Short Stories From Fal’Rath
Short stories from Fal’Rath are a collection of prose, audio logs, and, and character video logs that expand the universe of Fal’Rath beyond what can be achieved in film, TV, or games.
Check out our latest release: Kai’s Video Log!
This document was found in the pages of a journal belonging to Nova Fae.
YEAR 922 – AGE OF EDEN
Masinikry the 11th
My dearest love, with heart and soul sublime,
I longed to know if thou did love me so,
Blatant passion’s yearning did prove my crime,
Fear of unrequited love did bring me woe.
When all seemed lost, thou showed me thy true light,
Stricken in a lover’s magical spell,
My dark world now illuminated bright,
Our [hearts] in sync down to every last cell,
And to have won thy heart has been a coup,
So evermore shall our strong love prevail,
To stand the tests of time, our bond is true.
In me, thou can entrust to never fail.
Ever shall I serve as thy protector!
With all the love within me,
~ Your Kai
Dawn of Hope: Chapter 3
By Brittney DeShano
By the time he was in his twenty-third year, he and his father had watched over the girl many times. She was older now and held a chin only slightly higher than when a hilltop adventure with her brother had become their haven. The two of them – father and son – had found themselves feeling a mutual urge to be involved with her life; a protective air had filled their lungs with the development of time. If he thought back on it the son was almost positive that it had been laced in his father’s pipe before his own, but somehow it had laid its claim in his all the same.
The girl was a nuisance – always getting into trouble for going off with her adoptive brother, whom, he learned, was much closer to her than what seemed normal for a typical sibling situation. Or causing a ruckus in her constant quest to bring the light of Eden; her moral high ground often sickened him. On more than one occasion the duo had thought on intervening in various scenarios, but usually the arrival of Kai Fae stopped them. Or a quick dismissal from the girl herself before she forced her nose into whatever book she carried and hurried off.
On circumstance that his father had other plans to take care of, the son would be sent on his own to watch over the girl. He never dawdled as he was never one to favor wasting his time, but would watch just long enough to ensure that she wasn’t in immediate danger and could last the rest of the day without incident. His reports to his father always went in a standard fashion.
Two words: “She’s fine”.
He wasn’t expecting to win outward praise from his father for the brisk account. He was barely expecting recognition for doing so in the first place – not when the girl’s identity still remained a mystery. There were times when he could have stayed to listen to how others addressed her – to learn what name she was given by the Faes, but something pulled him back far enough to be just out of earshot or away before a single clue could be given. It was better that way. Learning a name left a mark greater than one could expect, and he was fine leaving his babysitting job sans scars.
That had been the plan, anyway.
It was a mild afternoon in Aridean when everything went off book. The rain had ceased for a few hours and granted the citizens enough reprieve to venture into the outdoors without a care to bring along their ponchos and umbrellas. Perhaps the most jovial for such an occasion were the children of the town. It wasn’t very often that they were able to enjoy the day without fear of getting mud all over their clothes that would earn them a scolding from their parents.
The least excited of the bunch was a lone man who leaned against a tree in the distance, far enough to remain undetected while close enough to keep attention on the scene in front of him. It wasn’t that he was particularly bothered by the weather or the laughter in the foreground, but rather irritated by the fact that he had a few other things in mind for the day that were swept under the rug by his father without a second thought in favor of watching the girl. Someone else would have to lead the pack in his place. The thought of his pyrotechnic comrade or the Sikara Kid taking charge was enough to send the man clawing for his cigarette case.
He hadn’t taken a full drag before he saw her walking out of the building. A child trudged alongside her, carrying her bag as she usually would. The two found purchase on a grassy knoll by the fence and plopped down together, no care for how the leaves could leave a trail on the backs of their thighs. The girl pulled a few books from her bag and appeared to talk in a hushed tone towards the boy who sat next to her, his hair long enough to require a constant swivel of his head to see the pages she pointed towards.
Something stirred deep in his chest and made his second drag harsher than the first. The man didn’t want to focus too hard on it and, instead, focused his attention on the others around. Despite his best efforts, however, his gaze kept falling on the brunette who looked like she could be an older sister to the young boy next to her. Or, if she were older and held the same age lines his mother did in that photograph that he… No. He wouldn’t think on it.
No matter how tender the girl was as she ruffled the boy’s hair or how a certain light was caught just right on the two of them that highlighted their mutual innocence – one that the man hadn’t known since he was just as young – the bleed of envy began again. Perhaps it was the test of time, but this time the man acknowledged the wound rather than turned away. He would be jealous of their ease of life, but only for a moment. Then, before it could be much more than that, he would resume his duty and watch the girl until it was time to report back.
Hours later, when he had returned to where he and his father were stationed for the evening, the man was regarded with a weary expression; whatever plans the elder had been required for hadn’t gone well.
“How was she?” he asked, his tone even heavier than the luggage beneath his eyes.
His son had the words ready on his tongue ‘She’s fine’. Something stopped him, though, as he remembered the gentle way she had regarded the young boy. Perhaps it was because he had only ever witnessed her look at Kai Fae in a similar fashion and he could hardly see her eyes other times. Perhaps it was because he hadn’t seen someone look at another in that way in a long time. Regardless of why he chose his next words, they tumbled out of his lips before he could stop them.
As if those words had altered the world itself, the father stopped putting his pen to the journal he was hunched over and raised his eyes to regard his son. For a somber moment the two of them existed in silence. Then, his father rose and turned to the crate that sat on a stool next to him. He poured an amber liquid into two cups and handed one of them out to his son.
“Have a seat.”
