A History Lesson
I almost looked death in the eye barely a few hours ago. The sight froze me up and shook me down to the core and had rendered me paralysed. Now, I had to look into another set of heavy eyes and just the thought of it was eating me up. Shame, regret and sorrow thundered inside me as I took each step towards my mother who sat there beneath the two pine trees in the middle of the desert.
“Mom, you should eat something” I said as I held out a pack of banana cakes to her which I had just offered to Ravenna. I was too afraid to talk about my blunder and apologise for it just yet. She didn’t budge. Not one bit. She just stared down at her lap, probably imagining what could have been.
“Mommy, I’m really sorry about what I did back there. I almost got you killed because of my stupidity.” She immediately pulled me in for a tight hug and broke down after holding it back for hours through the journey. “I thought that I had lost you Ed. I thought I’d never see you again. You can’t imagine what that’s like.” She held on to me for a while as I sat with her. As soon as I noticed Ravenna looking at us, she turned her gaze away. “Don’t you ever do that again Ed. You are all I have.” Her voice was getting clearer now.
Once she was done opening up, she ate a few slices of the delicious banana cake she herself baked last week. “I told you to eat the fruits first. This would have stayed fresh for another week. The fruits will rot soon.”
“I still have room for fruits” said Ravenna who had now walked up to us. “Come on now, let’s get moving. We’ve rested enough.” The sun had almost completely risen now and luckily, it would be behind us throughout the rest of the journey given that we were headed west. We mounted our horses and started how. Ravenna was leading as usual but she was just trotting head.
“Didn’t you just say we’ve had enough rest. Why are we moving so slowly?” I asked her.
“I just realised that the town is only a few minutes away. The sun has risen and the people must be waking up just about now. Braumchester is a mining and brick making town. Most of the people will be off to work in about two hours. It’s best if we move in after that. Like I’ve said again and again, I’d like to avoid unnecessary attention. Towns this far in the west don’t get visitors often so it’s best if we don’t become today’s showcase.”
“Well, if it was just a few minutes away, we shouldn’t have stopped for a break back then. We would have reached the town before dawn and nobody would have noticed.” I said.
“Like I said, I didn’t realise it back then.”
“Some guide we have” I said jokingly to which I got a really scary glare in response.
“Wait, if Braumchester is a produce-heavy town, then don’t they have roads connected to other places. Why are we travelling through the sandy desert?” asked my mother curiously.
“Almost every settlement in our Kingdom has mines as the west is directly based in high mountainous ground. The business in Braumchester is small time. They only supply to nearby settlements in short packages. Their brick making industry isn’t that big either. But I suppose the place did have roads connected to other towns and cities once but looks like the desert has eaten them up. A lot has changed since ‘that’ day” she said looking ahead. It looked like she knew a lot about places in the kingdom and maybe the entire country too. But just as she finished speaking, there was this itch troubling me from inside. This curious itch.
“Hey, I’ve been quite passive these last few days but I’ve had enough! I can’t hold my curiosity back anymore. All these questions are just piling up inside my head and it’s too much to deal with” I said, clearly expressing my annoyance. I’ve been in the dark for a week. When my mother initially asked me to hold these questions back, I thought I could do it but ever since I’ve been on this journey, nothing has made any sense. I feel like a fallen leaf caught in the wind, just idly flying by with the breeze, having no control of myself. I don’t want to be caught in another situation like last night’s and that’s why I needed to know more.
“Heh? What are you talking about? What questions?” asked Ravenna. She was riding to my left and looked clueless but my mother on the other side looked dejected. It looked like she knew what questions I had and yet she couldn’t answer them. Still, I wasn’t willing to give up. If I wasn’t going to get answers from her, then I would get them from Ravenna.
“What do you mean by ‘that day’? The day since a lot has changed.” I asked her.
“The Waynecastle massacre of course. The whole country fell apart ever since that day.” she said as if it was very obvious which is why I absolutely wanted to know about it.
