A Second Chance
The Wasteland – The Gates of Dawn
Two slits split open an otherwise unbroken darkness, light and its companion pain forcing their way through.
Eidos squints, trying to regulate the flow of her visual floodgates as she grows accustomed to her reawakening consciousness.
Khlutt attacked me, and then…
She feels the rhythmic dance of her digits, her limbs, and finally her body as blood pulsates through them.
He sealed off my Glyphs… but how?
Aching muscles contract uneasily, fibers sliding against each other like rusted iron rods. But eventually she manages to pry herself from the ground, kneeling on the desert sand.
Biracul’s balls! Am I in the Wasteland again?!
Suddenly, Eidos feels a gentle tap on her shoulder. She spins violently towards the perceived threat, but her gaze is met with what can only be described as the antithesis of danger. Before her stands a terrified and scrawny fellow in a turquoise robe.
Heyar! You are alive again! I’m so sorry about last time!
She wipes away the tears inexplicably welling up in her eyes.
The man, equally startled by Eidos’ sudden movement, falls back with a weak yelp. Shaking and blinking the fear from his eyes, a look of once forgotten excitement draws the corners of his lips up into a shit-eating grin.
“Ha ha! You’re awake now, are you? Splendid!” he squeals, half glee half nerves.
“What happened?” We got our ass kicked by Khlutt, that’s what.
“You mean you don’t remember your brief tussle with the magelord of the Dawn?! Well, he certainly does! Ha ha!”
“What I meant was, what happened after that?” Actually, that’s a good question…
“Oh. Well, let’s see… You were brought to the courtyard, given a formal trial as an Unseen, and then summarily exiled!”
Heyar looks off toward the burning eastern horizon. “Hmm... I spy Ark’s Beacon off there to the east; quite a trip, I dare say—then again, anywhere in this strange land would be! Ha ha!” Oh no, this is the same bit as before. He wants to travel with me.
“I say we—you and myself, that is—tackle the Wasteland together! Your brawn and my brain might just get us through! What say you?” No! Absolutely not! I don’t want to kill you again…
“Didn’t I just lose the only fight I’ve ever had? Not sure I have much brawn to speak of…”
“Ho ho! A valid counterargument!” he says with a mirthful laugh before adding, “Though ‘not much’ beats ‘none’—which happens to be the exact amount of brawn I claim ownership of! Ha ha!”
Heyar laughs. Uncontrollably. Tickled in the extreme by the hilarity of his own words. His eyes tear up with the sheer and utter genius of his joke.
“Not sure why you’re laughing,” she says, genuinely confused. Doesn’t matter. But whatever you do, don’t accept his offer to travel together!
Minutes pass and Heyar’s giggling fit tapers into isolated pockets of chuckles. He blushes, now a little self-conscious. “Oh. Sorry! Ho ho! The danger with having such a keen intellect is that it allows one to see the humor in everything! Ha ha!”
“If you say so.”
“You seem like a fine traveling companion for the Wastes! So? Shall we explore our tomb together, chum?”
“Doesn’t much matter to me. But I’d rather find some shade and a place to rest.” No! Not again! Please!
The scholar grins so widely it nearly separates his jaw from his face. “Splendid! And if it’s shade you desire, no better place than Ark’s Beacon off yonder!” He points to the shimmering dot on the eastern horizon. “Tally ho! Let’s beginning our exploration!”
Eidos watches as Heyar walks off toward the desert spire, the Daziran scholar gleefully muttering to himself and making strange gesticulations, as though lecturing to the dust and stones. She shambles after him, beginning to bake in the afternoon sun.
I won’t let it happen again. I won’t!
A growing fondness for the scholar makes her pursuit less of a chore, but a growing unease makes her keep her distance.
This time you won’t die by my hand. I promise. Her resolve cemented, both body and mind trudge forth, off into the eastern Wastes.
The Wasteland – Ark’s Beacon
Alternating patches of sand and cracked earth seem to endlessly pass beneath Eidos’ feet. The same barren sights persist step after infinite step. Mouth agape, wanting to drool but incapable of producing even a single drop of spittle, Eidos stares at the floor as her feet drag, kicking up meager clouds of dust and sand. But unrelenting winds sweep those clouds away and erase any footprints she may have left behind, leaving no evidence of her passage, no reminder of her existence.
A break in the howling winds grants her eyes the freedom to look up and forward. The Wasteland spire grows nearer. From this vantage point, she now sees that it is but a small part of a broad, stout fortification, several hundred paces wide—a microcosmic Dawn Fortress. This structure is built into the lip of a massive crater, stopping it up, and preventing traffic either in or out.
