Could you survive the aftermath of the void? Open you mind, pay attention,find the truth!
It is the sun that will hide behind the mountain range. The moon has peeked through the hills like the game hide and seek. Crimson gold rays escape from the evening, as the hoary sapphire sheet, moves across the lilac sky. The horizon is fused like a tranquil painting on a silk canvas. No matter if the heavens cry, or if they are heated with rage; the bridges of the clouds may become stilled with frost, or the breath of the sky turns ill; at the end of it all, the day ends like this. One goes out, and another comes in. The air is dense, and the atmosphere is thick but crisp and refreshing. It feels like you are at the bottom of a rain-forest floor with the ocean winds beating your face. Parts of the day the ground thunders, the trees tremble, the rocks quake. The earth cannot sleep, nor can it wake. These are the days after the void.
The air is sharp this time of year in the Western Plains. The environment seems unbridled as the freezing wind moves through the trees; you can hear it howl like a pack of lycanthrope, eager to devour the prey. It is not wise to travel alone during the nightfall; you may find it hard to defend yourself against the shadows that lurk in the dark. The lawless roam this land as well, in search of sustenance, adventure, or the thrill of the hunt. You must be circumspect, or you will fare the worst fate.
It is midday, and the major regions, cities, small villages, and towns of the Western Plains are lively as ever. Merchants are selling their wares in the marketplace. Hirelings are doing their daily labor for local businessmen and shop owners. Children roam the streets playing games, looking for food, or even looking for a pocket to pick. Sentinel officers walk the beat, keeping law & order, or also taking a bribe or two.
Tenomachi is the arch territory of the Western Plains, and it is the home of the governing body of the Five Families. Hailing from the Philippine Sea, the Five Families traveled to the Western Plains some time ago, bringing their history and culture along with them. You can see the heavy influence of the Far East embedded in this place, having taught the people their ideas and way of life. The architecture is reminiscent of the Edo period with many of the city buildings using various forms of wood in their infrastructures. They even incorporate fusuma partitions instead of the modern walls.
The Five Families established a group to oversee regional and foreign affairs called The Parliament. The Parliaments leaders are well versed in politics and are familiar with how things should run in the Western Plains. They are also very keen on how the underworld operates. These various municipalities, prefectures, and provinces of the Western Plains all have their fair share of good and evil. After the event of the Void, the economy was unstable, and the society as we knew it, was gone; only anarchy was prevalent. A new world, filled with many diverse races of people, was subject to a bartering and trade system. This led to more cutthroat dealings and death, rather than the positive progression of a nation.
To help bring order, maintain peace, and to stimulate the financial growth of the country, the Parliament along with the Sentinel Commissioner’s Office created the Department of Recovery Intelligence and Foreign Trade, otherwise known as DRIFT. The appointed Commissioner oversees this agency's operation and all other law enforcement buildings and facilities.
Daily operations for DRIFT are handled in government buildings known as Barter-Houses. These structures are in every city and town throughout the country. They are categorized by number, and it is attached to a Sentinel Station or Compound.
Barter-House One is Headquarters, and it is in Tenohira, Tenomachi. Inside the Barter-Houses, an agent can receive various missions, special quests, bounty hunts, escort expeditions, and personal protection requests. Agents also complete their training for licensing, turn in fugitives for payment, obtain ranks and licenses, and help run the barter and trade post in the basements of each facility.
After the Void, the agents of DRIFT were able to manage the cities on the ground floor successfully and stabilized the economy. With the help of the Commissioner, they developed a new currency system, which includes a foreign exchange. They also created a new banking structure, provided new jobs for the citizens, and cultivated suitable trading products from the assorted items collected from their quests and gave it to the local vendors to sell and trade.
An agent under this order is recognized by his or her license and badge, which displays the ranks of Deputy Agent, Junior Agent, Senior Agent, and Special Agent.
These agents have a chain of command which starts at the Office of the Sentinel Commissioner. They also can receive their orders directly from Parliament or the Five Families themselves. S- Class or Special Agents have the jurisdiction and authority to be the lead detectives on any case and investigation inside all the Sentinel Compounds, military facilities, or government buildings. Drift agents are heroes to most and villains to some, but overall the country would be desolate without them.
