Thursday, July 30, 2015

Koston chapter 1 analysis

Funny enough, this first scene in which Koston is introduced was originally put in halfway through book 2, roughly 600-700 pages later. I started writing it without any plan, outline, or even the acknowledgment that Koston had these secrets, and after I felt like a PFLAG parent who was dumbfounded by not seeing the signs in the 600 pages beforehand.

What’s important to note about Koston isn’t that he likes men, but that he loves honoring others more. In the short story, “The Wedding”, you see what is probably the first major moment in Koston’s life where he sacrifices a piece of himself for the benefit of others. Kallisto is there even then to advise against it. She believes that his intentions stem more from hubris than honorability; a common theme in their multiple interactions.

What we see initially in Koston’s first chapter is exactly what he wishes to conceal. Koston finds himself “glancing nervously at the windows of Damien’s home. Black curtains were draped over the already closed blinds. The younger man’s bedroom door was locked and his front door was bolted shut upon Koston’s arrival.” In order for him to maintain his reputation, the world cannot know that he regularly visits a gentleman escort. Is it more because of the lie itself, or the homosexual act? That much is revealed a little later…

Koston’s fleeting moments of genuine joy are cut short when his “escape” reveals himself to be another one of Koston’s admirers. Koston is about to step into the second-most powerful position in all of Cardeau, and everyone is comparing him to his grandfather, who is the embodiment of both the man Koston doesn’t want to become, but is willing to become in order to appease the public. Later, when we meet Marquez and see the dichotomy of his and Koston’s relationship, several parallels can be drawn between the men of the Donnick line, the paths there have been taken before, and where Koston and Marquez want to be and are currently heading. I could probably time a 50,000 word analysis on that subject, but that’s tangential to this chapter.

As this chapter progresses, we still Koston go from being his true self to falling deeper and deeper into the crevasses of his fatal flaw. The lowest point lies in his conversation with Queen Kallisto. Kallisto represents both the one person who could have helped set him free many years before (again, read “The Wedding”) and the person who has ensnared him in a delicate political web. He is her last option. She doesn’t want Koston to become her advisor, but he represents the only way that she might remain on her throne and attempt to redeem herself from a costly political maneuver. Those that don’t know Kallisto (really, that’s basically everyone except Koston) would think that she’s purposely taking advantage of him for his position and his loyalty to her as the Captain of the Cardeau Guard. 

In reality, she wants to put him in this position about as much as he wants to be in it. As badly as Koston wants to avoid this position of power, Kallisto feels as though she’s nothing without it.

The end result, at least in this chapter, is a sour one. Kallisto despises Koston’s popularity, but would never reveal his darkest secret. They are bound now and, as it’s revealed later in the story, for more reasons that one. However, that doesn’t mean that she can’t still get in a good jab or two if opportunity knocks. Thus, her implication that he’s a whore at the end of a section that started with him being intimate with one is the perfect conclusion for Koston’s opening chapter. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Koston chapter 1


