Aretherra Volume One | The Gathering

AEROSUS & THE Gathering
Key 1 – Space: Caelus – Key 2 – Time: Aevitas – Key 3 – Soul: Animas

Aero’s Dream
Aerosus was flying. The open sky, endless and open, pale blue and speckled white, an ocean waiting for his open arms to embrace with love and optimism. This is what was always meant to be. He was finally someone, finally able to be more than what he was, more than what he never was, or ever able to become. The air swept over his smiling face, but didn’t hurt his eyes, no they were wide open and gleaming with wild giddiness, he was thrilled to be alive. He couldn’t resist and reached down to grab a fast-coming cloud racing by, just below him.

But when he clenched his fist inside the floating puff of white water vapor, he felt the cool surface of forged rolled steel within his grasp. Suddenly he awoke to his reality. Aero wasn’t flying, but he wasn’t on the ground either. Aero, like his friends Sirann and Tryn were suspended at least twenty feet off the stone floor of the dungeon. From the little he could make out, through the darkness, while his eyes adjusted to the ambient lighting, Aero had a very strange feeling, as if he might be in a place of story and myth. While no details were ever shared, Aero, Sirann and Sveinnus were once told a tale of the long lost dungeon below the palace of Vysuvia.

The dungeon was more myth than reality and was rumored to be located far below the King’s throne room in the Palace of Vysuvia. Aero, Sirann and Sveinnus heard many stories of the kings of old and how the lost dungeon was the place where Vysuvian kings would keep the most high profile prisoners, the worst of the worst, and imprisoned heads of state. One king, several hundred years ago, even kept three of his wives locked away after they brought him displeasure. Aero, Sirann and Sveinnus never gave much thought to the stories and dismissed them as simple bedtime tales. In fact, his adopted father, King Sveinn never admitted to the existence of the dungeon, he only relayed the stories that were passed down to him when he was a young prince.

Aero and Sirann did not care if they were in the long lost dungeon, or in some other dungeon, they only cared about the fact that they were imprisoned and locked inside cages. As Aero looked around the immense and cavernous space, he realized that he had no idea where he was and somehow this made him even more nervous. Aero could see the faint lines of three long tracks running along the length of the dungeon ceiling. In addition, there were chains, pulleys and levers that operated a network of cages, seven cages per track, all suspended high off the dungeon floor. While there appeared to be at least twenty one suspended prison cells, only three were occupied. Aero, Sirann and Tryn were each imprisoned in individual iron cages. Aero’s cage was on the middle and Sirann and Tryn’s were on the outtermost tracks. All of the cages were constructed of thick forged iron in a lattice pattern of iron bars and one inch flat iron planks.

Far below Aero could make out two soldiers standing guard at the solitary door of the dungeon. The room was almost completely dark, save for the four lanterns hanging from the corners of the stone walls. They provided nothing that would be considered usable light for the prisoners held captive against the ceiling. Aero figured that their cages were around two stories off the ground, at least twenty plus feet in the air. He could hear the gentle creaking of the two other cages at the other end of the room. Aero’s senses told him that he was alone at this end of the dungeon and the furthest away from the door. Through the dusty, smoke tinged, thick grey space beyond his cage bars, he could barely make out silhouettes of people within the rectangle cages at the far end of the space beyond. He prayed that these contained Sirann and Tryn, because the alternative would be disastrous. If they were not, then they were lost, or something much worse.

The alternative would be something that he dared not dwell on or even consider. There was one truth deep inside him that he could not put word to, nor fully conceptualize, but he knew what it meant in broad terms. At that moment, he would not survive the loss of Sirann, his most trusted and loved friend, or even Tryn, his angel who he barely knew and who appeared out of thin air to save both him and Sirann. Their loss would dismantle him at the subatomic level, leaving nothing behind, not even a wisp of a shadow on a wall, where he once stood.

Through the darkness the black rectangle on the far right side of the dungeon clattered and the chain above clinked a little.

“Aero? Aero? Is that you?” Sirann called out through the muddy darkness.

Aero smiled, thrilled to hear his friend’s voice. He then shook his head, frustrated with himself, he asked, why did he did he always do that? Why did he let his mind wonder off the lighted path and veer toward the darkness, always expecting the worst of a situation. Why would he always stumble into the darkness of his mind? Tripping among the roots and weeds of depression and anxiety, leading him further into danger to be absorbed by the darkest of thoughts and the most frightening corners of his pledged consciousness.

