15/09/96 –8:53am – Unknown Reality
The world around the three travellers seemed entirely still as they trudged through the empty, damp grasslands, their stomachs rumbling – with the exception of Vernus, of course, who simply darted his eyes around searchingly
After a small while of searching, Zarin sighed and flopped down in the dull, waist-high grass, leaving very little of himself for sight.
"It's hopeless." He huffed, looking up at the bright blue sky and rubbing his rumbling stomach. "We'll never get any food out here."
With a look of pity, Vernus sat beside him and placed his cold yet somehow comforting hand upon Zarin's slouched shoulder.
"Don't worry, Zarin. We might not be able to see any food now, but there's a lot of grass out here. There might be food right in front of us and we'd never know it."
This gave Ember pause as she watched the two of them, smiling . To see Arcian and Ireza in such a vulnerable alliance was new to her and it was almost sweet. To know her little Sparky was making friends with his greatest enemy...
"Right then."Vernus stated, getting to his feet and helping Zarin to his own. "We're all hungry. I pretty much know where my food source is now but unfortunately I can't sense your kind of food. So how's about we give this one last good look?"
It was amazing to her. Ember realised quite quickly that Zarin was not only a help to her morale, but to Vernus' fear. He was a fount of pure courage, that child.
Zarin nodded and punched the palm of his left hand, smiling up at him "Right. As long as we aren't dead there's still hope."
"The grass is greener to our south." Vernus observed, casting his eyes along the horizon. "Taller, too. We might need to stay close if we go down that way."
Ember nodded, leading the charge – or rather just the walk – slowly, grasping Zarin's hand as she went. "Greener grass means more life. More life means more food!"
The next few seconds saw them running happily and yelling out at each other various challenges to get there first as the grass became thicker, greener and taller.
Zarin stumbled to a halt by the time he seemed to venture deeper in to the overgrowth, a little confused. Sounds seemed to fail before they reached him, his sense of direction suddenly lost as he span around aimlessly, trying to figure out exactly where he was.
"Ember?Vernus?" He called out desperately, casting his eyes around, pushing away the thick grass that towered over him. There was nothing... He couldn't hear them, he couldn't see them, he didn't even know where he was...
"Great." He mumbled, giving up his efforts and lowering his gaze, feeling the annoying rumble of his stomach once again as he started walking aimlessly through the impossible grass. He sure as hell wasn't in As'raea; there was some sense of order there.
The grass seemed to fold away from him as he walked, not that he seemed to care at all. His gaze was fixed on the ground, searching for any food that may have fallen on the ground, not that he held much hope. There were no trees, no valid plants of any kind, just grass and more grass.
The only thing he could hear was the gentle lapping of water. So very gentle; to the point where if it weren't so deathly silent he wouldn't even have noticed it. Water meant sustenance.
He picked up his pace, pushing away the long, thick strands of emerald and suddenly burst out in to the most amazing light, falling face-first in to a relaxing clearing with actual normal grass lengths – barely hitting the ankle.
"Ah, Kyrun. I have been expecting you for a few hours now."
Zarin took a moment to listen to the voice, gauging how in trouble he was while he lay there. The voice was soft, very soft. It held a heavy Russian tinge too – something he'd known of from some of the refugees that had reached As'raea. The question was, what was a Russian refugee doing here?
"Why do you not rise? It cannot be comfortable down there in the dirt."
Zarin looked up from the dirt, his face now tainted by mud and dirt, and let out a gasp. What stood before him was...
"A... Are you a..."
The man was incredibly tall, almost seven feet tall as far as Zarin could tell, with ghostly pale skin, a young but wise face and long, flowing white hair reaching down to his waist. It was kept perfectly straight and neat, just like his open black leather trench coat that showed off his slender and slightly muscular frame and the black buckled belt of his leather bottoms. It begged the question how he got these with no signs of life other than the four Zarin knew of, but he didn't question it. He was far too awestruck.
"Yes, Kyrun. I am a Zephyri. I could only assume that is what your wonder asks for you."
Zarin nodded silently, not daring to rise from his position. The Zephyri were the most powerful, most respected beings in As'raea; to find one in such an abandoned reality – or dimension as this proved – wasn't exactly surprising, but to see one in the first place was an honour.