The ecstasy of his release was much needed. Koston felt his breath escape him as he pulled himself out of his younger lover and took to the pillows beside him, drenched in his own musky sweat.
Damien rolled onto his back beside him and smiled from ear to ear. “Good gods that was hot!”
Koston felt Damien’s eyes on him, but he found himself glancing nervously at the windows of Damien’s home. Black curtains were draped over the already closed blinds. The younger man’s bedroom door was locked and his front door was bolted shut upon Koston’s arrival. He told Damien that it was the only way he would to come by, to which Damien had rolled his eyes during their telechat and reminded the captain that he knew the drill.
The young man leaned over and draped a hand across Koston’s chest, swirling a finger around the patch of fur between his pectorals. He cuddled up beside the captain’s shoulder in an attempt to be enveloped in his nook. “Tell me,” He said, “you’ll still be able to visit even after you become the queen’s advisor, won’t you?”
Koston remained flat on his back and stared at the white ceiling and the skylight had been covered to conceal their activities. He let his thoughts run adrift, forgetting that Damien had even asked him a question.
Damien’s hazel eyes glossed over Koston’s muscular frame, taking mental pictures of his physique for those times when Koston couldn’t be around. “I know it will be more difficult for you to, but I promise I’ll make it worth it.”
Koston watched Damien lick his lips seductively, coyly trying to get an answer out of him, but as soon as Koston had finished inside of him, his thoughts returned to his immediate future. The following morning he and his son would travel to Kalia to visit his cousin, Queen Justine. The day after his return home to Cardeau, his inauguration party was to begin. He would no longer be the Captain of Cardeau: the job he had dreamt of having until the day of his retirement. His life would no longer be about maintaining peace within the palace walls. That fantasy came to an end the moment those cursed words left his lips on the day he saw his queen come close to a break down.
His lover rolled away from him and sat up in his bed. It was only then that Koston bid him attention, but it was too late. Their night of sexual prowess and distractions had come to an end, done so by the man who desperately needed his mind to be elsewhere.
“Damien, I’m sorry.”
Damien’s head slid back toward Koston’s direction just enough for the captain to see his sly smile. “You have no reason to be sorry. I know why you come here, and in all of the years that you have, have I ever once misconstrued our relationship with one another?”
No, but talking about it doesn’t help.
Koston sat up, resting his back against the rickety headboard. He eyed the edges of the bed, as if the mattress was a raft and the water beyond was corroded. As much as he had looked forward to their evening between the sheets, he could do nothing but think of the next few days and how his life would be forever changed.
Damien must have noticed his reluctance and placed a consoling hand on his knee. “You are going to be an amazing advisor.”
Damien’s words fell deaf to Koston’s ears. His knights had been telling him the same thing ever since the announcement of his inauguration was made. People in the streets were already bowing to him and sometimes asked if they could get an autograph or even hold his hand. The palace servants were no different. A few of them sometimes waited outside of his apartment in the palace to tell him how blessed they felt to wash his sheets and fold his clothes.
His young lover laughed. “I fear that I might not have done enough to satisfy you. You seem deeper in thought now than when you came in.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Stop apologizing—especially after that!” Damien placed a hand on his chest again. “My heart is still racing.”
Koston was able to break a smile. “I know what you like.”
“You do,” he replied. “I, uh, I got a little something to show you my sign of support.”
Koston hid his grimace from Damien as his younger lover got out of bed, wearing nothing but a sheet he’d draped around his loins. He knelt down toward his nightstand and grabbed a frame that had been leaning against it. Damien first held it against his chest, concealing it from him as if he was about to give him the greatest birthday gift ever. When he revealed it, it took every ounce of Koston’s strength not to wince.
The frame revealed not one picture, but two. The image on the left was of Abraham Donnick, Koston’s grandfather, who started out as the youngest child from a family in poverty and went on to become the Monarch Superior. He wasn’t just any Monarch Superior, but the one that was said to have prevented seven wars and helped the world become more prosperous than any other Superior in the last three centuries. The image on the right was of Koston in his Captain’s uniform. People always told him that he looked just like his grandfather, and in this pair of images the resemblance was uncanny. They shared the same shoulder-length dirty blonde hair, the same noble brown eyes, and bore the tracings of the same smile that made the world confident in their actions and feel safe in their care.
“The people of Cardeau—Gods, the people of Noreis all believe that you are the second coming of your grandfather. I’ve been hearing wishes and whispers of those longing for you to trace his footsteps for years. People talk about it in the streets, pray for it in the churches… they even speak of it in the brothels. You are going to be a great advisor, Koston,” Damien said, resting the dual picture on his nightstand. “I just hope you’ll still find time for me while you’re out there making the world a better place.”
Koston could only nod, genuinely at a loss for words. He expected his knights, his servants, and Cardeau civilians to present him with tokens of their admiration. He just wasn’t expecting it from his whore as well.

