Fourteen Years Ago.
“My name is Stane Lockheart. This is my grandson, Michael.”
Within the largest of the White Mountains, there is an ancient library said to be the first of its kind in Trine. This library precedes humanity’s expansion from the valley, and therefore the oldest tomes there were recorded by none other than the Great Beasts themselves. Nowadays, access to this library, called Verloren, is strictly curated to only the highest-ranking members of the Royal Guard, accomplished archaeologists, and members of the nine Ancient Families.
Back then, the entrance to Verloren was guarded by a single woman. Her name was Zephyr. Just Zephyr- she was the oldest living member of the Ancient Vaten Family, descendants of Chell Vaten. Chell Vaten was a prodigal Wind element user, perhaps the best who ever lived, and she, like the other Ancestors of the Ancient Families, was one of the founding members of the Royal Guard.
Zephyr had to have been pushing a hundred years, but she didn’t look a day older than thirty-five. Even to the Cynds, that level of vitality was something impressive. She leaned to her right to peer behind my grandfather’s back and look down at me with those piercing green eyes of hers. I felt her looking through me and I shifted uncomfortably.
“How old is he?” the librarian asked.
“He’s ten years old.” Stane replied, “I thought it time for him to learn more of his heritage.”
She gave the tiniest smile. “Which one?”
I couldn’t see my grandfather’s face, but I felt the force of his glare toward the ancient librarian. Unflinchingly, she smiled wider at my grandfather, then-head of the Royal Guard and Lockheart Family. “Don’t worry, Mister Lockheart,” she said, “Like these books, I hold many secrets. Yours is safe with me.”
He nodded. In a cool, calm voice my grandfather asked, “May we enter?”
Zephyr winked. “The Lockheart Family will always be welcome here.”
After my reunion with my father, I realized that Nalia was still in pursuit of the same two people I was looking for, and I didn’t have any leads whatsoever. Nalia had the full power of the Royal Guard and the Cynd Royal Family behind his search, while I was just a lone fugitive searching for two other lone fugitives.
Nalia’s strong. At least as strong as I am. He should be a capable match for Michelle, maybe even Richter, depending on the circumstances…I doubt they’re together. And if he has people traveling with him, they may win based on sheer numbers alone…
I’m sure I could find allies of my own if necessary. Dion seemed cool, but I don’t know if he’s much of a fighter. I could also reach out to the Lanes, but our families are too close…they’d be under surveillance right now. I’d sooner break my skull off a cliff than ask my father for any more help.
As the forest gave way to the local town, I realized I needed to decide where to go and what to do, quickly. Richter and Michelle may be very smart, but they can’t hide forever. I needed to find a way to get ahead of the current search, fast, if I had any chances of finding them before Nalia.
I stared up into the clear blue skies, combing my thoughts for a solution to the problem at hand. A strong cool breeze passed through the trees behind me, reminding me of Wind and how few people I knew who actually had a Wind Affinity. Earth, Wind, and Gravity were fairly rare, and outside of their respective Ancient Families, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone with those affinities.
Wind…the Vaten Family…Zephyr and her library!
I snapped my fingers repeatedly, trying to remember more about Verloren. It had been so long since I’d stepped foot in Verloren…not since Stane died. He took me there frequently once I started getting better at reading, and as much as I enjoyed my time in Verloren, I found that subsequent visits simply made me miss him more. So I’d stopped going.
If I were a betting man…I’d say there’s a good chance I could find something to help me in Verloren. Trains should be enough to make it there by nightfall. If I can sneak in and find what I’m looking for overnight, I can be wherever I need to be by tomorrow afternoon…
I bit my lip in contemplation. Infiltrating Verloren won’t be easy, but I don’t really have a choice…
Season One: Recursion
Episode Eight: The Library
Fourteen Years Ago.
“Grandpa?” I asked, “Why are we here?”
I followed closely behind Stane Lockheart, staring up at his back. My grandfather was a tall, imposing man with broad shoulders. Despite his age- fifty-two when we first visited Verloren- he was in peak physical condition, still considered one of the strongest fighters in Trine. His hair was jet-black like mine and my mother’s but cut short so as avoid any of the issues that come with long hair. (Of course, since he’s a Lockheart, fast-growing hair is a very prominent genetic trait, and to maintain this crew cut of his he has to hit the barber at least once every two weeks.)
He wore a black longcoat with a white version of the Lockheart Family Crest- a stylized heart with a keyhole in the center- on its back. In a scabbard over his back was the white claymore I would one day inherit- Murzim.
Stane stopped in his tracks as he considered my question. After a moment of silence, he answered, “As I told Zephyr at the entrance, it’s important for you to learn more of your heritage. Understanding the history of the Lockhearts, the history of your father and how these two intertwined is vital for you to reach your full potential.”
