Chapter Seventeen: Erea, City of Light.

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   Tauren The voice echoed through his dream, he was standing in that featureless white landscape again, before him flickered that same black flame. Tauren, this path you are following does not hold a happy ending for you. In the end you will gain what you seek, and despair. Join me, join me and your rewards shall be beyond measure. Simply bring me the Tera Tenaru’s Relics, and I will give you all you could wish for.    No Tauren This time the same voice as that of the white light before came now from a yellow source. If you give up, then thousands will die. No, millions! Your home will burn, as will the rest of your world. The Protector wishes for balance, but he puts his power against a force he does not understand. He will have a harder time of this war than he knows, and if you do not return the Relics, return our ancient peace, then Netheron will burn in the crossfire of the lands.    What are you? The darkness hissed. The practical man, or not! Will you throw what yourself away to please people you do not even know? That is foolishness! You know it. This war will happen! This fool believes that the Protector wants balance. Such foolishness! The protector wants war. We are his pawns, to be played without even knowing it! One day someone will stand up to him! Why not now?    Tauren was torn by confusion, but then then red fire appeared. The black fire seemed to step respectfully aside while the yellow simply seemed to scorn the newcomer. Friends, I do not want this war! You know it. If I could avoid it, I would. It said deeply. But it is not my decision.    Ha! Scorned the yellow voice, coming from you, you fool! Who embraces war at every turn! What hypocrisy!    He speaks the truth! He embraces war, but he does not seek it! The black voice defended.    They began to talk faster, fighting, arguing, but Tauren felt himself slipping away, slowly at first, then faster. He felt as though he was no longer even there, instead he was some watcher.   Darkness fell on the dream and Tauren jerked awake, panting, to find daylight streaming into the cave.    “You okay?” He looked up and saw Vajik looking down at him, he looked remarkably better, his armor was polished, he wore a dagger at his belt, and his cloak had been sown up and cleaned.    Tauren sat up, deciding on the spot not to talk about dreams he didn’t understand.” Yeah, I’m fine.” He muttered.” Is there any water around here?”    Vajik nodded and pulled Tauren to his feet, and then he followed him outside. Detrick trotted merrily over to them, he looked like he’d just taken a bath.” Morning Tauren” He laughed.    “Morning Detrick.” Tauren replied.    “I’ve decided that this has got to be one of the nicest places around!” He grinned.” In the mornings anyway! Look it at this!”    Tauren couldn’t help but agree, the mushrooms were of a thousand brilliant colors, and in this friendlier light they looked much less poisonous, the trees didn’t seem a tenth so ominous and foreboding as they did at night, and the sounds were now beautiful, the air was literally vibrating with the singing of a thousand unseen birds and insects.    After a quick bath in a rippling brook that ran mysteriously out of the back of the mound of dirt that the cave was in, Tauren returned to the cave feeling refreshed and clean. It was amazing he decided, and beautiful. Feeling clean and refreshed helped.    He found Vajik and Detrick chattering away like old friends while they roasted mushrooms over a morning fire. Tauren joined them and fell to random chatter about the forest, and the different mushrooms they’d seen.    Finally, once they’d eaten their fill of delicious mushrooms, Vajik and Detrick both looked up at Tauren” What now Tauren?” Vajik asked.    Tauren was surprised; he had thought that Vajik, being older and more experienced would be leader, as far as he let him.” I – “He stopped, not knowing quite what to say, and not to say.    Vajik and Detrick glanced at each other and grinned.” Don’t worry, Tauren. We’re your friends, companions, and soldiers. I don’t think there’s anything that you can’t tell us.” Detrick said finally, backed up by Vajiks affirmative nod.    Tauren sighed.” Okay, look! From the way I see things, some people out there don’t want the world to be all happy and peaceful, some people want the Relics for themselves, and some people just follow the others orders. I think that Denkald was one of those. But! We can’t lose any of the Relics or we fail the quest, if one factor of our group of powerful people isn’t happy, then the whole thing can come crashing down. So our first job is to find the relic we lost.”    Vajik glanced up at them, looking slightly annoyed.” You lost that Sarcophagus?”    