It only took a moment of confusion before the son realized what was happening. He only questioned for a moment if it was what he said that caused the gear shift in his father’s brain or if it was how the moon had crossed over the Aridean sky that evening. The liquid burned his throat on the way down after his first sip, but settled nicely in his stomach. Only when his father finished his first cup and had started to pour another did he speak again.
“We have much to talk about, Calahan.”
The days leading up to the 20th of Prondijune of 920 had been excruciating. Kai Fae had been delivered by the Ironwood Medis almost in two pieces and it was enough to send his sister, Nova, into an absolute panic; the attention could almost be considered fit for a mother hen if not for the nature of their relationship. Though, if there was one thing that Calahan was positive about it was that Nova was nothing like Kai’s mother – in any fashion.
If he had known that watching over the two would be akin to babysitting a cold courtesy of the Aridean showers then he might have pawned the job onto one of new recruits bumbling around the Underground. Yet, the thought had no sooner entered his head before it was quickly ushered out with the door slammed behind it. As humbled as he was in light of the grander scope, Calahan knew that it was his duty for a reason. He was chosen.
A cloud of smoke camouflaged him deeper into the shadows across the street from the Fae household, but vanished into the winds as the rain picked up. Calahan popped open his cigarette case and plucked one that was already half-burned, jabbed it between his lips, and lit the tip back to life. He shielded his wrist gadget away from the droplets and refocused his attention to the window just in time to see the slightest of movements come from where Kai laid on the bed. Nova, who sat at his side with fixed attention, also noticed, and the two of them seemed to bend to each other in an embrace as if no time had been spent apart.
Calahan’s eyes locked onto the package that held the purpose of his mission. It didn’t take long for Kai to notice it, thankfully, and Nova was quick to fetch it for him. She sat on the corner of the bed and took to the card first, the words of which he was positive he could hear in his head as if he sat in that room with them.
He could only imagine what the two of them were in for – what all of them were staring down the barrel of. Yet, a hope dawned as the words of Yggdrasil rang in his mind on repeat as he sauntered away from the Fae household and from the message he had memorized long ago, one finger prone on his radio as he prepared to deliver his update.
Protect her Kai. Protect Nova.
Dawn of Hope: Chapter 2
By Brittney DeShano
The first time he saw her – really saw her, with his own two eyes – she was weak.
Why his father insisted on watching over the girl was a complete enigma to the boy—or, rather, young man whom had been bred to look on to such feebleness with nothing but contempt. The years he had been trained had led him to believe that it was one of the things that bonded the two of them together in their travels, but as he gazed upon his father’s expression it seemed to prove the opposite. There was a certain focus in his eyes that his son hadn’t seen, and it made a poignant fire ignite in his abdomen as the spark of jealousy caught the wick.
“Why are we here?” He demanded, his jaw clenched just as tight as his fists at his side. The sooner the two of them were on their way the better.
It took a while for his father to acknowledge that any words had been spoken – long enough for his son to consider asking the question again, though the tone would be far more along into the land of petulance.
Finally, he answered, eyes never leaving the girl.
“Patience, son. You rush for answers you’re not ready for.”
It was enough to leave a bitter taste in anyone’s mouth.
The teen bit down harder on the toothpick that hugged his molars and refocused his eyes on the object of his father’s strict attention. His question still burned into his brain as he searched for a satisfying answer, though none came to mind. The only way to find it would be to wait, he surmised, and stowed his palms into the crevices of his elbows.
He would wait.
The second time he saw her had nearly been a disaster.
Aridean didn’t have much to offer when it came to leisurely activities outside of entertaining the market streets or enduring whatever nightlife ran the least risk, but that didn’t stop the locals from seeking adventure in other ways. The city was muddy, wet, and held just enough chill in the air to warrant thicker garments, but if someone were lucky enough to chase the sun to the tops of the hills then they would be rewarded greatly with a scene of warm kisses.
It was there that they found her, a mere few weeks after he had felt the first surge of envy. Never had he imagined he would have to compete with anyone else for his father’s attention, not with their low-kept profiles and how – for so long – their company had only been each other. Everything changed the morning his father awoke after he had. It should have been a warning to begin with, as usually his father was always up before him, and so he shouldn’t have been surprised when the rest of the day was rushed up until the moment the two men had laid eyes on a small girl with brown hair cut just below her chin.
His father had whispered something just under his breath – two syllables that the son imagined to be home to a name.
It had sounded so much like a secret promise that he didn’t dare inquire what name he had whispered or the importance that lay behind it, but hindsight made him wonder if he should have demanded – especially considering how pertinent she had become in his father’s life. She was a staple in their lives whether he liked it or not, and he deserved to know why.
When they found her on that hill, gallivanting with an older boy who looked far too reckless to be her guardian, he decided to take action.
“I’m ready, father.” His eyes were earnest as he peered up from his spot against the trunk of a tree down the hill. His father, in turn, leaned back against it with a cigarette aflame between his lips. He took a long drag in consideration before acknowledging his son’s words.
“You think so?”
There was a humor in his words that didn’t deserve a laugh and only made his son feel ashamed for even parting his lips. Before the teen could do anything – take it back or not – his father began again.
“You have no idea,” he sneered, his scorn in the direction of the sky rather than at the bottom of the tree trunk. “You have no idea who she is. But you will.”
Frustration bubbled up inside of the boy and he pushed himself off of the ground, daring to put himself in between his father and the sightline to the hill. In the distance they could both hear tinkling laughter as the two above them flipped through pages and collected small pebbles.
“When? When am I going to know? You told me you’ve seen her before and you’ve dragged me into it now, but all I’ve seen is nothing but weakness and lack of disci—”
Before he could say anything else his body was pushed until his back met the tree, all air leaving his lungs at impact. His father loomed over him with his forearm outstretched, using reserved power that was saved for moments of pure rage now against his son. The force of the energetic push left the boy powerless under his father’s wrath.
