Let’s turn back the clock for a little bit. Back to year 395 on the Royal Calendar, or as it will be called in the future, B-395.
The city of Blusk has never been bigger. Humanity has gotten better and better at utilizing the Nine Elements, allowing the increasing urbanization and expansion of our city at the bottom of the valley.
My name is Maximilian Cynd II. I am the son of Maximilian Cynd, the first King of Trine, and I am set to inherit his place on the throne a year from now. My mother’s name to the public is Melinda Cynd, but only a few within the Royal Family know of her true nature.
My mother’s true name is Meiro, of the White Mountains. She is a Great Beast, or perhaps the Great Beast, since she is tied to the Gravity that holds together our very universe. Thanks to this, she is also a Sage, blessed with the ability to utilize all of the Nine Elements simultaneously.
Now, this poses an obvious question: how can I be the son of a human and a snake goddess partially responsible for the creation of the world we live in?
The Great Beasts are creatures born of the Elements themselves. They are the universe’s Elemental Affinities, given form. My mother’s body- all of her bodies- are Gravity, given form. One of these forms was human, human enough to conceive my father’s child and create me, the son of the strongest beings in the world.
Back then, I was happy. Happy as could be.
But you know already how my story ends. You know that I’m fated to disappear in the next two years, the city I call home flooded and frozen and forgotten. You know of the Fall of Blusk by now.
You know what’s going to happen. At least, you think you do.
You know how my story ends, but you don’t know where it begins.
Let’s turn back the clock for a little bit.
Season One: Recursion
Episode Five: Before The Fall
My parents were outside of the valley, attempting to negotiate a settling outside of it with the other Great Beasts. Because of their absence, I was being given a rundown of Kingly duties and wound up spending my days in the Cynd Palace of Blusk, which was virtually identical to the Cynd Palace that would one day be built in Colony 1.
Aside from carrying on the duties of my father, I had my own ideas for Blusk and its governing. I wanted to create a Royal Guard, comprised of elemental masters, dedicated to the protection of the Cynd Royal Family and the human citizens of Trine.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t making much in the way of progress on that front. On that day so many years ago, however, things started to change.
Startled out of my thoughts, I straightened in my throne (technically my father’s…) and stared ahead at the man who had entered the Throne Room and called my name.
Cecil stared back at me with eyes matching my own. Cecil was, in a sense, my brother, albeit not officially: as a son of my father and a concubine, he inherited Cynd bloodline traits and abilities. He did not, however, inherit the name of Cynd. Despite this, he seemed to bear no ill will toward the rest of the family, and since he was older than me he was actually my Advisor.
“Cecil, please.” I said, waving my hand, “Maximilian is our father. Just call me Max.”
Cecil nodded, eyeing me up and down. His skin was the color of ivory and he wore white, flowing robes with golden embroidery and the insignia of the Cynd Royal Family on the back. His eyes, like mine, were the color of fresh blood, and his hair was fluffy, almost feathery, and white. Despite being older than me by some decades, he looked like he wasn’t a day over twenty.
“Yes, your Highness.” Cecil replied.
I winced. “Don’t…call me that either. Max. Just Max.”
He chuckled to himself and nodded. “I’m just messing with you, Max. I have news for you.”
I raised an eyebrow in interest. “Do you?”
“Yes,” he continued, “I’ve been reaching out to people showing extraordinary talent and Elemental energy. One of them responded, and he said he would like to meet you later today.”
“Who would that be?”
“Vincent Lockheart.” Cecil said, presenting a photograph of the man to me.
I looked at it carefully. Vincent Lockheart was a man in his thirties, with striking pearl-colored eyes, pale skin and long, flowing black hair tied in a ponytail behind his head. He looked fairly formal in the photograph, and his face betrayed no emotion whatsoever.
“What’s his Affinity?” I asked Cecil, looking up at him from my seated position.