Captain Donnick knew that he wouldn’t be able to go straight from Damien’s to his quarters. Queen Kallisto would never allow that—not with so much happening in his absence. He wasn’t yet her advisor, but that didn’t stop her from adding to his responsibilities. She was going to make sure that this transition was as miserable as possible. In return, he was going to stand by her and use his weight to keep her on the throne. Those that dared to speak told him that they didn’t understand why he was helping her. His response was always the same: “you don’t have to.”
The queen wore a bright blue dress that would have made any other woman look like a fairy tale princess. When Kallisto wore it, it looked like the gown of an ice queen. The blue matched her icy eyes while her platinum hair draped around her shoulders. It rarely moved when she spoke, as if it had been frozen in time. A white circlet was placed atop her head and her bangs were interwoven into it like snakes wrapping around it, squeezing life out of the fake white leaves.
“I messaged you nearly an hour ago,” Kallisto said from the head of the conference table with a glass of schnapps in her hand, looking as if she’d sat perfectly still while waiting for his arrival.
Koston blushed and ran his fingers through his hair to make sure that no strands were out of place. He didn’t need Kallisto to know why he wasn’t answering her calls. “My apologies,” he said, taking a seat to the right of her. “What can I do for you, Your Highness?”
“Well, I wanted to go over the seating chart for the inauguration dinner, being that you’re leaving tomorrow on an ill-planned vacation that will occupy your time right up until the party,” she scathed. “But while Terence and I were waiting for you, we did it ourselves. We also met to finalize the courses and the wine selection for the cocktail party afterward—all things that you were supposed to take care of over a week ago.”
I cannot wait to work with you on a daily basis.
“I am sorry, my queen,” he said with an obligatory lowering of his head. “I’ve been busy working with Sir Poltowe. I want to ensure that he’s prepared to lead the Guard during this transition.”
“The knights of Cardeau practically run themselves. There hasn’t been an attack on this palace in sixty years. Helping Sir Poltowe prepare marching patterns and writing tedious schedules is hardly at the top of your list of priorities, and as my advisor you’re going to have to master organizing that list and manage your time more wisely.”
The memories of rolling around naked in the sheets with Damien felt distant in her presence. All of the joy he only just experienced was flushed out of him. “I will learn, Your Highness.”
“You’re going to have to,” she replied. “We have a lot to accomplish the moment that ceremony ends, from the second you say that oath until my throne is no longer challenged. I have no intention of being relieved of my title, and the very thought of losing it to Chiron Roltare—”
“It will not happen.”
Although the kings and queens of Noreis often served lifelong terms, many of the city-states placed limitations to their absolutism in their constitutions. If a monarch was deemed unfit to rule, or if there was enough apprehension about their ability to run a city-state with the people’s best interest in mind, a new leader could be elected in their place. The people of Noreis had discovered long ago that allowing for special votes proved to be a much better solution than physically removing a monarch from office by execution or revolution.
District Representative Chiron Roltare had long been opposed to the queen’s actions and was quite vocal about wanting to take her place. Unfortunately, he was no better than she was. His opinions and policies went to the highest bidder. His stances changed as often as his investors, and he had little respect for the people he represented.
While Kallisto wasn’t the most admirable leader Cardeau had ever seen, she at least kept her platform consistent. Even if she was about to run him ragged, he could at least respect the woman she used to be; the woman that was there for his late wife in her most desperate times of need. Every now and then he caught a glimpse of that Kallisto; a glimmer of the philanthropic social worker that once gave girls a role model and women an aspiration. That person was still there somewhere, at least in his mind.
“It sounds like most of the preparations for the inaugural ceremony are in order,” Koston said. “I met with Terence the other day to discuss the oath and the closing party.”
“You did?” Kallisto said, defrosting a little. “He didn’t mention that.”
“You had asked me to,” he replied. “I managed to find time in my busy schedule. I figured that, since I’m gone for the next few days, it would be one less thing on your very full plate.”
“One less thing, yes.” She sighed. “Oh, Koston, if you only knew just how large that plate is.”
“I will soon. And when I return we will work together to take on the duties that Advisor Tarkinson abandoned upon his resignation.”
Kallisto crossed one leg over the other. “And we will work together to ensure that we can avoid any further… scandals.”
Yes, though “scandal” is a polite word for what you had done, my queen.
“Is there anything else you require of me?” he asked. “I have an early morning tomorrow.”
“No,” she said plainly. “Everything I needed from you was done before you got here. Get some rest. I’ll see you in a few days.”
Koston didn’t waste his time trying to escape the queen’s conference room. The chills she emitted from her bittering presence were beginning to seep under his skin. He withdrew himself from his seat beside her and headed towards the door.
“Koston,” she said.
Her words paralyzed his feet.
“Are you planning on walking around the busier palace halls on your way back to your quarters?”
“I don’t know, why?”
“Because you shouldn’t,” she scolded. “And adjust your collar. I cannot have my future right hand looking like a whore… or smelling like one, for that matter.”
Koston could think of no response. Instead he kept walking, leaving the queen to the iciness she’d emitted in the room.

To read "The Raven of Dusk: Transcendence" --

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Beginning: Author Commentary

Raiden Arias follows his father in pursuing Rexus Poloray in the deep echolons of the Malysai Rain Forest. With ravenous beasts lurking about, Raiden's only allies in this journey are the dark, the quite, and his gunblade. Before he is able to escape the darkness within, Raiden's life will be changed forever...

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Raven of Dusk: Transcendence Trailer

Author commentary for "The Beginning" will be a day late, so here's a second look at the trailer for the first book of The Raven of Dusk series: Transcendence.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

