{BtHE} The Journey Begins: Chapter 1

Chapter 1 – The Last Giraffe


Every journey begins with the first step… unless you step into oblivion.

Then your journey becomes quite short and manageable.

Until oblivion spits you back out.


“Come on JD! I want to see the giraffes!”

The little girl continued to tug on the coat sleeve of a young man, beautiful amber puppy eyes doing their best to control the willpower of anyone within a five-foot radius. The individual in question sighed, before rolling his own eyes in exhaustion.

“Julia, I’ve told you before. We already promised to meet mom and dad at the main gates. We don’t have time to go look at anything else.”

“Please! Pretty please! Just a quick look, then we can go!” The little girl smiled her best and most adorable smile, all while pretending not to notice the “aww”s from any nearby passerby’s.

At first, it seemed if all her hard work was for naught; but then her older brother grinned.

“Ugh, fine. I suppose one look won’t hurt.” He scooped her up as she cheered in happiness, landing her atop his broad shoulders. “Come on little sis. You gotta be higher if you want any of the giraffes to notice you!”

Taking a quick turn at the next corner, he continued to follow the posted signs leading to the proper animal enclosure. “And here we are! Current home of the..” He squinted at the sign in front of the fence. “Cervus Camelopardalis? Ehh, or the giraffe, as it’s most commonly known. Say hi sis.”

The little girl gleefully obliged, waving both hands erratically in the hopes of gaining the attention of some of the nearby long-necked creatures. After a few minutes, it seemed to work, and one of the animals stretched forth its head towards the duo in the hopes of obtaining some food these weird two-legged creatures always seemed to bring. The little girl gasped as a rough tongue licked over her fingers, and quickly jerked back her hands against her chest, though she couldn’t stop giggling at the proximity of one of her favorite animals.

After several minutes had passed, the young man jerked and pulled his phone out of his pocket. “Alright Julia, time to say goodbye. Mom and dad are waiting for us.”

“Awww…” a drawn-out sigh was her first response, but she quickly brightened up and began to wave a farewell towards her new friend. “Bye buddy! Have fun eating trees!”

Her brother set her down on the ground with a laugh. “I’m sure that’s all he does here. Eat and eat and eat till he pops!” He gave her stomach a quick tickle and grinned as she squealed and tried to escape.

“Alright, come on. We’re really late now, and I’m definitely getting in trouble. We need to hurry, ok?”

The little girl nodded happily, and together they began to move quickly along the winding paths of the zoo. The young man was fairly sure of a great shortcut through the bird compound that would cut off a few minutes, and so took his little sister’s hand and directed her through the expansive glass ceiling enclosure. The cacophony of noise in the building was weirdly pleasing to the ears, though it did restrict the senses quite a bit. Keeping a tight hold on his little sister, the young man began to speed quickly through the maze-like jungle interior. There were only a few people in the building, probably because of it being so late in the day, and so close to closing time.

On the one hand, this was great because it allowed a fast pace while traversing the bamboo covered pathways, but on the other hand, it was hard to tell where people were exiting. Somehow, he misjudged a turn, and together they found themselves in a dead-end facing a large bamboo wall. “Well shoot. Gotta backtrack a bit. Wonder where I went wrong?” The young man murmured to himself as the little girl watched. Turning around they began to head back towards the center of the building… until they were jerked to a stop.

“What the h…” the young stopped speaking as he glanced towards his sister. “Sorry, sis. Uh, can you walk at all?”

She shook her head, muscles in her legs straining to take a step, but unable to.

“What’s happening JD?”

Frowning, the young man tried everything possible, but it was as if his legs were glued to the floor. An icy itching sensation began to climb its way up his feet, quickly winding it’s way to his waist and continuing higher. The little girl was crying at this point, but neither one would let go of each other.

It was then that he noticed the lack of sound around them. Where once birds had called incessantly, now only a soft murmur could be heard.

“It’s going to be alright Julia. Just hang on ok?”

His encouragement sounded fake even to his own ears as he desperately tried to pull his phone out of his pocket. Every muscle in his body felt heavy and unresponsive and he started to hear a crackling sound that seemed to fill his consciousness. “Come on!” He finally managed to grasp his phone and yank it free, but by this point, his chest and shoulders were also feeling that freezing itch that had spread so quickly. With his right hand grasping his sister, he fumbled with his left thumb quickly trying to dial 911 on the device. A moment passed and the call was initiated, but only a few seconds later the freezing itch reached his hand and to his terror, the phone slipped out of his grasp and rebounded off the floor.

“Aargh! Just hang on Julia, I know it hurts but just hang on!”

