“Two Keepers out of the way; one locked in a dream, one in search of answers… but the princesses followed the Law Keeper. I will have to separate them somehow.”
The ringing of a deep, booming bell had Madia opening her eyes with a start. She shuddered in bed as she recalled the nightmare of the prior night, before sitting up and rubbing her eyes.
That’s one of the gate tower bells, she realized as she hopped out of bed and threw her clothes on. She darted to her balcony and flung the door open, the sound of the bell growing louder upon arriving outside. She glanced around before her eyes landed on the eastern gate, where she could barely see the swinging bell in the citadel overlooking the wall.
What on earth could they be heralding the arrival of? she wondered nervously before turning back around and closing the balcony doors. She rushed down the stairs and out into one of the hallways of the castle to find Aevum just ahead speaking with a castle guard, who was holding his helmet under his arm.
“Good morning Aevum!” she called to him as she slowed her approach.
The Keeper of Time glanced at her for only a moment, giving her a bit of a smile before resuming his talk with the guard. Madia stopped beside them to join the conversation.
“Just the five of them you say?” Aevum muttered as he placed a hand to his chin.
“Madia,” Aevum spoke.
“Some Arden men have arrived at the eastern gate, supposedly looking for Kenta,” he explained.
Madia’s eyes widened. “Is Tuulin among them?”
“I’m not sure, but from the sounds of things they have come largely unarm-” As he responded, another bell tolled at a much higher pitch. The time Keeper narrowed his eyes. “That’s the southern bell...”
The guard immediately took off, putting his helmet back on as he ran towards the entryway.
Madia took in a breath as she watched him sprint down the hallway. “The south and the east?” she questioned as she looked Aevum in the eye.
He seemed just as nervous as he spotted one of the castle servants walking by. “You there. Go find the other Keepers and tell them to meet in the courtyard,” Aevum requested.
“At once, m’lord.” The servant nodded before turning and running back the way he came.
Aevum turned to Madia. “We’re better safe than sorry. I’m going to get Kenta and bring him to the courtyard as well so we can speak with him.”
“That won’t be necessary my liege,” Kenta’s anxious voice had the two Keepers turning around to face him, his eyes filled with fear. “I told you didn’t I? They’ve come for me.”
Madia narrowed her eyes. “You’re considered a defector, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I may be considered a traitor for coming here to you.” Kenta’s voice was filled with fear.
Aevum frowned. “Is there anything else you haven’t told us that we should know about Tuulin and these Arden at the gates?”
Kenta shook his head, not saying a word as the bells continued to toll. Aevum sighed before starting down the hall. “Come, we make for the courtyard,” he said, his red cape trailing behind him as he speed-walked towards the entry. Madia jogged for a moment to catch up and walk beside him.
“Aevum, you don’t think that Tuulin would attack the castle, do you?” Madia fretted as Kenta followed behind.
“He wouldn’t dare be so bold unless he knows something that we don’t,” Aevum reasoned.
“We’re the Keepers. Limitless magic; controllers of the very balance of the realm! This is nothing we can’t handle,” Madia continued.
“We have our limits, do not forget,” he replied, looking forward.
Madia squinted as the light coming through the doorway ahead blinded her briefly. The three found themselves in the courtyard, where Flain and Cael were already waiting.
“What’s this all about?” Flain sighed as the others approached.
Madia nodded her greeting to the other two Keepers. “It would seem some Arden men have come for Kenta.”
“Truly? They’ve got some nerve showing up at our doorstep,” Cael growled.
“They’re a lost people, Cael. We must have patience with them during this difficult time,” Madia insisted.
As she said that, the sound of hoof steps reached the Keepers as they all looked to the open castle gate, where a man in light leather armor came riding in, mounted on a horse. “My lords and ladies! Dragonkind to the south… they are amassing outside the gate a couple hundred meters into the woods!” he gasped out.
“What-?” Cael shouted.
Aevum’s mouth hung open as he stared at the messenger incredulously. “An army? This bodes ill; we must prepare defenses. If they’ve got numbers, we’ll need to be prepared for an assault!” Aevum said.
“As you command, sir!” He turned his horse around and rode back down the hill.
“An army? No, that cannot be,” Madia muttered. “For them to assemble so quickly…”
“Realm almighty… they’re actually doing it,” Kenta whispered.
In an instant, Cael was upon him, gripping him by his tunic and nearly lifted him up off the ground. “What? What are they doing?”
