Professor Doran Biggleroot, along with Consuls Aria, Rhazgul, and Xarian, descended six stories deep beneath the Magic Academy, but the task was not easy. Fe’Lora had managed to locate the architecture plans in Archium Library, then discerned the path that must be taken. It seemed the only possible route remaining was through the drainage tunnels which led to series of claustrophobic paths winding them within a maze of dark caves. Their steps were only lit by Xarien’s summoned Flametok, which drifted, like a leaf on a breeze, just a few feet ahead. The journey was not a short one, given the blockades and obstacles that required removal, the tiptoeing alongside the crumbling ledges of bottomless crevices and the scaling of jagged walls. They were in a place that light had not touched in ages, a place where no creature had drawn breath for uncounted years.
They were silent as they moved, not just to preserve the integrity of the unsound structures around them, but because each held the keen awareness that they were likely to die before they reached their destination. Even if they should obtain the information they pursued, they might never find their way back again. Fear, if indeed the four formidable Magicians had entertained it, was unexpressed and adequately restrained.
Soon they were unable to estimate the passage of time. It felt like years had passed since they began, that years upon years would pass before they reached their goal, and between themselves and hope there grew an ever-widening chasm. As they approached a raging underground river, it was Rhazgul who huffed and shot Xarian a sidelong glance. “I guess I shouldn’t have thought this would be just a jaunt down a hallway and a secret knock on a door, aye?” He collapsed on a nearby rock, rubbing his short, stout legs.
Aria sat by his side sullenly. “Perhaps,” she sighed, “we were fools.”
“Why say this?” Doran asked her.
“The Vault of Chronicles could be mere myth, for all we know. A story carried through the ages. We’ve no idea if we’ve gone six Qells deep or even ten by now.”
Rhazgul patted her hand politely, as it lay by his own, “Oh Vyndershein,” he sad, speaking the old Elarran word for “Lady,” “But what choice did we have?”
Aria forced a gentle smile, grateful for his kindness. “So much of the Elders’ wisdom is unknown. Their time was thousands of Seasons before ours. Things change as they are passed down, truth is lost to embellished fables told over a pint of Bloomy ale.”
Rhazgul let out a yelp and a laugh as he railed backward, “Oh! How I’d love myself a Bloomy Ale! That’s the order!” he exclaimed.
Aria paid him no attention and continued, “Doran, whatever magic brought you here, it was not within our understanding. We cannot determine by any means of our own the rules or the requirements to engineer what occurred that day. We cannot be sure we’d understand the Old Magic, if even we found the Chronicles. And we have no evidence beyond old documents gathered from around Elarra to fill in the gaps of that time before ours. We know not even the plight of Grimthane, Spectra or Killdorian. We rely on words of others, and on–“
Rhazgul wiped his big nose on his sleeve as he listened, and as he glanced down at his side, he saw a bubbling mug. He blinked twice quickly.
Nodding gently, Doran finished on her behalf. “Faith.”
She made no reply; her gaze fell into the distance, unreachable. Suddenly, she was jarred back to the present by the sound of slurping beside her. Areia turned quickly to see Rhazgul with his frothy-topped Bloomy Ale, guzzling eagerly and messily, stray foam-flecked streaks slopping onto his red suspenders.
She scowled. “Must you drink like a thirsty Magragon?”
Doran’s eyes widened, “What is that?”
Rhazgul swallowed hard and giggled with glee, “It’s Bloomy Ale! I’ve not got no more! Sorry!”
Aria stood unsteadily, “Where did you get that?”
Quite happily, he announced, “I don’t know! One moment it wasn’t here and then it was, and now it’s in my tummy.”
They stared at him quizzically as Xarian approached, his gaunt features highlighted by the Flametok Spirit before him, casting shadows and reflections off the faceplate that masked his right eye. “We brought no such beverage.”
Now, Rhazgul looked guilty, his eyes darted to each of them nervously, “I thought one of you more magic types took pity on the short fella.”
Suddenly the ground shook and the river began to boil and spout, great steaming geysers vaulting into the air, their waters hovering impossibly, moving on their own. A misty wind rose and whipped at the walls, dousing everything it touched in an instant. High-pitched laughter echoed through the cavern, and the four Magicians watched with alarm as a swirling, splashing blue frenzy filled the air. What first appeared to be chaotic slashes of water soon took a loose and flowing form. Now and again the shape of claws appeared, or webbed arms, or a mouth of dripping fangs. It darted around the cavern, knocking loose mammoth, spearlike stalactites that came crashing down from the heights.
