by Frank Moricz
Zek seeks the answer to his great riddle... from dark places.
I am looking for ratings and reviews involving character development, setting, flow, and anything else you think that would help. This chapter is a bit shorter, but is a turning point in the exposition of the main plot of the story.
This is the story in its original form, I am playing with the idea of making it more liner and eliminating flashbacks. If you choose to rate it, please let me know what you think about that idea, and why.
Chapter 2 - Zek Cain: Animus Unraveled
In this great city, for all its splendor, Zek had always felt trapped. Everyone knew what a large world they lived upon; history lessons had made it clear that Aura was a huge place, and she was filled with life and greenery once upon a time. Zek never understood how arcane people could be so complacent to be trapped in this bubble. He marveled at how they never seemed curious about the people or places outside.
There was great beauty around him; each stone was carved with masterful ability. The arcane had adapted to life without abundant wood for building, and over the generations the arcane crafters had become quite adept at cutting into the rock. A proud mountain of white stone had once stood as the center of Arc City; though now it was hollow, and the remains of the mountain now held the arena. The bones of Aura were now laid around Arc City in the shape of shops and roads.
The mountain had also served another purpose; the arcane were able to make use of the crystal found within the stones. Arcane blood could mingle with the seemingly lifeless gems, and each color of crystal would display its own incredible properties. With a simple touch they could activate the power hidden within, and the raw crystal would give them the ability to create light, flame, and water to sustain them. It was through the understanding of crystal that the university had eventually emerged; it taught the arcane to harness the crystal within themselves.
Zek passed through the Market District, and he walked through long shadows cast by the setting suns. He brushed away a silver lock of hair, and sighed quietly. Looking upward, he watched the magic dome over Arc City churn like the surface of water. The light waned away, and the deep blue shield slowly faded to black. Zek returned his eyes to the path ahead, and he saw how it twisted and turned through rough streets of old stone.
The walk away from the old Drax estate was solemn; Zek argued internally as he moved through the heart of the city. A part of him wanted to tell Mason everything he had been doing, and he hoped that his friend would understand or perhaps even encourage him. There was also a nagging logic that kept him quiet, and told him that Mason would never understand what he was doing; if that were the case then Zek would lose his only true friend. In the end, he decided that staying quiet was not the same as a lie, and he would have to wait until his idea had played out for better or worse.
Mason had always been there for him in a way that nobody else could have understood. Perhaps it was the power Zek had command over; it had given others the illusion that he was invincible, but Zek felt that Mason knew him for the person he really was. The boys had both lost their parents, and grew up as a team. Over the years they had become as close as brothers. It was a difficult decision for Zek to hide his actions from such a friend.
He knew that Mason would never have been able to breach the aegis or escape on his own. For years, Zek had searched for weaknesses in the wall; in secret he had taken his time alone to attack the shield with every magic he could conjure, but he had never made any progress. Almost every night, he had walked to a new section of the large circle that surrounded the city, but he had found no weakness. The shield was thick; it obscured the sight of everything beyond it with a wavy haze, and he was constantly being taunted by the trees and strange creatures which lay just outside. In frustration and despair, Zek had all but pounded against the barrier with his fists in an attempt to shatter it.
It had been three days since he was first approached by the hooded men known as exiles. They had found him out-of-breath, and drained from an explosive barrage of magic that was fueled by frustration. Zek had reached a breaking point; after so much time spent without progress he felt that his quest was hopeless. The exiles were able to rekindle his hope with their presence – Zek was tempted by their knowledge of the forbidden magic known as “soul magic”.
According to rumor, soul magic used much more than just the blood of an arcane. The cost became more apparent to Zek when he had looked upon these exiles; they gathered around him with milky skin and scabrous faces to deliver an invitation. The words were never spoken aloud – though Zek felt the words within his head, and they played to him like a song in his own mind.
'We know who you are, Zek Cain. We know of your power, and we know what you desire. Come to this place at this time tomorrow, and find the answer that you seek.'
Zek had shown up the next day, and met with a different exile. The man spoke aloud from beneath a tattered cloak which hid all but his pale jaw. He beckoned for Zek to follow, and showed him the hidden entrance to the corridor of the soul mages.
Before he could leave, the exile secured from Zek an oath of secrecy. It was explained that his own life would not be the only one forfeit if the oath was broken; if he were to join them he would need only to show up and enter here the following night.
