No boisterous parties heralded my departure. It was a little disappointing, but to be expected. As a member of the Dreyphand excursions taking me outside of town are part of my advancement. It has been some time since one was charged with taking a ship to other shores and making their way back home. Such an event happens only once every several generations. I’ve gladly accepted the undertaking, but am utterly lost at this point.
I’ve heard Elders speak of the world in a sense likening it to water. The continents shift with a whimsy, sometimes being close, at others being stretched far apart. Every town is self sustaining, but trade between them can be ruined by such capricious changes. This makes maps all but useless, unless you know beforehand what state the world is in and possess charts that are accurate.
“Now is a good time for travel” I was told. My hometown lays on the opposite end of the continent, but from both places the ziggurat of Anzan can be seen. It has been relayed from travelers that there has been little change inside the past several years. In fact, transit from town to town has been accomplished in record time suggesting the land drawing still closer to the capital.
Before leaving I was told to visit not only the capital but two other towns as well. All three destinations lay relatively equidistant from me, although the capital lay directly on the other side of Mountain of False Gods, and it is common knowledge to avoid those grounds if at all possible. Exploration and recording is a part of my appointed task, however, the dangers of that place have given it a unique exclusion.
Marking the comings and goings of travelers and tradesmen at this humble port offered little sway. One path was the other path. However, my gaze kept locking on the path leading up through the small massif. It was then I noticed the traffic around me slowing. The others near me seemed to feel uneasy as well.
It was then I noticed the land groaning, almost screaming and crying out. “…the clouds…!” came a child’s voice through my haze. I looked up, and indeed, the clouds were worth marking. Something was pulling them to the mountains’ peak, spiraling downward. The essence of the land too was flowing up the plain and the mountain. Again, my sight darkened, and I could readily see the energies’ flow. A burning beast sat atop the crag, wings unfurled, drawing all unto itself. It grew brighter, blinding even. I strained to focus back to my normal sight. As I did a column of ochre colored light surged into the sky. A few beats later a wave of force struck the area.
Fate is not without a sense of humor it would seem. This was too much to ignore. All the others immediately near me were heavily phased. Had I not been grounded by my sight switching over before I certainly would have been now. No one seemed harmed and the watchers of this area were attending to any potential wounded. I took the chance to slip further up the path to my first destination.
The strongest known creatures walking this continent dwelled on this mountain. Even experienced combatants and Trappers, rare classes both, circumvented this mountain. They have said that the beasts here somehow “Smell” greater power and hunt it out. My skills got me by in town, but I’ve yet to test myself in battle. While nothing to snuff at, I hope my skills are not great enough to sniff out. Progressing carefully, I made my way up to the mountain. I had no real idea where I was heading or what I was looking for, however my sight seemed to darken more the higher I went, and I used this as my guide.
Fortunately, my path remained clear. The morning had yet to come and it appeared that the beasts flocked to the light. A rather fortuitous development for me. My eyesight had locked into its darkened state. Normally I could depend upon the flow of energy around me for some bearing. However, for all intents and purposes I found myself blind. I could feel grass underfoot, rock under my hand as I stumbled along, but nothing registered to my eyes. Perhaps the explosion had blacked me out? Somehow draining or over saturating the environment and infirming me in that regard.
As suddenly as it had begun I could soften my sight back to the norm. I found myself looking skyward. The first vestiges of morning light began to streak into the night clouds, making the darkness soft and inviting. I found myself at the edges of a cave, and appeared to be atop the hill. Coming around the side of the cave I saw two figures. Who are these people that they would risk such a dangerous journey? I proceeded forward. “Excuse me…” I began calling out.
Whether that was a mistake or a bit of enlightenment I couldn’t tell. As soon as my voice rang out across the clearing the figure closer to my right was on me. The take down they executed was practiced. Calling it flawless would not have done it near enough credit. Announcing myself as I did was either going to earn me some hurt or had saved my life. Whoever this was, it was safe to say they were a trained soldier. Plus, considering how they constricted me further when I tried to counter them signified that they had the choice to severely injure me, but did not.