World of Dusk: The Beginning

World of Dusk: The Beginning


The mist, emitted through the limbs of trees, grew thicker the further Raiden tracked Father into the untamed regions of the Malysai rain forest. There were no more houses or people to be seen; the trees were growing taller and left unkempt. The branches and leaves smacked Raiden’s air shuttle like fanged demons trying to bite through the glass.  Without the shimmers from the forest lights, there was only Hela to guide his way. However, Hela was descending and soon the moon would claim the sky and give the mist a ghostly glow. He was thankful that he didn’t have much further to go. Father and Hastings would soon park and navigate the rest of the way on foot, and then Rexus Poloray would find himself either apprehended or dead.
Twin red beams in the distance indicated that Father turned on the brake lights to his shuttle. The vehicle hovered to a stop nearly twenty feet above the ground, then lowered until the bottom rails kissed a clearing of dirt. Raiden should have been relieved that the driving portion was over, but he only grew more nervous. They must have been getting close.
Raiden dimmed his headlights and floated in the sea of thick gray clouds. He wasn’t ready to let them know that he’d followed them—especially after he was instructed not to. He found another clearing about a thousand feet from where they parked and quietly landed his air shuttle on a soft pile of leaves. A pair of bushes beside Raiden’s shuttle emitted a flurry of tiny green orbs. They fluttered into the air and evaporated like dying fireflies.
He examined the gunblade holster on his passenger seat. He had no training with it beyond what Father had taught him back when he was a boy, and he had not been a boy in quite some time. The happy memories of fencing with Father with nothing but sticks and laughter would have to do.
Childhood memories faded once the fear set in. He knew all too well what sort of primal creatures resided in the deep, dark echelons of the rain forest. Once he opened that shuttle door, there would be no turning back. Raiden’s only chances of surviving would be to become one with the forest; to be another creature wandering about with the dusk and the quiet as his two closest allies.
I can turn around. I can leave and forget all about this and no one would know.
But then Raiden thought of their conversation after breakfast. He couldn’t let Father do this without him—not when it involved Riles’ life. He needed to keep his distance until they were too far into the woods to turn back. Only then would Father allow him to continue with him and Hastings.
The two disappeared deeper into the District of Shadows up ahead. Raiden speed-walked through the wildberry bushes and the plants that exhaled orbs of yellow and white. Their flickering lights paved his way. The canopy above was so thick that only traces of Hela’s rays made it through them.
Raiden reached Father’s shuttle, but there was no telling how far ahead he and Hastings were. At least the alcove they’d parked in front of made it clear where they were heading. Between a set of trees as wide as palace walls were a pair of leaves so large they must have weighed five pounds apiece. They bent toward one another and formed an archway into another world.
Raiden crossed under them and found that the angled trees no longer allowed the rays from above to seep through. The only lights were the flurries of orbs dispersed by the plants around him, and they were evaporating quickly. Father and Hastings could have been within an arm’s length and he wouldn’t know it. Something else could have been just as close.
Raiden withdrew his gunblade. The pistol itself was less than half a foot in length, but when he thrust it forward a silver, three-foot-long blade shot out of it. If anything was looking for prey, he’d be ready for it.
He stepped forward into the darkness, feeling the bristles of leaves tickle his ankles. The greens around him sighed and pale orbs of chartreuse and white flecked a foot into the air. Somewhere from above the birds were chirping, oblivious to anything beneath them. His paces were slow and steady. He tried to count his steps, but lost track sometime after one hundred when the flutter of wings flew around the thick leaves of trees to his left. Raiden jumped into his battle stance with his gunblade in front of him only to feel silly a second later. Of all the things to fear in the forest, the birds weren’t among them.
He wondered how much time had passed and hoped that Father and Hastings were going in the same direction. According to the stories, the treetops blocked out the skies above for days. In reality it was probably no more than ten or fifteen miles in circumference, but he didn’t think to map it out beforehand. He felt stupid for not planning ahead.
The bushes in front of him stirred. Whatever it was seemed much larger than a bird. He strained his ears to hear whatever it was. It was moving left, then closer to him. He heard the tiny branches snapping beneath its feet, or paws, or claws.
“Stop right there.”
Whatever it was had stopped fifteen or twenty feet in front of him. He silenced his breathing to hear the grumbling of the nearby creature.
More orbs flecked into the air in a V formation, but evaporated just as abruptly as they started. One of the orbs allowed him to catch a glimpse of the deep purple fur of the creature before him.
Shit. Raiden thought. Only a few creatures bore such color, and of those few only one of them was native to the Malysai rain forest. He was standing before a behemoth, the king of the woods. Behemoths were one of the many reasons the District of Shadows remained uninhabited by people. Adults grew to seven or eight feet in height; their claws were often stained red with dried blood. Its fur varied in shades of purple and royal blue, and its eyes were as dark as a starless night. He heard many stories of rain forest hikers making camp too close to their territory. The scent of humans was like a butcher’s cut of steak to behemoths. Even if their snarls were heard as they slinked toward their prey, no human could outrun them. Those they tried were devoured, leaving nothing but the remnants of their cracked bones as evidence that an attack had ever occurred.
If this behemoth wanted to challenge him, he stood little chance of surviving.
He maintained his battle stance, trying his best to ignore his sweaty palms on the hilt of the gunblade. The behemoth hadn’t moved either, but he still heard its grunting as it dug its nails into the dirt beneath its paws. It was preparing to lunge at him.
“Away!” Raiden shouted in its direction. He shot a stun orb into the air a few feet above where the behemoth was roughly standing. The yellow orb flew north and evaporated into the leaves. The behemoth yelped, but stood its ground.
The yelp made Raiden’s ears perk. He shot another stun orb just a little above where he assumed the creature would be. As it grazed by, Raiden saw the silhouette of a creature three, maybe four feet tall at most. It was a behemoth for sure, but a young one. The behemoth retracted its claws from the dirt and started to back up.