At this point, tears were streaming down the little girl’s cheek, and her large eyes were completely focused on her brother. In agony, he stretched his head to look at her; quickly noticing their surroundings. A light was beginning to seep through the ground, and small motes of azure energy began to crawl across the branches of the trees around them. An intense motion had began to circulate, centered on the two of them. Crackling electricity and waves of light began to dance in an ever-building crescendo of power and momentum, following a beat of unknown potential that contained a rushing, tearing force of the universe behind it. It demanded attention, it declared its intensity through laws written in time. A vortex… that slowly began to revolve with profound presence.

This feeling could not be described, for it wasn’t purely pain. It was both destruction and rebuilding, a separation of atoms and a combination of something else. In that singular moment, the young man realized that death had called… and he could do nothing to prevent it.

With eyes wide open, he could only watch as the building energy spiraled around them, collecting every particle in the nearby area. Another few seconds passed as the buildup increased… and then, the crescendo. Both the young man and the little girl disappeared in a flash of powerful energy and a void of space, leaving behind the only world they had ever known.

A few minutes more passed and gradually, the birds began to resume their songs.



{BtHE} The Journey Begins: Prologue



DATE: ????-???-??//# 13 Sols AFC [AFTER FLUX CAUSALITY]

LOCATION: Inner Core of the Planetary Space Station “Grand Haven”…



With a nearly silent hiss, the hatchway swung open into a pitch-black corridor. Two figures crouched behind the lip of the opening, staring warily forward.

“You know Ben, the last time one of our family decided this was a good idea, the Grand Council was formed.”

Ben smiled and stepped into the corridor, shaking his finger back and forth. “Now now brother. No dissing Echo Squad. They had reasons for it, just the same as us.” Pausing, he looked back over his shoulder. “Seriously though Daniel, I can’t think of any other way to help the Travelers. At least not within the timeframe we have.”

Daniel gingerly stepped through the hatchway and nodded somberly. “I know man. I know. It just feels a little sacrilegious.”

Ben huffed and started walking again. “It’s only sacrilegious if you don’t know the truth. And lucky us, we happen to be one of the only families alive who are aware of that fact. And now we’re going to use that knowledge to help others. It all comes full circle if you ask me.”

“Too bad no one asked you,” Daniel grumbled.

“Besides,” Ben stopped in front of a massive symbol imprinted against the inner wall. “Dad said I could do this. Practically commanded me to, remember?” He pricked his palm quickly, then pressed it against the middle formation.

Daniel leaned, arms crossed, against the opposite wall. “Yep. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

“It’ll be over in a minute anyway. Now keep a lookout. I doubt they can find us down here, but I’d rather not risk it.” The formation surged inwards, the wall collapsing on itself as it broke down and scurried backward. Ben paused once again and looked towards his brother, who nodded worriedly, though a little relieved.

Pushing himself upright, Daniel proceeded back the way they came. Faintly, Ben just could make out his brother’s whisper. “Don’t lose yourself in there. I need you.”

Grinning at his brother’s confession, Ben touched a hand into the broken formation. He felt no resistance. Carefully as to not disturb the still fluctuating edges, he crawled into the hole. For several feet, he could feel nothing more than solid metal beneath his palms, but that quickly began to change to a much more rubbery and skin-like texture. A dull glow began to emanate from somewhere in front, though he couldn’t tell from what exactly. Finally, he felt the floor drop out into emptiness. Taking this as his cue, he lept down. It was a good ten feet, but the surface bowed beneath him, taking virtually all the force of his fall away.

Spinning in place, Ben noticed once again the historical oddity of this place. It appeared to be a circular room containing broken machines and equipment from pre and post-colonial days, odd wires leading to nowhere and plugged into nothing, and several small (and ancient) spacesuits hanging respectfully in place between two giant consoles.

The consoles were covered in early Norkishian writing, a pre-galactic standard that had long faded into obscurity. Multiple lights blinked off and on in a slow rhythm, a pattern that if watched very closely, seemed almost reminiscent of a heartbeat.

Ben watched the lights for a moment but heard nothing more than the beat of his own heart. Still, he had been allowed this far. Solemnly, he bowed to the lights.

“Greetings once again. I come before you as a descendant of my ancestors, a remnant of the ones you hold dear. I have both a boon to request and an explanation to give.” He held his breath this time. Long enough apparently, as a clear and sonorous voice sounded in the room simultaneously as a bright pulse was emitted from the right console.

“Speak clearly, young one.”

“Of course elder.” Ben straightened and continued. “13 sols ago, my father and his team unveiled the results of the Great Experiment. You might recall he came to discuss this topic with you several years ago.”

“Of course. His solution to the greater expansion and discovery of our universe.”

“Preciously. The initial test, however, proved something… else.”

“We felt it. A disturbance in all reality. A ripple of time and space that could not be contained.”

“Not just our reality elder. All realities. Ad infinitum.”

“His theory proved correct then? Why the worry in your voice? Ah, nevermind, we see it recorded in your second-mind.”