Held immobile, I could now take more detailed notes on my now assailant. They appeared to be female, and an elder at that. I’d never heard of a greeting or inquiry alarm someone so. Typically by the age of a hundred and sixty most had lost such youthful fire. The attire she was wearing was a material I had never seen before. It had a sheen to it, even in the lack of light. It had markings and a fit that I could not place to any people I had before encountered. The look in her eye had a craze about it… I imagine that a feral beast would have a more welcoming glare.
I could hear the wild grasses parting as the other figure headed towards us. There was an odd shuffling to their steps. When they came into view they looked battered. What remained of some white garment hung from his shoulders, a single sleeve barely hanging from his right arm. What used to be an intact black bodysuit sparsely covered the rest of his form, akin to the material of the woman now atop me. He moved in close and placed a hand on the woman’s shoulder. “Come on… you’ve got to stop this…”
She swung a hand at him. She didn’t connect, but something pushed him back. She refused to release her grip on me. I should not have been overpowered with a single hand. I believed that the same force that flung back my would-be savior was also to blame for holding me so staunchly in place. She let out a terrifying roar. It echoed into the cave and back out, and I imagine down the path I had come up. As if in response, a scream from the once dormant beasts I deftly evaded echoed back. I had traded one monster for another it seemed.
Breathlessly, I heard the male exclaim “Of all the things we don’t need. I’m not in any shape to handle those things.” While he kept a relatively wider berth than before, he began moving in our direction again. “I don’t suppose you have any way to find out what’s heading this way do you?” he then called out, I assume at me. I managed to choke out a mangled response, but I don’t think it constituted language. “Yes… I thought as much” he said. “… I’ll try to draw her into the cave. You’ll have to follow quickly. We’ll have worse to worry about sooner than later.”
At this point I couldn’t see him, but her gaze remained locked intently on him. Save for her presence strongly atop me, I’d think she forgotten all about me. “Be ready!” came the males’ voice again. From the way his voice resonated he was at least inside the mouth of the cave. There was a slight pause, then a surge of force that slammed up though me and into the woman. She was cast up as she forced her companion to do so earlier. She landed with me between her and the cave. The ground crunched beneath her giving me the impression that she was now somehow heavier than she was just moments earlier. She began a mad dash, and I jumped aside.
“You’d better get here too! We don’t have long t-…” He was cut off as she tried to spear him in the gut. It seemed to tax whatever reserves he was drawing from to redirect her into a wall. Feeling the ground quake from several fell creatures approaching I too ran into the cave. “Hold her… please…” he said, reduced to a single knee. Taking the woman to the back of the cave I braced against a wall, and put her to the other. Fortunately, she was still reeling, although I could feel that unusual force beginning to build pressure again.
Over the man’s shoulder I could see a number creatures stirring and searching, presumably for the one they considered their own. He dragged himself to the mouth of the cave and let his other knee touch the ground. The morning light spilled into the cave. At the same time I felt an unrecognized vibration at first from him, then the ground itself. The woman slumped into a heap, and then the man followed suit.
While persistent, the beasts kept their distance. The man displayed no signs of consciousness. However, he would not be moved. For now, the safest place was this cave. I’ve already come up this harrowing crag to find out what that light was about, and I feel that these two are the closest to an answer as I’m going to get. With the light covering everything it was better to just rest. Between the broken man and the berserk woman was an apt enough place to do just that.
“What makes you say that?”
“Even at a time like this, you still choose to play such a game.”
“It’s easy to say that from the outside. You follow your rules. I follow mine.”
“There is no other way to live.”
“And if there is more than just you and me?”
“Heh. Loosen up. Play a little. You’re the one wanting to learn. See what lessons this grants you.”
I stirred to see the woman looking as though she were keeping watch at the mouth of the cave, and the man resting at the back of it. It looked as though things were calming down. The light was receding, and the beasts with it. I walked, cautiously, up to the woman. “I was told that my behavior warranted apology” she said chilly. I took my second good look at her. Her features were considerably softer this time around. “It is of no consequence” I replied. “We are both uninjured, and for one to be as crazed as you were I imagine someone would have good reason.” She quizzically looked in my direction, shook her head, then returned gazing outside the cave.
