No one waved as the ship left, easily gliding through
the clear water, sending ripples across its smooth, glass-like surface. They
had left in the quiet hours of the dawn, when Norlafish and human alike were
still sleeping, to avoid being seen. By the time the sun rose up properly,
they would be well out of the harbor and quite a distance away from the shipping
and trading and travel lines.
The crew was fairly small, consisting of Mercury, Garrett, Keeper Cray, Master Keeper Mordak, the original captain, and a few other Keepers. The sailors, as Cray had said, had been fired and were not too happy about it. They had, however, left without making trouble. The Keepers had assured the captain that the ship would be returned to his possession as soon as the voyage was finished and they were safely back in the City.
The supplies they had brought with them were sparse. They consisted mostly of food and drink, which would barely last them two weeks. That was in case they were blown off course or if they didn't find Kunath-Loch. If they arrived at Kunath-Loch, they were expecting to buy - or 'borrow' - more supplies. The Keeper Medal was, indeed, propelling the ship. Cray had somewhat explained the magic that it used.
According to Master Nightfall, the mages of Kunath-Loch had put a spell on an area of one of their towers. It was basically a beacon. By summoning forth an ancient magic from the old Keeper Medal, they could make it lock onto the beacon. When this happened, the Medal was capable of guiding towards the general area of Kunath-Loch. The captain had not been fired because, though the Medal could guide them, the captain was necessary for the navigation itself - such as avoiding Norlafish and rocks.
The ship, meanwhile, was even further along than they had originally calculated by the rise of the sun. They were well on their way to Kunath-Loch by that night, and, until the end of the voyage, nothing of particular interest occurred.
As they began to approach Kunath-Loch, Cray hoisted a flag that featured the two symbols of the Keepers - the key and keyhole - emblazoned in white on the flag's black background. Nightfall had told them to do this. According to him, it would assure a good welcome. Unfortunately, no one understood what that cryptic comment meant. As their ship glided into view, they heard the booming of a loud horn reach their ears.
Inside the ancient city of Kunath-Loch, a man scrambled up to the top of
the transmission tower. He'd seen a ship, and he had to inform the city's
citizens. Trade was sparse in these areas. He glanced at the ship to determine
how to classify it, put his mouth to the horn, and then froze. His head slowly
turned back to face the approaching ship. He blinked and rubbed his eyes several
times, but it didn't change anything. The flag was still there. The flag that
Kunath-Loch had been so long awaiting was fluttering in the breeze on the
great ship's mast. Finally, the man turned back to the horn and blew the code
- Ship approaching
Throughout the city, the people paused their work, as usual, to hear the booming horn announce whatever news it was announcing. This time, however, no one resumed his or her original duties. The citizens of Kunath-Loch had all grown up knowing this code by heart. They knew it as well as they knew the Catastrophic Fire and the Fire Alert codes. Indeed, to tell truth, they knew this one even better. But no one had ever expected to hear the Keeper Ship code. Finally, a crowd began amassing at the city's docks.
High up in a mage tower, the fastest response in the city was noted. The Master Mage was at work creating a new spell when the sound boomed through the town. Within moments, the Master Mage was on his feet and out the door. He was at the docks before anyone else arrived, and he put up magical barriers to make sure the crowds didn't press in too far - for there were sure to be crowds for such a momentous event.
From the ship, Mercury gazed upon the scene with pure amazement. Looking beyond the large crowds, he saw streets devoid of life.
"The entire city must've come to greet us," whispered Cray, voice filled with awe at the tremendous gathering of Kunath-Loch's inhabitants. As the ship docked and the plank was extended, Mercury, Garrett, Cray, and Mordak walked off the ship. They strode towards the Master Mage, who was standing in front of the magical barriers he had erected. The Master Mage met them halfway between the ship and the crowds. He ushered them back towards the crow, beginning to wave the people aside. The crowd split to allow the group of men to pass. Soon, they had arrived at the Mage Tower. Mercury put his hand up to shield his eyes from the sun as he gazed upwards at the tall tower. The Master Mage, who had said nothing until now, showed them into the tower. It seemed, inside, to be nothing but a tall shaft. On the sides were ledges, it seemed, that made the shaft look just wide enough for ten people to fit comfortably in it.
