Bushes rustled in the forest clearing below. Out of the forest shadows appeared a short man with small ivory bullhorns and long curly brown hair.
Raven, a tall teenage boy, formally dressed in a suit and tie, with jet black hair and thin glasses stood next to him. The boy viewed the forest treetops with a tired expression. It felt different for Raven traveling through the forest on foot. He would exercise often so endurance wasn’t his issue, however, he used to the comfort and high-speed monorails in his home, Kingdom City. Overall, he acknowledged that doing something different every once in a while would be good for him.
“Come, Raven. We are here,” Taurus said as he faced the boy.
“I see,” Raven replied. Watching his surroundings carefully, he walked across the clearing. It seemed as if Taurus could tell that the Raven felt uncomfortable.
“It is wise to observe your environment but you should do so relaxed and still. If the enemy is experienced your fear will invite them to a group of vultures on rotten kill.” Taurus walked to a cluster of rocks and sat down with a grunt. “Besides, Aryva Vasta is the safest territory in Foresta.”
“Of course, sir,” Raven said unconvinced. “I’m just surprised we haven’t seen any serpent-elves in their supposed territory.”
The short man chuckled in amusement.
“Have I taught you nothing boy?” he continued on as Raven narrowed his eyes. “Silence your mind, control your breath and focus on the energy in the core of your body. Then push your awareness outwards.”
Raven closed his eyes and did as the man asked. It was easy to quiet his mind as he had practiced many times before. The various feelings of fear, uncertainty, and doubt melted away in the background. For the first time since the day began Raven felt peace of mind.
Raven inhaled deeply as he moved his awareness from his body to the surrounding environment. In his mind’s eye, he began to see many little glowing balls of white light and waves of energy.
Plants and animals, Raven thought.
Raven felt as if he was being watched. He could sense the presence of ominous beings in shadows around the short man and himself. Raven started to lose concentration, he knew they were being spied upon but he could not identify the location of the perpetrators.
Who were they?
Raven couldn’t get a read on them at all.
He began to see huge spheres of light packed with energy appeared slowly in his mind’s eye. Raven quickly opened his eyes to the sound of rustling bushes.
He was greeted by an assembly of human looking creatures with snake-like eyes and sharp ears. Serpent-elves. Were they hiding their presence? He glanced up at the treetops. The elves were all around them, positioned in the canopies and on the ground below.
Raven was shocked that he was unable to notice before they revealed themselves, with how near they were.
A tall serpent-elf stepped forward. From the jeweled crown on her head, anyone could tell she was royalty. Gleaming golden armbands and necklaces surrounded her in an aura of light, calculated to impress anyone looking upon her. She cast a brief smile of acknowledgment at Raven, who flinched and cast his eyes away. Then she turned to Taurus, who appeared less awed by her entrance. “It’s been a while Taurus.”
“Naga Lakshmi,” Taurus replied, with a brief nod.
Naga’s eyes glittered with amusement. Taurus seemed weary of her.
“What’s wrong Taurus? No warm greeting for an old friend?”
“You are no friend of mine,” Taurus muttered.
Naga showed an expression of mock disbelief. “How rude! Is that the way you greet a Queen?” She pouted. “After all this time I waited to see you.”
Taurus sighed, closing his eyes. “Must you be so loud in the middle of the night? Why did Nature call me out here for this?”
Naga ignored his questions and waved her hand toward Raven. “Are you going to introduce me to your new apprentice?”
“Ah yes.” Taurus glanced at Raven and beckoned him forward with is hand. “Naga, this is Raven one of my greatest students.” He explained. “Raven, this is Naga the magnificent Queen of the serpent-elves.”
A mischievous smile widened across Naga’s face. “You flatter me. But then again, I am Queen of the great Sagittaria family, unlike the lesser Earthenware family. So, I must be very magnificent.”