“Are you so indignant that you would question me now? Have I led you astray yet? Have I not given you everything that you have?”
He turned and pointed towards the top of the hill, the pressure of emotion never wavering.
“But nothing – nothing – that we have will be worth anything without her. Nothing that we are will be worth anything. You don’t see it now because you’re not looking. You’re not ready.”
It was then that he finally released his son, the smallest hint of regret flashing in his father’s eyes as shame washed over the boy’s.
“You will be,” his father assured, his tone far more relenting than it had been before. “When she is ready, you will be, too.” He hesitated then and it was the first time in his life that his son had seen him question his own voice. “She needs our help to get there.”
Tinkling laughter filtered back down to them as if the volume of the world had been turned up once more to invade the bubble between father and son. The latter had finally caught his breath back and merely nodded. The flame of envy had been extinguished and replaced with only the desire to follow through on his father’s orders. If this girl was important enough to leave his father so vexed, then perhaps she warranted his own attention, as well. For now.
Dawn of Hope: Chapter 1
By Brittney DeShano
His father once told him that there would be blood on his hands someday.
At the time it seemed like a flippant remark; a succinct assertion that came about after a particularly tense day wrapped around a seemingly endless sparring match between the two – father and son.
The older of the two held a strain in his shoulders that detailed years of outer battles against inner demons. His clothes were well-loved, adorned with the neutral patchwork one could consider badges of honor if they stood out against the dreary Aridean backdrop. Still, despite the rigid posture, nothing on his person could be considered sharper than his eyes as they bore into his opponent – gaze unwavering as he considered the boy. He was young, wavering on the line between adolescence and young adulthood, but he was very much his father’s son by way of appearance. His father could only hope it went beyond that, for all of their sakes.
The only way to tell that the child wasn’t born by divine intervention—plucked from their Leader’s head and created in full form—was the striking resemblance to his father the boy held with secondhand stormy eyes. He was compassionate by his mother as a parting gift — enough so to weather the expectations bestowed by his father; enough to save the humanity inside that living in The Age of Eden could threaten each morning or night.
“You’re going to have blood on your hands one day, son. You need to be smarter…”
The older man’s tactics were just as primed as ever as he dropped low to the ground and swung his leg to sweep his son off of his feet. As the boy buckled down onto the ground below them with a solid THUNK debris from the sudden impact jumped into his eyes and mouth by force.
“You need to be faster.”
The deadened air bustled to life around them and a low hum in the boy’s ears morphed into a fierce roar; the distant nightlife embedded itself back into his senses. The rhythm of energy permeated past the trees and matched perfectly with the staccato pants of a vexed mentor and his protegee — titles momentarily more fitting than any familial roots.
It was only natural for the father to find his footing first; his stamina had been building far longer than his son’s and didn’t lead with as many false pretenses of a nearing end to the struggle. The boy was only able to take a few more breaths, deep and low, before he was pulled up in a rush. His vision was obstructed by bustled cotton and calloused knuckles, tanned and dry with age, but there was no doubt whom they belonged to.
“You need to be better.”
The words held meaning that the boy couldn’t understand – not in front of the face which held so much disappointment and…something else that only held firm in the crinkles around the frown his father wore. Perhaps it had something to do with the flicker of fear that lilted a syllable here or there. However, it was lost with the trees before distinction could be made and along with it went the man himself.
The retreat of heavy, weary footsteps gave way to the freedom that always came when the boy was by himself. Only when he was alone would he allow himself to crawl out of the reclusive solitary that enveloped him until each bruise faded. Only time would tell which would win in the race between the marring of his skin and the wounds found beneath.
He was only just able to flip over onto his back when the first droplets of the Aridean rain began to fall for what had to have been the tenth time that day. They fell between his lips and nearly caused him to choke, the saving grace being a surge of energy large enough to let him turn his head to the side and away from the falling dew. It didn’t come without a price, though, and his body convulsed with a quick tug. The sucker punch he had received from a blind spot was expertly aimed and strong enough to pull the bile up and out until it was a dark puddle next to him.
How much time passed while he lay there, curled up into a ball for safety, he didn’t know. It was long enough for the breeze to dry his skin, at the least. The images that slowly filtered back into his vision were framed by fuzzy edges and indistinguishable lines; the darkened sky only hindering him further in his efforts to gain back consciousness.
The boy could hardly find the reason to rush; his father wouldn’t be waiting up for him to get home. He never was. There were nights when he would sneak off and navigate their small sector of the world by himself and would only return when the sun spread over the tops of the city buildings the next morning. Even then he’d only receive a courtesy glance before his father was off once more with a different secret. There, buried beneath a blanketed fear of rejection, begged the question if there be any difference if his true whereabouts were known after all?
In the distance, he could hear the sounds of backstreet Aridean nightlife – hole-in-the-wall businesses that used the lure of dim lanterns and scantily clad men and women to call in the city moths to the flame within; their reward was the sound of rushed footfalls of those who thrived while they burned. Even as a boy, even as far away as he was in the small clearing where his father had led them, he couldn’t stomach the idea of what could be happening on the streets where so many of the moths lived. Or, worse yet, what could be happening off of them – inside the charming buildings that made more promises than they could keep. Were they followers of Eden’s Light? Or were they … ?
The cramp in his abdomen was still pulled taut, but the boy knew that it was finally time. Sunlight hadn’t yet poked out, but the air smelled cleaner and that was as good of an invitation as any to begin the trek home. With the reserved amount of strength he had left he rolled over onto his other side and pushed himself up onto stinging palms – his father might like how much their hands could match one day. As he examined the sensitive skin, it was then that he noticed the streaks of red that tangled around his fingers like smooth silk – the kind he’d only see on the prettier ladies down the way, illuminated by cheap lights and cheaper Bacino perfume.