Though he tried not to think about it, Ben couldn’t help acknowledging his discomfort with being laid so bare. To think his second-mind so easily revealed was disconcerting, and why he hadn’t forced his brother to accompany him. Daniel had always liked his secrets. Still, it did prove a much faster means of communication, as evidenced by the next words spoken.

“Why would the Grand Council demand such a thing?! Do they not see the potential of such individuals?”

To Ben’s surprise, a much gentler voice echoed in time from the left console.

“Patience dear one. You know how short-sighted such people can be. They do not think beyond, only remaining worried and fearful of the present.”

“It does not excuse their negligence, nor their lack of aptitude. If we had been more aware of how low the Council has fallen…”

“We would not have interfered. Our rules are set for a reason. We can help to grow but never destroy. Their mistakes are their own. They must learn from such events to progress.

A heavy sigh emanated from the right console. Ben shivered as he felt ripples move over his skin.

“You are right, of course. Still, they move too far in this. Young one, you have come to us for a boon and an explanation. We have heard the latter, now let us hear the former.”

Ben recovered from his lapse quickly, and once more assumed his humble stance. “My father has been left to blame for this… accident. At his own insistence. My brother and I escaped with his help and now plan to enter the Void first before any others might lay claim. Our goal will be observation, exploration, and detailed recording of all we experience and learn. We also hope to find and prepare any other Travelers, enabling them to hide if possible or resist should they be forced. It is the most honorable solution we can achieve.”


“It is to this nature I have come to you, in the hope that I might ask for something you might very well deny. Elders, these individuals will be lost and alone in unfamiliar worlds. They might be injured, both in mind and body. Though they cannot truly die, they can suffer. And of course, be more easily found by the NCF.”

Here, Ben paused for a moment. After taking a breath and gathering his thoughts, he plunged forward. “Elders… would you grant me the ability to offer them a second-mind?”

Sweat trickled down his brow as he waited, seconds passing with no response. Would they cast him out for such a request? Perhaps forcefully remove his own second-mind? And what of his brother, waiting impatiently above?

The lights pulsed.

“If we were to agree to this request, such individuals would become Norkishian in all but blood and origin.”

“They would remember their origins, yet no longer be able to return. Their home reality would be forever cut off, and they would live immortal for tens of millennium. Longer, if what your father theorized remains true.”

“You and your brother would become caretakers for a multiverse so old, so unimaginably vast, you will never truly see it all.”

“Yet you must watch over all, to help where you can, protect those who require it, and record every second, every sol of this continued Existence till Time breathes its last breath, and Space collapses into nothing. And you will record even that.”

“Can you accept this price? Will you accept this responsibility?

In that moment, Ben felt time stop and await his answer. Whatever he decided, he could never return from that choice. But it wasn’t just up to him. Quietly, he brushed the communicator on his wrist.

“Daniel, I need you here.”

The response was immediate. “I’m on my way.”

Less than a minute later, Daniel dropped down beside him, observing all with a quick eye.

Ben nodded to the lights once more. “Will you please repeat your request, so that we might both decide?”

And so they did.

Once the final word was spoken again, Ben looked over at his brother. He loved Daniel as only a sibling could. A love so strong, so boundless; it could only be compared to the universe they might soon enter. His question did not need to be asked.

Daniel looked back, dark eyes grim. Slowly, but surely… a smile began to form. He started to laugh then, a quiet huff that made the universe a little brighter for it.

“Well,” Daniel said, shrugging his shoulders, “We always did want to see the end of time. Might as well get a start on it.”

To all others, Daniel might be overly dismissive, but Ben knew better. It was just his way of seeing things.

Turning to face the consoles, he knew his answer. “My choice is made as well.”

“Very well.”

Together the echoing voices spoke, the room vibrating with the contained sound.

“Benjamin and Daniel Kragrinur. You have now been tasked with entering other realities, henceforth known as strings of time and space, to gather any and all information available to you. You will be a force of honor and trust throughout all these universes so that any who might hear the name Norki will know only respect. You will help those who require it, protect those who need it, and destroy those who deserve it. You will endure any pain, any hardship, any trial, to see your work complete. By this agreement you will be allowed to offer individuals taken from their natural reality, henceforth known as Travelers, a boon; evidenced in the form of a second-mind. Do you both understand and accept this responsibility and the responsibility of all who might abuse such power as provided by this boon?

The brothers bowed and in unison answered. “We accept, and will endure.”

“So be it.”



{TDA} First Steps: Chapter 2

Chapter 2


1st Private Jenzen Varsios was not happy.

His hand wavered over the control panel, his eyes glued to the array before him. If he was tracking this right, and he was fairly certain in his skills to do just that, he had just found yet another complication in the 98th Fleet’s ongoing objective. Finally, with a sigh of exasperation, he lifted his finger and notified his superior.

“Excuse me, sir, I think we might have an issue.”

