Two thousand feet high, floating above a turbulent sea in endless foment, arose a massive structure of foreign design. Unlike the rest of the buildings in the land of Alacia, this one stood out in alluring defiance. With curving walls that appear as if they were waves rising from the sea to it’s branch-like spires it was indeed a grand site. The tower had been there since the beginning of time or so it was said. Clouds constantly hovered around its peak, stirring as if tired of their long vigil.
Turning his head nearly upside down to get a better look at the edifice, Elion Macar eyed it with awe. “Who built it?” he asked of his dark companion.
Slowly the hooded figure turned to regard the elf with an almost sardonic air. Even though his face could not be seen from underneath, Elion could almost feel his amusement. The voice was cold and steady as usual however. “No one knows. Some say the Gods themselves built it. Others say Darius….”
Here he paused. Not many people could say that name without remembering the Old War. It was thirty years ago, when Darius, just a Liuetenant in the Vorian army at the time, decided to name himself Emperor of Alacia. It was quite an unsettling event for those who had not the foresight to save a few gold pieces lest such a disaster were to occur. The King and his followers fought Darius’ faction long and valiantly.
It would have been a short-lived rebellion, but Darius had something up his sleeve that not even his closest officers knew. He had Solaris. This was his key to victory. Rumored to have come from an alien race that has been hiding on the face of the Sintra for millennia, it was indeed not of this world. With it he burned the King’s loyalists to dust and every major city of Alacia as well. Elion and others of Helix 568 were commoners and nobles alike who had decided that Darius had been playing emperor long enough and that it was now time to put him to bed for good. Their mission, find Solaris and turn it on its master to finally end the thirty year plague across the land.
“Yes,” the elf prompted.
“Others say Darius built it,” Menri spat the words. “But I doubt he’d have the patience. No…but I believe we will find out soon enough.”
Elion pawed at his tunic nervously. “But how will we get in? And will there be anyone there who is willing to help us in our quest?” Scratching his pointed chin, he eyed his surroundings nervously. The sun was setting and the forest seemed to be growing eyes as the light began to fade.
Shrugging, Menri Sentari hopped effortlessly atop his riding horse and galloped off. Elion sighed and followed suit.
After about twenty minutes the trail was beginning to fade into dense underbrush. Slowly the dusty ground gave way to lush vines and scraggleroot, the thorns of which could paralyze a horse for a few hours. And by that time the local scavengers would probably have finished off the job. So at this point Menri and Elion dismounted and began hacking away at the growth with their swords. Looking above, Elion noticed a dark shadow pass over them quickly.
“Don’t move,” Menri said sharply. Elion froze where he stood. Again the shadow passed with a rustling of leaves. It was a wyvern, fifteen feet in length not including the five-foot long tail tipped with hooked, venomous barb dripping in eagerness for a kill. Slowly it circled its way down from the pall of grey clouds to land but a few yards from the two.
Why doesn’t it attack? the elf thought anxiously. It just sat there preening its leathery wings. Then he saw. This particular wyvern was not looking all that great. Indeed, it looked as if it had just escaped some vicious battle. With its cracked beak and tattered wings, it hardly appeared a challenge for even the most inexperienced of adventurers. But Elion knew better. For its stinging tail packs a punch whether dead or alive. It appeared to still be reeling from recent events, so had not noticed them.
Suddenly a large crash from behind caused the beast to whip around in a fear-crazed frenzy. Peering behind them, man and elf gaped in awe as five trolls each the size of a giant broke through the trees. Neither of them had ever seen trolls of such stature before. Elf and man quickly dashed for a nearby fallen log as branches and rocks flew about them in a hail.
“Looks like these trolls are here for the wyvern,” Menri said, pulling Elion behind the fallen oak. “Let’s not be noticed, shall we?”
Howling like banshees, the trolls thrashed through the trees like they were toothpicks. Debris flew in all directions, partially blocking the sun. Almost weeping, the wyvern lay down in pathetic apathy as the trolls surrounded it. Again and again they pummeled it with their fists until it was no more than a bloody pulp. The sound was sickening. Elion desperately tried not to lose his lunch. Bone cracking gave way to muted soggy thuds as it was crushed under their brute strength.
