It’s been a long time since we’ve talked. Or, I guess, since you’ve listened.
I expect that Vincent has told you what you need to know by now. The beginnings of his rivalry with Cyria. The day he learned his name. When he finally found his kindred spirit. Don’t spend too much time missing him. You’ll be seeing more of him soon.
You should have a better idea of what’s coming for me now. All the death and pain that I’m marching toward, blissfully unaware. The loss of my family. My ascension to the throne. My eternal seal.
Now’s the right time to start telling you that story in earnest.
This is where it truly begins.
The days before I lost everything.
Season One: Recursion
Episode Nineteen: And The Wind Cries…
June 1st, Year B-395.
The Cynd Palace in Blusk.
The Throne Room.
I jolted to attention, having almost fallen asleep in my father’s throne. Worse than nearly having been caught sleeping in my father’s throne was having been caught by my father himself- Maximilian Cynd, the King, stood across from me. His arms were crossed over his chest and he grinned up at me with scarlet eyes matching my own.
Delighted as I was to see my father again, I glared past him, at Vincent, Sokudo, and Cecil chuckling to themselves in the back of the room. The bastards had let my father get the jump on me.
“Betrayed by your own Royal Guard,” Father observed, the smile not leaving his face, “I would’ve thought you’d run a tighter ship by now, Max.”
“Guard down, too.” said a woman to my left. It was my mother, Meiro, in her human form. Her eyes were a bright purple with slitted pupils and her skin was as dark as mine. Her hair, like mine and Cecil’s, was white, but white like marble instead of feather. Even as she casually walked to join my side, she sauntered with an inhuman, fluid grace.
“Hello, mother.” I said, gritting my teeth, “When did you get here?”
“Been here for a little while now,” Meiro responded, “Got here well before your father, while your lackeys over there were supposed to be guarding you. Were I an assassin, I could’ve…”
I glared over at my so-called Royal Guard again. Cecil and Sokudo had both disappeared, leaving only Vincent to take the blame. I’m sorry, he mouthed.
“Going to guess you want the chair back?” I asked.
Father nodded affirmatively. “Just for now.” he responded.
I picked myself up and stepped aside, allowing the first human to take his seat on the throne. My mother simply floated in the air beside him, sitting in a cross-legged position and stretching her arms out while I took my place in front of the throne.
My parents were a curious pair, looking at them now: Father’s ivory skin and ebony hair the exact opposite of mine and my mother’s, his white robes sewn with golden embroidery, loose and flowing, in stark contrast to my mother’s tight black robes that had little, if anything, in the way of decoration. While both in a relaxed position, my mother choosing to simply float in the air at Father’s side projected a much different energy than him on his throne.
As he sighed and leaned back into his seat, I prepared to kneel.
I raised an eyebrow and looked up at him. “Yes, Father?”
“I wanted to congratulate you.” Father replied, “For negotiating a settlement outside of the valley with Cyria. What you’ve managed to do with your Royal Guard in the time that we’ve been gone has been truly outstanding, enough that you’ve caught the attention of the other Great Beasts and their brethren outside of the valley.”
“Besides Cyria and Skell,” Meiro continued, “The other Great Beasts would like to meet with you and discuss further expansion for humanity. After you dealt with the…Darkness problem in the settlement on Cyria’s behalf, my brethren are starting to realize that co-existing with humans might not be so bad. Counting myself, and them if they like you…”
“We can expand humanity’s reach even more.” I said, grinning widely, “It’d be 7-to-2. Cyria and Skell can’t continue to keep us down here if the rest of the Great Beasts speak against it.”
“Exactly.” Father said, “We’ve been working to create diplomatic relations for a long while now, but until seeing the power of your Royal Guard, the Great Beasts have been apathetic or reluctant. Now, though…you have their attention. Would you like to meet with them?”
“Absolutely!” I replied excitedly, then frowned, “But wait…isn’t that a job for-”
“A King, yes.” Father replied, smiling widely, “That’s why you’re coming with me. And if it works out…this throne will be yours.”
Despite having been groomed for this…well, my entire life, I was too shocked to form words. I always knew that Father would step down eventually, that I would take the throne eventually, but…
“Provided that’s what you want, of course.” Father continued, “It’s a heavy burden to carry. I understand if you aren’t ready yet.”
“I want it, Father,” I replied, “More than anything. I can never hope to do what you’ve done for humanity, but if I can lead us out of the valley…to help us coexist with the Great Beasts…I feel like I would have lived up to your legacy.”
“Don’t think about me.” Father said, “Your rule will be about you. When do you think you’ll be ready for our meet with the Great Beasts?”
