Standing in the rain some distance from me was a man dressed like 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 Darkness.
So he has a Darkness Affinity. Got it.
His scythe was, at this moment, held over his shoulder casually, supported lazily by the weight of his right arm.
I grasped a pure, white claymore in both of my hands, widening my feet for a grounded stance and holding the handle at waist-level in front of me, allowing the blade to protrude in the reaper’s direction.
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.
Around my neck was a thin, black chain holding a small pendant: white marble in the shape of the Lockheart Family Crest. The Lockheart Family Crest is a small, stylized heart with a black keyhole in the center. The chain was meant to symbolize the chains of the lock or whatever, and if I didn’t love my family like I did, I’d find it too pretentious to wear on a daily basis.
“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.”
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 our moons, 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.”
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?
Don’t worry. It’ll only take a few minutes.
Disc One: [RE]vival
Track 1: World Gone Topsy-Turvy
The Previous Day.
March 10th, P-132.
In the hundred thirty-two years since the Fall of Blusk, human colonies are spread all across The Mainland. A few of them even reside outside of it, in islands not far from the coasts of The Mainland…and, in fact, in a few islands we found floating above the Grand Diamond Lake and beneath the clouds about fifty years ago.
Nobody knows why or how the islands float, and together they form the city of “Lamass”, named for the legendary Great Beast of Wind.
The city of Lamass is where my sister, Michelle, and I lived before everything went to shit. She vanished without a word. Once our brother, Richter, also disappeared a week later, I decided I needed to head out.
Two hours after hearing the news, I left my apartment with my bag in tow.
The Royal Guard was already out looking for me. I would later learn that this was because I had been being monitored since Michelle’s disappearance, and as soon as Richter (my brother and their CO) disappeared as well, they were at my doorstep.
Even though I didn’t know the specifics at the time, however, I did know that I would be followed and people would be coming after me. My brother, thorough as he was, had taught me a lot over the years, and that included how to disappear whenever it was necessary.
By the time I arrived at that airport, I was already outfitted with a fake ID, passport and burner phone my brother had left for me, in addition to blue contact lenses that obscured by actual eye color. I also changed the rest of my outfit to match: some blue jersey for some sports team people liked and loose, baggy blue jeans replaced my usual Lockheart colors ensemble.
Once I brushed my long, black hair back and added a baseball cap to the mix, my disguise was complete: I looked like some generic white kid catching a plane. Which I hated. My jacket, the rest of what I normally liked to wear, and my inherited claymore were all in a large sports bag I was dangling loosely from my right side.
After idling at the Airport for a few hours, I caught a plane under the name of Jeremy Fraser. Jeremy Fraser was an obnoxious frat bro that had only come to the islands chasing tail, and was now heading back to his home in the White Mountains out of disappointment that hadn’t worked for him.
I didn’t catch any trouble at the airport. A few Royal Guard members were around, but no more than normal, and I passed through security with only minimal questions and checks. Jeremy Fraser, according to the Royal Guard systems, was a frequent flyer, after all. Seeing as he hadn’t blown up any planes and carrying weapons was normal behavior in Trine (due to the abundance of dangerous magical creatures), nobody gave me any issues on my way through.
I also knew Royal Guard protocol. By the time I got onto the plane, they would still be searching the island for signs of Michael Lockheart, so they could peacefully bring him in and try to find out what had happened to his siblings.
They wouldn’t be scanning airports for fake identities, especially not a fake identity created and maintained by their missing Commanding Officer for the sake of his younger brother.
It was late at night, so the plane ride was relatively quiet. Couples whispered silently to each other in their seats, the hipster sitting to my right was bobbing his head to music playing from his earbuds, and I stared outside the window to my left, taking deep breaths as the plane surfed over the clouds.
Looking upward through the window, I could see our two moons, Solum and Serenus, alone in our night sky. They, alongside the planet we live on and the lone star we orbit around, are the only celestial entities in an otherwise empty universe.
Looking down through gaps in the clouds, I could see an endless blue ocean and a good portion of The Mainland, the supercontinent that holds all known life on Trine. Unable to be seen from my angle, but beneath me nonetheless, was the Grand Diamond Lake.
Once upon a time, the Grand Diamond Lake wasn’t a lake at all. It was a valley from which humanity was born, where we formed Blusk, our first city. Located precisely in the center of The Mainland, Blusk and its valley was flanked and overseen by the rest of the world.
What we now think of The Mainland wasn’t always this way. Before we colonized outside of the valley, the land above was ruled by magical creatures and their leaders, known as the Great Beasts. The Great Beasts are said to have created the world of Trine, but…
Nobody knows what happened to them. They’re figures of legend more than anything at this point- Nine Great Beasts corresponding to the Nine Elements. While ample evidence of their existence is out there, they disappeared a long time ago.