“I’m here. Tryn? Are you here too?” Aero called out toward the other end of the cavern. A rattle and clink gave her away before she spoke, the sounds were quickly followed by her voice, which came from the opposite corner from Sirann.

“I’m here!” Tryn yelled out from the opposite rectangle, across from Sirann.

His heart skipped a beat and he felt elated. Something in her voice, or maybe it was just her voice, made Aero perk up and join the land of the living again. He hadn’t realized how bad he felt since he woke from his dream, torn away from his most happy place, his dreams of soaring through the sky. They didn’t happen often, but when he dreamt of flying, waking up was very difficult and it always put him in a foul place for hours. Waking up from flying in an iron box, in a dark dungeon that smelled of excrement, stale smoke and dirt had taken a toll on Aero far more than he had realized. But Tryn’s voice made Aero want to keep living.

After hearing from Sirann and Tryn, Aero then realized that the guards had hoisted each of their cages in a simple triangle pattern, which would effectively keep the three of them as far apart as possible in the space provided. Clearly someone was paranoid about them talking with each other. This basic strategy was working thus far, because it would be impossible to carry out a conversation of any kind that had any semblance of secrecy. Aero’s cage was suspended in the middle, against the southern wall of the dungeon and Tryn and Sirann’s were over the far corners of the northern wall, adjacent to the dungeon door.

“Aero? Can you…” Sirann began, before being cut off by the loud bang below of someone entering the dungeon. The sound of heavy, measured footfalls sounded throughout the great room, reverberating and bouncing off of the stone and steel that occupied the great space.

“Hey you up there! Shut your filthy mouths! It’s time.” A gruff voice yelled from the center of the chamber far below. His announcement was immediately followed by the sound of several more guards shuffling into the dungeon. Aero watched the silhouettes span out and march in teams of two, taking their stations below each of the three cages. The gruff voiced man then made his way around the room and lowered each of them to the bottom, where the then unlocked their cages and put them in arm and leg shackles. Aero, Sirann and Tryn were then marched out of the dungeon and through a series of moss-covered stone tunnels.

The tunnels eventually lead to a great spiral staircase, one that Sirann and Aero recognized the moment they took to the first step. They were in the royal palace of Vysuvia, which was located in the U.R.O.A. capital of Sutekh-Navois. This Vysuvian seat of political power was known as the place where the Vysuvian King resided when he had business in the capital city. But to Sirann and Aero, this place was known by another name, it was their home.

They were escorted into the great hall, past the five pillars of black and white stone encircling the golden ring below the crystal dome that reached up into the bright blue sky. They had to squint their eyes and look down, to cast their eyes away from the bright light as they passed through the hall. From the position of the sun, Aero and Sirann knew it was still morning. Because for three hours during the middle of the day, the sun’s rays would shine through the thousands of triangles within the crystal dome. The prism effect would disperse the light into millions of rainbow-like beams throughout the great hall and into the throne room beyond. Aero wished that it was midday so he could see this phenomenon one last time.

The towering throne room doors slowly opened before them. Each door stood over fifteen feet tall, each an ornate piece of art; both adorned with copious layers of silver and gold, with inlaid precous stones and ceremonial gems. Tryn couldn’t help herself, completely taken by their beuty, she quickly and gently traced her finger over one of the larger yellow gems as she walked by.

“Can you believe?” Tryn asked whispered, but stopped herself from continuing when she saw the room beyond these priceless doors. Her jaw opened, dumbstruck and in awe. The doors were nothing compared to the throne room waiting beyond their threshold. For Aero and Sirann the splendor of the throne room was nothing new. They grew up here in this palace, this was King Sveinn’s throne, this was where he ruled until very recently. This very room is where Sirann, Sveinnus, and Aero played, even while court was still in session. This is where the brothers sat with their mother on the right side of their father’s throne, where she would whisper things that made them laugh, adding crucial levity as needed. Aero played hide and seek with his adopted brothers when no one was around. No it was not the room that concerned Aero and Sirann, it was what, or rather who awaited them there that day.