I bit my lower lip. “I had a meeting planned later today,” I confessed, “With someone who might be joining my Royal Guard. I already know that Vincent and Sokudo have clear schedules, but…”
“You don’t know about theirs.” Father finished. “Did you plan the meeting here?”
I nodded and grinned. “Yeah, the throne bit is fun when speaking to applicants.”
“That’s fine. Who is this person?” he asked.
“Chell Vaten,” I replied, “One of the greatest masters of Wind that I’m aware of, potentially the best. She was actually one of the first candidates Cecil and I considered for the Royal Guard, but she had just gone through a pregnancy back then. That was some months ago now, and she reached back out to us for a meet.”
My father nodded. “Okay then. We’ll figure out scheduling after that. In the meantime…Melinda, would you like to get dinner with me?”
My mother chuckled, leaning back in the air and responding with an airy voice, “Sure. You don’t need to ask me anymore, Maximilian.”
Vincent and Sokudo stood on opposite sides of me as I relaxed on my father’s throne, waiting for Chell to arrive. The doorway at the opposite end of the room was wide open, leading onto a long path of white marble to the throne. The rest of the floor, and the walls and the pillars going up to the ceiling, was black obsidian, with a red carpet only appearing about ten meters from the throne.
“What do you think she’ll be like?” Vincent asked from my right, breaking the silence.
“Well, she’s late.” Sokudo noted, “So punctuality isn’t her strongest suit.”
“Not all of us can move at the speed of Lightning, Sokudo.” Vincent observed, “Plus, you’re always late to shit. You’re awful at keeping a schedule. You and Laizi were supposed to come over for dinner last week.”
“…Truth be told, I completely forgot about that.” Sokudo admitted, “Sorry.”
After a moment of silence, Sokudo spoke again, “Isn’t she a mother?”
“Yes, actually.” Vincent replied, “Surprised you remembered that one, Sokudo.”
“I remember things!” Sokudo insisted, “So, what’re we thinking? Is she going be, like, motherly?”
“My mom’s a Snake Goddess that’s never around,” I noted, “Not what most people would consider motherly. What would you consider motherly?”
“Only gauge I have for this is Sokudo’s mom,” Vincent replied, “And she hated me.”
“She didn’t hate you!” Sokudo insisted, then sighed, “Okay, she hated you a little bit. Point taken.”
Somewhere in the distance, I heard the echoing sound of rolling wheels.
“What’s that noise?” Sokudo asked.
I shrugged as the noise seemed to get louder, meaning it was coming closer. “A cart?” I proposed.
“Not loud enough for that.” Vincent replied, “It’s almost like…”
A woman riding a skateboard, with twin daggers strapped to her sides and a large archer’s bow on her back, rolled into the throne room. Dangling from a chain around her neck was an emerald amulet depicting a feathery wing, which matched the color of her eyes. Her blonde hair was cut short and she wore a loose, light-green skirt with a matching shirt and shoes, outfit completed by jet-black leggings.
The sound of her skateboard filled the room as she continued riding her board to the throne. A part of me was beginning to figure out that this was Chell Vaten, but the rest of me couldn’t process what I was seeing just yet.
Coming to a halt on her board and casually walking onto the carpet above the throne, she looked up at us and asked, “What’s up?”
“Are…are you Chell Vaten?” Vincent asked.
“Prodigal Wind user and healer?” he asked again, as if there had been some kind of mistake.
“Yuuuup.” Chell replied.
“You don’t look a day above twenty.” Sokudo pointed out.
“I’m thirty-five.” Chell responded, “What, I can’t skate?”
I tilted my head in bewilderment, still trying to process all the conflicting information I was being fed. Just looking at Chell sent enough mixed signals- not only had she come here riding a skateboard through the palace, but she did so with a bow on her back with no quiver in sight and the overall appearance of a woman half her age.
“Okay, hold up.” Vincent interrupted, “Where are your arrows?”
Moving rapidly, Chell pulled her bow off her back with her left arm, aiming it in Vincent’s direction and pulling on its string. Vincent didn’t flinch, and instead continued, “That doesn’t answer my questio-”
She let go of the string and the wind howled.
An arrow of solidified wind blasted past Vincent’s head and into the large stained-glass window behind the throne, causing it to shatter and explode behind me. Quickly, Vincent moved to grab the handle of Prometheus protruding from the left pocket of his jacket, only for Chell to fire again, grazing his left wrist and slicing through his jacket at the point of contact.
He remained still after that.
Chell lowered her bow. “That answer your question?” she asked.
