Soft stems of grass push around my feet as a cool breeze blows on my face. I open my eyes to a cool orange sky. “Where am I?” I ask myself. I feel gualt’s power deactivate, my body becomes heavy. I feel myself fall to the ground, tears streaming down my face. “Gualt,” I choke. “You sacrificed yourself, gave me your enhancement ability, just to get me out of there.” All I can do is think about our childhood together. Years ago when Rom left the village to search for Vetrix, Gualt became the only person who comforted me. I was the grandson of the third Guardian, Vetrix Rox. My parents died early in my life. They abandoned the Sanctuary to search for Vetrix when I was a child. Rom followed. The only friend I had was you, Gualt.
“You arrived.” A calm femminine voice raises my head. I look up to a cream yellow dress, flowers blooming from the base. Further up I look at her narrow face. Her pointed ears straight back on her head. “Gualt must’ve fallen if you’ve ended up here, Loben Rox.” The breeze blows through her golden hair.
“How did you know about Gualt?” I ask. The woman’s long body makes me think she’s an elf. The elves are said to be messengers from the gods, if not the embodiment of some. So how is she here? “You are right to question me.” She holds out her hand, lifting me from the grass. “I’ve known you for a long time, loben. At least, I know the you in your soul.”
“What do you mean?” I don’t know what she’s talking about. I’ve never seen or met an elf before. The closest to one was my mother, but her ears weren’t that pointed. “Loben,” She continues. “It may be confusing right now, but you and I have met before. In another world, another dream. Or a..”
“A nightmare.” I say without realizing. “What was that? It was so dark I couldn’t see anything.”
“It was a world where you died, and I died. That plain of existence is gone. Now we are here, it may be that we’ve been given a second chance to stop him.” I died? No, that was only a dream. I’ve always had these weird nightmares about death. Every time I would die on some kind of battlefield. Someone would say my name, then I would die. “I don’t understand. Just who are you?”
“You haven’t left the Sanctuary, but still that beast tried to kill you.” A rumbling can be heard behind her. She looks behind her, then turns back to me. “There’s no more time.” She grabs my shoulders and pushes me backwards. A giant crystal golem smashes the trees around her. It grabs her body and it starts to absorb into the crystal. “Find the castle beyond the blizzard, I’ll be in the garden.” The rest of her body is taken into the golem. A flash of white light surrounds us and everything seems to disappear.
I awaken on a blanket of soft ground. The harsh winds blow white blankets of snow with every stroke. My body shivers as I struggle to my feet. This blizzard is so cold. “C’mon,” I take a step through the snow, shifting it around my legs. As I keep walking, the snow rises up my body. Soon enough, my waist is entirely submerged. “Em’ir” I gasp, trying to activate my magic. A small cooked mushroom appears in my hand. I hold it against my chest, knowing I’m too weak to create anything else in this weather. “I can’t die.” I feel tears freeze against my cheeks. “I can’t die. Not like this. I never got to be a proper mage. I didn’t even get to see who the next guardian would be.” My body stiffens by itself. My chest cracks with every slow breath. I’m not going to live. Is this where I die? In this blizzard.
“Oi!!” I hear faintly. A small orange light flickers in the distance. “By the goddess,” My body is lifted from my snow prison. “Please be alive. C’mon stay with me.” Black slowly covers my vision, and I feel my body faint.
I’m back in the blizzard, my sword drawn from my side. In front of me, a giant shadow. I can’t see what it looks like. “Loben,” A commanding voice from my left. “You take that one. I’ll take care of him.” My sword glows blue as I feel my body charge on its own beside the big shadow. I hear a high pitched scream and I’m blown backwards. I feel my body hit a sharp stone behind me. I charge again at the creature. Another screech slams into me, but this time I feel my sword stab into a giant tongue. I look up and see a giant mouth gaping over me. It widens and I am swallowed into it’s dark stomach.