He turned to face me and knelt on one knee so as to better reach my height. While I would one day grow to have a strong resemblance to this man in terms of attire and weaponry, his features were much broader and hardened. His frame was larger, his skin was darker and one may even say he looked almost feral. This is particularly ironic, considering I’m the one with the literal Great Beast for a father, and not him.
Now that he was kneeling to my level, his white eyes stared into mine with an intensity he was seemingly unable to turn off. Since my mom died and my dad disappeared, Stane had taken me under his wing and wanted nothing more than for me to reach my full potential. His gaze alone spoke to the sincerity of this.
The intensity of his gaze was difficult for me to match back then. I shifted slightly and looked down to my right, not able to maintain that level of eye contact yet. He chuckled ever-so-slightly at this.
“What do you think I can be?” I asked.
“Everything.” He replied, earnestly. “You’re the son of our Ancestor’s greatest rival, and that means that your abilities may one day match his. Not only do you have the potential to match Cyria, but you’re a Lockheart. I don’t think there are any limits to what you may one day be capable of.”
“I don’t think I can be what you want me to be.” I said, confessing perhaps my greatest fear since my grandfather had taken such an active role in my life.
“Don’t think, then.” Stane said firmly, grasping my left shoulder firmly, “Just trust me.”
A large bump on the train tracks caused the train rolling over it at high speed to hitch, ever-so-slightly, as it scraped over the obstruction. This hitch was carried through each of the train cars in sequence, until the car in the back- mine- jolted just hard enough to rock me out of my state of threshold consciousness.
I opened my eyes and sighed in irritation. My compartment was small, but comfortable and private. To my right was a large window through which I could see the landscape passing by, while to my left was a sliding door into the rest of the train car. The interior of the compartment was mostly polished wood with ornate patterns of vinery and flowers, with a single light-bulb and vent above my head. The seats were soft, red and cushiony- what they were made of, I couldn’t tell you, but fuck if I couldn’t just melt into them.
Outside, the sun was beginning to set behind the White Mountains, which, from my current perspective, were overlooking a dense, dark forest. The White Mountains are named as such because they’re…well, white mountains. White Mountains composed of some kind of enchanted white marble, which was nigh-impossible to stain and almost always looked pristine. The Great Beast Meiro, the Serpent, is said to have ruled from the White Mountains in the age before humanity.
Aside from comfy accommodations and a gorgeous view of the White Mountains, my compartment also boasted a pull-out table instead of another set of seats opposite mine. On this table was a new traveling bag, inside which resided a new burner phone and set of clothes. Plus good ol’ Murzim, happily sheathed and resting over the bag.
Perhaps most importantly was an open notebook resting in front of me, in which I had hastily written down various plans of action just above a pretty decent sketch of Nalia. Well, a pretty decent sketch sans the large dick I’d drawn on his face out of spite.
Art provided by bananatwinky on Tumblr.
Turning the page to a clean one, I tapped my pencil on the paper and closed my eyes, trying to visualize Verloren in my head so I could map it out onto the paper proper.
Fourteen Years Ago.
Once we passed through the entrance hall, Verloren’s nature as a library built inside one of the White Mountains became more clear. After passing through a door at the end of the entrance hall, my grandfather and I were greeted by the full spectacle of the library before us.
Beneath our feet were firm, white grates we could walk on. Far beneath them was a chasm of darkness I couldn’t see down into. Verloren’s interior was composed of multiple levels of these grates, with eleven levels in total. Their design was spiral, and the very center of the spiral was an elevator one could use to easily change levels, though the top, eleventh level was dedicated entirely to the Cynd Family and was restricted from normal access.
There were no skylights or electronic lights present within Verloren- instead, the marble within the mountain glowed slightly with Light energy, ensuring optimal visibility within Verloren. At night, this energy would shift to a light, dark blue on all but the bottom floor. This lighting charm did not extend to the chasm below, however, which terrified me back then and filled me with all kinds of ideas on what may be down there.
Carved into the mountain itself were the bookshelves, which housed hundreds of books (stacked vertically) per row with five rows all-around. The first level of Verloren offered comfortable seating arrangements and tables at which people could study, while each of the nine levels above were dedicated to a single Element, ascending in order from Darkness to Light. Each level contained detailed history of the Element, its corresponding Great Beast, its corresponding Ancient Family/Ancestor, and documents of its prominent users and high-level techniques.