Raven eyes widened, impressed to see her in person. The Sagittaria family was highly known throughout Avalon as the one of strongest of the Ten Royal Families, second only to the Hayzel family. The Earthenware was also a part of that class of families, led by Taurus. Usually, the leader of a family was an Avalonian with the highest vapor or spirit energy.
Raven wondered how strong Naga’s power really was.
“Bah!” Taurus waved his hand in the air, annoyed. “How long have you and your little group of treehoppers been spying on us?”
“Don’t insult us. We’ve have been waiting here at the meeting point since this evening,” Naga said. “I wouldn’t send my royal guard out just to spy on you. You’re not nearly as important as you think you are. You should take the advice you gave to your apprentice.”
“I knew you were here,” Taurus said slowly. “I just wanted to know for how long.”
Raven watched both of them with interest. He always considered himself good at reading people. Raven loved to observe others especially those of high status. He enjoyed predicting how people would act, guessing how they really thought about things so he could get what he wanted. But as far as high status went Taurus and Naga were unusual. They bickered publicly. Like siblings that were not being watched by him and the legion of serpent-elves in hidden in the shadows.
Raven turned his attention toward a serpent-elf that approached Naga from behind.
“My Queen, the other guests have arrived.”
As he finished speaking two men wearing dark-colored military uniforms appeared from the bushes and walked slowly into the clearing. Raven almost had trouble seeing them.
Glyden Manus, the man smoking a cigarette, looked like an ordinary human with blond hair, blue eyes, and a beard. The other was muscular with long red hair, cat-like eyes, and small tiger ears. Kray Malgox. Raven knew Kray was a formidable warrior after hearing about his exploits across Avalon, but he was subservient to the blond man.
Taurus kept his distance but Naga quickly moved to greet them.
“Glyden, Kray, Welcome,” she said as she shook hands with Glyden and gave Kray a tight hug. It was an embrace so tight that Raven thought Kray would jump out of his skin.
However, the tiger eared man stayed in place and softly returned the gesture.
“It’s good to see you again, Master,” Kray said.
Naga released him slowly and smiled. “How are things in Guardian?”
“It’s been—” Kray had stopped abruptly as Glyden raised his hand to silence him. Naga narrowed her emerald eyes but her piercing gaze did not faze Glyden in the slightest.
“I know you would like to catch-up, but you can do that later. I’m sure you both received the message from Nature about what were are here to discuss,” Glyden shifted his view from Naga to Taurus.
“Of course,” Naga replied first. “I was told by one of my messengers. Something about the rise of Eternalists attacks and the disappearances of Avalonians?”
Taurus shifted uncomfortably on the rocks he was seated on. “Are the Eternalists that much of a problem that we have to meet here the middle of the night to chatter like bumbling jackdaws?”
“Yes,” Glyden said seriously. “And you should know. If it’s bad enough that Nature has decided to step in and get involved it’s important. There has been an increase of Eternalist activity near Polyanima.”
“The school? Of course,” Naga sighed. She probably already knew this information. “I’m sure you know of the reason?”
“I have intel and some theories, but I think Taurus would be the best person to answer that question.”
Raven tried to hide his smile. Taurus was the chancellor of Polyanima Academy, the biggest well-renowned school in Kingdom City, full of thousands of students.
Taurus was very good at his job, but even Raven could admit that he didn’t really know the student body personally and that there was a disconnect between him and most students. Raven and others on the student council were really the only children Taurus went out of his way to communicate with.
He left most work dealing with the student body to them. It would be very hard for him to find out if anything was suspicious was going on.
Taurus frowned and crossed his arms. “I have everything at my school under control. There’s been no news of attacks or anything out of the ordinary.”
Glyden slightly bent the tip of his hat over his face. “So you say, but we need to stop this before it gets worse. The Eternalists have more supporters than we’ve have realized. Remnants of that Maker cult have merged with them as well. They may decide to join the Empire invade Guardian territory from the inside out.”