Sirann sighed deeply and slowly shook his head as they stepped down into the throne room. The throne at the other end of the room was empty and the anticipation was gruelling. Aero continued to look down at his feet until he stepped onto the main floor. He knew all along, from his peripheral vision, that no one was holding court, yet, but he feared the worst. The guards stopped them in the middle of the room, close enough to the throne to speak in a normal voice, but far enough from the King to keep a respectful distance. They stood where criminals were sentenced and where dignitaries and ministers of the crown and heads of state would address the king. Aero, Sirann and Tryn stood three abreast facing the steps before the throne. Siranns and Aero remained perfectly still, practically holding their breath, the anticipation was paralyzing. Tryn’s chains clinked and made scraping noises on the polished stones by her feet. She kept scratching the skin beneath the iron around her wrists.

A few aggravating seconds more, hearing Tryn’s noises in the big stone empty room and Sirann would have snapped at her. But to both of their relief, the guards stepped behind them and all of their restraints were removed at the same time.

“Ahh, that’s much better.” Tryn said in a small voice, daring not say much more.

“Seriously. That is a major relief.” Sirann agreed, actually commenting on the racket she had been making. This wasn’t lost on Tryn and she shot him a vexing look to express her own irritation with him.

“Sirann?” Aero whispered, keeping his head down, his eyes closed.

“Yeah?” Sirann responded, his eyes locked upon his father’s throne, his mind consumed with thoughts and memories of his mother and father.

“Do you think he’s…? Sveinnus, do you think could be…” Aero asked in a small voice meant only for Sirann.

“Alive? Yes I do. Yes Aero, my brother is most certainly alive.” Sirann responded without expression of any kind.

“That’s not what I was going to…” Aero began, but stopped short when he saw what stepped out of the darkness.

Stepping out from the dark corner behind the throne, Sveinnus emerged as if he were materializing from nothingness. Although they would never confess as much, not one of the three knew that Sveinnus had been standing there in the dark, since they had arrived. He continued to walk toward them until he stood just behind the throne. The king’s gold and platinum throne was illuminated by three beams of light that were cast from three overhead circular windows built into the roof of the chamber high above. Somewhere beyond the rafters, three discreet and focused beams of different colors; red, blue and green light bathed the entire throne, which gave it an otherworldly glow. Many who approached the king sitting on this throne throughout the ages bowed with fear and reverence, believing that they were witnessing a great and mighty power. Sveinnus stopped short, just behind the throne, where he enjoyed using the cover of the darkness, hoping to appear menacing and formidable.

“Right you are, brother mine, right, you, are.” King Sveinnus says with a smile. “I am alive…and well. You were right. Our dearly departed parents would be so proud.” Sveinnus coped with a smirk. He ran his hand along the smooth top back of the chair. “Guards. Leave us.”

From the corner of her eye, Tryn watches as the six guards march out of the throne room, where they close the immaculate doors behind them. King Sveinnus, Aero, Sirann and Tryn were entirely alone now. Sveinnus remained mostly hidden in the shadow behind the throne, although Aero and Tryn didn’t give it much thought, Sirann knew his brother too well. He knew that this was another game, intended to provoke him or at least make him ask why.

“Now we’re alone.” King Sveinnus said with a measure of finality. “They always were, weren’t they?” Sirann was trying to ignore his brother’s attempt at provoking an emotional response. It was something Sveinnus had attempted since they were very young: trying to upset Sirann by any means necessary. This daily chore was applied to Aero as well, one week after he was taken in by their father, Sveinnus was provoking him by asking where his parents were and about the going rate for orphan slaves.

“I see you’re still copying Dad, using one of his old negotiation strategies.” Sirann quipped, still ignoring Sveinnus.

“Okay, I’ll admit it. That was a Dad move. However there’s one major exception, this is not a negotiation.” Sveinnus retorted with a half smile.

“Sveinnus, what’s going on here? Why are you treating us like prisoners?” Sirann pleaded, hoping to appeal to his brother’s sense of compassion, or at least a commitment to family.

Sveinnus stepped into the light, revealing himself for the first time that day. Sirann and Aero had not seen Sveinnus since the day the Vyst attacked their family on the island. An immediate sense of dread came over Sirann, as he surveyed his brother, now King Sveinnus. Something was very different with his brother. Although he had no words or even an idea of what may have changed in Sveinnus, Sirann’s chest tightened, as if he was drowning and his heart stopped beating at the same time. He grasped for thought, for an intellectual means to grasp what he felt and what had changed in Sveinnus, but nothing came to him. He had only one means to describe it, one explanation, and in the end his conclusion formed only one word, darkness. Sirann was careful to keep his emotions in check, careful not to expose himself with the even the smallest amount of nonverbal tell.

