.:: Alkstar, the elven country ::.
-::- Nael -::-
In the year 832 on the sixth King’s millennium, in the northern end of Inallian’s Grove, I stood atop the highest branch of the fleetfoot tree, with the wind brushing against my face.
Staring down, I could barely see the ground from which the everliving trees rose from. They seemed to stretch on below me seemingly without end. The eternal mist rolled below and carefully split around the trees and continued on their endless journey north. The trees stood there seemingly immovable, as pillars of strength, indestructible mountains of might. They were like stones which defiantly stood against the flow of water in a shallow river that were the clouds of mist that rolled through these lands since ages long past recorded history.
The rocky bark of the trees radiated power, strength and life. Pure dense magic seeped through its crevices which glowed blue and spread out in all directions in a cellular pattern of interlocked polygons that rose and fell in intensity like a powerful beat of drums from an ancient song long forgotten. It was what we elves called the Silent pulse of Nature. During festivals, we would beat our drums and tune our instruments to match the pattern. It was an entrancing experience to say the least. The scene was captivating, and one my heart refused to let go of, even after the sixty-seven years of which this scenery had been a part of my life.
We respected nature. We feared it, we admired it, we worshipped it. And for good reason too. The beings in the mortal lands called us ‘tree huggers’, as if that was some sort of insult. We take no such offense. Nature is unforgiving, and an existence which no mortal or godling could ever hope to tame. Those who forget their place and attempt to trample over it will be swiftly and ruthlessly wiped off the surface of the world.
Platforms of seamless wood rose and fell, moved around by strong cables that transported people from one section of the tree to the other. Aerial lifts and cable cars moved across the stretched wires that connected the grove in a complex interlocking web that would make an arachnid jealous. I walked along the pathway that was built atop the towering branch until I reached a cliff of sorts. There was a railing attached so that no-one would do anything stupid. Not that it mattered since the guardians would catch anyone if they fell regardless, but falling to your doom would definitely be better than dealing with an angry guardian.
They were absolutely terrifying. I shuddered as I remembered the first time I came across one of them. I could never forget the memory, of their cold grey armour which thrummed with power, made from the Everliving trees themselves. It fused with their skin, flesh, bones, their very being. Their hollow eyes had two orbs suspended in their midst which glowed blue with pure undiluted power and luminescent leaves grew from their bodies and draped over their forms like a tunic made of stolen moonlight which almost seemed to be woven into masterful patterns that made their forms as entrancing as they were devastatingly deadly. A crown of branches adorned their heads where there was once hair. The guardians were a unique existence in the elven country and they held a special position within our society. A true elf rarely dies of senescence, but as we age over time, our bodies become too sensitive, too saturated with magic until our vessels can no longer handle it and burn us to cinders from the inside out. It was a long, horrible and agonising death. The only alternative was to abandon our mortal shells altogether. And what better way to do it than becoming one with the very object of our worship?
The guardians had little to go on in the form of their own will. They had no desires, no hate, no love… only an unshakable purpose which bound their very existence. They were the peacekeepers, their eyes able to see through any disguised hostility. Terrifying beings which served judgement on all those who dared to offend the Elven land. They kept the beasts away, tamed the hallowed mist, and yes, they protected our people. No-one knew if they were still sane, or even truly alive at all. Even so, we were proud of them.
For they were our Guardians. Our silent knights. Our future as well as our past.
The Elf of Dusk, The moonlit warriors of Alkstar.
From the edge, I stared down. Unlike all the other times I had been here, today I was not afraid. I was no longer terrified of the bottom, of the heights, of falling, for I manifested an ability. A grin broke across my face as the thought crossed my mind. I finally had an ability! Very few elves my age had an ability, and those who did were of royal blood or an absolute genius! Does that make me a genius? HELL YES!
I danced in joy but eventually settled down to contemplate on how I should nurture this ability of mine. Abilities were a special method to twist magic which were unique and limited to one or a handful of particular individuals. To understand abilities, one must first understand how magic works. Magic is all around us, in the ground, in the sky, even inside our very bodies. Almost all creatures could use magic to a certain extent, even if it isn’t even noticeable. No creature was truly null for in order for that to happen, they must be the void themselves. One could exhaust magic with use like one exhausts energy with physical exercise. There’s also the fact that stamina was indeed, being consumed during the conversion of the mana in the surroundings into that spent for personal use. Although none have yet to make the connection as to why this is so.
Anyone with a good enough sense of magic could easily cause simple phenomena, like using your magic circuit to catalyse a reaction and ignite the air? Child’s play. At least for an elf, for our bodies were almost designed to be sensitive to the otherwise intangible motes of ethereal particles which now came to be known as mana. But it would be unrefined magic which is often labelled as ‘Wild’ magic. It was extremely unstable due to the obvious reason that there were no means to actually regulate, control or direct it. Thus, ‘spells’ were developed. ‘Spells’ were a sort of mental calculation which made mana flow in a particular pattern in order to get a desired result. The phenomena could be taught and explained over time, but no-one, with perhaps the exception of the primordal gods would be actually capable of understanding what magic truly is, as it is something that stands among the ranks of the fundamental laws that govern the world.