The night had finally come, and Zek walked once again to the hidden door in the ancient district. It was said that this area was sacred, and that arcane history began in this place. To look at it now, it was all but destroyed by time, and abandoned as the arcane had spread to other districts. The place gave Zek the feeling that he was wandering into the past. The stone here was clearly cut with a lack of skill, or simply remained uncut. Few structures around him remained standing, and he saw mostly remnants of walls with uneven holes that once served as windows.
The suns were now set, and nearly all light was lost between the ruined buildings and high walls that still stood amidst shadowed rubble. Zek willed his hands to glow with beams of light, and he scanned the area in front of him. The path became rockier, and it made progress slow as he trudged through a sea of stones. He finally reached his destination - a door of ruin that seemed to lean against a pile of natural rock.
With nobody in sight, Zek pried open the door, and he slowly closed it behind him. He descended the old stairway, and made his way into the narrow corridor. His hands began burn with blue flames, and the corridor exploded with a flickering light. The fire moved with an unnatural slowness, and licked its way from his forearms to fingertips. Zek attempted to push aside his fears, and he delved deeper into the tunnel.
His thoughts turned to his objective. The exiles had offered him the answer to his question, and he could only hope that his riddle would be solved tonight. To breach the shield and escape with Mason had been his quest for so long that Zek had almost forgotten his own reasons. Mason had wanted it so badly, and Zek aimed to get them both away from the arcane cage; though for Zek it was not to explore or to find peace - he wanted to find a place where he could learn of true power, and he felt it call to him from beyond the aegis.
Zek knew that the exiles guarded their secret closely. He asked himself why anyone would use a magic that would destroy their body so badly, but the only answer he could muster was that their power must somehow be worth the sacrifice to have it. He had no idea what to expect with a magic he had hardly heard of; he only knew that if these exiles could teach him to get beyond the wall - he would sacrifice much to learn.
He neared the end of the narrow hall, and the smell of decay was becoming more pronounced. The doorway ahead of him opened into a round room, which was lined with benches of crude stone. Red crystals on the walls were alive with magical fire; they burned blood-red and created ominous shadows that danced in all directions. Zek stepped onto the threshold, and he focused to let the fire from his arms burn away. He stopped in the doorway, and took in the scene in front of him.
A crowd of hooded men with matching robes stood silently within the large room. As if they detected his presence, the exiles turned toward him in unison. Zek felt a bit out-of-place with his young skin and modern apparel. He stood fast, and waited for something to happen.
“Zek Cain!” a voice echoed suddenly from the crowd. “A new initiate comes, and we welcome him,” the voice went on. Zek noticed that the wavering voice sounded as old as the stone which lined the room.
“Thank you,” Zek replied. He watched as the group began to move. The men slowly walked toward the outer rim of the room, except for a single exile that Zek guessed to be the leader.
“Come forward, son of Cain, and find the answers you have sought,” The soul mage commanded. His hand reached out slowly in friendship. The hood fell from his head, and revealed a face which showed incredible age. His frail hand was decorated with long fingernails that were yellowed by time, but his wrinkled skin seemed to be free of the wounds he had seen on the others.
Zek stepped toward him slowly. His glance moved from side to side as the other exiles stood and watched on. The silence was unnerving. Zek had almost started to regret his decision to come here, but it was far too late to decide against it now. He reached the old mage, and he took a frail hand into his own; it felt as delicate as old parchment. Zek's red eyes studied the man's face, and he noticed that the old man's eyes were white with blindness.
'Kneel!' voices screamed in Zek's head. His knee fell to the ground as if he was thrown down. He struggled against the force, but he could not bring himself to stand. Zek felt the muscles in his legs tense, and he felt as if he was frozen solid.
“I give you warning, son of Cain,” the old man began to speak. “We offer much, all you wish to know and more. You will live as I have, many times the life of an arcane. This knowledge will come at cost, of how much I cannot say.”
“What knowledge would you give me?” Zek asked.
“All that you desire and more. Long you have searched for what we have, and have not yet known it. I mean to show you this truth,” The elder replied. “Do you accept this gift?”
“I accept,” Zek said. “Now, tell me what I wish to know.”
The old man removed his hand from Zek, and he instantly felt the release of his binding. He remained kneeling, and looked up towards the elder to await an answer. The man looked down onto him with his white eyes, which Zek saw slowly start to swirl with a dark purple color. The room around him begin to darken, and a sense of power filled the very air around him.
