A New Journey
Powered only by fear and adrenaline, Dominic ran until Tedaylia was nothing but a small, inscrutable dot on the horizon behind him.
After running for what seemed like hours, he stopped to rest. The city, Varen and Tieren were far enough away so that they could not pose a threat, but he was in the middle of nowhere. There was a dirt path oft traveled by horses, but that was a mile behind him, and he didn’t know which towns it connected.
Several miles to his right, there was a collection of large mountains. He knew these to be the Western Ridges—a long spine of mountains that acted as a barrier between King’s Bay to the north and the densely populated plains that the Virgo River ran through in the south. He found himself in the lower foothills of this range, which were relatively devoid of trees in comparison to the forests he had spent the past chapter of his life in. As opposed to making up the entire landscape, trees dotted the sunny, plain-like landscape with one every half-mile or so.
A small brook that found its way through the tall grass Dominic was standing in broke the otherwise complete silence of the vast emptiness of the area. Gracious for its water, Dominic washed the sweat off his face and drank as much as he could.
He spent the rest of the day there. He was tired from everything he had gone through and hungry for lack of food in the last day, but most of all, he was lonely. Aroen, the only companion he had left had been killed. Soren, along with everyone in the group of magicians that he traveled with shared the same fate. He had grown up with those people, and there was no one else in the world that he knew.
Suddenly, Dominic burst into tears. Why had he survived when everyone else died? Why did he have to feel the pain of loss on such a massive scale? Was it truly a miracle that he had survived? Why couldn’t someone else be the Pure Child?
Dominic spent the rest of the day reflecting upon his life, what had happened to him, and even what his destiny was. How was he supposed to destroy Volatin without any help? He was supposed to find Falzhun, but without any map of Anvalé, his only way to navigate would be to follow rivers. The Virgo River was the closest, but even that was almost one hundred miles south of him.
And even if he were to find the Virgo River, he had no food and there was no easy way to acquire food in the desolate atmosphere of the plains—the largest animals that lived there were hares, and not only were they were tough meat, but they were also difficult to hunt—they could detect human presence well, and they were small, capable of camouflage, and incredibly quick runners.
He was also out of energy—even his magical store of energy had been extinguished in the last fight. Without energy, his ability to use magic was all but gone—he couldn’t use a Strength or Healing spell, and he certainly couldn’t create a bow to hunt with.
All in all, Dominic found himself to be completely trapped—trapped, ironically, in the vast openness of the Anvalan plain.
Eventually, night fell, and Dominic tried to fall asleep in the grass, but quickly found the notion of sleep impossible—not only did he have no ample bedding, but he also had too much on his mind to get a good night’s sleep—not to mention the lack of food in his stomach.
He stayed up throughout the entire night, doing nothing but sitting on a hill and thinking to himself, but even that grew difficult—he was beginning to grow delirious with hunger.
It wasn’t until the early morning that he finally passed out due to exhaustion, hunger, and lack of coherent thoughts. He slept there in the grass for several hours before he began to feel something in his side—something like a sharp poke of a stick.
“He’s alive, Isabel… do you want to take him in? He seems lost.”
What’s going on? Dominic thought as he woke up.
“What’s your name, boy?” The same voice from before asked.
“Uh…” Dominic struggled to focus on even his own name.
“Eh, you’ll be too tried to know even that. How’s about we give you some food? Perhaps you’ll be feeling better then.”
Dominic made no instant response.
“You need food,” the owner of the voice decided. Dominic felt himself picked up and carried down to the stream he had found the previous day. Someone splashed him on the face with water, causing him to fully wake up. In just a few minutes, he was back to his usual sharp self, albeit as hungry as ever.
He found himself to be in the company of a rugged-looking man, a woman whom he took to be his wife, and two young girls. “My name is Karo,” the man explained. “This here’s my wife, Isabel, and my two daughters, Eleanor and Xavia. We’re traveling to Marble to visit my brother and his family. We’re from Terma ourselves, and we were on the path that connects the two towns until we found in blocked by a large portion of that odd black stuff that’s been showin’ up lately. Now, we know to avoid it after a lam from Terma wandered towards it once and was never seen again.
