Episodes 3 and 4 – No More, No Less

March 3rd, Year P-132.

Colony 1.

Human Colony 1 of Trine is the human capital of the world. It is named “Colony 1” since it was originally a colony from the city of Blusk, which was the first human settlement on Trine.

After the Fall of Blusk, which claimed our first city and our second King, Colony 1 became The Mainland’s new capital. It’s been 132 years since that happened.

Colony 1 has a few points of interest, but the biggest is the new Cynd Palace.

The Cynd Palace of Colony 1 is a massive structure. Its perimeter includes a 2 meter thick, 10 meter tall brick wall that spans the entire radius of the palace. This wall is mostly just there for appearances: the Palace’s real protection is an invisible barrier that covers its entire area in a perfect sphere. Whether flying or digging, breaking through that barrier- much less getting through it without being detected- is impossible.

The Cynd Palace is a marvelous structure, an ancient castle on the outside paved with glorious white and gold marble. The inside of the castle combines the hallowed halls and verticality most would associate with medieval architecture with a few distinctly modern design choices, including hookups for various utilities and dedicated rooms for sports, entertainment, and leisure.

Bordering the Palace are the four Gates.

The East Gate leads directly to a private beach on the shore of the Grand Diamond Lake, named as such for the unbreakable ice that rests hundreds of meters below the surface, inside of which resides our abandoned first city, Blusk, at the bottom of a valley. The properties of the ice- and, in fact, the waters of the Lake itself- are seemingly magical, but we’ll get to that later.

The North Gate leads to Colony 1’s capital city, named Sunder. It’s a thriving metropolis, and thanks to its close proximity to the Cynd Palace, enjoys much tourism and active businesses within its confines. The North Gate is the most strongly-guarded of the four, due to its proximity to so many people.

The West Gate leads directly into a massive farmland. This farmland is closed off to the larger public through thorough electric fencing and an invisible energy barrier to prevent people from flying or falling in and is attended to by employees of the Royal Family. Various crops and livestock are tended to year-round by citizens of Sunder and the surrounding areas- people who are well-compensated for their work and are optionally allowed to bring home a portion of the harvest for certain seasons.

The South Gate borders the Royal Guard HQ. The Royal Guard HQ takes the form of a single, imposing black skyscraper surrounded by a perimeter of various gates and fences. Near the HQ is a large aircraft runway used by both the Royal Family and the Royal Guard, to quickly travel anywhere in Trine, as well as a large network of guarded roads leading in and out of the HQ’s territory, connecting to Sunder and the massive network of highways which, however slowly compared to other forms of travel, lead by car to every other Colony on Trine.

On this day in particular, the Royal Guard HQ is where I happened to be.

The day Michelle Lockheart disappeared, I was there to sit across from Richter Lockheart, Commanding Officer of the Royal Guard, and discuss the day’s events, as well as what he intended to do next.

Richter Lockheart is a taller man with a deceptively thin frame, short-cut blonde hair, and the trademark pearl-colored eyes of the Lockheart Family.

Me?

My name is Nalia Hector Cynd. Prince of Trine.


R-132

Season One: Recursion

Episode Three and Four: No More, No Less


“I’m glad you saw fit to visit me today, Nalia.” Richter said, looking at me with those pearly-white eyes, “My sister going missing, on top of everything else, just feels overwhelming…”

I nodded silently. “Will you need time away from the force?”

Richter froze for the tiniest fraction of a millisecond. Not anything most people would notice, especially not without a trained eye, but I could see every minute twitch on every inch of his body as he formulated his answer in his head.

“I don’t think so, no.” the blonde replied, blatantly lying to his future king with the casualness of one with utmost skill in that area.

“I see.” I replied, saying it in such a way that I saw the goosebumps rise on his exposed right arm. Richter realized that I knew he was lying.

“Is Michelle Lockheart any threat to the safety of the people of Trine?” I asked.