"Please, get to your feet. It's unbecoming of one of Uzura's chosen to lay in the dirt in such a way. "
It was said for him; all he needed to act. "Funny," he thought as he slowly rose from the dirt, his clothes as muddy as his face, "I never thought I'd meet something I respect more than the Gods."
"What is your name, Kyrun?" The Zephyri inquired, his olive-green eyes piercing Zarin's own almost hauntingly.
This sent him in to trembles, smiling nervously as he attempted to stay composed. "Z-Zarin..." He answered, staying as steady as possible. This was too good to be true.
The tall man smiled down at him warmly, placing a warm hand on his shoulder. "Do not be nervous. My name is Akhrias. You caught me at the perfect time; I had just woken from my meditation." He looked around with a hint of concern, as if searching for something, and continued; "Were there not two others?"
Zarin could but look at the ground, ashamed. "I lost them." He replied dejectedly. He felt worse that he was admitting to one of such acclaim than if he'd just come to the realisation himself.
"Ah, I see. Well we can expect them within the next few minutes, worry not. They have just entered the deeper grasses. Would you like to join me for a battle? It is rare I get to blow off that final bit of steam after a meditation."
Zarin paled. Battle with a Zephyri?It was both an amazing opportunity and a ridiculous one. Taking this challenge would get him hurt, held back or not.
"I don't have my sword." Zarin said, shaking his head. "I wouldn't stand a chance."
"But you were chosen by Uzura. To say that you are weak is untrue." Argued Akhriaa calmly, crossing his arms with a slow, gentle moment.
"But I'm powerless without my sword."
The Zephyri frowned for a moment. "You still possess your gems, yes?"
Head bowed, Zarin reached in to his pocket for his shining gems and offered them to the mystical being – one a fiery red, one a dazzling white, another an emerald green. They all shone in the boy's hand, almost greeting the Zephyri, who smiled in return and closed the child's hand over them.
"They are powerful creations. Do not take them for granted. You have earned them with your own strength."
"But you are not."
Zarin fell silent for a good five minutes before the ever-patient Zephyri before him placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Each one is a symbol of your strength. The gems do not make a Wielder, quite the opposite. Your own abilities brought you to them. You are capable of combat, with or without weapon."
"But my friends-"
"-are right there."
Being forced to turn around, Zarin only had a moment to register the new sight before him - Vernus and Ember, stood there smiling proudly at him, presumably for the whole finding a Zephyri thing. He had no idea though - he didn't want to know. All he cared, as he broke off in to a sprint to hug the daylights out of Ember, was that they'd gone through all that to find him again.
That and of course the fact the Zephyri wasn't killing his new Arcian friend.
15/09/96 –9:20am – ???
Eserah awoke, shivering in an unnatural cold, his eyes clamped shut as he grunted against a searing, intense pain in his chest, bracing himself desperately against the pain. He'd not experienced something outside his tolerance in a long time; the pain he felt at that moment had to be the first.
He remembered fighting some invisible enemy, or at least some sort of stealthy army. There were gunshots, and they stopped as soon as this pain in his chest began along with a warm, trickling sensation. He'd been shot, hadn't he?
But by who? More importantly, why was he even alive at that point?
"He seems stable." Said a rough, foreign voice. He couldn't put a face to the voice and could only assume it belonged to an enemy. Attempting to open his eyes and move, he found himself unfortunately unable as everything felt so weighed down... It wasn't a restraint, he was completely paralyzed.
"Adrenaline levels rising quite rapidly." The voice said again. "Blood pressure rising. Are you sure it was wise to bring this one in?"
"Yes." Replied a softer, more feminine voice. This one was laden with a sense of authority. "We can use that anger. Imagine a front-line soldier that required no firearms, only his own brute strength and sense of durability?"
"Should we be able to keep him under control."
"Of course. Perform this operation and I'm sure there'll be a healthy promotion for you at the end of it."
He was a test subject now. Excellent; just what he needed. No doubt from the tingling in his shoulders they'd already noted the extending blades he often relied on. They intended to use him, but for what and who?