“Kenta, I think it’s time you told us what’s going on,” Madia said. She didn’t call off Cael’s aggression this time.
“P-Please don’t hurt me-! They… there was talk of an assault on Elra! I didn’t think they would actually do it… i-it’s suicide!” he gasped.
“Why didn’t you tell us of this sooner?” Cael spat as she shook him.
“Cael, please! Calm down, we can deal with him later; what’s more important is that we deal with this current threat,” Aevum insisted.
Madia narrowed her eyes as Aevum’s words echoed in her mind. He wouldn’t dare be so bold unless he knows something that we don’t.
Flain was already jogging away as soldiers began to run around the courtyard. Madia summed up her energy and called out to everyone nearby. “Servants, to the inner castle!”
“What shall we do about the princesses?” Aevum wondered aloud.
“I’ll find them and get them somewhere safe. You focus on commanding the troops, Aevum!” Madia said as she began running back to the castle, a small collection of gardeners and other attendants just ahead of her crowding their way through the door. “And watch the skies! Do not forget that the strength of their wings is their greatest asset!” Madia shouted over her shoulder.
There was no response as she entered the castle again and ran through the halls. They’ll be long since awake by now. Judging by the light outside, I must have slept in. She wracked her head, trying to recall what the princesses would be doing at this hour. She then recalled her conversation with Rell the previous day, and veered off down a narrow corridor leading to the castle library. She wasted no time as she entered the grand archives. The dream I had last night… was it prophetic? She grimaced as the thought entered her mind before she stopped at the desk.
“Lady Madia, what brings you here?” the bookkeeper asked.
“The princesses; where are they?” Madia asked, a little out of breath.
The lady at the desk appeared nervous now. “They are down the third aisle of the school of magic section.”
“Alright, thank you!” Madia said before running off again, very quickly finding the princesses both hanging over a book at a desk.
“Your majesties!” Madia gasped.
Rell squealed and jumped as she looked up at Madia. “H-huh- Madia? What’s wrong?”
Rune in the meantime slowly glanced up, tilting her head in confusion without a word.
“We must get you to safety. An army of Dragonkind have amassed just outside the southern gate. Did you not hear the bells?” Madia asked.
Rell’s face was filled with horror as Madia delivered the news. “N-no we didn’t. Are we being attacked?” she gasped.
“It seems so, come! We must leave this place,” Madia insisted.
As if on cue, a voice rang out through the library. “All students report to the academy of magic for roll call! All students to the academy for roll call!”
Rune narrowed her eyes. “Why would they attack us?”
“I don’t know, but we need to get you deeper into the castle where it’s safe. Come with me!” Madia said taking Rune by the hand and making for the exit of the library, Rell following behind.
“I-I don’t understand! Why attack now? I thought we were making peace!” Rell panted as they returned to the corridor. People were now running all around the castle, a mix of nervous murmuring and some panicked calls piercing the tense air. Madia had no response for the young princess as they rounded the corner.
Despite the chaos elsewhere, within the main hall the castle was dead silent; still, Madia froze. “Wait…” she whispered as the princesses skidded to a halt beside her, the Keeper of Mind placing her hands and arms down protectively in front of the children.
As the silence around them took over, Madia was now able to make out the deep booming and occasional high-pitched whine of magic coming from outside the castle, but still faint through the thick stone walls. Before long, bells began to toll again and Madia’s heart sank.
“Th-they’re… they’re attacking,” Rell whimpered as she gripped the Keepers tunic fearfully.
Madia shook her head in disbelief as she felt the images of her nightmare flash through her mind. They know something we don’t. They wouldn’t attack if they didn’t think they could win! Have they brought Mennic back? Thoughts swarmed in her head as she shivered.
Rell tugged at Madia’s shirt. “M-Madia-?”
“We have to leave,” Madia muttered.
“We need to get you out of here! We’ll protect you, come with me!” Madia said before breaking into a sprint for the courtyard. The princesses followed shortly behind, their sandals slapping against the ground as they tried to keep up.
I’ve got to get to the rest of the Keepers and tell them about my dream! I need to warn them!