The four scrambled to dodge them as they impaled the ground. They managed to take shelter in a small alcove where they watched as two more swirling blue entities joined the first, laughing and making child-like sing-song noises. From the sky, one of them thrust toward them, awash with a greenish blue hues, matching the water that fell to the ground behind her. As she grew closer, Aria could see her skin was shimmering with iridescent scales, and saw that and from her slanted nostrils sprouted long fleshy whiskers. Her skull met at five points on her head, like a tiered crown. She bared violent, pointed teeth and then she smiled with a macabre playfulness. She spoke with a whimsical, yet whispering voice.
“Why so scared?” Her lips curled upward and her vile grin reached wide.
Rhazgul backed against the wall of the shallow alcove as water rushed against his boots. “These are the three Siren Spirits!” he said through gritted teeth. More burbling laughter shook the cavern as the three entities scythed through the air.
The Siren who’d spoken before now leaned her great wet half-formed body toward the alcove. A long forked tongue erupted from her lips and she whipped it at him once before withdrawing it. She lifted a webbed finger to her mouth and made only one sound. “Shhhhhh…”
Instantly, Rhazgul hit the ground unconscious. Aria knelt by him immediately, checking his vitals, as was her instinct as a carer.
Xarian stepped forward, unwavering. “We seek the Vault of Chronicles, Creature. I bear within me the power of fire, and I am not afraid of you.”
The second Siren took a glance at his Firetok spirit glowing steadily at his side as her two companions wheeled beside her. They giggled amongst themselves as she fixed her cold, glassy black eyes upon him. Slowly she extended one hand toward him, the webbing beneath her arms floating outward like wings, droplets whirling away from its fringes in the howling wind. Long fingers adorned with black, jagged claws, now all too solid, all too real, came just inches from his face. Yet Xarian did not flinch. Her gaze turned toward the Firetok and, with a single wave of her hand, water poured from her fingertips. Water, enchanted, alive, danced upon the stale phantom breeze in a glistening stream, wrapped itself around the creature, and effortlessly extinguished it before splashing lifelessly to the ground. The Firetok was nowhere to be seen.
She tilted her head to one side, entertained by Xarian’s unflagging confidence, and then raised her taloned finger to her lips once more. “Shhhhhhh.”
Aria scrambled toward him, then fell to her knees before the three towering Siren Spirits. “Queens of the Sea, I beg you to please listen.” Her breathing was ragged, but she did not cry. “Our world is being threatened by a dark force. We need your help.”
The Sirens surrounded her, perhaps examining her. One could not guess a Siren’s intentions. They joined hands as a million drops of water manifested around her, shining like gemstones, swirling and spinning. The third Siren spoke, mocking words spoken before. “Oh Vyndershein, but what choice did we have?”
Doran attempted to intervene. “Stop this at once!” he bellowed to no avail. “Release her!”
As Aria stared at the fantastical display of droplets swirling around her, she found a sudden peace she could not explain, a calm that one long hungers for, yet that few ever find. Staring deep into the dewy cage, she saw reflections of her memories, contained within each drop. A series of moments, from one to the next, creating a picture show of her entire life, all seemingly extracted from her mind.
Trembling, Doran moved toward the glimmering cage of memory. “What have you done to her?”
As the Sirens released each other’s hands, the droplets gently fell to the ground, pooling around Aria, who stood vacantly, unmoving. Now, the third’s black claw touched Aria’s pale face.
“How fragile, mortal life. The mortal mind. And now yours is…” She smiled almost unable to contain her satisfaction, “…hollow.” She and the other sirens sniggered giddily.
Doran stared at the pool beneath Arias’ feet and could see a smattering of images on its rippling surface. It rolled like a gentle wave from beneath her, and slipped into the hostile waters of the nearby river.
“But what was once lost can be found again.” she said, her voice turning grim. “Go fetch.” Her two companions stood at Aria‘s side and began whispering things, things no one else could hear, into her ears. Aria rose and took a step, and then another, and another. Doran called out to her but she did not respond.
They were ushering her to the river. Doran lunged forward to stop them but was knocked backward by the remaining Siren Spirit.
“One left” she sang.
He scrambled to his knees and awkwardly staggered to his feet. “If you kill me, you will die.”