Center City, Tenohira is an area often frequented by many prominent figures from around the world. An Old Man and Little Girl enter the city accompanied by three Deputy Agents. Coming off a two-week bounty quest, the duo needed to turn in the captured fugitives and receive the bounty payment. As they ride through the town, criminals bound together, the townspeople point and gaze in awe.
“Oh my god, it’s them!” said a woman nearby.
“Who did they catch this time?” said another townsman.
The three Deputy Agents served as watchmen as they sat armed in the wagon with the criminals. The team needed to ensure that the area stayed safe & secure and that no one followed them. The Old Man and Little Girl were famous throughout this region. With their reputation, lawbreakers feared them, citizens loved them, and the government endured them.
“Eyes up, stay sharp; the city feels different today.”, said the Old Man.
His partner gave the nod and proceeded to equip her body with weapons and tools to replenish what she used in the previous skirmish.
They arrive at Barter-House One, and the Old Man signals to one of the deputy agents to go inside and inform the lobby of the delivery.
“These bounties are very high, so we must tell the house to be on alert.”, said the Old Man.
He used every situation as a teaching moment for his partner.
“Noted.”, she said.
They both jumped down from the wagon and proceeded to lead the way into the building, the deputy agents, and chained criminals behind them. As they walk through the lobby, many other agents and civilians stare and watch.
“Isn’t that the leaders of the Talon that they have cuffed?... Are they insane!?” whispered someone in the crowd.
“Their prices combined are equal to $325,000.00 Gold Coin!” said one more.
“Their family will retaliate, I’m getting out of town!” added another.
Eagle Eye, Black Falcon, and Red Hawk terrorized and pillaged multiple cities in the West. They were on Tenomachi’s most wanted list for robbing numerous gambling houses and the kidnapping and murdering of multiple courtesans in the Red District. No Senior Agent could catch them; Junior Agents couldn’t defeat them, let alone a Deputy Agent. The Parliament contacted these two Special Agents directly to apprehend the wanted offenders.
“We will fill out the paperwork, please escort them to the holding cells.”, said the Little Girl to the agents.
“Yes, Ma’am.”, said the three deputy agents.
As they went down the hall, a man in the crowd trips and bumps into the deputy agent that was holding the chains in the rear.
“Watch it, don’t you see who this is!” shouted the agent.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, please forgive me!” said the man.
The agents continued to walk. Then suddenly, one of the Deputy Agents fell to his knees and started to convulse, foam gushing from his mouth.
“Get back!” someone screamed.
The crowd gasps.
The Old Man, sensing the room, gave a command, “Batuo!”,
and the Little Girl responded, “Bene!”.
They reacted so quickly it was as if they said it together.
The prisoner swiped the keys and unlocked the shackles.
Red Hawk grabs the chains and tries to choke one of the Agents.
Eagle Eye kicks another Agent in the groin.
Simultaneously, the girl jumps the counter,
cuts through the crowd and jumps on the shoulder of a teller.
She then leaps through the air,
throws three darts to the chest of the prisoner,
two knives to the throat of the other;
Flips off the center pillar
, and line-drives directly to the last.
He tried to hit the agent,
but she lands in the space between the two,
blocks his attack and sends a palm strike straight through his chest.
The force of the hit sent all three fugitives flying into the Barter-House wall.
Everything happened so swiftly
that the escape attempt was abated as quickly as it started.
No one in the crowd had the proper time to react, almost froze in fear.
Others stood there in amazement.
Local sentinel officers and medics quickly assisted the Deputy Agents that were poisoned and hurt.
They carried out the three prisoners in two body bags and a stretcher.
“Well…I’m glad the order called for dead or alive!”, said the Commissioner.
“I want to thank you for all your demanding work and support in this town, and don’t worry about finishing the paperwork, we will handle it!”
