I grasped a pure, white claymore in both of my hands, widening my feet for a grounded stance and holding the handle around waist-level in front of me, allowing the blade to protrude some distance ahead.
I took a deep breath, tasting the rain of the pouring storm, and sighed. My black jacket, while thin, prevented the water from seeping in, soaking and freezing me for the most part, but the same couldn’t be said for my jeans or my shoes.
The man who stood some distance opposite me was dressed up in a manner of your stereotypical Grim Reaper, black robes and all. However, they were at least slightly more practical, since they seemed to actually fit his body properly and didn’t go too far past his knees. Of course, one could claim this technically means he’s wearing a raincoat, and not robes, but I know Death-hoods when I see them, and this cat was pimping his out as good as it gets.
He also had a scythe about as long as I was tall, which is just under six feet. It was ornately-carved with the impressions of crescent moons and hawks, and the entire body was a midnight blue, pulsating and emanating with Dark energy.
His scythe was, at this moment, held over his shoulder casually, supported lazily by the weight of his right arm.
“You know, buddy,” I said, speaking the first words of our first meeting, “This isn’t a costume party. There was a great one around here a few months ago, but walking around looking like that is gonna give people the wrong idea.”
The reaper chuckled, albeit briefly. I couldn’t see his face through his hood, but I had a feeling that was going to change soon.
“And you shouldn’t be around here at all.” he said, “I’m searching for a fugitive from the law, see?”
I raised an eyebrow. “I don’t see a badge on you, reaper-boy. You don’t look like Royal Guard to me. Don’t see what gives you the right to boss me around.”
The reaper moved up his left hand to remove his hood. Surprisingly enough, he wasn’t wearing some skull mask or some bullshit like that: he mostly looked like a normal guy. Well, a normal guy with extremely dark skin, medium-cut hair the color of the fucking moon, darker-than-black eye whites, and bright, scarlet irises that I found uncannily familiar.
“My name is Nalia Hector Cynd,” he said, grinning widely as he emphasized his surname, “And that alone gives me the right to boss you around.”
Cynd name. Shit.
I’m about to fight the fucking prince.
“Well, I’m sorry to get in your way, your Highness.” I professed, inlaying enough sarcasm in my tone so that he knew I wasn’t sorry at all, “But my name is also sort of a big deal. The fugitive you’re after is family- my family. And I’m going to find them first.”
“Not if I kill you here,” Nalia said simply, “Give me thirty seconds and I’ll have you bleeding out where you stand. Boy.”
My shoulders shook with the force of my laughter.
“You aren’t the only proficient fighter here.” I said, stepping toward him slowly, “I can’t say I’ve killed a royally-bred fuckboy with a scythe before, but there’s a first time for everything.”
Nalia pulled the scythe from off his shoulder and grasped it with both of his hands, holding it casually in front of him as I came closer. His grin had teeth now- he seemed excited at the prospect of this, of cutting me open, and I realized my own expression mirrored his. We were both excited about this.
Am I crazy? Or is this just the adrenaline speaking?
“You have some heart, don’t you?” Nalia asked, “What’s your name?”
“Michael Lockheart,” I replied coolly, “And if you want heart, I can show you a lot more. I can show you yours when I rip it out of your chest.”
Might be a little crazy.
Nalia laughed as he lifted his scythe over his head. “So be it, Lockheart!” he shouted, “Let’s see what you’re made of!”
About a thousand thoughts ran through my head before he swung at me for the first time. Among them was the idea that nothing matters now, because I’ll be coming out of this encounter either a dead man or a criminal.
But in the moment, that didn’t bother me. Not only was I too excited at the prospect of skewering this royal douche to care, but the reason I was there on that rainy night in the first place overrode any purpose I’d ever had in my life prior.
I guess I should explain that part first, shouldn’t I?
Season One: Recursion
Episode One: Optimistic Sun
My name is Michael Lockheart, but you knew that part already.
I woke up the week after I heard the news feeling the same way I had the very same day I found out: bitter, hollow and sad.
What you don’t know is why you’re reading this at all. At least, not yet.
I was shirtless and covered in a sheen of sweat, as one usually is after sleeping under a well-insulated cover in a well-heated room. After throwing off my cover and letting my feet rest on the floor, I rubbed my eyes and took a good look around my bedroom. Miscellaneous posters decorated the sky-blue wall, my clothes were in two separate piles across the room (one pile was clean, one pile was dirty, and on occasion I forgot which was which), and the occasional random item decorated the black carpet, like my smartphone, which blended in perfectly with the color of the floor and that I damn near stepped on just now.
I reached down to grab the device and hit the unlock button, getting blasted in the face with blinding light for a few seconds before I remembered to turn down the brightness to adjust for my eyes, which were very much still in sleep mode.
The date onscreen read March 10th, P-132.
Our date system may seem a little familiar, but there’s a few key distinctions that need to be made. “P” stands for “Post”, and our year system changed after the Fall of Blusk, an ancient tragedy that took the lives of our second King, Maximilian Cynd II, as well as the original 9 members of the Royal Guard. One of those 9 was my oldest direct Ancestor and the Commanding Officer of the force- Vincent Lockheart.
Years prior to the Fall of Blusk are called “B” years, which stands for “Blusk” (no surprises there) and went on for a full 396 years before the Fall. Blusk was the first human settlement on our planet, called Trine, and it’s situated at the bottom of a valley. During the Fall of Blusk, Max and his Royal Guard engaged in an unexplained battle with powerful enemies who were never seen again. Their motives remain unknown to this day.
However, the battle ended with the disappearance and apparent death of our King and strongest warriors. Our first, grand city was inexplicably flooded and frozen in unbreakable ice, and the entire valley has since become a great lake, with the rest of humanity having moved to occupy the rest of the world, a supercontinent we call The Mainland.