The response came back instantly, and not a little perturbed.

“What is it now? You know we’re busy in Sector O8, so whatever you’re bothering me with better be at least a Priority V.”

“I know that sir. That’s why I contacted you.”

The voice was silent for a moment, and when the response did return the difference was marked.

“What is the issue?”

“I caught a primary source entering voidspace from String O3. Identity confirmed to be a non-issue, but somehow they got caught up in the tail of a voidstorm, and bypassed restrictive zone Alpha.”

“Where are they now?”

“They just breached String O1-C and sir… they retained equipment.”

“That sounds impossible.”

“Improbable sir, but not impossible. I have a theory, but you’re not going to like what means sir.”

“No need, I can hazard a guess. Somehow Prisoner K got a message out, and they naturally figured out a loophole.”

“It is the most likely probability, sir.”

“What’s the sources’ name?”

“Jacob Taferin. Below two decades String O3 time. No prior history of Traveling or inclination via family influence. Complete non-entity sir.”

“Likely not for long if they already reached him. Still, this isn’t as bad as it seems.”

“How so sir?”

“The whole purpose of O1-C is reintegration. If he is starting with a clean slate, he might be the perfect control group to observe.”

“But Prisoner K sir…”

“Is already interred. If this is a rescue attempt, it’s virtually pointless. Which means it’s not. More likely, this is a means of contact, or simply a message to us.”

“A message sir? Saying what?”

“That “They” could retrieve Prisoner K at any time desired. Since they haven’t, it means he was serious about his claim. I’ll send this up the chain, but in all likelihood, the order will be to observe and not interfere. Actually, belay that. Send in a care package, something he could attune to. And set up a basic translation protocol for a level H class. That should keep him alive for now. We’ll wait for further instructions beyond that.”

“Yes, sir. It will take a few minutes O1-C Time to engage.”

“That’s fine. Keep an eye on both him and Prisoner K for now. Contact me again if something develops.”

“Understood sir.”

The holo fell silent, and Jenzen looked ruthfully at his screen. “Well, my young friend, let’s see just how well you can climb.”



{TDA} First Steps: Chapter 1

Chapter 1


On July 9th, 2016, at exactly 1:45 pm, a hole in the sky opened up over midwest America.

It happened fast. Just a few milliseconds, then back to normal.

Various governments would probably notice later, if they had the equipment to even register the event in the first place. A number of individuals would speculate if what they saw was just a glitch in the machine. A possibility so strange the only reasonable reaction was to laugh it off.

A day later, a missing person case would be submitted concerning the disappearance of 172 Cessna, and the teenage boy flying it. The family were undoubtedly confused, for this young man was responsible and not prone to running off without warning.

The fact that these events correspond at exactly the same moment is not a coincidence.

Let me back up a bit.

Hi. My name is Jacob Taferin. I’m a rather average 17-year-old kid. I attend high school in the small town of Pleasant Hill, Missouri. I play the occasional sport, make decent enough grades to make my parents happy, and try my best to get along with two older and two younger siblings.

I have a few hobbies. Carpentry (by which I made side money during the summer), dirt biking with a few of the other guys in school, and hitching rides in my uncle’s crop-dusting business. That last one is the most important. Why? Because that’s what got me into this mess.

On Saturday, the day of the event, I had managed to convince my oldest brother Brandon to let me borrow his truck for the summer. It took a bit of bargaining, but eventually, he agreed that I could use the vehicle whenever needed, on the condition that I paid off his last parking ticket.

Meh. I couldn’t really figure out how the heck he got a parking ticket in a town like ours (I mean, there weren’t exactly full parking lots anywhere), but he managed somehow.

Regardless, I figured it was worth the price. Cause it meant I now had transportation out to the airfield where my uncle Tib had his hanger.

Giving an air pump of excitement, I threw together some lunch to go, kissed my mom’s forehead, tickled my little sister Beth till she couldn’t stop laughing, fist-pumped my little brother Simon on the way out, and gave a “Yeehaa!” to some very surprised cows in the home pasture.

I love flying. Always have. Likely always will.

There’s a feeling of freedom that can only be obtained when you’re in the air, when you have the feeling of sky beneath you and above you, when the birds become your only company in a vast wilderness of wind.

It’s how I would describe true freedom, and the closest I can achieve it is by flying in a single-engine prop plane. A hunk of metal that by all reasonable rights shouldn’t leave the ground, propelled by power and physics, beating the air into horizontal submission, and slipping through the streams of gravity.

I fell in love the first time my uncle ever took me up as a kid, and have been begging him ever since to teach me all he knows. He grinned so wide when I first asked that his smoky laugh came out all in a bellow. When he finally caught his breath, he promised to take me up again “Sure as shootin!”

