The world was in turmoil. The Great Aether War between the humans, elves, dwarves, and goblin races across Natreia, was fought for control of aether—the life force of the world channeled through the Soul Tree. It was vital for keeping it in balance, but the limited supply made each race desperate. However, the war only brought on an increasing decline of aether, since the Tree was beginning to wither. A treaty was signed to cease disputes across the world, and convert all that energy into finding solutions—but to no physical avail.
The elves, who were naturally adept at channeling aether, became a diplomat acting on behalf of the four races to seek spiritual advice from the Viceroys of the Soul Tree. The Viceroys instructed that one of the elves must undergo a journey to restore the foundation of the world and ascend as the Tree’s Guardian until balance was achieved once more. And on the journey did this elf embark upon, subsequently distributing aether equally across Natreia. All seemed to be well for quite some time, with minor disputes here and there, but nothing like the Great War. However, after a thousand years, aether levels were steadily decreasing and the world was once again in a state of decline.
The elven capital of Tethynia was the largest settlement on the Erethosan continent. The majority of these aether-channeling elves lived there, and very seldom did they allow outsiders into their civilization. This was because they felt they had to maintain a certain status, being that they were the chosen race entrusted to watch over the Soul Tree. Despite this classism, with their feeling they were superior as a result of aether wielding, the elves were actually a humble and hardworking race. They were quite resourceful and efficient in most things they did, which garnered envious stares from the other races. Nonetheless, they knew when to distance themselves from unimportant issues, but were the first ones to engage when a matter of exploiting aether was involved. The altruism exhibited by elves when it came to upholding the integrity of the natural balance was astonishing, like their will couldn’t be broken by the petty squabble exhibited mostly by the proud dwarves, the cunning goblins, and the ambitious humans.
Within the pristine halls of the palace stood the leader of all elvenkind. Queen Ji-Eun was addressing an entourage of draped battle clerics wearing an emerald tree symbol upon the front and back of their white attire. The color of their outfits and hair blended in with the color of the throne room. Standing at the front of these clerics was a young woman, no older than twenty-five—the age when elves ceased to physically age.
“Yuana,” the Queen addressed her. “It’s time to fulfill your duties as Acolyte of the Soul Tree.” Her golden eyes stared at the group accompanying the young woman on her restoration journey. “For generations, select elven women have trained for a day when they might have to ascend as Guardian, and this was the generation where Natreia was steadily losing its grip on aether.”
Yuana flexed her cheeks, as she stared through the Queen during her farewell speech, feeling apprehensive of the journey ahead, since she bore the weight of not only an entire generation, but those of the other races throughout the world. With great power came great responsibility.
“Understand?” Queen Ji-Eun concluded.
“Yes!” Yuana replied immediately, but not fully recalling everything that’d been said. When she realized her rash outburst, she opened her mouth to say something, but couldn’t find the words or the thought she wanted to express.
“Good.” The Queen nodded and turned to one of the older elves, who was distinguishable by his thick, snowy beard. “Master Michion.”
“Your Highness,” the old elf addressed, posturing on Yuana’s left and gazing up at the Queen, who’d been standing up some steps in front of Yuana and her King consort’s throne.
“I trust that you’ll keep her safe,” she asked. “Your mentorship, as well as your strength will be of great use to her.”
Michion bowed, replying with, “I’ll fulfill my duties.”
The Queen nodded and then scanned an elf the same physical age as Yuana. “Sephylon.”
“Your Highness!” he eagerly replied, scurrying to the young woman’s right. He then bowed.
Queen Ji-Eun giggled, as she placed her fair hand by her sharp chin. The gold bangles she wore beneath her long, lavender dress, clinked down her slender forearm. “As ready as ever I see.”
Sephylon had snowy hair that hung to his shoulder blades, and when he quickly postured up, it flipped back, clearing his smooth, milky face, with some stubble at his chin..
The Queen sighed, resting her elbow in her hand, leaning on her palm, while shaking her head with a grin. “You just couldn’t stay put. You just had to accompany Yuana on this journey?”
The paladin blushed, scratching the back of his head, while Yuana continued looking forward, but this time, she wasn’t lost in thought. “Well… I’ve trained hard for this day, ever since I found out she was the Chosen.”
“And I can vouch for that, Your Majesty,” Michion added. “The lad has definitely improved his swordplay.”