“No.” Richter replied, then paused. His initial answer was a truthful one, and reflexive, but yet again I saw the gears turn in his head as he realized that there was a reason that might not be the case. Richter’s pearl-colored eyes were quite expressive, I found, and I could see the shift in emotion as his thoughts progressed.

“Are you sure?” I asked again.

“Yes. Michelle won’t hurt any innocent people. I swear to you on the Lockheart name.”

Despite his earlier hesitation, he said this one with utmost confidence and certainty.

Michelle won’t hurt anyone directly, sure. But that doesn’t mean she can’t be dangerous in some other way.

What do you know that I don’t, Lockheart?

My gaze bore into his. His eyes and the rest of his body language told me he earnestly believed his missing sister wouldn’t hurt anyone, but he also didn’t seem quite sure about how dangerous she could be, and he had also outright lied to me about his intentions to stay here, at his job.

He’s going to leave to find her, I realized, Before whatever dangerous thing she could do happens. But why wouldn’t he do so as part of the Royal Guard? Does he think it’s something only he can do alone, or is there a reason besides that why he doesn’t want anyone else involved?

I closed my eyes and broke my stare.

“The Royal Family cares deeply about this matter,” I said, standing from my chair in his office and extending my right arm to shake his hand, “Rest assured, we understand if you need anything from us in this trying time. We can also check on your brother, Michael, if you’d like-”

Richter flinched at that. “That won’t be necessary.” he said, hastily shaking my hand.

Interesting.

I allowed my gaze to wander around his office briefly. It was fairly typical of what one would expect- the walls were affixed with the various awards, trophies, and medals he had earned during his life of service to the people of Trine, of art he found interesting, of vinyls he played during long hours of paperwork.

The shelf behind his desk held various framed portraits, including one of himself with both of his siblings, standing between them with an arm around both and a look of complete glee on his face. The woman in the picture, Michelle, on his left, was rolling her eyes and lightly smirking, while the younger boy on his right, Michael, looked at the camera with that half-scowl typical of teenagers. The picture was a number of years old, but I looked at Michael and noticed something quite peculiar: one of his eyes were not the pearl color typical of Lockhearts.

Instead, it was a bright, striking amber.

Very interesting.

I left his office with these thoughts in mind.


The Throne Room (or Hall, more accurately) within the Cynd Palace is a spectacle. A massive window in the back of the room facing East provides a splendid view of the Grand Diamond Lake, and in front of it is a large, ornate throne carved from pure white marble and engraved with gold. Red velvet cushions and padding complete the throne, which rests at the top of a small set of stairs. A white carpet leads the way to the throne from the entrance to the room, while the floor and the walls are pure, black obsidian charged with the energy of my father, the king, Hector Cynd. The walls themselves are plastered with various portraits and paintings- of our ancestors, of magical beasts, of ancient weapons.

During the day, the room is illuminated entirely by sunlight. As the light fades, however, the obsidian of the floor, walls, and ceiling begins to glow and pulsate a light blue from the energy placed into them by the king.

A few hours after visiting Richter Lockheart, I entered the throne room to speak to my father.

The walk to his throne was long and silent. I felt distinctly underdressed- the king was donning his ornate white and gold robes, in addition to his crown, while I was in casual clothes: a simple midnight-blue T-shirt with matching jeans. When I was in front of the stairs, I knelt on one knee and bowed to my father out of respect.

Hector Cynd chuckled at this. “There is no need to bow to me, my son.”

“I’m only showing my due respect, Father.” I replied. “I need to ask you some questions about a matter concerning me.”

He rested his right, closed fist against his face, his elbow propped on an armrest. He leaned into it and scowled ever so slightly as he heard me, “What troubles you, my prince?”