“How you all see through such murk is beyond me.” This time I looked at her with a puzzled expression. “You’ll get used to it” shot out the man’s voice from behind me. When I turned he was on his feet and stretching. He looked over his clothing dejectedly, trying to assemble some ensemble of modesty from it. “My favorite clothes too.” The woman rolled her eyes at his statement.
Not having potential death bearing down at me I took the time at more complete evaluations. The woman has silvering hair interspersed with a few shocks of honey blonde, what I assumed to be the color from her younger years. A fair height in comparison to me, her slight frame lied grossly of her actual ability. Fair skinned and sharp eyed. She had a hardness that I found to be completely foreign. The man seemed, to numerous facets, in direct opposition to her. Where she was old, he was young. His frame suggested he wasn’t fully mature, or had just recently reached that state. His hair black, his skin dark, and while his eyes were observant they were also jovial and welcoming.
“I’m not sure if coming along when you did was a blessing or curse, Friend. Either way, I would like to know to whom intervention would be attributed” the man said.
I shook my head. “I am merely here as an envoy of the Dreyphand while pursuing my own curiosities.”
The man’s expression changed to that of someone searching their memories. “Dreyphand?” He paced the length of the cave, halting at the mouth opposite the woman. “That is an organization I am unfamiliar with.”
The shock slipped into my voice before I caught myself. “That’s nearly impossible. We rival the Qryn in size and inundation. We have outposts across the continent!”
The man placed his hand on the back of his waist. “Oh… how to say this…”
“We are not from this continent” said the woman. The man reacted in utter shock and dismay.
I admit that hearing such a thing is… abnormal. “Again… that is nearly impossible” I said. The woman opened her eyes for a few moments. Somehow it had just registered that what she said was somehow abnormal. She then bowed her head as I continued. “If this is the case, how did you arrive here?”
“Well…” the man hesitated again. Looking at his companion he seemed to anticipate another unrehearsed revelation. One not slipping out he began again. “We got here through… a network of tunnels. From… Xartrea.” Calling forth as much as I could remember of the continent’s current topography I knew of no such passages. Unless the surge I had felt had something to do with such a way opening up…
“How long have you been here?” I asked.
The woman raised her head and the man looked at her. “We’d only been here for about three hours or so before you arrived” he said.
“Did you two see the flash in the sky or feel the ground surge?”
The man focused his attentions on me, and I could feel him reaching out in an attempt to wrap around what I just said. His face softened and he began speaking again. “You will have to forgive me. Amidst all that as happened I have not introduced myself. I am called Zen.” He raised his hand in the direction of his companion. “And she is… um…”
She stood and turned towards Zen and I. “I am Alpha.” Zen and I gave Alpha the same look.
Again Alpha said something out of the ordinary. For one as old as she appears, she does not introduce herself by her chosen name? Plus… can she not see? Last night she had no trouble pinning me to the ground and watching Zen, but now she says it is too dark? Has she come from someplace so far flung that such things are the standard? Even among the Elders I am familiar with I’ve not heard tales of a such a people. I snapped out of my thoughts to see Zen eyeing me with patience and expectancy. I then realized that I had not introduced myself. “Forgive me… I am called Garner.”
Zen smiled and clapped his hands together. “Well now… with that out of the way I think we should vacate this forsaken place.”
I watched Alpha stand. As I neared the mouth of the cave she edged cautiously out of my way. I peered around the mouth of the cave for any beasts still roaming. “It looks as though things have returned to whatever counts for normal here. Those creatures which wandered up here have moved further down the mountain.” I looked immediately to my right expecting my companions to be close at hand. Instead I had to turn further until I was again gazing into the depths of the cave. Zen was on his hands and knees. “What are you doing?” I asked.