That was eleven years ago, and it probably isn’t much of a surprise that I ended up getting my pilot’s license two years before my drivers’ license. Now, I fly sorties for Uncle Tib, scouting out fields that potential customers need dusted; sometimes even pouring a load of the stuff myself. Tib covers the gas needed and pays me under the table, so I don’t make as much as most of his licensed pilots, but then again, I don’t really do it for the money.

It was a beautiful afternoon. The skies were clear with a slight wind out of the west. No exams to worry about, no chores required to block my concentration. Today’s flight was purely for pleasure.

I drove up to the small airfield, taking the back gate that completely surrounded the field, and punched in the same numbers used for as long as I’ve been alive. Five, four, three, three. The fence was mainly just to keep out stray livestock anyways. As I pulled up to the back hanger, one of the mechanics currently working stepped out from under the engine block of the latest downed aircraft, and nodded in my direction.

“Hey there Jacob! Looking for Tib?”

This was asked by what can only be described as a bush of a man. Five-foot six, tan skin and a grizzled brown beard that stretched to his gut, Glenn’s defining feature was his hairy limbs that would have put any local Bigfoot to shame. Scratching his cheek with oil slick fingers, he seemed more than happy to take a break from his current occupation.

“Heya Glenn. Nah, I don’t need to talk him if’n he’s busy.” I nodded to the coverless plane that sat naked between multiple tool chests. “Working on the 182? Hundred Hour?”

“Ya, your uncle wants this one back out by Tuesday at the latest, but there’s some issues with the mags, so it’s a toss-up till the parts come in. If you want to take something out for a spin, you pretty much got the 172 or the Piper. Everything else is on a job or scheduled for one right now.”

“That’s fine, I like Papa Ten.” I nodded towards the small above wing Cessna sitting near the taxi line. “Mind if I?”

“Nah, go ahead. I filled her up this morning, so you should be good for a few hours.”

“Thanks man.” I gave Glen a last nod, before parking the truck off to the side of the hanger and walking over to what was probably my favorite plane on the field.

With its weathered paint job and slightly warped panels, the old Cessna 172 had endured many a year, and with Uncle Tib in charge, would likely endure many more. I began the rundown and pre-flight checklist, enjoying the combination of cool breeze and golden sun rays as they warmed my back. Finishing up quickly, I glanced in the cargo space to confirm the Go Bag (a small compact tool and emergency kit) was onboard.

Finally, I settled in the Pilot’s seat and began warming up the engines. It was flying time!

There was a little sputtering as the engine turned over, but a few turns and pulls on the gas knob caused it to flatten out. After carefully winding my way over the taxiway and onto the runway proper, I radioed in with the nearest local tower. Receiving the all clear, I finished my check. Less than two minutes later and I was taking off, enjoying that sudden feeling of weightlessness that falls in your gut when you leave the planet’s surface.

The sky was beautiful this time of day, a grand mist hung over the world, and the Midwest of America seemed to exult in it. Small puffy clouds dotted the deep blue surrounding me, and I breathed in the quiet and serene landscape.

Time passes quickly when you’re in the air, and that day was no exception. As I settled into the familiar routine of a standard sortie, the minutes just flew by. Pun intended.

Looking back on that flight, I don’t really know of any way I could have prevented what happened next. It was something quite literally out of my control, almost even out of my understanding.

The sky opened up and time froze. I was aware of the plane no longer moving forward, the propeller no longer spinning. I could feel a heaviness around me, as if gravity had increased. The sharp smell of ozone filled the air.

And there in front, a yawning portal begin to stretch into existence. A surge of power washed over me, through me. I could not resist, though I tried. I could not move, though I desperately wished to. I couldn’t even draw breath, and my chest hurt for lack of oxygen. I knew my death had come, and I had no frame of reference to even understand it.

The portal… no… the void of space began to fill everything in my vision. I could see into infinity… a kaleidoscope of existences stretched from an origin into the beyond. All connected by branches of lightning so vast, they challenged the scope a mind could handle. A light made of colors I could not recognize, and energy formed of power I could not fathom.

It would not stop, but instead grew worse.

My body felt stretched and my mind began to close down. Yet, before my vision faded completely I reached forward across space and pushed the throttle for all it was worth, then threw the landing gear down. If I made it through, I would be crashing. I didn’t think in this moment, I simply reacted.

I felt Death’s teeth on my soul, and it tore and burned. Darkness filled my vision, creeping up the corners of my peripheral then shattered by the brightness of space.

I died. And death was pain. I was ripped apart and then stitched together, again and again. I could feel movement, but I was not the cause. I could think, but my mind was too overwhelmed to comprehend.

I survived. And life was glorious.



{TDA} First Steps: Prologue



Sand shifted as a hot wind blew.

Rusted weapons stood forlorn and forgotten, dully reflecting twin suns above. A tattered cloth caught the edge of a breeze and began to slowly beat a quiet rhythm.

