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The Dawn of a New Age
A harrowing shriek ripped through the misty air, causing a small band of adventurers to stop in their tracks. Marutl, their leader, unsheathed his weapons, a pair of ceremonial swords that glisteningly reflected what little light passed through the forest’s canopy, and his two comrades following behind did the same.
“What the hell was that?” exclaimed Atala, a female fighter who wielded an ornate sword and a spiked shield.
“I’m not certain,” Marutl responded, “but it sounded big.” He turned to one of his comrades, a tall, muscular warrior who was in the process of drawing a pair of arrows from his quiver. “What say you, Tasam?”
“Definitely a husacatl,” he nodded, loading the arrows into his bow. “And it’s definitely hungry.” Made from the wood of a sacred tree and having the potential to fire two arrows at the same time, Tasam’s bow had claimed the lives of many violent beasts. But this was different. This was a husacatl.
Marutl grunted, turning around to face the whole group. “Right, then,” he began. “Here’s the plan: I’ll bang my swords together and create a distraction. When the beast turns its head my way, Atala, you run up and start on its wings. If you can land enough slashes in them, it’ll be landlocked.” Atala nodded, and Marutl continued: “Tasam, you find a good spot up high and pelt it with your arrows. Try to aim for the eyes.” The archer nodded as well, and so the leader grinned, his large incisors gleaming. “Great,” he continued. “Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s-”
“Look out!” Atala interjected, pointing behind him. As Marutl quickly turned, the husacatl flying towards them roared, shooting out a startling burst of fire. The troupe fell face-down in the tall forest grass, and the burning projectile whizzed over their heads, missing them by an inch. After a few seconds, the husacatl flapped its wings, slowing to a halt and landing just a few yards in front of them.
“Well, there goes our plan,” Tasam whispered. “What now?”
“Stay down!” Marutl shrilly whispered back. “If it can’t see us, then maybe it’ll go away!” No one had a better plan, so the trio stayed down. Meanwhile, the confused husacatl craned its long, serpentine head back and forth, scanning the thickly foliaged landscape for its prey. After a few seconds of searching that provided no results, it tried another strategy: rearing up on its hind legs, the draconic beast beat its pterodactyl-like wings and let out a deathly scream.
“Marutl,” Atala worriedly muttered. “We can’t just sit here, can we?”
“Yes,” he whispered, “we can, and we have to. Just wait until it turns around, and then we’ll strike.”
“But what if it stays?”
“I don’t know!” he faintly grunted. “Just shut the hole in your face and don’t move!” Atala gasped- Marutl didn’t talk to people like that unless he meant it. And so, knowing that it was urgent, she did as he asked. Unfortunately for her, though, her silence came too late- right as she finished, the husacatl jerked its head towards them, making a noise that resembled a mix between a squawk and a croak.
Marutl cursed softly as the beast slowly moved towards them, its spear-tipped tail wagging disturbingly behind it. It sniffed the air, lowering its head. Then, suddenly, Marutl’s eyes lit up.
“Alright,” he whispered very softly, struggling to be as inaudible as audibly possible. “When it brings its head next to us, I’ll strike it with my swords while you two run.”
“But what if you don’t survive?” Atala asked.
“I’ll survive! And besides, I don’t expect you to leave me for dead here! Cover me!” Before he could get out any more of his new plan, the husacatl let out a long hiss. It had found them at last. The beast reared back its head, inhaling deeply. To the trio’s dismay, it was preparing another fireball- and there was no way this one could be avoided. Before his comrades could come up with any idea of what to do, Tasam shot from the grass. Screaming, he fired his arrows at the beast’s chest. As the pair of sharp, iron-tipped projectiles penetrated the skin, the husacatl let out a roar of its own. While Marutl and Atala slowly rose as well, the monster’s would-be fireball escaped it prematurely as a puff of embers and smoke shot from its mouth. With a final choked screech, the husacatl tumbled to the ground.
“Huh,” Marutl uttered. “Nice thinking, Tasam.”
“The pleasure is all mine,” he replied. “But that shot wasn’t lethal.”
“It wasn’t lethal?” Atala exclaimed. “What?”
“Husacatls have a layer of armor on their bellies,” Tasam explained, taking a few steps back. “While it might be too hurt to fly, or breathe fire, it’s still very much alive.”
“Well then, what are we waiting for?” Atala asked, one part fearful and one part relieved. “Let’s kill the damned thing right here and now!” She twirled her sword in her hand so that the point faced down, slowly walking towards the diamond-shaped head of the fallen creature. It turned its saddened eyes up towards her, croaking pathetically as she raised the weapon above her head.
But then, suddenly, Tasam’s eyes widened.
“No!” he shouted, shoving out his burly arm. “Don’t do it, Atala!”
But he was too late; as the words escaped his mouth, Atala’s blade began its descent. By the time they reached her ears, it had arrived at its lethal destination. With a small burst of blood, the would-be predator became the prey. And then, of course, Atala turned around.
“Why not?” she asked. “This thing tried to fry and/or eat us! Twice, actually!”
Tasam frowned. “It has just occurred to me that this particular husacatl couldn’t be any older than two or three years. Do you know what this means?”
Atala frowned as well, but it was more sad than angry. “Oh, my…” she muttered. “You mean to say that the creature I killed was…just a baby?”
“Indeed, it was,” Tasam nodded. “Worse yet, husacatl children have a rather…unnerving bond with their mothers: if the children are in grave danger, then the mother drops whatever she’s doing and rushes to help them.” As soon as he finished in his explanation, a shrill roar echoed from off in the distance.
“And that would be her?” Marutl asked.
“Most probably,” Tasam replied. “And if either of you had ever seen a mother husacatl in action, you’d agree with me in saying that it would be wise of us to flee.”