“The Makers were obliterated by the Elder Gods themselves,” Taurus said. “Any speck of those fools that still exist are of no consequence.”
“True,” Glyden replied. With a small puff of his cigarette, he faced Naga and Taurus as he continued. “But remember, we, the Three Grand Masters are the last line of defense for the freedom of Avalon from the Duskanian Empire. The Avalonian people are relying on us.”
As he finished silence filled the clearing. It was so quiet Raven thought he could hear a pin drop. The elves hidden in undergrowth did not speak. Taurus and Naga were equally quiet.
The general of the Guardian military was quite intense.
But Glyden was right, the Duskanian Empire was constantly expanding its borders. The king of the Duskanian Empire, Dusk, had stolen technology and weapons from an advanced alien civilization. Because of this, he was able to rule over most of Avalon with greater efficiency. He even sent troops to the stars to conquer other planets across the galaxy. Guardian and it’s allied nations were some of the only territories on the planet hidden from Dusk’s grasp and they had to be protected.
With another puff of smoke, Glyden glanced around the clearing. “Kimba is late,” he said. “Didn’t he say he would be here?”
“Shouldn’t you know? You work under him after all,” Taurus sneered.
Glyden ignored him.
Naga closed her eyes sighed quietly to herself. “There is no way in creation that Kimba would miss Nature’s summons, but he always had a bad habit of being late when it matters most.”
She slowly placed her hands on her hips and leaned to one side. “If we are waiting for him we might be here all night.”
Naga gracefully went to join Taurus sitting a pile of rocks. Surprisingly, Raven could not help but admire her. He would almost say that she was his type, but he quickly moved those thoughts from his mind. She was royalty and too old for him anyway.
“But if it’s among friends, I don’t mind,” she continued glancing down at her legs somewhat wistful look in her eyes.
“How long has it been?” she asked. “Since we’ve all been together like this?”
Glyden and Taurus both smiled slightly. It may have seemed to any ordinary outsider that the Grand Masters did not care much for one another.
Raven knew better, though, he could almost feel the warmth they had for one another. As if they had been through countless life and death experiences together.
All fell silent as everyone heard a large rustling sound in the bushes. Raven noticed the serpent-elves bowing, making way for a tall creature.
Out of the shadows appeared a large man with red hair like the main of a lion and large clawed hands. He had on a worn brown robe and dark boots. He walked toward the center of the clearing, his tail whipping slowly around the air.
“So you three are finally getting along eh?” Kimba said with a strong deep voice. “My apologies… I was very busy preparing for the arrival of the Galactic Federation,”
“Late as always,” Taurus grumbled. “Since when have we not gotten along?”
Kimba eyed him curiously but remained silent.
Naga smiled walked to greet Kimba. “It’s good to see you again Kimba, it’s been too long.”
Glyden nodded in agreement.
“Likewise,” Kimba said. “Seeing you three together here reminds me of the days we used to travel and train together all throughout Avalon.”
Naga smiled. “You weren’t the only one who trained us then. What about your brothers and sisters? Did you forget about them?”
Kimba looked at Naga with playful eyes. “Yes, my five wonderful, pain in the tail siblings. I must have forgotten.”
Kimba faced Taurus and had a good look at Raven. “Ah Taurus, you have finally taken on a new apprentice?” he asked. “What is your name?”
“I see. Nice to meet you, Raven.”
“It is an honor, leader of Guardian.”
Raven observed Kimba trying to figure him out. He had a huge menacing form even bigger than Kray, and he was warrior-born as well. His kind playfulness seemed genuine but he looked like he demanded respect.
“We were a handful back then. Always causing trouble,” Kimba sighed tilting the side of his head toward Raven. “But some things never change.”
As Glyden spoke everyone focused their attention on him. “Your brother has been very trigger happy of late,” he said.
It was then when Raven realized who Glyden was referring too. Technically, though they were not the same species, Dusk and Kimba were siblings.
