By Anoushrayan Deysarkar
Emperor Aetillius Maximus the 2nd looked out his palace window. He saw his palace shield, a flickering wall of blue, as it blocked attack after attack from the Darkships. The huge, lumbering, flying vessels, made of Dark dust, and carrying hundreds of Dark Warriors, looked like huge scorpions, and their Darkbolts could destroy massive areas with a single strike. Only Mage Shields and enchanted materials could block them, and they too were failing. Aetillius received a message from his general, Earth Warrior Gherinmus Hector through his mind-binding magic. ‘We have lost the fort of Jungar. The Dark kynd have broken through. We are now retreating to Kirlos. And… Your son, Erel, … He, well he took a Darkbolt to the chest. We couldn’t save him, Your Majesty. I’m sorry.’ Aetillius’ throat caught. His last son… Erel… dead? With no remaining heirs, the Empire would pass to one of the Water kynd. If the Empire survived, that is.
The Darkrifts had opened a year back, in the Earth realm. A month later, reports began to come in from the other realms, too. All four realms, Earth, Water, Fire and Air had fought back, but more kept coming. The best mages had assembled to find out a way to close the Darkrifts and protect the Empire. They had finally figured it out, and had closed one Darkrift, but… they had calculated that the total amount of magic required for closing all the rifts in all the realms and killing the Dark Warriors would… destroy all magic everywhere.
But the four kings knew of a way to do it. It would require the destruction of a portion of a realm. It would require the essence of that realm. And extraordinarily, they had the essence in four gems. Each represented a realm. But now, the Dark Realm was eating their realms. The gems showed a desolate picture. The Water Realm had fared the best, with 3/4th still left. Air was next, with about 5/8th left. Fire was down to half. And Earth… his birthrealm… was at 1/4th. Aetillius knew what he had to do. He used his mind-bind to contact all his generals. ‘Retreat from all forts. Head for the portals. Spread out among the realms. They will help you. They must.’ He put the king’s command in the last sentence, so that the other kings would be forced to obey. He went over to the gem’s rack and pulled out the earth gem. Just then, a Darkship breached the shield. Aetillius used his master magic to destroy it and turn it into wisps of quickly fading black smoke. His palm burned. He was getting too old for this. He turned back to the earth gem. He concentrated on it. The stone began dissolving in his hand. Outside, the earth began to boil and roll. As the last of his people crossed the portal, he absorbed the earth’s power into him, destroying everything except him and the Dark Realm. He had already sent the other gems to their respective realms. He knew the power would kill him, but he released it anyway, spreading light and earth around from him in a circle. As his mage magic, earth magic and realm essence combined, the resulting power turned him into pure light, and destroyed both the Darkrifts and the Dark Warriors, leaving behind only a plain of rock.
A single crystal fell to the ground. An emperor’s gem. And then the gem hid itself, blending with the rock, waiting for the only one with the Sight, the worthy one, to show himself and take its powers.
Derek was bored. His master had left him to take care of the pigs. He didn’t like it, for obvious reasons. The pigs smelled, were dirty, and in short, made his life miserable. He longed for adventure, for a way to prove himself, to show his talents… But his master always said that to show his talents, he would have to have some first. He didn’t care. So, what if he was a peasant? He was of Earth kynd, and Earth kynd had been the rulers of the Empire was as long as memory served. The power of rock could knock Airmen out of the air, create land in water, and even cool lava. They were the most powerful.
But the Earth realm had been destroyed 20 years ago, when its last emperor, Aetillius Maximus the 2nd, had expended the realm’s essence to drive back the Dark Realm. He had ensured that his people got safe refuge in the other realms. Now, the royal family lived in the Water realm, occupying a small island.
Derek lived in the Air realm. Since the Air people lived in the trees, they had no need for the vast plains of their realm. Thus, the largest concentration of the Earth people was in the Air realm.
Since the Catastrophe, the shields around the realms had been strengthened, and the portals to the Earth realm had somehow mysteriously locked down. Nobody could open a portal to Earth realm anymore. The Earth people couldn’t go home.
But they had found work. No true Earth Magic workers remained anymore, but they still had a special affinity with the soil, and all that grew upon it. They were mainly hired as farmers and gardeners. In the Water realm, they had been allowed to create islands to sustain themselves. However, older people were often sent to the Fire realm, the second largest realm, second only to Earth… Oh yeah, it was the largest now. They were outfitted with heat resistant suits and magic. Though the Earth people had the highest heat resistance, after the fire kynd, even they couldn’t survive the fire realm unaided. They helped in the fire realm by growing fire berries and making weapons. Their control over lava was second only to the Fire people.
