Monday, November 2, 2015


The Revenge of the Elementals, Prologue

The wind rattled the glass panes of the windows in their frames, disturbing the silence of the monastery's library. Audrie closed the cover of the book she was reading with a heavy sigh. She picked it up and brought it back to its place on the shelves, latching an empty chain to the metal loop on its spine and locking it in place with a key on a leather strap around her wrist. She then walked slowly out of the room.

Rain began to fall, filling the monastery with a dull rumble as it pelted the roof. Audrie knocked on the archway leading into the abbot's front room. He looked up from a scroll at her and smiled. “Yes, Audrie.”

“The Sylva Umbrosa was another failure, Lazar,” Audrie said. Her voice was distinctly duller than the abbot's.

Abbot Lazar shrugged, maintaining his smile. “We must expect to fail, or else success will not spur us forward.” He chuckled quietly. “There I go spouting made-up wisdom. I really am turning into Abbot Vibianus.” Audrie laughed out of politeness, never having met the former Abbot. She didn't think it very wise, however. In her opinion, expecting failure only encouraged it.

“It is late,” Abbot Lazar said. “You have put in more hours than asked of you, as usual.”

Audrie nodded, but in order to remain humble, said, “I'm a slow reader.”

The abbot chuckled again. “Then get some rest. Tomorrow none of us shall work. We all need some time off.”

Audrie nodded and turned towards her own room a few archways down the hall. Expecting failure encourages laziness too, she thought. She planned on continuing her research with some of the unexamined tomes tomorrow, despite what the abbot often said about overworking leading to the work being useless.

She lay down on her cot, but although clouds blocked the light of the stars and moon from shining through her window, she could not fall asleep. Something was nagging at the back of her head, something about the Sylva Umbrosa. It was an old book, to be sure, but not nearly as old as some of the other tomes they had collected at the Eirian Monastery, so she hadn't expected it to help them on their search. Still, she had read the entire thing from cover to cover, just to be sure, and sure enough found nothing. Yet something she read was keeping her up, and she couldn't figure out what it was.

Audrie sat up. She threw off her blanket and stood up. If something was keeping her from sleeping, then she would indulge it. Barefoot, she tiptoed back to the library.

She lit a candle on a table by the entrance, and held it close to her as she looked for the shelf to where she had replaced the Sylva Umbrosa. Open flames in rooms containing hundreds of dry books were not typically recommended, but the candle holders they used were designed to prevent spilled wax and tipping over. Still, she didn't want to outstretch her hand and run the flame directly into some paper.

When she found the book, Audrie brought it back to the nearest reading table and flipped through, searching for something that would catch her eye, or the attention of the nagging feeling in the back of her mind. The Sylva Umbrosa was several decades old, and detailed the area that was now known as the Shadir Forest, situated several miles to the southwest of the mountains where the monastery stood. The forest was treacherous to explore, due to the jagged terrain and wild beasts, but this book did its best to catalog the flora and fauna, as well as map paths through the woods. It helped create important trade routes for the kingdom of Cadereria. It was not helpful, however, in locating the artifact that the monastery was founded to find.

The windows rattled again from the gale outside. A storm seemed to be growing. Audrie found herself staring absently at a map of the forest. She had always possessed a knack for research, and it never let her down. There had to be something she was missing. There was a thud from elsewhere in the building. Someone must have left a window open and the wind knocked something over.

The artifact had eluded the monks for centuries, despite their thorough research and dedication to Know, the god of knowledge (his name being where the word came from). It was the Four-Cornered Staff, a relic for which references could be found dating back to the Elemental War that nearly destroyed the world centuries ago. It was lost shortly thereafter, and all of their searching at the Eirian Monastery only turned up legends. It may not even exist, Audrie thought.

There was another noise, and Audrie looked up. It had sounded like footsteps. “Abbot Lazar?” she said, peering into the dark library entryway.

There was movement, and two glowing red dots stared back at her.

Audrie gasped and rose from her seat. Suddenly, the dots were closer, they were the eyes of red goggles, and their wearer was upon her, forcing her back down into her seat and clasping a hand over her mouth. There was a peal of thunder, and the rain fell even harder against the roof.

“Make a sound and you die,” the man said.

