Hunt - Tome of Chaos Story
Joaken closed his eyes and felt the wind fight with his hair, tossing it recklessly about his head. The warm memory of months ago, when he sat within the sacred circle, came unbidden to his mind. His fellow Efreet Elders were seated in the circle with him around the great Flame. Incedis was serving his time as council leader, sitting upon the Rock of Words while the rest of them looked up and waited for the wisdom he would share.
“We must discover what has happened to the Wizards’ Council. This invasion of our land cannot go unchecked. Where are our protectors? What has happened to the veil?” he looked around the circle at each member, until his eyes finally came to rest upon Joaken. “Brother Joaken, you are the last to have evoked the ritual of remembrance and to have spoken with the Flame on Mount Eerunu. It will be you that seeks answers to our questions.”
Joaken had nodded his acceptance, remaining silent while the others gave him their blessings before leaving the temple, as was the custom.
“Prepare well, brother,” Incedis had said when the last of the elders had left. “For I believe this task will be challenging and carry with it much peril.”
The word “peril” echoed in his mind as his mount twisted violently beneath him and banked to the side. The wind caught his cloak, whipping it out behind him, violently snapping and tugging at his shoulders. He grabbed a hold of the giant Roc’s red feathers and felt his stomach lurch. The great wings beat hard, the white crest on its head quivering in the cold bluster.
I am far too old for this, Fogclaw, be gentle with your passenger, his mind connected with the creature.
There is a dragon nearby, we must fly closer to the trees or it will see us, Fogclaw’s reply was sharp and brittle, carrying a sense of urgency.
Then fly my friend, but please try not to unseat me, Joaken replied, clutching even tighter to his mount.
They soared down low to the land, trees racing up to meet them. Joaken gritted his teeth and whispered a brief prayer to his god, the cold wind stinging his eyes. He never had enjoyed flying, but this journey was urgent and such dire times required him to make sacrifices. As Fogclaw leveled out above the treetops, Joaken could make out the foliage on the trees as the forest raced by beneath his feet. There were pines, spruces, firs and larches, standing to uniformed attention, their colors a vivid palette of greens. He could even see the odd bird as it took flight to avoid the foreign beast that carried him overhead.
A forlorn cry came from the northeast, where the mountains started to climb away from the wasteland, towards Dragon’s Roost.
Has it seen us? Joaken asked.
It may have seen our dive, but we will be lost to it now. Fogclaw pushed on, beating his wings.
There was no fear in his mount’s reply, lending Joaken confidence enough to settle his mind and search once again. He reached out, looking for that one familiar spark. It was like groping for an ember in the dark. The forest was full of life, and he could feel different shapes and sizes, some of them asleep, others hunting or running through the trees. There were even some that could sense his subtle mind probing, causing them to freeze in fear. Then he found him, that dying ember hidden amongst the damp undergrowth, desperately trying to remain alight but slowly fading away.
We are near the end of our journey my friend, continue north, to the small clearing where the spruce have fallen. It is there amongst the rockfall that we will find him, Joaken spared a brief glance behind him to ensure they were still alone, as Fogclaw lifted his wings at a tilt and they began to drop, gently breaking into a steady descent.
It felt good to be back on firm ground again, Joaken determined as he picked his way across the deadwood and small boulders. Fogclaw remained beneath the overhanging branches at the edge of the treeline, preening his feathers. Joaken wondered for a moment if the great Roc would be safe, then chuckled to himself. There were few things that could threaten such a creature, it would be the forest animals that would need to take care.
Clambering over a rotting trunk, Joaken spotted movement within a cluster of larger boulders, where the rockfall had created a shallow cave. A low rumble emanated from within, a disagreeable sound that was a clear warning to whoever approached. Joaken decided that now might be the time to announce his presence, especially if he didn’t want a boulder landing on his head or a branch flung in his direction.
“My name is Joaken!” he called out. “I come in search of Berlius the Strong, if he would meet with me?”
The rumble grew before it was cut off with an indignant grunt, and a shape materialized from within the darkness of the cave.
“I come in peace,” Joaken lifted his empty hands, just to make sure there could be no misunderstanding.
“Who doesn’t when they come to speak with Berlius the Strong?” a deep voice rolled down the slope towards him.
Joaken paused and waited. It had been many decades since he’d last seen Berlius and even though everything diminishes with time, nothing could quite prepare him for the sight that he now beheld, as the object of his hunt stepped into the sun’s light. The craggy features of the hill giant had aged. Hair jutted from his eyebrows, nose and ears, like a cluster of winter’s white icicles. His face was weathered, as well, like an old piece of worn leather. Some may have believed it was simply tiredness that befell the stalwart figure, but Joaken could see the great burden of loss that Berlius so evidently carried upon his shoulders.
“I see the twilight years bite at both our heels,” Joaken offered gently.
“Humph, they caught me long ago, friend Joaken,” Berlius pointed with a grim smile. “Much as they did you.”
“That they did,” Joaken nodded, returning the smile. “But I believe we aren’t quite ready to be taken just yet.”
Berlius stepped over a fallen spruce and eased himself back onto the rough bark, wincing as his knee cracked. “And so what brings an Efreet Elder to the Timber Helios in Draykh-Nahka? You are a long way from the Burning Lands.”