The second level of Verloren was dedicated to Darkness. By extension, this meant it was also dedicated to the Ancient Lockheart Family, Vincent Lockheart himself, Lerad of the Sky, various tomes of Darkness techniques, and perhaps most curiously a “Sword Wall”. This Sword Wall used to reside in the house of Vincent Lockheart, and it was his pride and joy, containing the weapons of all those he defeated in duels. He maintained those weapons until his eventual sealing, after which his descendants opted to donate them to Verloren and, over the century or so they’ve been here, they’ve begun to fall out of maintenance.
The scale of this place was completely stunning to me as a child, and as I craned my neck upward and still couldn’t quite see all of it, I instinctively reached to my left and grasped Stane’s coat for support. He chuckled lightly in response.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” My grandfather asked me.
I gulped and swallowed before responding, “Yes, grandpa.”
The caverns deep beneath Verloren, while treacherous, weren’t too difficult for me to navigate. Especially not with my left, amber eye inherited from my father. I didn’t know how to utilize it properly in my youth, but as I grew older I learned how to use this eye to see through the darkness. This, combined with my speed and agility, made navigating quickly and quietly through the winding tunnels beneath Verloren quite easy.
The difficult part would start once I had actually entered Verloren. Not only did I have to worry about Zephyr and the Royal Guard members patrolling outside the Entrance Hall, there would presumably be at least one patrolling guard per floor. I’d planned around this carefully enough- so long as I was able to make it to the second floor and disable the guard there silently, I could be in and out with the information I needed before anyone was the wiser.
As I exited the caverns to a ledge peeking into the chasm beneath Verloren, I crouched and stared upwards.
I lucked out. Only two patrolling Royal Guard members, both of whom were slacking off on the first floor, seated on a couch facing the entrance and gossiping with each other while sharing a tablet.
I stared down into the chasm. It went down quite far, but I could just barely make out the light shimmering off a pool of water somewhere down there. Protruding from the center of the chasm and to the top of Verloren, however, was the elevator shaft, which would conveniently make quite a good climbing surface.
Charging the Light energy inside me for the briefest instant, I leaped over the gap with my enhanced speed, tightly grasping a bar on the shaft and steadying myself before beginning to climb upward.
The elevator shaft was, fortunately for me, open enough for me to shimmy through once I had reached the first floor. The couch the two occupied guards were resting on was on the opposite side of the elevator shaft from myself and the entrance to the elevator proper. I silently climbed up the bars of the shaft yet again, into the darkness of the second floor.
I prowled over the shelf dedicated to the Lockheart Family. The history was extensive- almost every member or associate of the Lockheart Family was present here, sans me and my siblings, since we’re the current generation and all. Despite that, I’d caught a little bug in my head about our weapons, and wondered if I’d be able to find anything on Richter’s katana (Prometheus) or Michelle’s daggers (Tsukimono) that may be able to help me track them. I also grabbed a book on Vincent’s last months before his sealing.
I silently prowled through these pages in the darkness for at least an hour. Aside from the knowledge that the name of Vincent’s weapons came from ancient languages that somehow existed before humanity, I learned nothing I didn’t already know about my family. I still felt like the answer was in front of me, though, so I looked through again, sure I had to have missed something. The pieces were there, I was sure…
Finally, the key bit of information that was dancing just out of my recollection hit me like a brick. Members of the Lockheart Family carry shards of our Ancestor’s very soul, which meant that we were drawn closer together than most families.
Leaving me and Richter, especially like this, should have felt near-impossible for Michelle. We were all literally made to feel incomplete without our family members in our proximity because we all shared shards of the same person.
But what if Michelle is being drawn to something else, something stronger? What if she’s being drawn to someone else?
“Oh, fuck.” I hissed, breaking the silence.
Just like that, I knew what was happening. I knew why Michelle had left us. I knew why Nalia was hell-bent on finding us.
IT’S FUCKING VINCENT. HE’S STILL ALIVE AND SHE FOUND HIM.
“Who’s there!?” one of the men on the first floor shouted.
Oh, god damn it.
I dropped the books and stood to my full height, flexing and outstretching my arms before grabbing the handle of Murzim with my right hand.
Well, cover’s broken anyway. Better make this quick.
I allowed the Light energy to explode from within me, illuminating Verloren with blinding light. I charged my body with this energy and leaped over the railings of the second floor, using my left hand to swing myself to the first floor and land in front of the two Royal Guard members who were now aware of my presence.
The first was a Darkness user, too disoriented by my sudden surge of Light to stop me from slamming the flat side of my claymore against his head. He crashed to the floor quickly and didn’t get up.
The second was a Lightning user, who was significantly less disoriented by my tactic and currently had his middle and pointer fingers pressed and outstretched together, pointing directly at my chest. His right, pointing hand crackled with electricity, and in the span of that second, I knew what was going to happen before it did.
