No society that is comprised of individuals throughout history has ever been perfect. There will always be those motivated by their own desires and needs and passions and fears that set them outside of the laws of the society that they belong. The Mages, as advanced as they are, are no exception to this rule. Those who violate the precepts of the Mage’s Council are dubbed Renegade Mages, regardless of their crime, and have a special branch of highly trained magic users, known as the Drannin, hunt them down and bring them back to face justice under the laws of their society.
But the days of the Drannin have come to an end, with only one survivor to the order, Master Aravinda. The Last Drannin, a Mage so feared that even those who would never even consider violating the Council’s rules back away from and try to avoid. In the dark days of Zoldex, when evil Mages run rampant and the world at large is suffering at the hands of Renegade Mages, it is time for the Drannin to be restored to its former glory. Handpicking the best and the brightest from the survivors of the Mage’s Academy, Master Aravinda is determined to build the next generation of Drannin.
Sartir, one of the best friends of the prophesied savior, Kyria, finds himself torn between guilt for the actions of a Shadow Lord trapped inside his body and his desire to always be by the Chosen One’s side. Ultimately deciding to become one of the new Drannin, he is determined to master the beast within and become worthy once more of being a companion of Kyria.
The new Drannin will have their hands full, though, as two threats loom on the horizon. Years ago, a single troll, Matriarch Kovag, united her people and led them on a crusade to cleanse the infestation that was humanity. Defeated by King Worren of Falestia, the trolls believe that one day she will return to unite them once more. That day has finally come, though Kovag is more than she was, and is reborn as a Mage. With the survivors of Zoldex’s siege migrating north to Falestia, a new troll threat within the borders would be devastating. Will the resurrection of Kovag seal the fate of those who would stand against Zoldex? Or does her return herald something different?
Princess Erlyn, niece of King Worren and cousin to Warlord Braksis, will lead famed heroes of Falestia to investigate the rumors of Kovag’s return. Along with Atherok, Shalin, Hallador, Davalos, and Zoaa, they will not back down from the rumors or the devastating memories of the past as they seek to find answers and deal with the troll threat. With Kovag being hunted by the Drannin and the legendary Falestians, will her return be thwarted before it has even begun?
Whether it is or not, the true threat may be the one that none of them see coming. As the Renegade Mage Crelestra returns to Grimsgaard, the wraith city that believes she is their God, to establish a foothold of power. She too is seeking Kovag under the orders of Zoldex, and she will not stop no matter who gets in her way. Master Aravinda has reason to know and fear Crelestra well, for she was the one who had slaughtered his fellow Drannin and left him as the last survivor. Will history repeat itself with his new Drannin?
The Drannin, the Falestians, the trolls, and the wraith all have their fates intertwined, and their final confrontation is inevitable. But who will survive, and how will the outcome impact the overall war with Zoldex? One thing is for certain, none of their lives will ever be the same again.
A lot had happened in the short time that he had met Kyria. She was the child of prophecy, the daughter of a fisherman who was destined to become one of the most powerful Mages ever known, and save the entire world. Lofty expectations on one who had no idea what magic even was, but she quickly began to learn, and that led her to the Mage’s Council.
Sartir had once been a student at the Mage’s Council, the top of his class both educationally and athletically, and with a bright future ahead of him. Then he found himself drawn into the chaos that was Kyria—though he tried to resist it at first—and becoming best friends with her and the fairy Mica. The three were inseparable, facing whatever came their way, and carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders as they tried to help Kyria live up to her destiny.
He would not change a moment of it. He cherished his time with his friends. He could hardly even remember the student he was before Kyria came into his life. Everything had changed. Mostly for the better, even in times such as these where early deaths and lifelong struggles seemed to be the only certainty. Mostly.
“What is it?” asked Kyria.
As a sabrenoh, Sartir’s hearing was significantly more advanced than that of humans. He could hear something in the distance. Cries for help. Pleas. He was with his best friend Kyria and her childhood friend Nezbith enjoying a little exploration of the woods of Ahnalai, one of the islands where the Mage survivors were trying to rebuild their order with the help of the gnomes and adlesians. They were laughing, enjoying each other’s company, but he tensed, knowing that danger was near.
“Cries,” he replied. “This way.” As soon as he said it he sprinted off, following the distant sounds of whimpering. Someone was in need, and if the past few years taught him anything, it was that he was ready and willing to stand up for those who could not fend for themselves.
The more he ran the louder the cries grew. But he heard something else. Laughing. Taunting. The cries sounded like they were coming from children. Children being bullied. Growling in a protective rage, Sartir raced forward, shouting to his friends who were falling behind him, “Quickly, this way!”
He heard Kyria call to him, distantly. “Sartir, wait!” She was not able to keep up with his pace. They had been together enough to know that Kyria would find a way, but her human legs were nowhere near as swift as his natural sabrenoh heritage. He kept on, knowing she would be along soon and ready to help him when she arrived. Of that he had no doubt.
He pushed through into a clearing and saw three of his classmates—the centaur Jialie, the orc Chured, and the dwarf Tyron—magically binding several younger Mage children to the ground and playing tricks on them. He took the scene in within an instant and was not surprised. These three had always been trouble. They were the first to cause Kyria problems when she arrived at the Mage’s Council and had been a thorn in her side ever since. If not for their treatment of her, perhaps Kyria and Sartir would not have become so close. But that thought was little solace to the behavior they exhibited or the harsh treatment they lashed out upon others.
“Jialie!” Sartir shouted out, announcing his arrival and issuing a challenge.