Footsteps were exchanged; roughly three pairs by his hearing. One pair circled him, one left the room - a door had opened - and another had just entered with hurried breaths.
"They found another two. One of them claims to be a cartographer, one of them just massacred a patrol squad. They're both together. We need you to leave this project and help the retaliation squad."
"No, I'm finishing my assignment. I need this one."
"Cut the crap, he's not going anywhere. You've got him under so much sedative it's a wonder he's even awake."
The footsteps continued, the ones circling him moving away. "Yeah. You're right. He's going nowhere. Let's sort this out."
The last voice he heard was distant. "Yeah if you can aim right this time."
Perfect. He could fight this now.
The first job would be to find his immune point. Along with his arm blades, he'd also implanted a special core of metal in one of his arms that seemed to feed off his own body heat and send off electrical charges just enough to spring his nervous system back to life if he focused on that one point. Magic users had this ability naturally. Improvisation was a powerful tool.
His mouth twitched in to a smirk as he felt that telltale tingling rush of warmth. One anaesthesia overcome.
Eyes next. Slowly, he opened them just a tiny bit to get a view of his basic surroundings. It was incredibly dark, with only a dull light illuminating a small patch of what appeared to be a steel, perhaps titanium ceiling. As a blacksmith he knew his stuff, but this metal seemed to exhibit the same subtle visual traits as both of these. Whoever these people were, they probably knew tech, and would most likely have at least five cameras focused on him. He'd have to move fast if he wanted to get out of here.
He grunted heavily, the metal bed underneath him causing his joints to ache. That would probably slow him down. Everything was playing against him...
One shot. That's all he had, all he wanted. All he needed. With an adrenaline-fuelled roar, the man, having had enough of this manner of restraint, threw himself off the bed to the whir of what were probably cameras and security machines and sprinted for the door, finding himself very much stopped when the resounding thud of his head meeting metal sending a stab of pain right through him as he fell back, landing straight on his backside, holding his head and growling to himself in frustration. Alright, two shots. If he had the time.
He was strong, stronger than a flimsy steel door. He'd once smashed up a set of reinforced armour with his bare hands out of a fit of rage, an act that set his work back for a good while and something he'd vowed not to do again. That had caused way too much delay.
But smashing was smashing. Standing to the ring of alarms that didn't do his newfound headache any world of good, he drew his arm back and flung his clenched fist forward precisely, aiming for the centre and thus weakest point of the door.
"Damnit!"Eserah raged, holding his now hurting hand. He'd thrown a lot in to that punch and that door was obviously a lot sturdier than he'd anticipated. His exits and time were running out swiftly.
"Put that one in the eastern wing and bring that one to my office. I'll take this job."
A muffled, female ring of potential ways out.Either he could work his way in to her head, or he could punch his way in; funnily enough, he wasn't in the mood to be wooing the ladies today, and he still had one good fist.
The door quickly slid open – upward – and revealed a figure in a light, shining and clearly metallic armour that clung like an assassin's leather garb and clearly offered just as much movement. Eserah noted to marvel and examine how such a metal was procured as soon as he'd got out of here, flinging himself at the figure with his so far undamaged fist.
Another helpless clang and Eserah gave in, stumbling back. That light metal was amazingly strong, much stronger than the steel it feigned to be.
"You about done?" The soldier asked, whacking Eserah across the head with the butt of her drawn rifle. Taking the hint, Eserah dutifully placed himself back on the bed, though he only sat.
"There's no way you naturally broke the anaesthesia. There's no magic in you. So how'd you manage it? Tell me now and we'll spare you another operation. And this time you'lbe awake for it."
Eserah gritted his teeth. He needed to play with her head and he wasn't exactly great at mind games. That window was closing fast.
"Throw me a line here. You're not gonna find it just cutting me up." He answered, not sure how truthful he was being. "And you need me with these blades. Only way you're gonna get your answers is by taking them away."
The soldier snorted. "We were planning on replacing them with a sturdier metal anyway. Two birds with one stone, so thanks for the tip. You'll be awake for our next operation. Enjoy the searing pain." She quipped before leaving the room, the door slamming down as she left.