"Go to the center," the Master Mage finally said in a light baritone voice. They complied, going to the center of the shaft and moving around nervously. The Mage went in the middle of the shaft and whispered, "Levitate humanum." The four visitors were surprised to find themselves rising upward through the shaft, but they had the wit to remain in the center. Finally, as they were reaching the top floor, the Mage said, a bit louder, "Pausum levitate." The men stopped in midair, even with the ledge on that floor.
Around them was an office with a desk on one side and a table on the other.
"Please, sit," the Mage said, gesturing to the table and its invitingly soft chairs. They gratefully placed themselves on the chairs, as they had been awake, and mostly standing, all night. The Master Mage sat at the chair at the head of the table and took a few breaths.
"You do not know," he began, "how much how long let me start over. You cannot possibly fathom how long the people of Kunath-Loch have been awaiting this encounter. The Keepers have long been one of the most revered sects of the City, for you are concerned with not repeating the errors of the Karath-Dinians. We have long been expecting you, and your arrival here is quite overdue. Think of this as an encounter with a family member you've never known. One who saw your birth but whom you've never seen since and don't remember."
"The mages were alive at the time of the creation of the Keeper Order?" Cray asked, looking incredulous.
"Let me assure you, the mages were alive long before that. They were there to see everything. All of it."
"Excuse me, but, um all of what, exactly?" Garrett asked
"Why the downfall of Karath-Din and the rise of the City."
"You were alive during that time?" Mordak asked in turn. "Please, tell us. We have, unfortunately, maintained little information on the past, as we are much more interested in the future."
"I will tell you. However, I must warn you that it is a long story. It covers time from before Karath-Din's fall to after, twenty years after, perhaps even more. Do you have the patience to hear it now, or should we wait?"
"Now," Mercury finally said after a bit of thought.
"Now," Garrett agreed. The two Keepers nodded assent, and the Master Mage began his story of the origins of the Keepers and the fall of Karath-Din.
Long ago, the Precursors of whom we are direct descendants came to a crossroads on their way to settle. They had come a vast distance from their home, and they had only just met up with something that looked like a road. As the first wave of colonizers arrived at this fork, they decided to go left. The second wave, however, decided to go right. After speaking at length with the leaders of the first party, it was decided that the more was colonized, the better. Hundreds of men, women, and children followed each of the colonizing pathways, and so two sister cities grew. The ancestors named them Karath-Din and Kunath-Loch, which, in the Ancient Language, means City of Light and Fortress of Shadow. In the City of Light, the Precursors flourished and traded with Kunath-Loch. In Kunath-Loch, however, even as trade flourished, so did caution. Our mages were careful not to delve too far into the earthen Magiks, for they were capable of unleashing tremendous power of a caliber that could not be controlled.
"The Karath-Dinians, however, drunk with their own success, expressed no such cautions. They dug equally deep in the earthen and dark arts as their powers grew. Their city grew more and more prosperous as they marketed their services. One day, the mages of Kunath-Loch received disturbing news: the Karath-Dinians were fusing their knowledge of the dark and earthen arts to make an attempt at creating a supreme being. The report was extremely vague, but it was specific enough to worry the Mages.
"Finally, the Mages decided to dispatch a slew of trained wizards to get more information and make an attempt at restraining the spawning of the being. The wizards arrived in Karath-Din at just the right time. The Mages of the City of Light were preparing to attempt the being's creation when the wizards burst through the door. Assembling their most powerful magic, the wizards halted the progress of the Mages. Turning upon them, the Mages of Light flew into a rage at the interruption. A terrible battle ensued, and the wizards of Shadow were all put to sleep for the duration of the invocation of the being. Then, they invoked the earthen and dark magiks and succeeded in their quest. They created a being with the powers to control and harness the power of chaos." Mercury's eyes widened at that remark. The Mage looked around at them as if expecting identification, but the two Keepers looked puzzled and Garrett bewildered.
"The Trickster," Mercury whispered, awed at the inevitable conclusion.
"Yes," the Mage said, "the Trickster."
"Do you mean to say that the single greatest scourge of our time is due to a crazy experiment put into practice by our ancestors?" asked Mordak, face shocked and rigidly disbelieving.
"Yes, indeed. That is exactly what I mean to say," the Mage replied. The four listeners had given him their rapt, undivided attention again, and the Mage continued. "As the Mages of Kunath-Loch awakened, they gazed for the first time on this creature of chaos. He was speaking amiably to his creators, and they were gazing at him lovingly, as if he was their child.