A high pitched screaming wakes me. My body jolts upwards, then freezing pain shoots through my entire body. I groan before falling back into the bed. “Wait.” I rub my eyes before seeing cave rocks. The interior is covered in lamps and sheets. I’m inside a tent with some crates. The sheets move beside me. A man appears before me, his complexion is very young. He’s wearing a snow white tunic with dark brown boots up to his knees. I look up to his face, his silky black hair is struck back behind his ears. His dark pink eyes stare at me in surprise, but somehow I feel calm around him. Almost like I’ve known him for a long time. “Oh thank the goddess you’re awake.” He smiles. He raises a tea kettle in his hand. “I hope I didn’t wake you. Would you like some tea?” I nod. He bends down beside me and pours the tea into a cup.
“Ex..” My mouth freezes. I can’t make a sound right now. The man lifts my head and the cup slowly, before giving me a small drink. It’s very warm and sweet. I can feel my throat thaw out. I try lips before trying to talk again. “Thank you.” I say weakly.
“You’re welcome.” He smiles before placing the cup back down. “I’m surprised you managed to get here. There hasn’t been a gnome in this kingdom in decades.”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you know where you are?” He looks at me before standing back up. From his height I think he’s a human. I shake my head. “No. I don’t know how I even got here.”
“Well, you’re safe, that's what matters.” He reaches for a scroll on the shelf across from us. He unscrolls it in front of me and I see a big map. “We are here.” He points to a giant white landscape with multiple houses that spans a quarter of the map. “This is my queen’s kingdom of Arindeal. Now here,” He points to a perfectly wihte mass. “Is where we are. The two of us are 100 kilometers away from any town or city. That means 150 kilometers away from the castle. So I want to know, where did you come from?” I look over at the map. I see the white area we are in, a giant ocean separating the left and right sides from us. I turn to the right of the white kingdom. There seems to be a small green swamp. The trees don’t remind me of the ones in Sanctuary though. I look to the right landmass across the ocean. It seems to be mountainous, red streaks flow across the scroll. Next I turn to the left, most of it looks like plains, the grass looks healthy and the forests are vast. Then I see it, the mushroom forest where the secret entrance to my village is. I point to it.
“You live in the mushroom valley?” He looks at me before closing his eyes. When he reopens them, he seems to have understood me. “Do you live around there? Our cartographers haven’t been able to look at that area very well.”
“Uh..Yes.” He doesn’t seem to know about the Woods. “I lived inside the main forest.”
“That’s fascinating. I’m from here.” He points to the swamp outside the blizzard. “It’s called The Basin. There’s a big lake there beside a huge cove that leads out to the ocean. Besides that the forest is very wet and there’s not much to it.”
Hold on. If we’re in the middle of the blizzard, how come this cave is warm and not covered in snow? “How are we still warm?”
“Oh yeah.” He chuckles to himself. “I have a small amount of magic blood in me. I can focus light around us and concentrate it to heat up the surrounding area. Watch.” He extends his arm towards the lamp above us. “Sam'e'mor Asher’adsho.” The light in the lamp starts to glow brighter, the outside of it starts to melt before dimming back down. “It’s not much but it lets me survive out here.”
“Why are you out here anyway?” I ask him. His face lowers before looking back at the map. “My kingdom is dying.” He sighs. He points to the castle in the middle of the snowy landscape. “The goddess of the Basin, Catherine of Balance, has cursed Arindeal. Somewhere between Arindeal and the Basin, there’s a holy temple. That temple is the key to figuring out this curse and freeing our kingdom from being destroyed. That’s why I’m out here. I am here to find that temple and report back to My priestess as soon as possible.” Looking at his eyes, I can see the same desire as Vetrix. He wants to protect his kingdom with everything he has. “How dangerous should this temple be?” I ask him. If this place possesses enough holy power to rival a goddess’s curse, it must be protected. At least that’s what I read back in Sanctuary.
“I have no doubts it’ll be guarded. That’s why I brought this.” The man reaches into his tunic and pulls out a cloth. It looks aged, with stains around the ends with the head tied into a knot. “This is a talisman of a miracle worker.” He explains. “Have you heard of them?”