The actual words incanted had no role other than the fact that it helped to make the association between the spell and its effects easier to understand. Sort of like a guide to complete the calculation without any actual effort.
Why do all the math when you already know the answer?
In fact, mages can actually train themselves to chant the spell for a fireball while instead, using their magic to shoot a jet of water. They would have to have to have attempted that particular trick thousands of times and understand both spells to its very core to actually pull it off. Thinking of a calculation to compress air while chanting a contradictory speech line? It was like rotating one hand clockwise while simultaneously rotating the other anticlockwise at a constant, fast rhythm. Only ten times harder. There’s also the risk of messing up the spell.
I’d rather not blow myself up.
For most mortal beings, emotions also play a lot into this whole mess by helping to bypass certain ‘limiters’ put in place to keep the body’s mana circuit from breaking itself. Sometimes, it helps to find shortcuts to reach an answer faster. Ah, magic was such a fickle thing. Oh, back to my topic, Abilities…
Abilities were the next tier of spells which seemingly defied ‘common’ logic. They were usually associated with words of power and the calculation itself was so immensely complex that a mortal mind would find it incomprehensible. To tell the truth, the only way to stumble upon an ability is either purely by an unimaginably lucky accident, by sharing the ‘calculation’ among those of an extremely similarly oriented circuit which was often the case in some bloodlines, and finally, were bestowed upon them by a greater entity such as demons or godlings. The difference between them were the fact that while the former two were extremely random and incomplete, the latter would have perfected and solid results.
In my case, I probably ended up using up a lifetime’s worth of luck.
It was a quirky one too. The way the it worked in terms of its trigger, seemed awfully similar to the jumbled mess I saw whenever the oracle used her sight. Except in reverse. Great, a cherry on top to add to my confusion. Despite everything, I was slowly understanding how to set it into motion. I could think of a few ways to use it but none of them seemed to actually work. To be honest, the only reason I knew that it was an ability in the first place was because mana drained from me in a fixed rate which should only be possible if I was casting a spell or in this case, utilising my ability due to its nature.
It was strange, watching all my mana drain for no apparent reason, but I eventually figured out that I could influence myself and others using it… for example, convincing myself to overcome my fear of heights. That proved that its effectiveness but it also terrified me. I was up here on the highest branch of this tree to prove that I was no longer afraid of heights. But I was terrified not because I was afraid of heights as of this moment, but the fact that I couldn’t remember being afraid of heights in the first place, nor does anyone else for that matter. If not for the fact that I am actually here and the purpose with which I came here, I wouldn’t have even noticed it.
So my ability whatever it is, affects the mind. Both mine as well as that of others. Was it some sort of mind magic? I shuddered at the thought. I hope not. Mind magic isn’t very well received in this half of the continent. Just the mention of a mind mage would be enough to instil paranoia among the masses irrespective of race.
I turned back and slid down towards the glossy black semi-circular platform fixed into the junction at which the great branch latched onto its trunk. I lowered myself onto one of the smaller platforms that adorned its edge. The smaller one was large enough to house around ten people while the larger one served as a dock of sorts but the place was empty as rarely anyone has a reason to be so high up above the residential zones. I Clutched the handrail with my left hand and pushed the long metal gear at my side forwards onto the eighth slot using my right. Machinery churned underneath the sleek circular base as the runes around its rim began to glow. The wires that suspended the entire thing up started to spin. With a slight initial jerk, the platform started to descend. I tried to think of what my situation implied. How come I just so happened to obtain this ability out of nowhere? How does that even make sense? Even the most luckiest of all whom developed an ability at least had a trigger which set it into place. What could have possibly be the reason for mine?
Or… did I forget it? Did something happen to me that forced me to forget the whole event? A sense of foreboding started to dominate my mind the more my ability started to resemble mind magic. To distract myself, my eyes started to scan the settlements below me. Entire platforms, houses, plazas and even entire villages rose in flattened semi-circular blocks that dotted the surface of the great trees which when seen from afar could be mistaken for mushrooms.
I smiled at the analogy. If any of the elders caught me saying that out loud, they’d spank me till my arse turned red and sore. Then I frowned. Why do all of them treat me like a child? I may only be 67 and even if that is considered extremely young in elven years, my sweet, shiny and handsome body is more than good enough to be considered mature! I fumed as I remembered the humiliation I suffered in public as my uncle spanked me out in the open for merely using his heartwood staff without permission. I may have set fire to a couple of things but still!
I wasn’t able to cross eyes with a single woman for MONTHS! I was too ashamed to enter the training barracks for YEARS! I let out a sigh of self-pity as I recalled my predicament. I was jolted back to my senses as the lift came to a stop. Shaking my head, I got off the platform and started to weave my way through the various shops and houses that were scattered across the plaza. I stopped at a food stall for a moment and ordered a pair of grilled firebird wings. What can I say, food is a weakness of mine.