“Thank you, Commissioner Aiden, I know we can trust you. I take it, you know what to do from here, please put the remainder of our reward in our accounts.”, said the Old Man.
“Yes, sir!” I’m on it!
Commissioner Aiden began immediately on the orders that the Old Man gave. Apart from their reputation on the streets, this duo was known for always giving back to the unfortunate and helping those who help them. Commissioner Aiden already knew what the Old Man wanted him to do because of what happened. He paid the three deputy agents an additional check equal to their fees and a medical stipend to their families to cover six months of expenses while they’re out from work.
“Oh, by the way, make sure the sentinels do a full investigation to find the man who got away, he’s dangerous, send me a report if you can,” said the Old Man.
“Yes, sir, no problem!” shouted the Commissioner, who was already delegating the Old Man’s request.
“That man is the top authority in here, but yet he calls you sir?” said the Little Girl.
“Men of wisdom, such as him, typically give out respect as much as they warrant it.
He and I worked on many cases in the past, not to mention the woman we saved in the Red District was his wife,” he explained.
“Ah, ok, got it,” she responded, nodding her head.
The Old Man and Little Girl left the main lobby and went to the trading section downstairs. They traded out jewels, fabrics, and materials only found in the valley where they live; their items always sold for a hefty amount on the market. They obtained rare meats, medicinal herbs, preservative spices, and custom-made fabrics that were pre-ordered. Before heading back, they stopped by a local tavern to relax.
“Yesss, I’ve been waiting for a drink all day!” she said.
“You’re lucky you are older than you look, little one.”, snickered the Old Man.
As they entered, the Old Man saw an acquaintance of his, who lifted his covert cowl and gave the nod as he walked in. He proceeded to the backside of the room to meet him,
“We’ll sit over here,” he said to her.
“Aye,” she replied. She flung back the hood of her cloak and took away the veil from her mouth and walked to the bar. There appeared a honey-chestnut visage; large windows void of care; alluring but ominous. Her mahogany obsidian locks shimmered in the shadows — a vigorous build with a sensual gait and a crooked leer. The men and women in the room could only stare; to them, she was a rare commodity.
“She’s fuckin gorgeous!” said one of the patrons as she walked by.
“Is that who I think it is?” said another.
“Bartender give me a pitcher of your strongest ale and a tall glass of something hard and sweet!” she said.
“Coming up, madam!” the young barkeep bellowed with a star-struck face.
Meanwhile, the Old Man sat with his friend, a druid priest from a distant land, and reminisced. Deep down, he figured it wasn’t a coincidence that he was here. It seemed that a lot of underground factions have been on the move as of late. During the bounty quest, the pair received a message from The Parliament that one of the five families was having a restricted auction and opened the executive hall to the public. “That could be a problem,” thought the Old Man back then. The government requested agents to aid in security. The unit had to be personally screened by the pair. It was an abnormal request for an unusual event, at an inopportune time of year.
“Looks like your way of life has treated you well over time!” said the priest.
“It would seem so, I see you're still looking overly monkish as ever,” the Old Man shot back.
“You know people don’t like seeing my kind around here much; nevertheless, I knew I would see you here.”
The Priest gave him a small scroll sealed with a red symbol. The Old Man was filled with concern. They both sighed and gave a nod of confirmation.
“So, it’s time.” The Old Man felt a sudden tension around him, and his mind began to fret.
“I know you’ve felt it. Your intuition has always amazed me,” The Priest stated.
“Decipher the parable scroll as best you can, I’m only the messenger. Whatever is coming, I think its best you have this first”, he explained.
“So, you have others, besides me?” asked the Old Man.
“A few, but I have to use the flock to deliver the message; those guys are constantly on the move.”
At the bar, the Little Girl awaits her order.
“Damn, you sexy, I got something for you to put those cute lips on,” yelled out a drunkard in the corner of the bar.
“Bring that ass...” the guy next to him punched him in the ribs.
“Idiot, that’s the fuckin’ she-devil! Leave her be… you don’t remember the stories from that time?”
“Oh, right,” said the drunkard.
