Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Chapter 1.8: Eliza

This will be the final chapter posted here from Raven of Dusk: Transcendence, but there will be plenty more where this came from! 

To purchase the full book: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00VUGO0SQ


Eliza stepped outside, strangely awake considering the lack of sleep she'd had.
Hela began to peek over the faraway mountain range. The gleam caught her eye, so she used her hand to guard it and watched the city come to life.
The tips of the triangular crystal structures twinkled. Hela's rays were reviving them from their navy slumber to various vibrant hues across the color spectrum. As Hela grew higher in the sky, its rays slid along the sides of buildings. First the crystal walls would flash a light of white, and then reveal the lively shades that were otherwise concealed in the absence of day. The entire city-state exploded into a rainbow of colors and the small streams of water running along the sidewalks and alleyways caught their reflections.
Eliza turned away for a moment, fearing that she'd go blind if she hadn't. She wondered how anyone was able to sleep through this. When she felt her vision return, she glanced down at the surrounding houses. There was a series of aqua and lime colored being lit by the rays. Some of the rooms within them were see-through, but most of the structures had thick crystals that concealed what was beyond their walls. With the buildings lighting up, she made note of a few square blocks that remained white and beige. These were the blocks left uncolored to truly honor the original city of Ancient Kalia.
She found herself unsatisfied by the text on Kalian government and decided that a different book might suit her better. She thought about taking the air shuttle over to the Ancient Kalian Library, but it was just a short walk away.
Kalian citizens began to move about and leave their houses. Some walked through the crystal-pebbled streets in search of markets, while others were on their way to work. The rock candy streets shot miniature flashes of white, lighting up the roads and walkways. The people's feet flashed with glints of light, as if they were being caught on fire.
As she stepped further into the beige cluster of blocks, she found herself entering a world that other people weren’t heading toward. There were no businesses that occupied the space, nor where there stands or tents or homes. Four blocks of the city-state were purposely left barren so that its visitors could get a sense of a world that once was—whether it ever existed or not. She always got an eerie feeling while walking down the streets, being the only hint of color on an otherwise all-white canvass.
At the original city’s center stood the only building that actually served a viable public purpose: the Ancient Kalian Library. The library was much prettier than the structures surrounding it. Even though it looked just as frozen in time as the rest of the buildings, the glowing orange and yellow lights from the inside gave it hints of life.
She was able to see the etchings in Ancient Kalian on the columns that held the library up as she approached them and wondered if anyone knew what they meant anymore; the language had been dead for thousands of years.
Eliza trudged up the stairs and slipped between the large columns. Much to her relief, the doors were already retracted into the adjacent walls. She couldn't remember what time they opened in the morning, but she wouldn't have to wait. Eliza crossed the threshold of the side entrance.
The interior felt like a maze with bookshelves in columns and rows well above her head. Air lifts were on the four corners of the library and went up diagonally to any of the five floors above. Usually she studied on some of the higher floors because they were quieter, but she had nothing to research that day. She got the impression that, if she went to start reading, she’d fall back to sleep.
The echoes of her footsteps bounced off of the walls. She was used to there being enough noise to mute her steps, but she'd never been in the library at that hour. Most of the staff must not have come in yet, and she doubted that they had many other patrons so early in the morning. She continued to walk along the bookshelf, fast approaching the aisle that would lead to the center of the room.
Eliza stopped.
“Ugh.” It was a low grumble. It sounded human, but barely.
Blood began to rush to her face. Suddenly her own footsteps scared her. I’m in a building several thousand feet from any other occupied space. It’s quiet and it’s early. Still, something wasn’t right.
A hand appeared from the center aisle and clasped the edge of the bookshelf. Eliza stopped walking as a woman slumped out into the open. When she removed her grasp from the shelf, she left a bloody hand print behind. Her other hand clutched a wound in her stomach. Her paling eyes met Eliza's for a brief second and then she collapsed face first to the floor.
Eliza dropped the Kalian government book to shriek, but instead covered her mouth and rushed to the woman’s aid. She rolled her onto her back, but the woman’s horrified face was already petrified with death.
The silence in the room deafened her. The bookshelves that towered over her felt much more narrow. The way the books were placed on the shelves allowed for her to make out images of menacing faces of vile creatures when looking at them. They were also easy to hide behind. Someone or something could have been two feet from her and she’d have no idea.