The irony of his father’s words rang harshly in his ears. “You’ll have blood on your hands someday…”. How fitting that the first time would be his own. It was in that moment that he bowed his head and vowed that never again would he touch red silk. When the time came for his hands to be just as aged and cracked as his father’s they would be clean.
The walk home was shadowed by silky threads, but a shadow only forms in the light and perhaps, if not in Eden’s, then he could find his own and in it be faster. He could be smarter. He could be better.
- Ironwood Part 1: Kai Fae
- Ironwood Part 2: An Oracle
- Ironwood Part 3: Nova Fae
- Ironwood Part 4: A Stranger
Ironwood Part 1: Kai Fae
By Callie Bussell
YEAR 920 – AGE OF EDEN
Prondijune the 17th
Kai Fae had never been to Ironwood before, and as he looked around at the sunny, timbered town, he reckoned he liked his home in Aridean much better. He stared through the slatted streets down at the calm, sapphire waters of Lake Ash and wished Janusz would hurry with his meeting. This was supposed to be a simple drop to D’Po, Emissary of Ironwood, and they would be on their bikes back home. Instead, he was stuck waiting outside Rooni’s Cathedral, looking down into the lake, wishing he did not feel so seasick.
The town was made from the wood of the Meli Trees of Centrus. Stronger than most metals, Meli Trees made for some of the sturdiest building materials in Fal’Rath; flame-retardant and durable, the town of Ironwood had stood the tests of time due to the incredibly hardy construction that earned it its name.
….Or at least that’s what Kai thought he remembered from his teachings at the Temple of Learning. He stared up at the bridge above him, taking note of the massive pillars and ties that suspended this mighty town to it. Kai wondered what it might be like to be wealthy enough to ride the Matriach’s Monorail, which passed over the city and circled throughout all of Fal’Rath. Living next to the monorail track in Aridean allowed him plenty of time to fantasize about boarding the liaison of Fal’Rath, but being in this brand new environment, built solely for the purpose of maintaining this very bridge, he wished again for just a little more money.
Kai haphazardly kicked his bike, annoyed. He wanted to be back in time to walk Nova home from school. He leaned over the railing that marked the border of the town and stared down into the crystal blue water. Catching his own reflection in the stillness of the lake, he grinned. Kai always liked his appearance, and knew the effect he had around his classmates, especially the females. Nova always told him his eyes were sweeter than the cowco bars he would bring her from his runs to So Fal’Kor, and that if he wasn’t careful, the girls at school would try to eat him like one. He scrunched his face at his image, baring his teeth and growling. He sighed.
Gazing into the pool, he couldn’t help but be reminded of Nova’s eyes. His agitation subsided for a moment as he remembered the way they lit up last night while he made love to her. His mind wandered then, to all of the little sounds she made while they tried to keep quiet, and the ways she made him feel invincible. Kai loved Nova with every bit of himself, and being kept from her was one of his greatest frustrations. He turned and kicked his bike once more, knocking it to the ground.
From behind him, a voice, “Alright, now, duke. What did that bike ever do to you?”
Kai spun around to face his co-deliverer and best friend, Janusz.
“Eden damnit, Janusz, what took you so long? We were supposed to be on the road over an hour ago! I’m really starting to get the lake sickness Shendra warned us about.” Kai said, exasperated, mounting his bike.
Janusz laughed at him. “Yeah? The lake sickness? Blood is coming from your eyes and you’re vomiting profusely?”
“Just about.” Kai sighed dramatically.
“Well, then we better get you to a healer stat. No chance you’ll make it to Aridean’s Temple of Learning by the time classes are through.” Janusz side-eyed Kai, and grinned.
“Alright, now I wouldn’t go that far.” Kai said, and returned his grin.
Janusz climbed on top of his bike, laughing and shaking his head. “I do have to make one more stop, Kai. I’m sorry, I promised Shendra I’d bring her some ironwood from the market.” Janusz stated.
Kai snorted, “Yeah I bet you’ll bring her back some ironwood.”
Janusz smirked, and shoved Kai, knocking him off balance and causing him to stumble on his bike, “Come on, you duke. Maybe you can find something for Nova. Make up for being late to get her from school.”
“Alright, but let’s hurry. Please?” Kai huffed, standing on his pedals and taking off towards the market.
Janusz laughed, rolling his eyes, “Yeah, after you, First Guardian of Eden, K’Thal.” He followed after Kai.
Unknown to both Kai and Janusz, a silhouette of a man stood in the alley next to the cathedral watching them leave. It leaned against the building, jotting down something in a notebook. It straightened up and emerged from the shadow, revealing a thin man wearing a hood, his face completely obscured in the darkness of the veil. He pocketed his notebook and followed after them.
Ironwood Part 2: An Oracle
By Callie Bussell
Artwork by Toni Davis
YEAR 920 – AGE OF EDEN
Prondijune the 17th
Upon approaching Ironwood’s market, the first thing Kai noticed was how very small it was. He had been to Qoris and seen the vast arrays of people and wares they sold; he had been to Distant Vengeance to enjoy their coastal foods and ocean made trinkets. Even Aridean had an array of goods to choose from, but Ironwood’s market was miniscule in comparison. Stretching only about a block, he noticed one stand selling, “FISH, FRESH FROM THE ASH”, another advertising “PRICELESS ASH PEARLS”, and yet another, which appeared to be receiving the most traffic, read, “INDESTRUCTIBLE IRONWOOD”.