Rubbing his hands together, Joaken shivered in the late afternoon breeze. “Maybe a fire to warm our old bones should come before any further discourse?” he offered.
Berlius nodded his agreement, and Joaken set to gathering some of the deadwood together to make a fire. The giant studied him quietly, not moving to help. It was an uncomfortable silence that grew, and Joaken was glad when a warm blaze roared between them.
“How long have you been here?” Joaken finally asked, as he settled against a flat slab of stone.
“It seems like an age,” Berlius dragged his gaze from the flames and stared at Joaken. “For a long time I was lost, left wandering the wasteland until I came upon this forest. I fear that I’ve let this world of trees consume me. I have hidden away here for too long. My feelings of loss run deeper than I ever thought possible.”
Joaken could see the pain in the giant’s large eyes, and it sent a shiver of fear through him. “What happened, Berlius?”
“The council was broken, torn asunder by treachery. There was nothing we could do,” Berlius’ voice wavered, and he lent down towards where Joaken was sitting. “She took my magic,” he thumped his chest, “pulled it from me and then banished me into the four winds.”
“Who?” Joaken gasped. “Who could have done such a thing? Surely no-one can hold that much power.”
“Portia,” Berlius growled, the name of his enemy invoking a sudden animosity. “She has sold her soul to some foul, other-worldly presence…who knows to what traitorous ends. And Craniax was with her too, the old fool.”
“She has banished the entire council?” Joaken couldn’t believe what he was hearing, that the most powerful wizards in the Splinterlands had been deceived by one of their own and then simply discarded. “What of the others?”
“Aggroedius Lightbringer left the council many moons before she revealed her hand, as did Yabanius the Architect, thank the Gods. They’d had enough of the constant infighting and petty squabbles that had become a familiar scene whenever we met. As for Arius and Garibolius,” Berlius shrugged, “who knows where she sent them?”
Joaken considered his words carefully as the flames danced between them. “I’m beginning to understand how the Chaos Legion managed to attack now, though the knowledge does little to appease me when it carries such dire circumstances.”
Berlius gave a long sigh, scratching the tangle of beard that hung in an untidy mess from his chin. “Part of me thinks that none of this would have come to pass if the Lightbringer and Architect hadn’t left our circle; and the veil that had hidden Praetoria for so long would never have fallen either.”
“We could talk of what has come to be until the new day rises, but it will not help us move any further forward,” Joaken watched as the final sliver of sun sank beneath the distant mountains. “What is important now is to consider how we can fix this. If Portia wields power enough to cast you all aside, then I would wager she has managed to hide her deeds from one as potent as the Lightbringer.”
“It can be the only reason he hasn’t returned and destroyed her,” Berlius nodded. “But without my magic, I cannot find him or the Architect to warn them.”
“As I have done with you, I shall find the others,” Joaken stared into his lost eyes, seeing the fire reflected back at him. “And there is still power within you, Berlius, otherwise I would never have found you.”
“If that is true then I cannot reach it, friend Joaken. Whatever spell the betrayer cast when she called us to council, it felt like it stripped the very mana from my bones. I have never felt so much pain.”
Joaken could feel the indignation tug at his gut. It wasn’t right that such a thing should go unpunished. He thought back to his own life and teachings; there was no record of a time he could recall when the Flame of his own god had ever been so abused. Even minor indiscretions would be punished robustly, and the thought of such a heretical design as Portia’s, would simply go beyond the pale.
“I condemn what she has done, Berlius, as will the Lightbringer when I tell him,” Joaken pushed himself to his feet. “There are many wrongs that wait to be undone and the thread of deceit will always fray, have no doubt of that. I will find the Lightbringer, and the Architect if I can, and I will bring them to you. Together we shall bring down justice upon Portia the Betrayer and this Craniax, may the one true Flame bear witness to my words.”
“Then I shall muster my strength and await your return,” Berlius managed a smile.
Joaken gripped his own beard and ran a hand along its length. “Of that I have no doubt, you are still Berlius the Strong after all.”
Joaken turned and started back towards Fogclaw. An orange glow radiated from his upheld palm to light his way. Finding the Lightbringer would prove more difficult than he’d cared to admit, especially considering that for the length of his journey so far, there hadn’t been any hint of his presence.
“Friend Joaken,” Berlius’ voice gave him pause. “If you can’t find Aggroedius, then search for his daughters, Talia Firestorm or Kiara Lightbringer. One of them is sure to know where he might be.”
Joaken looked back over his shoulder at the shadow of the great giant, almost lost within the creeping darkness. “I will find him, of that you can be sure. Chaos will soon release its hold upon our world, and for those that stood aside and let it come to pass, they will surely atone for their complicity.”
Collect special Limited NFTs related to this story at https://www.splintertalk.io/nfts/
Story: Daniel Beazley
Editor: Sean Ryan
Narrative Lead: Joey Shimerdla
Character Art (cover): Candycal
Voice Acting: David Dahdah
Ending credits song: AfterSound
Post-Production/Audio Manager: Isaria
Creative Director: Nate Aguila