“Yes.” I gasp. Feeling the power radiating from the cloth. “When the gods left, they imparted on us fractions of their power, one miracle per being.”
“That’s where you’re wrong.” He interrupts me. “The gods didn’t leave. They weren’t here in the first place. Mages get power from their will. The magic they imbue is a representation of their family and their beliefs. Sometimes, there are people who perfectly mimic the will of a god or goddess. Thus, that deity transfers their power to the individual. Thus, making them a walking miracle.”
“Transfer of power?” My thoughts immediately flash to Gault. I can still feel his power inside of me. Gault could enhance his and whoever he touches physical abilities. He was so fast he could run across the entire forest in seconds. Now he’s dead.
“Hey are you okay?” The man touches my shoulder. I shake my head realizing I’m looking at the ground. “It’s nothing.” I stand up. My strength seems to be returning. The man turns around and throws a bag onto the bed. “That’s for you.” He smiles. The bag seems quite large. The straps are old and I don’t recognize the symbol on the bag. It looks like a shard of ice covered in black and white snow. “What is it?” I ask.
“Training equipment,” He explains. “That’s my old one from when I first joined Arindeal. It’s got new clothes, a small sword, and a book of simple spells. Assuming you can use the right magic, I’d like you to try learning some of them.”
“How could you tell I’m a mage?” I ask. I can’t figure out why, but being around him reminds of the Sanctuary. He waves his hand towards me, motioning from the bottom of my body to my head. “Your appearance. You don’t carry a sword, nor any type of weapons or protective clothes. Plus, you appeared out of nowhere in the middle of Arindeal’s blizzard. I’m surprised that you’re even alive.”
“Right.” I nodded. I think if I need to I can replicate Gualt’s boost. It’ll take some time to perfect it. I open the book and examine some of the basic spells. “This book seems to be all around nature based attacks.” I say. The man looks back at me. “Oh,” He looked surprised. “That’s not my book. My book was about tracking and disguise.” His voice drops to a low whisper. He shakes his head and takes the book from me. He starts to spill through the pages before giving it back. “Try to read it when you get the chance, but not right now, the magic’s fading from this cave so we better get moving.” He slings two bags over his shoulders and raises his cloak above his head. “I’m ready to leave when you are.”
I hurry to his side as I grab my new bag. “I’m ready, um.” I don’t know what to call him. “What’s your name? I’m Loben.”
“I’m Belon.” He lights a torch with his hands. “I have a feeling the two of us are going to have a fantastic adventure.”
The cold wind tears through my clothes. All I can see is Belon’s torch in front of me. “You okay Loben?” He shouts. The blizzard muffled his voice. “Yeah!” I scream at him. The new coat he gave me is still warm. He said this was his jacket when he joined his kingdom, but how was a human my size? For a human to be the size of a gnome, Belon must’ve been a child. I focus on Belon’s shadow in front of me. “How much further?” I ask. “I don’t know.” He shouts back. I can feel his magic energy flowing into the torch to keep it lit. He must be doing it for my sake. If it wasn’t for Belon, I would be dead already, he doesn’t have to keep doing this. “Loben!” he shouts again. The storm freezing my ears. “I think I found it! Just a little further ahead.”
“Okay.” I focus again on his flickering shadow. The torch light guiding me through the blizzard. I don’t know if I am getting used to the weather, or if it’s getting warmer. A dark gate can be seen in the distance. Belon’s light waves backwards and stops for me to catch up. I stand next to him, the stone wall in front of us looks ancient. “We found it.” Belon pants. He must be exhausted from using his magic for so long. “This must be the temple. There seems to be a lock engraved into the stone here.” He flattens his hand against the wall. As I look closer, the chips in the wall do resemble a language. Is it an encrypted lock? If so I’ve never seen a language like this before. The lines and crosses in the slab make no sense. “It seems like this is a message from the guardian of this temple.” Belon hands me his torch, I can feel his power let go. I try to transfer my magic into the light, but I can’t stop it from slightly fading. He pulls out a small book from his bag and examines the scripture. “This is very old.” he says. The blizzard is still howling around us. He mumbles something I don’t understand. “What?” I ask. He waves his hand behind him. “Nothing,” He seems to be very focused. “I’m trying to translate the writing.”