The centaur turned just in time to meet Sartir’s fist as he struck his classmate. Jialie stumbled backwards, rubbing his chin as Sartir spun around to focus on the other two bullies.
“The Mage Order is in chaos! There are so few of us left! We need to pull together, not threaten and attack each other!” Sartir argued.
“Foolish sentiments,” Jialie said, glaring with hatred at Sartir. “This new world of ours has proven that only the strong survive. We will be the strong!”
“Delusional,” Sartir said as he extended his arm and launched mystical force at the centaur. Jialie raised his arms and used his own magic to deflect the blast. But Sartir was already moving. He dropped low and kicked at Chured, knocking the orc from his feet, and then picked up a stone from the ground and sent it hurtling at Tyron.
“Get him!” Jialie shouted as he began charging at Sartir, his horse-legs building up momentum.
Sartir, a trained athlete and Mage, easily dodged aside as Jialie rode past. But then he felt a blow from behind and stumbled forward, dropping to his knees. He could feel the warmth of blood on his head and glanced back, seeing Chured holding a large branch from a nearby tree.
“Good one,” Sartir said, though his bravado was lessened. “Only way someone like you could beat an enemy is by attacking from behind.”
He could see in his peripheral vision Tyron running at him with a club in hand. Chured was standing over Sartir, raising the branch to strike again. Jialie was several feet away, laughing sinisterly. Sartir tried to summon his magic again, but his head was ringing with the pain from the blow and he could not concentrate through it. How he wished he had his axe with him at the moment, but it was left behind in his room.
“Do it!” Jialie shouted, egging his companions on.
The ringing changed to an intense throbbing, then the pain shifted, welling up in his right eye. Sartir did not know what was happening and had never experienced anything so excruciating before in his life. Then to his horror, a black cloud began pouring out of his eye, swirling together, coalescing, and becoming something solid.
Sartir crouched there, the pain now gone, but gaping at the creature before him with total confusion. What was this? Where had it come from? How had it come from within him? After Kyria was struck by a blackened blade enchanted from Zoldex, she had a dark mark upon her soul. A darkness within. He recently was struck by a similar weapon. Is this what was inside of Kyria? Was this... this demon... now inside of both of them?
It was large, as big as a minotaur, with just as many bulging muscles and bulk, but it was pure darkness, like an oil-black. Like a minotaur it had a pair of horns jutting from its forehead, fangs that looked as ferocious as a koxlen or lupan, and with luminescent violet eyes. Sartir continued studying the beast, noting clawed fingers that looked more like daggers than extremities, massive dragon-like wings that extended from its back, and its feet swirled into a black mist that hovered over the ground.
“What are you?” gasped Sartir, still stunned to see this creature before him.
The response came within his mind, thoughts that were not his, but ones that only he could hear. The host must not be harmed. Kroken will defend the host.
Sartir did not understand. Host? Did it mean him? And was Kroken its name? Or is that what it was? But as he was trying to make sense of what was happening, the creature swung into action, leaving Sartir horrified to watch events as they unfolded.
The creature flapped its wings and Chured was lifted from his feet and sent hurtling nearly twenty feet through the air, the force of the wind alone pushing him back as if he were struck by some tremendous mystical force. It then swiped one of its massive claws at the attacking dwarf, striking Tyron across the chest. The blow was so powerful that Tyron spun around in the air three times before his body hunched over lifelessly upon the ground. The creature then took to flight, soaring at Jialie, both claws outstretched as if it was going to suffocate the life out of the centaur.
Everything happened so quickly that Sartir could hardly register what was going on. But he knew that he had to do something. From the ground, he cried out, “Stop! Please stop!”
The creature froze in place, it’s icy grip wrapped around Jialie’s throat. The centaur was trembling, his eyes lost in those luminescent violet pupils. In his fear, Jialie lost control of his bodily functions, and wet himself, creating a puddle beneath his robes.
Sartir lifted himself to his feet, ignoring the throbbing in his head where he had been struck, and ran forward, shifting his gaze back and forth between Jialie and the creature. “Did you stop because of me?” he asked.
The creature turned and glared at Sartir. Once again he heard the thoughts enter his mind. The host must not be harmed.
Sartir shook his head, trying to make sense of the remark. “Can I command you?”
“Please!” Jialie cried. “Get it away from me!”
Sartir spotted Kyria and Nezbith approaching. They were upon the back of Pirifany, the mystical unicorn that Kyria had received as a gift from the elven Goddess Elastriel when they were trapped in time. From the look on Kyria’s face Sartir knew she thought this creature was a threat and she intended to attack it. If she did, he did not know what would happen. It had moved so swiftly. Could she withstand its attack? There was so much he did not understand.
Trying to prove his thought that the creature was obeying him, Sartir commanded, “Let him go.” Instantly the creature took its hands from around Jialie’s throat.
Free of the shadow beast, Jialie galloped over to his friends. Chured was now crouched over Tyron, gently nudging him and trying to get him to stir.
“Let’s get out of here!” Jialie shouted.
“Tyron,” protested Chured.
“Leave him! Can’t you see he’s dead?”
The words struck Sartir hard. Tyron was dead? He may be a bully, but Sartir certainly did not wish to see the dwarf dead. He was also the brother of one of Sartir’s good friends and companions, Tyrene. How could he face her? What would he say? How could he explain any of this?
Jialie and Chured ran off, fleeing into the trees. The spell that bound the Mage children to the ground was lifted and Sartir could hear them screaming again, but now they were running around. Everything was happening so fast, but he felt like an eternity was passing as he was trying to process everything.