Other Nines include the Nine Ancient Families and the Nine Ancestors of those families, who formed the original Royal Guard.
At the end of Year 396 on the Royal Calendar, now known as B-396, the Fall of Blusk happened and changed everything.
Our second King, Maximilian Cynd II, disappeared alongside the original nine members of his Royal Guard. The valley was flooded completely, becoming the Grand Diamond Lake, where the ruins of Blusk remain, frozen and forgotten at the bottom.
Following these tragedies, Hector Cynd, our third and current King, took the throne and led humanity to colonize the rest of The Mainland.
My eyelids were getting heavy and I sighed.
You need to sleep, I told myself.
But what if they catch me?
Don’t be stupid.
By the time they suspect anything, you’ll already be in the wind.
March 11th, Year P-132.
I woke up the next afternoon in a motel rented under the name of my alias. While Richter had gone out of his way to set up the fake identity and funds for that fake identity, he, unfortunately, didn’t leave me any people to go in case I had to go on the run.
I sighed, pressing my head back against my pillow and closing my eyes. I was splayed in the same position I’d fallen asleep in- fully-clothed, spread wide across the bed. I hadn’t even bothered to blanket up or change.
I allowed my mind to drift back to Richter. The only reason he’d done something so elaborate as setting up a fake identity for me was because, in his words, we both needed to be prepared for the world going topsy-turvy at any moment. That included, perhaps, the Royal Guard being compromised and both of us needing to go off the grid.
Is it compromised now? Is that why he and Michelle disappeared?
I gave an exasperated sigh. Try as I might, I could never quite put myself in Richter’s head. He was one of my favorite people in the world, but actually understanding or predicting him was another matter, especially when it came to something like this.
I at least imagined that he would have monitoring in place to know when the Jeremy Fraser identity was finally used. Maybe he’d use that to find me, or reach out to me? My brother didn’t strike as the type to give me a “disappear forever” key without at least a few attached conditions.
I thought again of my brother. And Michelle.
I wish I still had my phone. I could check if she’s texted me yet…
But I knew she hadn’t. I’d checked about a dozen times before chucking my smartphone yesterday. I’d texted her multiple times a day for the entire week after she disappeared, and nothing. There wasn’t a fight, or a warning. One day she was my sister, encouraging me to be my best self and nudging me to get my own place…
And the next day, she was gone.
Ten Years Ago.
“This is stupid.” I groaned.
Richter laughed in response. “Are you kidding, Mike? Pick up the slack, we’re going to miss the bird show if you keep dragging your feet. Michelle’s already there!”
I was fourteen years old, and as a teenager balls deep in my exaggerated angst phase, I hated being outside for extended amounts of time, especially in crowded, public places like this one. My older brother, Richter, was seventeen, and back then he had long blonde hair and tanned skin, in contrast to my black hair and our sister’s brown.
We were at the Divine Garden Zoo in Sunder, the first human colony outside of the valley. (By extension, this makes it the capital of The Mainland.) The Divine Garden Zoo was host to all sorts of animals on display, many of which were said to be descended from the followers of the Great Beasts. The sun’s oppressive heat shone down on Sunder today, and while the animal enclosures were tailored to each creature’s natural habitat, the concrete walkways outside were being blasted with enough heat to cook an egg.
I followed Richter regardless, quickening my pace ever so slightly so I didn’t lose sight of his back. I let the scowl on my face loosen, since I was enjoying myself a little bit, but then I turned to the left and saw the coyote exhibit.
These coyote dogs were said to be descended of Cyria, the Great Beast of Light. According to legend, Cyria is a wolf composed of golden Light energy and scarlet Lightning coming through his eyes and his teeth. He led a pack of similar wolves known as the Golden Fang, and due to his nature as living Light, he was capable of reaching unsurpassed speeds in combat.
The coyotes I saw weren’t composed of Light energy, but you could tell if you paid close attention that they ever-so-slightly radiated it, and they blasted around their enclosure at speeds far above those of a typical canine.
Their eyes, like my left, were a golden amber. I stared into the eyes of one and felt disgust piling in my stomach, remembering the man who had told me the legends of the Golden Fang and how much I hated him.
“Michael? Are you alright?”
I snapped out of my thoughts, realizing I had stopped in place to glare at the coyotes. Richter had come back for me and the blonde looked mildly concerned.
“Sorry,” I said quickly, “Let’s go. I wouldn’t want to miss Michelle.”
I joined his side and started walking in pace with him. “What was on your mind?” my older brother asked, clearly still concerned.
“Nothing,” I lied, “Or, at least, nothing important.”
“I…don’t entirely believe you,” Richter said, putting an arm around my shoulders, “But I’m here whenever you want to talk about it.”
I exhaled, releasing some of the tension I didn’t realize I was holding inside me.
March 11th, P-132.
I stepped into the motel’s bathroom and stared at myself in the mirror.