A surge of Lightning exited his fingers and crashed into my chest, filling my body with its current and sending me flying backward. Since I was also a Light spectrum user, this didn’t fry me alive, but god damn if it didn’t hurt.
I crumpled against the first-floor railings as he stepped toward me, Lightning built up in his hand still and his fingers not aiming away from me for a single second.
I looked into his eyes. He was a shorter blonde with electric blue eyes and he was watching me very, very attentively. I knew he’d fire off that Lightning bolt the decisecond (that’s a tenth of a second for those of you who don’t need to process things in super speed) I even looked like I was thinking of moving.
He’s about fifteen feet away.
Two deciseconds is enough time.
In one decisecond, I hyper-charged my body with Light energy in a manner that was extremely energy-inefficient, but would work well for what I was about to do. Just as this energy flared to the surface, the Royal Guard member’s energy fluctuated as he fired. In the next decisecond, I expelled all of the Light energy within me to move to the right, just fast enough for his bolt to fly past me.
In the next half-second, I surged yet more Light energy into myself as I rolled to my feet, watching him as he moved his arm to try and set his aim on me again.
“Golden Fang!” I shouted, channeling the technique that my father, Cyria, was legendary for. Golden Fang is a Light-speed lunge, and while I can’t quite reach full Light-speed, I’m still a damn sight faster than some plebian Lightning user.
I covered the distance between us using this technique before his arm had even caught up with his head’s turning motion. I slammed my elbow into his chest at this speed, and I felt his ribs break beneath them as he careened and crashed into and over the side of the couch he’d been lazing on earlier.
I’m sure he’ll be fine.
I became aware of another energy signature in the room. It felt familiar. Windy.
“Zephyr?” I asked, turning to face the source of this energy.
Unless Zephyr had somehow reversed her aging, this wasn’t her. The younger woman standing before me looked pretty much what I imagined Zephyr would’ve looked like in her natural twenties, though- a shorter, modest figure with those stunning green eyes and flowing brown hair. Whoever this chick was, she was definitely related.
“That would be my grandmother.” The stranger responded, “I took her place as librarian after her passing. Have been for about half a decade now. My name’s Jeane.”
“Nice to meet you, Jeane,” I said, casually placing my blade over my shoulder and turning to face her completely. “Do you know who I am?”
“Besides a violent criminal who just attacked two members of the Royal Guard?” she replied, raising an eyebrow, “Yes, actually. You’re Michael Lockheart, and my grandmother told me you’d be back here one day to do something stupid. I thought she meant you’d hit on me, not literally hit the guards.”
She had a little smirk on her face when she said this. I couldn’t help but chuckle. Don’t call it too soon. Had I bothered to come here in the past decade, you’d be absolutely right.
“Well, you probably aren’t too far off, though I gotta say you’re pretty unfazed by the fact that I just decimated two of your guards in about as many seconds.”
“I can take care of myself.” She remarked, confidently. “But don’t worry. I honor my grandmother’s words, and I believe she said quite clearly that the Lockhearts would always be welcome here.”
“Even if we’re fugitives?” I chuckled, “Well, I’m not complaining. I don’t suppose you’re here to stop me from leaving, are you?”
“No.” Jeane responded, “I was actually told to give you this, whenever you did show up. My grandmother grew quite fond of you when you were a cute kid, and not…whatever it is you are now.”
She took a necklace holding an emerald amulet off of her neck. The amulet was shaped like a single, outstretched wing- the symbol, I realized, of the Ancient Vaten Family. She placed it in her right hand and held it out toward me.
I covered the distance between us in about half a second, but stopped before her and asked, “Are you sure you want me to take this? Your grandmother was always nice to me when I was here, but this is a family heirloom. I don’t know if I can have something like this in good conscie-”
“Shut up.” She groaned. “We have dozens of these. I don’t care. Just take it and go.”
I bit my lip and nodded solemnly, grabbing the amulet and placing it around my neck. It felt weird against the Lockheart Family charm on my chest.
“Your grandmother was a strange woman.” I muttered, almost wistfully.
Jeane snorted at this. “You’re one to talk.”
I took a moment to laugh with her. Whenever this was over, I’d have to go and visit Zephyr’s grave. I couldn’t help but feel a little twinge of guilt that she’d clearly remembered me and I hadn’t even thought that her age might have caught up with her over time.
But then the rest of my thoughts caught up with me. Vincent was alive, Michelle had found him. That’s the only thing that could possibly pull stronger than her bond with me and Richter. But where would that take her? We almost never left Lamass for too long, it always felt weir-
Who says she even left?
“Michael?” Jeane asked.
“I’m sorry.” I said, Light beginning to fill me yet again, “I need to go. Now.”