Sarda leaned on his gnarled staff as he pored over his battered tome of spells. The one treasure he kept in his room, it stood atop a handcarved stone pedestal, always open to the XXXX-ZAP! pages. He had little use for the holy magics in the second half of the book, preferring to sustain his life through the depletion of someone else's. The sage stared down at the words until his vision began to double; it always seemed to do that when he looked at the final dark incantation in the volume, one which was intended to send a creature to another dimension. Sarda had never been able to get that one right.
A voice came out of nowhere into his head: "Sarda...relinquish your grasp on darkness..."
"Shut up, Lukahn," he muttered aloud. "You stay out of this."
"Shall I invoke the Twelve?" the voice replied mockingly.
Sarda spat on the floor and said callously, "I care nothing for your Twelve. I did not serve their purposes, and they no longer serve mine." He returned his gaze to the spell, trying intently to ignore Lukahn's voice reverberating through his head.
"End this futility, Sarda. Come back to the Circle..."
"The Circle is nothing but a group of senile prophets," said Sarda, putting most of his weight on the staff. Although he was a young, rather gaunt man, he still felt the need for support from his Staff of Power. The staff grew warm from Sarda's touch, infused with the great energy of darkness. "They foresee nothing of my concern."
He heard Lukahn sigh across the miles, his voice still contained within Sarda's mind. "I can only hope you see through that belief before you come to regret it." Sarda could feel Lukahn struggle with a farewell, knowing that Lukahn would prefer to say a final farewell to him. "Our life-paths...they will meet again..."
Sarda swore to himself, having the same general feelings towards the Master Sage that the man had towards him. Didn't Lukahn realize he knew exactly what he was doing? Hidden away from the world in Crescent Lake, near nothing save an inactive volcano and a cavern of ice, Lukahn had no conception of the untapped power lying dormant within the entire planet. If he could just find the source of this energy...then perhaps he could complete his training...
"What did you learn in class today, Sarda?"
His mother gazed down pleasantly at him, pleased as usual that her son
was so committed to becoming a Sage. He will never be one of the
Twelve, but... she put that thought far out of her mind and smiled at Sarda.
"I've finally got it, Mother!" A glint came into the boy's ordinarily serious eyes, his whole body taking on a triumphant joy. He turned toward the fireplace and began chanting; within a few moments, a blazing fire had begun, crackling and leaping despite the apparent lack of fuel. "Aren't you proud of me?"
She sighed heavily. "It's summer, Sarda.
We do not need fires yet. Why don't you go back tomorrow and ask
if you can learn some nice healing spells?"
Sarda glared stubbornly up at her. "I'm not interested in those sissy spells," he said, as only a boy of ten can say convincingly. He spun on his heel and went outside, saying, "I'm going to go ask Master Lefein about this. I bet he doesn't have to worry about"--he said this contemptuously--"healing spells."
Master Lefein lived in a humble shack on the outskirts of Crescent Lake, just past where the Circle held its meetings. Sarda tiptoed through the clearing, pretending only for a moment that he was one of those great Twelve Sages, and walked through the trees to Master Lefein's house. "Come in, Sarda," said Master Lefein's booming voice before Sarda had even knocked on the door. "I have been expecting you for quite some time now."
The boy quietly entered the house, peering
around at all the magical knick-knacks that Master Lefein had gathered
throughout his life. He took quite a while gazing at four brightly
illuminated spheres, each one engraved with an elemental symbol:
fire, water, air, and earth. Each seemed to glow with an inner energy,
one that Sarda immediately desired to know for himself. "You may
look, but do not touch under any circumstances," Master Lefein said suddenly,
as if he already knew Sarda's desires. "Those Orbs hold the very
balance of the world within them. If something were to happen to
any of them..."
Sarda's eyes widened as he reluctantly stepped away from the Orbs. "Wow," he breathed. "The entire world."
"Those are not your destiny," Master Lefein said solemnly, a hint of apology in his voice. He had always liked Sarda, even if the boy did not possess the patience necessary to become one of the Twelve.