Several seconds had passed since Sirann asked Sveinnus as to why they were being treated like prisoners, but these fleeting few moments felt like hours stretching into weeks. Sirann became nervous that he had given something away, given a reason for further persecution at the given word of his now king brother. But this wasn’t the case, yet.

“Prisoners? Well, yes, I can see how you would think that. Do you like the dungeon? Not a myth after all. I was thrilled to learn that it was real. Dad was never man enough to tell us about it, didn’t trust us or something. You know, it’s only ten feet below our feet? It’s right there! What a wasted asset. I still can’t believe that grandfather sealed it away like that.” Sveinnus kept pacing slowly, back and forth in front of the throne. The beams of light from above reflected and sparkled off of his swords and armor as he moved. Sirann’s hands were clenched into white knuckled fists behind his back. He was furious at Sveinnus for speaking so disrespectfully of their deceased father.

As Sveinnus was speaking, Sirann, Aero and Tryn took note of what he was wearing. His outer garment was a ceremonial cloak, the very cloak that every king of Vysuvia wore for their crowning ceremony, however it looked different than Sirann had remembered it. It appeared to be made from the same material, with the same markings and attention to every detail, but this one was colored the deepest ebony one could imagine. Underneath his cloak King Sveinnus was wearing the king’s royal battle gear; complete with dual sheathed swords and made of a micro-woven mesh material constructed out of an alloy of rare metals that were only found in a mines on the Black Isles. Sirann had only seen his father wear battle gear that one time when he lead his troops to war.

“Sveinnus, what are we doing here? Are we under arrest, or can we go?” Sirann pleaded once again to get to the reason for this audience.

Sveinnus unsheathed his right sword, turned and swung it into the upper right side of the throne. The clang of the sword hitting the chair was deafening, but not a mark was made. Only sparks could be seen and scattered away, where the sword hit. He made a guttural sound and then angrily pointed the sword in Sirann’s direction. “You mind your tongue and remember who you are speaking with!” Sveinnus yelled at Sirann. “You will address me as ‘king’ when you speak to me!”

Tryn darted her eyes at Aero and Sirann, who both had remained calm, unphased by the outburst. They had seen Sveinnus’s tantrums many times before and even as king, this outburst of anger had no real affect on them. What came next did surprise Aero.

“Please forgive me your majesty, I was out of line.” Sirann offered as an apology. Aero knew now that a deeper game was being played here. Even under duress, in the face of certain death, Sirann would forever continue to be honest and true to what he believed. Since Aero knew his friend, he knew that Sirann would never accept Sveinnus as the rightful heir to their father’s throne. No, something else was happening here and Aero didn’t buy this apology for a second.
“Your highness, if I may.” A deep voice spoke up behind them, announcing itself to the group. Sirann, Aero and Tryn turned to see a very tall, muscular man standing a few feet behind them. He was older than Aero’s parents at the time when he lost them, perhaps older than King Sveinn was before he past. But there was more to this man, a glimmer of youth in his eyes, which outshined the years that his scattered wrinkles and grey hair betrayed. He just stood there, casual and confident, with his hands held behind his back. Aero and Sirann darted their eyes at one another, they had never seen this man before.

“Sirann, Aero, girl, let me introduce Minister Böse. (Booz) He is my minister of history and my top adviser for all matters related to geo-historical politics and policy. I trust him completely and I highly suggest that you put your trust in him as well.” Sveinnus implored from his seated position on the throne. Sirann and Aero darted their eyes at one another and then back to Minister Böse, they had never seen this man before. It was very peculiar that someone could be ordained as a Minister of the crown and top adviser to the king so quickly, even if it was Sirann’s snake of a brother wearing the crown. Minister Böse walked around and took his place, standing on the right side of King Sveinnus.

“Where did this guy come from? Where is Minister Ren? Ren advised father for over twenty years, what happened to him?” Sirann his brother asked belligerently.