“What’s the Waynecastle massacre?” I asked her vehemently. Ravenna looked absolutely puzzled. The massive shock was very apparent, just from a look at her face. My mother’s expression was unchanged. Clearly it looked like she didn’t want me to have this conversation but it was too late.
“What’s the meaning of this? Hey, Mirriam! Is this boy retarded or something? What kind of education did he get?” she asked my mother in a manner of annoyance who in turn shook her head in response.
“Our town…. well…. the children were forbidden from learning any history. Or anything about the outside world for that matter. They were only trained in language and various skills.” she said. This surprised me as much as it did Ravenna. I knew that we were never taught anything about the outside world but I never wondered why. The thought had never even occurred to me or any of my friends back home either. Also why was it forbidden in the first place?
“Why would you do that? Why keep things from these poor little gnomes. They at least deserve to know the reason behind their plight.” She had the same question but why did she assume our town was like the rest of these we’ve been to? We were quite well off. Or are there places where everyone leads even better lives? Mr. Randall did tell us that we were living like royalty but I’ve read about more lavish lifestyles in the books I’ve read. I know they’re storybooks but even fantasy comes from some truth.
“I’m sorry, I can’t tell you that. We were never even allowed to set foot out of the town” my mother’s response was very clear-cut. Ravenna could see it too. She wouldn’t get anything more out of her.
“Fine. Keep it to yourself. But this kid’s not cooped up in your town anymore so I’m going to impart some wisdom to him. He needs to know things if you want him to survive out here. I’m not going to endanger his life by encouraging ignorance like you and your townspeople have” Ravenna was quite crude about it. I was quite happy that I was finally getting some answers but it hurt to see her be so condescending to my mother. I’m sure she and uncle Mikhail had a good reason to keep things from us.
“Alright kid. I’m gonna have to assume that you don’t know jack-shit about the outside world. Maybe you’re from a locked up town from some corner in the west and have never set foot outside. Now listen well and listen carefully. I don’t want to repeat after myself.” Yes. Story time! Finally! It felt like the times when my mother was about to read me a story before going to bed. I nodded, very diligently.
“Remember that geography lesson I gave you three days ago? This is Bradstone, ruled by King Horticus. Now, ignore him because he’s not all that very important to the story. The story revolves around the Rilance Kings. The most influential emperors in the country. As you know, they rule the biggest chunk of the country from the centre. The Rilancian empire is the mainland. Bradstone is the west, there’s Europa in the south and Valencia in the east. These are the four Kingdoms of Pangenna, the country we live in.” None of this was new information, but it was a good revision nevertheless.
“Not even the combined might of all the three minor kingdoms can take down the Rilancian Empire but it wasn’t always like this. About 50 years ago, Dover Rilance assumed the throne after the death of his father at the young age of 16. At this time, the entire country was home to hundreds of kingdoms. Obviously, there were lots of warring states. Dover’s father lost his life defending his dying kingdom which was being ambushed by a more powerful state. Dover was a smart and kind prince, much more mature than anyone his age should be. He understood that real peace in our country could only be achieved through unification. It was paradoxical but it was his strong belief that only war with the right purpose could end all wars. He set out on a journey to acquire more wisdom and prepare for a massive invasion. He returned 5 years later and was subjected to intense hate by his own people for abandoning them in the time of need. Somehow, they had survived the war without their king. He used up all the remaining treasury to call together very capable individuals he met on his journey and also prepare for the real war. This brought in much more criticism but little did they know about what was to come. With his advanced intellect and help from the competent individuals he hired, he had amassed a kingdom, larger than any across the entire world. He knighted those people and they came to be known as the legendary Astral Knights . In 30 years, The Rilancian empire had grown from an insignificant and dying kingdom, to the most powerful, wealthy and influential empire the world had ever known. Inspired by his heroic conquest. Two kings on both ends of the country also found quite the success while Dover was expanding his own kingdom. Our King Horticus Bradstone formed a major Kingdom in the West and Porus Valick defeated his brother to be the ruler of a unified Valencia in the East. Dover could have easily conquered the entire country but he stopped short because his goal was achieved. The world finally knew peace. At the end of their conquest, when there were no more little kingdoms to acquire, these three mighty kings came together and declared a decree of peace which has officially lasted to this day. However, Emperor Dover died mysteriously two weeks after this declaration and then his son stepped into power.” That was a really long and intense history about our country. I didn’t know what it had to do with the Waynecastle massacre that she keeps talking about but it was too interesting to ignore. The tale of a legendary conqueror.