“Wise, indeed,” Marutl laughed nervously, sprinting off into the distance. “Come on, then, let’s go!” And so they did, creating the most difficult trail they could spontaneously think of for a hopping-mad, air-based creature to follow. Sadly, in the process of scaling large rocks, sliding under branches and felled trees, and making as many twists and turns as they could afford, not one of them stopped to think about where they were going. However, after about three minutes into their convoluted escape, the fact began to dawn on them.
“Hey, guys…” Atala uttered.
“Yes?” Marutl asked.
“I think we can stop now.”
“Fair enough,” Marutl said, slowing his running pace down to a walk. “What do you say, Tasam? Is it safe now?”
Tasam, who had slowed as well, nodded.
“Great.” Marutl turned around. “Now that we’ve stopped, did either of you, eh…think to…bring a map?” As his comrades shrugged, the leader let out a growl of frustration.
“Sorry, Marutl,” Atala explained, “but we were just passing through the forest to end up in Xima, right? I hadn’t been anticipating the attack, either.”
“The same is true for me,” Tasam agreed. “But in hindsight, it is late…I should have seen it coming.”
Marutl fought back his anger; he hadn’t brought a map, either, so who was he to yell at his fellows? “Alright, fine,” he sighed, turning back around. “Let’s try to find a clearing or something where we can sleep, and then we’ll try to find our way back to the main road first thing next morning. We all have our bedrolls, yes?” He grinned as Tasam and Atala nodded. “That’s good,” he laughed. “At least we have something, eh? Now let’s start looking.”
And then, he saw it.
Up a few hundred yards ahead, he saw a small, vibrantly glowing light that appeared to have no source. As Marutl struggled to think of what entity this alien light could belong to, he suddenly realized that he could name none; it was completely foreign. Too yellow to be any sort of fire or will’o’wisp, the light pulsated in an eerily familiar rhythm. As Marutl put his hand over his chest in astonishment, he realized that it was beating at the same pace as his heart. His bewildered eyes widened, and he turned around yet again. Sure enough, Tasam and Atala had seen the light as well, and they were equally dumbfounded.
“What strange specter is this?” Tasam thought aloud.
“Not sure,” Atala replied, “but it sure looks bright enough to sleep under.”
“Sure does,” reiterated Marutl. “Let’s go check it out.” With that, the trio broke into a sprint again, running for only about a half a minute until they stopped before the light.
It came from some sort of crystal, which was growing out of a large rock at the bottom of a nearby cliff face. As they drew nearer, they could see that it was formed like no ordinary crystal; indeed, while most raw metals grew in blocky, angular shapes, this one twisted and spiraled like a coiled-up snake. And strangely enough, as Marutl put both his hands on the strange substance, he felt a cold, arcane power flow through him. As he jumped back, yelping with surprise, small arcs of lightning formed between his fingers and the crystal; then, just a split second later, they vanished.
“Holy Anaxaya!” Atala exclaimed, instinctually moving her hand back to unsheathe her sword. When she saw that Marutl was fine, she drew it back to its idle position at her side. “What just happened?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Marutl groggily replied, “but this here is one powerful crystal.”
Tasam nodded in agreement. “Do you suppose that if we cut this here crystal into smaller pieces and carried them with us now, someone might see their lights and help us get to Xima?” he suggested. After a few seconds, Marutl smiled.
“That’s a very good idea,” he nodded. “Who knows? Maybe whoever finds us would even give us a meal or something. After all, we have bedrolls…maybe we just ‘forgot’ to bring rations.”
“How would that work?” Atala asked, tilting her head.
“Well, everyone knows that a real explorer has his bedroll with him at all times.”
“While this is true,” Tasam interjected, “is it not equally expected that an explorer should have with him a map?”
Marutl turned to Tasam and frowned. “Oh, stop,” he said. “Besides, think about how much we could sell this crystal for once we get to Xima! Maybe someone smarter than the three of us could figure out a way to tap its energy, and we could become rich!”
As you may have already noticed, one of Marutl’s defining traits was his obsession with making plans; as long as a plan he’d made existed, in his mind, he was good to go for whatever tribulation he had to overcome. While this was a rather annoying trait, about 90 percent of his plans did turn out to work. And so, with this in mind, neither of his fellow adventurers doubted the success of his prophecy.
“Sounds good to me,” Atala smiled. With a single, swift gesture, she unsheathed her sword and sliced the crystal from the rock. Oddly enough, as the crystal flew into the air, for a split second the world faded into grayscale. Atala blinked, and the queer apparition disappeared, erasing itself from her memory. As the crystal hit the grassy ground, it shattered into four or five pieces, which were instantly swept up by Marutl and distributed amongst the trio.
“This crystal is rather heavy for having been sliced off with such ease,” Tasam remarked. “Tell me, though, Marutl: when we arrive at Xima, by what name shall we sell this mysterious stone?”
Marutl hadn’t thought about that. And so, grunting softly, he began to think. But after only a few seconds, he gasped, raising his hand in the air. “I have it!” he exclaimed. “We shall call it…aurengen!”
Tasam nodded in approval. “It is a fitting name, my friend. May I ask why you chose it?”
Marutl laughed. “Honestly, I have no idea. It just…popped into my head earlier, when the crystal shocked me. It’s like it wanted me to name it that. Now that I think about it, it’s truly very odd, isn’t it?”
“Indeed, it is,” Atala replied. “But I have to agree, it fits it very well.” Even now, the aurengen fragments glowed a tad more brightly, as if they liked what they were hearing. “Now let’s hurry: we don’t want to attract any more forest beasts, do we?”
“We certainly don’t, Atala,” Marutl uttered. “Now let’s be on our way.”
And so, they continued on into the night, completely unaware that their little discovery would one day turn the entire world on its head.