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.
Oh, right. The contacts.
Removing the contacts, I gave myself a weary grin in the mirror.
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.
Next off was the pendant, which I didn’t want getting wet in the shower. I’d kept it on under my disguise, just because I never felt quite right without it.
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. Dark Spectrum users flourish in just the opposite environments, and serve as the other side of the coin to Light Spectrum users.
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.
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 stepping out of the shower, I grabbed a towel and dried myself off. Placing the pendant back around my neck and wrapping the towel around my waist just in case, I walked back into the motel’s bedroom and sighed.
In my bag were my actual clothes: a black jacket with a white Lockheart Family Crest on its back, inherited from my grandfather; long-sleeved T-shirts, one white, one gold; and a few pairs of loose jeans.
On the floor to my left was a pile of dirty clothes- the douche disguise. Improvising, I brushed my wet hair back, put on my gold T-shirt, tied the jacket around my waist, and put “Jeremy”s baseball cap back on my head.
Truly, the perfect disguise.
Grabbing the bag with my claymore in it and hoisting it over my shoulder, I decided it was time to head out. It was already afternoon-ish, so I decided to go out to a local bar that my brother and father used to go to. That’d be a good place to unwind and think about my next move.
Jeremy Fraser’s home is called Pallidus.
Pallidus is one of many towns founded along the range of the White Mountains. The White Mountains and the surrounding areas are cold, windy, and snowy at pretty much all times of year. Once humanity left the valley, many with Dark Spectrum Affinities made their way here due to the cold, dark climate.
Outside of the university, dorms and transportation networks, there are a few low-income housing districts, an outdoor strip mall and a local brewery/bar run by a man named Dion James.
I entered Dion’s Bar and took a quick moment to case the room. It was chilly and dimly-lit, likely due to the many Darkness spectrum users who took residence in cold climates, and everyone seemed to be minding their own business, quietly conversing at various tables around the establishment.
A few people were playing on pinball, poker, and arcade machines, while the bar itself was populated by Dion himself and a single man lightly snoring into it. Nobody, Dion included, seemed to mind.
I stepped up to the bar, set my bag down, and sat, observing the menu of drinks above and behind Dion’s head of rich, red hair. The bartender was silent, staring down at a sink full of soapy beer mugs he was in the process of washing. Through the occasional glance he made when he thought I wasn’t looking, I figured he was waiting for me to try and get his attention when I had decided on a drink.
That moment wasn’t coming. Despite being old enough to drink and having been for some years now, I didn’t know what to pick from his menu.
Perhaps sensing this, Dion smoothly drifted to the front of my view and greeted me. “Hello, mister…”
“Fraser.” I said.
“Mister Fraser,” he continued, not skipping a beat, “I haven’t seen you around here before. Are you new in town?”
“No,” I lied, “I usually drink with my buddies. To be honest, I don’t know what to choose from this menu of yours, because I usually just chug whatever they hand me…”
He chuckled lightly at that. “So you came to my bar without any drink recommendations in hand? That’s a shame. Do you mind if I make a recommendation?”
I shook my head lightly, staring into his blue eyes. “Not at all.”
Dion stared back at me and sniffed. “You took a shower before you came here. Lavender shampoo for that hair- it works for you. You’re fresh out of the shower, and you’re out and about in town, but you still look…tired. Sad. Thinking of better days?”
This guy is good.
“Yeah,” I said, surprised and a little bit creeped out that he had gotten a read on me that easily, “So what would you recommend for that?”
“Not to self-promote here,” he said, lightly grinning, “But I’ll think you like my Dionysus Brew. It’s a traditional grape wine, brewed to perfection, purified and aged perfectly with my Water manipulation. I find it’s great for helping one focus on the happy memories instead of getting lost in the bad feelings. Just don’t drink too much of it.”
I nodded. “That sounds good to me. I could use a little bit of happy memories right now.”
I glanced over at a small, ceiling-mounted TV that Dion had mounted above the bar. It played at a low enough volume to be ignored and had closed captioning enabled for anyone who couldn’t hear it.
It was Percy Alizarin onscreen, a slim man with wavy brown hair and blue eyes. He was just a newcaster continuing his daily drabbling, but was through him that I’d learned of my brother going missing yesterday.
Dion handed me his special brew in a tall wine glass and I accepted it graciously, closing my eyes and raising it to my lips.
Ten Years Ago.
The bird exhibit wasn’t too populated- besides me, Richter and Michelle, there were only about ten other people outside of the theoretical thirty-ish the stage could contain.
The man managing the birds didn’t seem to mind, though. He wore a thick glove on his right hand, which a quite large, jet-black hawk was currently perched on. I could feel Darkness energy emanating from it, and I predicted what the handler was going to say before he said it.