“Darkness,” Cecil replied, “And no ordinary Darkness, either. He exhibits extreme mastery of it unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I believe even Lerad would be impressed.”
“I’d love to meet him, then.” I said, “Bring him in here in a few hours. I’ll talk to him in private.”
Cecil paused at that and frowned. “Are you sure? This Vincent Lockheart is a deadly one. He trains people like him, people with a Darkness Affinity, to be stealthy. To kill.”
I grinned. “Even better, then. If I’m going to create a Royal Guard, we need the strongest combatants there are. It sounds like this one is quite the fighter. I doubt he’ll pose any threat to me if he tried, anyway.”
Cecil laughed and turned his back to me. “So be it, then. I’ll let him know the good news. I trust you’ll be prepared by the time he arrives?”
I nodded. “Of course.”
As I awaited the arrival of Vincent Lockheart, I was boiling over with excitement. Fresh out of a shower, I stared at myself in the mirror. Unlike Cecil and my father, my skin was the color of deepest darkness. This contrasted with both my blood-red eyes and my spiky, short-cut white hair. On another day, my chin would have little pinpricks of white stubble, but I wanted to be as clean-shaven as possible for my first meeting with a potential member of my Royal Guard.
Unlike Cecil, who is in his fifties, or my father, who is centuries old, I’m quite young. I’m just thirty years old, and thanks to the rate of Cynd aging I barely look like I’ve aged a day above twenty. I’ll probably look like this for a long time, in fact.
After drying myself off and dressing in the white-and-gold robes of the Cynd Royal Family (like Cecil was in earlier), I found myself back in the Throne Room, eagerly awaiting the arrival of Vincent. The sun was beginning to set, so most of the Throne Room was shrouded in darkness. The black, energy-infused marble began to glow in response, illuminating the room with a slight, blue tint.
What should I start with? Should I ask him about his school? Should I open by offering him a place on the Royal Guard? Should I…
“Your Highness.” Said a loud, distinctive, but unfamiliar voice.
Once more, I had gotten lost in my own thoughts. In my mental rehearsals of what I would say when Vincent had finally arrived, I had forgotten to actually keep an eye out for his arrival. My father chides me for that tendency often.
Vincent Lockheart had entered the throne room, walked quite a long way across the carpet in relative silence, and stood about five yards away from me, looking up at my elevated position on my father’s throne.
“Vincent Lockheart,” I said, standing from my seat, “My name is Maximilian Cynd, the Second. You can just call me Max. Do you know why you’re here?”
Vincent was dressed in a closed, black leather jacket, with matching jeans. His hands were in his jacket pockets, and he looked up at me with the same neutral expression he had in the photograph, absentmindedly tapping a brown loafer on the floor as he slowly shook his head. He watched me carefully, awaiting my response.
“I would like to speak to you about your school.” I said, having decided on a starting subject, “What is it exactly that you’ve been teaching your students?”
I saw something change in Vincent’s pearly eyes as he responded. “Self-defense,” he replied shortly, “As you know, a great number of dangerous creatures wander Trine. Some of them find their way into the valley and pose a danger to the citizens of Blusk, so I teach my students the techniques necessary to defend themselves from these creatures.”
He’s lying to me.
“Really?” I questioned, “You see, what I’ve heard is that you’re teaching a little bit more than self-defense. You’re teaching people how to manipulate the Darkness all around us, to conceal themselves. You’re teaching people the way of the blade, how to kill. I haven’t heard any reports of assassins shrouded in the dark yet, but at the rate you’re going…”
Vincent chuckled. “That’s…not entirely accurate. I’m simply training people who share my Darkness Affinity to their fullest potential. The combat training isn’t all I do. People with Darkness Affinities have a lot of similarities, you see…they’re emotional, impulsive, reliant on their connections to their friends and families. I’m simply teaching people how to channel that inner chaos in a more controlled fashion, in a more positive way. I care little how they use my teachings.”