“That’s the one.” Janusz declared, and dismounted his bike. He began walking towards the line. “Are you coming with me?”
“Nah,” Kai replied, scanning the rest of the stands and stepping down from his bike, “I think I’ll take a look around.”.
“Ok, just don’t go too far. I should be quick.”
Kai chortled, “Ha, ok. I’ll try not to get lost in this great expanse.”
At this moment, the hooded man strolled into the Ironwood Market. He cast his gaze around the vendor tables, and spotted Kai. Keeping his distance, he followed him.
Kai headed straight for the stand marked, “PRICELESS ASH PEARLS” with the intention of snagging one for Nova, even if it really was priceless. He gently rested his bike against the nearest building, and approached the table, which stood at the opening of a shadowed alcove. Along with gorgeous painted pearls, the table was littered with an assortment of other odds and ends: a set of white, cotton gloves, a golden spyglass with the words “darkness fills the night” etched into its body, a set of pencils, and a pair of forest green, leather bracers, with sketched characters Kai had never seen. He was instantly drawn to the final item, and he gingerly lifted one.
It was remarkable how familiar the armor felt in his hands, as if they had once belonged to him. He threw it lightly into the air, it’s leather ties flowing behind. He caught it and studied the design. Starting at the bottom, a roaring flame gave way to a voluminous plume of smoke, which shifted into a tumultuous wave, and below it all, painted figures Kai did not recognize, but knew. He had to have them. Plus, he thought, there’s two! I’ll wear one, and Nova can have the other! He snapped his head up, into the eyes of the vendor, a sallow-faced man who gave Kai the impression that he had just bitten into a limeon.
“How much for these?” he asked, gesturing to the arm bracers, in what he felt was his politest manner.
The man’s lip turned up into a snarl as he stared at Kai.
“Is that an answer?” Kai asked.
The man’s brows knit harder on his forehead, and Kai couldn’t be sure that he did not hear an actual growl escape him.
“Ok, well, thank you for your time.” He smirked. “I’ll just be off then.”
Without breaking eye contact, Kai stepped backward, bracer still in hand, as if to leave without paying. The man actually snarled and began advancing on him.
“Harmond!” a sharp voice erupted from the darkness of the alcove, causing the man to stop dead in his tracks. “What did that boy do?”
From the shroud of the building, emerged a woman so beautiful, Kai felt ashamed to look at her. She was slight with a flowing mane of ginger hair. Dressed in a brilliant green flowing robe, golden hooped jewelry adorned her ears, her wrists, and her ankles, and the dark boots laced on her feet were tattered and worn. It was her eyes, the color of ice, but warmer than summer, that struck Kai the hardest. She walked with the stature of a queen. Her voice, which flowed in an accent Kai had never heard before, commanded like one, too.
“Well, answer me, Harmond. What did that boy do except try to feed you today?”
The man, Harmond, jerked his head to look at her, and cast his eyes shamefully downward. He grumbled something under his breath.
“What was that?” The woman asked sternly, hands on her hips, and head cocked to the side. Harmond grumbled a little louder, but it was still indiscernible to Kai, who at that moment decided to chuckle. There was something inconsistently queer to him to see this unwaveringly sour man controlled by such a tiny beauty. Harmond slowly twisted his neck to stare back at Kai, piercing him with his glare; the fire in his eyes caused Kai to tense up in a moment of real fear, but he did not look away. He squared his shoulders to Harmond, and glared back. After a silent, one-second standoff, Harmond turned away, hissing quietly to himself and retreating into the shadow behind the table.
“Please do not mind him, child.” She clucked, “He does not like strange men.”
When she turned her attention to Kai, he felt his stomach churn. He had never seen a woman so physically stunning. It made him nervous, and his eyes widened slightly. Nova was typically the only thing that ever caused him to falter. Stuttering, Kai replied, “S-strange men?”
Ignoring his question and crossing to the market table, she spoke, “So, the Ocean of Fire calls to you?” She lifted the bracer that Kai had left on the table.
“I suppose.” He blushed without knowing why.
She beckoned him closer, subtly twitching the middle finger on her right hand while holding the bracer in her left. Kai obeyed, stumbling over his feet. She laughed at him softly, as he reached the edge of the table.
“Are you familiar with the Prophecy of the Perfect Host?”
Kai shook his head.
“Not many are. It can be found in the forty third chapter of the Fal’Kor.”
This made Kai pause for a moment. He huffed, “There’s only forty-two chapters of the Fal’Kor.”
The woman tisked,“There were originally forty-three chapters, the last being written by Yggdrasil himself. After he had forsaken Eden, it was eradicated. Or so Eden thought.”
Kai snorted. His image of her shattered, and he did not see her beauty, but only her obvious ignorance. He felt a slight twinge of embarrassment at himself, thinking she was beautiful. Nova’s intellect far surpassed this stranger’s, and he mentally kicked himself for ever letting her shake him. Crossing his arms and leaning back on his heels, he asked, “How could you know that? The Fal’Kor was written before Eden created us.”
“I know everything, Kai Fae.”
Kai breathed out for a moment, then laughed awkwardly. She grinned at him, and he sneered. Glancing left and right, he let out a snicker, “Ok, Janusz! Funny.”
The woman grinned, “Here,” she said holding out the arm bracer for Kai. With an air of arrogance, Kai reached for the trinket. She clasped Kai’s hand, holding it fast. Alarmed, he tried to pull away, but her grasp was iron. The woman gasped, gripping his hand tighter; her eyes rolled back as she began to seize. Throwing her head, she growled in a low, garbled voice, a sound unlike anything Kai had ever heard. Horrified, he tried to yank his hand away, but her grip only grew tighter. She pulled him closer, and growled in his ear, “The Ocean of Fire will raze Eden’s works to the very dirt she claims to have created. He will be swift, he will be cunning, and he will be deceptive. He will invite you in with a smile as clean and enticing as Eden’s love. Many will underestimate his ferocity, but to do so means certain death. He will come for Eden, he will come for her followers, and he will seek to decimate those that follow her Light.”