“Yes, 20 years ago his son took the throne. Gideon Rilance. The world was doomed the day he assumed the throne” she said. I could feel the hate in her voice. I looked aside at my mother. It seemed like she knew the story up until this point but this new part seemed to be grabbing her interest Maybe she didn’t know much from this point either given that she moved to Vereen around the same time.
“Why? What did he do?” I asked her curiously.
“Heh, the pitiful world you see around you…. It’s all his doing. He’s directly responsible for the suffering of every single being in the country. What I wouldn’t give to be able to go back in time and sever his head before he could do this to us. I think everyone around wishes they could.” Her hatred was really dark. I wanted to get back to the story but this sure was building the stakes up quite well. What could he have done?
“That man. He was mad. He had no respect for anyone. He didn’t have any ambitions either. He just liked sitting on his large, golden throne and see how much his power could achieve. He was the ruler of the largest empire in the world and a lot could be achieved with that much power. He executed anyone who even slightly opposed or disobeyed him, he destroyed towns that he didn’t like and brought chaos because it amused him. Everyone despised him but none could stand up to him. The world was at his mercy. He was the total opposite of his father, a mirror image.” It was hard to believe that such an evil person could actually exist.
“Do you know anything about soul keepers?” Ravenna asked me. I didn’t but the question seemed to startle my mother.
“No, never heard of them.” I told her plainly.
“I expected that response but it still surprises me that you are so uneducated. It’s a shame. Very well -”
“STOP” cried my mother.
“What’s wrong?” both me and Ravenna asked her
“He doesn’t need to know. Please. Not now.” begged my mother. I couldn’t fathom why this was so important to conceal. Who are these soul keepers?
“Sure he does. The more he knows, the better and I fail to see how this information could hurt him in anyway.” Ravenna was being very reasonable
“You don’t understand. You can’t” said my mother pleading even more desperately.
“No mother! I need to know. What if I endanger my life again for not knowing enough? What if I put you both in danger again? It’ll be your responsibility then. Maybe last night was your responsibility too.” I instantly regretted saying what I just did when I saw her shocked expression. It really hurt her but it was too late to take it back. I had no words and neither did she.
“Ahem. He’s right. It’s better if he knows stuff” said Ravenna, trying to break the painful silence. I turned to her to listen to the rest of the tale.
“Let me tell you about Soul Keepers then. Damn, this is going to be difficult. It’s like teaching science. I don’t know much about this stuff but here’s the gist of it.” I nodded. “The soul is the most fundamental element of nature. Everything you see around you is a product of the fabric of the soul. The three countries on this planet: Pangenna, Cambria and Rodrion have their own set of Soul Keepers, the guardians of the fabric of the soul. There are seven soul keepers, one for every element. These soul keepers along with their dragons protect the fabric of the soul and ensure balance is maintained.”
“Dragons!?” I shrieked. “Dragons are real!!?”
“Yes, very real. Each soul keeper has a soul brother appointed to them from birth. A soul brother can only be a dragon, a beast with the closest relationship to the soul apart from us humans. The lives of soul brothers are linked from the moment of realisation. If one dies, so does their significant other. Every different soul keeper and their dragon are masters of their particular element. They have great power which lets them protect and conserve life as we know it. They’ve been around since the beginning of time and they’re the most important people in the world. They are worshipped, respected and loved because without them, everything would falter. Even though they’re near omnipotent, they’re the kindest and wisest people ever. Everything they do is for the best interest of the world which is why nobody opposes them.” From the looks of it, Ravenna really admired these people. Even I was entranced by the description of these glorious people.