She darted to one side of him, then gushed with impossible speed to the other, and in his ear she whispered, “Kill me.” He could feel the dampness of her breath on his neck.
“I shall not kill you,” he said forcefully. “Are you not a creature who thrives on Magika to exist? What would you be without it? You’d be no different than that Elarran you are going to drown.”
She spurned backward for a moment, taking a curious stance.
Doran continued, “It is coming. It is known as the Gray. It devours Magika and has rendered entire species of Magic creatures extinct. and one day soon, it will be here. It will find you, and it will destroy all like you.” He spoke so fast he was winded, but the urgency to say it took precedence.
In the silence that came after his statement he cast an eye toward Aria, still walking as if in a trance toward the wickedly churning waters, her attendants cackling beside her. He looked back to the Siren. “We came with hope that the solution to our peril might lay in the Vault of Chronicles. If you kill us, no one else will come. We will not kill you. You will have killed yourselves.”
The third Siren slowly raised her hands. The others came to a halt, as did Aria, the tips of her toes now sticking out over the channel’s edge. The water clamored upward over the jagged wall as if craving her, calling her.
Now the third Siren moved close to him. “Why are you unlike the others?”
Doran could hear his own heart beating rapidly in his ears. “I am Human. I am from another world, a world called Earth.”
“Human. From Earth.” She repeated casually. “Do Humans from Earth lie?”
He stood firm, but felt unmistakable burning pressure building beneath his eyes. “They do.” He said, his voice breaking as he looked past her toward Aria.
She brought together her hands at her waist, and cocked her gleaming, horned head to one side. The glassy black eyes narrowed, perhaps in suspicion, perhaps just in thought. She did not answer directly, but instead seemed to look at him with great intensity, eyeing the unusual five-digit hands, unlike any she had seen, and his ghostpale and nearly-hairless skin. And at last she settled on his eyes, those small, strange eyes that had seen so many years. In time, she left the isolation of her thoughts and spoke. “You admit that your people do lie. But I trust you do not lie to me now.”
He could not muster a sound but shook his head from side to side.
“What is your name, Human from Earth?”
Doran closed his eyes and a tear escaped, splashing upon his cheek. “Doran Biggleroot.” He answered.
“What an unfortunate name,” she assessed immediately. “I am called Sevriana.” She cupped his face in her great and clammy hand, and with her knotted thumb she wiped away the tear. She raised it to her lips, and Doran took a breath, awaiting his fate.
There was a hiss, and a flicker of her tongue. And she tasted the tear.
Her dark eyes widened, and the thrashing winds calmed to a sighing breeze. “You are also born of kin to the Sea,” she whispered.
It was in this moment that the waters calmed. Xarian began to stir on the ground, followed by Rhazgul who was holding his head, as if from a Bloomy hangover. Streams of water flowed up Aria’s body and into her mouth, and her eyes soon grew less dull. Her instincts having returned, she backed away from the water’s edge and went to help her fallen compatriots to their feet.
“I shall open the Vault for you,” spoke the Siren. “But you must know one thing.” She paused and turned toward Aria. “Once open, you may enter the Vault and harvest the knowledge you require. But once you depart, the Vault will destroy itself. My Sisters and I will be free to return to the sea, our duty fulfilled. Whatever secrets remain behind, they will remain lost for all eternity. Do you understand?”
The Professor nodded in agreement.
“Let us go.”
The four Magicians followed the Sirens to the river’s edge. Speaking a sibilant word, the Sirens summoned a host of rune-covered stones from its depths. All came tumbling upward from the crashing river, and all twirled for a while in midair. The Magicians could see that each block’s edges were still knife-sharp, despite the eons of rushing water. Slowly, seamlessly, each block slotted itself into place, forming an ornate and beautiful bridge.
Once across, they made their way into a well-hidden passage in the stone, one which led them down through a narrow curving passage which opened into a great chamber. At its end stood a colossal round door, etched with a weathered menagerie of opulent carvings. Depicted were each of the Founding Wizards and the union of The House of Spectra, The House of Killdorian, The House of Grimthane, and the House of Vex. Other, less distinct illustrations crowded it from edge to edge. Dwarfed by its size, they stood in awe.
The Sirens now stood in front of them. The third one spoke once more.