In the midst of these relics of war from a bygone age, a figure abruptly appeared. Body trembling, knees in the sand, the man took his first wretched gasp of air. Ragged clothes and a tattered cloak covered him from the beating heat, and bronze-tinted glasses gave his eyes some relief from the surrounding glare.

Catching his breath, his head gradually raised.


The word dropped from his lips surprised him, for he did not recognize the voice. But should he? Stumbling to his feet, the man began to turn swiftly, taking in the endless hills of sand and the ancient weapons strewn beyond the horizon.

“Where am I?”

Again he noticed the odd cast to his words, the taste of them unusual against his tongue.

“Who am I?”

As if in response, a dull thrum filled his head, the beat heavy and alien. Crying out in pain, he grasped his head in both hands and shook it viciously. Several minutes passed, the booming echo within his skull eventually fading to a quiet throb. At that moment, a feminine voice began to speak.

“Greetings Traveler. You have arrived safely and thus your trial will soon begin. Before you may enter The Climb, please state your name. Keep in mind, whatever name you choose will be how you are universally known, and will directly affect your Legend. As always, the larger your Legend spreads, the greater you affect those around you. Choose wisely.”

The man waited a moment, but no further words were spoken and nothing was repeated. Sighing, he turned to the task at hand. After a quick reflection, he realized he could still remember nothing beyond the past few minutes. Whoever he might have been apparently no longer mattered in this barren world.

“So be it,” he spoke into the open air; “Ego sum tabula rasa… and so I shall be called Rasa, for I have no past to speak of and an unknown future to find.”

The world was still for a few seconds after his decision, and he began to worry that he had made a mistake. Then, the female voice returned.

“Name accepted. Welcome, Rasa! Your Legend has begun! To enter The Climb, please choose a weapon. You have no restrictions currently in place, so all weapons are available. Remember, your weapon is a part of your Journey and will directly affect what skills and talents are available to you. Choose wisely!”

“Hmm. Ever deeper do the questions turn.” Rasa’s gaze moved to the land around him.

His choices certainly weren’t limited. Taking his time, he began to walk stiffly across the dune, occasionally drawing an object from the sand and pausing to inspect it. Swords of steel and iron, bows of bone and birch, halberds, axes, daggers, and staves. There were shields of every size and make; and numerous boxes and books that seemed to emanate with an unusual glow.

Continuing to stumble upwards through the deep sand, Rasa cursed his seeming weakness. His entire body felt as if he had been beaten without pause, and his muscles trembled with even this small amount of exertion. Cresting the dune his feet finally gave out, and he fell to his hands and knees gasping for breath. Rolling over, he lay still for a minute; his gaze tracing the slow-moving clouds above.

His eyes noticed the flight of a lone hawk, the slow glide memorizing as the bird fought against the wind.

“This shouldn’t be. I have no memories, but… I know somehow, I should not be this weak.” His voice barely a murmur, he continued to track the path the hawk flew as it finally caught a draft and rose to face the distant mountains. Mountains?

Sitting up, Rasa stared in awe as he realized the clouds had been cleverly obscuring the horizon. Before him, towering into the atmosphere of the very world itself, stretched an inescapable leviathan of rock and earth. Its valleys and crags became vast sierras unto themselves, its mass reaching across the world and filling his vision even as its peaks disappeared into the distant sky.

“Ah. At least “The Climb” makes slightly more sense now.” The scope of his journey for a moment sought to overwhelm him, the sheer power of the land itself dragging him down. Then gritting his teeth, he ruthlessly shoved the feeling away.

“Every journey must start somewhere. Very well, to the task at hand then.”

Reaching out to the nearest pole, he leveraged it to pull himself fully upright. Standing tall, regardless of his weary body, he faced the towering mountain. As he began to step forward, he stopped, staring now at the staff in his hand. Or at least what he had assumed was a staff. He continued to pull it free, releasing the bladed end of a now recognizable spear. Turning it, he could see that the metal of the double-edged spearhead was a glistening violet hue, catching and reflecting the sun’s golden rays. The pommel was made of the same metal, fashioned into a short point. Examining further, Rasa was startled to realize that the wood of the stave appeared to be flowing gently under his hand. The entire spear, from tip to pommel, measured almost eight feet in length.

For a still moment, as he contemplated the weapon in his hand, he could hear the softest hum… as if the spear was whispering a tune only he could hear.

“This one. This is my weapon.”

Quiet once again reigned, broken only by the now familiar voice.

“Weapon accepted. Weapon name is unknown. Weapon origin is unknown. Weapon potential is unknown. The Weapon has no prior history in The Climb and therefore will have no starting bonuses. Due to current wielder having no weapon restrictions, the Bond will begin immediately. Please choose a Name to initiate the Bond.”