Staring into his white eyes, which were beginning to have almost a glowing effect in the dimming room, I wanted to believe him. I did, in fact. He was being honest with me.
But there was still something he wasn’t telling me. Something he didn’t want me to know.
“What do you want?” I asked him. “Answer me honestly.”
“I want to train people to their fullest potenti-”
I released a surge of Light energy from within my deepest reserves, flooding the room with Light and causing Vincent to wince. Just as quickly as I released it, I withdrew it back into myself but allowed it to gently emanate from my person.
“Do not lie to me, Vincent.” I growled, putting in just enough authority in my voice to let him know I wouldn’t tolerate anything less than the truth.
“I want to defeat the Golden Fang.” Vincent said, not skipping a beat.
Now that’s interesting.
“The Golden Fang? You mean Cyria, the Great Beast and his brethren?”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because Cyria, as far as I’m aware, is the most responsible for humanity living as it does. At the bottom of a valley.” Vincent responded, with clear disdain, “He and his pack of wolves patrol the lands above us, denying humanity entry to the rest of the world.”
“Cyria is a god,” I responded, “And each of the gods are entitled to their parts of the land.”
“Are they?” Vincent retorted. His voice raised in volume and his face showed anger now, which I found quite surprising in comparison to his prior neutral expression. “What makes them better than us? Why are they allowed to rule the world while we’re forced to live at the bottom of a valley?”
“That’s just the way things are.” I replied. I bit my bottom lip regardless, considering what he was saying. I always did find it strange how humanity was restricted to the valley and the city of Blusk. I had exited the valley many times over the course of my life, taken by my mother to visit the various Great Beasts as a child. I had never quite questioned the way things were until now.
Vincent sighed. “If that’s what you think, I’m going to go. I don’t think there’s anything here for me.”
Vincent started to turn.
“Wait!” I said, “You don’t know that yet.”
He stopped and directly into my eyes. “Okay, then. What do you want, your highness?”
“You.” I responded, “I want you to help build my Royal Guard. I want you to train a force to defend humanity from any malicious forces that may threaten it, now or in the future. I want you to teach me and other people with a Darkness Affinity how to reach their full potential.”
Vincent raised an eyebrow. “And why would I do that, if all you’re interested in is maintaining the status quo?”
“If you help me create a Royal Guard, I will arrange a duel between you and Cyria. Cyria is as prideful as they come, and I believe if you were to defeat him in a one-on-one battle he would grant you a wish of your choosing.”
Vincent grinned. “Like allowing humanity to start leaving the valley and to live in his territory.”
“Yes.” I replied, “Like that. If you try to start some war against the Great Beasts, I’ll be forced to stop you. But if you work for me, within the system, you may yet be able to start changing the world in a way you see fit.”
Vincent took his hands out of his jacket pockets and raised his right to his chin, rubbing it as he considered my offer. I became aware that the sun had set completely- the throne room was cast in a celestial blue glow as Vincent came to his decision. “I’ll do it,” he said, “But under one condition.”
“Name it.” I offered.
“Fight me.” Vincent challenged, “If I’m going to work beneath you, I want to see what you’re capable of. If you can land a blow on me, I will agree to lead your Royal Guard.”
I unfastened my robes and allowed them to fall off my shoulders, revealing my bare chest, stomach and arms to Vincent Lockheart. A pair of loose, white cloth pants covered my bottom half, and my feet were bare.
Vincent raised an appreciative eyebrow. “The future King has abs. Good to know.”
A black-and-white handle protruded from his right jacket pocket. Grabbing it with his right hand and a reverse grip, Vincent slowly extracted the most beautiful weapon I had ever seen. It was a katana with a white body and a black heart insignia at the base of the blade, likely his family crest. Having extracted his katana from whatever impossible space it was in, he switched it over to his left hand and gripped it properly.
He held the katana at his left side and waited for me to move.
“Come at me, your highness.” he said, “I’ll give you a chance to end this right away.”