“Michelle Lockheart,” I started, “A member of the Lockheart Family, has disappeared and I suspect she may pose some kind of danger to the people of Trine. Not directly- I don’t believe her to be dangerous- but for whatever reason she’s gone missing, I feel like our people may be endangered. Richter Lockheart hasn’t assigned anyone on the Royal Guard to the search yet, and I believe he plans to abandon his post and start looking for her. Alone.”

My father nodded. “I see.” he said, closing the striking, blood-red eyes that matched mine.

The Cynd Bloodline itself has a few distinguishing visual traits- the only colors our hair and our skin can adapt are purest ivory and ebony, and these can often be switched between generations. My skin is as dark as it gets, while my hair is feathery and white: my father is the opposite, beyond pale with hair the color of deepest darkness. Despite our visual differences, the abilities of our bloodline remain intact: blood that heals all wounds and regenerates whenever lost, alongside the Sage trait that allows us to use all elements to their fullest potential.

“There is only one reason I can think of to be concerned,” Hector said, finally breaking his silence after a few minutes of contemplation. “The Lockhearts all contain fragments of the soul of Vincent Lockheart. This draws them closer together than most families, but in theory, it could also draw them to him.”

I swallowed a knot in my throat. “But that- that could mean-”

“Unparalleled destruction, yes.” Hector said, seeming quite troubled at the thought. “But that’s only an extreme case. I don’t see something like that happening any time soon.”

“But if it’s even possible,” I said, standing to my feet, “I need to do something, now-

Patience.” My father boomed, inlaying his tone with such strength that I felt fear, even though I knew he would never harm me, “Patience, my son. Richter is likely thinking the same thing. For now, rest easy. If Richter Lockheart does leave his post, however…”

Hector closed his eyes. “I’ll need you to find them both and bring them back. Don’t kill them if you don’t have to, but…if the choice ends up being between two lives and between millions, well…”

I nodded solemnly. “I understand, Father. And if I meet any resistance or opponents on the way?”

“Do whatever is necessary. No more, no less.” My father said, “I know that your excitement and your anger can get the better of you when challenged. I’d like you to try and avoid unnecessary bloodshed if you need to chase down the Lockhearts.”

I stared into his eyes. “Thank you for your counsel, Father.” I said, “Hopefully it doesn’t come to that.”

But, as you know, it could and it did.

A week later, Richter Lockheart went off the grid in his search for Michelle Lockheart. The Royal Guard was taken over by a man named Jackson Moreno, a notably ruthless member of the Guard’s higher authority. I didn’t particularly like him, but he was effective, and he immediately started a manhunt for the Lockhearts- including Michael Lockheart, who disappeared shortly after Richter, likely trying to find both of his siblings.

Richter Lockheart is a prodigy. I know that he won’t be found if he doesn’t want to be found, and I also know that he’s one of the strongest fighters on Trine. Unless engaged directly by me or Moreno (with assistance), there’s almost no chance anyone will be able to apprehend Richter, especially not with his fabled Dark Step technique.

I don’t know how strong his siblings are, but I doubt the apples fell too far apart from one another.

This means I had to leave the safety of the palace and start searching for these people on my own. Donning my large, black traveling cloak, which I could use to conceal my energy signature and my massive, celestial blue scythe, I left the Cynd Palace in the dead of night to start searching for the missing members of the Lockheart Family.

Once I heard news of a powerful Darkness user being sighted in Colony 29, I knew I had to get there as fast as possible. Whether it was Richter or Michelle, I had to stop them from endangering themselves and the other people of Trine if I could.

I was willing to do whatever was necessary to accomplish that.

No more, no less.


March 11th, P-132.

By the time I arrived in Colony 29, not only had whoever I’d been alerted to disappeared, but it was absolutely pouring. The last known sighting of the unknown figure giving off powerful surges of Dark energy was in the park downtown, which was empty at this time due to the storm.

As I walked through the grass of said park, the occasional bolt of thunder punctuating my steps, I was lost in thought, trying to figure out just where my target had fled to. I didn’t sense any remainder of their energy here, so they had covered their tracks- why, then, had people been alerted to them in the first place?