Rasa chuckled. “No name? We can’t have that. Let us see, what feels right for such a beautiful work of art?” Again he felt that comforting hum, only this time it seemed to be in appreciation of his words. “Ah. Not impartial to a bit of flattery are we? No matter, it seems you’ve already chosen for me. I do believe you are… Whisper?”

The hum increased to a high rumble, the wood spiraling in odd formations and spinning in rapid circles. “Whisper it is then!”

“Weapon Name accepted. Bond commencing.”

A flood of strength poured into Rasa’s aching muscles, every part of him feeling instantly rejuvenated. Stretching in the sudden joy of health, he laughed in astonishment.

“Yes! YES! That is more like I remember!”

He gave Whisper a twirl, smiling as it seemed to sing in the air around him. Slowly he started to spin, the tattered rags of his cloak picking up the breeze as he moved faster and faster. A spin turned into a lunge, then a riposte, back into a crouch, and forward into a flip that landed with Whisper snapped back into the ready position.

A sly grin spread across Rasa’s face. Here was at least one answer to his questions. Once more, the female voice rang out around him.

“Bond complete. Congratulations Rasa! You are now ready to begin The Climb. Attributes unlocked. Skills unlocked. Your Journey awaits! Good luck!”



{CToC} Dawning of the Mistcrowned: Chapter 1

Chapter 1


The young woman brought the contents of the mug to her lips. Then promptly choked.

Best known as cloudim, the steamed milk drink was always served spicy and piping hot. Gretchen had sat so long watching the dancing troupe her drink had begun to cool.

She didn’t mind too much.

These were the moments of life that she loved.

Besides, there was a chill wind blowing outside and the warm crackle of the hearth nearby made her rather lazy.

So she remained seated, even knowing her father would be disappointed.

Belphon stretched languidly out in the seat next to her, nursing his mug. His green eyes would occasionally drift to the female performers as they spun and twirled, his gaze contemplative.

“Hey Fri. Bet you a pence the red-haired one is from Patali.” He murmured to the table’s other occupant.

Fridon laughed heartily, his dark bushy beard covered in the foam of a third drink. “Nah, she’s too skinny to be from the south. That’d be the darker one. Still, me mind is set on the tall one with golden hair!”

Gretchen rolled her eyes at the discussion. “The only one either of you will be able to fight over is the one Doric doesn’t choose. Which will probably mean none of them. Regardless, Bel is right. The red-hair is definitely from Patali.”

“Aww, don’t be like that Gretchy.” Fridon nudged her shoulder roughly. “Besides, Doric isn’t even here. We can’t be beat!”

“Ya, where is the legendary hunter?” Belphon made a half-turn with his head, staring around the crowded tavern. “He never misses an evening like this.”

“Oh, he’ll be around, I’m sure.” Gretchen soured at the thought, and no longer felt quite as comfortable. Doric had been a problem for a while now. A well-known womanizer, he had tried pursuing her multiple times. He certainly wasn’t the only one.

Now that she had entered her nineteenth year, many of the village men had done their best to win her hand.

Bel and Fri were some of the few who didn’t even try. They had all grown up together and were as close as the rest of Gretchen’s siblings. Her older sister Temi had been the pretty housewife, all prepared for a family and kids. Her younger brothers didn’t have to think about a family yet, which just left her.

She’d been the one to take up the workload of the farm after Kadon left for the city. Her father had been disappointed when his eldest son left but had struggled on regardless. Wheat and maze would not grow itself. Together, the two of them had made ends meet. It was one of the reasons her father had not pushed her into leaving to start her own family.

Then Salvie came along. Her father had fallen in love with the traveling singer and had somehow convinced the woman to marry him.

By the time her step-brothers arrived into the world, the farm was considered one of the most successful in the valley. The value of hard work, her father always said.

And now she was past normal marrying age, and no man in the valley besides Doric would even try.

One hand under her chin, Gretchen watched the dancers finish their performance and pondered her future. It wasn’t that she didn’t want a family someday. She just hadn’t met the right man. And she was adventurous! Well, she wanted to have adventures. She just hadn’t been given very many opportunities growing up.

The Salvie came into their lives, telling stories of vast lush forests to the south, clinging to the side of mountains that rose beyond the clouds. And giant oceans surrounding the entire country, where creatures of the deep roamed and preyed upon unlucky sailors.

And what of the faraway kingdoms, were it was whispered races other than humans dwelt in hidden sanctuaries? Where lived the elves and dwarves, gnomes and orcs? Were there really cruel demons that screamed far below the earth? And did the floating cities built of gold and jewels host powerful angels?

What about the rest of the world?

Salvie had many stories, but even she had only ever lived in the kingdom of Daeton. Gretchen wanted to know if such places were true, if they really existed!

So no, she hadn’t gotten married. She did dream though. Just like Salvie, a man would come through the village of Bluthown, and he would be magnificent! Tall and broad-shouldered. Strong features. Black hair. Sharp blue eyes.