Sveinnus pounded his fist on the arm of the throne and then closed his eyes in an attempt to contain his temper. “Minister Ren has retired and no longer serves the kingdom. This is the last time I will warn you brother, mind your place, mind your tongue. I will throw you in the dungeon and have it sealed again, just as our grandfather once did.” Sirann couldn’t believe what he was hearing, what he was witnessing. Sveinnus had always been angry and jealous, even when their parents were alive. But this was far beyond anything Sirann could imagine his brother capable.

“Did you know that the workers found numerous decomposed bodies hanging in the cages when they opened the dungeon for the first time. It seems that our precious grandfather had some skeletons in his closet after all. So much for the memory of him, the candle you’ve held in his honor, for his righteous reign.” Sveinnus stopped and glared at Sirann, wanting him to yell back, do something, but Sirann held firm and looked down at the floor without words. “You always put grandfather and dad for that matter up on a holy pedestal, you have always believed that they were these great men, but it was never the case.”

“You’re wrong.” Sirann responded quietly.

“Am I? I could tell you stories of the things our fathers have done in the name of the crown, in the name of justice. Stories that would shatter the perfect image you keep within your heart, stories that would shatter and tear your world down, forever altering your perception of what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’.” Sveinnus shook his head in disgust. He sighed and pointed at Tryn. “Who is this girl anyway?”

Tryn had been uneasy during Sveinnus’s entire speech. She tried to look away, but kept coming back to Minister Böse and meeting his eyes, which had been locked in her direction since he stood next to the throne. “Me?” Tryn asked.

“Of course you, stupid girl.” Snarked Sveinnus. Aero raised his hand a little and cleared his throat.

“She’s, she’s my sister.” Aero lied. Minister Böse smiled, but said nothing, he just continued to toss his gaze between Tryn and Aero.

“You’re sister? I thought you were an only child. I never heard you speak about a sister.” Sveinnus responded in doubt.

“I believe that we’re wandering far away from the path that has lead all of us to this place,” Minister Böse cut in, he turned to King Sveinnus and added, “wouldn’t you agree your majesty?” Sveinnus thought for a moment and looked up at him and nodded.

“Yes, let’s press on to the urgent matter at hand.” Sveinnus said, clapping his hands together. “Please continue.”

“Thank you, your majesty.” Minister Böse bowed and then turned to address Sirann, Aero and Tryn. “First of all please allow me to thank you for coming here today. On behalf of the king and the kingdom of Vysuvia and of the entire world of Aretherra, the fate of our world rests in your hands.”

“Is this guy serious?” Sirann whispered to Aero.

“I am very serious.” Minister Böse responded directly at Sirann.

“Okay, we’ll listen.” Surrendered Sirann.

“One thousand years ago The Great Event nearly destroyed this world. All known lifeforms across the planet were brought to the brink of annihilation. In addition to the extinction of all known life, the planet itself came very close to literally breaking in half. While this Great Event did not ultimately destroy our world, it did forever change it. Among other things, The Great Event left a permanent scar upon the land. A massive fissure formed where the planet began to split in half, but it is better known as The Deep Divide. A fracture in the crust of the planet, a crevasse so immense, that it it’s deepest point is still unknown and remains unexplored even today. Some believe that The Deep Divide eventually leads all the way to Aretherra’s core, or possibly beyond. But I digress, I…”

“Yes we know all about The Great Event and The Deep Divide Minister Böse. Every school aged child is taught about these things in school. Even the uneducated children learn about these historical events by word of mouth, gossip at the playground, that sort of thing. Everyone knows, so what’s your point, what does this ancient history lesson have to do with us?” Sirann pointed out with some satisfaction.

Yet even as Sirann was making his point, Tryn thought about how this was all news to her. She had never heard about The Great Event or knew that The Deep Divide was a real thing. On Zonoz, “The Great Divide” meant something else entirely.

“Forgive the interruption Minister Böse, please continue.” Aero politely encouraged.

Even though Sirann feigned interest in Minister Böse’s words, he couldn’t help noticing his brother’s angry stare out of the corner of his eye. Minister Böse gave a small nod to Aero, looked at Sveinnus and then back to Sirann, Aero and Tryn, before continuing.

“You are correct, The Great Event and The Great Divide are widely known on this world. However, the real history behind The Great Event is little known. Even less is known about what is coming next.” Minister Böse explained.