"Great." Eserah grunted, casting his eyes around once more. There was nothing he could do to get out of here.
He was officially a prisoner.
15/09/96 –10:03am – Unknown Dimension
The four of them, Zephyri, Arcian, Wielder and Mother – as they all seemed to identify her –sat on the ground by a beautiful crystal-clear pond complete with reeds and lily pads floating upon the surface, consuming fruits and bread that the Zephyri had procured from seemingly nowhere. He'd explained that this spot was his favourite for meditation and relaxation, as just like the spot they'd met, it was lined by tall grasses like a solitary, open-ceilinged room. A light breeze would always blow through, causing relaxing sounds of lapping water to please their ears with its kind whisper. It was hardly surprising that he liked this spot.
"When it rains, I usually take my coat off and let it fall upon me. With the sound of it falling on the water it makes me feel as peaceful as the water itself. It is strange by a human standard, but it works."
Zarin leaned forward, beaming up at the powerful being. "So how do you know so much about us? Humans, animals, even our language?"
With a gentle smile, Akhrias nodded. "Echoes. Any dimension is full of tiny little tears. A Zephyri can pick up on them, hear them. This particular spot is heavily tied to a place in your world called Russia, though I also receive echoes from AsfuriAlraea. Quite peculiar considering the distance from both lands."
Vernus frowned. "AsfuriAlraea? What would that be? Never heard of it."
"Strange, because your kind often convene there to feed upon the residents like the leeches you are."
Sensing the bitterness in his voice, Zarin cut back in to change the subject. "S-so that's our home's full name? I always wondered why we put that apostrophe in the name. What does it mean?"
"Asfuri translates in your language to magic and Alraea to home." Akhrias explained, looking in to the pool with that smile. "Roughly you humans identify it as 'Magic's Home'. Tell me, why do you shorten your words? It is so... dirty."
Ember softly giggled at such a respectable being's question. "We do it because it's easier. People still understand us and it just streamlines a conversation. It's so natural to us now that we say it mechanically."
"Strange. Surely it would open up the higher possibility of misunderstandings."
"It does... admittedly."
"Perhaps a clearing up of your many languages would solve a few of your matters and squabbles. So much can be caused by a simple slip of the tongue."
As he spoke, his eyes never strayed from the pond. It was as if he were in a trance, blind to all the world but that one spot.
"I have to ask..." Began Zarin, before he was cut off by the Zephyri.
"Life. I am wondering what it would be like to share this spot with a few more aquatic friends. It is rather lonely to be living in such an abandoned place."
"But there are houses here..."
"Each as lost as the last, I am afraid. The people here died four hundred or so years ago. I did all I could to stop it, but my efforts were in vain."
All fell silent to ponder this. All except Vernus who piped up, trying to lighten the mood.
"You've been alive for over four hundred years? If not by time, what does it take to KILL you people?"
Akhrias shot him a dagger-wearing gaze, his eyes piercing him almost fatally. "Draining our lifeblood, our magic. But you know all about that, don't you? Vernus, was it not? The infamous Vernus, known for killing at least a hundred of us! The only thing stopping me killing you right where you stand is the presence of innocence," He gestured to Zarin. "But push me much further and I will not hesitate to push back."
"So you've heard of me. I always wondered, the beings that terrorised us just because of our abilities. Why don't you tell them who instigated the wars? I'm sure they'd love to hear that!"
"You insolent vakrus!"Akhrias spat, standing right up, his hand aglow as magical energies weaved together in his hand. "Show some respect, you worthless husk!"
"Bite me, ghost-skin. Your crystals won't do a thing to me!" Vernus challenged, scrambling to his feet too. "I knew you weren't to be trusted."
"Stop it!" Zarin exploded, also suddenly on his feet, throwing a good amount of food across the ground in the process. "None of you are fighting right now, nobody has hurt anybody else, there's nothing to fight over!"
"Other than thousands of years condemned to live in a void? No, that's perfectly reasonable!" Vernus yelled, fists clenched. "For a crime we never committed!"