The host is safe.
“What?” Sartir asked, then the creature began swirling into a dark mist before him. Sartir’s eyes widened and he began screaming in agony as the mist flowed back into his right eye. The pain was excruciating again. He felt like he was about to pass out, unable to take it, but then it was over and he only had the throbbing from where Chured had struck him.
“Sartir!” Kyria cried out as she rushed to his side. “Are you all right?”
Kyria’s childhood friend, Nezbith, approached more cautiously, eyeing him suspiciously. “What was that?”
“I... I don’t know,” Sartir admitted. “I got thoughts, like sensations within my mind. I have the feeling that it was protecting me.” Looking over at Tyron, Sartir was almost afraid to ask, “How is he?”
Kyria slowly crept over to the still form of Tyron. The dwarf wasn’t moving at all. No sign that he was even breathing. She turned him over, gasped, and dropped him again.
“What, what is it?” asked Sartir, praying that the worst had not just happened.
“He’s dead,” Kyria said, confirming Sartir’s worst nightmare.
Nezbith walked off to gather the children and try to calm them down, leaving the two best friends alone.
“That’s Tyrene’s brother,” whispered Sartir. “How will she ever forgive me?”
“It wasn’t you, it was that... that thing,” argued Kyria. “Kruskall did something to you. It’s not your fault.”
He had similar thoughts, but that was just an excuse. Kruskall did something to Kyria, too, and she never succumbed to the darkness within her. She mastered it. She overcame it. He had to do the same. At the least he had to take responsibility for the actions of the creature. “It responded to my commands. I can control it. That makes this my fault.”
He could see the pain in Kyria’s eyes as she looked at him. He knew she wanted to dispel his words and get him to see that the creature or Kruskall was responsible and not him. But he had to own this. If he could control this beast, this Kroken, then he was responsible for its actions.
“We have to get you to a Healer.”
Sartir had to admire her persistence. As long as he had known her she had always refused to give in to anything, always fighting to find a solution or a better tomorrow. No matter how much things were stacked against her, no matter how bleak things got, she always found the silver lining and that smallest glimmer of hope.
“What good will that do?” protested Sartir. “Master Loukas already cleared me as being fine. What more can he do?”
“Obviously you’re not fine!” Kyria shouted. “There’s some kind of demon inside of you!”
Kroken had not said anything, but somehow Sartir just felt like the description of demon was wrong. “A Shadow Lord,” he whispered.
“It was a Shadow Lord,” Sartir repeated, more sure of his answer. “Kroken.”
“What?” asked Kyria again.
“It, is a he,” explained Sartir. “He is named Kroken. I am sure of it. Somehow, he’s become a Shadow Guardian.”
Kyria shook her head in frustration. “That doesn’t sound good. We need to get you help.”
“Don’t you see? They’ll lock me away,” Sartir argued. “They’ll think I’m evil.”
“I won’t let them,” promised Kyria. “But we need to get this thing out of you.”
“Kroken,” Sartir repeated.
Away from them, where he was with the Mage children, Nezbith called out, “Kyria, who’s that?”
Sartir and Kyria followed his outstretched hand and saw perched in a distant tree a lone figure: Master Aravinda, the last of the Drannin, the renegade Mage hunters. If he had seen what just happened, he would strike first and ask questions later. His life was dedicated to hunting evil Mages, and after what just happened, could he possibly see Sartir as anything but?
The two had only known Master Aravinda for a short time. He had returned to the Mage’s Council after the incident with Kruskall where Kyria was first struck down with the enchanted blade of Zoldex. The Master was a legend amongst the Mages, viewed with both revere and a healthy dose of fear. He soon took over a Mystical Defenses class and became the envy of every student to try and have him become their Professor. But he always was so guarded, so suspicious, and always watching everything and waiting for things to go horribly wrong.
Master Aravinda shared some of Sartir’s features of the sabrenoh, but to call him one of the felidae creatures would be a certain misstatement. He was so much more. A hybrid of multiple races, and unique in so many ways. While his predominant features appeared sabrenoh, his fur was shadow-black like the skin of a wraith and with the same glimmering yellow eyes that were common amongst their kind. He also had wings like an avarian, but the feathers were as dark as his fur.
Unlike most Mages, Master Aravinda refrained from the traditional Mage robes and cloaks. His garments were not white and gold as all other Mages, but instead he was garbed in a dark silk tunic, leather pants, and with ornate silver gauntlets and boots. He also had numerous Mage satchels that hid a full array of mystical artifacts at his beck and call, and a variety of weapons and jewelry, all of which were highly enchanted to help him with his cause.
He extended his dark avarian wings, and with one flap, lifted into the air and then glided down to where they were. Upon landing he knelt down to examine Tyron, and then raised his head and stared at Sartir. In that moment, Sartir felt as if the Drannin was peering directly into his soul, leaving him bare and exposed.
Aravinda took his gaze away from Sartir for a moment and glared at Nezbith. “You. Take the kids and be gone!”
Sartir could see how uneasy Nezbith looked. As a human with no magical powers, this whole situation was likely extremely intimidating and overwhelming to him. With a nod of assent from Kyria though, Sartir saw Nezbith visually calm, gather the children, and head off with them.
When Nezbith was out of sight, Aravinda returned his focus to Sartir. “Can you summon the beast?”
“I don’t know,” replied Sartir honestly. “I’ve never seen it before.”
“Tell me everything, what you suspect, and leave out nothing,” commanded Aravinda.
“Um, shouldn’t we do something about Tyron?” asked Kyria.