“I am looking for the way we came in. It was here before you got here.” Now I understood. Apart from being dressed oddly and seeming to lack a cultural knowledge, they also did not retain the resonance inherent to all living things. That worried me in and of itself. I heard of tales of fearful automatons wielding vast power. Lifeless golems from the Twin Gods’ War, but never those with such a likeness to the people. Outside of Alpha’s original frenzy, I could discern no reason at all to be worried by the presence of these two. I concluded as such that there was no way they could have fought their way up here. “Perhaps it caved in?” I reasoned aloud.
I heard a slight chuckle from Zen. “Oh no… not this path.” I could hear the smile in his voice. He was confident of what he said. I began to think. “What about that surge from yesterday?” Zen stopped for a moment, then began feeling up the wall. “The force was directed upward. Shouldn’t have affected a descending passageway.” I thought back. “But the force of it was drawn up from the land itself.” Zen made an about face and leaned his head to one side. “Oh yeah… I’d forgotten all about that.” He took Alpha’s hand and led her to the mouth of the cave. He peered cautiously out of the cave. “Zen… you felt it too? The energy coursing through the land?” He scanned the field without. “Of course I did. The real question is why did you?”
I found myself completely taken aback. I was told that the sense I had was anomalous, some even said heretical and of ruinous omen. The power of the land is well known and respected, but the ability to feel it as tangibly as I was unheard of. “Why is it so abnormal to feel energy rising from the earth?” Alpha chimed in. “What is ‘earth’?” I asked. Zen shifted uncomfortably. It seems that this was something else that was not supposed to be shared. Zen did not voice his concern, but some nonverbal cue signaled Alpha to again grow silent. “Earth isn’t important now Garner. Of that I can assure you.” Silence loomed for several beats. “Tell me of the Dreyphand” Zen said to me.
I decided to ignore the abrupt change of topic for now. “It is an organization that retains the worlds’ history. ‘All of history in the heart of one. The hands of one shaping the future of all.’” Zen stopped looking outside and turned to me. “That phrase…?” I kept an eye over his shoulder. “It is the underlying principle of the Dreyphand. It is credited to one of the founding members of the order.”
Zen nodded and scanned the plateau. “It looks as though it is clear enough to move now.” I nodded an affirmative at his evaluation.
For the first time in nearly a day I set foot under the open sky. The night was just beginning. Light poured from 10,000 City Anzan. Apparently it was enough to allow Alpha to see. She quickly broke away from Zen’s grip. He smiled heartily and scanned the limited plain we were on. He began walking back and forth. He seemed to be retracing the steps I made when I first happened upon them. After awhile the movements became foreign, and I imagined this is where he was before I arrived. “Looking for something?” I asked. Zen smiled. “That obvious, eh? I had a pouch with my belongings in it. Now I have no clue where it is. There was some useful stuff in there too.” While he seemed unphased with the loss I knew from personal experience how valuable such trifles could be. “Would you like me to help you?” I offered. He looked around once more. “Thanks, but no. We’ve spent enough time here. Let’s get moving.”
We began our way down the mountain. With her ability to see returned Alpha made expert work of the tricky path. While she held a steady pace, Zen continually looked around. Sometimes darting ahead, sometimes lagging behind. We were making excellent time, and it didn’t look as though there were any fiends between us at the boundary of the mountain. I could feel spikes in energy everywhere, and these were singularly responsible for this phenomenon I wagered.
As we neared the mountains’ base Zen blurted out “Srenvatti! That’s why I know that phrase.” He shook his head and continued walking. Srenvatti is considered one of the hands in the creation of the Dreyphand, but this is a little known fact, even among us. I only overheard the name and was fortunate enough to have the context for it. He lived well over 2,300 years ago, but Zen recalled it as a hunter recalls where he set his quiver.
Alpha and Zen. An unusual pair. The Elder unfamiliar with the world, and a boy who knows more and sees more than anyone rightfully should. Strange clothes, strange manners, strange strains of knowledge. The beings most out of step with the world of Moksha I had ever seen, but somehow they survived. We were on the path to the 10,000 City. It seemed a shame to part ways with them there, especially considering that by indulging my curiosity I was left with many more questions than I started with.