This post is a response to August’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others.
“You must be cautious when entering the training grounds, Cyrus,” said Emil. “Though you are an advanced student, I’ve seen this particular simulation humble pupils with considerably more experience than you possess.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Cyrus replied, mocking the elderly instructor. “You’ve said that about the last ten simulations you’ve had me do. I’ve walked away without a scratch. Give me a challenge already!”
“That, dear boy, is precisely why we’re here. You’re about to take on a simulation of a long deceased mage and healer by the name of Tess of the Everlasting Shore. Her healing powers were legendary, but it’s her tome you need to watch out for.”
“I’ve got it. Just let me go already.”
Emil retorted, “I really do think you’ll want to hear this one Cyrus.”
“I’ve got this,” Cyrus proclaimed. “I’m going in. Start the simulation in thirty seconds.”
Cyrus walked through the entry way and into the simulation ground. A think metal door slammed down from the ceiling, closing the path behind him. Emil sighed as he made his way over to the simulation control panel.
“As you wish,” Emil muttered under his breath.
Cyrus stepped to his starting platform within the simulation room. As had become custom any time he faced a tome-based simulation, Cyrus drew a simulated version of his own weapon, the relic sword Caér. Cyrus has earned Caér from graduating at the top of his class in High Magistrate training. During his learning, Cyrus had grown accustomed to the blade’s ability to morph into twin daggers as he commanded. The one feeling the simulation could never replicate, however, was the power Cyrus felt when the electric aura of Caér flowed through this veins. With Caér in hand, Cyrus had yet to take a single blow in Premiere training, let alone lose a match. Cyrus had begun to think the Premiere level — the highest ranking for any student within the Terran Guard training program — was nothing more than a farce to waste this time when he could be leading his own actual Guard regiment.
A high-pitched buzzer sounded, signaling the training had begun. Cyrus drew Caér in its broadsword form and began walking toward the opponent staring platform. When the simulation of Tess of the Everlasting Shore appeared before him, Cyrus burst out laughing.
“A little girl?” Cyrus shouted. “Is this really the best you’ve got, Emil.”
“Do not underestimate her power, Cyrus,” Emil said over the loudspeaker.
“Right. I’ll see you before the first minute is done.”
Cyrus ran forward, charging toward Tess with Caér in hand. As he neared her podium, Tess vanished into thin air.
“Oh good, a teleporter,” Cyrus yelled. “Those are always annoying. Thanks for wasting an extra minute out of my d…”
Cyrus dropped to the ground as a beam of frigid water hit him from behind. Tess stood well out of striking distance, her long, braided hair whipping around thanks to a chilling gale that had kicked up around her.”
“Alright, water oracle. Time to remind you how water feels about electricity.”
Cyrus charged again, this time changing Caér to its dagger form. Tess teleported again, but this time Cyrus was ready, throwing one of the daggers into her anticipated path. The dagger found its mark, driving itself into Tess’ left arm just above the elbow.
“Is that all you’ve got? Just teleport and water cannons? Time to die then.”
As Cyrus threw the second dagger at Tess, she drew a staff from her back. She placed the staff on the ground in front of her and held the time tightly to her heart. As the dagger neared her body, it paused in mid-air, dropping to the ground just in front of the staff. For the first time since the start of the simulation, Tess spoke. Her voice echoed throughout the simulation room, reverberating though Cyrus’ every muscle.
“Abel the Mechanic. Creator of the electric sword Caér and the demon blade Bálor. You will not harm my people or my family again. I will kill you where you stand, even if I die with you.”
Tess raised her hands to the sky, causing both her tome and her staff to levitate in front of her. The sapphire orb within the staff began to glow, changing from a deep, dark blue, to an icy, pale white. As the orb reached its brightest white, Tess began to shout again.
“I have killed for you and I have healed for you. Now I protect only myself. The pearl brings forth the cold. The words of my ancestors bring forth the water. Farewell, Abel. AVALANCHE DUET!”