Eliza examined the woman's dull eyes and then the blood stain on her stomach. It was definitely a stab wound, and from a large knife by the looks of it; possibly even a gunblade. Usually only Serenity Seekers carried them, but that didn’t mean that they weren’t accessible to anyone else. Still, why would someone…?
Eliza stood up. The end of the bookshelf was just a couple feet away. She stepped forward. Her footsteps reverberated throughout the entire building. There had to have been other staff around. Against her better judgment, she stepped forward to the center of the room, blocking from her head the fear that came with the unknown.
The opaque crystal floor trickled red with the blood from two rows of the bodies of librarians and scholars that she'd seen nearly every day. They were sprawled out and unmoving, covering the left and right sides of the floor as if someone had run down the middle and quickly slashed through everyone in their path. As Eliza stared at the massacre before her, all she could think about was the silence. None of them had made a sound, and if someone was nearby, they weren’t making themselves known.
A square 3x3 tiled area in the center of the room had always been guarded. Today, its ropes were sliced in half and dangling on the floor and in its center was a gaping black hole. The large metal tile that had once covered it had been tossed to the side. The hole must have led to a passage below. A guard lay face down before the roped off area. Others were face-up, but still no one was moving.
She once heard that something was hidden deep beneath the library floor, but she never bothered to ask what. Clearly, someone else had.
Eliza rushed to the nearest body with only the sounds of her echoed footsteps to accompany her. The first body was that of an elderly man who waved at her every time she came in. She wished she could remember his name, but in the quiet even her own name escaped her. She checked for his pulse.
She examined the woman next to him, but her throat was slashed wide open. She couldn't have possibly been alive. The man next to her looked even worse. This was a slaughter; a very well-coordinated one at that. She reached for the next body, drawing closer and closer to the hole before her. Then she stopped herself.
 The first woman she saw was stabbed recently. She was still able to stand before toppling over. These deaths must have been recent, possibly within the minutes preluding her arrival. If she’d taken the shuttle to the library, she might have been here when it happened.
The ground rumbled beneath her like the beginnings of a quake. Something below her exploded. The entire floor rattled and a book on a faraway shelf came crashing to the ground. She staggered backward and away from the hole in the ground as the rumbling grew louder; closer. There were bangs coming from beneath, and clangs, and more explosions.
“Rexus!” A male voice blurted out.
Another explosion. This time a dust cloud mushroomed out from the black hole and dirt scattered on the tiles surrounding it.
She couldn’t stay there. She needed to run. Now!
Eliza bolted from the corpses near the hole back toward the first row of bookshelves. She grabbed onto the wooden side of it and spun herself ninety degrees. Out of the corner of her eye she witnessed a man in red with a tattered brown coat leap out of the hole. The glare of his piercing, shallow eyes paralyzed her. They were far more pronounced than his unclean face and dark stringy hair. His blood-colored gunblade was already drawn and in her direction and he shot something from it. A yellow ball with streaks of lightning came hurdling toward her head before she could react. She backed up and tripped over the first dead woman she'd seen and crashed to the ground as the ball flew overhead. She felt the air of the ball and missed banging her head on a table behind her by mere inches.
“Rexus!” The male voice still down below screamed again.
Rexus rushed down the aisle with his blade of death in hand. He held it parallel to the ground and shot a glowing ball of orange and red flames. Eliza scurried backward underneath the table. The cold tile counteracted the heat of the fireball as it slammed into one of the wooden legs, breaking it in half and showering her with an array of sawdust and splinters. She shrieked and covered her face from the debris as her shirt was drizzled with wood shavings.
He shot another ball; this one was aimed at her underneath the table. The heat of the ball felt ten times hotter and she couldn't move out of the way fast enough. Her whole body tensed up as a set of red eyes and teeth appeared in the ball of flames and narrowed in on her. Above, the table began to fall onto her. She flailed herself backwards onto the chilly tile and kicked it onto its side, knocking it in front of her. The fireball smashed into the table and made a loud crack as it split in two. The hungry fire began to swallow the table whole and Eliza watched in horror as her face dried from the heat of the devouring flames.
Rexus flew through the fire. He leapt high into the air and she gasped her last breath as he held his gunblade over his head and prepared to thrust it forward. He came crashing down on her.
