by Frank Moricz
The aftermath of Arc City
If you choose to rate and review this story, please ONLY do so after having read the story from the beginning. ("The Ternion Prologue" )
This chapter takes a different path than the beginning of the story. It showcases the doubt and fear created when the walls of paradise are shattered, and the inhabitants become aware of something beyond. I am looking for ratings and reviews involving character development, setting, flow, and anything else you think that would help.
Chapter 5 - Arc City: The Pursuit
The wet, black stone that lined the walls of the Feltower echoed with the sounds of distant torture. Cut off from the outside world by heavy doors, there was thick moisture in the air and the sour smell of filth. An immense shape created heavy footsteps, and moved through the narrow hall toward a cramped cell. He was larger than any other Felguard, and his skin was rippled with veins and deep scars. The low light of crystal along the walls revealed the unnatural paleness of his skin.
He stopped as he reached the cell, and his single eye glistened with malice. He spied his target huddled into the corner of the small room. His massive hands moved to grasp the crystal bars, and he paused for a moment to make sure his presence was known.
“It is time,” the guard said.
“I know who you are, Peacekeeper,” the prisoner said. He stared through the bars, and scanned over the burned features of the Felguard's face.
“Then you know why I am here.” the Peacekeeper replied with a voice like a deep growl. “You knew Relik Drax when he was brought to this tower, and every memory of him is to be destroyed.”
“Relik Drax was a great man, and you know that torture never broke him,” the prisoner said. “He could have beaten you, Peacekeeper, but they told him his son was dead. He had nothing left to live for.”
“Relik is dead and gone. I have put him out of his misery,” the Felguard said. “Now, It is your turn.”
The Peacekeeper's hands tightened against the bars, and his body flexed with the strain. With a creaking sound, the bars appeared to bend – they then shattered into fragments that exploded outward and clattered against the dark walls. With a loud growl, the Felguard smashed his forearm through the remaining bars, and they broke under the immense force. He stepped into the cell. The light from the hanging crystal above him detailed his burned features. The chain of brown crystal he wore around his neck had begun to give off a subtle glow.
“You are the last remnant of Relik Drax. As a cellmate, you spent far too much time with him. You are to be eliminated,” The Felguard said. He looked down upon his target. The prisoner on the floor was pushing himself to stand.
“How can you--” the prisoner started, but was cut short as fingers curled about his neck. The choking force lifted him from the ground, and his feet moved wildly. His eyes were wide with fear. His strangulation was short lived - the Felguard slammed him into the wall of the cell with incredible force.
Blood spattered onto the Peacekeeper, and he smiled. He turned and threw the prisoner through the ruined doorway of the cell. The Peacekeeper looked upon his prey, who lay broken in the Feltower hallway. His arm wiped the blood from his face. His course hair scraped along his scarred flesh.
“You know, I expected more fight from an exile,” The Peacekeeper said. He advanced on the prisoner, who lay on the ground nursing his broken body.
A purple glow crept into the prisoner's eyes, and a hand shot outward. The Peacekeeper grasped the exile's glowing hand. The chain around his neck gave off a subtle glow, and drank in the soul magic. He lifted the exile, and allowed him to get to his feet.
“I said that I expected a fight – you know your magic has no power over me. What do the arcane do when their magic will not save them?” the Peacekeeper asked.
“Please, have mercy. You were a man before the tower did this to you. Who are you, Peacekeeper?” the exile asked. He saw that his words gave the Peacekeeper pause, and he turned to move down the hallway.
The Peacekeeper stood. He watched the exile limp slowly away from him. The words of the exile had seemed to affect him, and a strange light came into his eyes. The Peacekeeper shook his head slowly.
He bent to retrieve a fragment of the crystal bars that lay at his feet. He stood with eyes were fixed on the shard in his great hand. His head turned, and his eye narrowed on the exile who had nearly moved out of sight. The chain around his neck began to glow with a brownish light. The Peacekeeper hurled the shard with supernatural speed, and it flew through the dim hallway.
The exile prisoner flew forward as the shard connected. He lay lifeless on the damp floor, and had a jagged piece of crystal protruded from the back of his head. The Felguard advanced from behind him to examine the grotesque scene; he made sure his task was complete. He nodded in approval, and a small smile crept across his lips.
“I know who I am,” the Peacekeeper said to his fallen prey. “I am a nameless instrument of fate, and a keeper of peace.”
He stood once again. The sound of heavy footsteps echoed in the distance. His eye stared into the darkness. He saw that another Felguard approached with parchment in his hand.
“The council calls for you, Peacekeeper,” the Felguard said. The smaller Felguard had an obvious fear of the giant before him. The messenger bowed his head and quickly handed over the summons.
“A task,” The Peacekeeper said. The Felguard beside him raised his head with an approving smile. The Peacekeeper looked at him with contempt. He dropped the summons to the ground at his feet. “I have a task for you, guard.”
“Yes, Peacekeeper?” the Felguard asked.