As she ran, there was a mighty screech that filled the sky, like an arrow splitting the air, muffled by the castle walls. The princesses screamed as they covered their heads, before the entire ground shook and Madia stumbled forward, thrown off balance as the earth rumbled beneath her. She slammed into a wall and let out a grunt as her arm ached. She dared to open her inner senses and immediately caught a trace of magic in the distance. She kept her mind open, feeling magic flow through her as she cast a quick sensory spell. What sounded like shattering glass far to the north filled her ears. Her heart skipped a beat as she discovered that a familiar sensation had vanished. No, impossible…
Madia winced as she stood tall, holding her arm in pain as the princesses recovered from the shockwave. “M-Madia, what was that?” Rune shouted.
Too afraid to answer without knowing for sure, Madia ran to a north-facing window and looked out, squinting as she gazed beyond the woods. She took in a harsh breath as she saw the lights filling the sky and the deep, orange glow pervading the forest beyond the castle. She watched in frozen terror as she saw the enchanted boundary of the Tellimar forest crumble and shatter like glass, fire immediately engulfing the trees below. “The boundary… they destroyed the boundary-!” Madia barely managed to utter as her eyes remained locked on the ominous glow erupting from the north.
“I-It’s gone… it’s really gone…” Rell whispered in terror.
Hearing the young princess snapped the Keeper out of her stupor as she reached behind her and grabbed Rell’s arm. “Come on! We have to get to the other Keepers!” she cried out as she ran off towards the courtyard again. Rell just yelped as she was tugged forward, trying to look over her shoulder back out the window, evidently in the same shock that Madia was. Rune was still waiting just ahead, before joining them and following.
The enchanted boundary is gone, meaning there’s a large-scale attack from the north too. Madia began trying to comprehend everything that was happening. A small party of Dragonkind from the East, which happens to be the same direction Kenta said they had settled; an army from the south… they’ve nearly got us surrounded! she realized as she saw the massive wooden door up ahead barricaded with scattered furniture and beams of wood.
“No no no! Open the door! We need to get out!” Madia shouted as she waved her hand in front of her, feeling her magic starting to well up in her fingertips.
A few soldiers that had been building the barricades jumped out of the way as Madia skidded to a halt and looked through one of the stained glass windows to the side of the door. She looked through and saw Arden in the skies, swarming like flies as they dived on to the walls where magicians and soldiers were exchanging blows and trying to defend against the onslaught.
Madia clenched her teeth before turning to the guards. “Protect the princesses, I’m going out!” She waited for no response before flicking her wrist and shattering the window with a brief burst of magic.
She leapt out into the courtyard and looked around frantically. “Aevum! Cael! Flain! Where are you?” she screamed as she ran through the gardens, jumping onto the walls above in a single bound.
“Here, Madia!” Aevum responded nearby from atop the wall as he swung his staff horizontally, sending an Arden man tumbling off.
“Aevum! Where’s Flain and Cael?” she called to him.
Without breaking his focus, Aevum replied. “Flain is just a little further east! Cael has gone to intercept the flames of the Tellimar; she’s going to try and recreate the boundary! What of the princesses?” Aevum returned with a question as he struck another winged assailant.
“They’re just inside the castle! But Aevum, listen! My dream last night; we were attacked then too! I think it may have been prophetic!” Madia said as she stood at Aevum’s side, drawing her knife.
Aevum hardly even looked at her and deflected an arrow with his staff, the bright light flashing from the staff indicating powerful magic as the arrow was sent spinning back into the sky. “What else happened?” he asked.
“T-Tuulin revived Mennic, but we defeated him quickly. We went to go find Tuulin but-” Madia grimaced as she recalled just how her dream ended.
“That’s not possible, there was nothing left of Mennic when we defeated him last-” Aevum replied before being interrupted again by a pair of Arden landing on either side of him. He swung his staff around himself in a circular motion, forcing his attackers to jump back, before one of them was stabbed from behind by another soldier. Madia waved a hand towards the other. Away with you... As soon as the thought entered her mind, the attacker turned around and jumped off the walls, flying back into the sky.
Aevum grunted. “People don’t just come back from the dead! The element of law ensures it,” he insisted.
Madia bit her lip. He’s right. Maybe that was just in my dream after all. Madia cleared her head. “But we really were attacked! Tuulin may be more powerful than we think!”
“He was the Keeper of Mind in Muurin, he couldn’t have more than that at his comma-” As Aevum spoke up again, there was another drawn-out screech that filled the air, identical to what Madia heard before the northern boundary was destroyed.
Just a short distance away, Madia heard a man shout desperately above the sounds of battle. “INCOMING!”
Before Madia could process it, she spotted the bright blue beam of light hurtling towards the castle like a javelin, filling the air with a piercing scream as it approached.