“Away!” Raiden threatened. This time he fired a stun orb right at it. The behemoth let out another yelp and took off in the opposite direction. The stun orb would’ve only temporarily paralyzed it, but the creature didn’t know that. Raiden would have only hurt it if necessary. It was protecting its habitat, just as Raiden had set out to protect his own.
The stun orb crashed into a tree stump a couple of hundred feet ahead. Raiden got a glimpse of another stump next to the first and cocked his head. It was unusual in this part of the forest to see two stumps in such close proximity. He quickened his pace and retracted his gunblade. Whether or not Father and Hastings went this way was yet to be discovered, but he needed to put some distance between him and the young behemoth. He didn’t want to be there if it ran to its mother.
A pile of sludge puckered around his boots just before he reached the wooden stumps. He scowled and fought with the puddle to lift them. It was as thick as drying cement and almost won the fight, but Raiden managed to remove his feet from the muddy claws. Several plants around him exhaled another set of orbs and cast light on two other sets of footprints trudging toward the base of the stumps. Father and Hastings had come this way. The orbs lit up a whole line of them; a stairway in the middle of the forest.
He hoisted himself onto the first one, which was more than three feet off of the ground. The rest of the stumps weren’t as steep, but he had to jump onto them and hope that his strides were large enough. The second stump was just a foot higher and a few feet away. The one he stood on was large enough for him to get a running start, so he backed up to the edge and darted forward, leaping onto the second stump and sticking the landing with ease.
The next several wooden platforms proved to be just as easy to navigate. Some even had tiny plants on the ends of the stumps emitting orbs of light and revealing a path to the top. He jumped again, but too far this time and gasped as his left heel barely grazed the stump's edge. He kicked off a pile of sludge that had been amassing at the edge and watched as it broke into fragments of mud disappearing into the nothingness below. He must have been more than twenty feet in the air; he still had a long way to go.
I can do this… I can do this.
Heights didn’t often usually scare him, but he found not being able to see the ground terrifying. If he fell, the darkness would swallow him whole and his body would be lost to the District of Shadows forever. He closed his eyes and thought of the son he left home with his mother; the son that Rexus Poloray had threatened to kill if he didn’t get the information he wanted. The thought of losing him was far scarier than a leap into the unknown.
He jumped again. His breathing cut short as soon as he left the safety of the stump. His legs pushed through the still air and he felt the colors of the lights of the orbs in front of him…
And then he felt the solid wood beneath his feet. He opened his eyes and sighed with relief. He was going to be just fine.
The breeze briefly reassembled the leaves and Raiden got a clear view of Hela through an opening in the treetops. It was descending quickly—much faster than he thought it would. He could no longer be afraid of the unknown before him. There wasn’t enough time for that. He leapt again without worrying whether he’d land on a stump or break his legs on the ground far below. And then he did it again, and again, and again.
He must have been a hundred feet in the air by the time he saw a stump that was only half-visible, concealed behind a wall of emerald and crimson leaves. He stopped just before it. With a deep breath he sprang, plowing through the wall of leaves before him, and landing on the stump on the other side.
Raiden got a glimpse of his startled father somewhere in front of him, then nearly slipped forward over the edge of the stump. He put his hands out to balance himself as the arches of his feet teetered on the corner of the wooden platform.
“Ray!” Father exclaimed and bolted toward him.
Raiden swore he heard Hastings scoff, but he was too focused on maintaining his balance so that he didn’t slip off the edge. He waved his arms backward as a means of pushing more of his weight onto the stump. His heart raced wildly, but he knew he could do it. He wasn’t about to fall to his death before even seeing the man who had threatened the life of his son.
Father rushed to the edge of the crisscrossing tree limbs that were supporting him and Hastings. Before he had a chance to grab for his son, Raiden placed all of his weight on the heels of his feet and safely scooted backwards.
“Phew,” Raiden sighed.
“Ray,” Father’s tone switched from shock and worry to parental and foreboding. It reminded Raiden of the time he was caught stealing chocolate-covered blueberries from the market. He never forgot the look of shame engraved on Father’s face. It was a shade of disappointment that he never wanted to see again. Father must have known that, or else he wouldn’t be looking at him the same way now. “Ray, what in Noreis—”
“Don’t even, Dad,” Raiden snarled. “I’m a father to Riles just as you are a father to me. I wouldn’t expect you to not take action if you got word that someone had threatened my life, so you shouldn’t expect any different from me.”
Father’s gray eyes grew morose. “I should never have told you.”
“Arias’,” Hastings said with a scowl on his face and hands on his hips, “We still have a little ways to go.”
Hastings had been Father’s partner in the Serenity Seekers for three years. Raiden wanted to like him, but the man always seemed full of himself. He was also far too close to Raiden's age to keep Raiden from thinking that Hastings might have been the version of him that Father would have preferred. Father had always wished that Raiden had joined the Seekers. It nearly broke his heart the day Raiden revealed to him that he wanted to work as a tour guide for the Tri-City Forest. Hearing about Father’s missions with Hastings caused Raiden to wonder if he had made the right decision.
“Father, this morning you mentioned that Rexus was curious about the Transcendence Theory. What about it?”
Father exchanged glances with Hastings and then his son. “Dusk of the Eternal, Dawn of the First, Three and Three, the Second reveals the Third.”
Raiden blinked. “What the hell does that mean?”
“Walk and talk, guys,” Hastings grumbled, turning from them. He continued to watch his footing as he alternated between the tree limbs. Hastings seemed numb to the sizable drop that could spell death should one misstep and fall.
Raiden eyed the crisscrossing limbs that his father and Hastings were standing on with caution. They were two curiously large platforms of wood that formed a double helix and traveled through another sheet of leaves. He leapt onto one of them with ease and found himself having to look up at Father yet again.