Everything went white.
Eliza blinked and stopped moving. She couldn't see him over her, nor did she feel the pain that she expected to endure if he had stabbed her. Even the heat of the flames had diminished. She could no longer hear him, or the sounds of the other man whom she’d yet to see. It was as if she’d suddenly been transported somewhere else, though that made little sense.
What? My… My hands are glowing. No, my whole body is glowing.
She froze in fear of what was happening. She felt paralyzed for a few seconds or maybe minutes. She couldn't tell how much time went by. She still felt Rexus’ eyes on her, and his blade had to have hit her by now, but if so why didn’t she feel anything? She cocked her head, puzzled. There was nothing surrounding her in this white vastness. She didn’t even feel the ground at her feet, but she didn’t appear to be floating either. Her hand reached out to grab something, but there was only air to touch in this white space that went on forever.
She stopped glowing and suddenly she could see just fine. Everything returned to normal.
Rexus stood over her with his gunblade in hand. His head was tilted and his mouth was open just enough for her to see that he was just as bewildered as she was. What just happened?
Rexus spun around with his gunblade in hand as another man jumped out from the hole in the ground.
Eliza rolled over and examined the man that caught Rexus' attention. His clothes were torn in some places and dirty in others. His black hair was unkempt and his right cheek was bruised. He bore a brightness in his blue eyes and had a youthfulness about him despite looking twice her age. He thrust his gunblade forward and an icy blue blade extended from it.
The two men stared each other down from across the room with their gunblades in hand. Eliza took the opportunity to slink backwards out of Rexus’ immediate range. She didn't know what caused the glow or who the man distracting him was, but both were the only discernible reasons for why she was still alive.
There was a brown knapsack attached to Rexus’ back. It wasn’t buttoned all the way, and she noticed a large threaded book within it. She wondered if it had come from the ground below them. Could that have been what all of these people had died for?
“It's over,” the man said. He raised his gunblade parallel to the ground.
Rexus did the same.
The blue-eyed man bolted toward Rexus, shooting balls of ice from the barrel of his gunblade. Rexus swiped his blade at the first one and incinerated it, then charged the blue-eyed man as he cut through one ice ball after the next as if they stayed in place for him. Rexus swung his blade as the man shot a yellow orb his way. Rexus hit it before having time to react. The ball shot a quick wave of electricity through Rexus’ blade and attacked him with lightning-like streaks, so he dropped it before he could get shocked.
The blue-eyed man jumped onto the nearby table and took a swing at Rexus, who ducked and retaliated with a spinning kick that knocked the man off of his feet and sent him crashing back first onto the table. Eliza swore that she heard bones break against the hard wooden surface. Rexus grabbed his blade and thrashed at the blued-eyed man, but he quickly rolled off the table and got to his feet.
Rexus punched him in the jaw with his quick-hitting fist and the blue-eyed man fell backward into the side of a bookshelf, which rattled against his weight. He appeared dazed and shook his head as if all he could see were blurs. He’d been knocked in so many directions so quickly that Eliza would’ve been surprised if he knew which way was up!
Rexus jumped over the table and flung his blade in an effort to decapitate the man, but he ducked just in time and rolled away around a bookcase.
Rexus followed and the two disappeared from Eliza’s view. She heard their gunblades clash several times, but couldn't make out who was winning. Her instincts told her to run. She didn't.
The blue-eyed man went flailing over one of the bookshelves and landed on top of it. A ball of fire slammed into the wooden shelf directly beneath him and sent him flying into the air. He retracted his blade and reached for the next shelf. Impressively, he grabbed ahold of it with his hands and dangled a little bit. Rexus ran around the shelves as the blue eyed man hoisted himself on top of it.
The man withdrew his gunblade again. His eyes were bright and alert, like a small animal finally aware of a nearby predator. Balls of fire and ice were shot in his direction. He split the ice ball in half and two shards flew passed his shoulders. He side swiped a fireball and it evaporated upon contact. He spun his blade and it caught the gleam of the lights around it like a glacier capturing the eyes of dawn.
Rexus ran around to the center of the library and darted toward Eliza again. She got to her feet and prepared to run just as the blue-eyed man rushed across the top of the bookshelf toward them both. He used the edge of it to propel himself off, jumping down onto Rexus with his ice shard outstretched and was met with a blade of solid fire.