“Like what? Resurrect him? Make him into an undead creature? Leave him where he is and answer the question!” growled Aravinda impatiently.
Sartir obeyed at once, telling the story as he remembered it. He and his friends had gone in search of Master Balfour, a celestial Mage Master who had used the Shard of Time to take all of the students, faculty, and staff of the Mage Academy back in time to escape from the attack Zoldex had launched on the Mage’s Council. It had been an ingenious plan, with members of the Council of Elders magically shrinking the Colosseum down to the size of a mere model with everyone inside. Master Balfour then placed it in his satchel, and used the Shard to escape with the hope and future of all Mages. It had been up to Sartir, Kyria, Mica, Tyrene, and several others who had joined them to find Master Balfour and bring him to Adlai. While on that mission, they had encountered Kruskall, the former roommate and friend of Sartir who had become the Apprentice of Zoldex, and Sartir was struck with a blade and magically healed by Kruskall who used some kind of dark magic. With the exception of the scar over his right eye, he had been healed and with no ill effect, until now.
As Sartir concluded his tale, he finished with, “And here we are.”
Both Sartir and Kyria anxiously awaited for Master Aravinda to say something. He had listened to every word of the tale, not even interrupting once to pose any questions for clarification. Then he said, “I suspect that Kruskall is unaware of what he has done to you.”
“How can you say that?” asked Kyria. “He cursed Sartir!”
“He did not,” Aravinda objected. “He gave Sartir a mighty gift, one that is well beyond Kruskall’s ability to bestow. I cannot believe he knew what he was doing. Severnial is probably the one who would be most likely to be able to manage something like this, and I believe that what happened here is even beyond her.”
“Severnial?” asked Kyria, glancing at Sartir to seek clarification.
“She’s the one who studied alternative forms of magic and unlocked the Dark Arts,” he said to refresh her memory.
“You have always been concise with details,” Master Aravinda said. “You will be the perfect selection.”
“Perfect selection for what?” asked Sartir, not certain why they were still talking and the Drannin was not imprisoning him.
“No time for that now,” Aravinda said, ignoring the question. “We must bring Tyron to the medical facility so they can do what they will with him. We must also find Jialie and Chured. Their part will not be left in the dark for long.”
“But I killed him,” confessed Sartir. “Why would Jialie and Chured get in trouble?”
“Were you the one tormenting children?” sneered Aravinda.
“No,” admitted Sartir.
“Were you rushing to their aid?”
“I was, but...”
“Silence!” growled Aravinda. “Your motives and intentions were noble. You have always been the best and brightest of your peers. I will not allow this incident to interfere.”
Sartir was growing annoyed by the cryptic responses. “Interfere with what?”
“Let us go,” Aravinda said as he lifted Tyron up and cradled the dwarf in his arms. “Come.”
Sartir and Kyria watched him fly off. They then mounted Kyria’s divine unicorn companion, Pirifany, and followed behind from the ground. Neither of them had any inkling about what Master Aravinda was talking about, but they knew better than to leave Tyron without letting others know what happened. No matter what Aravinda said, there would be consequences for what happened.
They followed Master Aravinda to a new complex that was being built for the Healers. They arrived just in time to see their friend, Tyrene, scream and run to the side of her brother, who was lying across a chair with his limbs dangling. She dropped to her knees, clutched his hand, wept, and kept repeating his name over and over again.
Sartir’s heart broke even more as he saw his friend in so much pain. Pain that he had caused, whether directly or inadvertently.
Master Aravinda, with his typical lack of compassion, growled, “Your tears are wasted on one such as him.”
“That’s her brother!” scolded Kyria.
The Drannin merely shrugged, as if he did not care. Sartir could not believe how heartless he was. He could not do that. No matter what the outcome, Tyrene had to know what happened and how sorry he was. He walked over to her, knelt down, and said, “I’m so sorry, it’s all my fault.”
Tyrene looked up at Sartir with tear filled eyes, confused. “How’s it your fault?”
“I killed him,” explained Sartir.
Tyrene was speechless. She began to pale, in shock, and looked as if the one person she had never expected to betray her had done so.
Kyria quickly tried to come to Sartir’s rescue. “It was not Sartir, but some kind of demon that came out of his eye.”
Tyrene looked up at Kyria, as if she heard that Kyria was speaking, but could hardly register the words.
“Shadow Lord,” Sartir said, correcting Kyria’s reference to a ‘demon.’
“W-w-why?” sobbed Tyrene.
“I didn’t mean it,” Sartir said. “I wish I could take it back.”
“Murderer,” sneered Tyrene.
Tyrene had always been so kind, so peaceful. But all he could see in her eyes now was pure hatred. “Tyrene, I’m so sorry,” he added.
“Murderer! Get out of here!” shouted Tyrene. “I never want to see you again!”
Sartir’s head dropped, but he did not move. He could not find the strength to do so. Tyrene was a friend, a good friend who had shared many adventures with him. Now, they lost all of that in a flash of darkness. Kyria was right: Kroken was a curse. One that should be expelled from his body as soon as possible.
“I said leave!” Tyrene shouted as she pushed Sartir and knocked him over. “Get out of here!”
Kyria helped Sartir to his feet, and they made their way over to Master Aravinda. Neither really wanted to leave. They knew that they should stay, but they also did not want to add any more pain to Tyrene.
The decision was taken away from them. Tarwas, a sarnal Gatherer who had originally captured Kyria and later befriended her, walked into the room with a pair of Mage Masters walking behind him. Sartir recognized Master Bargada, the hobgoblin coach of a rival Lumnia team to the one that both he and Kyria used to play on.