A sparkling wall of snow and ice came charging toward Cyrus. Though he scrambled to reach one of his daggers, the cold reached him first, burying him in a suffocating snowfall. From within his crystalline crypt, Cyrus heard Tess scream out in terror, yelling for her father and mother to save her. As her shrieks pounded into his head, Cyrus lost consciousness, his body enveloped within the snow.
Hours later, Cyrus opened his eyes to the blinding fluorescent lights of the infirmary. He blinked rapidly, his eyes struggling to adjust to the brightness around him. Emil’s voice calmly and mockingly cut into Cyrus’s eardrums with the same viciousness that the lights attacked his retinas.
“People don’t like hearing ‘I told you so’, regardless of the context of the statement,” Emil stated. “In the end, the person who spoke the truth and reminds someone else of that fact usually ends up feeling the worst of all. That said, when you’re repeatedly told about something, choose to ignore it, and suffer the consequences of your willful ignorance, it does make me chuckle just a tiny bit on the inside.”
Cyrus’s sentence was cut short by a vicious cry of pain. He gripped his right hand tightly with his left, only for the pain from that grip to force him to release the hold. Cyrus punched the hospital bed with his left hand, sheets shaking beneath each strike. Emil clasped Cyrus’s hand to stop the outburst.
“Calm down Cyrus. Your hand is frostbitten and you’re weak. You’ll be fine, but you do need to rest.”
“How the fuck did I get frostbite from a simulation?” Cyrus yelled. “What was that thing?”
“Are you ready to listen to my warning — and my story — now?” Emil asked.
“Do I really have a choice?”
“You do. There’s a lovely tomato basil bisque in the kitchen that I’d adore a second bowl of. I could even run home and get my calamari — you know, those little fried squid bites that taste…”
“I get it, Emil,” responded Cyrus. “Tell me what I did wrong.”
“You know the source of your beloved sword, Caér, yes?” asked Emil.
“It was the first of five divine weapons created by Abel the Mechanic. There’s Caér the thunder blade, Bálor the demon sword, Yggdrasil the earthen halberd, Niamey the fire tonfa, and the sacred sai of the Holy Emperor Milan. Yggdrasil and Bálor were destroyed in the great war. Caér and Niamey are artifacts housed at the academy. And Milan’s sacred sai are on display at the palace.”
“Correct. Bálor, Yggdrasil, and Niamey were wielded by Milan’s personal guard for the entirety of their existence, but Caér was originally the personal weapon of Abel the Mechanic.”
“So it wasn’t always the weapon of Ramses the Valiant?”
“Not until Abel the Mechanic died,” replied Emil. “Milan sent his personal guard to wipe out the last of the resisting forces in the outer kingdoms when he unified our kingdom. That said, the deeds of Milan’s personal guard and those under him weren’t exactly noble. Abel the Mechanic, while a skilled weapon maker, was a particularly brutal tactician.”
“What did he do?”
“This isn’t something the monarchy is particularly proud of, but Abel the Mechanic was known to have his men attack villages, killing anyone who didn’t surrender immediately. Those who surrendered were rounded up and placed in a semi-circle in the center of the sacked community. Abel the Mechanic would then tell the captives to swear their allegiance to the Holy Emperor Milan. If the village did unanimously, he let them live, though they were relocated to a camp for prisoners of war. If even one member of those captured said no, Abel would personally kill all of them on the spot.”
“There’s a reason that some of Abel the Mechanic’s history is not celebrated,” Emil continued.
“Did he do all of this with Caér?” asked Cyrus.
“Not typically. Abel preferred his mass killings be completed quickly. He typically used the cache of firearms his regiment had at its disposal. There was one small town that was an exception to this, however.”
“And I’m betting that’s where Tess was from?”