Did they want me to come here? Or someone else?

Just as I thought that, I became aware of a figure approaching me from behind. I turned to see none other than Michael Lockheart, one of the three missing Lockhearts, dressed in a black jacket with a soaked white shirt beneath, the ensemble finished with a pair of jeans and the handle of a sword hanging from his back.

Someone didn’t dress for the weather.

Thinking to my own black robes, which were made to conceal my energy signature when travelling, I realized I also wasn’t well dressed for the weather. Not intentionally, at least. It seemed to block out most of the rain.

“You know, buddy,” Michael Lockheart said, staring at me with his white-amber mismatched eyes and grinning widely, “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.”

Up until this point, I’d been watching him carefully, but his cavalier attitude forced a small chuckle out of me. “And you shouldn’t be around here at all,” I responded, “I’m searching for a fugitive from the law, see?”

His face changed at that. He tensed for the briefest second, likely thinking of his siblings, but that hesitation faded quickly. He raised an eyebrow and said, “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.”

Oh, but you’re about to.

I removed my hood.

The shock that crossed Michael Lockheart’s face was a beautiful thing to look at. In just a second, his arrogance disappeared to be replaced by a look of sheer terror. He knew very well who I was before I even opened my mouth, and that also meant he knew exactly what I could do.

“My name is Nalia Hector Cynd,” I said, emphasizing my surname just to solidify the feelings of fear I knew that he had, “And that alone gives me the right to boss you around.”

“Well, I’m sorry to get in your way, your Highness,” Michael said with mock sympathy, changing again to an arrogant smirk I desperately wanted to wipe off his face, “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,” I said flatly, trying and failing to hold back my anger, “Give me thirty seconds and I’ll have you bleeding out where you stand. Boy.”

The arrogant shit started laughing. “You aren’t the only proficient fighter here,” Michael said, grinning wolfishly and showing his teeth rather like I found myself doing, “I can’t say I’ve killed a royally-bred fuckboy with a scythe before, but there’s a first time for everything.”

I pulled my scythe off my shoulder and grasped it with both of my hands, holding it across my chest as Michael continued approaching me. We both knew what was going to happen here. My heart was beating out of my chest and I was so, so excited at the idea of ripping this guy apart.

“You have some heart, don’t you?” I mocked, already knowing who I was about to kill, “What’s your name?

I want you to say it.

“Michael Lockheart,” he responded, unshaken, “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.”

I lifted my scythe over my head and laughed, “So be it, Lockheart! Let’s see what you’re made of!”

For a brief instant, the rain continued to pour as we both remained still. Lightning flashed in the distance, and in the moment before Michael’s feet left the ground, the sound of the thunder reached us with a deafening clap.

As Michael rushed at me, I slashed downward, releasing a crescent of charged Dark energy from my scythe that carved through the dirt beneath our feet. I watched Michael’s eyes widen as the Darkness approached him, and my own did as I saw him dodge it, twisting around it mid-charge and continuing forward, unperturbed.

Shit, he’s fast.

I grasped my scythe at either end of its body, like a staff, as Michael entered melee range and immediately swung for my right side. I grit my teeth as I blocked the heavy blow with the body of my scythe, and I watched Michael carefully.

He adjusted his stance and rotated swiftly. In response, I moved my scythe to block my left side before his claymore crashed into it once again, this time almost hard enough to make me lose my footing. Before he could do that, I pushed with upward the left side of my scythe against his blade, forcing it upward before slashing down with the right.

This time he had to block, holding my scythe’s blade a precarious inch from penetrating his skull by pressing his left hand against the flat end of his blade (in addition to his right on the handle) and holding it against my scythe.

Despite how close he’d come to death, or perhaps because of it, he was shaking with excitement, a look of depraved joy on his face, his grin no less predatory now than it was before we started fighting.