Using nothing more than their fists and claws they had turned the beast into shreds and bits which scattered across the ground like a butcher’s slaughterhouse. The largest of the three, bellowed in harrowing victory. It was gray and battle-worn, missing an eye. It appeared to be the leader, motioning the others to follow as it stormed off in a cloud of blood and dust. The others ran after without hesitating.
In the stillness of the afternoon sun, the lanky elf slowly approached the massacre. Reaching down, he picked up what appeared to be a feather, but this was no feather he had ever seen. It appeared so out of place amongst the carnage. It certainly didn’t belong to the wyvern. Brushing it off on his lavender tunic, he eyed it intently.
“Do you know what you are looking at?” the hooded man asked. Elion started. He hadn’t noticed the man walking up behind him.
“Looks not of this world…,” he said, his voice trailing.
“Indeed.” Menri said matter-of-factly. “Have you heard of the story of the Jeruts?”
“Alister the Sage speaks of them in his books. He was known to be a tippler though.” Elion smirked. “The Jerut’s were said to be elves that had lived their full lifespan on Alacia and had crossed over,”
“And what did he say about their bodies?” Menri walked around the elf to face him.
Elion was getting uncomfortable. “They had the bodies of their mortal forms,” he replied as he nervously ran his fingers through his hair. “And had the arms and feet of golden eagles.” Indeed, as he eyed the feather with growing wonder he could see the sparkle of gold amongst its fibers. “But this can’t be true–.” His voice caught as he looked up to see a light shining from the mysterious tower ahead of them. In all their days neither of them had heard of any signs of life coming from within this dark and mysterious place.
“It looks like we are being called Elion!” Menri proclaimed, walking quickly back to his horse. “Let’s not keep them waiting.”
Elion thoughtfully stashed the feather in his leather knapsack and mounted his steed. “What do you think about the trolls?”
“I guess we shall find out soon enough,” Menri answered, pulling a cloak from his saddlebag and wrapping around his shoulders. “Looks like rain. We better move.” Peering out into the forest, his face took on a curious expression. “Elion, take a look around you.”
Astonishment crept across his cherubic face. “What–.” Turning to look behind him he saw nothing but pine trees. “These aren’t the same trees… And the path behind us is gone.”
“And a new one has opened up before us. We are definitely being called.” Eyeing the path intently, Menri rubbed his bearded chin. The path was made of obsidian. Black as night one would swear he was looking into a neverending abyss. So convincing was the illusion that his horse was reluctant to even tread upon it. Slowly with a firm but gentle grip the woodsman coaxed the beast onto its shiny surface. Surprisingly it had little trouble walking upon its mysterious surface, as if the path itself was pulling the horse along. Even Menri’s own feet felt like they started to walk of their own volition. “Well let’s be off then.” And with that he mounted his horse and spurred it ahead.
Slowly Elion mounted as well. As he turned to follow Menri, he thought he noticed a glint behind a nearby pine. Must have been my imagination, he thought tiredly. Then he too was off.
The Gods must be angry, the hooded Menri thought as they plodded along the now flooded obsidian path. Never once foundering, both horses seemed not even winded despite the tedious journey. The tempest roared with the voice of a thousand men and barraged them with a volley of water. The clouds were reminiscent of a giant gash upon a dragon’s flank, pumping out its vital lifeblood. On either side of this gash the sky had turned an eerie green.
“Looks like we’ve wandered off the Continent of Zi into one of Cyr’s crazy dreams!” Menri bellowed over the noise.
“I just hope they’ll let us in once we get to the tower!”
“They’ll probably eat us!” Menri laughed at the thought. “For all we know we are walking right into the belly of a dragon!”
The wind was such that the nearby pines were waving to and fro with such violence that their branches began to form yet another hail, adding to the volley of wind and rain. However, the two companions seemed to be protected by a mysterious force, for none of these, save a few twigs came into contact with their bodies. Hazy as it was, the horse’s sense of direction remained true. Menri could see the tower slowly begin to loom ahead, then without warning he stopped his horse with a sharp pull on the reins. It neighed in protest.