Glyden pulled up sleeve the left arm on his uniform revealing a small watch. Pressing a small button, a large hologram projection formed up in the air, giving light to the forest darkness.
“We’ve found groups of Empire soldiers advancing from the Desertus and Montanum continents,” Glyden said. “Some Empire forces had even broken through our front-line and made it to the Sabana territories. We’ve eliminated them but Dusk seems interested in capturing Guardian again. And that’s not all,” He went on. “People are disappearing. The Eternalists have become a lot more active in Sabana recently. They must have learned something regarding that event ten years ago.”
“The Bloodstained Festival? I wonder,” Kimba mused.
Raven grimaced. The Bloodstained Festival. It was the name of the horrendous event, in which a rebellious group tried to take down the Empire. But that was in Empire territory. What did it have to do with Guardian?
“Even though he blamed Guardian for those attacks, I’m sure Dusk knows it wasn’t us,” Kimba began. “And I doubt the Eternalists were responsible, but both may have found out about something they were looking for.”
Suddenly, an explosion blasted through the left side of the clearing. Huge trees fell down with a crash. An alluring flame erupted from the explosion lighting the night forest.
“What the hell is that?” Raven exclaimed.
From the flame appeared a five clay like floating golem creatures. A fireball of rock and flame was ejected from the mouth of one of the golems closest to the people in the clearing.
“Get down!” Taurus shoved Raven down the ground as the ball of flame narrowly missed him. The fireball exploded in the middle of the clearing.
Smoke flooded the area making it hard to for Raven to look around. He could no longer see Taurus next to him.
“Taurus! Where are you?” Raven yelled. He looked around looked around in the smoke furiously. He could hear yells and more explosions of fire.
What was happening?
Raven could hear Naga shout over the commotion. “We are under attack! Protect this forest with your lives!”
Raven could feel a muscular body bump into him. Startled he turned around quickly prepared to face his opponent. Raven was about the punch the figure until he realized who it was.
“Relax kid, it’s just me,” Kray said.
Raven was about to breathe a sigh of relief when he was pushed out the way by Kray. A giant golem fist smashed into the ground between them, right where Raven was standing.
Kray’s body began to morph in the form of a tiger with scarlet fur as he barred his fangs. He unsheathed razor sharp claws and raised his spirit energy, filling the air with a pressure so dense for a moment Raven had trouble moving. Such powerful vapor…
“Find Taurus and get out of here,” Kray growled. “I can handle this,”
Kray ran to engage the rock beast. He moved fast and with agility, dodging raining blows from the golem-like creature. Kray managed to rake is claws against the golem chest leaving three large cuts. But then the golem swung its arm attempting to hit Kray in the stomach.
Before he was touched, Kray had caught Golem’s arm with his forepaws. Then in mid-air, Kray proceeded to lift and throw the beast at the rockpile in the middle of the clearing, shattering half of the Golem’s body into pieces.
As Kray turned back into his humanoid form, a smaller Golem prepared to launch another flaming ball of rock toward them. Raven sprinted toward the Golem with an even stride.
“Wait!” Kray shouted.
“I can fight too,” he replied.
Raven slid as golem released the flame ball barely dodging the attack. He turned around and rolled out the way to avoid the beast’s arm as it smashed into the ground.
“Here goes nothing…” Raven muttered.
Raven jumped on top of the Golem’s arm and ran up its shoulder. Quickly, he jumped again to prevent himself from being sideswiped by the Golem’s hand on the opposite side. Raven felt his chest fill up with spirit energy. He transferred it to his legs and hit the creature in the face with a knee strike. The Golem tumbled down to the ground landing with a thud.
“Well that was easy,” he said with a smirk. Raven dusted himself off and looked around the battlefield feeling a little good about himself.
Raven heard a voice but it was too late. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the golem had risen from the ground. It was in an attack stance ready to blindside him with a powerful blow. Raven cursed.