“Don’t forget, she also just took out those Talon leaders one by one today!” the guy explained. The atmosphere in the room started to change.
After hearing those words, her body trembled in anger. Overcome with angst, she slowly turned and focused her attention in the direction of the two men. Her hair began to move as if it were alive, the shadows below her brows sunk in, her pupils a deep scarlet, enlarged, with a yellow glow, she began to move!
“Prohibere!” a command of The Path, uttered sharply at a decibel only she could hear; immediately, she stops. The Little Girl turned her head and closed her eyes. She took a deep breath and let out a long sigh; her nerves immediately calmed.
“Ummmmm, the drinks are on the house!” said the young barkeep as he stood ever so still, nervous, with his face fixed and blushing, eyes filled with water, body froze in fear, one blink and the tears would drip right down.
She stood up and leaned over to him, gently touched his cheeks, moving him closer; the young man swallowed deeply, his eyes were blurry from the frightful tears that have yet to fall, she turned her head and pressed her lips against his. The tension in his shoulders slowly went away as they stood there, leaned over the bar; he felt a sense of relief as his eyes closed, and the tears trickled down his face; he slightly moved his left hand and placed it on her arm.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
She grabbed the drinks and walked away, smiling, heading towards the table. The scene seemed so quiet that a pin drop could have started a riot. The young man finally opened his eyes. The whole place went up in a sea of laughter and cheer.
“Yeahaaaah,” screamed one side of the room.
“That’s our boy!” screamed the other.
The young barkeep walked pass the owner of the bar, placed his keys and apron in his hand, and headed towards the exit.
“Sorry, I’m late!” said the Little Girl, as she placed the drinks on the table.
“Was all that necessary young lady?” asked the Old Man.
“Absolutely!” said the Little Girl with a huge grin.
The three of them drank and spoke some more. Soon it would be time to part ways.
As they began to head out, the two drunkards happen to be at the front door. Their eyes meet as the Little Girl walks closer. The two men began to fill nervous tension.
As she gets nearer, all eyes are on them. People are anticipating the next action, the music seems to quiet, and all that can be heard is the steps of the Little Girls' boots getting closer and closer. She suddenly approaches them. With her fists cocked back to make them flinch, the men screamed and jumped backward. In a clumsy motion, the two knocked over the table, with drinks spilling all over them. The Little Girl burst out in laughter, and the crowd follows, pointing at the two men. The music starts back up, and business continued as usual.
The three of them finally make it outside to their wagon.
“Heading back to the valley?” asked the Priest.
“You know I am,” said the Old Man.
“I still can’t believe you live there; you have the means to stay wherever you want,” he said with a confused face.
The fame of being a special agent of their caliber allows them to live in the best villas in every town without the need to pay, not to mention they have enough money from their quests to run a city.
“I know, but we like it here. We’ve gotten accustomed to the neighborly kindness and solitude of the valley; you should come back and visit”, the Old Man said with a sincere face as he packed and secured the wagon.
“You don’t have to stay away, you know?” he explained in a reassuring tone.
“In due time, I’m not ready to face my family yet,” the priest had a falling out with his family years ago; they currently live in the valley with the Old Man and Little Girl.
“I understand,” said the Old Man. The two men shook hands, hugged, and parted ways.
“He’s cute, Pop!” said the Little Girl.
“Shut your face,” said the Old Man. The Little Girl chuckled as they traveled back to the valley.
They set up their living quarters and campsite at the bottom of Valle Mortis, Death Valley, alongside the base of the mountain. There is a dense fog that continuously moves around the edge of the valley. There is also constant storm activity above the tree lines; no one expects a person to live here. The scene strikes fear in the heart of the bravest warrior; It is no wonder that citizens are reluctant to enter. Unbeknownst to them, the valley is filled with the best that nature has to offer in this western land.
The Old Man was adamant about privacy and protection. The two of them never had to worry about any outside threats because they would have to be extremely skilled even to reach them. He wasn’t proficient in the Semita De Artium that dealt with the Dark Arts, but with the help of witches that lived nearby, he was able to create the spells that he needed. They were to be written on the skin of the birch, underneath the bark itself. He was able to remember what they taught him, and he honed his penmanship and literary articulation to carve the barrier spells around them using dragons blood resin.
