Three laws govern the magic of Alchilon:
1. Magic may not be given to those without, lest it become a curse upon their heads.
2. Magic bound is magic beaten.
3. The dead must remain with the dead.
These laws were intended to protect the weak and balance the powerful. They were well-intentioned choices made by well-intentioned beings. However, as is often the heartbreaking case, even the best of intentions can be turned against us. In all my years studying the history of this world, the Ancient Laws have caused more pain, sorrow, manipulation, and bloodshed than I believe those original lawmakers ever intended.
-J. Lashton.; The Nature of Enduring Warfare (12th Edition); pg. 3
The waves crashed in overwhelming dissonance, reminiscent of the mourning dragon cries the bard witnessed countless years ago. The smells of ocean salt and iron tangled in the watery light of early morning. Pockets of water riddled the valley, glinting faintly. Their waves spat sparks of light. From the bard’s mountain perch amidst shattered rock and uprooted trees, the lakes looked like so many fallen scales, like the ones she had seen that day of fire and ash she wished to forget. The bodies scattered across the valley now, staining the lakes crimson, did nothing to banish those memories.
“Too many lives wasted,” the bard whispered to herself. The jagged scar on her eyelids burned. She half-expected warm arms to draw her close and a chin to rest on her shoulder while deep, soft words of comfort thrummed in her ears. Instead, a bitter wind laughed as it whipped around her and tossed her dust-worn skirt. A stake of loneliness pounded into her chest. The war had cost too much.
Setting her jaw, the bard clasped the strap of her lute close to her chest and slid into the valley. She winced as she tripped over loose roots and trod on shards of debris but kept her course to the carnage below. She knew all too well that the dead must remain with the dead, and many dead had been abandoned in the valley. But, if she could coax even one life from that precipice, she would.
When she reached the mountain’s base, she removed her boots. The water-logged earth seeped between her toes, cold and sorrowful. The loss and heartbreak swirling in the murk overwhelmed the bard and brought tears to her eyes. She breathed in until her chest ached from the strain, and then let the breath and emotions pass through her until they were spent. She listened. Three heartbeats throbbed through the earth. Two weak and fading, the other one… seething was the only way she could describe it, but even that fell short of its true magnitude. It sent shudders through her. She needed to work quickly before that thing overtook her.
She pushed it aside for now and focused on the other two heartbeats. The survivors. Of all the wide-eyed, young soldiers around her, only two remained. The ground shuddered, a lingering sob for what had been lost. One heart beat weaker than the other, fading with each breath. The bard chose that course first. That survivor would not last much longer without her help.
She met a gruesome sight at the end of her trail. Despite the countless battlefields she had found herself on, she would never be used to the gore they left behind. Her stomach churned at the agonized young soldier.
Drenched to his shoulders in his own blood, he breathed shallow, erratic, and labored. The whites of his eyes shone stark against the crimson as they rolled in his head. His limbs twitched, whether reaching for the sword at his side or in the throes of death she couldn’t tell. His life-force spilled undeterred from a gaping hole in his head, where half his skull had caved in on itself. She suspected a mace to be the culprit.
The bard tucked her legs beneath her and cradled the soldier’s head in her lap. He moaned and gurgled blood and spittle. His arms shook violently to fight her, or so she assumed. Hushing him as she would a terrified child, the bard pressed her hand to his skull. Blood dripped between her fingers and left trails down her arms. She tucked him tighter against her, heart aching, and hummed. Gold light illuminated her skin and seeped into the wound.
The instant her magic touched him, green mist leapt to life and battered the bard’s hand away.
She tilted her head and let her magic fade into her bones for a moment. The gold light died. When it did, the mist receded to a spot on the young man’s chest beneath his tunic. She pulled back the fabric and found a silver ring on a leather cord. A homemade talisman. It glowed green the closer she came, but its light was fading. The caster was dying.
“Someone must love you very much,” the bard said to her patient. “Talismans are no small thing.” She touched the ring. It burned bright and hot. At least, it would have for anyone other than herself. She allowed her magic to flow through her fingertips. “Hush. You have done what you can to protect him,” she said in the Ancient Tongue, the rich, cadence-like language of magic. It would share her message with its wielder. “I mean no harm. Please let me do what I can to save him.”
The ring continued to burn bright and fierce, pulsing as fast as an anxious heart. It matched the other heartbeat’s tempo she sensed elsewhere on the battlefield.
The bard hummed again and stroked the ring’s curve. “All will be well,” she whispered. “All will be well.”
Slowly, ever so slowly, the fight left the talisman’s caster. The ring’s glow faded to almost nothing, and the protective mist disappeared.
The bard kissed the ring and then wasted no time to make good on her promise. She went to work. Golden flames encased her body as she placed her hands on the young man’s wound. The song the earth had sung to her through the wind and trees and grass and soil every night for the past three months tumbled from her lips, focusing her magic.
Rivers choked in blood and smoke.
A sky shaken with heartbreak.
This world cannot - will not - stand for long
On hatred, blood, and lies.
The forgotten prince must wake
And face the evil his fathers planted.
The blood of the sorcerer and the saint
Must unite again.
Repel the Night.
Revive the lost daughter.
Return Laws and power to order.
Is thrice cursed.
Time will no longer wait.
History cannot repeat.
Return Earth’s love
Before Earth is lost.
Movement interrupted her. Stumbling, shuffling; the air thick with the stench of defeat and vengeance. The seething presence had returned. The bard’s fine hairs along her spine stood on end.
You must leave, Sister Earth whispered to her. You cannot be lost.
A thick shield of fog rolled in. The bard suspected it came as a gift from her worried friend.
She checked her patient. Though still bleeding, his skull was repaired. He breathed deep and even, and his limbs had quieted. He may not have been fully healed, but she had gotten him through the worst of it. He would live.
Whatever vile thing headed her way continued to shuffle closer. She hesitated, unwilling to leave the young man behind, but Sister Earth urged her away, echoing her words to the nameless caster.
All will be well. All will be well.
Her friend had yet to steer her wrong.
The bard disappeared into the night, driven by the earth but slowed by her worry. The soldier laid where she left him, abandoned in the land of mourning dragons.