“How old do you think this is?” I try to look around for any rubble or city. “Based on this writing,” Belon grunts. “I can only assume this temple is from the Old King’s era.” He mumbles something again. “.....Collapse.”
“How long ago was that?” I ask him. Old King? How old is he? “Loben! Come here!” I rush to Belon’s side. I hand him the torch and the flame bursts to life. He slides his book back into his bag. “I found it,” he points to a cross and sketch in the stone. “This is the entrance. I need to repeat the incantation and then flow some magic into the door.” He starts to breathe heavily. “I don’t know how much more energy I have left. Loben, I might need you to flow some of your magic at the door while I speak the incantation. Can you do that?” I nod. Belon seems to be very tired. I didn’t know he used so much energy on the torch light. I raise my hands towards the center of the sketches, I aim the center towards a circular indent. Belon places one hand behind mine. “When I start I will cast a small amount of magic into the door.” he explains. “Immediately, I need you to take over and cast your magic with me. Ready?” I can feel his energy pour from his hands. I start to emit the same amount. I can already feel my magic draining. “Ready.” I concentrate on the flow of magic as Belon starts the incantation.
“A as a er’aha’sak edar arsh erma’re hak’seshog.” The ground starts to pulse and I see my magic mix with Belon’s. His hand starts to glow a dark red, then lightens to a pink that reminds me of home. I watch as the light from my hands glow a bright pink. What type of magic is this? “A oka’kirer raseh’arid orshok’as erma shogak’jo. Esash A Ader’ak.”
The ground shakes and the stone wall starts to slide open. The creaking echoes through the blizzard. Belon pulls me inside and the doors quickly shut behind us. The rocky thud booms through the temple. The torch finally wooshes out and the walls start to glow a dim gray. “What is this place?” I look around the walls, the amount of magic to light up this halfway alone is more than I could ever do. Belon places his stick around his waist. “It seems we’re in the temple of a goddess.” He pulls his book back out and flips rapidly through the pages. “There’s nothing written about this place. We’re just going to have to look around.” He takes the lead and beckons me to follow. The walls seem to be made of a white stone, ice covers most of the ceiling and upper walls. “So tell me,” I need to know more about this place if I want to go home. “What do you know about this kingdom?”
“Well there’s a lot I know about the world.” Belon waves his book at me. “I work for the kingdom of Arindeal. It’s the kingdom that rules this region. Well my priestess hasn’t been on good terms with the Basin, the swamp region to our east across the blizzard. So to try and destroy us, their goddess put a curse on our kingdom.” We come to an intersection, he waves me to the left near a stairway going up. “The curse has infected our mainland, and I fear I may be too late to stop it. The best my troops have done is die from sight.” Troops? By the way he’s talking is he a high ranking officer? He did manage to survive out here by himself.