“Long ago, in a time before Mortals, the only creatures within Elarra’s Embrace were Magic-Kind. It was so on this world, and it was so on those that live beyond the furthest star. It was a time, I say, before Mortals – but not a time before Elarrans. And not a time before Humans.” She bowed her head toward Doran Biggleroot. “Mortals were not always so. Your people, too, were Magic-Kind. But as they grew in numbers and divided into territories reaching from one corner of their worlds to the other, they used their powers in corrupted ways. Often in a bid for power. Sometimes to wage devastating wars where the gift of life itself seemed…” She surveyed her thoughts carefully before continuing.
“…Recklessly disposed of.”
The Consuls stood transfixed by the story, which seemed to illustrate, even animate itself before them. Gleaming water flowed from channel to channel in the carvings of the great round door behind her. “Magic itself cannot be used for such unnatural wiles,” she continued. “It resists. Should its purpose of sustenance and nurturing be manipulated instead toward acts of destruction and death, Magic itself grows weak. It is as a flower planted in barren sand. It cannot flourish, it cannot provide, it cannot live, and thus it dies. Magic wielders, once great and powerful, were rendered powerless. As Magika slowly vanished from their worlds, so did their union with it and they fell into a state of simply being Mortal, forevermore.”
She stood with them now, facing the doors, gesturing toward the carved murals. “These Four Founders were the first Great Magicians of their people to ever set foot on Elarra. They came to this place, the site of what would become the Academy, by using powerful portals. Four different Magicians from four different worlds. Each one determined that Elarra, this untouched world, would not ever meet the same Magicless fate. Their hope was to save us, to save the Old Magic…” Her voice trailed. “At least that’s how it began.”
She stepped toward the door, and each of her Sisters took their place at either side of it, hovering atop great stone urns. The third Siren whispered quietly, though her voice seemed to fill the chamber. “The four Magicians, together, made an oath. An oath to lock away their stories. Stories of fear, and of horror, and of the eradication of millions of magical creatures across the planes of space and time. Together, using Elarra’s untrammeled and primordial Old Magic, they created immense Portals. They used them to leap to other worlds and bring dying magical creatures here, to Elarra, as a last effort to preserve them. But this was sacred knowledge, kept far away from prying eyes and tainted hands.”
Aria spoke, in a voice nearly monotone with shock. “I am an Elarran, and I am Mortal. Your story suggests that Elarrans like myself… even Humans like Doran… were once magical creatures. Our ancestors lived harmoniously with Magic. We cherished the Magika around us. It sustained us, as it sustains you. Despite all that, we are not of a magical nature anymore. Why? Why was that taken from us inherently? Why were we severed from that bond? We know nothing of war or struggles for power. We know nothing of the sins of other worlds. You said,” spat Aria, her normally soft voice now rising with anger, “Elarra was untouched. Untainted. Protected. That was why the Four Founders came here, wasn’t it? To protect Elarrans from that same severance, that same Magicless, Mortal fate!”
The Siren Spirit spoke softly, “It is true, your kind was once Magical. And there was protection. For a time. Of all Mortals, Elarrans were the last to suffer the plight of Mortality. But, you carry the consequences of one of your own.”
Aria held her hand to her chest. “I don’t understand. One of my kind? You said the Four Founders were the first Great Magicians of their people to walk this land. That they were born of other worlds.”
The Siren shook her horned head, and a cascade of droplets fell from it. “No, wise child. It is true, I said that each was the first Great Magician to set foot on Elarra. But one was the first Elarran to become a Great Magician.”
A sharp breath pushed past her lips as if she’d been dealt a blow to the stomach. “Vex?”
The Siren did not answer. She cast acknowledging glances to either side of her, took hands with her Sisters in waiting, then released. On each side of the vast circular door, the Sirens began to spin like cyclones, funneling up into the air, then splashing downward into the great urns beside the door. With that, the door came to life as illuminated water shot through the small crevices engraved within the stone, lighting up each as it passed, creating a gleaming kaleidoscope of forgotten history. The third Siren pressed her forehead to the hub of the circle, and the waters wriggled into new channels that seemed to know no pattern. Seemingly random lines, mere parts of pictures: the curve of a blade, the flank of a beast. The trunk of an alien tree, the hip of a mother. The door to a ship, the rim of a cup, the crater of a moon, the tongue of a flame. But in these lines, in all the chaotic illustrations of all the chaotic history, a new design was revealed, one entirely symmetrical. A great and intricate mandala that radiated from the hub, pinpoints of light sparking at regular intervals. The door shook and released with a tremendous groan as it rolled aside back to finally reveal the Vault of Chronicles.
To be Continued
February 21, 2015