In an instant, the woman inhaled desperately, and released Kai. Her eyes snapped back into their correct place, as her chest heaved for air. She locked eyes with Kai, a look that mirrored his own horrified expression. Tears dripped from her face, “Protect her, Kai. Protect Nova. You do not survive without her.”
Kai leaped backwards, truly and deeply disturbed. He began to retreat slowly toward his bike. The woman remained standing, slowing her breathing, and steadying her hands. She touched her lips softly, and smiled. “You will know him.” She chuckled, then winced.
Nearly frozen, Kai could not do much else, but nod. She embraced him tightly, but Kai remained rigid with fear. “Goodbye, Kai Fae.” she spoke from deep within her throat. “I expect we’ll meet again someday.” She released him from the hug, but left an arm around his shoulder and walked him in silence to his bike.
Kai found himself shaking, panic searing through his cells. He clambered onto his vehicle with the grace of a cooked noodle. His heart pounded as he replayed the last moments in his head. This woman was clearly owned by Yggdrasil; he wanted nothing more than to put as much distance between her and him.
“Bye!” he shouted awkwardly, as he peddled away from her as fast as his legs would work. Heart pounding, head throbbing, and legs wobbling, he allowed his adrenaline to carry him. He zoomed through the market, avoiding the few people that stood in his way, passing by the signs that advertised “FRESH FISH FROM THE ASH” and “INDESTRUCTIBLE IRONWOOD”, flying by a bewildered Janusz who was at that moment placing Shendra’s Ironwood into the the basket of his bicycle.
“Kai!” Janusz’s bark ripped him back into the world, “Kai, what the hell?”
Rattled, Kai craned his neck towards the sound of Janusz’s voice. He momentarily lost his balance as his bike started to sway. Snapping his head forward once again in an effort to straighten out, he found himself seconds away from crashing into a crossing hover-truck. He slammed on his brakes, jerking his handlebars hard, but to no avail. His wheels skid under him, and he smashed into the side of the vehicle. Kai’s bike buckled underneath him, as he was thrown to the ground, hitting his head hard, his ride falling heavily on him. He yelped as he heard the crunch of his leg shattering underneath him.
“KAI!” Janusz screamed, throwing his own cycle to the ground, dropping the Ironwood, and sprinting to him. “Kai! Somebody get help!”
Janusz fell to his knees next to him, “Are you okay?” He wiped a bead of blood from Kai’s forehead.
Kai hissed through gritted teeth. His mind clouded with pain and his vision blurred; his only thought was “Protect her, Kai Fae. Protect Nova. You do not survive without her.” He could see Janusz looking down on him, but his sight flickered as the agony overcame him. His head began to swim and nausea overcame him; he snapped his eyes shut.
He clutched at Janusz, “P-protect Nova.”
When he opened his eyes again though, it was not Janusz he saw, but a man with his face obscured from a hood reaching towards his face. He opened his mouth to scream, but he slipped away into darkness.
Ironwood Part 3: Nova Fae
By Callie Bussell
YEAR 920 – AGE OF EDEN
Prondijune the 20th
In the darkness, Nova Fae kneeled by a cheap, tattered mattress reading to Kai by the light of a small halo-lamp from a pocket-sized book, her Fal’Kor. “Oh my, Eden,” she uttered, “Beautiful as the stars above us. The love I bear for you holds no boundaries, knows no end, carries no weight. It is the moon on my darkest nights, the calm in every storm, and the power in my soul. To know you, to hold your light, is to know pure joy, pure love, and I am content.”
She kissed his cheek, “I miss you, my Kai.” She stared at him a moment, taking in the face that she loved so much. She ran a finger down his sharp jaw bone, petting the short hairs that grew there, and traced upwards caressing his velvet lips. She leaned in, kissed them, and set her Fal’Kor on the floor; she stretched herself out on the mattress next to him. Laying her head on his chest, she listened to the steady thump of his heart. She had done this many times since the Ironwood Medis brought him back three days ago. It’s very likely, the Ironwood Medis explained, that he will make a full recovery if treated properly, but the Fae family was unable to afford the treatment. That meant it was Nova’s sacred duty to tend to him, and as she had just begun her new job as assistant to the prestigious Doctor Shilling at the Aridean Bureau of Genetics, she felt confident she could heal him.
In this moment though, she felt lost. Three days was the longest she had gone without talking to Kai since she was first brought to his family eight years ago, and she longed for even a whisper from him. Her mind raced with all of the ways she could lose him, all of the ways she could fail in healing him. She let his heartbeat soothe her. As long as it still pulsed, he lived. As long as he still lived, there was light in life.
She felt the Matriarch’s Monorail before she heard it. The floor under her vibrated as it shook the dilapidated structure she called home. As the train sped closer, the rumbling grew louder, and as it roared outside of her window, it’s horn blaring to clear the track, Nova’s anxiety strengthened. Please don’t wake Kai, she wished, the thought circling in her brain. But if it did wake him, I could hear his laugh again, see him smirk. Shame drowned her as she wrestled with what she wanted and what Kai needed. The monorail passed, the reverberations subsided, and quiet returned to Kai’s bedroom. Nova wasn’t sure how long she lay there, caught in a guilt-ridden thought loop, listening to the soft patter of an Aridean rain that had begun outside. When she heard a small sound escape Kai’s throat, she jolted upright.