“Ooh, what are the elements?” I asked her in a squeaky voice.
“Wow, someone’s really excited. You’re really taking this off course too. Still, I’ll treat you. Consider this payment for that lovely chlorol. Well, the soul is the primary element. Then there are seven secondary elements. They’re usually classified into three archetypes. Atmos has water, earth and air. Energos has fire and lightning. Lumos has light and shadow. These are the seven secondary elements that constitute the natural world. Every material thing, that is. Life is powered by soul itself” she said, poking at my chest but then sadness overtook her face. I sensed something sinister approaching.
“Gideon didn’t like that peace decree. He never did. But declaring war as soon as he took the throne would throw the world into chaos even though the overwhelming strength of the Rilancian Empire would be sufficient enough to overcome it. But he had an obstacle that not even his enormous army and legendary knights could overcome. The Soul Keepers. They being who they are, have direct relationships with the most important people in the country and that included the three kings: Dover, Horticus and Porus. Even after Dover’s death, they affiliated themselves with the Rilancian empire but they hated Gideon. They could never get along with that figure of chaos. During the declaration of peace, the soul keepers convened with the kings and swore to honour and protect the decree. When they found out that Gideon was planning to dishonour the agreement, they threatened to intervene and take him down if it came down to it. To him, all opposition had to be punished. But executing soul keepers is no child’s play. They had to be executed in a different manner. Execution by assassination.” Ravenna paused. Just recollecting it seemed to move her. I could see it coming too. A tragic tale.
“It was 14 years ago. Under the emperor are different lords who govern each sector given to them. One of the Rilancian lords invited the soul keepers for a feast at his home. It was Hubert Wayne, a dear old friend of these legendary seven. On that moonless night, the soul keepers had a hearty meal among friends. Good time was had and warmth was shared. Nobody saw it coming. When they retired, assassins infiltrated the castle. The best killers in the world. You can’t fight what you can’t see. At once, they slayed them all. Everyone but the keeper of shadow. A split second error on the part of the assassins had alerted her enough to escape death. Devastated at the sight of her dead friends, she fought the assassins and fled. It is rumoured that she hid in Valencia for a few days till she found out the truth. Gideon Rilance and Hubert Wayne had plotted this together. Enraged at this betrayal, she abandoned Pangenna and took refuge with our eastern neighbours in Cambria. The legacy of the soul keepers was destroyed and the emperor made sure that they could not pass it down to the next generation by destroying all the eggs. The worship of soul keepers was abolished and their temples were desecrated. They were labelled as the enemies of the empire. That was the end of the world as we knew it. The night of the Waynecastle massacre was the doomsday and we’re basically living in a post apocalyptic world. The balance of nature had tipped and the world started crumbling. To you it might seem like I’m exaggerating. Sure things don’t see too bad today but I’ve seen what the world looked like before they were killed. In fourteen years, so much has changed. In a few more decades, everything will end. The decay gets worse and worse with time. Dying forests, displaced beasts and birds, numerous plagues, failing crops, lack of rain, violent oceans, scorching sun and everything bad you can imagine. Your generation might be the last to live a full life, however empty it may be.” There was more, I could feel it.
“What was that bit about passing on the legacy and eggs?” I asked her
“Soul keepers don’t live on for too long. The more they use their power, the sooner they die. The thing about soul keepers is that they’re chosen from birth. When a dragon feels that their death is soon coming, they lay an egg. At the same time, a child is born. A prospect. Once the prospect comes of age, that is at the age of fifteen, he or she is to spend a year with the egg. The more time they spend with the egg, the stronger the bond is with their soul brother. The stronger the bond, more is their power and longer their lifespan. The prospect is realised when the egg hatches on their sixteenth birthday and the cycle continues. At the time of the massacre, three of the dragons had already laid eggs but they were destroyed at the command of the emperor, ensuring that there would never be another soul keeper ever again.” It ached my heart. How could someone exterminate something so important? Something that protects the very world you live in.