Sarda frowned and turned abruptly away from the glowing orbs. "What is my destiny then, Master Lefein? Am I truly destined to have to learn those sissy healing spells?"
Master Lefein stroked his long gray beard for a moment, knowing Sarda's destiny all too well and wishing it were otherwise. He finally decided to be honest with the boy. "No, Sarda. You will have nothing to do with the healing spells. All the holy spells will remain meaningless to you."
"I knew it!" Sarda said happily. "None of those boring wimpy spells for me. I want to know the powerful stuff...all of it!"
The Master Sage forced a smile, despite the fact that he could already see the horrible consequences of Sarda's desires. He simply could not bear to see the boy injured in any way, either physically or emotionally. Master Lefein had no children of his own, and felt a strong affinity for Sarda; he felt towards him an overwhelming need to protect him from sorrow. He knew, though, that all his efforts would ultimately fail--Sarda would need to protect himself in the end.
"What is it, Master Lefein? Did I say something wrong?" Sarda was already contrite; there was nothing he wanted more in the world than to please Master Lefein.
Master Lefein sighed heavily and sank into
a comfortably battered chair. He took the heavy leather-bound book
off the table next to him and read from a bookmarked page towards the middle:
"A silver world will soar above the stars
Until it plummets to a rotted Earth.
Four will set the balance right."
The Sage frowned deeply, then said, "Do you understand any of it, Sarda?"
Sarda looked over at Master Lefein, a trace of confusion crossing his bright, youthful face. "Is it...the Orbs?" Master Lefein nodded, only slightly hesitant.
"It may very well be," the Master Sage replied.
"Now, Sarda, I am going to make a trip to the North Lands in a year's time.
I will teach you all you need to know to protect the Orbs, for I will entrust
their safekeeping to you. I know you will not fail me, Sarda."
"I will protect the Orbs with my life's blood and my soul," Sarda said seriously, the words seeming somehow right for such a young apprentice to say.
He could no longer bear to think of that betrayal.
Sarda groaned to himself and stared over at the four Orbs, each just as
bright as the day he had first set eyes on them in Master Lefein's house.
He had deserted everything, betrayed everyone he had ever cared for, for
this--nothing more than four glass spheres and an inhuman desire for power
beyond even his own comprehension.
Sarda made up his mind that today would be different. Taking up the Earth Orb from its pedestal, he slowly made his way out of the cave he had deemed his home and allowed the Orb to navigate his journey.
The cave emanated power far beyond Sarda's
reckoning, its stony walls a testament to the forces of Mother Earth.
He walked slowly, leaning on his staff for much of the way--the dark magics
had drained much of his body's own strength, to the point where walking
was nearly impossible for the nineteen-year-old--until he came to a room
deep within containing nothing but a bare throne. Sarda stared at
the throne, and as he did so felt the Orb almost tremble with an alien
fear. The Orb dimmed, almost imperceptibly, but Sarda nevertheless
noticed and shuddered.
"This place...there is something not right here..." murmured Sarda, stepping past the throne and out the back door, where a stone staircase took him further into the cave.
The Orb brightened again once Sarda had left the throne room, and lit the way as he ventured through every passageway. Presently, he reached a small room with a surprisingly high ceiling and found one of the Knights of Coneria bent desperately over a book of spells. The Knight immediately turned to stare malevolently at him. "Who are you, that so
insolently intrudes upon me?" he asked, a dark glow in his eyes.
"That is of no consequence," said Sarda, feeling the Orb dim slightly in his hand. "What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same question,"
snarled the Knight. "I am Garland, of the Royal Guard of Coneria.
What do you want here, sorcerer?" Garland spat the last word at him,
the ancient term for a magician being a rather derogatory term among the
common people of the South Lands.
Sarda held up the Earth Orb, its light wavering erratically in Garland's presence. "This guided my way," he replied.
Garland chuckled snidely. "A mere crystal ball? How ridiculous. Now, if you'll excuse me," he said, "I had something to finish. If you continue to disturb me, I'll have two things to finish, and I wouldn't want that to have to happen." He turned back to his spellbook and renewed his chanting, the words overflowing with an evil far beyond Sarda's comprehension.