Zek watched the man again raise his hand slightly, and saw that his palm glowed with the same purple color. The man placed his palm on the top of Zek's head. He felt an agony that coursed through him, and he saw flashes of images in his mind. The sound of screams filled his ears. Thoughts and dreams passed through him; memories which seemed forgotten were remembered, and the world shook around him. The room darkened and began to fade away, and Zek realized that the screams he had heard were his own.
* * *
Zek found himself leaned against a wall. He now sat on one of the cracked stone benches he had noticed before. His head swirled, and he leaned back on the wall with his eyes closed in pain. He could hear his heartbeat booming in his ears, and Zek wondered how long he had been unconscious. Every throb in his head came with flashes of images that faded away before he could make sense of them. Zek felt different; somehow he felt wrong on the inside. The feeling slowly began to pass, and the pain faded along with the pictures in his mind. Zek stayed still for a moment before he rubbed his eyes to take a look around.
Sitting next to him on the bench, he noticed a dark robe like that of the others. He picked it up, and noticed an ancient looking book wrapped within it. He examined it briefly, and he knew that he had never seen an older book in his life. The cover seemed to be stitched together by hand; the symbols appeared to be painted onto it with a black liquid instead of being scalded into it like other books. Instead of answers, Zek felt that he was now left with even more questions. Zek wrapped the book within the robe once again, and brought his attention back to the exiles.
He saw that the group was again staring at him intently from the center of the room. They moved again toward the walls, and they took their positions once again. Zek placed the bundled robe onto his lap with the book still within it. Exiles now sat on either side of him, though their eyes were fixed on the center of the room; the elder addressed the group.
“Too many lives I have lived, and too much I have lost in that time. I have stayed with you all until a new initiate was found, and now my soul must pass to another,” The man said. “The speaker shall now come forth.”
The man sitting to the left of Zek stood, and he pulled back his hood. His face was worn, and covered in red sores. Zek recognized him as the man who had spoken to him the previous night, and had secured his oath. The exile shrugged the robe from his shoulders, and revealed his naked body - spotted with bruises and wounds, and caked with filth.
The elder knelt, and he waited in silence for the man to approach. The speaker walked behind the elder, and his pale skin seemed painted red in the flickering light of the crystal flames. He laid hands on each side of the elder's face; both men had eyes that now swirled with a purple glow. The crowd looked on, and the old man became progressively thinner. Zek noticed his swirling eyes returned to a blind white before they closed. He watched the elder's skin flake away in an invisible breeze and flutter upward. With a start, he realized that the speaker's wounds were now completely gone.
The speaker's hands remained in place with an indigo aura about them. His skin now looked perfect in the firelight, and he appeared much younger than he had before. He opened his eyes, and revealed a bright flash of purple which quickly dissipated; his young eyes suddenly became a very common brown. Without a word, he stooped and picked up the robe which now lay at his feet, and he wrapped himself.
“Come forth, son of Cain,” The speaker said. Zek stood slowly, and held the bundle of robe beneath his arm. “My soul is now with this speaker, who is the new Soul Master.”
“You said this magic comes at a cost...” Zek started to ask, but was cut off by a gesture that commanded his quiet.
“Each time this magic is used, we must make a sacrifice. We do not choose what is lost - sometimes it is small, other times it is not...” the new master began to explain. “It may be as simple as a memory, or a feeling, it may be as great as years from our lives. As you learn from us, we will show you how to master the knowledge you have just been given and control yourself.”
“Just been given? You mean to say I have this power now?” Zek asked.
“Arcane have always had this power, we simply enlightened you,” The master explained. “The book you carry holds the answers you seek, the true and complete history of the arcane, and their ascension to the surface, and the truth of Orin from the ancient days.”
Zek pulled the book from his bundle, and he opened it to reveal parchment that looked impossibly old. He examined the words within the pages, while the exiles looked on anxiously. Zek carefully turned the pages in silence. His eyes scanned over the creation of Arc city, and the arcane rise from the dust. The page flipped again, and Zek's eyes went wide; finally, he understood the secret of the shield, and how it was created.
“The shield--” Zek started.
“Now you understand. You understand why you were chosen and why you were brought here,” The master interrupted.
“Yes, I understand now,” Zek said, and closed the book carefully.
If you choose to rate and review this story, please ONLY do so after having read the story from the beginning. ("The Ternion Prologue" )
Next: "The Ternion - Chapter 3"