“Sartir,” Tarwas said, almost regretfully. “Nezbith told us what happened. I’m sorry, but until we can determine what Kruskall has done to you, you’ll have to come with us.”
He had been expecting this almost since the moment Kroken first appeared. The life he had known was now over. He would be viewed as a renegade, no better than Severnial or any of the others who were at odds with the Mage’s Council. He nodded, resigned to accepting his fate by going with them.
“Where are you taking him?” demanded Kyria.
“Someplace where he can be watched,” Tarwas said. “He will not be harmed.”
“Until they decide to take his eye,” sneered Aravinda.
Sartir could see the horrified expression on Kyria’s face, but he wondered if something as simple as losing his eye would resolve this. Could Kroken be removed from him so easily? He would much rather live without an eye than have to always fight to control the Shadow Lord from taking lives like he did that of Tyron.
“If the eye is the source of the Shadow Lord’s power, its origin, then they will want to take his eye,” reasoned Aravinda with a shrug.
“No,” gasped Kyria. “They can’t do that!”
“Kyria, I’ll be fine,” Sartir said, feeling hopeful of a potential solution for the first time since Kroken appeared. “I’m going to go. Who knows who else I could hurt like this.”
“Sartir, don’t give up! I’ll find a way to help you. I promise!”
Sartir appreciated that. He knew Kyria would be true to her word and try to help him. But in this instance, he did not think that even the chosen one, the child of prophecy, the most powerful Mage in all of the world would be able to come to his rescue. This time, he was afraid, he was on his own.
The new Mage Order wouldn’t be proper without its very own prison. Especially with all of the Mages who had betrayed the Order and joined the legions of Zoldex. Sitting in the cell by himself, Sartir looked out at the various inlets where other Mage prisoners in theory would one day be held.
It was not like the cage where he, Kyria, Mica, and Pookie were imprisoned at Edberg when they were in the past. It seemed like so long ago now. They were so young, so innocent. Master Balfour had introduced his class to the Shard of Time as a teaching instrument so that the students could witness history unfold rather than simply read about it. After seeing it, Kyria had gotten it in her head that they should borrow—steal—the Shard and go back in time to see Zoldex personally.
The Madrew prophecy of Kyria saving the world had always been tied very closely with Zoldex, the tyrant who had dominated the Madrew people for generations until they revolted. Now he was back and laying siege to the Imperium, gradually taking over each of the Seven Kingdoms. If Kyria was destined to stop him, she reasoned that it would be good to know how he had originally gotten his start and what had corrupted him. As always, Sartir had found himself reluctantly swept up in her schemes and doing his best to keep her out of trouble. This, unfortunately had been one time better judgment should have been employed.
Their destination had been an obvious one. Zoldex was part of the expedition that discovered the mystical spring that granted whoever drink the waters vast magical powers. The Mage’s Council itself was built around that spring. When the eternals had completed their quest though, a rift had formed between Pierce, who became the leader of the Mage’s Council, and Zoldex, who had been his friend and trusted companion. The rift was over the approach and how best to use magic. Zoldex wanted to seek vengeance upon the enemies of his homeland and then use the power to rule the land. Pierce wanted a more altruistic and peaceful approach where the power would be spread throughout the realm and a grand vision of a future of magic users working together was born.
Kyria wanted to see Zoldex, to hear him in person, and to get a better understanding of who he was and what drove him. They were successful, but then Zoldex discovered them, and while they tried to escape the Shard of Time was lost to them, trapping them back in time—at least until Sartir had once again come up with a brilliant plan to save them.
It was while they were in the past that he had been imprisoned before. Locked away in Edberg before Warlord Liodden destroyed the town and left nothing but the ruins that were there today. They had met a young boy in that cage, someone named Kabilian, who somehow managed to live and grow into a man in current times. He always was a little shady and secretive, hoarding magical items and using them to his benefit.
But none of that mattered in the here and now. Even though the cage at Edberg had been enchanted to prevent them from using magic to escape, this new prison was completely shielded by magical barriers. The slightest touch and Sartir felt a jolt that would render him unconscious for a time. It was not that he wished to escape, because he accepted his fate, but he was curious, and, well, at least he got some rest out of it.
He wondered what happened when he was unconscious or asleep. Could Kroken be freed and do as he wished? Or would Kroken only come when Sartir was awake? If being unconscious imprisoned the Shadow Lord, then perhaps he should just keep touching the barrier every time he came too. But, Sartir could not bring himself to doing that. He was never one to run from his problems but face them. There were no solutions in his remaining unconscious all the time.
But there had to be a solution. There had to be something that he could do to rid himself of this curse. Some way he could see reason to resolve this problem. All issues had solutions. One just needed to find that solution and implement it. If nothing else, Sartir certainly was determined. He could not carry on like this, and while the thought of removing his eye had at first seemed to be a quick solution, he could not imagine it resolving the problem of Kroken. Whether he had his eye or not, he figured Kroken would just find another way to come forth when needed.
His thoughts kept drifting back to what had happened. To the children crying for help. To his rushing headlong into the midst of the three bullies and engaging them. Everything he had done he knew he would do again. He could not second guess himself or change who he was deep down. But he had never seen Kroken coming. But now Kroken was a part of him. He had to accept that, to find a way to become Kroken’s master and control him, not be a helpless victim to the Shadow Lord’s whims.
“Kroken, I summon thee,” Sartir said, concentrating on the Shadow Lord. Nothing happened. “Hello Kroken, I want to talk to you.”