Just as I was about take a bite into one, I raised my head what I saw took my breath away. In front of me was the most beautiful elf I had ever seen. She had crystalline blue eyes, delicate features, long silky black hair that cascaded all the way down to her waist which seemed to trap the faint blue light that hung in the air. Her golden skin seemed to gleam with life and her long pointed ears were unadorned despite the predominant trends in fashion. Different people may have different values in beauty but I cared not for I was absolutely captivated.
In our community, it was extremely rare to see new faces. After all, we had plenty of opportunities to do so, over years, decades, even centuries. Someone like myself who would be considered ‘young’ may not know everyone but I DEFINITELY knew every single pretty woman out there, young or old.
True elves don’t really age but we could guess based on the intensity of the glow of our skin. The brighter the glow, the older one would be, in normal cases. This could, under no situation be considered an accurate measure, but it was good enough for a rough guess. The woman in front of me seemed to within the same generation as me, but what made her stand out the most was the fact that she was salivating over the grilled firebird chunks put on display in the stand.
Was she starved? No, she didn’t seem like one who had any troubles with money, as was evident with her intricately decorated dress with those golden borders. Perhaps a rich girl who ran away from home? That would explain why she was on an unfamiliar tree.
Enough assumptions, I decided to man up and talk to her.
I called out as I held one of the grilled wings out to her.
“Here, take it.”
She eyed me with caution.
“ I couldn’t possibly…”
I laughed as I saw the desire in her eyes betray her words. After some persistent nagging, I eventually got her to accept.
She stared at me, seemingly even more lost as she held up the steaming the piece in her hand. Of course, I was oblivious to this as I devoured the thing at record speeds. She took a small bite and her face twisted into a sour expression.
I glanced at her and saw her expression. Then it clicked.
“Have you never eaten firebird before?”
She shook her head.
“You haven’t eaten firebird before? How sad, what are you, some sort of royalty? These are widely available in nearly all outer groves.”
She laughed as well, albeit it sounded a bit artificial.
Wait, was she perhaps an actual princess?
I leaned in closer and pointed out the texture of the meat.
“You see those orange grainy splits that run along the meat? You see, you bite into it and separate those into individual chunks and eat it layer by layer. There’s a clear difference in flavour between the orange parts and the white ones. The orange parts are slightly sour while the white meat is sweet. Then adding the spice used to grill it, chewing them together will make it taste terrible, so you separate them as you eat.”
She nodded in understanding as she took a small bite as I instructed.
Pure bliss spread across her face as she tore it apart as if it was the best thing she had ever eaten.
“This is shoo gwud!” She exclaimed between mouthfuls. Truth be told, she didn’t stop till she ate her fifth round. The girl could eat a LOT.
After we finished and washed off the grease on our hands, we settled down on a bench at the outer rim of the plaza overlooking the world below. I was entranced by the slow flow of the eternal mist as it rolled over the ground below mimicking clouds that paraded beneath us. No matter how many times I saw this scene, it never failed to impress me.
Suddenly I realised my mistake.
“Where are my manners, I forgot to introduce myself! My name is Nael, your local tour guide.”
She raised an eyebrow and smiled as I bowed.
“Glad to meet you, Nael, you can call me –“
I jolted awake from the sudden blackness that encompassed my vision
My dream ended abruptly as I was snapped back into reality.
Tears rolled down my face despite everything I tried to make them stop.
“Why do you keep coming back to me in my dreams, Aerin? I want to see you again but… but… I can’t return. Stop torturing me...”
I cried as my heart throbbed and my hands shook. I took my time as I calmed myself. I cursed myself for my pathetic display. But what could I possibly do? The memories of my time back in the elven country and… Aerin, kept bleeding into my dreams and I couldn’t help but let my heart cry out in pain and bleed in longing for those good times.
By the time I finally regained my composure, my eyes were already strained red. Ignoring the pain, I inspected my surroundings.
I was in… a stable?
Well, apparently yes because barely five feet in front of me, aside from all the hay that was scattered about was a horse. Or rather, a horse’s behind. Then I noticed the unholy brown substance that started coming out of its rear end.
“ OH SHIT! FUCK! “ I screamed out as I scrambled away from the smelly blob that the horse decided to gift me.
I looked around wearily.
“Where am I, and how the hell did I get here?”
Then the memories of the previous night flooded my mind.
“ Ugh, I’m screwed. the association is so not going to let that go .”
I let out a tired sigh and just as I was about to exit the stable, I noticed that I felt cold. something was wrong. Oh...I was naked. That explains the cold, although not why I was naked in the first place.
“ Oh for goodness’ sake! What else do I have to worry about?”
At that very moment, the horse decided to reply with a fart.
“AH, DAMN IT ALL!”