“Oh no! I’m too young for this,” Elion cried as he saw what awaited them. Two robed figures stood in their way. And from their bags and other bric-a-brac hanging from their belts he knew right off to be Magi. Elion himself was only an apprentice from the city of Veden, the Elven capital of the land of Kwae. He’d never had to use it in the field before. His stomach bunched up. He wished he were back home with his mother. With his friends and his pet chameleon bird. That fey creature could’ve come in handy now. Why couldn’t Mother have let me take it with me? he thought in regret. He should have explained his need for it more carefully to her so she fully understood. She would have, too. But no, he had to cower behind his hands like a baby. Like he always did. He missed his quiet sedentary life. He missed the spring where he would lie in the meadow near Macar Manor for hours at a time where all he would do was drink his duneberry juice and think about slaying dragons. That was heaven to the youth. Not to mention the local seamstress’ daughter who would come by every day after lunch to flirt with boy. Leaning like she always did over the low wooden fence that edged the meadow. Letting her blouse slide down just enough….
Suddenly Elion was broken from his reverie when the figure on the left spoke. “The tower is off-limits by Darius’ order!” he boomed. He sounded a lot bigger than he looked.
Menri shook his head dubiously. “Tower? Oh no, we were headed to Timerus. I have family there and it’s been ages since we last visited.”
“Bah,” the other spat. “If you were going to Timerus you would have taken Oksa Road like all the rest of the travelers!”
“Well, we were taking a shortcut. Is it illegal these days to want to save time?” Menri asked, sounding offended. Elion stirred nervously in his saddle. The one to the left noticed this and shot him a suspicious glance.
“You elf, why are you traveling with this scraggly human?”
“I-I am his friend good sir. He saved my life from some vicious bandits in the Plains a few years back and we’ve been traveling together ever since. And I–.”
“Silence!” The one on the left said peremptorily, slowly reaching for something on his belt. Menri anticipated their ploy would not be believed and he had the foresight to ready his whip, which he always carried in his saddlebag. Quickly his hand shot out from the bag to strike the mage in the hand. Howling in pain the gray-robe wrenched back, his hood falling from his head. He looked about fifty, with silver gray hair to match his drab robes. He looked cadaverous and fevered, as if drugged. The other muttered some incantation and threw a handful of seeds into Elion’s horse. It reared up and threw the elf heavily into the flooded path, knocking the wind out of him. He watched in horror as large vines grew out of the horse’s body, rending it before his eyes.
Quickly Menri vaulted off his horse and went to strike the second mage. Caught offguard the man tripped on his robe and fell into the water. Pulling his sword from his sheath, Menri plunged it deeply into the man’s chest. The mage choked the last word of his next spell and Menri was knocked with a mighty force into the trees behind him. Dazed, he sat up and blurrily saw Elion and the other mage grappling in the water. Menri noticed that during the battle the wind had died and the storm abated, which gave everything an eerie sharpness to it. The two engaged figures stood out starkly against the contrast of the sky. Suddenly there was a bright flash and he heard Elion shriek, the accompanied smoke blurring the man’s vision.
“Elion!” he cried, jumping up. Another force ball slammed into his body and again he went flying. Where’s my sword? he thought frantically. This can’t be…. Not…now….. He was losing consciousness. In his last moment of awareness he saw another flash. This was different and was not accompanied with the smell of sulphur. This one was bright blue, hardly making a sound. Then there was nothing but darkness.
Rolling on his side, the young man twisted his head a peered out from under his hood. Blue shadows danced frantically all around him. The floor was cool and and pulsing to the touch. He could not see the ceiling. The walls were covered in silver molding vaulting up like frozen waves into the dark. Menri felt like he was at the bottom of a massive whirlpool. Either that or the belly of some massive sea creature.
