A young boy finds himself caught in the middle of a supernatural war
“You know if you keep concentrating that hard you’ll hurt yourself,” Ilsa chirped. Davin came to his sense with a flash of insight. He blinked a few times trying to remember what it was he was thinking so hard about but all he could come up with was an image. The image was of an Implement that seemed so utterly familiar to him. For a second he was lost again until he tuned into Ilsa speaking, “…quit dawdling and get back to the Studio before Maestro Speare decides you need a lesson in ‘time management’.” He smiled at her and then without any pretense smacked her on the arm with a triumphant, “You’re it!” and took off at a dead sprint. He could hear Ilsa screaming something at him but he was lost to the pounding of his heart.
Before he knew it he was in the courtyard of the Studio. The Studio was more like a fort then a school and with the amount of guards most people mistook it for one. He stopped suddenly struck by the sheer presence of the building. It was large, in the sense that if giants wanted to they could have lived comfortably in its halls. It towered a mighty fifty feet tall with towers that resembled paintbrushes at its four corners and one spire jutting from its midsection. The building itself was made of pure Anima and hardened over the centuries by the most talented Animators. It was the pride of Creatora and always would be.
Creatora was Davin’s home and its inhabitants were some of the rare few who could utilize an intangible energy known as Anima. Through different forms of art they could create amazing things or even augment themselves becoming faster, stronger, or smarter. Those who showed an innate ability to use Anima were put through Trials to become Animators, Creatora’s bastions of light. They protected and governed all of Creatora. Sadly those with more meager abilities, like Ilsa and himself, were sent to special schools or studios to try and cultivate their abilities.
He had a seconds warning before Ilsa slammed into him screaming proudly, “I got you!” He looked up at her blearily his head pounding slightly from being body slammed and nodded numbly. They were both grinning, Ilsa was helping him to his feet when a voice smooth as silk and sharp as a knife drifted to them, “My, my it’s not every day I see two disciples skipping out on their duties.” Davin felt his eyes widening and saw the horror flash over Ilsa’s face before two well manicured hands grasped his shoulders with an iron grip. He looked up and gulped at the Maestros face. “M-Maestro S-Speare I-I d-didn’t s-see you there,” he tried to fake cheerfulness but the look on maestros face killed it.
Maestro Speare was known as a renowned Animator and Maestro at the Studio and the land of Creatora at large. His writings and speeches alone could bespell even guarded Animators, and his ability to create deadly choreography on the fly made him a dangerous man. Not to mention he had a fancy for tormenting dawdlers. Davin gulped, “Maestro I can explain you see I was-“ the Maestros voiced cut him off effortlessly synching with his word as if it were a rehearsed argument, “No excuses get back to your duties and if I see you slacking again, either of you, I will personally punish you.” With that the Maestro turned and strode off to one of his evening classes.
“Great Davin, I do so love when you get me in trouble,” Ilsa hissed. He shook his head and just smiled at her. “Oh no Mr. Smiles I’m not falling for it now get your skirt chasing butt to class or it’ll be both our necks,” despite her self she smiled back at him. “I’ll see you in the Dinning Hall,” he said before running off for class. He practically flew through the small crowd of disciples coming and going from afternoon classes. He cut through the intricate walkways with their high ceilings and decorative pillars.
As he took the corner just before his class he slammed nose first into a mountain of a man. Goliath was seven feet of pure muscle wrapped in a thin layer of fat that belied the strength of his body and the speed at which he could move. It was almost startling to see his sky blue eyes and raven black hair compared to the rest of him So, naturally when Davin ran into Goliath he ended up on his backside for the second time in less then five minutes. Goliath didn’t even grunt or move he just stood like a mountain of muscle and opened his mouth to speak until a coarse whispery voice said, “Your hazardous to yourself Davin it’s a wonder your not dead yet.” Where Goliath was a giant, Medea was a petite thing. She was four feet of cool composure, deadly skills, and pure talent and, beyond size, she was a twin of goliath. Goliath was all muscles; Medea was pure mind. She always had a thing against Davin that he never quite understood until he heard stories of her openly admitting having feelings for him. After that he simply smiled at her attempts of malicious retorts.
“Medea, Goliath the ever attached terrible twosome,” Davin said wittily. Goliath growled a deep reverberating sound. Medea smiled coolly, “You smart-mouthed runt you should respect your elders especially,” she added quietly, “When you haven’t even found an Implement yet.” Implements were tools or weapons used to focus Anima and so far nothing called to him. Most, like Medea and Goliath, took that as a sign of weakness. Davin started getting that sinking feeling in his stomach and replied hastily, “Look you two I’m not here for a fight I’m already late for class and if you two don’t get along you’ll suffer at the hands of Maestro Speare.” Goliath actually paled but Davin couldn’t tell if Medea of the pale skin changed color at all. Without a sound they turned in unison and walked calmly, albeit quickly, down the corridor.