When near enough, she sees evidence of recent habitation—abandoned tents, bedrolls, and ashy campfire remains, to name a few. Even a small water cistern sits nearby, though it is now as empty as the facilities it services. At present, it seems the sole occupants of Ark’s Beacon are solitude and fading memories.
Bringing her attention to the wall whose shadow now envelops her, she notices that on either side, a stairway leads to the top of the fortress walls.
Suddenly, laughter shatters the solemn silence of the Wastes, reminding Eidos she is not actually alone. She turns to find Heyar some twenty paces off, laughing again at one of his own inane jokes—probably the same one.
Leaving the scholar to his boundless fun, Eidos climbs the stairs and mounts the battlements atop the wall where her ascent is rewarded with a curious sight. From the parapet upon which she stands, a massive stone ramp descends into the crater below.
She kicks a pebble down onto the ramp. A second later, it cracks against the sloped surface of the crater. The descent seems a simple task. However, given the smooth surfaces of the wall, the return ascent seems inversely proportional in its simplicity. In truth, the whole complex appears to be designed to invite invaders from the crater to mount the ramp only to then rebuff them with its formidable walls.
A great yawn forces her eyes to shut as they move up and away from the ramp. When her lazy display comes to its conclusion, her gaze falls upon a rather unexpected sight—given the forsaken state of the fort. There before her is an archer, standing proudly upon the walls she defends.
Was she here the whole time?
Eidos shambles forward with a silly grin. The archer greets Eidos’ approach with the same warmth and affection as the Wasteland has—though at least she does not ignore Eidos entirely.
Without even turning to face her visitor, her words come, cold as a midnight gale, “What is it, outlander?”
“You expecting something to come up that ramp?”
“Before the week’s out, you, likely as not.”
“But I’ll put a shot through your eye when the wraithglow gets you. Your suffering will be brief; you’ve my word of honor as one of Ark’s Valvorthr.”
“Are we enemies or something?” I don’t recall poisoning you this time around, so what reason do you have to hate me?
“It doesn’t matter what we are,” come the words icy as a desert eve. “If you return here walking without Trueflesh, my arrow’ll find you.”
“Sounds unpleasant, but whatever happens, happens, I guess.” That’s remarkably… wise. Given that it’s born from my body’s apathy, that is.
“Speaking to you won’t help me in my mission to defend the beacon from draugs—might just make it more difficult. Leave me, outlander.” And after a moment’s pause, she finally adds, “Ark guide you to the Grays.”
Eidos lazily turns to discover its origin. Approaching from behind is the sound of an unfiltered Heyar dictating and then performing his own eulogy, it seems.
“…For far did the wayward scholar venture into the Wastes, and much did he learn! The knowledge of what lies behind the Door of Night his final gift!”
Seeing his travel companion, he excitedly rushes toward her.
“Oh! Ha ha! There you are! And you’ve come to observe the Stilled San Crater without me. Me! Your dearest companion and guide!” Suddenly distracted by a thought, he turns to face the crater. “Have you spotted any draugnir yet?! It’s said a glimpse of them is a glimpse of death itself!”
“No, I was just talking to this archer here…”
Eidos turns to find the wall deserted, utterly devoid of life beyond the two companions in exile.
“Huh,” she says. “Must’ve run away, I guess.” No… she was definitely… Oh no, I think I’m hallucinating…
“Possible,” the scholar offers, “Though I seem to recall none other than you, my faithful companion, occupying this wall just now…” Heyar, get away from me!
“Weird, but not that it matters much.”
“Hmm… the bizarre effects of the Wastes are well-documented in both Tambul and the Dawn Fortress—though the exact descriptions do vary. Seeing that which is not is one such an effect!” He leans in as though about to share some great secret. “But I myself have a theory not yet proposed!” he whispers. “I suspect that time itself is warped here! You may have been speaking to someone in the past and they to someone in the present—well, future to them. Ha ha!” Please, Heyar… run…
“What makes you think that?”
“Ho ho! If only you had seen the accounts of visions seen here at Ark’s Beacon! Predictive visions! All things encountered here have come to pass and many draugnir attacks have thus been thwarted!” You need to leave! Now!
“Is that so.”
“It is! Hence the importance of these centuries-old fortifications! Without it, Kabu might have been overrun by draugnir raids a dozen times by now!”
“But the guards in Tambul said the raids stopped a long time ago.”