“In the days before humanity left the valley and colonized The Mainland,” the handler said, eyeing the hawk with wonder, “Our skies were dominated by three Great Beasts. Lerad of the Sky, Belial of Flame, and Raiju of the Clouds. Lerad was a Hawk composed of living Darkness and held perhaps the greatest mastery over Darkness that any beast or man has ever had.”
I sighed. Yup, know where this is going.
“This breed,” he said, raising his hawk-holding-arm slightly, “Are known as the Inanis. They are said to be descended from Lerad himself, and as many of you have probably felt, emanate Dark energy due to it. Of course, they don’t have even a fraction of the power of their ancestry…but this is interesting, no?”
Michelle chuckled. She loved birds, much moreso than either I or Richter. She had shown us the Inanis breed years ago- since we’re Lockhearts and all, it’s kind of expected for us to be aware of creatures tied to our family’s bloodline affinity.
She had been studying to become an ornithologist for a while, but after what happened to our mother…she’d fallen off that track.
“Miss Lockheart,” the handler said, “Did you have anything you wanted to say?”
Michelle shrugged. “There are a few studies out there on the Inanis that indicate they may share some abilities with their ancestor. Are you aware of them?”
He nodded enthusiastically and smiled. “Yes, in fact! The Inanis are said to be able to sense anything within the shadows around them! Lerad of the Sky was a dangerous foe because he could sense all within the Darkness, and teleport through it!”
The hawk twitched slightly when he raised his voice, but otherwise remained still on his arm.
“Does that mean this hawk can do all of that?” Richter asked.
The handler chuckled lightly and shook his head. “Unfortunately not. They seem to have the sensory capabilities within a small radius, but no teleportation whatsoever. The bloodline has diluted far too much for that ability to remain intact.”
“Are you sure they don’t have the potential?” Richter asked again, crossing his arms, “The Lockheart bloodline has diluted over the years, but we’ve been able to unlock and maintain the techniques of our ancestor through great training.”
The handler shook his head again. “We can’t be sure, but we don’t think so. Lerad was living Darkness energy, which is why he could use the elements in the way that he did. The Inanis may emanate Dark energy, but their bodies are still normal otherwise.”
Richter nodded. Michelle watched the bird carefully.
After the handler moved around to show the bird to everyone, he let the hawk loose. It flew in circles around the crowd and Michelle watched it with a wide smile on her face.
I watched my sister intently.
She wore jet-black jeans and a leather jacket to match, a bright purple T-shirt beneath to contrast. Her arms were crossed around her midsection, and right now she was as happy as I’d ever seen her. Like other Lockhearts, her irises were a pearly white and her skin was on the paler end. Her hair was a lighter brown versus my black and Richter’s blonde, though.
The smile was contagious. I had to smile, too. She never got to be around birds like this in person nearly enough- we were all too busy- but today, on her 21st birthday, Richter had managed to work out a day at the zoo for all of us just so she could.
I watched the hawk circle overhead, too, and found myself lost in my own thoughts. After this, we’d probably take a picture together and head home. Well, Michelle and I would head home- Richter would continue his Royal Guard training, and we probably wouldn’t see him for at least another month.
I loved being around my brother, but those times were few and far between. It seemed he was always…missing.
March 11th, P-132.
“An incredible energy signature…been detected in the Piedra Oscura…residents are recommended to-”
My attention snapped to the TV, out of my nostalgia. Alizarin was reporting sightings of a powerful Darkness user in Piedra Oscura, warning locals to be wary of a mysterious figure.
Or Michelle? Can it be?
Piedra Oscura is a train ride away. It’s gonna be storming like a bitch by the time I get there, but…
“Dion!” I called, lightly smacking the surface of the bar, “I need to head out, how much will this be?”
He looked at me carefully.
“For you, Mister Lockheart…” he said, “Free.”
I nodded and grinned. “Thank you, Dion, I…”
He knows who I am.
Seeing the look of alarm on my face, Dion laughed. “Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me.”
“What gave it away?” I asked. I wasn’t in my usual Lockheart attire, and as far as I knew none of my distinguishing characteristics should’ve been exposed.
“Your eyes,” Dion said, “If you were covering their color with contacts…I think you forgot to put them on before you came here. That pearl color is exclusive to the Lockhearts, and as far as I’m aware the only person with mismatched pearl-amber eyes is Michael Lockheart, who you bear an uncanny resemblance to.”
I took off my contacts when I woke up and forgot to put them on again after my shower.
Man, I’m an idiot.
“Thanks for the pointer.” I said, “I’ll remember them next time. For now, though…”
I grabbed my bag and closed the distance between me and the door pretty rapidly. “I gotta jet!” I said, turning and bolting out of the door and into the rainy night outside.
After tossing the hat, untying my jacket from around my waist and putting it on, I also pulled my claymore out from the bag and secured it to my back.
Feeling- and dressed- like myself again, I ran like a madman to the train station.