“Menri…” came the voice again. Smooth and musical it chimed his name. Menri couldn’t tell if it was male or female. “My dear boy…. Come all this way… To visit my humble tower…” Feeling a gentle swish of air on his neck, the man tried to whip around but only succeeded in giving himself a sharp stabbing pain in his chest. “Here, let me help you with that…” Soft blue light materialized from the non-existent ceiling to slowly cover Menri’s entire form. Like light fingers playing upon his skin, he felt the light enter his body, rejuvenating him. He watched in amazement as his scratches and scrapes healed, and gasped as his ribs moved back into place. Then, as soon as it had come it was gone, leaving him in the twilight of the swirling shadows once again.
“Who are you?” Menri asked with a yawn. An unnatural sleepiness was creeping over him.
“I am Selvaion…. The master of the Tower of Ages… Sleep now my child….” Darkness again overtook him.
Dazzled by the viscous tunnel before him, Elion plummeted to the depths below. It seemed like he had been falling forever. One minute he was grappling with a gray-robe, and the next, he was falling. Falling in, out, up and down, he could not get his bearings in the swirling abyss. Purple and violet swirls abounded. Reminds me of the sweet-tarts my mother used to make, the elf thought dully. This was indeed one of the strangest situations he had ever found himself in. This even tops being captured by marauders out in Solanus and promptly sold as a slave to some rather ornery Field Gnomes. Ah memories, Elion sighed. He promptly coughed and spat as some interesting pink smoke flew up his nostrils.
Swirling forms floated gently passed the elf as he wafted through the misty medium. They were solid enough to the touch, his fingers soaking in a few inches before reaching the spongy filling inside. Mmmmmm, Elion thought. Various fruity desserts filled his mind. This place really is reminiscent of a large cherry pie. Maybe I’ve been eaten by a pie! Goodness! Wouldn’t that be quite the tale to tell my friends back in Silvandale! Twouldn’t be that bad. Alas, how am I to get out of here.
A rather massive pink cloud, larger than the rest looked to be on a collision course for the elf’s head as he languidly peered up from gum encrusted glassy eyes. He tried to blink the blurriness away and then squinted at the oncoming form. It’s coming in rather fast… Maybe I should try to get out of the way, he thought, abhorring the idea of expending any energy. The cloud suddenly blinked. And Elion could see this one was no cloud. Four legs on each side slowly extended from it’s wispy body. The thing had a mouth too. An odd, plicate one at that. Zigzaging at odd angles with equally zig-zagging teeth. It was about the same size as himself he was grateful to see as it came within sling range.
This place had the odd phenomenon of ruining any depth perception one may have had. He could barely tell the pink clouds from the strange ambiance even at their slow gentle pace, streaming endlessly through and infinity of strawberry jam and tarts. Reaching into his shirt, he pulled his willow sling from within and quickly loaded it with some explosive smashers he’d purchased from a local Dwarven arms dealer. He only had about ten in his pouches so he waited till the thing was in spitting distance so as not to miss. As it reared up before him, oozing noxious gas which made him want to throw up, he loosed his load upon it’s slimy dessert-reminiscent body. With a pop and hiss the smasher struck its belly and the powder inside detonated, instantly tearing a hole and sending the thing a few yards back. Pink blood oozed from it’s gaping wound as it twisted to get right side up again. Elion could smell the blood. It smelled like something familiar.
Opening his mouth he inhaled the nearest stream of the stuff and swallowed it with relish. It tasted just like his mother’s tarts. This is indeed a glorious find, he thought, pulling some string from his pouch. Smoothly and easily he tied the string to a large fishhook from the bag and loaded it on his sling with another smasher. “Here fishy fishy fishy!” he cried as he loosed his next shot. This one hit it in the neck, catching it off gaurd as it pounced in his direction. The explosion wedged the hook deep into it’s body. The pink thing let out a bellowing squeal before it died. Elion pulled it in and began to poke at it’s “skin” with his dagger. The body came apart easily and soon he had his fill before casting it back out into the colorful void to drift away in a caricture of burial at sea.