“I love you.” Sokudo whispered from my left.
Vincent was still frozen in place. In all of my time knowing him, I had never seen him this…petrified.
“Pleased to meet you, Miss Vaten.” I said finally, “I apologize if we got off on the wrong foot.”
She grinned. “You’re fine, your Highness. I’m used to having this effect on people.”
“Can I introduce you to my wife?” Sokudo interrupted.
Chell squinted. “I mean if you wa-”
“Now is not the time for that.” I interrupted, “Chell. Do you know why you’ve been called here?”
She shrugged. “You want me to join your Royal Guard, right? What’s the job entail?”
“Essentially,” I explained, “You would be a part of my personal Guard, and you would be given bureaucratic authorities here in Blusk and the colony.”
Chell considered me for a moment.
“Pass.” she said, starting to turn away.
“Wait!” Vincent called, “You’re just going to pass?”
“Yeah.” Chell replied, “That is what pass means. I don’t care for that kind of stuff.”
“I would also need your help to train me,” I continued, “There are few Wind users as talented as y-”
“There are no Wind users as talented as me.” Chell corrected, “And I’m not playing Royal Tutor.”
“We’re going to meet with the Great Beasts!” Sokudo exclaimed, “You get to travel outside of the valley with us!”
Chell raised her eyebrows at that. “Really?” she asked me.
“He…wasn’t supposed to tell you that,” I muttered, “But yes. Should you accept, you can accompany us to a diplomatic meeting with the Great Beasts. But I’d need to know the soonest day you could-”
“I’m in.” Chell replied, “Not as part of your…entourage yet, but you three look like you need all the help you can get. Think of it as a trial run.”
“We don’t do trial r-” Vincent started.
“Sounds good to me.” I replied, “When will you be ready?”
April 4th, Year B-395.
The Gilded Deserts.
“We’re traveling through a desert?” Chell complained, “I can’t skate on sand!”
“You can’t really skate on grass or dirt, either.” Sokudo pointed out.
“I use Wind to keep the wheels spinning.” Chell explained, “But on sand…”
“You manipulate Wind so you can skateboard?” Vincent replied in disbelief.
“Cut it out, you three!” I called from the front of the group.
With my- our- Guard following behind us, my father and I led the way through the arid sands of the Gilded Deserts. The sun was setting, casting a gold-red glow that reflected off the sand.
Father chuckled. “They’re a lively bunch, aren’t they?”
“You just noticed?”
Lacking any true Affinity, my father led the group effortlessly, the heat and wind having no adverse effect on him whatsoever. Just behind him was me, who shared the Sage trait but was slightly weak to the hot desert winds thanks to my mother’s Gravity in me. Chell and Sokudo, Wind and Lightning respectively, also experienced no issues and were continuing onward just fine, while Vincent lagged the furthest behind us, his Darkness Affinity making everything about the desert torturous.
“I don’t know what’s worse,” Vincent panted, “LIstening to Sokudo talk or this damn heat.”
Casually, my father held out his left hand and alchemized a large, cylindrical chunk of ice in midair. Snapping his fingers, the center of this cylinder melted, as did the top, and it lingered in the air as we walked past it.
“You love listening to me talk.” Sokudo retorted.
Vincent didn’t respond, but grabbed the ice construct my father had created and started drinking from it desperately. Halfway through it, he sighed and said, “Thank you, your Majesty.”
“Let me know when you need more.” Father replied, “It’s not a problem. Don’t want you running out of energy before we get there.”
“Where is ‘there’?” Chell asked, “I didn’t get exactly get an itinerary.”
“Wasn’t Sokudo supposed to tell you?” I asked.
The shades-wearing speedster grimaced. “Laizi really wanted to talk to her! We were having such a good time!”
“You and your wife trying to seduce Chell aside,” I said, “We’re headed to The World’s Ascent. It’s a gathering place at the highest peak in the world, overlooking the Gilded Deserts.”
“Oh god, do we have to climb it?” Vincent groaned.
My father laughed. “Not at all. Once we arrive, I’ll bring us up on a pillar of stone. I’d take off all that black if I were you, Vincent. It certainly isn’t helping you manage the heat.”
“I don’t have anything else to wear.” Vincent sighed, “I’ve never been this hot before.”
Sokudo started pulling off his shirt.
“Sokudo, no!” Vincent shouted.
“Your loss.” Sokudo retorted, pulling his shirt back down over his abs.
I bit my lower lip and decided to keep looking ahead.
We were starting to ascend a steep hill. Far off on the horizon, I could see The World’s Ascent, surrounded by dense waves of heat distortion.
