TIMES OF MAGIC
Right beneath the skyline through which Edryss and Vynoarad exchanged blows, hidden by a mass army of Magic Arrays stacked on top of each other like layers of clothes, was a massive city laden with overhead lanterns lighting the streets up like stars, and white-marble-built rises with peculiar, cyan sheen dousing their surfaces. Streets criss-crossed each other in flat angles, with everything being seemingly perfectly planned out as the entire city could be divided into exactly two hundred squares, each containing anywhere between four to eight buildings.
Roads, some concrete, some cobblestone-paved, cut right through, and if one looked from far above with an eagle’s eye, they would see a perfectly symmetrical city shining in bright colors. People wore all sorts of clothes, the most prominent being robes, and nearly everyone -- young and old -- also had a staff accompanying them; some were wooden, some metallic, some even seemingly made out of flesh. Barely anyone, however, walked; most hovered slightly off the ground and floated forward at a brisk pace, easily evading others without ever bumping into anyone.
The city seemed to be running like a perfect, well-oiled machine, as everyone seemed to know exactly where they’re going and they took no breaks getting there. Above the city hung a dome decorated with magical arrays, each blasting differently-colored light; though there was no sky to see from the city, there was a picture even more beautiful -- one they’d never get to see otherwise. Colors blended in perfectly together, creating perpetual array of auroras with shining points inside -- the connecting ends of the arrays -- acting almost like stars.
Neither day nor night, the city ran on no particular time but its own; when one felt a need to sleep, they would sleep. When they felt hunger, they would eat. It was all done on one’s individual desires. Almost every corner of the city sported a massive building, one which took up over half the square; each was built exactly the same as the last, wide but short, with columns upholding the ceiling, chiseled, classical architecture oozing out of every corner. Each also had the same name, just a different variation -- Academy of Magic, with ‘Square One’, ‘Square Forty-four’ etc. etched below.
Young people streamed in and out of the buildings almost on an hourly basis with varying expressions. What was, perhaps, the strangest part is the pure, physical differences between the people; it was a mixed bag of everything as though someone pooled people from all corners of the world and shoved them inside a single city. Tall, short, thin, fat, fit, albinos, white, black and all shades in-between, men, women, young, old, beautiful, not-so-much, rich, poor... however, despite the differences on practically every ground, there seemed to be no disputes.
Rather, as groups of people formed together to chatter, you could hardly find a homogeneous one. It almost seemed as though no one in the city was aware of the differences between them, as though the singular identity suppressed every other dissenting one.
Among all the buildings, one stood out in particular as it was rather different than the rest; it was built out of jet-black brick as a wide tower of sorts with staircase on the outside leading to each of its twelve floors, all amounting to roughly two hundred meters. On top of the tower was a massive sphere decked in metallic supports, shining in beautiful azure and perpetually spinning. From its top a singular pillar rose upward, connecting with the center of the dome and all the Magic Arrays out and about.
Inside, on top floor, in a room decorated with nothing but an endless array of bookshelves stacked with thick, old and tattered books, four men were sitting around a small, round table. The surface of the latter was carved out in strange, spiraling patterns, the carved lines shimmering in faint blue, projecting the color upward into a shape denoting a mini-scale Dragon.
“Did Edryss say anything before leaving?” one of the men asked another.
“No,” an old-looking, white-beared man with peculiar, twilight-colored eyes, replied. “She merely said it was only the beginning and that he would be back again.”
“We’re still at least a couple of years away from finishing the Dragon-slaying Array,” the third man, the youngest among the crowd, seemingly in his fifties with quite a few white strands sticking out of his otherwise lush, brown hair. “Could it be that the Fire Aspect Tribe, or someone else, figured out what we’re working on?”
“I doubt it,” the twilight-eyed man said, stroking his beard. “Save for us four, there are only ten other people who know we’re working on it, so even if we had someone who was willing to sell us out... I can guarantee that it was not any one of those ten. How many of the youngs are qualified to become Scribes?” he asked the man who so far remained silent. He had both his eyes closed, white hair parted midway through, falling by the sides of his head, joining rather thick yet well-groomed beard.
“Barely a dozen,” the man replied with a faint sigh. “It was not a good batch. Ever since Zyree demonstrated quick-cast, fewer and fewer kids are willing to become Scribes.”
“Humph, what quick-casting?” the youngest among them scoffed coldly. “It’s just charlatan’s tricks. What do they think? That no one else knows how to cast a few insignificant spells without Arrays and Regents?”
“Now, now Ajjy,” a brow-haired, big-bellied man who opened the discussion joined in again. “Young will always be young. Even we had dreams of flying around and casting one spell after another while growing up -- it’s only natural.”