Suddenly, I am shaken by a dark presence. Belon shoves me next to the wall. “Someone’s here.” he growls. His hand starts to glow a deep red. His hand starts to disappear, extending up his arm. He places his hand on my chest and whispers “Hold your breath.” I take as big of a breath I can and I feel my body lighten. Almost like I’m floating. Belon taps my shoulder and I see him holding his mouth closed and he puts a finger across his lips. I look behind Belon, and black slime starts oozing down the hall. The energy emitting from it freezes my body. My nightmare starts to come back to me. Gault! That mage used this type of magic. Is he here?! No please don’t be here. I quiver as distorted chuckles bounce off the walls. Then, a cane swishes around the corner. I see a black cloak and top hat coming towards us with a giant ball of black slime crawling behind it. The can taps onto the stone with every step. I can feel my body being pulled towards him. Belon’s eyes look filled with rage, do they know each other? Is that the mage who killed Sir Orin? Belon looks back at me and puts his free hand on his chest and gestures to follow him. He tugs on my arm and we slowly approach the shadowy figure as it comes towards us. I keep walking behind Belon and I can’t hear our footsteps, in fact, I don’t think the figure has noticed us yet. We’re right in front of him, is this another one of Belon’s powers? We finally meet side to side with the cloaked figure. I watch the black slime roll and bounce on the hard, stone floor. I look up at the figure, I can barely see behind his cloak. Dark purple eyes with no white around it blink at me! Do they know we’re here? NO. Please don’t see us. I quiver as Belon yanks me to his side. I feel my chest tighten, I’m running out of air. The dark figure continues to stroll away from us. The cane tapping against the stone. Belon rushes around the corner just as I let out a gasp. I hit the wall we’ve been walking against, feeling my head pound. I look up at Belon, he’s sweating and staring down the hall behind us. “Who was that?” I wheeze. I still haven’t caught my breath yet. Belon slows his breathing, and lets out a deep sigh. “I don’t know. There were rumors of an assassin with an undiscovered type of magic. I’m guessing that’s him.”
“How did he get in here?”
“I don’t know.” Belon takes out another book from his cloak. “With a new type of magic there’s infinite possibilities. That mage could have a teleportation spell, a shifting enchantment, or..”
“Or he could travel through dimensions.” I cut Belon off. He looks at me curiously. “What do you mean?”
“In my dream,” I try to think about Sanctuary. “I was in a black world. Nothing except for that black slime. There was no light, even after I tried to create some. And when I tried to cast a barrier spell, it flickered out instantly.” I remember him fighting Sir Orin. How he easily trapped me in that nightmare and killed Gault. “Loben?” Belon puts his hand on my shoulder. “You okay?” I shake my head. “Yeah, I must’ve dozed off. I don’t know what else he can do so that’s all I know.”
“That’s perfectly good information.” Belon stands up and writes in his notebook. “Basically, he must be using a manipulation spell. He’s controlling that black ooze to do what he wants. And if it can stop mages from using their magic.” Belon looks onward. “C’mon,” He heads to the stairs at the end of the hallway. There must be something down there that tells us more about this place.”
The further down we go, the darker the stairway gets. “Sam’e’mor redem’aka” a ball of light hovers above Belon’s hand. The stone walls look darker than the entrance. The glowing walls stopped at the top. We continue descending, now the walls are covered in ice. “How deep do you think we are?”
“We seem to have travelled a kilometer by now.” Belon slides his hand freely off of the ice. “I just hope whatever is down here helps free Arindeal.”
“What exactly happened to your kingdom?” I step down on an icy stone. The weather suddenly got cold. “Arindeal is a kingdom covered in ice and valuable crystals.” Belon explains. “Deep in the blizzard, some sheets of ice, as well as some crystals, were blessed by the miracle workers. These crystals are infused with their magic. If somehow we find any, I can bring it back to the kingdom and use their power to cure Arindeal.”
“You said the power of the miracle workers, but I thought they could only be used by someone who represents their will.” I start to shiver. The ball of light flutters above me and sprinkles a type of dust onto my body.
“We have a miracle worker,” Belon said coldly. He seems to be more focused. “We have an enhancer miracle worker. Using their power, my troops might be able to fight the infection.”
“Infection?” I rub my arms and feel the ball warming me up. Belon keeps walking, brushing his shoulder. “The curse cast by Catherine was a manipulation spell on our magic crystals. They started becoming sentient, attaching to someone’s body and using it as a host to create more parasitic ice.”
“Wait, it’s ice,” I shake my head. “Ice and crystals don’t need any type of nutrients to grow. Why attach to a human’s body?”