A sudden look of shock and horror twist his features, “No! By Biracul’s beard, no! Do you ask a mountaineer about the ocean and a sailor about the peaks?!”
Confused, Eidos says, “Not sure what you mean, but I’m starting to lose interest…” Good! Body, listen to me. We have to leave here. Now!
Heyar’s chipper brightness darkens as the thick clouds of disillusionment cast their shadows over his innocent curiosity. “Knowledge fades when the desire to learn vanishes… Knowledge dies when history is forgotten.”
“May be true… but I don’t much care either way.” Right, so let’s get away from Heyar, body. Please!
The scholar flinches at the remark as though pierced by a lethal strike from a phantom arrow. But suddenly his crestfallen eyes brighten, as though parting clouds now reveal a ray of light for the first time in years. “If that’s so, and you don’t care either way, then you should at least be willing to listen, no?”
“I suppose so, as long as it doesn’t involve too much effort.”
“Splendid! I’ll take it!” The scholar begins to rub his hands in anticipation. “Oh, where to begin? Where to begin?! Ah yes!” He clears his throat before asking, “Do you know why this place is named ‘Ark’s Beacon’?”
“Have you heard of the archmage of legend? The bane of the Jinnwraith? The inimitable Ark of Dazil?!” he asks excitedly.
“I’ve heard of Ark—seems people worship her.”
“Yes! But who worships her?”
“Mostly Tacribians, I guess—don’t remember the Tambulans saying much about Ark…”
“And that is exactly the point! Ark is of Dazil! Which is an antiquated name for my homeland! For Dazir!”
“Don’t you see the irony?!”
“No, but this is starting to seem like more effort than…”
“Ah, no, no, no! Allow me to explain then, to alleviate your taxed mind!” He begins to pace and waving his finger about he lectures, “It is well-known that Tacribians hate Dazirans. It is also well-known that Tacribians deify Ark. Does this not strike you as odd? It should! But the explanation is simple! History is an ill-studied discipline in Kabu—save by a few scholars such as yours truly—and thus few realize Ark’s birthplace was in fact Dazir!”
Eidos stares blankly at him. Body, I’m warning you. Move now.
Heyar continues, “That is precisely why history is so important! Because…”
And, as though propelled by a violent gust of wind, Eidos’ body topples over the walls and down into the crater, leaving an incredulous Heyar alone atop the walls. The landing is no less violent than the fall. Her left arm impacts upon the hard stone. Several terrible snaps signal fracturing bones throughout. Eidos moans, the pain impossible even for her apathy to ignore.
Why didn’t Luin appear? To shield me? What did Khlutt do to Luin? What did he do to me?
“Are you all right?” calls down the concerned scholar.
“Oh! Ha ha! Of course!” He hesitates. “Perhaps I can find a rope, wait there!”
The scholar rushes away to scour the fort for a means of retrieving her, but returns empty handed. By all appearances, a fall crater-side is considered a death sentence to the defenders of the fort.
“I’ve found nothing, dearest companion!” He thinks for a moment. “But as I will soon be consumed by the wraithglow regardless, allow me to accompany you into the crater. Perhaps we’ll see what the inside of a draugnir’s mouth looks like! Ho ho!”
Heyar begins to climb over the wall.
No! “No, wait!” Eidos says, startling even herself with the emotions she now feels.
Go to the canyon, past the Obsidian Ruin. “The canyon, past the Obsidian Ruin… You should go there.”
His expression turns serious, “And abandon my faithful companion? Never!”
Death doesn’t matter. I’ll just be reborn… well, you will too, but I don’t want to be the one to kill you! “Look… we’re both gonna die out here, but you don’t have to die right now. Go learn. I may not care, but you do,” she speaks the words neither knowing nor understanding whence they come. “Don’t waste your last precious breaths here!”
A moment’s hesitation soon births an understanding, a new awareness, and Heyar speaks, moved by the impassioned plea from an otherwise dispassionate Eidos, “You may be right… this will be my last chance to learn…” Then looking down at her, “And you… you’ll be fine? Fine alone in death? Well, as fine as one could be, given the circumstances…”
“I was born alone and now I die alone. All is as it should be.” Yes. All is as it should be.
A spark of recognition reignites the fire in his eyes and Heyar readopts the smile of a bumbling scholar. “onhagefuokuzhua! All is as it should be!” He turns to leave before finally adding, “Remember brave companion, fear is there to protect you, pain to warn you, but no matter what may befall you, the Falseflesh is not you and its emotions not yours! Take care and die well!”
She smiles weakly, still under the influence of agony.
You too, Heyar. See you next life.