“The emperor knew what he was doing. He knew what he had done. The original doctrine was that Hubert Wayne had betrayed the soul keepers on his own accord and for that, he and his entire family were executed. But then, he declared that the keeper of shadow had abandoned the country and for that reason, he marked them to be enemies of Pangenna as if it was her selfishness to blame” she exclaimed.
“What nonsense! Who would believe it?” I cried
“Oh boy, even I find it shocking that most people in the mainland to this day believe the doctrine. Well, they don’t have it as bad as us in the west. We are the farthest from the forest of Jottivick which is why we’ve been suffering the most. The mainland and Valencia enjoy close proximity to the forest which is why their decay is much slower than ours. It’s bad out there, but not as much as this. People still live normal lives. They still have livelihoods.” She was clearly envious.
“What’s this forest?” I asked her
“You forgot already? I told you last time right? The Sacred forest of Jottivick. It is the only place in the country which is not under the rule of any king. It is governed by The Elders, a group of remarkable hermits. They have somehow preserved the fabric of soul in their region and have prevented it from corrupting. Valencia and the capital of Rilance are very close to the forest which is why they prosper to this day.” The envy was still there.
“Well, what has happened since then. Did he start a war? You did tell me about a cold war between Rilance and Bradstone.” I asked her
“Yes an no. There hasn’t been an all out war since the massacre. The economy and climate changed the entire country. Even the mad emperor had to focus his efforts on preservation of his kingdom instead of war. If he did go to war, everything you see would vanish in a couple of years. Nobody can afford a war now. Ten years ago, Lord Garius of the southernmost district broke off from the Rilancian Empire because of his friction with the Emperor. The emperor couldn’t dare attack him and win the territory back because Lord Garius annexed the trade network. He was the primary ambassador for trade with our southern neighbours in Rodrion. Rodrion is rich with resources and we had plenty of gold and articles of value. We can’t cultivate enough for ourselves so trading with Rodrion is the only way we survived. All trade with Rodrion is only done by Lord Garius and he in turn trades with both Bradstone and Rilance. Valencia is pretty much self -sufficient. Don’t mistake caution for forgiveness though. Europa is still the enemy of Rilancian Empire. Even they are at cold war. One wrong move and everything is over.” She continued..
“Horticus chickened out first and locked himself up in his capital. The fortification of the four great cities of Bradstone began and every other town and settlement was left on their own. The Rilancian empire has ever since been gnawing at us. They pillage our towns and attack our caravans. They have indirectly gained control over Bradstone territories by placing proxies like bandits or mercenaries in charge of certain towns. At the rate they’re going, they’ll take over all of Bradstone except the four great cities in five more years. Valencia has been safe from Rilance because they are separated by the sacred forest. It is forbidden to step inside the sacred forest without the blessing of the elders and it is also impossible to do so unless you’re a soul keeper.” It seemed like she had finished. I was glad too as there was only so much that I could take in one go. So much hate and violence. I didn’t know I was part of such a dark history and that very history was going to snuff the life out of us.
After a few moments of silence, I spoke up. “Thanks Ravenna. Thank you for telling me all this. I understand that I would have been happier and less tense without knowing all this but it is important that I am aware of the world I live in.” I turned to my mother. “Don’t worry mom, it’s not all that bad. The world is still going on isn’t it. There’s still hope.” I said with a smile but she didn’t seem to think that way. It looked like the tale had weighed her down.
“It’s about time kid. You should have known all along”
“Hey, what were those necromancers?” I suddenly asked her. I almost forgot about that.