“Coming next? That sounds ominous.” Sirann commented, finally looking away from Sveinnus to toss looks at Minister Böse, then Aero and Tryn.

“It is. Tell them the rest of the story.” Sveinnus commanded Minister Böse. “And you, stop interrupting.” He added, looking at Sirran.

“Recently it has come to our attention that the circumstances surrounding and precipitating The Great Event were not isolated or unique. We now know that this is not the case. The Great Event that triggered the planet-wide cataclysm and the catastrophe, havoc, and calamity that followed was not a one-time event. The Great Event is cyclical. Specifically, The Great Event occurs every one thousand years.” Minister Böse solemnly explained.

“Which means it could happen again at any moment,” Aero whispered to himself. Sirann gazed at his feet, slowly shaking his head in disbelief. He stood there in silence, feeling completely detached from everything and everyone around him.

Sirann felt a stabbing pain in his gut, piercing him through like a dual-edged sword in the hand of a master Cpsyoto Ki warrior. He didn’t need this, not now, no, he couldn’t handle this. His emotional well being had already been brutalized and battered by recent events. He still had not processed the death of his mother and father, let alone grieve for them. And now he stood weak kneed and broken, possibly beyond repair. Sirann felt like his mind had been eviscerated, his essence, his soul despoiled and pillaged of what remained. Sirann’s own thoughts and ideas and feelings had been spread across the stone floor for all to trample upon. At least that is what he imaged and really was all he could conjure, because he was on the precipice of surrender. Sirann consulted his internal clock and the moment was still fresh and felt like only seconds ago. The ultra-vivid-hyper-colored memory of his beloved parents dying before his eyes was still profoundly new to him. The smells, sounds and textures of that day were still a painfully poignant reminder. Even the temperature was a trigger, reminding him of their faces before they died. Sirann felt the cool breeze, the salty air from the ocean the goosebumps it caused.

Sirann wondered if his brother felt like this, if Sveinnus felt devastated and distraught over their parents’ death, if he felt anything at all. As Sirann tried to make sense of this revelation, to somehow quell his feelings of doubt and mistrust, he looked up at his brother and wondered what had gone so wrong. He had doubts about the Great Event story and by association. he had misgivings about Minister Böse as well. Most of all, Sirann was highly dubious of everything pertaining to his brother, the so-called new King of Vysuvia. Sirann suspected that this mysterious minister of history was only the outer edge of a vast web of lies spun by Sveinnus. Sirann knew that he could no longer trust Sveinnus and it no longer mattered that he was family, that he was his brother. There was a time, long ago in a distant, barely remembered past, that he trusted and loved Sveinnus as a brother, as a friend. But those days were far behind him now, if he could not trust Sveinnus, how could he trust Minister Böse?

Tryn continued to look off toward the stained glass windows that lined the outer walls of the throne room. She wasn’t looking at anything in particular, but simply stared in that direction, her eyes unfocused and blurred. Tryn finally snapped out of it when Minister Böse started speaking again. Given what he shared next, Tryn yearned to be caught in her reverie once more.

“You’re correct, young Aerosus, it will happen again and we predict that it will happen very soon. The Next Great Event could occur at any moment. I could literally happen a few minutes, even seconds from this very moment.” Minister Böse stated.

“Is there anything that can be done about it? Is there a way to stop it, or at lessen it’s effect on the planet? Save people from…?” Tryn jumped in and asked.

“…No. There’s nothing you can do to stop it.” Sveinnus rudely responded.

“I’m serious.” Tryn shot back.

“I know for a fact that she is serious and I am sure that she will do everything in her power to help.” Aero said, defending Tryn.

“Minister Böse, please go on, tell them what you told me.” Sveinnus kindly asked.

“Thank you.” Minister Böse nodded to King Sveinnus. “And Thank you for your exuberance young lady.” He added with a smile at Tryn.

“One thousand years ago The Great Event happened without warning and millions of people died. Aretherra was forever changed and like the planet, so were the people. This time we have a tactical advantage, something that will provide a means to not only survive the next Great Event, but actually defeat it. We may be able to render this Great Event inert, harmless to Aretherra and it’s people.” Minister Böse stated with confidence.

“What could possibly do such a thing?” Aero asked Minister Böse. Although he remained skeptical, there was now a glimmer of hope in his words, reflected in his body language. There was still absolutely no hope in Sirann. He remained very still and distant, staring at the floor between himself and the steps leading up to the throne.