Davin let out a breath he hadn’t know he was holding; the ache in his chest from lack of air fading almost immediately. His hands started shaking as the adrenalin in his system faded. His heart lurched for a different reason as the noon late bell started ringing. He raced down the corridor and leaped the last two feet into the door. He stifled the urge to ‘yip’ when he realized the Maestro wasn’t in the room. He quickly took his seat among the twenty other disciples in the room and waited. The Maestro entered and class began. Davin paid little attention and when the bells rang he practically fled the class room.
The rest of the day was a breeze classes he could skip and still pass in his sleep. Davin hadn’t found his Artform yet but he was a natural on the theories of Artforms. On his way to his usual hang around spot he noticed a number of disciples running in the direction of the courtyard. About the time the tenth person went running by him he decided maybe there was something to check out. He cut through classrooms and corridors alike. When he finally reached the courtyard a small crowd of people were surrounding two figures. He couldn’t tell who until Ilsa’s voice squeaked, “Enough Aris!”
That sinking feeling hit again and Davin started shoving people out of the way. He steeled his voice and started shouting, “Move!” and people parted. When he got to the eye of the crowd he finally saw the other figure. Aris was a Prodigy, a natural born Animator who some rumored had more then one Artform. He was also the biggest bully and most conceited person Davin had ever met. Aris was holding another person he hadn’t noticed when he realized who it was anger surged through him with a white hot blaze. Pablo was another meager skilled disciple and Davin’s best friend. He was a small fair skinned boy still growing into his body. His hair was a dark brown and he had a peculiar eye color: lilac.
Prodigy or no Davin hated bullies more then anything. Combine that with harming his friend and it was a recipe for disaster. The words that came out of his mouth could barely be registered as more then a growl, “let him go Aris!” Aris smirked at him, “or what Davi,” he sniggered. Without consciously trying Davin began summoning every ounce of Anima he could muster fully intending on lashing out with pure force. The power he was calling was immense almost more then he could handle. He barely registered Aris brandishing his Telemace and focusing his own impressive amount of Anima through his Implement which only intensified his power to a staggering level.
Davin let out a battle cry and cast a ball of unseen force flying at Aris. Aris parried the energy effortlessly but was caught off guard when Davin punched him after charging in the wake of the Forcecast. He tumbled into the fall rolling into a guard position ruining Davin’s follow up kick. They circled each other and someone unknown tossed Davin a blunted practice sword. The weapon wasn’t meant for more then bruising but it would do. He held it loosely keeping his body relaxed and paying attention to his adversaries’ center mass like he was taught. Aris advanced attacking high then low then high again. Davin blocked each attack then went on the offensive feigning a head cut and then quickly recovering to try for a belly cut. Aris pivoted at the last second causing Davin to miss by a hairsbreadth, while he sent a flurry of attacks that forced Davin to block. He felt the surge of Anima a moment to late. He had enough time to realize the Telemace was casting a sickly green glow before it shattered his practice sword in a shower of metal splinters that left hot pinpricks of pain running up his arms and face.
He fell from the backlash and stared up as Aris lifted his mace above his head for the final blow. To top it all off he focused Anima into the Implement to make sure it pulverized Davin in one hit. “Looks like you lose Davi,” he gloated and brought the Telemace down in a flare of green energy. In that moment time slowed and Davin dimly noted a shadowy figure moving in a blur across the crowd with frightening ease, block the Telemace mere inches from his head. The stored Anima lashed out violently as a Countercast sent all the energy back upon its summoner, namely Aris. Aris flew in arch to land twenty feet away on his back side his Implement collapsing into a foot long scope.
Grand Maestro Hoven, was a striking man. He had brown hair that coursed wildly about his head with deep brown eyes that shown with a hint of madness. He was a fair man otherwise, the rest of him unremarkable, even out of shape some would argue. His Implement, a Baton, shone with a brilliant blue glow of Anima given shape and form. His face was set in a snarl and he rumbled, “ENOUGH!” He turned like a storm on the verge of exploding and bellowed, “Aris report to my office immediately,” then he turned to Davin, “and you, Get. To. Class.” He turned and the crowd parted without a word uttered from the Grand Maestro. With a glare they all scattered some looking embarrassed, others angry, all shaken.