Tauren glanced at Detrick nervously.” Well, technically it ran away. . . .”    “What was it?”    Tauren sighed.” I’m not sure, but I think it was a girl.”    “You think it was a girl?” Vajik exaggerated.” Seriously, do better than that! If she got away she either got killed, or she’s hiding out there! We need to find her.”     “Do you know whose relic she is?” Detrick asked.     “If I’d been able to study the sarcophagus or talk to her a bit, then maybe I could tell you.” Vajik stood.” But we need to hurry, she’ll just get harder to find the longer we wait! Let’s go!”    “But our things” Tauren complained.    Vajik just glared at him.” You don’t have any things! Come on, no reason to waste time, is there?”     Tauren conceded he had a point and standing, belted his sword back on, threw some dirt on the fire, and then tossed Detrick the sack of mushrooms they’d collected and put into a shredded shirt.” Where do we start?”    “Wherever she got away” Vajik replied.” The plain is that way.” He pointed toward the half-risen sun.    “How do you know?” Tauren asked dubiously.    Vajik chuckled.” Because I went out to check around this morning and went out on it! Let’s go!”    13-4-12.    Tauren was getting tired already, they’d been fruitlessly looking through the forest around the smashed sarcophagus for over an hour, but they’d found no trace of anything having passed through. Finally he turned to Vajik, sweating, and no longer enjoying the beautiful plain and forest.” Hey, Vajik” He called, trotting over to the spot where the Colonel was searching a clump of mushrooms carefully for any signs.” Look! This is pointless, there aren’t any signs that we went into the forest! This is a waste of time!”    Detrick trotted over to them and Vajik looked slowly up.” I’m feeling that I must agree, these damned mushrooms must grow back very, very quickly, or she didn’t enter the forest at all. I suspect the last.”    “Either that or she got eaten before she even made it there.” Detrick suggested, wiping sweat off of his forehead with a sigh.    “If something had eaten her, it would have eaten you too.” Vajik said silently.    “What do we do?” Tauren asked the air. The hope that he had nurtured that morning was crushed now, like a mushroom.    The other two both looked to him for suggestions.” Look!” He sighed.” I’m a good tracker, but seriously, I can only track something when there is some kind of sign. And there aren’t any signs of any kind! We need to find out where we are. Maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll run into her.”    “So you just are going to hope you run into her?” Vajik asked.” You are going to put this all to chance?!”    “No!” Tauren hissed in reply.” I’m not putting anything to chance. If she was a relic, then I’ll guess that she’s smart! I’ll guess that she’s smart enough not to get eaten, I’ll guess that she’s smart enough to head for the nearest, safest place!”    Vajik nodded thoughtfully.” Nearest inhabited place! Good thinking Tauren.”    “How do we even know if this is Netheron?” Detrick asked.    “We don’t.” Vajik replied, but Tauren stepped ahead of him.    “No, we do.” He stared out across the plains.” I’ve lived on Netheron long enough to recognize it when I’m here.” He pointed to the mountains in the distance.” If I’m not mistaken those are the Lycreaon mountains. The mountains that go along the bottom of Caraca.” He frowned; he’d seen a painting of the twin peaks of Nayne and Laine before, in the fort in Carmenton, he recognized them now. But how could they be this far away? Those peaks had to be dozens, if not hundreds, of miles away.” This is strange, how could we be here?”     Vajik didn’t look surprised.” I’ve been thinking about it a bit, I think I know. There’s a peculiar type of spell called a Haywire Trap which the government makes to stop and trap time travelers, however when a person is caught in when they’re not using a time spell, the Haywire’s turn into Transporter spells and the person who’s caught can be sent to anywhere on that planet.”     Tauren and Detrick stared at him, for Tauren it was a bit un-nerving for someone to admit that magic did exist.” But we didn’t use any ‘magic’” He defended, backed up by Detricks nod.    Vajik nodded.” You may not have, but that girl probably did. You just got caught in it as well. Count yourselves lucky, if you’d been caught by a Haywire Trap, 400 years ago, it would have either torn you apart, or Haywired your spell into making it do pretty much anything from turn you into a pigeon to blow the planet in half. Luckily the government had the spells changed so that they’re not quite so dangerous anymore, though they’re not so effective now.” He held up a hand, not wanting questions.” Anyway! You two would know more about this country than me! I know nothing about a forest such as the one we’ve just left having ever existed on Netheron. Where is the most likely place for ‘her’ to go?”    