In an instant, Flain was there in front of the other two Keepers, a vicious glare on his face as he clenched his teeth and held his hands forward. “TAKE COVER!” he shouted at the other two.
“FLAIN NO-!” Aevum lunged forward towards the Keeper of Law as Madia felt the surge of magic coming from him. In that moment an overwhelming sense of dread filled Madia’s heart as she watched Aevum leaping at Flain, hands outstretched as magic radiated off him, time seeming to slow down. Flain’s painful expression said all as the spear of magic traveled too fast for Aevum’s magic to take hold.
A crackling sound filled the air and Madia dove to the ground, her hands over her head as she heard what sounded like ice crumbling, immediately followed by Flain’s cry of agony as everything around her shook. With a resounding boom, she suddenly found herself lifted up into the air, gasping as the sudden movement left her devoid of breath. She caught a brief glimpse of splintered wood and pieces of the wall launching past her as she struggled to breathe. All other sounds became muted as her ears rang. She tumbled to the courtyard below, the sound of crumbling rocks and stone all around her as pebbles and shrapnel from the wall rained upon her. She rolled across the ground for a moment, grimacing in pain as her arm took the brunt of her collision, before stopping nearly face down in the dirt.
Madia shook and coughed as she tried to push herself up. The muffled sounds of soldiers and magicians fleeing in terror barely entered her ears as she spat, trying to recover her breath. She could hardly utter a word as she slowly lifted her head up to find the courtyard and gate ahead a total disaster, people scattered across the ground amidst the rubble, some lifeless and others clinging to life as her head ached.
“A-Ae… vum- Flain…” she managed to whisper as she gently pulled herself up before she felt a hand grip her arm and help her up.
“M-Madia! We have to get out of here!” Aevum’s pained voice was filled with desperation. Madia blinked as her eyes came into focus, looking up at Aevum as he brought her to her feet. She noticed one of his sleeves was torn off and his arm hung limply, burns scattered across it.
“A-Aevum… wha-?” Her eyes were half closed in a daze as her ears were still filled with the screeching of magic. “Flain… w-where is Flain?”
“Madia we have to go! We need to get the princesses to safety!” Aevum replied with a pained grunt. The Keeper of Time began trying to pull her along. Reluctantly, Madia stumbled after him towards the main entrance of the castle. She heard the growling of Arden, stomping on the ground as they assaulted the courtyard, weapons colliding and magic singing as the battle reached the inner castle.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Flain laying sprawled out on the ground just beneath the walls of the main castle, his eyes shut and his clothing torn, burns all over his body as he lay limp. Madia gasped as she was snapped out of her stupor. “FLAIN-!”
“Come on Madia-!” There was another violent tug on her arm and she let out a yelp as Aevum stopped before a broken window.
“We can’t just leave him-!” she cried desperately.
“I’ve already done everything I can!” Aevum insisted.
“He’s not moving! Stop time, we need to go back-!”
“I can’t-!” Aevum insisted.
“What do you mean you can’t?”
“He’s GONE Madia!” Aevum gasped as he looked over his shoulder, pain in his eyes.
Now time seemed to slow down around Madia, though this was no product of magic, as everything around her seemed to freeze. Dead… She placed a hand over her mouth and closed her eyes tight as tears escaped. “N-NO! He can’t-”
“I can’t feel the flow of time anymore!” Aevum said as he climbed through the window Madia had opened earlier.
“We’ve lost our magic, Madia! Balance is broken…!” he exclaimed.
Sure enough, as he said this, Madia realized she couldn’t feel the thoughts of Aevum or others around her anymore. N-no, impossible! We can’t just lose our powers!
“Th-that can’t be! We were chosen-! H-Harmony bestowed the elements upon us herself-!”
“We’ve lost the Keeper of Law, who balances destiny and the very laws of the realm!” Aevum replied. “We don’t have time; we have to escape with the princesses!”
Madia was left speechless as they ran down the corridor, a group of servants and guards just ahead where she saw the princesses in their midst. Madia summed up her courage and shook her arm free of Aevum’s grip. “G-girls! Come with me-!” she shouted through tears. Her mind spun as she tried her best to form coherent thoughts. West… we’ll escape west! That’s the one direction the Dragonkind didn’t attack from! O Harmony help us…
She penetrated the dense crowd and weaved her way through it before reaching the princesses. Aevum was right behind her as she veered off to the side after grabbing the distressed children by their wrists.