“Clean up this mess,” the Peacekeeper replied. He moved quickly down the hall toward the exit.
* * *
The council chamber of the Arcane University bustled with disorder. The Arcane Council sat behind the semi-circle of carved stone that served as a table, and argued with the Arcane Masters who stood before them. The masters stood on weary legs. They had been unable to convince the council to act. With the shield fractured, the feeling of security had fled from the arcane people in an instant.
“The city has gone mad with this news,” the master of wind magics spoke. “There have been multiple attempts to make for the fracture in the wall.”
“The ones we have captured say they seek only to explore, but the masters are agreed that something more must be done,” the master of water magics added.
The masters looked to the council and awaited action. The arcane masters stood patiently while the council spoke amongst themselves. Light flickered from the crystal sconces, and it created an eerie feeling. Everyone knew that the choices made today would affect the future of Arc City.
At the center of the table, the head of the Arcane Council stood to address the masters. He wore garments of unsurpassed finery, and he laid his soft hands upon the cold stone table. He leaned over the great stone to emphasize his words.
“This council has not forgotten the history of Arc. Each of us here loves this city, and would not risk any citizen to the wild lands,” the head councilor started. “The council has agreed that more effort must be put into the protection of our great city, and our Peacekeeper will be tasked to protect the shield.”
“What of Cain? What of Drax?” the arcane master of shadow magics asked in a raised tone. His anger at the loss of Magus Zeno was still a fresh wound. “We cannot simply allow them to escape unpunished for the atrocity they have committed!”
“Should not their exile be enough? We have moved to erase their history amongst the people. They will quickly be forgotten and all can return to order.” The councilor said. “If they survive, and choose to return, they shall be accommodated only with a chamber in the Feltower.”
“No!” the master of shadow screamed. “I cannot simply allow this murder to be forgotten! Even now, they live free to venture as they please?”
“Just what would you propose, shadow master?” the councilor retorted with anger. “Would you journey out on your own for revenge? Your Magus Zeno stole equipment from the Feltower, and he attempted to stop Zek Cain himself. He paid for the mistake with his own life.”
“What I propose is action, councilors,” he replied. “I propose that we guard the shield well, but send the Peacekeeper to deliver our justice upon the murderers.”
The room quieted. The council discussed the proposition amongst themselves. Before a decision was made, heads turned toward the scuffle heard from outside the doors. Raised voices were heard, and then a moment of quiet.
Suddenly, the doors flew open wildly, and a Felguard slid into the room along his back. He was followed shortly by the Peacekeeper. The massive Felguard wore a black hood over his grotesque features. The glow from the chain around his neck faded, and it became brown crystal once again.
“Peacekeeper! Explain yourself!” the head councilor demanded.
“They would not allow me to enter without my summons,” the Peacekeeper responded. “The fool actually tried to stop me.”
“Your timing is perfect, actually,” the shadow master said. “We were discussing what should be done with the traitors who have destroyed our shield.”
“Discussions bore me, shadow mage,” the Peacekeeper responded. “What is my task, council?”
“Before we decide, Peacekeeper, I want to ask you a question,” the head councilor started. If we were to send you into the world to hunt these murderers, how would you fare?”
The Peacekeeper stood in silence for a moment, as if contemplating his chances. His audience looked on expectantly, and his hand moved to his jaw in deep thought.
“I do not know the land, council, but I have spent my life tracking down hidden exiles,” the Peacekeeper responded. “I know very little of who they are, but no arcane will match my speed or strength. Justice is inevitable.”
“I am satisfied with that,” the shadow master said. The other masters nodded in approval. The head councilor still had apprehension in his eyes, but gave a final nod and the room was finally agreed.
“Then that is your task, Peacekeeper,” the councilor said. “You will find these two - before they draw attention to a newly vulnerable Arc, and you will report to me when your task is done. There were reports of exiles who had escaped in the night; deliver justice if you see them, but your focus needs to be the original targets.”
“I will require a rough description, and haste. Each passing moment allows the criminals to move further away,” the Peacekeeper said.
“Of the two, you will find that only one of them is powerful,” the master of shadow magic said. “They are young, and one of them has unmistakable silver hair. If you could cause them to suffer I would consider it a personal favor.”
The Peacekeeper turned immediately and headed through the still-open doorway. He stepped over the unconscious Felguard who still lay on the floor of the council chamber. As he moved, he pushed back the hood of his black robe, and his burned face twitched as a smile was born.
“Before you go, tell me... who are you, Peacekeeper?” the councilor asked. The Peacekeeper froze in place, and the strange light came into his eyes once again.
“I am a nameless instrument of fate, and a keeper of peace,” he replied.
* * *
Magus Nylia leaned against the ruined wall of the old Drax estate. Her eyes were fixed on the guards who protected the discolored section of the aegis. The otherwise azure shield wavered with a purple light behind them.
“He did it, he actually did it,” she said to herself in a whisper. She stared on in disbelief, and watched the small section flicker in the waning light of the setting suns.