I realized that I was no different. We were both soaking in the pouring rain, but every synapse in me felt like it was on fire, fighting this man. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to kill him if it meant that I’d never feel this excited again.

We both leaped back, panting with barely-controlled excitement. I became aware of my Darkness energy pulsating ever-stronger from my scythe, and that’s when I realized something.

“You aren’t using your powers.” I accused, “Where’s that fabled Lockheart Darkness I hear so much about? You’re the descendant of Vincent Lockheart- in fact I think that’s even Murzim you’re wielding- and I haven’t seen any of it!”

Michael smirked and gave a light shrug, grasping his claymore one-handed and allowing it to rest at his right side. “To be honest,” he said, “I’m not sure I need it yet.”

That arrogant little shit-

“Though speaking of,” Michael continued, furrowing his brow and biting his lower lip absentmindedly, “Why are you using Darkness only? Cynds, as far as I know, can use all nine of the Elements.”

He paused, smirked, “Are you holding back? Or are you the runt of the pack, only capable of using one element?”

I chuckled lightly at his insinuation. “I’m holding back, yes. I don’t need to call on my mastery of the nine Elements to strike you down.” I held my scythe horizontally in front of me, presenting its full glory to my opponent, “Celeste here and the Darkness she holds will be more than enough for you.”

Michael began to walk forward casually, taking a step at a time. His face still seemed relaxed and confident- is he really going to use that claymore one-handed? Is he really that confident?

I watched him carefully, watching his movements, waiting for him to tense up. At any moment, I was sure, his grip would tighten and his stance would change and he’d move to rapidly cover the distance between us.

Instead, he stopped right in front of me, within arm’s reach. He stared directly into my eyes, and I returned his gaze, taking deep, controlled breaths while doing so. I timed my blinks with his. I waited for the moment the calm would break.

“I’m not usually like this,” he admitted, “But there’s something about you. Something about you that really makes me want to see what you look like, broken and bleeding at my feet.”

He said it with utmost sincerity. Not even malice, really- he seemed just as confused about it as I was. And, I found myself admitting aloud, “I feel the same way.”

“Good.” He said, that insufferable smirk returning, “I wanted to be sure before I did this.”

I saw him tense before he did it. I was watching. I was ready the entire time.

But my heart skipped a beat when I realized that I had far underestimated his speed. And I had the time to think, but not to move, when I further realized that I had made a grave mistake in assuming his Elemental Affinity based on his lineage.

With a surge of Light energy that multiplied his already-great speed, Michael Lockheart slashed his claymore one-handed, tearing the weapon across my chest. In the time it took me to stumble backward and raise the body of my scythe to a defensive position, he was in the windup of another swing.

Quickly channeling the Light energy inside me to boost my speed and reaction time, I dodged swiftly to his left side and swung my scythe horizontally, hoping to gut him.

He moved faster still, sidestepping out of the range of my swing and spinning with the momentum of his claymore. In the midst of his spin, he resumed his two-handed on the white blade and swung it down with brutal force.

In my state of heightened reaction time, I could count the droplets of falling water between us. The world moved in slow motion, but he didn’t. I was moving my scythe to block his downward swing as fast as I could, but comparatively, I was moving underwater while he was as fast as ever.

Barely- just barely- I blocked his claymore by raising my scythe, horizontally, in front of my face. His blade clashed against it with a force that shook me to the core.

I realized quickly that Michael Lockheart was an actual threat to me, and I needed to change my tactics fast.

I released a pulse of Dark energy from Celeste, causing Michael to swiftly leap back and create distance between us. The confident smirk, surprisingly, was gone- his brow was furrowed in concentration and he was pacing himself with slow, deep, measured breaths. He was clearly taking me seriously now.

I closed my eyes and extended my senses into the dark night around us. While being a Cynd meant that I had access to all Nine Elements, I was most in tune with Darkness thanks to my mother. This Darkness Affinity came in handy because it allowed me to extend my senses to the Darkness around us.