Clang! Swirls of crimson and blue danced with one another as the blue-eyed man spun around and flailed his blade at Rexus’ side with a wave of fury. Rexus had ducked long before the man could make contact and then retaliated with a swift kick to his face. The blue-eyed man was knocked toward the floor but landed on his hands and flung himself back to his feet. Rexus kicked him a second time, much harder, and sent him sailing across the room.
The man with blue eyes wasn't getting up this time. He squirmed a little but Rexus was approaching him too quickly for him to get away; he licked his lips at the sight of his wounded prey.
Eliza looked down at the remnants of the burning table in front of her, there were three wooden legs were left in the wreckage. Whomever this man was, he just saved her life. She couldn’t let him die. She snapped one of the legs from the table, spun around, and launched it at Rexus’ head.
Rexus turned just before it could hit him and slashed it away. Right behind it another leg spiraled toward him and hit him square in the face. As it hit the ground he looked dazed, but saw the third leg hurdling toward him. Eliza rushed behind the nearest bookshelf while he took the time to dodge it. She hoped it was enough of a distraction for the blue-eyed man to hide. She could slow Rexus down, but she couldn't do any more than that.
She broke out in a run toward the exit. She heard Rexus chase after her, but she was fast and he had a heavy book on his back. The rows she ran between felt like they were getting taller and narrower. The entrance to the library grew closer.
Rexus had reached the row she ran down and rushed after her. She increased her strides. Her hair flew behind her ears as she took giant leaps in the air and flew past the end of the bookshelf.
The blue-eyed man appeared from the right and grabbed her hand. The two crossed the threshold of the library together. She wailed, but kept up with him as they rushed down the stairs three at a time and bolted for the nearest alley.
Rexus flew out of the library behind them. Once she saw his silhouette she couldn't look back again. She clutched onto the blue-eyed man's hand and tried to keep up with his pace down the clear alleyway. He spun around a corner and nearly dragged Eliza off of her feet as she was swung around to keep up with him.
He broke his grasp on her and dashed toward a nearby air shuttle. He grabbed a key from his pocket and pressed a button, unlocking the shuttle before they reached it. The glass dome retracted into the doorways. He jumped into the driver’s seat and turned back to her.
“Come on!”
Eliza didn't want to look back and see Rexus behind her. She didn't see another air shuttle nearby. She ran to the blue-eyed man's shuttle and jumped into the passenger seat. As soon as she did, the man revved the engine. Once he got his air shuttle to hover a few feet off of the ground, he took off as quickly as he could.
Eliza was pushed into the passenger seat as the wind smacked her in the face. The blue-eyed man finally put up the glass dome and increased his speed to the point where the buildings on both sides were just blurs of the past.
Although she could barely make out the buildings, she identified one of them just from the sign of the globe with two gunblades forming an ‘X’ over it. She turned to the driver. “We just passed the Serenity Seeker headquarters.”
The man nodded multiple times, but he didn’t slow down.
“Why didn’t you stop?”
“We’re not going to the Seekers.”
For the first time in her life, Eliza had to feel her heart to see if it was still beating. Her eyes narrowed on him in disbelief, and she spoke in the sternest voice she could muster. “What do you mean we’re not going to the Seekers? Where are we going?”
The air shuttle engines revved again and several more blocks flew by. Eliza caught a glimpse of her home for a split second, and then it faded into the past. She faced the blue-eyed man, but he seemed so focused on the road that he might not have heard her at all.
“Where are we going?”
The air shuttle went faster—dangerously fast! She couldn’t imagine an air shuttle gliding by at speeds any higher. Before she knew it, they were looking at the boundaries of Kalia itself.
He still wasn’t slowing down.

Eliza gasped and spun around and saw the city she had temporarily called home quickly fading away. “Help!” She screamed. She started pounding on the glass dome that encased them, but she knew that it wouldn’t do any good. “Help!!!"

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Chapter 1.7: Raiden

To purchase the full book: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00VUGO0SQ


Raiden often led tours in the Tri-City Forest that connected Malysai, Kalia and Hewenia, but he rarely ventured beyond the forest to the city-state of crystals and water. As his shuttle flew passed the border, he was overcome by the incandescent navy shades of the crystal structures that slept in the moonlight.