Tauren shook his head.” I’ve never heard of a forest like this either, but from what I know,  we’re probably right in the middle of Caraca, about two hundred or so miles west of where we were this morning.” He racked his brain for all he knew about the area.” The middle of Caraca is not really well known, due to the fact that it’s very hard to access, being in the middle of a monstrous, mostly deathly dry plain. There are not towns for a long, long way from what I know. . . .” He sighed, this was hopeless.” I mean, all there is out here is –“He stopped. That was it.    “What?” Vajik asked, shading his eyes from the glaring sun.    Tauren’s memory flashed back to the day he had examined the ancient map of Caraca and Netheron that his grandfather had brought out of the dungeons. If the Ruins of Arluine existed, then so must all those other cities ruins that he had seen.” There used to be a city out here, a long, long, long time ago. Its ruin is probably still here! That would be where I would head if I knew anything! It has the only water source for a long way around too, besides the forest. You can’t survive for long in the plain.”    Vajik looked thoughtful, and then he nodded.” That makes sense. Speaking of which, I don’t want to spend another night in the forest here, so if you could direct us, we can get started”    Tauren nodded, the ruin’s had been in a straight line between the peak of Nayne, and the opposing peak of Mt. Laytore. He quickly spun around and examined the horizon above the forest until his eyes contacted the jagged peak of a mountain rising out of the trees.” We’re close.” He exclaimed.” North a bit maybe”    Vajik glanced at Detrick and shrugged, and then they followed Tauren as he quickly paced north. It seemed too random to turn out well, but their fate wasn’t in the hands of chance that day.      They walked for hours, the sun fell quickly, and Tauren began to feel nervous. Neither the forest, the horizon, or the plain were changing at all, they didn’t seem to have moved a bit. If they didn’t get to the ruins quickly, then they’d be stuck in the plain, or worse, the forest, for the night. That wasn’t what he wanted.    It’s got to be close! He told himself.    “Tauren” Cried Vajik behind him.” Watch out!”    Tauren stopped in surprise, and looking down felt a sudden surge of thankfulness to Vajik. He was standing on the edge of a sink-hole, a sink hole that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. . . . He stepped back from the dizzying drop that fell a hundred feet before hitting jagged brimstone rocks.” Thanks!”    Vajik just stared at the sight before them, and when Tauren looked again, he did too.” I never knew it was so . . . complete.” He muttered in awe.    The sink hole was at least five miles across and a thousand feet deep, its sheer walls were dotted with jagged looking caves, and a massive river, over a mile across, wound its way across the tree scattered plain that made up the bottom. But opposite them, a bit hazy from an odd haze that hung in the air, was a ruin.    Well, they knew it was a ruin only from the fact that the castles and houses were all grey and colorless, without a bit of movement among them, but otherwise the massive castle that lay piled up against the side of the sink-hole, totally intact, none of the delicately thin towers having fallen over, none of the walls caving in, not a rock out of place.    “What did you say this place’s name was?” Detrick asked.    “I don’t know what its name is, I never did.” Tauren replied shortly, still gazing at the beautiful marble towers of the castle.    “I know its name.” Vajik said grimly.    They both stared at him; it was obvious that his superior age was probably now showing itself. Tauren felt a wince of un-grounded jealousy inside of him which he quickly stifled.    He glanced up at them.” It was called Eraea, City of Light.” His voice was grim.” It fell during the ancient war with Halavarde.”    Tauren stared at him still.” From what we were always told-” He glanced at Detrick then continued.”-The Netheron Wars only happened a hundred or so years ago. Obviously this was a lie, after having been to Arluine it’s kind of hard to believe it. When exactly did this war happen?”    Vajik glanced up at him, surprised.” They told you that?” But he waved his question aside.” Of course, I forgot, magic has been subdued these days on this world! Yes, they most definitely lied to you. From what I know, the Netheron Wars, lasted three or four hundred years, and took place many, many millennia ago. But I am not the historian!”    