Raiden fell in line with Father, who had begun to follow his partner when he finally answered his son’s question. “That is what your mother told me. As for what it means, I’m not sure that even she knows. Either that or, despite a thirty-year betrothal, she still doesn’t trust me.”
“You were only married for eighteen of those years.”
“She will always be my wife.”
“Technically your divorce made her your ex-wife.”
Father increased his pace to catch up with his partner. “Say what you will, son, but you were too young to fully understand the circumstances surrounding our separation.”
“I wasn't too young. She was too absent.” Raiden said while having a hard time keeping up.
“Absent, yes, but that woman will always be your mother. She did what she thought was best for everyone.”
“She did what was best for her.”
Father stopped moving. Somewhere in the distance Hastings had groaned, but it didn’t stop him from rushing ahead.
Raiden bit his tongue and squinted. He knew what he was about to be in for.
“Your mother is a complicated woman. Do I believe in everything that she did and the choices that she made? No, but I understand why she did it. You would have never met your wife if she hadn’t, and you wouldn’t have that beautiful son to go home to. It was the right thing to do back then, just as her telling me about Rexus was the right thing to do now. Let’s do what we came here to do, then go back home.”
At last Father said something he agreed with. Raiden followed in his footsteps without saying another word as they walked forward and jumped from one intersecting limb to the next, trudging deeper and deeper into the dark side of the rain forest.
“The first clue is ‘Dusk of the Eternal’,” Father said. “Your mother explained that there’s a clearing somewhere in the depths of this forest where the orbs emitted by the plant life have generated the same sequence for thousands of years. Twice a year at the time of dusk they reveal the collective image of the location to the ‘Dawn of the First’.”
“Did she—” Raiden stopped talking to hoist himself onto a limb that curved upward at a forty-five degree angle. “Did she tell you what ‘Dawn of the First’ meant?”
“No, but she did say that if we were unsuccessful here, the ‘Three and Three’ meant that the clues are separated in a sequence of three days, meaning that three days from now, at dawn, the second clue would reveal itself.”
Raiden bobbed his head. “And then ‘The Second reveals the Third’ means that the second clue would lead us to a third clue?”
“It won’t come to that. We’re putting an end to this now. If we don’t, others may come to learn of Rexus—or worse, about the Transcendence Theory.” Father had mentioned that not even the Serenity Seekers could know about the theory, which would have baffled Raiden if he didn’t already have so many other things on his mind.
Hastings disappeared through another wall of crimson leaves in front of them. Raiden didn’t notice until he emerged through them. Even in the dark, Raiden was able to make out the astonishment on Hastings’ face.
“Is that it in front of us?” Father asked.
Hastings waited for them to cross over the last set of limbs to reach him before saying anything. “I think so. Galen, you should have a look.”
“All right then,” Father said casually as he brandished his gunblade and thrust forward a three foot shimmering blue blade. The blade was at beautiful as it was dangerous. To even slide one’s fingers along the edge would make them bleed. Riles tried once. Father never withdrew it in front of him again.
Hastings withdrew his as well. Hastings' blade was as green as a forest and, though not as bright and Father’s, it was just as deadly. Not wanting to waste another second, Hastings muttered “It’ll be dusk soon” before trudging back through the wall of leaves.
Raiden grabbed for his gunblade and thrust it forward, being extra-careful not to lose his footing and slip over the edge. The dull silver of his blade didn’t capture the light like his father’s, but rather seemed to fit in with the darkness surrounding them.
Father grimaced at the sight of his son’s gunblade. Raiden saw Father’s desire to argue his following them through the crimson leaves, but he was left with no time to dissuade Raiden from going. He resigned to saying, “Just stay behind me and you’ll be safe.”
Raiden obeyed and kept five paces behind Father. The two followed Hastings through the wall of leaves ahead. Before them were more tree limbs that served as walkways that formed a near-perfect circle four hundred feet in diameter. The limbs seemed to spiral down all the way to the ground and continue up as high as the treetops, which was only letting the slightest hint of Hela in.
The glimmering orbs in front of him demanded his attention. The ground must have been littered with thousands of bushes because there were literally millions of lights flickering up towards him. Unlike the lights along the tree stumps, these orbs were all shades of greens and blues and reds and every other hue along the color spectrum that he could imagine. It was so blindingly bright that he found himself distracted from the fact that Rexus would soon be there as well, if he wasn’t already.
Raiden tried to make out designs in the lights as they floated up towards the treetops. Father said they’d be sequential, but if there was a pattern that they were meant to reveal, he didn’t see it yet. He wondered what it would portray when Hela finally set.
Father pointed upward. “Let’s head to the treetops. We’ll get the best view there and a good vantage point on Rexus.”
Hastings turned toward the spiraling tree limbs and led the way upward. Father followed right behind him and Raiden remained in the back. Raiden tried to focus on his footing, but was more concerned with keeping an eye out on what was going on behind him. If Rexus were to show up from below, he would be the easiest target.
He eyed the entrance to the clearing as they traveled up fifty feet, and then a hundred more. Rexus could slink through the leaves at any moment. The thought distracted Raiden from being scared of how high up he was. He was as weary about what was happening above him as he had been about what could’ve been happening below. At any moment they’d—
“There,” Father pointed toward the center of the room. There, the bushes emitted a new sequence of orbs that shot up toward the canopy. The orbs swirled like rotating pixels. Each floated upward at a different pace coming closer and closer together. The three stopped climbing to see what was rapidly approaching them from below. The orbs in this sequence were mostly earth tones. There were still traces of vibrancy, but colors were predominantly shades of blue, brown, and green. The closer they fluttered together, the more of an image they began to reveal. And then, for the slightest of seconds, all of the orbs came together in perfect unison to form a quick, clear image. It was the portrayal of a landscape from a time long ago; there were six rivers that criss-crossed one another, at one point almost forming a hexagon. Along the edges of them were plains and hills, while the center of the image was of a ground covered in shimmering blue and silver crystals. Amongst all of them, there was one in the very center that seemed to shine the brightest. Amidst what must have been several million orbs, the cluster of that hundred or so was what caught Raiden’s attention the most. Before he had time to think about what he just witnessed, the orbs parted and continued swirling upwards at different speeds, and finally faded before hitting the treetops.