Dawn was still a few hours away, but he wanted to ensure that he knew where he’d be going before Hela reclaimed the sky. He passed two of the six rivers that helped outline the city of Kalia and kept in mind the image that he saw in the District of Shadows. The cluster of lights in the center had revealed where he needed to go.
Dawn of the First. He thought to himself. It made perfect sense that the clue referred to Kalia. It was the land that the first race of Noreis had inhabited, or so the stories went. Many thought that the first creatures, the Mashinians, had been a myth. Even if they were, enough people were inspired by them to create a much larger replica of the city than had been built by the Mashinians long before the Great Extinction wiped them clean from the planet. The more time that passed, the less people believed that it ever happened. The stories remained, but they’d become more like children's tales than anything.
There was much debate about whether building a city-state like Kalia would even be worth the trouble, given how much money went into it. It certainly wasn’t as cost-effective as its neighboring city-states. In Malysai, people built a city-state as a part of the forest and cast nets high above the ground so that even when people fell they wouldn’t be harmed. The city-state of Hewenia was given a grant by the Monarchical Board, but with the riches of many of their religious zealots, they hardly needed it. What saved Kalia was its beauty. It had the ability to attract tourists from all over the world, whether they believed in the first beings or not. Their operation costs were pretty low as well, since the city-state ran almost exclusively on hydroelectric power and solar energy.
Raiden turned his attention to a map of Kalia, which was a close replica in size to the image he’d seen. At first he thought that the cluster of lights was the hydro-dome, but it came into view long before he reached the center of the city-state.
“Woah,” he gasped at the sight of it.
The hydro-dome was easily two-hundred feet in height and encased in thick, clear crystal. Without the gleam of the moonlight, the dome would’ve looked like a half-ball of splashing water that swooshed and made waves that slammed against an invisible barrier. The water glowed neon, so it was impossible to see whatever generators were powering it in its center. Streams of water flowed out of the dome’s base and went on to light the sidewalks, streetlights, and the rest of the city.
Raiden faced forward in time to swerve just before crashing into a building of crystal spikes in front of him. He was so taken by the sight of the hydro-dome that he’d forgotten he was still in motion. He sighed, grateful to have avoided an accident. If he drove into the spikes, one of them would’ve certainly impaled him. He continued toward the center of the map, gazing down the sparkling streets as he went. The closer he got, the more he thought of watching his father taking a gunblade through the chest.
‘Just stay behind me and you’ll be safe.’ He’s dead because of me. I’m the reason he’s gone. Now Rexus must face the consequences… or I must face mine.
His shuttle glided onto a block where the streams of water stopped and the crystals’ gleams were no longer bouncing off the pavement. Raiden slowed down and examined the buildings in front of him. They were pale and white, as if this part of Kalia had been petrified long ago.
“Of course,” he said to himself. He knew that he needed to search no further.
When Kalia was recreated, there were four square blocks where the architects had purposely created the city as it may have looked six thousand years before. The crystals here were bland and sterile, made with the resources that the Mashinian creatures had access to when they roamed Noreis. It was far less pretty than the rest of the city-state, hence the shiny tourist trap that had been built around this cluster of buildings.
Raiden took another glance at his map, but already knew that he was in the center of the city-state. There was only one place in this sterile district that Rexus would go, and Raiden knew that neither of them would be able to access it until just before dawn. It was then that their fates would be decided.
He reversed and turned around. There was an inn two blocks back. Even if there were no rooms available, they’d have a bar or… something. If his life was going to end in a few hours, he wanted to be sure to have one last drink first.
Raiden parked in front of the inn and approached the door. It was a triangular shape in the wall with another triangle protruding in front of him. Luckily he knew enough of Kalia to understand how their doors worked.  He placed his hand on the center of the triangle, where creases formed from the three points of the triangular wall and slowly inched towards the center. When the three creases touched, the new triangles they'd formed retracted into the edges of the triangle itself and opened up the entrance of the hotel lobby.
The gaunt man at the front desk didn’t even look up from his paper when Raiden stepped inside, but he didn’t care. He wasn’t there for a bed that evening. He veered left and into the bar before the door could reassemble behind him.