The Old Man reinforced the spells every seven days by reciting an incantation. Afterward, he would make a hearty meal to celebrate their safety and give thanks. The laid firewood burned brightly in the brick pit as his young companion stared attentively. He had multiple cuts of impala that he purchased from in-town, already prepped and ready to cook. The aroma filled the campground. The venison had been marinating for three days. Savory meat soaking in a large cherrywood basin filled with smoked honey-maple wood, fresh thyme, mountain rosemary leaf, marjoram, dark winter savory, English lavender, and multiple types of vegetables that he would use in a stew to go with the main course. While he was cooking the meal, the Old Man couldn’t help to think about their journeys. He is looking back on the past, present, and future experiences. The Old Man felt that all the questions that many people have been asking would be answered soon.
“Quite some time has gone past since the event of the Void 10 years ago. This reoccurring vision of war and bloodshed plagues my mind. The skies were red with fire, and the ground soaked with blood. All I could hear was the sounds of metal clashing, projectiles ricocheting, beastly roars, cries, screaming. It hurts to even think about it sometimes.” The Old Man pondered to himself as he continued to stir the stew.
“My partner and I constantly speak our past lives and what they could have been. We wondered if we had or have more family out there. Imagining what it would be like to have siblings. If we do, there are still no signs of any relatives, anywhere.”, he thought to himself.
“Pop, can we go back to the waterfalls soon?” said the Little Girl, so innocently as she smiled and watched the flames.
The Old Man lets out a sigh of reluctance.
“…Let me think about that, you already know what time of year this is, it may be quite difficult to do as we wish when there’s a lot of people around.”
“I know Pop, but I really want to go! We have a license and a badge; we should at least take advantage of some of the privileges that come with it!”
“That may be true, but just because we have jurisdiction in foreign countries doesn’t mean we should just waltz in these areas. I know you have a certain knack for befriending people, but that doesn’t mean that everyone will be friendly.”
“That may be true Pop, but if the pushing becomes the shoving, we can MAKE them friendly,” the Little Girl looked at her hands and clenched her fists together.
The Old Man shakes his head and smirks. “Sometimes you scare even me, little one… let me sleep on it.”
The Little Girl gave the biggest smile as she sat on the log, her knees moving up and down in anticipation.
The Waterfalls, or Falls for short, is an area situated behind the Ruins. The Ruins are what is left of a renowned and flourishing kingdom that seemed to have met an end before the event of the Void. The area of the Falls probably served as added protection to the ancient Kingdom; I don’t believe any opposing navy ships could navigate an area that resembled Niagara Falls. Let alone can scale this monstrous wonder to reach the palaces and royal buildings above.
Now, it is known to be a place haunted by the voices of lost souls and creatures you only hear about in the history books. Even if you go during the day, certain times of the year, the light does not shine here. Instead, the ground gives off a fluorescent, eerie, bluish glow. The grass is the sharpest emerald green you could ever see. As ominous and creepy as it can be, the ground itself is fertile with nutrients; the plants here can boost your health exponentially, preserve your meats to last for months, protect your body from harm, disease, and can even keep your body from aging. If you are lucky enough to hunt and kill an animal here, the taste is remarkable. One bite will leave you satisfied for hours, allowing you to eat the same beast for weeks on end.
The problem is, depending on the season, the journey to get to this area could be quite burdensome. You must be ready to put your life on the line at a moment’s notice. The Ruins sit atop large hills that look as if they are woven together like a seamstress’s quilt, but every road leading there is different, complicated, and full of peril. Only if you can find the path of the dove may you have borne no ill fate. It is said that if you are found worthy and pure, you may be chosen to be guided by the Dove. She will set you on a path and guide you to your purpose.
No matter the starting point, when traveling from the Western Plains to the Eastern Plateau, it is essential to remember it is separated by a deep and dangerous canyon. This gulch seems to stretch across the earth for miles on end. I believe at one point in time, these two continents were elsewhere, but due to unknown events, it is situated in a perilous area such as this.