Audrie's knuckles were white, her hands clenched on either side of the book. She tried to get a better look at the man, but he stood in the shadows, with her own body in between him and the candle. He reached a hand over her shoulder to point at the map she had been studying. He was wearing long sleeves made of tanned leather, his hands gloved in brown as well. “It seems that we seek the same thing,” he said. “Tell me where it is, quietly.”

Audrie cleared her throat slightly so that her voice would not crack. “We don't know. There is no proof that it even exists.”

“Then show me the closest thing,” the man said, his voice growing harsh but never rising above a whisper. “Show me where it is said to be.”

“I will need to stand up and find the right tome,” Audrie said.

The man stepped back, and she saw the flash of a dagger pointed at her in the candlelight. “Do it,” came his command.

Audrie slowly walked down the row of shelves. Her only hope was that one of the others had heard something as well and would come to her rescue. She had no weapons, no protection, and she had never taken her combat training seriously. She always questioned why it had been part of their regimen when it didn't seem to aid them in searching for the Staff, but Lazar had always told her the same thing. “There are many paths to the answers we seek.” Audrie knew that if she attempted the disarming technique that she vaguely remembered learning, she would find the dagger between her ribs rather than on the floor.

She found the shelf she was searching for, and moved down the row of books until she found the right one. It was much older than the Sylva Umbrosa, but it was just a storybook. Tales of extravagant characters with ridiculous premises that could not have been true, though the book presented so-called evidence for a few of them. One of those stories concerned the Four-Cornered Staff and the temple where it was housed. The illustrator had drawn an image of the temple, but no such iconography could be found in any other source.

Audrie used her key to unlock the chain anchoring the book to the shelf, then handed the tome over to the man without saying a word. He placed it on the shelf next to him, then suddenly grabbed her wrist and the chain. Before she could react, Audrie found that he had wrapped the chain around her arm and locked it to itself, preventing her from escaping. He quickly snatched up the key and the book, then moved back to the table where the Sylva Umbrosa still lay open.

Audrie considered if now would be a good time to scream for help, but she found herself watching the man's fingers flip through the pages and point from the picture of the temple to areas of the map of the Shadir Forest. Then it hit her; they had been looking for iconography from the temple, when they should have been examining the lay of the land around it to find matching landmarks on modern maps. That was what snagged Audrie's attention onto the map; she was aware of similarities between it and the storybook's pictures without being conscious of it. There were multiple images of the temple and the surrounding area in the storybook, and this man was beginning to use them to triangulate its location within the Shadir Forest.

All their searching would be for nothing if he found the Staff first.

Audrie started considered her circumstances, but realized that doing so was taking too long.

So she started to shout.

The man was in front of her again in moments, but he brought the candle with him. Audrie's voice grew high and strained when she saw his face in the light for the first time. His red goggles were fastened to his face by leather bands that were wrapped entirely around his head, so that not a single inch of his skin was exposed to the air. He wore skin-tight leather armor around his body, fastened with buckles and snares. The only features Audrie could see were his eyes, glaring with intense hatred from behind his red-tinted goggles.

“I could have let only you die once I had what I came for,” he said, his voice calm despite the rage pouring from his glare. “But now you force my hand. No one may know where I go to follow me. And no one will.” With that, he held out the candle, tipped it sideways, and lit the books around Audrie aflame.

Audrie struggled against the chain as he walked away, preparing his dagger for what she could only assume would be the deaths of everyone she had known for the last twelve years. The pages around her caught the flames quickly, thirsting for those fiery tongues to quench their dry skin. Heat rippled from the inferno and Audrie began to grow short of breath.

She reached with her free hand up to her hair, and pulled out one of the pins that held it in a bun on the top of her head. She moved the pin to the lock on the chain, trying to move it slowly while every ounce of her mind was screaming for quick action. Amazingly, the lock snapped open and her wrist was free. Audrie scrambled through the flames, saw the dark blue of the storm outside, and jumped towards it.

Audrie landed outside, the heavy rain cooling her scorched skin but pelting at the scratches from the glass window. She thought about going around the front to warn everyone inside, then thought about running into the man and his dagger once again. She remembered the look in his red eyes, the pure anger, and she started running away from the monastery. She did not stop running until the burning building was far behind her, the smoke could not be seen behind the sheets of rain, and the flames could not be heard above the cruel howling of the wind.

Chapter 1, Mead >>

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