Leaves will grow
Leaves will fall
What happens to one, happens to them all
We may fall
But we shall ascend
Together as one from beginning to end
The last sunbeams of the day shone over Ludus Lake in a vain attempt to illuminate the world one last time. Some reached the clouds of Orbis, staining them russet and violet hues. Others rebounded off the shimmering sea. A few reached a small, rocky isle in a remote portion of the lake, miles from any other land. Three maple trees seemed to grow directly out of the rock, and under the veil of their branches sat a man with a pad and brush, making the finishing touches to a painting.
A leaf detached itself from the nearest tree and was carried by a light breeze onto the water. It floated outward for a few moments, like a miniature boat, until a tiny wave deposited it back ashore among a belt of others like it.
Twilight descended and drove away the vestiges of daylight. Anka put his supplies away in a cloth bag, then chanted a short incantation. A wooden door appeared, and he stepped into it and vanished from the isle. Once he was gone the trees and leaves seemed to vaporize, leaving nothing but rock there. The tide started to rise, and the isles shoreline shrank. In a few hours it would be underwater.
Anka emerged from a similar door just outside the base of Orbis Tower. Walking in, he paused a little at the entrance, focusing on something. After a few seconds he seemed to be satisfied and he went on.
Following the route Kennan and Ryn had taken a few hours earlier, but teleporting up ledges rather than climbing them, Anka ascended the tower.
Ryn, flat against a wall, edged closer to a Leatty near the corner. When she judged she was near enough, she dashed at it and struck a glancing blow. This stunned it just long enough for her to land a proper hit. She poured it two drops of holy water from her half-vial.
A voice called out. Kenn!
Kennans voice responded, Anka? What brings you here? Ryn dropped down from her ledge and saw a man in mage robes there with Kennan. He sighted her. Ryn! Long time no see. Anka was a friend of Kennans who lived in Korean Folk Town but frequently roamed elsewhere. Ryn had met him four years ago when he passed by El Nath while earning his class of Priest.
I wanted to check on you and your mission. He looked around at the Leatties. So how is it?
Weve found two shards, doing cleanup work.
Well, in that case, you can stop. I dont sense any more active dark crystals around here. Without them the dark aura wont survive. He took out a Phoenix Wand and closed his eyes in concentration. A ray of bluish-white light shot toward the ceiling, shined down, and illuminated each crevice and shadow. A few seconds passed and the light faded, but not completely. This should help the Leatties stay pure until the darkness dies out.
He asked to see the dark crystal shards, which Ryn produced. Inspecting them carefully, he gave them each a tap of his wand. I dont have the abilities to destroy these; youd have to bring them to Alcaster. But I did manage to seal up their power so you wouldnt get possessed by it. The seal is fairly easy to dispel, though, so dont treat it as foolproof.
He handed them back to Ryn, who put them away and asked, So where to next?
Kennan looked to Anka questioningly, who said, Youd best go to Alcaster first and turn the crystals in to him. After that I believe you have a plan, Kenn.
Yes. I should carry on with it, then?
I think its a good course of action.
Ryn was puzzled but asked no questions except, You arent coming with us, Anka?
I have a little business elsewhere, sorry. Ill door you to the village, though. And if you ever need help, give me a shout. Ill hear it. He cast the door again, as well as the cross of protection over the two. Kennan stepped through it with a brief farewell, and Ryn followed.
The next day, the two headed back toward Orbis Tower again, minus two shards of dark crystal. Ryn expressed her wish to clear up her confusion from before: So where exactly are we going?
He didnt answer, but led her in an unfamiliar direction in the tower. They ascended a rope and found themselves in what might have been called a room. Kennan walked to the far side of the room, examined the wall, and ran his hand across a portion. Stopping, he drew a crude leaf shape on the wall with his finger. It glowed on the wall for a moment before fading. A portal appeared in the wall next to it. Ryn gave a small shout of surprise. Kennan motioned Ryn to follow, and they stepped into what was apparently a lush jungle.
Weve set up several of those across the continent. Helps us better monitor the dark aura.
We as in Ill explain later. We have to get moving.
As they made their way through the trees, Ryn asked, Where are we, then?
Youll see in a moment. They walked and ascended. Ryn could not tell whether she trod on plant matter or on earth; or whether there was a solid foundation beneath her or not. The only thing she could discern in her surroundings was an inconceivable amount of the color green. But Kennan seemed to know where he was going, so she followed.
The foliage ended abruptly, and the path they were on became a cliff of sorts. Above them stretched the sky, vastly clearer and bluer than the skies in El Nath ever were. Behind her, and below the ledge continuing as far as she could see, the jungle flourished. Far ahead in the distance she saw a mountain range, slightly reminiscent of the cliffs of El Nath.
This is Minar.
Suddenly she realized that once beforeshe couldnt recall whenshe had stood at this same spot and looked upon the same forest, under the same sky. She knew that this ledge was right above the Forest of the Priest; behind them and to the right was a river, hidden somewhere beneath the trees; and beyond it was Leafre. As they watched, a bolt of lightning streaked up to the sky from the distant mountain range. Among the peaks, she had learned as a child, was the ancient Valley of Dragons: the setting of many a Maple Hero legend.