I wonder what other denizines inhabit these waters! Elion mused dreamily, not at all affected by the fact that he had just eaten a giant pink cloud that tried to attack him.
Minutes passed, hours, and more hours. Well, I’m still “here”, he thought dreamily. After the first couple of hours the lanky youth seemed to begin to hallucinate. Slowly he noticed the purple and violet “walls” of the tunnel began to coalesce into familiar faces of long-gone friends and enemies. Orcs, dwarves, other elven playmates of old. But one stood out in particular. Slowly it sharpened until it was as though Old Weasal was actually there, smoking his smelly Cragweed cherut like he always did. Corpulant and clumsy, he looked like a beached walrus leaning back against his favorite chair. It hovered around in front of Elion’s tiny face and grew to full size. Old Weasal was a dwarf in fact. With a beard down to his feet, unkempt and reminiscent of one of Aunt Mauger’s New Year’s parties, (they were always very messy) he was not the most attractive dwarf in the continent of Zi. But he had his advantages, not the least of which was his pungent breath, which was rumored to have killed a pack of Ogres on contact, but that is neither here no there.
“Ahoy there my childish gimp!” he said with his usual tact. “Looks like ye be lost again!” Chuckling, he held out his hand. “Look,” he said. Elion squinted hard, but it was difficult to make out much. There was something in his pudgy hand, it was green…
“My good luck charm!” he sqealed. “Where did you find it?”
It was a simple-hewn jade image of a dryad. It was this dryad that had saved him when he was a little boy. He was on a camping trip with some friends in Valerian Forest just north of Shreven where he lived. It was rathy windy that day and his map had been blown out of his hands. His friends, Eil and Dien were off playing tag somewhere nearby. So intent had he been on his map that he didn’t noticed he had wandered off from his campsite. He had looked around in dismay as he saw the strange defile he had nearly wandered into. He was lost. Then a strong gust blew in from the rocky crevice, tearing the parchment from his hands. He chased it along the foot of the crinkled hill to a slow moving stream. It had looked shallow enough. The map had blown onto the surface and was getting away. So without thinking, at least nothing beyond “It doesn’t look that deep,” Elion plunged in after it. Instantly he was pulled beneath by a suprising undertow. Grasping for the surface, kicking hard, Elion prayed to his God, Drevin. And he answered with her. Her hands were warm and smooth, like living water. She pulled him up to the surface and brought his water-logged body to shore. Putting her lips to his, she drained the water from his lungs. Lunasavoran appeared like an angel, bathed in golden sunlight which looked of a halo to his burning eyes. She was a Forest Keeper, one of The Shepard’s servants of Nature, whose job it was to protect those that worship His Benevolence. She almost looks like one of those bonnie Zi’an models I’ve seen once at that Burlesque house at Avani I sneaked into once, he thought. No wait, couldn’t be, that one didn’t have blue hair…
“Ahem,” Elion, broken of his reverie looked up. Old weasal appeared solemn from beneath his bushy brows as he handed him the jade figurine. Fear welled up inside the boy. Rarely was Old Weasal solemn. “Back at the glen… Your mother… I was working in basement on some woodwork that needed to be done for some locals when I heard it. There were so many of them…” Here he choked and took a deep breath. “Darius’ soldiers-”
“What!? This can’t be!” Elion cried. Anger, fear and hurt all welled up inside him like a geyser, making him dizzy.
“By the time I got upstairs, it was all over. I never got a chance to even take out one of ’em.”
Agony. Elion had only felt that emotion once before. That was the day his old cabin burned down in the Great Fires that plagued his elven land but twenty years ago. When the earth was bathed in magma. Images of burning houses and charred bodies filled his mind. He lost many friends in that fateful day. He recalled as well the sight of his mother’s shawl flapping in the hot air like a dying bird upon the windowsill of his former abode. His heart had raced, like it was now. He thought he had lost her then. And now….
“Your just my imagination!” he screamed in disbelief. ” I-I’m just dreaming! I never left home! Soon I’ll wake up in my nice warm bed-”
“Listen to me boy! If you don’t believe me, ask her yourself.” Old Weasal replied.