He simply had to know just what the Knight intended to do with the incantation he was so intent upon finishing. Sarda could do nothing but watch as the casting of the spell consumed Garland, the unfamiliar words flooding from his lips in all manner of harsh tongues. Master Lefein had once referred vaguely to them as summonings, spells that transported creatures across the cosmos to do the caster's bidding. Fear and excitement jostled for place in his heart, and finally settled into an anxious anticipation Sarda had never experienced before.
A glowing schizm appeared in the damp air of the
cave itself, growing larger and larger as an immense creature came into
view. Garland staggered back to the nearest wall, apparently not
prepared for the monster which was emerging from another world. Sarda,
however, merely stood complacently and stared at the being which appeared
With a blinding flash of light, the creature made its complete entry into the cave. It stood well over fifteen feet tall, making full use of the high ceiling, and had eyes which glowed a hideous, bloody red. Sarda had seen creatures like these only in mythological bestiaries--dragon's wings, eagle's talons, bear's feet, shark's teeth, and an oddly humanoid head which wore a helmet adorned with the horns of a dinosaur. The beast took a step over to Sarda, who glanced over to see what Garland was up to. The Knight had vanished.
"My...master," said the beast in a horrible, snarling growl. "Where...is...my...master?" Each word came out with quite a struggle, the monster being unaccustomed to such human speech. "I...CHAOS...My...master...kill...you..."
Sarda jumped involuntarily, only noticing then that the Earth Orb had turned pitch black and plummeted in temperature, almost as if all the power within it had suddenly died. What was this being which had vanquished the powers of the planet itself? The beast took another step towards him, and Sarda realized then that any ordinary spell would be useless against this sort of power.
His hands shaking, Sarda flipped through the pages
in Master Lefein's spell book, coming at last to the final dark spell,
the only one which had any possibility of ridding the world of the monster.
The words came mysteriously, almost as if someone else's voice was uttering
them through Sarda. As the final word of the incantation was spoken,
Sarda collapsed to the ground, all the energy flowing out of him as the
"Garland already left. He's building a temple northwest of here," said the King. "All I really remember about it was that he mentioned something about mastering time."
When Sarda left the palace, he leafed through the
spell book one last time until he reached the page containing the ZAP!
spell. "Exiles the enemy to the Fourth Dimension of Time..."
He walked to the shore and hurled the book into the ocean with all his
might, leaving the holy spells unread.
Four warriors barged into the dark, silent cave, each holding a dim crystal ball. "Sarda?" called the leader of the small group, a soldier in bright steel armor. "Sarda, we need your help! Lukahn told us..."
"I don't need to hear about what Lukahn told you," said a surprisingly robust voice. A match was struck, and one solitary torch lit. "I have been waiting for you, the Four. You are the ones who were destined...But enough of that. You have come for my staff, have you not?"
"Y-yes," said the wizardess, a small girl wearing dark robes and a pointed hat. "We were told that it was the only thing that would lift the metal plate in the Earth Cave."
"I have been waiting for a long time," Sarda said. "One hundred years, in fact. One hundred years ago I put that plate down in the Earth Cave, in order to prevent others from discovering what I did in the cavern's lower depths. The sealing of the lower floors was the last magic I ever performed. Now, however, I see that others are destined to venture there, to at last rid this world of evil and restore the planet's true powers. So, take this mystical rod, and make the Orbs shine again, Light Warriors!"
The wizardess shyly took Sarda's staff, and the four
warriors nodded their thanks to Sarda before leaving the cave. "Finally,"
said Sarda, blowing out the torch. "Now I can get some rest."
He crawled into bed, closed his eyes, and tried not to picture Master Lefein
standing before him, disappointment clouding his face. "They will
do what I failed to do, Master Lefein...they are the Four you always spoke
of...they are the Four who will set the balance right..." Sarda drifted
off to sleep, a smile coming to his haggard face for the first time since
he had originally seen the Orbs.
I can't say I always wondered why that Sarda guy was hiding out in that little cave of his, but I started thinking about secondary characters one day, and it came to me. You never know...
--Jenni Ornellas <email@example.com>