Raiden noted that, of the fifteen or so tables, only one of them was occupied. The bar itself was completely empty, excluding the Trewanian bartender doing menial sidework from behind the bar.
“Good evening,” the bartender said as he took a seat across from her. “What would you like?”
“A double-tall maroki please.”
“Make that two, actually,” a deep voice had said behind him.
The bartender’s mouth dropped for a second and she was at a loss for words. “Of… Of course, Sir.”
A man in a fastened silver vest and a silky white dress shirt took a seat next to him, and Raiden knew immediately why this man drew such a reaction from the bartender.
“I hope you don’t mind,” Captain Koston Donnick said as he folded his diamond encrusted overcoat and placed it on the stool beside him.
Raiden didn’t know how to respond. He gawked while the bartender filled their glasses with liquors from two black bottles.
“A maroki,” Captain Donnick said as he inspected the grayish-brown cocktail in his hand. “I heard that these things could burn off your tongue.”
“You’ve never had one?” Raiden asked.
“No, I normally don’t drink,” Captain Donnick said. “I have tonight, but usually my son does plenty of that for the both of us.”
“Heh, he should meet my wife then.”
“I wouldn’t trust him around any man’s wife,” Captain Donnick said in a sudden spurt of laughter.
The bartender smiled and then started wiping down bottles on the top shelf. It’d prove to be a difficult task for most, but since she was seven feet tall, she had a distinct advantage.
Captain Donnick slid several gold coins on the table in the bartender’s direction. “That should be enough for the both of us. The rest is yours.”
The bartender stopped what she was doing to bow. “Thank you, Captain Donnick.”
“Yes, thank you,” Raiden said. “You really didn’t have to do that.”
“I have too much gold as it is,” Captain Donnick said as he raised the glass and peered into it. He gave it a queer look when the cocktail began to bubble and put it back down. He glanced back at the bartender with a set of already glazed eyes. “Perhaps I should have ordered something simpler.”
“Nah, live a little,” Raiden said as he held his glass up. Having a beverage with one of the most prominent men in Noreis wasn’t something he’d planned, but it’d be something he could tell Riles when he returned home.
Raiden nearly laughed as Koston raised his glass with a great hesitation, as if there was poison oozing within it. He didn’t think that the almighty Koston Donnick would be afraid of anything, much less something that came in a pint. He clinked his glass against Koston’s and took a sip. The liquid burned the tip of his tongue at first, but then his whole mouth came alive with an amalgamation of earthy flavors and the spice of the Tri-city forest pepper plants. By the time the first sip went down, he felt warm and his nerves subsided. Even the thought of impending death couldn’t scare him now.
Captain Donnick had barely taken a sip before he erupted into a coughing fit and grabbed a napkin from the nearby tray.
Raiden wanted to laugh, but he knew it would be inappropriate. He smirked on the inside and patted the Captain’s back. “Easy there. Perhaps we should get you a draft instead. Marokis aren’t for the faint of heart.” He made eye contact with the bartender, who bobbed her head in agreement.
Captain Donnick blushed, nodded, and slid his glass toward the bartender’s side of the counter. He cleared his throat and spoke with his sleeve over his mouth. “If you don’t mind.”
“Of course not,” the bartender said. Her hand was already clutched around a draft tap.
This time it was Raiden who placed a couple of coins on the bar. “I’ll get the Captain’s.”
“There’s no need,” Captain Donnick said.
“That’s where you are very wrong my friend,” Raiden replied. “I was just sixteen when my father and I moved from our small settlement all the way to Malysai. I’ve always loved forests. There weren’t too many where we used to live, so the very idea of getting to live in one was nearly unfathomable to me. The way that Hela peers through the mighty trees, the shuffling of the leaves when a gust of wind blows by, the symbiotic relationship between all of the animals and plant life just… I loved it all far more than I thought I would. I longed to work in the Tri-City Forest. Having this new world surround me, and growing up in a way that made me appreciate just how precious it all is made me want to share that with others.