“That’s normally how it works.” Belon says. “But not magic ice. This substance is supposed to attach to your magic circuits, and while you use magic through it, like a catalyst, the crystal imbues it with whatever type of energy the crystal has. If you casted a light spell with a fire crystal,” He reaches into his bag and grips a rather large red crystal shard. The ball of light turns a crimson red. The air around us starts to heat up. “It becomes a miniature star.” Belon swishes his hand away as it returns back to its bright color. “The kind of magic a person can use could be amplified when used with the right crystal or talisman.”
“So you’re trying to combine your miracle worker’s power with one of their ancestor’s crystals?” I ask. “But wouldn’t that be catastrophic if we come across the wrong catalyst?” Belon tightens his hands. “We won’t.” He went cold again. His pace seems to have increased. The stairway continues further down, ice now covers the entire hall. I feel a small amount of magic ahead of us. “Looks like we made it.” Belon sighs. “Let’s go Loben.” I nod my head and jog to keep up with his stride. As we reach the bottom of the stairs, we enter a small room. The walls are covered in multicolored ice and the floor is a chiseled stone. The only thing in the room is a stone podium, with a plaque on top of it.
“We’re here.” Belon takes out one of his notebooks. He walks up to the podium and I watch as stone chips off of the plaque. Text and markings appear in front of him and glow a pale gray. He places his hand over them, the energy changes to combine with his magic. “A as a erokah’asak,” His voice echoes off of the stone. “Erma esaka’kesa arsh kakiar’aresh, erma esaka’kesa arsh rerokad’mem, erma esaka’kesa arsh rakekarsh’aka, A okakirer eshik isho. Adrehak esesh kase!” The room rumbles and ice shatters against the ground. Belon focuses his magic into his hand then fires a beam of red light into the stone slab. The ice around us changes colors, glowing from pearlescent to rainbow. The colors shift to blue, yellow, and a bright pink. Belon slams his hand against the podium. The ice shards fall off the walls, floating towards Belon’s hand. They start to become transparent, transforming into hollow crystals. I can feel magic flowing through them, an almost reminicable feeling of home.
Belon pulls out a hand stitched bag and the crystals fall inside. Some of the crystals stall in front of the podium. One of them is cream yellow, another is almost an ocean blue. There’s a green one, reminds me of moss. The next one floats out of Belon’s bag, its color seems to change from white to black, then a very small light blue, then a light red, and finally back to white. A couple more crystals fall off of the wall and float above Belon. The brightest orange I’ve ever seen, followed by a dull gray. Then, the last one, the crystal was pure black. A small purple core blinked light out of the cracked shell. “What are these?” I ask. Belon opens his eyes, he seems to be looking further into the crystals. “Catalysts,” he says. He lifts his hand, allowing the crystals to fall into his palm. “Remnants of magic left by the gods. Like an ember from a scorching fire. These crystals hold pieces of this world’s most powerful mages. The miracles, let alone normal spells casted from these would be extraordinary.” As he places the last crystal into his pouch, Belon’s orb of light flickers out. The area around us fades into shadows, the only thing visible is the stairs. The ground starts to rumble and the remaining ice cracks across the wall. “What’s going on?” I shout, trying to find my balance on the rumbling stone. Belon staggers then throws his fist into the air “Sam’e’mor!” A flash of light hovers to the ceiling. “Loben run!”
I feel my chest pounding. Like something’s grabbed my heart and is squeezing it in their hands. I fall to the ground coughing, watching my vision blur. Belon looks down to me and opens his mouth. If he said something, I couldn’t hear him. Pink light emits from my body, I can feel my skin burning. I feel… magic touching my skin, my flesh melts and pops across my arms. I scream as my own magic reacts, releasing pure energy all around me. The light surrounding me is blinding, I can’t see anything, all I know is the immeasurable power coursing through me. It hurts, I can’t see, my skin is melting, and I’m being overpowered by pure magical energy. My hands sting, shooting wave after wave of energy out of my body. Nothing is working. I can’t get it out. No matter how hard I swing my arms, I can’t expel it. My vision is covered in blinding light. The chill of the stone floor vanish, replaced with empty air.