“I’d more than happy to indulge child’s imagination any other time, Ryvone,” Ajjy said. “But we can’t afford to have a generation of half-wits who cannot cast a proper spell to save their lives. I am sure you have already realized it, but we are bound for war; the only reason we still stand are our Arrays and our treasured Scripts. If we suddenly don’t have enough Scribes to replicate them, we may as well dig our own graves because no quick-casting will harm a damn squirrel, let alone a Dragon.”
“I agree with Ryvone,” white-haired man, named Sylos, said, sighing quaintly. “But, it is a hard sell for youngs to become interested in the job of a Scribe. It’s a dull and eternally repetitive occupation, regardless of its eternally understated importance to our very existence.”
“We can still ask Edryss for help,” twilight-eyed man, Vyne said. “This war is as much our as is hers.”
“Edryss is a lone Dragon, Vyne,” Ajjy said. “Even if she were twice as powerful as she is, she still couldn’t weather the storm alone. We can’t burden her shoulders any further; she had already promised to battle against other Dragons -- we, at the very least, should have the capability of taking out their enslaved minions.”
“... we still have roughly 200,000 Scripts in reserve,” Slyos said. “And enough Regents for 800,000 more, so a whole million in total. For now, I think it is best we pull some manpower from the retirement; if we select carefully, I think they would be more than understanding. Perhaps they might even pull some of their youngs into the job.”
“You are all gathered,” a powerful yet calm voice suddenly filled the room, startling the four men. “Good.”
“L-lady Edryss!” all four exclaimed at the same time.
“Lady? I have asked you not to ascribe to me silly, human titles; I am neither a he nor a she -- I am just a Dragon.”
“Are you still working on the Dragon-slaying Array?” Edryss asked.
“Yes.” Slyos took the leading role and replied.
“Divert it,” Edryss’ words clearly surprised the men. “Do not scrap it entirely, merely turn it into a massive area of effect Array to counter large armies.”
“Uh... that... that wouldn’t be a problem but... can You take.. on all Dragons alone?” Slyos asked with some reservation.
“I will not be alone,” Edryss replied. “You can leave Dragons, Drakes, Wyverns and Devils to us. You should aim to create a counter-force against the army of Cultivators as well as the two specialized squads of Gods and Angels -- especially the former. However far they have fallen since their glory days, Gods are still not to be taken lightly.”
“... if you don’t mind me asking... who... will be helping you?” Slyos asked.
“... the Empyrean.” Edryss replied after short silence, clearly debating on whether to tell them. As they heard, the expressions of four men contorted for a moment.
“... that madman? Are you sure about this?” Ajjy asked.
“However, who better to battle the madness than its very embodiment?” Vyne countered.
“It would be fine if it was merely the matter of fighting,” Slyos said, frowning. “But the Empyreans hardly care much for who or what they destroy in their wake.”
“How old is he?” Ryvone suddenly asked, his question surprising the other three men.
“Yet to turn forty.” Edryss replied.
“... how certain are you in his ability?” Ryvone asked.
“He will deliver.” Edryss replied simply.
“Very well,” Ryvone sighed after short deliberation. “We will re-focus the array onto a mass-scale one. We shall trust your judgment.”
“Until next time.” Edryss replied as her presence vanished from the room.
“... why did you ask about his age?” Slyos asked.
“The Empyrean has woken over fifteen years ago,” Ryvone said. “So, if he’s yet to turn forty, he must have been a teenager back then. Too little time has passed for him to have entirely gone mad; in almost every record I read, those who have become Empyreans in their teenage years have largely resisted falling into insanity, unlike those who inherited the Writ earlier or later on in their lives. After all, a person is never more emotional than they are during those brief few years; by the time they settle, it becomes far more difficult to match those emotions, even for Ataxia. The biggest factor, still, is my trust in Edryss’ judgment. Who in the world has more reason to despise the Empyrean than she does? If she still trusts him enough to aid her, then the Harbinger truly must be something else.”
“...” the silence reigned over the room for the long while after, as everyone slowly spiraled into their own thoughts. Despite the fact that they were largely removed from the world at large, that didn’t mean that they were unfamiliar with it, especially when it came to the Writs. All things considered, they all inwardly mused, if they were to choose one Bearer to help them, it would without a doubt be the Empyrean; despite the unpredictability the latter bore, they were also far more trustworthy and straightforward than the rest. Still, there was always the risk of the Empyrean simply deciding he didn’t have enough fun during the battle and attacking them, so they also decided to try and quickly scribble together an anti-Empyrean array... just to be on the safe side.