Protect the weak
Avenge the strong
Stand up for the right
And right the wrong
Uphold the good
Through day and night
And combat the dark
To spread the light
The biting breath of the frigid air above El Nath mocked the auburn-haired priest as he stared out the towers window, desperately straining his eyes for something that wasnt there.
Defeated, he turned back inside. The scroll still lay on the floor; Kennan had presumably dropped it when he attacked. Taking the scroll, the priest knelt in front of the statue. He noticed an inscription at its base, written in the classical Leafreitan script.
It read, Come hither, Holy Paladin of Light.
Puzzled, Anka set the scroll down by the angels foot and put a minor enchantment on it, and hastened back to Leafre.
Practice sword met practice sword as Ryn guarded against her adversarys swift, chained strikes. Sensing an opening, she struck out with her own weapon, catching her opponent off-guard. She followed up with a series of minute, split-second swings that had little power behind them but little delay. As Kennan taught her, sparring is all about delay.
Then her sword unexpectedly met her opponents, abruptly ending her assault and pushing her back several steps with a well-timed flick of her adversarys wrist.
She caught a quick breath and rushed forward once more, but her target sidestepped and swung at her shoulder.
Two can play at that game. Ryn advanced carefully, sword ready, until they were both just within reach of a lunge by the other. And then, she waited for Ciphas move.
When she saw Cipha attack, she instinctively guarded. That was her mistake. Cipha feinted right, lightly prodded Ryns stomach area, and then stopped her sword an inch from her head.
Lowering the sword, Cipha grinned. Try to be less gullible.
As Leaftain Arzuna mulled over the news, trying to decide on a course of action, a sudden concern struck him.
Did Kennan take the scroll with him? The question was addressed to Anka, who stood before him, awaiting instructions.
The priest answered, No, he left it behind. I have it safe.
Arzuna breathed an audible sigh of relief. And the sword? What of his sword?
Anka thought hard. What did happen to his sword? I cant recall Suddenly he remembered. He let go of it when I knocked him over. I forgot about it; its still there in the tower, where he dropped it.
The Soul Echo? The Leaftain looked alarmed.
No, his Sparta. The Echo is with Ryn.
Then he began pacing back and forth, apparently forgetting the priest was there. He was muttering something, but Anka couldnt hear what.
He stopped abruptly. You are well versed in mana traces, correct?
A glimmer of hope. Would you be able to track him?
Only if hes in the vicinity. If I wanted to track someone more than about ten arc-lengths away, thered be too much interference to detect anything. Dashed. I can detect a Shadowlight from nearly a hundred arclengths, though, since their aura is so distinct. But theyre everywhere nowadays.
Finally, the Leaftain seemed to settle on something. Anka, do you know what that scroll was I gave him?
He had a guess, but instead of voicing it, responded, Not precisely.
It was Lux Celestia.
Ankas eyes widened. He knew what the Leaftain meant, of course, being a priest. Lux Celestia, the Heavenly Light: more widely known as the paladins holy weapon charge.
Dont look so surprised. If I recall, youve pulled off a Genesis before, and thats at least as advanced a technique as Heavenly Light. And yet youre still a priest.
That was true. But Kennans not even a white knight.
He wouldve been. Besides, attaining a fair level of proficiency with the holy charge is simpler than learning all three elemental charges at once, and quite a bit more relevant and useful. He changed the subject before the priest could press it further. That aside, I believe Team Sashimi is supposed to carry out a mission today.
Anka had nearly forgotten. Yeah, in Leafre. We were going to take out the crystal.
Leaftain raised an eyebrow. Were?
Are, then. Well get to it.
A small red maple leaf drifted on the east Ossyrian wind.
It drifted over El Nath, past where Rene and Lennah Pierce instructed a small group of children, nearly in their teenage years but not quite, in the basics of archery. Rene gave a shout, and on cue, twelve bowstrings loosed twelve arrows over the snowy plain, one nearly brushing the leaf as it flew by.
It floated on, toward the base of Orbis Tower, where a Dark Ritual, its skull-tip buried two sword-lengths in the snow, lay. Only the butt end was visible, and barely; the ice outshone the miniscule crystal shard that Anka had so carefully implanted in it.
The leaf reached the end of the Eastern Peninsula, and coasted off the cliff into the salty sea air. It continued gliding over the Ossyrian sea, remaining airborne by sheer chance, soaring to places no other leaf had gone. It was the One, the One Leaf of all the leaves in the world that was destined by the fates to cross the sea and reach Minar, in the West.