Still nothing. Sartir shook his head. So much for controlling the Shadow Lord. Perhaps Kroken only came if he thought that Sartir’s life was in danger. There had to be a way to learn more. There had to be others who this has happened to. Thinking that, Sartir desperately wished he were back in Trespias and could visit the library of the Mages. The accumulated wealth of Mage knowledge of the ages. There might be something there that would help him. But to go there he’d have to get past Zoldex and all of his legions. Not likely.
Sighing, his thoughts drifted to Tyrene and the pain she was going through over the loss of her brother. He couldn’t believe that this was happening. It all seemed so surreal, but he could not deny the pain he was causing one of his friends. He wondered if she would ever be able to forgive him? If not forgive, would she at least be able to tolerate his presence? Probably not for some time, if ever, he was afraid.
“I have to admit, I never thought I’d find you, of all people, in a place like this.”
Sartir’s spirits instantly perked up. He could not help himself but feel elated by hearing the voice of his girlfriend. “Traina!”
“Looks like you had an interesting day,” she said.
Sartir couldn’t help himself but laugh. He had known Traina all of his life. They were raised together at the Mage’s Council, and before Kyria arrived they had been part of the same inner circle of popular kids. She and Kyria never saw eye to eye though, a situation that was exacerbated when Traina’s best friend, Shelby, had a disastrous roommate situation with Kyria. For the longest time, after Sartir became friends with Kyria, he found himself at odds with Traina, but they managed to put that behind them, reclaim their friendship, and over time became significantly more to each other. Only she could make him smile and laugh so easily, especially in such times.
Traina was a mystral, a member of the all-female race that was birthed from the essence of the dragon. Through study of Culture of the Races, Sartir learned that the color of the mystral mark—an intricate birthmark in the shape of a dragon on the faces of the mystral—was symbolic to the dragon that essentially served as their progenitor. In Traina’s case, she had a silver dragon mark upon her head, with matching hair, and sparkling blue eyes, meaning that her mother was impregnated by the essence of a silver dragon. It was not a common coloration amongst the mystral. In fact, Sartir only knew of one other Mage at the Council who shared the silver mark. He had seen her several times but had never met her.
“How about you? Anything interesting happen?” asked Sartir casually.
“Oh, you know, Shelby, Elysia, Kulaya, and I were turning heads of anyone who would look,” Traina said, half-teasingly. “It’s so difficult to be as beautiful as we are.”
Sartir ran his hand through his hair, turned his head to ruffle it a bit, and grinned. “It’s not easy being us.”
This time Traina laughed. “Speak for yourself. That scar? That black orb of an eye? The blood caked in your hair? Sometimes I don’t know why I stay with you.”
“Because everyone loves the mysterious bad boy?”
“Like you’re mysterious, or a bad boy,” Traina said, snickering. “But I do love you, strangely enough.”
“And I you,” Sartir said.
“So what happened?” Traina asked, all serious now.
“Something from when we were fighting Kruskall. Somehow I got something inside me, a curse or a gift depending on who you ask. But it came forth when I was trying to stop Jialie, Chured, and Tyron from bullying kids. I didn’t know what was happening. It was painful. Cold. Confusing. Before I knew what was happening, before I could do anything...”
“Tyron was dead,” Traina said, seeing how much he was struggling to get the words out.
“Yes,” he whispered.
“There has to be a way to get this thing out of you,” Traina said. “With all of Kyria’s power, her high and mighty magical light, she’s got to be able to expel it, right?”
“I wish,” Sartir said. “But I don’t think so. Hopefully I’m wrong, but I think this is beyond her.”
“Then we’ll figure it out.”
“If only we were still at the Mage’s Council,” Sartir said. “I could do some research.”
“It might not be soon, but we’ll return to the Mage’s Council again,” Traina said confidently. “Zoldex isn’t going to win in the end. He can’t.”
“True. Kyria will beat him,” Sartir said, believing every word.
“You guys and your silly prophecies,” Traina scoffed. “We’ll beat him, but thinking that Kyria is the only way to be his undoing is shortsighted.”
“You haven’t seen everything I have. Gone through what she and I have together,” Sartir said.
“No. That’s a part of you that will always belong to her.”
Sartir could see that that fact pained her. “Traina, you know Kyria and I are close. She’s like my sister in a lot of ways. Please don’t let our experiences hurt you.”
Under her breath she mumbled, “Your human sister who is always with you.”
“Traina, that’s not fair,” Sartir said. “Please don’t hold resentments. I need you both in my life. Especially now.”
Traina looked at him hopefully. “What can I do?”
“I need to figure this out. I need to learn to control Kroken,” Sartir said. “I just don’t know how to do it.”
“We’ll figure it out. Together.”
Sartir nodded his head in agreement. “I just pray that I never hurt you.”
“You never would.”
“But Kroken might,” Sartir said.
“What are you saying?” asked Traina.
“I know I can’t do this alone, but I wonder if I would be better off being alone until I learned how to control him. If all of you would be better off.”
“Don’t talk like that,” Traina said. “You’re not going anywhere. All of the people who love you are here. That includes Kyria. We’ll figure this out together.”
“Thank you,” Sartir said. He glanced at the barrier between them. “I really wish I could hold you right now.
“And I you.”
“No time for that,” Master Aravinda said as he walked briskly down the corridor to where they were. “Leave us.”
Traina looked at Sartir who nodded that she should go. “I’ll be back later.”
“I’ll be counting down the minutes,” Sartir said. He saw Master Aravinda roll his eyes at the remark, and then watched as Traina made her way out. “You could be nicer to people, you know.”