The magic in Akhrias' hand finally weaved itself in to a tangible form; a violent yellow crystal that seemed to spark with electricity. "Your crime was to come. We foresaw it, and it came true. Whether it be by our act or your own mind, you still did it. You used our home to feed and now plan to destroy it."
"For the greater good. We possess the power to rebuild it! We just need to rid it of the Gods..."
"Gods that we ourselves placed to keep the peace.To keep the people safe!"
"They threaten the very balance they claim to keep! Do you even watch over your old home, Zephyri? Do you even care?"
"We must. It is our very existence."
"And that's all you look out for."
This single line clearly broke the Zephyri's psyche somewhere as he stumbled back, his eyes darting about.
"O-our existence. The one you threaten with your very being?"
Zarin narrowed his eyes at the sudden darting. Something wasn't right...
"Akhrias, why are you acting so shifty all of a sudden?" He asked, not taking his eyes off the man for a second.
It took a moment for Akhrias to compose himself and calm, closing his eyes and taking deep breaths.
"I apologise. I have not been in such a position in a long time. I had little knowledge of how to keep myself."
"That's alright, I get it." Zarin accepted, spinning around to face Vernus. "And you, I thought you were better than that. I don't care what's been done in the past, you're not killing each other if I'm around. You're not one of them anymore."
Watching the scene unfold, Ember could only smile as she saw the young boy stand between two of the most powerful beings in the entire world - well, theirs - as if they were nothing. It was working too; the two of them looked at their most vulnerable now, sorrow for what they had done edging toward their mouths. They probably wouldn't say it out of self-respect, but it was there and that was enough for Zarin, who sat back down to enjoy the rest of his meal.
Meanwhile the Arcian and Zephyri, both shamed by this small boy, sat in their respective spots and reflected for a moment their actions. Akhrias decided more meditation was probably a good idea and Vernus merely gritted his teeth against the intense urge to feed on his magic. The airborne essence was sustaining him for now, thankfully.
"We really must have that battle, Kyrun." Akhrias said, nodding to Zarin. "I have faith in your abilities if you are able to stand up like that without fear. The two of us under the wrong conditions could have torn you apart."
"I had to or you would have done it to each other." Explained Zarin as he laid back, burping and quickly covering his mouth. "Sorry."
The morning continued as the four of them made mindless small-talk, completely oblivious of the world they had left behind.
A world that was, unfortunately, very much in the dark.
15/09/96 –12:00pm – ???
Akyara groaned, his head pounding and his eyes covered. Something had happened, he knew it had. He'd seen it hazily in his eyes. A loss of control of his body and a lot of blood was about all he remembered though...
"Perfect timing, exactly my lunch time. You're cutting in to my break now."
The voice was female, definitely. A little ratty, very authoritative. Soft, too, but with that tinge of 'mess with me and I'll have your legs' attitude. Charming.
"Where am I?" Akyara mumbled, noting that he was exceptionally thirsty.
The woman grumbled audibly. "In a hell of a lot of trouble. If you didn't look useful I'd have had you put to death."
Akyara's left arm tingled and he slapped at it, grunting. That was new.
"You've also got something in that arm that belongs to us. I always did wonder where that little guy got to."
This wasn't something he wanted to hear. That thing in his arm was a lifeline; a lifeline that he hated, but a lifeline nonetheless.
When he was much younger, he'd had a run-in with a rather strange little creature, one made of a moving silvery liquid that had dove at his arm and sunk into it painfully. Since then the liquid had been called upon from time to time to coat his arm and harden in to an unfamiliar, strong and flexible metal that had gotten him out of a bind on more than one occasion.
"You're not having it." He mumbled tiredly. For some reason he felt so exhausted, as if he'd been awake for the past two weeks. Which wasn't far off, actually.
"Thought you'd say that. Who's Azirae? Who are YOU? How'd you get to be so split personality? Go on, tell me and I won't make it painful."
Akyara growled. "Go on. Hurt me. I don't care."
Click. Akyara flinched in fear.
"Do you really? Do you know how painful these weapons are? Just a shot to the finger could send so much pain through your body. You'd scream, boy. And I'd just laugh."
Another grunt. "Just do it you coward."
"Alright. Those are the magic words."