before. Just from what he could see from the bushes, the wolf counted at least twenty humans. Although the evident leader human wore ferns around his waist, he wondered why some wore nothing at all. Perhaps they never discovered clothes like other humans?

An older man with graying hair who looked like a skinny bag of bones stepped forward and asked in a gravelly voice, “Brother, I take it this is the place you obtained Mother’s gift?”

“Indeed, Brother Davis. This is the place that Mother led me to. The first time I arrived here, she gave me her gift. Now that you all have come with me, you shall receive one as well,” Cohen replied, tone laced with reverence.

“When will we receive this gift?” the elderly man asked.

“You all felt that warm pleasant feeling upon arriving here, yes?” The others all nodded and Cohen continued, “Well, that was Mother giving you the gift. Now, we must experiment to figure out which gifts you all received.”

A young girl, no older than sixteen and garbed in ferns like the leader, stepped forward and asked, “Brother, do you know why Mother is giving us these gifts, or why we were chosen?”

“Good questions,” Cohen replied with a wide approving smile. “You see, Mother wishes for us to return her to her illustrious natural form. Under her guidance, I chose the most devoted of our brethren to lead the way in fulfilling that task.”

“Oh,” the girl shrunk back in awe and bowed humbly, “thank you for this great honor.”

“Why leave out the others?” another woman asked.

“Unfortunately, some are less devoted than others. Also, too many of us receiving gifts would likely lead to conflict among ourselves. Therefore, it is best for the most devoted of us to lead the way as her avatars of retribution!” Cohen explained with fanatic fervor. Every other person nodded in compliant understanding.

At this point, the wolf breathed deeply through his nose and quickly lost interest in the conversation between all the strange humans. Without further ado, he skulked away from the clearing and resumed his travels with the end goal of finding a new tribe to run with. Memories raced through his mind as he dashed through the undergrowth once more. He could vividly recall the final moments of his tribe. The final words of his mother as the sickness took her plagued his mind every moment of every day. Even if it went against their ancient code, he would secure a future for himself, just as she wished.

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AstralTempest

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Bio: During times of wind and rain, tornadoes and hurricanes, as well as the most daunting of thunderstorms, you can find me there. It's not like I planned to be there. I just kind of end up being involved. Taking the world by storm, that is AstralTempest, or so I would like to believe.

Really just a guy that likes reading and writing, even to the point of taking English as a minor while in college in order to get better at writing.

Proud member of Writers To The End, WriTE

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