Suddenly she became aware of the time. Her consciousness told her that she had only been standing there for a few seconds, but at the same time it was starting to seem like hours had passed.
Presently, Kennan said, Sorry to tear you away from here, but we have to move on. He turned back into the forest. They descended through the foliage until they reached an opening in one of the tree trunks, which they entered through.
Inside the trunk, a man sat on a wooden stool, whittling away at a block of wood with a small knife. When he saw Kennan, he greeted him with a nod.
Ryn was perplexed by the exchange that followed.
A leaf has fallen, friend.
Is the leaf alone?
Leaves are never alone.
When Kennan said the last line, the man promptly set down his work, stood up, and turned towards them. He looked Ryn over, as if scanning her for malicious intent. Seemingly satisfied, he said to Kennan, So what brings you here?
Any updates, Leaftain?
When they did, the Leaftain said, Leafre fell. It seems that the monsters have figured out how to get across the river. About twenty percent of the town is dead. The rest are either hiding out in this forest, or made it through one of the Gateways. We set up a temporary HQ on what we think is the forty-third floor of Helios Tower, which can be reached from the middle of the three trees in the Battlefield of Fire and Water. There, were gathering a force so we can recapture Leafre and free Minar.
Why are you still here, then?
Because this is my home. I wouldnt ever leave it. A momentary silence, and then, So I take it youll be going there?
Not yet, perhaps eventually. But for now I think youd best explain to Ryn here what the Aoha is about.
The Leaftain looked at Ryn as if seeing her for the first time. Ah. She a Leafbud?
I see. Well. The Aoha, or the Order of the Leaf, is an organization of sorts. It was founded over a millennium ago. It was one of the three great ancient civilizationsthe Aoha of Minar, the Sappe of Masteria, and the Annath of the north. The Aoha were the most powerful during their time, but also the first to fall.
Kennan broke in. I dont want a history lesson. Tell her whats going on now.
Quiet. The past is the key to understanding the present. Anyways, the Aoha civilization collapsed somehow, because Minar basically disappeared from the map for a few hundred years. The next people known to inhabit this area were the Leafreites three centuries laterthe ones that founded this town here.
I see, said Ryn.
However, remnants of the old Aoha culture survived, in little villages all across Ossyria, well into the Leafreite period. The idea is that one of these Aoha villages set up a network of sorts with the others, so they could contact each other, trade resources, and band together against common enemies.
But thats not the same Aoha as todays Order of the Leaf; not exactly. The modern Aoha was created by the maple hero Soullohen the Blade, who claimed to be a descendant of the fourth Aoha village. It was his army that he assembled to fight the Shadow Legions. The actual people in it had nothing to do with the Aoha civilization except that newcomers were trained in the Aoha ways.
After the Shadow Legions were vanquished, only a few people stayed with Aoha. And they were scattered all over Ossyria, just like the old Aoha villages were. So they basically became an alliance, a guild almost. And thats what this is. Were recruiting, training, and rising up against the dark aura, just like our predecessors did against the Shadow Legions.
She nodded that she understood, then looked from Kennan to the Leaftain. So Im to become one of themone of you?
Yes, in time, replied Kennan. And what we said when I first came in is how Aoha identify each other. Do you remember it?
A leaf is falling, friend.
Is the leaf alone?
Leaves are never alone.
Good job, said the Leaftain. That last line, Leaves are never alone, is our motto. Leaves dont grow one by one. They grow together, with many others, on a tree. The Aoha are leaves on a tree. By ourself we cant do anything. We wither up and get blown around by the wind. But with each other we can make anything happen. That is why you must be ready to aid others around you, if they need it.
Kennan nodded. Then, Theres something else. I seek the Maple Soul Singer. I was told that you know about it?
There it is.
Crouched on a ledge, two priests looked down at the horrific sight in the valley below them. Dark Jr. Yetis dotted the snowy ground like a crowd of ants. Among them were about a dozen adult Yetis. Dark Pepes were perched on several of these, and more slid around on the snow. Most of the monsters seemed to be clustered around something in the middle of the valley as if drawn to it.
Looks like youve only got one shot, Tatu. Make it good.
Tatu nodded, and shifted over a little to get a better view. I see it He conjured the angels wings of light, and aimed. Get ready, Anka. Taking a deep breath, Anka concentrated on an empty spot within the main crowd of monsters. On the count of three: one two
Before he could hear three, Anka was in place inside the mob, down in the valley. Quickly he gathered a little bit of energy, then
RAHH! SHINING RAY!
A second later, from the ledge above, almost like an echo, ANGEL RAY!
Anka anxiously teleported away from the Yetis’ attacks, a few steps at a time, shooting Holy Arrows everywhere. Meanwhile the ray of angels light streaked through the air like a meteor, carving a shimmering arc across the sky.
After an eternity, it reached its destination: a small dark crystal perched on the crown of the Pepe riding the largest Yeti. With a dazzling flash, the crystal shattered into a million pieces. The resulting crystal dust deflected the leftover light from the impact, illuminating the landscape from seemingly everywhere at once.
On an unrelated note, I played some Rakion for the first time in months. Jumping into a crowd of people and using archer invincible attack is hella fun. And very effective too
On a… more related note, wow. This chapter came out better than I thought it would o_O that, like, never happens. It’s usually the converse.