There was a moment of silence. Then Elion felt something. A gentle hand came to rest upon his shoulder. Turning slowly, he burst into tears as he beheld the image of his mother.
Lesnera Macar of Shreven Town she was called. Years of being in the quiet town had not dampened her sprightly outlook on life. She was always smiling. Even now, supposedly dead, she was still smiling. Dressed in a simple silken tunic and leather skirt, she reminded him of a pirate. She loved the sea and had gone on many a cruise with the young elf in search of new places and adventures. She was adorned with only an elegantly hafted obsidian dagger and a pouch full of herbs at her belt, she generally could make her way with the least of provisions. The Macar clan was known far and wide as being very resourceful. She had long blonde hair that curled every so slightly to give her hair a wavy quality that most men could not resist. It sparkled oddly in the purple light. Her creamy skin seemed to cast its own light, reflecting blue in her green eyes.
“Are you a ghost?” Elion asked with a sniffle.
“In a way.” she replied. “But I am well. It has been imposed on me by our God Revin that I assist you on your journey. Things averse await for you in the near future. I am here to make sure that your journey remains auspicious.”
Suddenly Elion found himself sitting at a familiar oak table attractively set for what appeared to be an average elven dinner. Salad plates and doeskin placements placed evenlt along the table, coupled with long cream-colored beeswax candles materialized in front of him. Gone were the pink clouds and fuzzy ambiance, replaced by the playful flicker of candle-light. The elf turned to see Old weasal in the back of the room sleeping in his favorite chair as always, snoring like a kangaroo rat he saw once. Elion was indeed sitting in his dining room. There at the end of the table sat his mother, slowly sipping at some mulled wine. Warms sweetness filled his nostrils as a basket of warm rolls and a plate full of butter appeared to his left. Quickly he began to inhale all he could, his knife whipping out and cutting and spreading like a hailstorm. To his right appeared his favorite drink, chilled Mulberry juice. He squeled in glee and reached for the new born glass beside it. “I was-slurp-so hungry-slurp.” he mumbled, spitting bread as he talked. His mother laughed effectionately at her son’s unceremonius manner.
“I’m glad you like it,” she said gently. A couple minutes had past and by now Elion had eaten a leg of mutton, two plates of fried shrimp and a cup of ice cream. “Done?” Lesnera asked amusedly.
“Oh yeah,” Elion burped the reply. And with that the food, crumbs, stains and all dissolved away, leaving no trace with the linen tablecloth of having ever been eaten on. “So… How’s Jezra been? And what about Lui Shen? She was always up for a game of Pin the Tail to the Goblin….” He was rambling and he knew it. Maybe I can distract her enough to forget about this being dead business, he thought anxiously. But it was to no avail. She just looked at him with those loving eyes of hers. An expression of sadness on her face. Choking his words, he was afraid he would start crying. He bit his tongue and fumbled with his dagger. Shutting his eyes, Elion prayed to Revin that he would awake to the sounds of the bustling town where he grew up. Even if it meant having to go back to school. But, as fate would have it, nothing changed. During his brief attempt at communion with his god, Lesnera had quietly gotten up from her chair to stand at her son’s side. Slowly she began to stroke back his long black hair.
“Elion, I wish it didn’t have to be this way. But take my words to heart: There will come a time when things are again as we would have them. But-” Here she stopped, as if unsure of how to continue. Her hand began to feel shaky on his head. Quickly she removed it. “I’ve not much time. Here, take this,” she thrusted a wrapped parcel into his hand and pulled a necklace out of her pouch. A blood red pendant that looked of fire held in suspended animation hung from its golden loops. “Put this on. It’s a Fire Opal. It will protect you and is also good for… other convenient purposes…” Elion caught the enigmatic tone in her voice and looked at her curiously as she encircled it around his neck. But she ignored the look. “Now, I must be off. I’m being called. But I’ll see you again soon!” With that she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and holding his hand to her face.
There was a bright flash of light and Elion found himself once again in the role of flotsam in Fruity Dessert World.
To be continued….