“What Master Michion says,” the Queen pointed out, “is the only reason why I’m allowing you to go on this journey.”
“It would’ve been best if you stayed behind…” Yuana whispered inaudibly under her breath, but loud enough that it got through to Sephylon, who swallowed hard.
The Queen noticed her lips moving. “I’m sorry, Yuana, was there something you had to say?”
“Huh?” She met her gaze. “Oh, no… no! I was just thinking to myself.” The young woman chuckled nervously, as she smiled and cleared her long hair behind her pointy ears.
“Very well, then.” The Queen cleared her throat and finalized her address. “Take care of Yuana and restore the Soul Tree. We’re all counting on you.”
The entourage of elves bowed to their Queen before being dismissed from the palace. As they ushered out to the lineup of horses, whose shades matched the elves’ universal hair color, Sephylon caught up to Yuana, who’d been striding ahead—so fast, that her snowy cloak whipped behind her.
“Hey, Yuana…” he anxiously called. “Are you still upset that I’m coming with you?”
The young woman stopped in her tracks, while Michion and the clerics mounted their horses. She frowned, as she flexed her cheeks, trying to find the words to say to him. “It’s not that I’m mad that you’re coming,” she confessed, looking at the paved ground. “It’s just that… I don’t wanna make this harder for you than it already is, Sephylon.” She then fondled her left ring finger, which had a silver band around it.
The paladin watched her twist the simple piece of jewelry. “I told you, I plan to wait for you for as long as it takes.”
Yuana shook her head. “Don’t you know what being the Guardian means for me?”
The young man pursed his lips and clenched his fists, afraid of what the reality of their situation was and refusing to accept it, even at this moment.
“What’s the hold up?” bellowed Michion, posting on his horse in front of the two distraught elves.
“Sorry about that, Master!” Yuana elatedly replied, looking up at him. “We’re just… having some pre-journey butterflies.”
He chuckled, “This old man’s no fool you know! But save it for later! We’ve an oracle to accept!”
“Be right there,” she informed, before he took off to rally the clerics in formation. Yuana returned her attention to Sephylon, who gazed into her eyes with a straight face. “Let’s go. We don’t wanna keep the others waiting any longer.”
He silently nodded and proceeded to mount his horse.
Yuana’s horse was sandwiched between those of two clerics, with the remaining members spread out and around them. Michion and Sephylon took the front and began to lead the caravan through Tethynia. There were some elves posted outside their homes and cheering them on with claps and making encouraging remarks. Some even threw scarlet flower petals on their path as they galloped by. The clerics focused on the way ahead, while Yuana did her part in acknowledging the people, who applauded her in particular. She knew she was doing an admirable service for her people and for the rest of Natreia, but she still felt a gaping hole in her chest. Had she grown up living a normal life, she’d already have had everything she’d ever want, but since she was the Chosen, she had to sacrifice her needs for the greater good. Yuana had been born into this world with a purpose to fulfill. It was something she hadn’t asked for, but rather, it had been thrust upon her without her being able to refuse the call. It wasn’t like she could pass the Chosen title to someone else… They had to be born with a particular set of aether-wielding potential. By that standard, Yuana fit the bill perfectly, as no other race could harbor such power. In addition, since the elves were the ones chosen to carry on the guardianship lineage, it was both a blessing and a curse. It seemed like it was a cycle without end.
The way to the shrine, in order to receive the oracle from one of the Viceroys of the Soul Tree, was within sight. As the caravan departed from Tethynia, they galloped along the brick road to the Eternal Forest, where the shrine was hidden behind the Mystical Falls. The foliage lay ahead of them on the horizon, and it’d normally take some hours on foot to reach it, but since the caravan were on horses, the trip was significantly cut down to mere minutes.
Meanwhile, serene quietness overtook the woods of the Eternal Forest. Its luscious greenery could conceal the most affluent travelers—unless they took the trail, which was pretty well used and distinguished. A timeless place had no need of the world beyond the shrubbery, but even this tranquil environment succumbed to the effects of the withering Soul Tree. For the past thousand years, it had been in a steady decline. The effects were beginning to show, as more and more leaves browned without any hope of recovering. The land from which they grew was drying, as was the Eternal Lake nearby, with the forest animals experiencing more difficulty surviving with each passing generation. A mercenary dressed in long, dark clothes trekked upon the trail near the Eternal Lake. The soil he crushed underfoot was only slightly damp, indicating the water levels were lower than it normally had been. The sun was beaming through the canopy of the trees, as the light fell upon this man’s dark straw hat. He walked with his right hand on the scabbard of his longsword. A gentle breeze blew towards him, slightly kicking up his long, dark hair.