Detrick asked the obvious question on their minds.” But how is it that there are Arrels around, and apparently Nethers, that remember the wars? Remember them like they’d fought in them? How’s that possible?”    Vajik chuckled.” It’s really simple, Nethers were always the most powerful with magic, and they bred the most famous magicians of all time! A lot of them! So, when Netheron lost the war, and Arreland took over, the Arrels didn’t encourage magic any more, indeed they bred it out of the people, using whatever necessary to do so! They fed them lies, and falsities until finally there were no more Nether magicians! But the Arrels, Halavardes, Azquels, Isaruans, and all other peoples who still use magic, can use their power’s to virtually stop any disease, heal any wound, and stop aging, their techniques are so refined these days the older, more powerful one’s are virtually invincible when pitted against people like me and you! However, on Netheron there are certain laws that very deeply restrict the usage of magic, that way those who cannot use magic, such as you two, will stand a chance. That explained it should save questions.”    Tauren nodded.” So you can use magic?”    Vajik nodded.” On Halavarde I am a magician of note, but here I can perform no more than­­ the basest of spells.” He smiled.” One day, should we get the chance; I’ll teach you what I know.”    Detrick who had been studying the castle below them suddenly broke in.” There’s one problem with this!” He said.” This castle couldn’t have been attacked and defeated, it’s totally intact.”    Vajik nodded sadly.” When Arluine fell and the Nether King disappeared, and your people began to be forced out of magic, things deteriorated fast for them. All of a sudden millions more were dying every day, slowly all the great cities that they had once owned were abandoned because they simply could not control or habituate them anymore. Eraea was once one of the greatest cities in existence. Now it’s nothing more than an empty ruin.” His words were filled with bitterness and sadness.    “Anyway” He jerked his head up, changing the subject.” We were looking for that pesky girl?”    Tauren nodded; suddenly an obvious problem occurred to him.” Ah, how did she get down, if she did? And how do we get down?”    Detrick nodded and pointed.” There!” He said. And indeed, a few hundred feet farther along the edge of the sink-hole there was a wide road leading down the cliff hewn into the rock. It reminded Tauren of the Ivy Cliff back in Carmenton. 13-4-15.    An hour later!     Tauren had to admit, the city was pretty amazing, intact as it was. Every building they passed, whether it was made of marble or limestone, was covered in beautiful carvings and designs, the buildings where elaborated with facades, arches, and thousands of other architectural designs, and the castle was an awe-inspiring mass, towering above them.” I never knew that Netheron had this kind of power.” He whispered.    Beside him Vajik kicked a cloud of dust off of the street, revealing carved cobblestones.” This is nothing.” He said.” You should have seen Arluine when it was at its full power, amazing it was! It made this castle look like a stack of pebbles!” He looked slightly wistful.” Golden ages never last. You know why?”    “Because gold shines brightest in the dust” Tauren replied, quoting a saying that Edrin had always loved to use.    Vajik nodded.” Exactly! Let’s go search the castle first; there’ll be no getting out of this place without the road, which we can watch. In the long run we should be able to run her down.”    The road wound up to the massive, fallen gates of the castle, whose granite walls still shone with an ancient polish. Inside the wall the keep loomed, dotted with soaring towers that swept into the cloudless sky, miles above. Here they decided to break up and search the grounds first for any signs. Tauren went right, over a soft grassy strip of land that ringed the inside of the wall, Vajik went left, and Detrick stayed put to watch the gate.     Taurens heart beat faster, maybe their chance had come, and they could get the first relic. Finally! He kept his sword at the ready, and crept forward along the wall, keeping his eyes open for anything that might give him a hint as to whether or not any person had passed by.    He was probably a quarter of the way around the castle when he saw something ahead of him that caught his eye, throwing caution to the wind he rushed forward, and reached down to pick up the small piece of cloth out of the grass.    He froze, sensing something out of tune, but he was too late, a long, thin, silver bladed dagger laid itself against his throat, and a figure stepped out behind him, tall and thin, wearing a thin, flowing, white dress, long grey hair falling about a perfect, angled face. It was her.

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