Davin lay on the ground shaking from the last few seconds. He could still see the naked relief and rage on Aris’ face when he brought his Implement down to smite him. It took him a moment to realize Ilsa was kneeling over him, trying to make sure he was okay, “…move too much there are shards of metal in your neck and arms.” He complied while her nimble fingers found and extracted the splinter with painful little bites of pain. He heard himself say, “I almost had him.” Ilsa barked out a nervous laugh that threatened to break at the end. She hugged him fiercely which set the still left splinters burning annoyingly in his body. He just grimaced and hugged her back as fiercely if not more.
They broke away almost reluctantly. He pulled himself off the ground and tested his arms and neck; aside from some light bleeding he was alright. He turned to Pablo and got a shy smile and a quiet, “Thanks Davi.”
He just smiled, “No big, Aris is a pushover.” Even to him it didn’t sound convincing. They stopped by the medical wing and after he was discharged they let him skip while they disappeared to their classes. He looked out over the hill he normally relaxed at in awe. He memorized the way the forest seemed to go on forever in deep colors of green and red-orange. How the northern mountain range rose high in the sky so that you couldn’t see the highest point on a cloudy day. This was his home and it never ceased to amaze him. And as long as the Animators are around, he thought idly, nothing could go wrong.
Van watched the boy deep within the forest. He used the lens on his Guncamera to zoom in and with the high resolution it was almost like he was right by the boy. The kid was a strong but small thing with raven black hair and penetrating gold eyes. He was charged with following the boy and if need be kidnap him. It was disgraceful in his opinion. He was an Animator for Anima’s sake. He shouldn’t be sitting in a forest watching some boy gazing wonderingly at the whole of Creatora. But, he was also a soldier and he followed orders. Even if he thought the mission was a waste of his good talents.
He sensed a presence half a second before she spoke. “Ah, I miss being that innocent,” she paused for a second then, “don’t you?” Van turned to look at the head of the Animators, who wore an all encompassing hood that obscured everything about her. As usual she never showed anyone who she was. “M’lady, if I may speak openly,” he questioned. The hood nodded, “At that age I was already running assignments for the Artisans.” He left off saying I was never that innocent. “M’lady, I don’t understand why I’m here watching this boy,” he went for innocent questioning but it still came out with a note of complaint.
The hood started shaking and it took him a moment to catch on that she was laughing. “Van your one of our most respected and most honored Animators,” she said simply. “I put you on this assignment because I trust your skills and your judgment that’s all.” The way she said it though, gave him the sense that she was leaving things out. “The field reports came back,” she added nonchalantly. Van ignored the poorly placed bait and waited silently. “Never could get a reaction out of you,” she whispered. “The reports say they’re on the move, heading straight for the Studio.” Van took this all in and then, “Should I grab the mark and report back?” The hood stood silently, “The Studio is a major school and a first defense against enemies,” she gave a pause, “we can’t just allow them to take it,” a note of anger tingeing her voice. “Stay and defend it.”
A flash of irritation went through him. “What should I do with the boy?” He turned back to his mark. The kid sat with a pad and pencil now, his eyes intent on the scene laid out before him. “Stay as long as necessary,” she added grimly, “should things get bad take the boy and get him back to Thera.” He glanced back to find he was alone. It was just as well he worked better alone anyway.
For the next few hours he surveyed the layout of the land. After he found the perfect spot to watch the Studio and the boy he set up camp. And then he waited. And waited. And waited some more. Oh and lets not forget; waited. He absolutely hated waiting. Eventually he started taking shots of the surrounding area even the Studio. Anything that caught his eye he captured: Students, unique Implements, Maestros that he knew and others that he did not. Finally the evening bell to dismiss the disciples rang and children of all ages came streaming out of the Studio laughing and giggling.
It took him only a second to pick out Davin. The boy was smiling and talking energetically with a homely looking girl and a sheepish looking boy. They were all three laughing and smiling at something Davin was saying. He shadowed the triumvirate to the hill from earlier and watched them for a while, until the girl hopped up said something and took off running. The sheepish boy stayed a bit longer then bid the boy a farewell and left. Van watched a bit longer until the weirdest thing happened.
The boy saw him.
At first he thought maybe he was just looking in his direction for the sunlight or animals. Then he noticed how unnervingly the boy stared exactly at the spot where he was. Van found himself holding his breath and staying extremely still. Endless seconds went by. Then the boy blinked and stood up stretching almost comically smiling to himself. Van let out the breath he was holding and relaxed, muscles and tendons creaking. He aimed and took a few shots of the boy in this weird happy mood. It made him wonder how long this peace was going to last. He shadowed the boy all the way back to the Studio where he disappeared into the housing area.