“I’m not sure we can make it before nightfall.” I observed.
“No need to worry.” Father replied, “There’s an oasis nearby, and the meet isn’t until tomorrow. We can rest there tonight and finish the trip in the morning.”
As my father reached the top of the hill, he stopped dead in his tracks.
“Father?” I asked, walking up to meet him, “What’s wrooon-”
Seeing what he saw, I stopped, too.
The Royal Guard rushed up to meet us.
Up until now, the Gilded Deserts had been clean. Pristine.
Spears of bone, like ribs, protruded from the ground in random places as far as the eye could see. A few of them even moved. Countless holes peppered the deserts. There were trenches, and valleys, that could not have possibly occurred naturally. In the far distance, the oasis my father had mentioned was clearly visible, surrounded by a patch of grass and a few lush trees…but further beyond were countless stone pyramids, unlike anything I’d seen before.
A human skull rested in the sand beneath us, looking up at us with a hollow gaze. A sinister wind rushed through the deserts, passing through and around us, sounding almost like the exhale of a beast just out of sight.
Sokudo broke the silence and said what we were all thinking. “What the Hell?”
“Father.” I said, pointing in the direction of the pyramids, “Can you…can you see what I see?”
“We’re being watched.” Father responded grimly, “And by quite a few of them, from the looks of it.”
“I thought…” Vincent muttered, “I thought all humans lived in the valley?”
“I thought so, too.” my father responded, “But it looks like we were wrong.”
We descended toward the oasis in silence, looking around the deserts more carefully now that we knew beyond any doubt that we weren’t alone. As the sun was replaced by our two moons in the sky, the Gilded Deserts took on a much different appearance, sand and bone reflecting blue moonlight all around us.
“What is this place?” Chell asked.
“The Gilded Deserts are Skell’s territory.” Father responded, “He’s the Great Beast of the Earth Element. And…the bone you’re seeing all around us? That’s…him.”
“What do you mean?” Chell asked.
“What he said.” I replied, then elaborated, “Skell’s body runs beneath the Gilded Deserts. One could even say he is the Gilded Deserts.”
“So right now, we’re walking on…”
Chell, Sokudo, and Vincent remained silent until we made it to the oasis. Everyone was trying to figure out just what the hell was going on, and the nagging feeling that we were being watched became much more than just a feeling. I could see the sands shifting for no apparent reason out of the corner of my eye, curved pillars of bone rising and falling out of sight.
Skell was watching us. He would be watching us as we slept, no doubt. Knowing what he was capable of, I found it very difficult to calm my rising anxiety.
As we came closer to the oasis, we realized there was already someone there waiting for us. Two someones, actually. Two men in brown, hooded robes awaited us, kneeling on one knee with their heads down. As my father and I came to meet them, they looked up at us with the same golden eyes.
“Welcome,” the twins said in unison, “We’ve been expecting you.”
“What is the meaning of this?” Father asked.
“We serve the desert. He told us you would be here today.” the twin on the left responded.
“We were told to welcome you.” the twin on the right continued, “Provide you with any assistance you need on your way to The World’s Ascent.”
“What are your names?” I asked.
“Orcus.” the left twin said.
“Hades.” the right twin said.
“Terra.” they finished, together, “We’re here to be your guides.”
“I don’t understand…” Vincent said, “Are you human?”
“Of course we are.” the Terras replied, “We exist to serve and to feed the Desert. That is why he created us. Is it not why he created you?”
Father remained silent, as did Sokudo and Chell. But I could hear Vincent seething.
I felt the rage boiling in Vincent, stronger than ever. I moved over to him to place my left hand on his right shoulder, and he nearly hit me. His white eyes were brimming with tears, rage, and horror at what he had just heard, but he was biting his lower lip, biting it so hard he was drawing blood, because he knew if he spoke that Skell would hear it.
I tried to tell him to calm down with a stare, but it wasn’t quite working. We’ll work it out, I mouthed.
He took a deep, shuddering breath as I turned back to the twins.
I sighed, “Thank you, Orcus, Hades. We won’t be needing anything else.”
Standing in unison, the twins were lifted by pillars of Earth. “We’ll be around if you need us,” the Terras said, “Just call.”
Riding the pillars away, they disappeared in the direction of the stone pyramids in the distance, which I now realized served as shelter for the humans residing in the Gilded Deserts.
As my father and I moved silently, bringing pillars out of the Earth to serve as our shelter for the night, a cold wind passed through the Gilded Deserts, sending a shiver through my spine.
I didn’t know at the time, but we would be safe for the night.
Tomorrow would be another story.