“In the years following The Great Event, a long lost prophecy of Areth was discovered and translated. The prophecy of Areth revealed the secrets to The Great Event. It spoke of the thousand year cycle and how the planet and the people could survive The Great Event. The details encompassing the means to our salvation are in the text. Not only that they existed, but how they worked and where to find them. The prophecy also foretold whom would find the artifacts and whom would wield the keys to our salvation.” Minister Böse revealed. Aero and Tryn looked at each other, sharing puzzled looks.

Sirann also took interest for the first time. He had always been very studious and had been keen to read the rest of the prophecy of Areth. His father, being the king, once used his considerable political power to get his hands on a rare reprinting of the prophecy for Sirann to read for his studies. However the translation had been adapted from old Terlouxian to Embian and finally to the common tongue of the United Republic of Aretherra. While there were many shared and borrowed words throughout the text, the challenges of translating from two ancient languages provided for a challenging and confusing read.

“Tell us more about these artifacts, these ‘keys to our salvation’” Sirann asked Minister Böse.

“The artifacts spoken of in the prophecy of Areth have not been seen by anyone in over three thousand years. Some scholars do not believe that they exist. But this is folly. Just as the original prophecy of Areth exists, so do the three ancient artifacts, the source of our salvation, what will save us from the next Great event.” Minister Böse walked in front of Sveinnus and down two steps, directly in front of Sirann, Aero and Tryn, who stood captivated before him.

“What are they called?” Sirann asked.

“They are called the Keys to Ascension. There are three Keys to Ascension and the prophecy tells us that they were each hidden in different places across the planet. The first key is called the Caelus Key, the second is Aevitas Key and the third is called the Animas Key.” Said Minister Böse.

“What is so special about them? What do they unlock?” Sirann asked, half joking.

“They are extremely powerful magical objects. Historical accounts and documentation date the keys to the very first days of the planet, the dawn of time itself. In the early days of Areth, after the formation of all known life and matter, the same power at the very core of Areth, and later day Aretherra, the power leftover from creation, is believed to be within these keys. Therefore, the Keys to Ascension are of an extra-dimensional origin. Of what are they capable? What specifically are they able to unlock? This is unknown. We only know that the combined power of the Caelus, Aevitas, and Animas keys is similar to the power witnessed during the Great Event or creation itself.” Minister Böse carefully explained.

“Wow! Seriously?” Responded Sirann.

“If these are so powerful, it begs these questions: Again, why are you telling us about this? And who can be trusted to find these ‘Keys to Ascension’? And finally, who is going to use these objects to stop the coming Great Event?” Aero asked Minister Böse, as he divided his attention between him and Sveinnus.

“That is why you are here brother. You are the one who must retrieve the keys, it has to be you. The prophecy mentions the son of a slain king, of royal blood, but one who does not inherit the throne.” Sveinnus informed his brother, Sirann, who looked back at him with great concern.

“You’re going to make me say it again aren’t you? Wow! Seriously?” Sirann responded, not joking. He turned to Minister Böse. “Is all of that true? Does the prophecy actually mention me by name?” Sirann asked Minister Böse.

“Yes, it is true. No, not by name, but it is referring to you. To your friends as well. They must go to find the Keys to Ascension with you.” Replied Minister Böse.

“What if I said no?” Sirann asked point blank to Sveinnus, who was looking very strangely at Aero. Something which did not escape the notice of everyone.

“First of all, why would you say no? You’re being given the chance to go be a hero, to save everyone, to save the entire world from the next world-ending Great Event. You would say no to that?” Sveinnus shot back at his brother with a quick and dismissive scowl. He then looked at Aero again, this time with more of a questioning in his face as he continued.

“Plus! Here’s the real situation, if you do not agree to this, you will be tried for treason and either exiled or executed by tomorrow sundown. It’s your choice brother mine.” He concluded with a smile at Sirann.

“Sveinnus?” Aero whispered under his breath.

“You would execute your own brother? And for what? What did I do to you anyway to deserve this? Our parents, your parents would be so very proud of you!” Sirann blurted out in rage, his voice booming throughout the entire room.