Then Van went back to camp and started developing the shots from the whole day. That’s when he heard the sounds. It was a faint at first and he didn’t pay it any mind. Then it grew in pitch and he looked up heart in his throat: a rattling and the sounds of something sucking. Them. She had said they were coming but neglected to mention how close they were. He listened now, willing anima in him to heighten his sense. He gauged the volume and distance and figured they were two maybe three miles out. His heart dropped back into his chest when he realized they weren’t moving. He figured they were probably eating or setting up a hole to sleep in while they gathered their strength from the exhausting transition from immaterial to the material.
Them: the Vague. Creatures that had showed up five years ago to play havoc with Creatora. The war, if you could call it that, was a secret war. The general populace was clueless and that’s the way the powers that be wanted it. He didn’t really mind except that he wasn’t what most people would call a subtle man. More times then not, he was caught in the open with the Vague and then the Artisans would be playing cover up.
Yet, here he was with a top secret mission watching some brat flit around. Again the thought that he was being wasted crossed his mind. Another vague let out there sucking-rattle call and Van looked out across the forest. Still not moving but they were being louder then they normally were. He shook his head and kept developing his photos from the day. He looked up when the sun finally descended behind the Great Peaks. Darkness engulfed the forest and Van couldn’t help it he shivered. Given what was in the forest he could hardly blame himself. He circled his own camp drawing runes of protection and willing Anima into them. He pictured a solid impassable wall forming around his camp and willed the image into the runes. He sighed with relief when the runes flashed a brilliant azure and a nigh-invisible dome appeared over him.
He sat down in the middle of the dome and pondered. Things were going to be bad the next few days. The Vague were on the move and drawing closer to Thera every day. Even more unnerving, they were getting bolder. Never had they openly grouped together or massed an attack on a Studio. He tried to see the consequences of what it all meant but he had never been much of a politician or general. Maybe the Vague were finally unmasking there true forces or maybe they were getting smarter. Either notion was frightening to say the least. He had seen what the vague could do and earned quite a few scars in back alley skirmishes to know just how deadly a Vague alone could be.
He decided to focus on what he did best and what he loved: Art. He pulled out his paints and canvas and began on another one of his pieces. The picture was a of himself but in another life. He was a smaller man his hair trimmed short and a red beard gracing his face. He was just beginning to add life to the painting when the Vague let out a wholly new and unsettling sound. The normal sucking-rattle replaced with a rattling yelp over and over. It lasted only a few seconds and then silence. Van waited until he thought he heard something. He heightened his sense and caught it. Somewhere farther away but still awfully close, an answering rattling yelp.
His heart jumped into his throat once more. Another group of Vague, it was unheard of. He jumped to his feet checking the film in his Guncamera. He slipped his Implement in its holster and brandished his Brushspear. The yelping subsided before he had time enough to gauge how close they were exactly. He gripped the medallion around his neck and willed a whisper of Anima into it. A wave of smoke lifted from the medallion until it became an all encompassing smoke screen. The smoke resolved itself into the form of a circle of six chairs. Only three of the Artisans were present.
“My Lords, it would seem that there is a larger force of Vague then previously estimated,” he said, “it seems another pack has joined the first.”
One of the smoke figures leaned forward, “Interesting, there is another group of Vague,” he added thoughtfully. “Animator your mission has not changed, shadow the boy should the situation become too perilous bring the mark to Thera.”
“My lord, I humbly request that you send reinforcements to the Studio. They are not prepared to handle this threat,” he gritted through his teeth.
“Animator!” one of the figures shouted. “This war has been kept secret for five years. Now you want us to jeopardize that by sending a contingent of Animators to the farthest reaches of Creatora?” he patronized.
“No, sir,” he growled.
“Then continue your mission. Do not report back until you have something of interest to report,” the final figure commanded.
With that the smoke faded away leaving Van alone. Van lashed out in anger sending a bolt of concentrated energy to blast through the nearest tree leaving a five foot wide crater. He was suddenly breathing heavy, “No good, ungrateful-“ He sighed heavily. He stared at the crater, figuring that that probably wasn’t the best idea he had. He picked up the discarded canvas and refilled his paints. He settled into a comfortable position picking up where he left off. As time passed so did his anger. He stepped outside of time as he instinctually tapped into Anima. Power flowed through him, first in short bursts then with each stroke the paint glowed and the portrait began taking on a new life. With each stroke the painting became more realistic until finally it was as if Van was staring at a realistic alternate form of himself.
Eventually he came back to his senses. He gazed at his creation. If only life had been a little less cruel he could have been this care-free man. He stowed the painting away his stomach knotting in disgust. He could dream the rest of the night all he wanted but his life was the way it was. Nothing would change that. Even so, he couldn’t help but stare longingly at the now hidden away portrait. If only, he thought. He shook his head and the idle thoughts away
He checked the wards, then decided that he should get some sleep while he had the chance. He fell asleep to the sounds of the night and the eerie calls of the Vague.