“That was Kalia,” Father said. “Not as we know it today, but what it looked like then.”
“That cluster in the center,” Raiden muttered.
“I saw it too,” Father said.
On the other side of Father, Hastings sighed. “If that was the clue, then Rexus missed it.”
Raiden felt the blood rush to his face. “Unless he’s already here.”
The three stalled in an eerie silence. None of them said anything for a second. Another cluster of orbs was beginning to form below. This time they were bright and in shades of orange, yellow, and red. They flickered upward and engulfed the three men in their blazing bright hues.
Hastings clutched his chest as a flurry of flames shot up from it. “Ackkk!” He screamed in agony, but before he could do anything he was engulfed in a fire that couldn’t have come from the orbs.
“Hastings!” Father exclaimed. He attempted to pat the flames off of his partner, but when Raiden got a glimpse of Hastings’ wide-eyded look of horror, he knew that it was too late. Hastings fell from the limbs, completely devoured in flames and vanishing through the next cluster of orbs.
A ball of fire cruised through the flame-colored orbs and headed toward Father. Before Raiden could get a word out, Father flung his blade forward and sliced it in half, disintegrating it.
As the orbs passed, Raiden got a look at a man with dark hair and blaring eyes from across the clearing. Even from a distance he could tell that this man was about the size of Father—if not larger. Rexus wore a tattered sepia-colored coat that swayed around his feet. He held his blood-colored gunblade in their direction and shot another fireball from the pistol’s mouth.
“Ray—duck!” Father yelled.
Raiden knelt down as quickly as he could as a ball of fire sailed overhead and slammed into the leaves behind him. If they were anywhere else in the world the leaves would've gone ablaze, but the trees of the forest had long ago coated themselves with a watery sap that made them fireproof. The whole world could go up in flames and the Malysai rain forest would remain intact.
Father bolted around the semicircle of limbs in the direction of Rexus. Rexus rushed toward him with graceful, wide strides. Both men had their gunblades outstretched and met in the middle of the clearing to engage in a flurry of blows. Flashes of red swirled all around Rexus, but Father was just as fast. Father's shimmering blue blade met every one of Rexus’ attacks and countered them.
Father’s eyes were wide and desperate as he gripped his blade and Raiden knew immediately that Father was too wary of his presence.
I shouldn’t have come. He’s nervous. I’m a distraction.
Another series of red, orange and yellow orbs floated towards the treetops. The colors surrounding the men made them appear as if they were two harrowing flames lashing out at one another. Rexus hit the blade with a loud clang but nearly lost his footing when he stood astride the limbs of the helix. Father started swinging at Rexus, coming down on him with heavy, powerful blows.
Come on, Father. Come on!
Raiden blinked with surprise at how fast Father was. Each swing was graceful and lacked hesitation. He had planned his attacks four or five slashes ahead. He was a giant and his blade was a sharp extension of his arm, pummeling Rexus with blow after mighty blow.
Father swung again, but this time Rexus used his might to slam into it with his red blade and Father had to jump back. Rexus swung at Father furiously. His blade resembled a blood-colored viper and struck at Father with a hissing metal tongue. Father’s blue blade hurdled through the sea of flames to block Rexus, but he backed up again keeping an eye on the awkward L-shaped walkway behind him.
Raiden clutched his gunblade and ran forward through the clusters of orbs surrounding him. He broke through the patterns and images they portrayed as if he was bursting through liquid canvasses. The orbs flecked away, giving him a clear view of Rexus and his viper-tongued blade. He pointed his gublade toward Rexus and started shooting balls of fire through the plethora of orbs in his direction.
Rexus blocked Father’s blows and then spun backward to dodge Raiden’s attacks with ease. He side-stepped past one fireball, and then sliced two more in half without breaking his stride.
Father flung his blade at Rexus, who blocked it, then both twisted their blades downward. Rexus pushed down on Father's gunblade and drove it deep into the wood. As the two leaned toward the ground, Raiden rushed them. He leapt diagonally across the L-shaped limbs and landed directly behind the man who threatened his son and fought his father.
Rexus flung his blade upwards and swung at Raiden before he could strike. Raiden gasped as the viper’s tongue went to slice through him and blocked it with his dull silver blade. Rexus’ blow felt like it came from a monster, not a man.
“Ray!” Father yelled as he shook his gunblade free from the wooden limb below.
Rexus swung hard at Raiden again and again. Raiden felt as if he was being attacked with a wall of cement and backed away. He struggled to stay on his feet as the limbs twisted and curved behind him.
Father prepared to attack Rexus from behind, but Rexus was ready for it and jumped high into the air, well over Raiden’s head, leaving Father to swipe at nothing. Rexus landed behind Raiden and kicked him in the small of his back. Raiden felt the pain course through his vertebrae and fell forward, tripping over a small branch. He lost his footing and stumbled forward, over the edge. He couldn’t maintain his balance and tilted toward the swirls of colors covering the ground. As he dropped, he felt a strong hand grasping at his leg.
Raiden gasped as he watched his gunblade fall into the glowing abyss below. He dangled upside down for second and heard Father’s voice.
Raiden contorted his body to get a glimpse of Father clutching his leg. In that moment, he saw Galen Arias look helpless for the first time in his life. He never thought he would see that expression on the man that walked him through every step of his life. Father’s eyes were bulging and his mouth was wide open, but he was too horrified to utter a sound.
Rexus stood over Father like an executioner over a man with his head in a guillotine. He plunged his gunblade through Father’s chest with ease and without hesitation. Before Raiden could scream he felt Father’s grip give way and he went freefalling down through the millions of orbs. The little lights floated upward, concealing the small openings through which the sky could be seen.