When the strands cascaded back to the middle of his spine, the man stopped in front of the water and stooped down. He could see the reflection of himself like he was looking back on a distant memory, which was why he sighed and hung his head. Before standing up, the young man glanced ahead after a deer pranced from the foliage.
It dipped its head into the water, like its antlers were weighing it down, as it took a sip with ripples forming around its snout.
The man continued standing there, keeping his gaze fixated on the animal, which took notice of him and slowly backed away before prancing back into the forest. At first, he frowned at not being able to share the view of the Eternal Lake with the deer, but quickly realized why. Before he knew it, there was a rumbling in the ground that grew louder and louder the closer it got to his position, so he sprinted across the lake—actually running atop it, as he utilized an ice element to manifest beneath every step he took. And once he got to the center of the massive lake, a larger platform of ice formed around him, stabilizing his position upon the water, while he drew his blade, preparing himself for whatever was going to spew from the mysterious forest.
The Eternal Forest held many wonders within its leaves, and there was always something new and intriguing lurking around the corner.
As a man who’d been wandering for quite some time, this swordsman had stories to share that transcended time
Not long after the abrupt quietness taking hold of the tranquil atmosphere did other wandering bodies of the forest make themselves known. Their bodies were as green as the foliage of the forest, as they charged in a mob, wielding all sorts of weapons in their hands. The goblins were on a rampage and saw nothing but obstacles in their way to who knew where.
All the young man knew was that they were mindlessly making their way to his position, despite the actual chore of swimming to his location. Using their ignorance to his advantage, he decided to take hold of his sword in both hands and cut through the Eternal Lake’s waters.
Doing this sent a shockwave of sorts to the goblin horde, as they began spiraling upwards after the water exploded from amongst their ranks. While they were still in the air, the mercenary held his right hand towards them and froze some of the water, specifically creating icicles that penetrated the goblins’ bodies. And when they ceased to breathe, their bodies dissipated like ash before getting a chance to touch the water again. Some goblins stood by on the edge of the lake, gazing with shock, as their crimson-colored eyes simultaneously fixated on the human that caused their brethren’s untimely deaths. So in response to this, and avoiding ending up like them, they all readied their bows and proceeded to load volleys of arrows imbued with volts of violet lightning. One goblin let out a screech that ordered the horde to fire their elemental arrows towards the mercenary and the waters surrounding him.
Since he stood amongst water, the young man knew it was a matter of time before his ice platform would be conducted from the effects of the lightning seal. So he acted fast and used the air element to spring himself off his now electrocuted platform, as the Eternal Lake was sparking with quick fluctuations of lightning that would soon dissipate. While in the air, the mercenary evaded more lightning arrows aimed at him by using a dark seal to open a rift in the fabric of space in order to absorb the arrows. Upon landing some distance away from his foes, he opened his clenched fist that manifested the rift pointed directly at the remaining goblin horde.
From the depths of darkness, the lightning arrows pierced through them, decimating them once and for all.
The mercenary sheathed his single-edged sword on his right hip and approached the dissipating bodies of the most cunning race across Natreia. “I’m sorry it came to that,” he muttered in a grim tone, staring into the fading light of one of the goblins’ eyes, whose iris color matched his own. He then let out a sigh and continued heading in the direction he set out to follow in the first place. This time, he picked up his pace, thinking to himself, For the goblins to act this way can only mean that aether levels aren’t where they should be, and flexing his cheeks, Something’s gone horribly wrong. I must hurry to the Mystical Falls.
It didn’t take much longer for him to come across a pungent scent lingering through the forest ahead. He stopped at the horrific sight before him and drew his sword, taking note of the blood plastered along the path that widened to a clearing where a waterfall was situated.
The bleeding bodies of elves, cloaked in snowy robes, and unidentifiable humanoids, in clothing to match the dark rocks, scattered along the path to the waterfall. These bodies were dissipating in the same manner as the goblin horde earlier.
The man noticed the emerald tree symbol, embedded on the elves’ robes, and flexed his cheeks. He then looked towards the waterfall, where the shrine to receive the oracle was present, and began to make his way towards it, following the bloody path.