“Kai?” she whispered, smiling and rubbing his cheek with her thumb.
His eyes fluttered open, and when he saw her, he smiled. Tears of relief welled in Nova’s eyes. She sniffed, “Hi.”
“Hi, Nov.” He reached a hand up to touch the tear that slid down her face. “Why are you crying?”
She pressed her forehead to his and smiled, “I missed you.”
With a grunt, Kai tried to sit up, but he gasped harshly as a wave of pain shot through his leg.
“No, no, no.” Nova said, rising, “You nearly cracked your leg in two. Lie still.” She crossed to the small dresser across the room, and poured a glass of water. Disregarding her, Kai struggled his way upright. Nova turned back, making a small tsk sound at his defiance and he simpered at her. She sighed, gingerly lifting him forward, and slipping behind him so that he rest his weight on her. Draping her arms around him, she placed the cup to his lips to help him drink.
“Thank you.” Kai uttered, as he sipped on the water. He choked as his muscles remembered how to swallow, coughing violently. He fell limp in Nova’s arms.
Panicked, Nova lightly shook him, whispering into his hair, “Hey, hey, you’re okay. You’re okay.”
Kai grunted, “Dizzy.”
“Yes. They said you hit your head pretty hard.”
“Yeah, I guess I did. The hovertruck came out of nowhere.”
“You remember what happened?”
“Janusz said you were riding like a madman, like you were running away from something? What happened?”
Kai shifted, turning his head to face her, “Some cheap vendor’s trick I fell for. I was browsing a table, and this woman showed up, spouting off something about a forty-third chapter in the Fal’Kor and-”
“Yeah, written by Yggdrasil. ” Kai grumbled.
“Written by Yggdrasil? Was this woman a rejector?”
“She knew my name and spouted off some madness in a terrifying voice. It really petrified me, Nov, so I jumped on my bike and tried to get as far away from her as possible. I turned to someone calling my name which was just enough time for me to not see the truck, and the last thing I remember is Janusz looking down on me.” Kai nuzzled his nose into Nova’s neck.
“She must have been something to have shaken Kai Fae.” Nova teased, “Do you remember who this woman is? We can alert the city guard of a rejector and have her-”
In an instant, Kai remembered the woman’s eyes, and her voice rang in his head, I expect we’ll meet again someday. “No, she’s just crazy, I think.”
“Well her craziness almost got you killed.” She kissed him on the forehead, “How’s your head? Are you in pain? I managed some Sikara from Dr. Shilling’s office.”
“I’m fine. I’m fine. I just need-” That’s when he saw it. Across the room sat a package, and when his eyes fell on it, he felt a wave of peace wash over him. “What is that?”
Nova glanced over at the package, “Oh this? It came for you the day after the Ironwood Medis brought you back.” She wiggled out from underneath Kai, making sure to rearrange the pillow behind him to keep up upright, and retrieved the parcel.
“Who’s it from?” Kai questioned, quietly excited.
“There’s a card, but I didn’t open it. I wanted to wait for you. Shall I read it?”
“Sure.” Kai smiled as Nova sat on the corner of the bed. Nova began to read.
“The Perfect Host will be taken by an Ocean of Fire, the very same that will destroy many of Eden’s Creations. The Chosen cannot occur without the Ocean of Fire, and the Ocean of Fire cannot cleanse without the Chosen. Two halves of one whole, one cannot exist without the other. They shall remain forever intertwined as the day Eden first breathed life into them. One being, split in two. The Ocean of Fire, the Perfect’s only weakness. The Perfect, The Ocean of Fire’s one downfall. To separate them is to weaken both. To harm one is to harm the other. Distance and time cannot weaken their connection; pain or death of one will be felt by both. Chapter 43 of Yggdrasil”
Nova paused. She looked up at Kai, then continued.
“For you and your Nova. Do not lose them, do not lose her.” She lowered the letter and looked at Kai. She could not read his face, and that alarmed her more than the cryptic letter. There was a moment of silence as the two stared at one another.
“Kai? What is this?”
“Open it.” He spit out, “Open the package.”
With unsteady hands, Nova tore open the dirty wrapping revealing two forest colored arm bracers with gold etchings.
Ironwood Part 4: A Stranger
By Callie Bussell
YEAR 920 – AGE OF EDEN
Prondijune the 20th
Nova studied the drawings on the arm-bracers: water that caught fire which plumed to smoke, and two characters that she did not recognize. Kai inhaled sharply.
“I knew it.” He whispered.
“These are gorgeous. What are they?”
“For us, apparently. Armor.” Kai reached out a hand, and Nova placed a bracer in it. She stood next to his bed, holding the other with her arms crossed. Kai continued, “This is what I was looking at when that women went rabid.”
Nova’s mind began to reel, “So, she brought them to us? How did she know about me? Is she following us? Kai, I think we need to-”
“No.” Kai said, his voice soft and wondering, “No, I think- I think these are ours, Nova.”
He pushed his left fist into the leather, tightening the black straps. He wiggled his fingers, and held up his arm, admiring it. “Tie it for me?”
Hesitantly, Nova took the ties in her hand and began tightening it further. She fastened a snug bow. She tucked the excess material into the bottom, and sighed. “This feels wrong. This woman almost killed you, and then sends you these? What are these drawings? Are they Yggdrasilian? The Ocean of Fire? Does this mean…”
Nova felt her shoulders tighten as she grew silent for a moment. Then somberly she said, “Kai, is she suggesting that you’re the Perfect Host?”
Kai grabbed her right hand and pulled her to the bed; without releasing her, he took the other bracer. He caressed her hand softly, then silently slid the bracer over it. Nova felt serenity consume her and she relaxed. Kai smiled, and tugged gently at the ties, mimicking her as he fit the armor in place. They looked at one another and smiled. Kai touched his left hand to her chin and pulled her in, kissing her sweetly. When they broke apart, Nova shrieked.