“Unfortunately, my education was not quite up to par with those that had grown up in the Malysai school system. It’s not that I wasn’t a good student, I was just taught different things—things that were pertinent to the home I lived in. When he was Monarch Superior, your grandfather passed a Norean-wide law that allowed for kids in my situation to go to trade schools as long as they passed a basic education test that proved that they had the skills that were needed, irrespective of where they lived. If it wasn’t for him, it would have taken me an extra three years to have gotten my dream job, and everything good in my life now are things that I’ve acquired while working there. So, yes, Captain Donnick, I believe that I owe the grandson of the man who made my dreams possible a drink. I owe you this whole damned bar.”
The captain resigned from his protest and took a sip of his new, more conservative brew. “I had the right idea when I donated it all. I don’t know why I decided to make all of it back. All money has ever done is cause me trouble.”
Raiden smiled and took another sip of his drink. He didn’t know how to respond to Captain Donnick’s trivial plights. He wasn’t poor, but having an abundance of money wasn’t something that he could relate to. Captain Donnick must have realized this. Once he took a sip of his drink he stopped talking for a moment.
“So how’d you end up here?” Captain Donnick asked.
Raiden thought the question was for him, but then he noticed the Captain addressing the bartender. He wasn’t too surprised. He probably didn’t look very friendly that evening.
“What do you mean?” She replied.
“Were you a citizen of Hewenia or was your family part of the Nonconformist Movement?”
Hewenia was declared a city-state only a century before. While it attracted many Hennians and Trewanians to move within it and deemed it their holy land, not nearly as many of the creatures moved as the religious zealots and the Monarchical Board had predicted. As opposed to millions, only a couple hundred thousand of Hennians and Trewanians left their homes to make the journey for a new one. Most of the races' creatures, both religious and not, chose to remain in the city-states they'd grown up in and became known as the Nonconformists.
“Neither,” the bartender replied. “My parents live in Raliffe. My grandfather moved there from Hewenia and started up his own textile business. I moved here when I was nineteen. I attended Kal-U, but I decided not to go to grad school. I'm still paying off my loans.”
“School's expensive,” Raiden said.
“Not school. Interest rate hikes.”
Both men agreed with her.
Someone else entered the bar, so the Trewanian left them to greet her new customer.
Captain Donnick took another sip of his draft brew. He seemed to like it. The glass was already half empty. Raiden was still getting started on his. Not even Wessena could drink marokis quickly.
“I hope my son decides to attend,” Captain Donnick said.
“Attend what? Kal-U?”
“Anything,” the Captain said with a shrug. “Do you have kids…?”
Captain Donnick held his hand out, so Raiden shook it and finished his sentence for him. “Raiden, and yes, I have a son.”
The Captain smiled. Even with the distraction of his impending encounter with Rexus, he couldn’t ignore the kindness in the Captain’s aura. “He’s still just a kid though,” Raiden said. “Barely eight years old… Not like your son.”
The mention of Marquez Donnick caused the Captain to let out a ‘humph’ and take a heavy gulp of his beverage. “I love Marquez dearly, but you should be glad that he is not yours.”
Raiden had read the papers and seen the news just like the rest of Noreis. Everyone knew who Marquez Donnick was and always aware of what he was doing. Marquez’s name was brought up even more than Koston’s!
“I leave Kalia tomorrow. I will become Advisor under Queen Kallisto in just a few days, and when I do, only a monarch or the Monarch Superior will have more say in the world than I. I am to become one of the most powerful men in all of Noreis, and yet I still have to worry more about my son and what sort of nonsense he’ll find himself in next.”
Raiden heard Captain Donnick’s words, but couldn’t shake the image of another man in his head. The Captain had used a stern, yet compassionate voice, strikingly similar to the kindness that rang in his father’s words. Perhaps this was a sign from the Gods. Maybe the captain was there to remind Raiden of what his father had been like, and what he was fighting for.
“I wish I could point him in the right direction,” the captain went on. “I wish he would just listen to me. I’ve been where he is…” A second later, Captain Donnick grimaced at the sight of the bottom of his glass.
I should have listened, too. If I only stayed behind…
“I’m sorry, Raiden,” Captain Donnick said. “You probably came in here to get a drink and sit alone. I just needed to get out of the palace. I had two drinks there before the serving staff started whispering amongst themselves. Somehow they already knew about my son’s latest indiscretions.”
“There’s no need to apologize, Captain—”
“—Koston. Please, call me Koston. I need an evening free from formalities.”