Over the course of the day the rumors had reached her – Felguards were slain, Magus Zeno was murdered, and the Drax estate was put to flame by the Peacekeeper. Nylia knew that the council had begun to remove all physical traces of Cain and Drax. Their aim now would be to completely cover their inability to deliver justice. The fear of the arcane was written clearly on every face she had seen that day.
There were few who knew of her friendship with Zek outside of the classroom, and Nylia began to fear for her own life. She stood amidst the ashes of the old Drax estate and realized the rumors that she had heard were true. If anyone were to hint of the possibility of her friendship with Zek she would become a target as well.
Her mind began to wander into places she did not expect, and she wondered how things would have been different if she had come to meet Zek as he had wanted. It was true that Arc was her home, but she did not believe that Zek would have gotten through the long-standing shield to escape. For the first time in her life, she pictured life beyond Arc city – the city began to feel smaller and smaller.
Zek had always been kind to her. She had enjoyed the special attention he devoted to her, though she never let him realize how special she thought he was. Nylia knew that he had hoped for more than just kind words from her, but to pursue a relationship with a student would have been grossly inappropriate by arcane standards. She had strong feelings for the handsome Zek Cain, but never allowed herself to act on them.
Nylia looked down at her feet, and saw that her favorite shoes were now covered in black soot. She began to curse beneath her breath. Her tantrum was interrupted when she heard a commotion in the distance. She looked up, and saw that a large figure now approached the guarded section of the shield. Nylia knew that the figure could only be the fabled Peacekeeper himself. She noted how he towered over the large Felguards.
Nylia started to move without even thinking. She wanted to see what was going to happen. If the Peacekeeper stood to guard the wall with the others, there would be no more hope of escape amongst the arcane. She watched the Peacekeeper lean over the guards to address them, and watched as one of the guards made motions of protest. Though she could not make out the words, she easily guessed the victor of the debate when she saw the Peacekeeper slap the Felguard violently. The Felguard tumbled to the ground and did not move.
The Peacekeeper moved to the shield, and he had the full attention of the Felguards around him. Nylia took the opportunity to move as close as she dared. Her feet moved quickly under her, and she traveled close enough to hear their words as they spoke.
“The council seeks justice. Take it up with them,” the Peacekeeper growled.
The guards around him stayed silent, and Nylia realized they were likely hoping it was the last they would see of the brute. The Peacekeeper was only a rumor until the escape, and the council had loosed him into the public to quell any new thoughts of rebellion.
The Peacekeeper squeezed through the flux of the shield, and moved slowly through the aegis to the other side. Nylia nearly lost sight of him completely once he had made it through. She watched as he stood upright and stretched on the other side. A curious expression crossed her face when she noticed he seemed to glisten with a strange wetness. The Felguards within Arc seemed to notice the same phenomenon, and they stared on with inquisitive awe. It appeared to Nylia that water was falling from the sky above the wild lands.
The Peacekeeper bolted into the darkness, and he disappeared from sight. The guards spoke to each other in whispers. Nylia tried once again to make out the words, but all she could gather was a sense of strange panic. One of the guards pointed to a small trail of water from outside that had slowly crept its way through the wall.
Magus Nylia felt the presence of the water as she always had, and she knew that it was fresh and pure. It posed no threat to the city, but she could tell from their reactions that the guards were unsure. The Felguards were tasked with making sure nothing came through the shield, and she realized it was only a matter of time before they had found a way to rid themselves of the small stream.
Nylia acted without thinking, her instinct told her that this would be her only chance to change her fate. The most powerful mage in Arc had chosen her above all others, and she had let the opportunity slip away. She knew this was her last chance to follow him. Her eyes glowed with a deep blue, and her hands moved out toward the tiny rivulet. At once, the water ceased its advance. It began to grow upward into a column. The Felguards gathered around it, and Nylia watched them begin to examine the water.
Her eyes closed tight. She clenched her hands into fists. The intense glow behind her eyelids could not be contained. The column of water exploded with such intensity that it knocked all the Felguards a great distance away.
Nylia's eyes opened, and her feet churned beneath her. She reached the shield before any of the guards could regain composure, and she pushed her way through. She emerged into the gloom of the wild lands outside of Arc city. Water from above rained down upon her. Nylia looked down at the wet ground at her feet, and she saw that the water from above had already begun to wash away the dark soot.
She moved into the growth. Nylia wanted to get out of sight quickly. The only sounds around her were the gentle splashes of water as it careened from the skies and landed amongst the leaves of trees overhead. This was the furthest she had ever been from home, but amidst the peaceful feeling of the water that ran through her hair she felt a curious serenity.
Her heartbeat slowed. She became more calm with each passing moment, and her mind turned once again to Zek. She wondered how long it would take to find him, and she fantasized of their future together. Away from the city of Arc, they could be free to feel for each other without worry. Nylia walked through the wet forest, and felt herself moving closer to her fate with each passing footfall.
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 chapter: "The Ternion - Chapter 6"