The golem abruptly came to a complete halt. Raven eyes widened as he spotted a long red sword sticking out of the rock monster’s chest gleaming from the light of the flames. The one who held the hilt was none other than Naga Lakshmi.
“Raven dear, you have such a cocky smile I could almost fall for you,” Naga said amused. “But please, remember to make sure the enemy is dead before you gloat.”
Raven could do nothing but grin back at her as she joked. He moved out of the way as Naga asked before the golem fell head first into the ground. He took a look at the sword in her left hand. It was blood red, but it wasn’t because of the golems.
Upon closer inspection, Raven realized that the sword wasn’t metal at all, but liquid infused with spiritual energy. He looked closer at her finger noticed a little cut on her otherwise unblemished skin.
“These golems are from the Cadmian family right?” Naga mused. “Why would they attack us?” Naga seemed as if she were in deep thought. “We don’t have a feud with the Cadmian family…” she muttered. Raven had guessed she was thinking about her family, the Sagittaria, in particular. They were both part of the Ten Royal Families after all.
“And this why I said it was stupid for all of us to meet out here, especially since we could just use the Iridescent Mirror from the comfort of our own homes,” Taurus said. Out of thin air, he landed next to Raven and joined them.
“These golems aren’t normal,” he confirmed. “The people wearing the hoods must be controlling them.”
The three viewed Kray, Glyden, and the other serpent-elves fighting off the other golems. The serpent-elves chipped away at the stone enemies alternating between using blade weapons or bows and arrows. Kimba even took on two at once destroying them with his bare fists, but it wasn’t enough. The defeated golems began to regenerate repairing the injuries to their bodies.
“Regeneration… that’s not normal for a golem either,” Naga remarked.
Taurus cursed under his breath. “It’s dark magic, they’re no longer living. We will definitely be here all night now.”
The three of them quickly turned around as they sensed enemy vapor. The rock creature that Naga just slew had gotten up, ready to attack again.
“If we’re here any longer I’ll miss out on my beauty sleep,” Naga said mischievously. She glanced at Taurus with a smile. “Taurus, why don’t we get a little serious?”
Taurus humphed with a grin. “Just don’t feel bad if you can’t keep up,” He said as they both started raised their vapor levels. Then, they immediately stopped and looked up in the air. Their eyes widened.
Raven’s head shot up to see what they were staring at. He saw something that he could not put into words. A transparent spirit with the figure of a woman and deer-like antlers floated in the middle of the air looking below at the burning smoke filled clearing. Everyone, even the golems stopped fighting and watched.
The hooded Eternalists viewed it as their cue to make their escape.
Nature began to sing a song, not with words but a pleasant sounding cry. Clouds began to cover the sky. Thunder bellowed throughout the forest, and rain started to poor. The flames of battle dissipated. The spirit then raised her right hand and sang a different song. Raven looked on baffled as the golems physical forms broke apart into scraps of light. The energy returned to the spirit’s hand in the form a small glowing ball.
“What is made from dust returns to dust,” she whispered.
The ball of light split into eight directions traveling across unknown lands afar. Nature slowly descended and landed on the forest surface. Her spirit energy could be felt through the air for miles, but it wasn’t dense hard pressure like most strong Avalonians. It was like a present aroma that made one feel as if it had lifted their feet from off the ground and sent them to the stars.
For a moment everyone was quiet. Kimba was the first to speak.
“If you had let me know of this meeting earlier teacher, I would have come bearing gifts,” he said.
“I did not think tonight would be so eventful,” Kimba continued.
Nature smiled. “You cannot give me what I already have,” she said. She glanced at everyone around the clearing.
Naga stepped forward and bowed. “Praise be your name goddess.” The serpent-elves behind her copied in unison.
Nature raised a hand and shook her head slowly. “Then call me by my name,” she said. “Naga, you know I have always preferred that.”
“Yes Nature, my apologies,” Naga said quickly. If she was embarrassed she hid it well. Taurus sneered but did not speak.