Aevum’s voice rang out in the crowd. “Protect the royal family at all costs!”
The crowd followed as Madia headed for the western entrance in a rush. The panicked cries of the crowd behind her echoed down the hall as she stepped out into the west garden. They all sprinted for the gate, their escape within reach before there was another burst of magic and wind blasted into Madia. She skidded to a halt as the gate ahead of them crumbled into a pile of rubble, dismay on her face as she looked around for the source of the magic.
“Just keep going-” Aevum’s command was cut off, as with a crash a massive Arden man landed on the ground ahead of them. Madia’s eyes widened as she recognized his appearance; long, grey hair; piercing blue eyes; a brown cape hanging from his mixed leather-and-iron armor and a jeweled ring on his finger. Tuulin had come.
Immediately Aevum was in front of Madia and the princesses, soldiers and magicians rushing forward to join him as the ex-Keeper of Time held his ground with no more than a single useable arm and a wooden staff.
Tuulin narrowed his eyes as he sized up those ahead of him. “You are making this so much harder than it has to be. You’re in no condition to fight.”
Aevum said nothing as he remained in his defensive position.
“Not as talkative as you once were, I see… well since I’ve got you here, why don’t we discuss my conditions of surrender?” Tuulin said, not a single weapon in sight as he stepped forward, standing tall.
“Surrender?” Madia repeated.
“Pardon me. The conditions of your surrender, young mistress,” Tuulin clarified.
Aevum gritted his teeth and took a step forward. “We are not surrendering to you.”
Tuulin glared and stopped his approach, before clearing his throat. “Let me make my intentions clearer. This attack will cease if you surrender the lives of the princesses and your own, Keepers. Then I shall call off the raids upon Elra and the people of Fendra may be spared.”
Rell and Rune whimpered behind Madia as she reached back and stood protectively ahead of them.
Tuulin crossed his arms. “You could not win if you wanted to; your magic has abandoned you,” Tuulin pointed out. “I will kill you by force if you resist, and the people of Alarulin will suffer for your arrogance and selfishness.”
“Madia,” Aevum said quietly just ahead.
Madia looked at Aevum in terror as the shudder in his voice sent a chill down her spine.
“Just because we aren’t the Keepers anymore doesn’t mean we can’t use magic, understand?” Aevum continued without looking back.
“Aevum, what are you-” As Madia replied, a light filled her eyes as she felt Aevum’s magic begin to resonate within her. Her mouth hung open in disbelief. “Aevum, you don’t have the reagents to-”
“I know,” he replied. “Find Cael. The princesses will be sent somewhere safe.”
Tuulin narrowed his eyes and resumed his advance, his hand extending out as he realized Aevum was up to something.
Madia rushed to Aevum and grabbed his arm. “Aevum you can’t-! You’ll die if you try to use magic that strong without any reagents!”
“You’re right, but hey…” Aevum said with a pained chuckle as Tuulin suddenly rushed forward. Aevum just gave Madia a slight smile as he locked eyes with her. “I’ve always wanted to play hero.”
The princesses’ screams were cut off as the familiar crackle of displacement magic sounded off, indicating the cast. Aevum gasped violently as he was suddenly lifted off the ground, Tuulin’s hand wrapped around the young man’s neck.
“AEVUM-” as soon as Madia tried to jump forward to his aide, she was blinded by a bright green light and felt her stomach turn. She gasped as she felt hurricane-force winds assault her body as weightlessness filled her, before the light vanished and she suddenly collapsed into the grass of a sprawling field.
She coughed and nearly threw up from the sudden motion, before heaving and pulling herself up, looking around rapidly. “A-Aevum… Aevum?” she raised her voice quickly as she realized she was alone.
Her eyes remained open wide as she panted and clutched a hand over her heart, gasping desperately for air as her head screamed in pain over what had unfolded. Flain, Aevum… no, it can’t be-! She felt tears roll down her face as she clenched her eyes shut. This isn’t happening… th-this can’t be happening! We’re the Keepers; Harmony’s chosen! Every breath came out like a wheeze, the young woman feeling light headed as her body ached, the ground beneath her seeming to spin as she struggled to form coherent thoughts. At last, the overwhelming sense of defeat and hopelessness manifested itself in a blood-curdling scream, and Madia gripped her head and pulled on her hair as naught but her own echo answered her agonized wail.