“I did not kill you this morning,” Aravinda said. “That is as nice as I get.”
“What do you want?” Sartir asked. “Has a decision been made about what to do with me? Are they taking my eye?”
“Nothing like that,” Aravinda said. “But you will not be staying here.”
“What do you mean?”
“I overheard your remarks, and you are right. You would be a threat to those around you. But you also need to learn control. I will be the one to teach you control.”
“You?” Sartir asked, confused.
“These are dangerous times. Times when renegade Mages run amuck. I am the last Drannin, but once our numbers flourished and those who would defile the Council were brought to justice. Those dark days are upon us again. I have been granted permission to take seven promising students, yourself included, and train you to become this generation’s Drannin.”
“I am to become a Drannin?” Sartir asked, shocked at the news.
“If you remain here you will be locked away until you are fully studied. Poked. Prodded. Away from those you love. Unable to gain control over Kroken. How long before you grow resentments so deep that you become the threat everyone fears you to be? But come with me and you have the opportunity to learn, to master Kroken, and use your abilities and his against the Mages who threaten our very existence. What say you?”
“Do you really think you can help me control him?” Sartir asked.
“I would not have spoken in favor of your joining me if I did not.”
Sartir felt torn. Going with Master Aravinda seemed an awful lot like running away from his problems. He would no longer have to face Tyrene. He would not have to see the looks of judgment and fear from his fellow classmates and Academy students. But if he stayed, would Traina’s or Kyria’s or Mica’s lives be in jeopardy? If Aravinda could train him, could help him, then perhaps one day he would be able to return and no longer be a threat to anyone.
“So when do we leave?”
v v v
Later that evening Sartir received two more visitors, his best friends Kyria and Mica. Even though Traina was his girlfriend, he knew that telling these two that he was leaving would be difficult. They had been inseparable for so long, each sharing hopes and dreams and facing fears together, and now he was going off on his own. Things were definitely changing, and he could not help but wonder if it was for the better or not. Regardless of what happened since meeting Kyria, he had always had confidence that the three of them could figure out anything. Would she be okay without him? Would he be okay without her?
“How are you doing?” Kyria asked.
Sartir knew that there was no point in dragging things out. He had to just tell them. “I’m leaving in the morning. To become a Drannin.”
“I heard,” Kyria said. “Are you sure this is what you want to do? It will be dangerous!”
“I’m dangerous now,” Sartir said gesturing at his right eye. “Master Aravinda promised to teach me how to tame Kroken. He said that under his guidance, Kroken will become a great ally, not the vicious beast he is now.”
Kyria sighed, looking forlorn. “I hope he’s right. I just wish we were not all splitting up.”
“We’ll be together again,” Sartir said. “Someday. I know it.”
“Me too,” Mica chimed in. “We’ve created too close of a bond to drift away.”
“Just make sure you take care of Pookie for me,” teased Sartir. “I also hope to see him again one day.”
“He’ll be waiting,” Kyria promised, unable to keep the tears from welling up in her eyes.
Sartir could see her anguish. He could imagine the thoughts that were flowing through her mind right now. Times they shared, regrets she harbored. He tried to change the subject in hopes of one last night together as they always had been. “Any idea who your Master will be?”
The question did the trick. The three spoke throughout the night, speculating as to who would be chosen to become an Apprentice, and who they would have as a Master. Before long they were laughing, teasing, and nearly forgetting that this would be the final memory of them all together before their lives forever changed.
When morning arrived, the three grew quiet. Solemn even. They could deny the changes no longer. Life was moving on, and in a world where Zoldex was conquering everything in his path, the desires of three teenagers often were swept away and lost.
Master Aravinda came with Tarwas to release Sartir. He then told Kyria and Mica where they could say their final goodbyes to Sartir before taking him away for some last minute business. Aravinda led Sartir into a building where a feline that he recognized as one of the shop-owners from the Mage’s Council was waiting for him. It was Master Varitimas, the Mage who was responsible for all garments worn throughout the Order.
“Master Varitimas will give you your new garments,” Master Aravinda said.
“What’s wrong with these?” Sartir asked, glancing down at his white and gold garments that he has had his entire life.
“We are Mages, but working outside of the Mage Order,” Aravinda said. “The new Drannin will have our own independent identities.”
Sartir nodded his acknowledgment.
Master Varitimas walked over to him and smiled encouragingly. “This won’t hurt a bit.” She then handed him a small box, and within that box Sartir picked up a single black strand of thread with another piece of lavender thread spiraling around it. “Concentrate.”
Sartir did as instructed, and the strand began wrapping up his arm and around his body. At the same time, his existing garments flowed off of his other arm and became little more than a white thread that he placed back in the box. The sensation was not new. This was something Mages did every day of their lives when getting dressed as the fabric magically grew and flowed over him, covering him with his new garments. But he definitely was curious to see what the final outfit would look like. He hated to admit it, but he wasn’t entirely teasing with Traina—he did care about his image and what other people thought of him.
“There now, all done,” Varitimas said, turning a mirror in his direction so that he could see.
He should not be surprised since the strand had been black, but his outfit was now primarily that color. He had a black tunic, black pants, and a black cloak. All three had lavender markings as trim around them, as well as a completely lavender vest with black markings. He had to admit that he looked quite stylish. He wondered what Traina would think of him dressed like this. He bet she would like it.
Varitimas opened another box and offered it to Sartir. There were knee high leather boots that laced up in the front, and matching leather gloves that went on and beneath his sleeves. Aravinda then handed him another box, this one with silver armored shoulder pads and bracers for his arms.