There are only a few ways to get across physically. You either climb down to the bottom, trek through the canyon, and climb up the other side, or cliffhang across the rocky points that have arisen from the canyon floor. Once you have reached solid ground on the other surface, you find yourself in a scorched wasteland. No animals or plant life could survive here. Black iron pillars and statues are the only structures still standing from a country that used to be. There is an everlasting smoke that moves around the city like fog, and the smell of sulfur and ash is a constant. This place is called Nonabelh. It is rumored to have fallen a few years before the event of the Void.
At the edge of this country lies the BlackWood. A dark forest full of things no one would want to face alone. This forest has one marked path that the locals call the Road of Perdition. It is quite simple to just walk the trail, without straying, to get to your destination; however, don’t underestimate the inhabitants that live here. If you make it out of this forest alive, you will have reached the shores of the Dreadful Seas. You must go straightway across this sea to reach the coastline of a mysterious archipelago called Cambalanche. If you stray to the left or the right, the unfavorable weather and creatures of the deep may consume you. Only the best navigators and seafarers can make it out.
Cambalanche is an ancient name that means “interchanging.” This archipelago is home to numerous floating island countries and empires. Five years ago, a DRIFT Agent who explored and traveled faraway lands described his experience like this:
“The terrible terrains, that constantly change, like a carnival carousel in orbit.”
No one knows why the geography in this area changes so frequently, but it is quite troublesome to travelers who wish to reap the benefits of the Ruins that sit beyond these islands. Any isle that you approach here can lead to problems, not just because of the terrain, but the inhabitants of Cambalanche are not always welcoming to outsiders. In the past, nomads that came from distant lands would settle on the island because they couldn’t make it off. Up until this day, generations from long ago have remained here and developed their way of life.
The Old Man finished preparing the meal for that evening, and the two of them ate their fill. They conversed through the night about everything that took place that day. He took the scroll out of his bag and broke the druid seal.
“Wisdom and knowledge are the only things that will keep life stable,” said the Old Man.
“Wisdom is applied to everything that we see and don’t see; we must remember to always stay on the path.” The Old Man spoke as if he felt something was going to happen soon.
“How will I know when to apply it, Pop? I just….”, the Little Girls stomach turned as her mind filled with anxiety.
“I just don’t want to mess anything up and wind up losing what I care about in the process!”
The Old Man stood up and walked over to the Little Girl as she sat there staring at the igneous rocks that lie on the ground, his austere stature and stern eyes looked at her,
“Stand up…”, he said.
The Little Girl looked up at him with bloodshot eyes and tears running down her face as the Old Man grabbed her and held her firmly.
“Everything will work out in the end… we just need to endure, and we will be saved.”
Later that evening, the Old Man and the Little Girl laid down to rest. They both wandered off into the dream world as sudden heavy thoughts weigh down on their minds.
“I guess it wouldn’t hurt to head to the ruins, although I am not looking forward to the trouble that may come. Last time we went, we encountered the worst thing we could ever encounter…, the Fang. We managed to get out alive, but we almost didn’t make it; we have the scars to prove it.”, he thought to himself.
“Yeah, they give me the heebady jeebadies!” said the Little Girl, as she held her arms and pretended to shiver.
“What the hell!?", the Old Man said with confusion.
“Whaaaat!?, the Little Girl screeched.
“How did you hear…. me?” the Old Man stared at the Little Girl with squinty eyes.
“You know what… never mind just go to sleep.”, ordered the Old Man.
“Okay, Pop!” the Little Girl tucked herself in; she had the biggest grin on her face.
As they lay through the night, a dark figure lurks under the moonlit valley. It stares at the skies above as its long cloak sways in the wind. The creature proceeds to sit atop the highest point of the valley, its glowing eyes are fixed directly where the Old Man and Little Girl reside, and it utters words in an unknown tongue.
End of Chapter 1
Get ready for the next installment !!!
Chapter 2: The Path of the Arts