I was aware of every shadow cast on that dark, stormy night. Within the radius that Michael and I were fighting, I was now essentially omniscient- especially since the way he radiated Light off of his person pretty much told me exactly where he was at all times.

“You’re going to fight me with your eyes closed?” Michael asked.

I nodded.

I heard his heart pump faster and felt him tense. He was angry. Good. Angry means predictable.

Once again, Michael advanced on me with incredible speed, but before he even reached me I raised my scythe to counter. His claymore clashed against it as expected, an attempt at bisecting me failing miserably.

I felt his energy fluctuate, and without opening my eyes, I rotated swiftly and slashed, splitting his chest open with my scythe as I did so.

I opened my eyes and watched him crash to the ground, observing the extent of the wound on his chest. He was bleeding quite profusely, and I had little doubt I had torn through his pectoral muscles when I had wounded him.

I stared down into his eyes, observing him coldly as he panted and covered his chest with his left, free hand, swearing under his breath and trying vainly to stop the pain from overwhelming him. He still grasped his claymore with his right hand, so hard his knuckles were white and his grip was trembling.

“You’re going into shock.” I informed him, simply, “If you don’t receive medical attention soon, you will die.”

“Fuck you!” Michael spat. He pushed himself into a sitting position, still clutching at his split chest as if it would stop the blood from flowing through his fingers.

“You still have the energy to get away.” I said flatly, “You don’t need to die here, Lockheart.”

“So you’re all talk, then?” Michael taunted, that infuriating smirk on his face again, “You were hot shit earlier! Where’s that killing intent you were so eager to show me?”

I frowned down at him. “It was spur of the moment. I’ve no particular inclination to kill a wounded, defenseless man. I just want to find your siblings.”

“Yeah?” Michael panted, “Yeah, well I haven’t changed my fucking mind. I still want to make a Royal Skewer out of you.”

I chuckled. “You’re on death’s door and you’re still trying to provoke me? Are you an idiot?”

Michael shrugged. “Maybe,” he said, removing his left hand from his chest, “But not as much as you are.”

Wait, he’s not bleeding anymore-

In a flash, Michael threw his claymore at me, one-handed. The speed of his throw and the unexpected timing of his attack meant that I only had time to move slightly to the left, stopping the blade from penetrating my heart but failing to prevent it from impaling me through the right side of my chest.

The force of the blow and the sudden pain that followed caused me to pivot with the force of the blade and lose my grip on my scythe. I regained my footing before I fell and howled in agony, grabbing the handle of the blade inside of me and pulling it out, feeling it tear through my chest as the right side of my body went near-completely numb.

“You little shit!” I snarled, “I was going to spare you!”

Michael laughed at me as he fell back to the grass, spreading his arms wide. He kept laughing as he lost consciousness. Whatever healing spell he had cast had only sealed the wound I’d dealt to him. The internal damage and the shock that came with it had not been mitigated.

I felt his Light start to fade as he fell deeper into oblivion. I wanted to take more joy in this than I did.

I dropped his claymore to the ground and fell to my knees. I realized that I, too, wasn’t going to be able to maintain consciousness with the severity of my wounds.

What a spiteful little shit. He’s going to die, and the last thing he chose to do was try to take me with him instead of accepting my mercy.

Now I had to laugh, too. In a twisted sort of way, it was hilarious, and it told me worlds about the kind of man I had just fought.

I actually think I’ll miss you, you crazy son of a bitch.

The rain pouring on my body grew colder. I felt it sapping the warmth from my body and realized that my eyelids were much too heavy to keep open.

I fell on my face.

My senses of the Darkness around us were the last thing to fade. Through them, I could clearly envision us splayed out in the grass together, mortally wounded and bleeding out in the pouring rain.

There was a kind of beauty in it.