Glyden was the next to step forward. “Welcome back to the world, Nature. What brings you to the material realm?” he continued. “You haven’t been seen physically for the last twelve months, you must have good reason to call us here.”
“Even as a young boy, You were always sharp Glyden,” Nature said. “You three have grown well,” Nature gazed at the moons in the night sky. She must have dissipated the clouds. “Seven thousand years ago you were but small cubs, but now you all are competent leaders of your people,” she mentioned with an affectionate tone in her voice.
“A lot has happened since you and the other Elders refused to intervene in Avalonian affairs,” Kimba said. “Dusk has taken power and threatens everyone, even those you’ve birthed across the stars.”
“I know,” Nature said solemnly. “It has been too long without true peace. It is time I help return balance to this place.”
“There has been a disturbance in the vapor across the realms. I am beginning the melding ritual for this millennium earlier because of this.” Nature said. She paused for a moment before speaking again.
“Dusk is looking for the Fallen Star,” she continued. “He had almost found it but I have kept it from him.”
There was a collective gasp from the group listeners. Raven was not surprised. Even he had heard of the Fallen Star in children tales and mythology books. The Fallen Star was the strongest out of twelve artifacts created by the Elder Gods to moderate the spiritual energy of the world. It was also said to be able to grant any wish of the user. For the most part, many Avalonians did not believe it actually existed. Raven had no doubt in his mind that it was real now.
Nature began to speak again. “I have left it with you in Kingdom City. Please do not use it unless I give you permission.” Nature’s feet slowly lifted up as she started to float in the air.
Everyone in the clearing tensed up at that revelation. Raven was particularly interested in the reactions of Naga, Taurus, Glyden, and Kimba. They tried to play it off but it seemed to Raven that they all felt uncomfortable with sharing something so powerful.
Maybe the Kimba and the Grand Masters were actually a little wary of one another.
However, no one had dared to question Nature about it. Trusting the four of them with something as powerful as the Fallen Star meant that she was serious and that giving it to them was the best choice.
“I trust you to guard it well,” Nature said. It seemed as if she could feel the tension extruded between the four leaders.
“It was good to talk with you all again,” Nature said. She gave Raven a penetrating look as if she were evaluating him. Raven straightened up but remained quiet. As she started to fade away Taurus spoke up.
“When will we see you again?” He asked.
“Soon,” she replied simply. “But Taurus, know this… I am always with you.”
Raven silently hid in the bushes of the undergrowth. He was careful to not be seen by Kray or the serpent-elves as Kimba and the Grand Masters had told them to leave the area. The four of them were sitting down crossed legged next to small fireplace speaking about something in secret, and Raven wanted to know what it was about.
“…there has to be a better reason than that, this is Sagittaria territory,” Naga said tensely.
“What are you getting at Naga?” Taurus asked exasperatedly.
“There is a spy in Guardian. How else would Eternalists know we were meeting here?”
“How do you know that it wasn’t a serpent-elf?” Taurus asked.
“We wouldn’t compromise our own home,” She went on. “If one of my own betrayed us, believe me, I would know.”
Taurus glanced at Glyden and Kimba. “It’s possible someone saw us traveling through Artisans and tipped the Eternalists off.”
“Audrey Genia wouldn’t be happy to know that there are terrorist supporters in her own country,” Naga said after a sigh. She rubbed her head softly with one hand. “If she were to learn of this attack she would probably accuse us of putting the Artisans homeland in danger.”
Glyden blew a puff smoke from his newest cigarette. “So hypothetically, if there were a traitor or Eternalist cells in the Guardian or Artisans territories what would we do about it?”
“Same as always,” Kimba responded. “Take caution, protect our borders and tell your secrets to only those you trust.”
Kimba stood up and looked straight into the center of the vibrant flame. “Soon the Galactic Federation will arrive to aid us and we have Nature our side. No matter what the threat is against us we will be ready.”