There was a groaning sound. It came from him, though he didn’t know how it was possible. He looked around at the orbs that were still floating towards the canopy. He didn’t know how long he’d been out, much less how he had managed to survive a three-hundred-foot fall. He started to move and felt the pillows of leaves give way, dropping him another two or three feet onto the hard surface below.
The plants and bushes were so thick that they broke his fall. It was a struggle to see with the overwhelming bright lights surrounding him, but he didn’t feel like he was in a lot of pain. Nothing felt broken, and nothing was numb.
Raiden rolled over and got to his feet. He dusted off his maroon-colored shirt and checked for scrapes and scratches. Besides having a few cuts on his forearms, he looked astoundingly fine.
“Father!” He gasped.
He rushed toward the edges of the clearing and quickly found several tree trunks that, collectively, had a series of tree limbs that joined with others and intertwined. Raiden hugged the tree with the limbs that were closest to the ground and began hoisting himself up, grabbing at whatever small limbs and branches he could find along the way. His forearm started to bleed, but he ignored the pain. He had to get back to where Father was as quickly as he could. He needed to know if he was still alive.
He wrapped his arm around closest tree limb that started up the walkway and balanced his body until he was able to comfortably push himself onto it. He rested for a second, then got to his feet. The limbs grew wider and more stable the higher up they went. He started to run up them. The pounding of his feet echoed in the clearing as the orbs in the center flickered upwards with more vibrant colors and designs. He made one full rotation around the spiral, then another, and a third. He was losing his breath, but he didn’t care.
He caught a glimpse of Father’s shimmering blue gunblade from across the way and the shadows of a body with a hand dangling over the edge.
Everything fell silent. He didn’t hear his footsteps as he ran toward the motionless figure. He couldn’t feel himself breathe. All he could think of was Father’s helpless expression as he held Raiden by his leg.
He reached Father and rolled his lifeless body over. There was a blood stain on his chest where Rexus had stabbed him through the heart, and for a moment all Raiden could think about was one of the last things father said to him. Stay behind me and you’ll be safe.
This is my fault. This is my doing. I should have stayed behind. It would have been Rexus lying here, dead, not you…
His vision become blurry amidst a sea of tears. He no longer knew what to do, or even how to get back to his shuttle. He was completely lost, like a young child who had lost the grip of a mother’s hand amidst a roaring crowd. He hadn’t known a life without Father. They had always been together. He was the constant. He was supposed to always be the constant. But now....
The lights were reflected off of Father’s gunblade, drawing Raiden’s attention away from his Father. He thought for a second, and then knew what he had to do. He grabbed Father’s gunblade, retracted it, and placed it in his holster.
“No one threatens my son and lives,” Raiden told himself through lips dampened by streams of tears. “No one…”