"No one was expecting what came next. The creature's face was contorted in an expression of hate and anger, and the next moment he had unleashed his powers onto his creators and their laboratory. Then, the Mages of Light and the Mages of Shadow gathered their powers and fired them on the creature. But the creators of the creature had made it too powerful. It fled the laboratory, and, weakened, hid in the mountains. However, it had caused enough damage. Because of its friendliness before the destruction of the lab, it was named 'the Trickster.' In that initial struggle, the Trickster had destroyed the only information on its destruction.
"So we thought, that is, until news arrived that one of our wizards, fearing that those plans would be destroyed, had sent the information to this very city. Kunath-Loch initialized a search for the scrolls, but we never found them. Meanwhile, in Karath-Din, trouble was brewing again. The Trickster had recovered, and the Mages of Shadow were warning the Karath-Dinians that he would return.
"Yet once again, they did not heed the warning. They feasted because they had escaped him. The Mages of Shadow made preparations to defend the city against the Trickster, but, without the assistance of additional Mages of Light, they were not capable of doing it fast enough.
"Finally, the Trickster returned. The Mages of Shadow tried their best to stop him, and all but one died in the attempt. The Mages of Karath-Din were annihilated in the assault. The Trickster unleashed chaos upon the city, and the very earth became chaotic. Earth and volcano shook, and the buildings of the City of Light tumbled down and were buried under ash, lava, and dirt. In the final hours of the assault, a few Karath-Dinians escaped and came here.
"After five years, the area where the city had been was repopulated by others. They named their village the City, and it grew and prospered. Amongst them was our Mage, the only survivor. He quietly and discreetly warned the people of the Trickster, but they laughed at the idea of such a powerful being. The Mage tried and tried, but no one listened.
"Once again, the Trickster came for a third time. The Mage, however, was ready. He called an ancient magic forth from time itself, and he shot it at the Trickster. The Trickster disappeared in a great flash of light before he had a chance to wreak his havoc. The Mage, exhausted, returned to his house. The next morning, he found people outside believing that he was the Master Builder of the entire world. They began to worship him, but he refused to be worshipped.
"Finally, he realized that the only way to prevent the return of the Trickster would be to train a group of people in the magic required to repel him. And so, he accepted the worship and created the Hammerite Order. They adopted as their symbol the hammer, because the Mage encouraged them to rebuild.
"The City grew, and the Hammerite Order did as well. But, a new group of people arose, one that worshipped the Trickster as the harbinger of a Golden Age. Those were the Pagans. The Mage took harsh measures against the Pagans. If they refused to convert, they were killed. But, this did not stop the Pagans, for they had staunch beliefs. Finally, the Mage repealed the order that Pagans were to be killed, and he thought of another idea. He donned the cloths of the wily, stealthy thief. And, with his dark cloak on, he used the ancient magik of the Shadow that was his right as a Mage of Shadow. It allowed him to disappear within the shadows, so that people who were not very close could not see him.
"He carried on relationships with many women, to propagate the trait of shadow manipulation. And one night, he found a young thief who had what was called the Gift. With the young man, the Mage found more, until he had ten people capable of manipulating the shadows. And so the Keeper Order was born. And he dedicated them to preserving a delicate balance between the power of the Hammerite Order and that of the Pagan one.
"But finally, the Mage died. The Hammerite Order was bereft, and they claimed that he would return some day. The Keepers, however, no longer needed him. He had shown them the Runes in which the Ancients wrote, and he left them with predictions of the future inscribed using those Runes. They have run out now, for he could not see forever.
"After the Mage's death, the people of Kunath-Loch began to send a mage to the City every time it seemed like the Keepers were forgetting their past. The orders were simple: the mage was to establish contact with the Keepers and discreetly feed them the information about their past. However, even with all our attempts to stop it, the Keepers eventually forgot. We never gave up hope, thought; a few years back, in fact, we sent another mage to the City. Unfortunately, reports say that a Storm of Chaos sent by the Trickster overcame the ship, and that all upon it were killed and the ship itself disappeared."
"By the Builder," Garrett said. "Master Nightfall! Of course!" The Mage looked at him quizzically. "Master Nightfall must be that mage!"