And the time on my phone read…5 PM!?
“How fucking long did I sleep?” I whispered to myself. “Shit. I’m not gonna get anything done today, am I?”
However reluctantly, I re-locked my phone and forced myself to my feet. My bare feet stepped steadily across the carpet, avoiding the occasional item on the floor, such as a wireless gamepad and empty bowl as I made my way out of my bedroom. Just across the hall outside was the door to my bathroom, which I leaned against and pushed through.
Thanks to the house’s heating, the tiled floor wasn’t much colder than the rest of the place, but it was still enough of a difference for my feet to notice, and I involuntarily winced at myself in the mirror.
I stared for a minute, contemplating my reflection as many do when they’re just waking up. The Lockheart Family, like other strong bloodlines on Trine, had a notable few features to set them apart: a Darkness elemental Affinity, fast-growing hair, and bright-white irises that many would confuse for cataracts from a distance. I shared most of these qualities, but there was one key difference that just about everyone I met felt the need to point out: my eyes were mismatched.
My right eye was pure Lockheart- that is, white iris with the smallest black ring as a border. That alone would be enough to draw attention to me in a well-lit room. My left eye is where I visually deviate from the rest of my bloodline: the color of amber. It’s from my father, and I don’t particularly like to think about him when I don’t have to.
Besides that, my skin is a few shades above pale. I don’t go out as much as I should, to be honest.
Watching my reflection, I reached behind my neck to undo a thin, black chain holding a small pendant: white marble in the shape of the Lockheart Family Crest. The crest is a small, stylized heart with a keyhole in the center. The chain around my neck was intended to symbolize the chains of the lock, and if I didn’t love my family the way I did, I’d find the whole getup too pretentious to wear on a daily basis.
As I kicked off the rest of my clothes and began showering, the first thing I attended to was my hair. Lockheart hair has this funny tendency to grow seemingly constantly, and despite the fact I’d cut my own hair short literally two weeks ago, prominent, clumped-together strands of black were already coming in from the top of my line of sight. I brushed it out of the way in irritation, pulled it back and grabbed shampoo to begin the lathering process.
So, as much as I’m sure you like to think about my shining, naked body, there’s a thing that probably needs explaining.
Elemental Affinities are shared by all of the peoples of Trine. As one would imagine, having an Affinity allows one to harness a particular element, of which there are nine.
People with Light Spectrum Affinities flourish in bright, hot environments and use magics, techniques and weapons that utilize their Affinities. They are simultaneously strong and weak against their opposites. People with Dark Spectrum Affinities prefer darker, colder environments and also utilize various magics, techniques and weapons that utilize their Affinities. You can guess who they’re the opposites of.
The Base Elements are much rarer, but also quite special. With no particular weakness to any one element or environment, Base Element Affinities enjoy having no real disadvantages in most battles. They’re typically quite a bit stronger than most, too, especially Earth element users. Many say that having a Base Affinity is ideal for this reason.
An interesting thing to note is that all elements are created by some mixture of Light and Darkness. Earth, for instance, is created where a perfect 1:1 ratio of Light and Dark energy combine into one. The creation of other elements work with their own ratios, but I’ve never been enough of a Math guy to want to explain all this to anybody so I’m not gonna.
If one were able to harness both Light and Darkness, however, they would be able to use all Nine Elements. This is called being a “Sage”. Outside of the Cynd Royal Family, unfortunately, nobody has ever exhibited these abilities.
At least, not that I’m aware of.
After finishing my shower, I finished up the rest of my morning routine and crashed on the couch in the living room, staring blankly at a TV screen I hadn’t yet found the motivation to turn on. I looked at my phone again, opened my messaging app.
The name Michelle Lockheart occupied the topmost conversation window. Not that she’d responded to me any time recently: the most recent message was yet another text from me, asking where she was, if she was okay, if she was even alive.
It had been that way for a week: a week ago, my older sister left our shared apartment and disappeared off the radar completely. There was no warning, no fight. Not even a goodbye.
One day she was here, the next she was gone. And while I knew in my heart that she wasn’t dead, I also knew she wasn’t okay, and it was ripping me apart inside to know that she had left without asking me or our brother for any help.
I just wanted my sister to come home.
Through an app on my phone, I turned on my TV and switched to one of many news channels.
After about ten minutes of bland stories concerning everyday happenings that passed right through me, news broke with a story that very quickly caught my attention.
“Richter Lockheart, Commanding Officer of the Royal Guard and next in line to become Head of the Lockheart Family, has disappeared from his duties.” Said the newscaster, a slim man with wavy brown hair and blue eyes. His name was Percy Alizarin, and he was a noted pundit for the Perch News Network, a national network that covered the entirety of major world events in Trine.
“The cause is unknown at the time,” Percy continued, “But it’s rumored to be tied to the disappearance of his older sister, Michelle Lockhear-”
I turned off the TV and sighed.
“You too, Rick?” I muttered to myself, “Come on, man.”
I stood from the couch and sighed again, closing my eyes and trying to calm my rising heart rate.
I’m tired of staying still. I’m tired of being a statue while the world rushes past me.
It wasn’t working. My anxiety and my fear were turning to anger now, which I didn’t have a great track record for keeping in check.
So don’t, I told myself, Don’t. This place, your job, none of this shit matters. Nothing matters until your family is home, together and safe.
I looked toward my apartment’s exit, glaring hard at the polished wood as I pretended to calculate a decision I’d already made.
It’s time to get out of here. Whatever danger Michelle is in, whatever spurred Richter to go after her, it doesn’t matter.
It’s time for me to find them.