Derek looked up with a start. He had been daydreaming again. He saw that the pigs had been nosing around in the mud in search of food, and had coated themselves in dirt from head to tail. He sighed and walked over to the paddock, picking up a bucket of water. How he hated this job! He wished, really hard, that the dirt would fall over and that the pigs would clean themselves. And then he felt it. A slight tug, at the bottom of his ribcage, that seemed to draw away his breath. And then a sharp pain. At the same time, he felt the ground rumble. He opened his eyes and saw that the pig was perfectly clean. Well, except for a particular spot. And then he saw that the pig… cleaned itself. It nosed off the dirt and licked itself clean. Eyes wide in shock, Derek watched as the mud in the corner dried. At the same time, all the pigs moved away from the corner. The only thing Derek could think of was magic. Earth magic. His Earth magic.
Derek dropped his pail. He took a deep breath and tried to convince himself of some other reason. But he couldn’t think of anything else. No other kynd could make mud fall off. And a strong gust of wind couldn’t have done it. To test it, Derek decided that he would try again. He took a breath and concentrated, as hard as he could, on the corner with the mud lifting. He thought about the tug he had felt and the pain. And then he felt it again. The pull was stronger now. But the pain took his breath away. He doubled over, gasping. The energy it took left him gasping for air. It felt as if his lungs and is heart would burst, and that someone was sawing through his chest. He heaved and finally the pain lessened. He stood up, breathing heavily, and saw that the corner was a full three feet up. Derek whistled and said, “Well, if raising that mound nearly eviscerated me, I don’t want Earth magic.” “Are you sure?”, asked a voice. Derek whipped around to see an old man, leaning on a cane. Derek nervously stammered out, “D-D-Did you s-s-see what I did?” “Of course, I did.”, answered the man, chuckling. “Now, will your master like that mound?” “N-N-No”, Derek answered. His master was very strict about things like this. He would be whipped, for sure, but he couldn’t bear that overwhelming pain again. The old man chuckled. “Well, then let me help you”, he said. He opened his palm and pointed his arm to the mound. His eyes glowed, and the next moment, the mound sank down as if it was a mound of sand. Derek looked back to find the old man smiling. “H-H-How?”, he asked. “Magic, my friend, magic. And if your master agrees, which he will, I can teach you how to do it without nearly fainting.”, he answered. Derek stared at him. And then he swallowed and replied, “Okay.” The old man cheerfully answered, “Excellent! Your training starts from tomorrow.” And then, he turned into a dirt statue, which then crumbled into nothing.
When his master returned, Derek pointed out that he had dug the moat his master had always wanted and had moved the dirt into a neat pile. In reality, he had spent three hours of extreme pain by experimenting with his earth magic and moving the dirt out. It seemed that simply moving dirt didn’t cause that much pain, but pulling it out did. And moving rock took very little effort. Derek suspected it was because, in real life, holding the dirt together and moving it would have been more difficult than moving the rock. On the other hand, pulling the dirt out would have been even more difficult.
His master was pleased. He gave Derek two extra gold coins – enough to get a better meal and still have a coin left over. He sent Derek on his way to the tavern. Derek ordered some fish stew and bread, then cancelled his order and ordered a meat pie. It cost him a gold coin and a silver coin, but he didn’t care. He had, after all, earned an extra gold coin.
Derek returned to his master’s cottage. When he arrived, his master said, “Ah, there you are! This gentleman wants to take you as his apprentice. Do you want to go?” Derek saw the old man standing there with a patient smile on his face. He licked his lips, thought for a moment, and answered, “Ummm… Yes master. I would just like to pack my belongings.” His master nodded and said, “Very well, then, best of luck. Come back down in 15 minutes.” Derek nodded a quick thank you to his master and rushed upstairs. 15 minutes later, he returned with his meagre belongings. His money pouch was at his belt, and he carried his dagger along with it. He had only one backpack.
The old man asked him to follow him. He waved goodbye to his master, and then followed the old man into the night.
Derek was nervous when the old man stopped and turned around. He said, “Now Derek, you must listen to me carefully. Hold onto my hands. When I say now, say the word, teletrasporto. Make sure you don’t let go of my hand, no matter what.” Derek gulped and said, “Okay.” The old man held out his hand. Derek grabbed his wrists and held onto them tightly. The old man closed his eyes. Derek felt a powerful tingling sensation move up his hands and throughout his body. The old man opened his eyes and said, “3, 2, 1, now!” Derek shouted, “Teletrasporto!” The next moment, he felt the pull and the pain, though it was far less than the time he had made the moat, and the feeling of exhaustion. But worse was the sudden blockage of moonlight and the feeling that the earth was pressing down on him. He couldn’t feel his body. He felt himself moving downwards, as if the Earth was pulling him in. After a moment, he felt as if he was being pushed out, and a weight was being lifted from him, and he began to be able to feel his body again. Then the moon was visible and he finally realized that they weren’t in the same place. The wood was different. “Where are we?”, he asked. The old man replied, “This is your new home, and our training center. Now, get some sleep.” Derek looked around and saw a dirt hut (surprise, surprise). He went in and saw two beds. The one on the left was clearly used by the old man, since his things were near the bed. Derek walked over to the one on the right. He put his backpack down and took off his belt. He took out his money pouch and put it under the pillow. He then lay down on the surprisingly comfortable bed. The last thing he wondered before dozing off was how he was warm even without a fire.