“How does it feel?” Varitimas asked.
“Like I’m all grown up,” Sartir said. The garments felt more regal, more stylish than his simple Mage robes and cloak. “I like it.”
“Then we’re done here,” Varitimas said. “Good luck with your journey.”
“Thank you,” Sartir said.
“Are you ready to meet the rest of the team?” Aravinda asked.
Sartir took a deep breath and nodded. He knew that there were seven students selected to become the next generation of Drannin, but he did not know who else was going to be part of the group.
Aravinda used his magic to open a portal into a room that Sartir had not known was there and stepped inside. There were six others standing or sitting about waiting for him. Sartir recognized most of them. From his own Lumnia team, Dragon’s Breath, was the mystral Katara and the sarnal Greer. From an opposing team, Drelenkin’s Fin, he recognized the aquatican Atharell and the cyclops Rygarg. The last two he did not know. One, however, he recognized as the other mystral with the silver dragon-mark. The other, was a tigrel.
They were all garbed almost identically as Sartir, but where he had the lavender trim and vest, they each had different colors. Greer had green, Katara was red, Atharell a sea-blue, Rygarg a dark gray, the mystral had silver trim like her mystral mark, and the tigrel had orange trim that closely resembled her fur.
Sartir wondered how this group was chosen. These were not all outcasts, or only athletic ones, or the most powerful Mages. This group was obviously selected for a reason, but what that reason was Sartir could not fathom.
“Hey Sartir,” Greer said, slapping Sartir on the back. “Looks like we’re all going on a journey this time.”
“Indeed,” Sartir replied. Greer was one of the older players from the Lumnia team. He never knew that Greer wished to go on the adventures he and his friends went on, but there were times before or after games when Greer had been inquisitive about the details.
“I must tell the dragons,” Katara said. “They will want to know at once that things are changing.”
Sartir nodded, but deep down wondered if Katara was all there. She was always mumbling about the dragons. Regardless, on a Lumnia field she was amazing. She could believe whatever she wanted as long as she was as proficient as she was.
He looked up at the volatile Rygarg who just snorted and then launched a projectile of snot from his nose at Sartir’s feet. “Oops, didn’t see you standing there.”
Sartir would not rise to the challenge. They may have been enemies on the Lumnia field, but this was no longer a game. This was life. Rygarg was now an ally.
The mystral with the silver mark stepped forward. “Sherrin,” she said. Like Traina, she also had silver hair, though clearly she was a couple of years older.
“Sartir,” Sartir said, introducing himself to the only other silver-marked mystral he had ever seen.
The tigrel did not move, but nodded. “Ba’Lis,” she said.
“Sartir,” Sartir repeated.
“Now that everyone has been introduced, it is time for us to be off,” Aravinda said.
“Where as we going?” asked Sartir.
“You’ll know when we get there,” Aravinda said.
Another cryptic reply. Sartir was one who always thrived on knowledge and information. It would be an adjustment trying to learn to just go with the flow without understanding what was happening around him. But this was what he had to do. At least for now.
The group made their way out of the shop and to a clearing where a Wind Glider was waiting for them. Sartir saw that Kyria, Mica, and Traina were all waiting there to see him off.
Mica flew over to him and whistled in admiration. “I sure hope the Scouts have new outfits that are funky like that.”
“Doubtful,” said Sartir. “We’re trying to distance ourselves from the Council, so we don’t dress like we’re from there.”
“You look stunning,” Kyria said.
“Thanks,” Sartir grinned, blushing slightly.
“Take care of yourself,” Kyria added, glancing back at Traina to see her waiting patiently. “Don’t take unnecessary risks.”
“I could say the same to you,” replied Sartir.
“I’ll miss you.”
“And I you,” Sartir said.
“Hey, don’t forget about me!” shouted Mica as she pulled the back of Sartir’s hair. “I’ll miss you too!”
“Yes, yes, I’ll miss you, too,” Sartir said. “I’ll miss you pulling my hair, and teasing me, and making fun of me for knowing too much, and for trying to help me in a fight by telling me about twelve targets at once, and—”
“Enough already, enough!” Mica shouted as she fluttered around his head. “Jeesh, I get the point.”
“Seriously though, I love you both. May we all be safe and find each other again when this is done.”
“Do you know where you are going?” asked Kyria.
Sartir shook his head. Master Aravinda was not very forthcoming with the details. The only thing he knew for sure was that Aravinda mentioned the night before that Jialie and Chured had fled the islands. “Only that we’ll be trying to find Jialie and Chured as one of our first missions. That’s about it.”
“Good luck,” said Kyria.
“Sartir, it’s time,” Traina said, gently placing her hand on his shoulder. Sartir looked at the Wind Glider and saw that his new companions had already boarded. “You need to go.”
Kyria and Mica both backed away, giving Sartir and Traina their moment to have their goodbyes. Sartir pulled her to him and into a big hug. He then kissed her passionately before gently lowering her back down.
“I will miss doing that,” Sartir said, looking solemnly at Traina.
“And I will miss you doing that,” Traina replied. “But we each have our paths to walk. We will see each other again.”
Sartir nodded, hopeful that she was right. He then turned back to Kyria and Mica and shared one more group hug. As he let them down he tried to keep a brave face and choke back the tears he could feel welling up inside. He did not want them to see him emotional. He needed for them to know that he was strong and that he would be okay without them. Backing away he boarded the Wind Glider, and then, in moments from when he was aboard, the ship took to the sky and flew away, leaving his friends and the only lifestyle he ever knew behind.
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