“Tess of the Everlasting Shore was a cleric from the coastal town of Uimt Bay. When Abel the Mechanic and his army arrived in town, Tess was away learning magic from an old wizard who lived in the Zokymt Mountains to the north. She arrived back to her village just as Abel was giving his speech about subservience to Holy Emperor Milan. Tess’s father, Darren, saw his daughter hiding in the woods behind Abel’s troops and went on a particularly long and profanity laced tirade about how the Holy Emperor would be punished for the way his forces were cruelly treating the innocent. Abel, enraged by Darren’s words, drew Caér and began slaughtering the citizens of Uimt Bay one by one.
“As Abel struck each person, they fell to the ground, only to come back to life shortly after. One of Abel’s soldiers noticed Tess hiding in the woods, casting healing spells from a distance amid the screams. As the troops charged towards Tess, a barrage of icy daggers fell from the sky, killing the soldiers in their tracks. As Abel himself gave chase, Tess fled into the Zokymt Mountains, leaving the village of Uimt Bay safe and healthy in her wake.”
“So no one in the village ended up dying?” Cyrus asked.
“Not until much later in the war,” answered Emil. “Uimt Bay was the last village of the Trinna Kingdom to fall.”
“What happened with Tess next?”
“As he entered the Zokymt Mountains, Abel the Mechanic came upon an ice-covered lake with a mossy rock in the middle. Tess of the Everlasting Shore stood on the rock, beckoning the clouds to create a snowstorm around her. Abel the Mechanic called out to her telling her to fight him honorably like a true warrior. This infuriated Tess, who had just watched Abel attempt to kill her entire family in front of her. Tess charged forward and engaged Abel in hand-to-hand combat.”
“But she was a mage,” interrupted Cyrus, “why would she do that?”
“She might have been a talented mage, but she was inexperienced,” replied Emil. “Her actions were clouded by her emotions. Remember how impulsive you were at 12 years old. Add in the pain of seeing your family being killed — even if you did save their lives — and you have a mage with no regard for her own well-being.”
“Makes sense. I assume she didn’t survive.”
“She did not. Abel struck her down with a single blow from Caér.”
“So what was the simulation based on?”
“That very battle, actually,” Emil stated. “After Abel killed Tess, he turned around to find himself surrounded by Tess. In reality, they were duplications of herself meant to block Abel from escaping. The illusions all began to chant, dealing forth a spell that the old wizard had passed down to Tess — duet avalanche.”
“The spell that hit me,” said Cyrus.
“Sort of,” answered Emil. “By all accounts, the spell left the lake and the surrounding areas covered under 100 meters of snow. Everyone says that total is just a legend, but part of the reason the Trinna Kingdom survived so long was because a massive flood blocked the only way into its borders for six years. If anything, 100 meters might be a low estimate. The version you were hit with dropped the equivalent of one meter of snow.”
“How did Caér get recovered?”
“My great-grandfather, the founder of this academy, found Caér, along with Tess’s weapons — her tome, Frost Requiem, and her staff, the Amnesty Gale — in a cave as the flood waters receded. While Caér has been wielded by many members of the Terran Guard since that day, not one soul has been capable of handling either Frost Requiem or the Amnesty Gale. Not yet, anyway.”
“What do you mean, not yet?” asked Cyrus.
“Within the pages of the Frost Requiem, there is a prophecy that a young girl will follow in the footsteps of another child who saves here people with the tome. The story says that young girl will be a noble who overthrows her own kingdom to restore freedom to the entire world.”
“That would certainly explain the lack of daughters from nobility in the kingdom.”
“Indeed it would, Cyrus,” answered Emil. “Now get some rest. There’s much more training you have to do.”
Emil left the hospital and journeyed back to his home on the edge of the academy. He entered his house, locked the door behind him, then grabbed a book off of the bookshelf in his entry way. A trap door opened, leading to a ladder that lowered Emil down three stories into a narrow hallway. Emil walked the dimly lit hall, opening the door quietly as he did so.
“Are you back, Master Emil?” a tiny voice cried out.
“I am, dear child,” he replied.
“Is today the day?” the child asked.
“Not today. Soon though. Your training partner is almost ready.”