Pain, searing and sharp, jolted down her leg as she convulsed once and fell to the floor.
“Nova!” Kai’s heart exploded with adrenaline as he tried to get to her, but his leg left him immobile, watching her helplessly from the bed. He grew light headed from the exertion and sagged. Suddenly, his mind was screaming, anxiety whipping through him.Thoughts circling, unrelenting. Protect her, Kai. Protect Nova. Protect her, Kai. Protect Nova.
Just as quickly as the pain had started, it dissipated, and Nova was left gasping. She looked up at Kai, then down to her new accessory. “What in the name of Eden are these things?”
“What happened? Are you okay?” He shifted frantically, his movement thwarted by his physical disability. He could only think about getting to Nova, Protect her, Kai. Protect Nova.
“Stay put!” Nova gasped, as she rose to her feet with trembling legs. She breathed heavily. “Pain. So much pain, it felt like my bones snapped, but-” She paused and shook her leg, wiggling her toes and rolling her ankle, “I’m fine. Nothing.”
Kai felt helpless and childlike as his thoughts continued to race, “Come here? Please?”
Nova went to him, falling into his arms. The two held each as relief washed over them both. Kai’s mind cleared like a storm passing, and he squeezed her.
“I’m fine, love. I promise. I just- that was wild. That felt… evil.”
“You sure you’re okay, Nov?” He breathed, grateful to be holding her.
“Yes. Are you?”
“I felt like all at once I couldn’t think anymore. I was so overwhelmed with fear for you, I couldn’t- I’ve never felt anything like that before. It was like a- a- blanket, covering my sanity.”
Nova pulled back from him, “I’m safe, I think.” She paused, staring at the leather armor.
Then, with finality, she spoke, “These were made by Yggdrasil.” She began to pull at the strings desperately to remove it.
“Wait.” Kai placed his hand on hers and repeated, “Nova, I think these are ours.”
Her trust in Kai abated her fear for a moment. She pondered the magic that passed from the arm bracers, listening to the rain dance against the window. When Nova finally looked up, she locked eyes with Kai. Her heart stopped. Every time their eyes met, it felt like the first time. Never had she ever seen anything so beautiful, so comforting. Home. In that moment, across her mind’s eye, she saw all of her favorite memories that she had spent with Kai. She remembered as a child, how he read to her, soothing her nightmares; she saw herself at age eleven being chased by Kai as he pelted her with Binger Berries, staining her dress and the walls of the kitchen. She had never laughed so hard until their mother and father came home, punishing Nova for the mess. She felt her passion sear through her as she remembered his confession of love to her at age fifteen, and the way he moved inside of her for the first time. Every moment since that first had been filled with fear- fear they would be caught, fear of her adoptive parents rage, and above all else, fear of losing Eden’s love. But each time (and especially this one) she looked into Kai’s eyes, nothing else mattered. The whole world could collapse around her and she would remain, transfixed by his amber eyes; the way he looked back at her, she knew he felt the same.
A sly grin stretched across Kai’s lips that made Nova weak. In a low whisper, he began to speak, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds-”
Before he could finish reciting the ancient poem that brought them together, Nova swiftly, but gently, silenced him with a passionate kiss, which he gratefully and eagerly returned. She clenched her fingers in his shaggy hair, and Kai winced. She retracted immediately, panicked.
“I’m sorry! Are you okay? I didn’t-”
Kai sat up, clutched at her waist, and lifted her onto him. He winced again as she straddled him, and a look of horror burst across her face.
“Kai, please! I’m sorry! I don’t want to hurt-”
He shushed her, placing a finger to her lips. “I love you.”
“I love you too, but you should be healing, and I’m making things worse.” She frowned, covering her face in her hands.
“You’ve made nothing worse.” He lifted his left hand to her cheek, and pulled her in again, locking her lips to his once more. Her heart exploded in her chest, pumping passion through her veins. She broke away from him, turning her attention to his neck, and gingerly trailed her mouth down it and across his bare chest.
Kai inhaled sharply.
“Is this okay?” she asked, her voice muffled as she spoke into his shoulder.
“I need you.” he replied, his voice ragged and low.
Nova met his eyes, “I need you.” she replied.
They made love then. Tenderly, awkwardly, as Nova desperately avoided exacerbating Kai’s wounds.
As the bleak, Aridean rain pattered against their window, Nova curled up against Kai, savoring the delicious exhaustion that rolled through her. Kai was already dozing next to her. She was not sure how long they rested that way before a strange thought passed over her mind. She stared down at her right arm, then glanced over at his left one. The two lie naked together, exposed and bare, except for the two forest-green arm bracers. How strange she thought it was that amidst their fervor, the armor remained in place.
She rose then, dressing quickly. She was never able to indulge in her favorite part of the love she and Kai made, holding him as they drifted to sleep. They always ran the risk of Nanja or Thiok, Kai’s Mother and Father, inquiring at the door. She turned now, letting her gaze wash over the light in her life, kissing him one final time for the night. He made a small sound, and rolled over. Love welled in her chest, then regret as she turned, flicking off the halo-lamp. She crept down the darkened hallway of her home, and back to her own bed.
Across the street from the Fae home, a man leaned against a lamp post, puffing on a hand-rolled cigarette. He watched as the light from Kai’s bedroom flipped off, and the furrow in his brow deepened. He flicked the bacino to the ground, watching as droplets of rain extinguished the tiny flame. He pulled a radio from his coat and spoke into it, his voice intense and serious, “She received them.”