Raiden ran his fingertips around the edges of the glass, but didn’t take another sip. He wasn’t sure how much of it he wanted to drink. He didn’t want to run the risk of getting sleepy—not when so much was at stake.
“I get why he does it,” Koston said as he pondered whether or not he was going to order another drink. “I wasn’t exactly an upstanding youth myself. I certainly had a knack for trouble. Drugs, parties,” he clenched his teeth, “women… I crashed my shuttle into a daycare center once. Thank Gods it was closed that night, but that certainly didn’t excuse my actions.”
Raiden kept his astonishment hidden from his face. History and teachings only ever focused on the stories its writers wanted to tell. That one was obviously omitted. “What changed you?”
Koston went to speak, but it took him a few seconds to find his words. “My father… As bad as I might have been, he was worse. I can’t remember how often I'd seen him drunk. My grandfather had the ability to prevent an entire war between Meniffa and Raliffe with just the power of his words. He found ways to pay off the global debt without compromising any of our health, education, or defense programs. Even to this day he is revered as the greatest leader we’ve had in centuries. But amidst all of that, he couldn’t prevent his only son from overdosing.” Koston paused. Raiden could’ve taken the opportunity to speak, but he didn’t dare say a word.
“He never admitted to anyone how saddened he was. People were able to speculate, of course, but he never showed it to the public, not with an entire world to run.” Koston’s eyes grew heavy with the thoughts of darker times. “I doubt that you were old enough to remember it, but in his last speech as Monarch Superior, he talked about how proud he was to be given the opportunity to be the man that Noreis wanted him to be. The twelve city-states remained at peace, and across the board economies were thriving. He said that the greatest gift he’d ever been given was the ability to rule Noreis, and to earn the respect and love that he’d been given by the people that admired him.”
The bartender returned and Koston nodded his head. She began to pour him a second drink.
“There was a line in the first draft of that speech that he was advised to omit. His council had no idea if he was going to do so or not until he took to the podium that evening. He had nothing to lose, after all. He’d already lost the thing he prized most in the world. People came from around the world to witness his closing speech. The seats in the auditorium were removed for the occasion so that they could further maximize their capacity. Tens of thousands of people young and old alike were forced to stand so close together they were pressed against one another. Guards and staff members should have been scared of what would happen in the event of a fire, but even they were too fixated on my grandfather’s closing speech to be bothered with precautions.
“A whole world waited in silence as my grandfather captivated them with the potential of that last line. Five seconds went by, then ten, and then it was nearly a full minute before he said a word. Finally, he said ‘thank you,’ and walked off the stage without uttering the words that were really on his mind. The greatest gift he’d ever been given was the ability to rule Noreis, and to earn the respect and love that he’d been given by the people that admired him. His greatest regret was becoming Monarch Superior, and to have to watch his son devolve before his very eyes without having the time to do anything about it.”
Raiden could only frown. He no longer remembered what he was going to say to Koston before their conversation became so grim.
Koston grabbed the pint and redirected his attention to the bartender. “Miss, you mentioned that you went to Kalia University.”
The Trewanian turned from her cash till. “Yes?”
“And you’re still in debt.”
She shrugged. “I have a payment plan. I’ll be caught up in three years. It’s not a big—”
Koston dropped a small sack on the counter and a splatter of coins splashed within it. The Trewanian stared at the bag with a set of wide, bewildered eyes. “That should be enough to clear you of your debts. If it isn’t, please contact me personally in Cardeau Palace.”
The Trewanian’s mouth was moving, but if she was speaking, the words certainly weren’t loud enough for either of them to hear her.
Koston turned to Raiden with his glass in hand. “Without the wealth of the heart I have no money at all. I hope that my Marquez can understand that someday. You should teach that to your boy before he follows in my son’s footsteps. If you can, then you’ll be a far wealthier man than I, Raiden.” Koston clanged his glass against Raiden’s, which was still nearly full. “To the fathers of sons: May we protect them, love them, guide them, and never leave them behind,” he said. He took a hearty gulp of his second drink.

Raiden grabbed his glass, but couldn’t bring himself to take a sip during the toast. He couldn’t stop thinking about the promise he’d made to Riles. I’m doing this because Riles’ life was threatened, Raiden told himself. Even as he thought it, he got the image of Riles waking up that morning and combing the house in search of a father that might have already been dead.