Everyone waited for it, the strike back, the king on his mighty throne, verbally attacked by his subject. Even though it was his brother, Aero, Tryn, Minister Böse, and especially Sirann expected the worse kind of response to his outburst focused solely on the king. But to everyone’s surprise, nothing happened. Sveinnus was strangely still. Eerily still, sitting on his throne. While Sirann was still yelling at Sveinnus, he grabbed the lion claw ends of the armrests of his chair so tight that his knuckles became white, but after that, a full minute ticked by and he didn’t move a single muscle.

Both Sirann and Aero knew of the famous temper of Sveinnus, so all signs pointed to a royal rebuke, but there was none. Later that night Tryn told Aero that she could have sworn she heard Sveinnus sware under his breath, without moving his lips, that he was going to kill Sirann immediately. When Sveinnus finally moved, he grabbed his chest and rubbed it for a moment. He then looked to Minister Böse and excused him from the room. They watched as Minister Böse quickly walked to exit the room. Sirann, Aero and Tryn saw him pass beyond their field of vision and when he was behind their backs, they watched Sveinnus as he was captivated himself, watching Minister Böse as he exited the room. Although forced to face Sveinnus, who was waiting for Minister Böse to leave, they could hear his footsteps as he walked up the steps at the far end of the room. Strangely enough, the sound of his footsteps was heard until he passed the threshold of the throne room and then it was silent.

After the doors closed, only the four of them remained, Sveinnus, the king, his brother, his adopted brother and friend and a girl he didn’t know. They stared at each other for a moment that seemed to stretch on forever. The anticipation was palpable, the air thick with anxiety, as the three waited for Sveinnus to make the first move, to say the first words of what would likely be a tense and aggravated exchange. Sveinnus sighed, cocked his head to the side and then sighed again. He then shook his head and muttered what sounded like “no” under his breath. He then looked up at the three of them as they were all waiting for the inevitable, each of their faces showed little to no sign of expression, a total lack of emotion.

“I must officially apologize to each of you. I have a pretty good idea of what you are feeling, with the exception of you Tryn, for some reason I can’t read you. But I have to assume that you too are upset with me and at the same time most worried about what I might now do to you. Please know that I was under considerable stress before and I did not mean the things I said or did while Minister Böse was here.” Sveinnus flashed a weak smile as he shifted in his throne before continuing.

“The court is watching me very closely and has threatened to seize the crown from my head unless I prove to be a strong and worthy leader. I am convinced that Minister Böse has been using this Great Event and Keys business as an excuse to spy on me and then report back to the court.” King Sveinnus explained.

“So what are you saying? Is any of this even real? The thousand year cycle? The mystical keys to ascension? Is it even real?” Sirann asked.

“All of it I’m afraid. Every part of it is very real, including the part about you and your role in this. All of you, including Tryn. You must leave as soon as we’ve made proper preparations for your journey. You must take your leave and find these keys, we are literally running out of time. The Great Event could happen at any moment.” Sveinnus pleaded.

“So are we going back to the cages for the night?” Tryn asked defiantly.

“Of course not! I’m sorry about all of that. It wasn’t my idea and by the time I heard that you were locked away in there, it was too late. No, you will be my guests and stay in my wing of the palace. Each of you will have your own quarters and the very best of everything until you leave. Please forgive me brother. Please forgive me Aero, Tryn. I am truely sorry for what you’ve been through since you arrived. Aero and Tryn nodded at Sveinnus, accepting his apology and although he hesitated at first, Sirann finally nodded as well. Sveinnus smiled widely, most happy to be in their collective graces again.

“Come, friends, please take a moment and freshen up before dinner. I’ll have you shown to your bedchambers and in an hour, we’ll convene in the main dining room for a great meal.” Sveinnus said with a smile.

They each retired to their own guest rooms and for the next three days, as preparations and plans were made for the first of three journeys; they enjoyed the finest food, accommodations and each other’s company. Their time in the palace was a welcome escape from the trials they had recently endured. While they were unaware of the grueling challenges and bitter losses that they would endure in the days ahead; at least for a brief moment, Sirann, Aero and Tryn shared few hours of happiness, joy, laughter and love. Although it was only a tiny spec upon the grand mirror of time that reflected the scope of their lives, it was a time that they would never forget.

shared additional details about the mission to find the Keys to Ascension. Neither Sirann nor Sveinnus mentioned it again and it was assumed that all parties were on board with the plan and preparations were being made at an alarming rate.

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