He would see her and know. Know she was his, and he was hers. Together, they would leave the farmlands behind. They would travel the world and explore every mystery, every lost secret and hidden ruin. Their love would be eternal. Immortal. All who heard of them would bow in respect. Their fame would spread beyond the seas, the stars, and even the…

Her elbow was abruptly knocked off the table, and she barely caught her balance before falling. Bel was grinning ear to ear, and Fri was holding his shaking belly as laughter pealed out. Embarrassed, Gretchen chugged the rest of the drink. The furious coughing that followed helped disguise her red cheeks.

“Well boys, that’s enough for me. I’d better get home before it gets any later.”

“Awww.” Fri tried to hold her with one arm, his belly still rolling a bit. “Don’t be like that Gretchy, it was just some fun.”

“Ya, I didn’t mean to hurt your timid feelings or anything.” Bel was still grinning.

“Oh sod off. I’m serious. I’m already late as it is. You guys can stay and get mopped, but don’t forget to be in the east pasture two marks past sunrise. We’ve got to finish getting that grain off the ground or it will rot. Be there.” She smiled to take the edge off her voice and slipped loose from Fri’s grip. She did care for them. And knew they felt the same.

Gretchen began to wind her way across the tavern floor, pausing to drop a few copper pence into the small basket at the front of resting trope. She exchanged light pleasantries with the dancing girls and dropped a few hints about the boys in the corner table, just to make up for her early departure. She also confirmed that, yes, the red-haired girl was indeed from Patali.

Lastly, she bid a hasty goodeve to Bijok the tavern owner and his wife Glenoa while backing towards the front entrance. Glenoa could talk your ear off if you let her and Gretchen wasn’t really in the mood tonight.

The tavern door slammed open behind her, prompting Gretchen to move aside as Doric loudly pronounced his entrance.

“Bring me the best ale in the house tavernkeep, for I have hunted a rare beast and survived to tell the tale!”

Rolling her eyes at his over-exaggerated antics, Gretchen waited for Doric to pass by her.

He didn’t. Instead, he turned and looked her up and down. “My my, hasn’t little Gretchy filled out a bit! What say you darling, want to hear my tale of bravery and valor?”

“Those are the same things, idiot.”

Doric looked a bit taken aback by her sharp tongue but quickly recovered.

“Of course I know that, for it took twice the bravery to accomplish this heroic endeavor!”

Gretchen squinted her eyes at his clothing. “Did this heroic event involve rolling in cow dung?”

Now she had done it. His eyes sharpened in anger, but his tongue stayed as glib as ever. “You see, I found and fought the Dire Wolf hunting our herds. The ensuing battle covered much terrain. Hahaha!”

This provoked quite a few responses in the tavern crowd, most clamoring for evidence of his tale. Doric continued to keep his eyes on Gretchen but reached up to the large pack around his shoulders. A quick tug on the straps, followed by the thud of a heavy skin hitting the floor.

Drat. Gretchen had thought his tale a falsehood. But there was the evidence in front of all, in the form of a massive gray wolf pelt. She hadn’t realized his pack was anything other than traveling gear, as he had purposefully hidden the pelt under his tent canvas.

Sighing, she met his gaze. “Fine, you found the dire wolf. Doesn’t mean you killed it.”

A twitch of his eyes, imperceptible to most in the tavern, but enough evidence that she knew her guess was correct. Gretchen turned away, heading towards the door even as many of the villagers gathered around the bloody wolf pelt.

In a sudden flash, Doric’s hand had grasped her arm, much tighter than Fri had earlier. His face pulled close to her own; close enough that she could smell the alcohol on his breath.

Barely above a murmur, his lips moved beside her ear. “You continue to vex me, girl. I’ll have you know I plan to ask your father’s approval after this. I have no doubt what his answer will be. Then you won’t have anywhere to run to, and I’ll be able to taste what no other man has.”

Furious, Gretchen jerked out of his grasp. His gaze met her own and she could see his intent plainly across his face. Then he took a step back, giving her a wink before turning away to laugh at the surrounding patrons.

“Patience, patience my friends! Allow me a moment to drink and let my feet up, then I will be more than happy to tell you my tale!”

She snarled, clenching her fists in anger. How dare he?!

Across the floor, she could just make Bel and Fri, half risen from their table with worried looks. Shaking her head at them, she signaled them to sit back down. No point in causing a ruckus now. It would only make Doric appear even higher in the eyes of the townsfolk.

Talyion gag it, she hated that man.

Pushing her way outside, Gretchen stopped to take a breath of the crisp night air. It was refreshing, and helped to wash away the feeling of Doric’s aura. Her eyes remained closed for a minute, then with a sigh, she shook it off and stepped down onto the dirt road. It was a long walk home.

Right now, she needed it.