“Oh, that’s a whole another story. Good thing its relevant. Necromancers are mages. Mages that awaken the dead. Wait, let me go back a bit” she took a deep breath and continued. “Over a thousand years ago, a generation of soul keepers shared the knowledge of elemental manipulation with regular people for some reason. Those who could control said elements were called mages. Most mages can only learn to control only one element even after a lifetime dedicated to study and practice. However, a few generations ago a faction of mages learned how to awaken the dead. This was against the principles of the soul. It was through the manipulation of an element which is the primary counterpart of the soul like an opposite. The enraged soul keepers thus banned all ‘magic’ and have enforced it ever since. It clearly survived underground all those years and now when there were no soul keepers in the way, the mages re-emerged. Mages are a normal part of society today. You can see them around often. However most of them are quite weak and can only pull off parlour tricks like lighting a small fire or sloshing some water around. The one you saw last night was a very powerful one. He was a battle mage. Battle mages are quite intelligent, powerful and experienced. He was a water mage, more specifically an ice mage. Most people won’t see such powerful mages ever in their lifetime unless they’re on the battlefield.” Somehow it sounded like Ravenna didn’t have the same sense of admiration for mages like I did.
“Necromancers are bad news. Not only do they corrupt the fabric of the soul even further, they also do raids like the one you saw last night. Uncontrolled settlements like Pompadoon are easy targets for parties of necromancers. They attack these people who no one cares about and use them as experiments for their study. They also defile graves. Nobody likes necromancers. One may not be much of a problem but a party is something you need to watch out for. They’re quite formidable on the battlefield, were there is no shortage of the dead. But then again, most necromancers can’t control more than two zombies at the same time. The most powerful one I’ve ever seen could control four of them at once. He was quite hard to slay” she said with a proud smile. “Fighting zombies isn’t easy. They move much faster than regular people and they do so in bizarre ways. Their power output is also much higher because they feel no pain and they do not have a mind of their own. Their bodies are expendable so they don’t have mental limiters like us that prevents us from using our full muscle power to conserve our body. I just hate mages. They’re too much for me to handle.” Her description was enough to make me loathe necromancers. No good man would do something like that.
“And hey, always stay away from mages. I know that water mage helped you out but that’s a first. Mages usually promote the study of magic. Any other mage wouldn’t have cared in that situation. Mages are bad news.” She said very instructively.
“Got it” I said. But I still had this feeling that not all mages are bad. Necromancers sure were, but maybe not the other types. “Wizards are bad news” I repeated to affirm to her command.
“Mages, not wizards. Wizards are different” she corrected me.
“Wait, what?” I asked her. “There’s another class of magic users?”
“Mages manipulate elements, while wizards alter reality”
“How do they do that?” I asked her
“I don’t know. Nobody knows. I don’t even know if they exist anymore. Legends have spoken about a few in the past but you know how legends can be.”
“Yeah..” I said, thinking about the tales I read in my books. I had learnt a lot today. There was still a lot I had to process. Some of this stuff would need revision but I think I got most of it through my head. I still had questions, mostly from my mother. Why were we going to Braumchester? Who are we meeting? Who is Mr. Randall? Why did we leave our home? Why were we hiding our true identities? There were too many questions but today was not the day. I had learnt what I needed. I’ll save them for another day. I hadn’t heard a peep from her since Ravenna started telling me everything. It really bothered me but the only thing I could do was give her space and not ask her any more questions.
Before we knew it, two hours had passed and we were now looking at Braumchester from a distance. It looked like Ravenna had earlier described. A remote and unkempt slum. A very busy one though. We slowly made our way towards the place.
Thank you for reading The Soul Keeper and the Guardian. This chapter concludes volume 2 and the prologue of the story. Next chapter kicks off volume 3 with a different narrative. It’ll be told through a third-person omniscient perspective unlike the first person perspective that I had used till now as we’ll have multiple characters and story lines to focus on from now on. I once again thank you for your support. There’s an amazing story in store for you.