Channeling the Light energy inside me once more, I rushed Vincent Lockheart with incredible speed. I expected him to fight back, but aside from an emanating aura of Darkness from him, Vincent did nothing as I…
Passed through him?
Vincent was on me in an instant, slashing at my back. I twisted rapidly and blocked with my left forearm, channeling my Earth affinity to harden the skin and block the swing of his blade.
Vincent smirked. “Ah, yes. I forget that Cynds can use all of the elements.”
“What was that?” I demanded.
Vincent pulled back his blade and shrugged, a wide smile on his face. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Maximilian.”
I swiped my left arm, releasing a surge of fire at Vincent Lockheart. Once more, he remained perfectly still as the attack harmlessly passed through him. I hardened both of my arms completely and kept my gaze fixed on him, waiting for Vincent Lockheart to make the next move.
“I see you’ve already learned some basic elemental manipulation,” Vincent remarked, casually placing his katana over his shoulder, “But you don’t seem particularly talented with any of them yet. Is it possible that the legendary Cynd bloodline is just a jack of all trades, master of none?”
I saw the attempt at provocation for what it was and remained silent, studying my opponent carefully. I felt his Darkness all around us now, beginning to shroud my peripheral vision and make me feel vulnerable even though I was looking directly at him. The Darkness began to shift but Vincent remained still, his blade still over his shoulder and a smug smile still on his face.
Wait a minute…
Channeling Light energy to boost my speed, I swiftly leaped to the right, dodging a tendril of Darkness that had shot for my back. I realized that the Throne Room had now become shrouded almost completely in Vincent’s Darkness, and even the ground beneath me was covered in his energy.
I leapt from the floor as Dark energy rose from beneath my feet, the oppressive energy closing in from all directions. In midair, I closed my eyes and focused energy in my core, breathing in deeply. As I opened my eyes, I roared, unleashing a surge of Lightning from every pore in my body, filling the room with a deafening clap of thunder and a blinding flash of light.
As I began to fall, I saw Vincent mid-leap, sword at the ready, hoping to cut me before I hit the ground. A stray bolt of Lightning flew past his face, and he grimaced as it did.
He’s in motion. He’s…
As Vincent slashed for my chest, I leaned back, dodging his blade. In the same motion, I channeled Light energy into my right leg and swung it upward, delivering a devastating kick to Vincent’s chin.
The hapless swordsman flew upward with the force my kick, nearly reaching the ceiling before crashing back to the floor of the Throne Room. I landed on my ass, hard, but I was fine besides, panting with excitement at the battle I’d just had.
The room around us had returned to its celestial blue glow. Vincent’s Darkness had dispelled completely with my surge of Lightning just prior to the end of the fight.
He was splayed out on his back, resting just before the stairs that led up to the throne.
“You…” he panted, “You figured it out, clearly…Shit, did you have to hit that hard?”
Vincent dispelled his katana and sat up, covering his aching chin with his right hand and laughing. Blood was pouring out of his mouth, and I was pretty sure I’d chipped a tooth or two in that damaged grin of his.
“Sorry,” I apologized sincerely, “Spur of the moment. But you weren’t exactly holding back, either.”
He laughed at that and shrugged. “I suppose that’s fair, but then you Cynds can regenerate, can’t you?”
“If you need dental work, I have you covered.”
We both cackled at that, basking in the afterglow of a good battle.
“How did you know it would work that time?” Vincent asked, his chin still dripping blood. He didn’t seem to care.
“You were in motion,” I said, “I’ve never seen intangibility before, but I noticed that it only ever seemed to the case when you remained still. You could still manipulate your Darkness energy while maintaining intangibility, though, which I gotta admit is pretty underhanded.”
Vincent grinned. “Maybe. But yes, good job on figuring it out. I can make myself intangible, but only if I remain still while doing so. That’s a skill I may be able to teach you if your own Darkness is strong enough.”
We stared into each other’s eyes.
“When do we start?” I asked.