A freak gust blew the One Leaf southward, toward Ludus Lake. It drifted past the tiny, uncharted isle where Anka had once frequented, painting the sun set over the watery horizon. It drifted past the great tower of Helios, through a window into the room where Ryn and Cipha trained fiercely under the watchful eye of the great ranger Lachie Anari. In a feat of pure luck, it reached the opposite window on the same breeze, its tip slightly bent where Ciphas practice sword had grazed it. The One Leaf continued on its transcontinental voyage west.
Hours later, this leaf that the forces of nature had handled so gently reached the shores of Minar, where time never lapsed. It fluttered over the treetops, as if surveying the terrain, searching for a suitable place to land. It seemed to consider Leaftain Arzunas chimney for a moment, but then rejected the idea, instead traveling farther inland, to the Eternal Glade that lay undisturbed for eons.
There, it alighted on a little boys head.
Its landing perturbed one or two strands of hair, nudging them with an infinitesimally slight force. A nerve on the boys scalp detected this, sending a pulse to his brain. Another group of pulses commanded a small muscle to contract and relax in a specified pattern, moving his hand to his head, and then back and forth through his hair. The One Leaf fell to the ground, its great flight finished at last.
The boy was about eight years of age. His sapphire eyes exuded innocence, unblemished despite the horror he had witnessed only days ago. He wore an olive-green shirt with the Leaf insignia on it and a pair of pants of similar color, identifying him as a child from Leafre. His brown hair had a noticeably reddish tinge, contrasting sharply with his eyes.
It was not unlike the plumage of the Blood Harp in front of him.
The aven held some sort of nut in its mouth, which it set down in front of the boy, apparently telling him to eat it. When he didnt act in response, it nudged the nut toward him a little more. Deciding to comply, the boy picked up the nut and put it in its mouth.
He found its taste not unlike dark chocolate, but somewhat nuttier. He liked it, as much as one could like Harp food.
The little copse was his world, and he had passed several days now idling around, fed by the Harp that seemed to take a liking to him. He had woken up one morning, several days earlier, to find a pair of curious eyes staring at his face. Frightened, he nearly jumped out of his skin, earning the aven equivalent of a laugh from his flame-feathered observer. He got up and steadied himself, realizing for the first time that he was in a jungle and also quite ravenous. He promptly sought out a berry bush, and immediately began indulging, and the Harp, which had followed him there, joined him for their first meal together. From then on, the Harp became his constant companion.
The two went on small foraging expeditions together, never venturing too far from the glade. They didnt have to. Edible vegetation grew in abundance in every part of Minar, and they never had to walk for more than a few minutes to find what they were looking for.
The boy knew, as surely as he knew the sky was blue, that he had led some kind of life before this, outside the glade. But try as he might, he could not conjure any memories, or even mere tidbits of information, about his mysterious past life.
He often wondered.
Six members of Sashimi approached the serene waters of the River Tears, where Leaftain Arzuna had charged straight through the river with Fell and Ryn only the previous day. Choosing a somewhat more reserved approach for crossing the river, which involved a succession of jumps and short teleportations across floating river debris, they entered the borders of Leafre.
Lachie gathered them around for a brief recap of the plan. Now, Kennan isnt here, and neither is Ankas staffhe gave said staffs owner a bemused glance, at which the hapless priest withdrew his novices wooden wand a little further from the others viewso well have to get this done faster. Val, Lynn, Fell: you know what to do. Ricki, stay with me. Were in for one heck of a fight. Anka, stand by for healing. You all ready?
Ready as ever, affirmed Fell, gripping his favorite knife.
They marched on through the richly vegetated outskirts of Leafre, attempting to make as little noise as possible. When they reached the tree border, Lachie called a halt and gave a nod to the two mages, who teleported off through the trees.
The octagonal crystal gleamed in the sunlight, casting the color of corruption over the landscape as well as the heavens.
Kandine Ricki silently fussed over his dagger, waging war on an invisible blemish. Wielding a cloth, he assaulted the carefully etched letters that spelled Cursayer-102 on the blade.
Lachie Anari strung his Nisrock, nocked an arrow, and aimed at the sky, pulling the string back and forth. He tracked a bird with his bow, following it until it disappeared behind the treeline.
Anka sat cross-legged on the grass, submersed in a pale green aura, clasping his beginners wand in both hands. Ryn and Cipha shouldve come, he remarked. He put the wand down, and the greenness dissipated.
Anari suspended his warm-up to reply, Theyre young. Better that theyre safe.
Better that they get a glimpse of what theyll have to face sooner or later, argued Ricki, not raising his head from his dagger.
Sparring is experience too, returned Anari matter-of-factly.
Quit quarreling, you two. Theyre in Helios and its too late for that to change now. Better concentrate on the mission at hand. Having little to say to this, they each resumed their various activities.
The air felt stiff and tense. They were all holding their collective breath, in anticipation of what was to come.
And then, the signal: a column of fiery light coming from behind the crystal.