“So we went around it—specifically to the north, towards the Western Ridges. A mountain fog soon came down and we got lost, and now we haven’t even the slightest idea where we might be. We saw you asleep on that hill two days later, and we were hopin’ that you might know where we are, but I’m alking ’ you don’t, seein’ as you’ve nearly starved yourself. Now what’s your name, son?”
Dominic weakly told the family his name.
“I’ll get you some food, then, Dominic. You’ll be hungrier than I’d first thought…” Karo walked over to his horses, which were strapped to a buggy. He bent over into the buggy’s back and picked up a large portion of cooked cow meat.
Upon returning to where Dominic was sitting, Karo gave him the piece of meat. Even if it was as cold as stone, Dominic was gracious for any food, and he quickly began to eat it.
“Well, why don’t you tell us your story, Dominic,” Karo suggested. “Why is it exactly that you’re all alone out here in the plains?”
At first, Dominic considered lying to make his tale seem more believable, but he quickly went against the idea—if he explained enough, these people might just believe him, and if they did, then they would learn about Volatin, which would hopefully lead to more and more people knowing what it was, which could only be a good thing. He also decided that these people seemed very kind—they had taken him in instantly, despite how odd he was—what could a half-starved teenage boy armed with a sword and a shield be doing all alone on the Anvalan plain?
“My story is a long and unusual one,” Dominic began, “and it begins with my birth.”
Every member of the family looked up, further intrigued than they had already been.
“I was born to a noble family,” Dominic continued, “or so I was told. Early in my life, my parents sent me to live with a powerful wizard by the name of Soren, as they had quickly discovered that I had the gift of performing magic. Yes—I am a magician.”
“Really?” one of the girls asked, clearly mystified.
“Yes,” Dominic replied, “and I’ll demonstrate for you once I have my energy back.”
“I’ll be lookin’ forward to that,” Karo said. “I’ve never seen magic before. I’m pretty excited right now!” A large smile shone across Karo’s face.
Never seen magic once before? Dominic wondered. While these people didn’t seem particularly well-learned, the fact that a grown man had never seen magic once surprised Dominic—perhaps magicians were rarer than he had assumed. All his life, he had lived with other magicians, and he was all too accustomed to magical presence.
Now that he had the family’s full attention, he found himself to be a confident speaker—while he had been quiet and shy in the past, he was beginning to find his voice, and he was glad for it.
“So, this magician, whose name was Soren, brought me in, and he acted as a father for me while we lived in the city of Sinniet, which is kind of like the magical capital of Anvalé. Most magicians live there. Once I was eight years old, he organized a group of traveling wizards and magicians. Wizards brought young magicians with them and taught them the ways of magic while we traveled the world.
“This group became my life up until about a month ago. We went all over Anvalé, going everywhere that humans could easily withstand—meaning we didn’t do deep into the Messereth Desert, we never climbed to the top of a Beacon mountain, and we never explored dangerous locations such as caves.
“But like I said, about a month ago, something very odd happened. I was fishing in a pond in the forest north of the Western Ridges, when I sensed this strange pit of nothingness in the middle of the pond.”
Dominic paused to explain magical sensing, but as much as he tried, the family failed to acquire a significant grasp on the concept. After growing frustrated, Dominic went on to explain the shipwreck, his meeting with Aroen (which garnered several looks of absolute incredulity on the faces of the members of the family), and everything he learned about the history of the world, Selerek’s story, and Volatin.
He spent an especially long time telling them what Volatin was, as it was the most important part—if they knew about Volatin, then they could tell other people, and its threat would be known by the Anvalan population. After almost two hours, they understood everything about Volatin, and Dominic proceeded to tell the story of Feniad. (“Oh, I heard about that,” one of them said.) Dominic continued his story, telling about his journey through the Sacred Woods, his acquisition of Selerek’s sword and shield, his fights with Tieren, and Aroen’s death.
“After Aroen died, I ran as far as I could, and I eventually passed out on that hill,” Dominic eventually concluded. It was almost night by the time he had finished—he hadn’t left out a single detail.
The two children were fidgeting in their seats by the fire circle, as they knew nothing about what the story meant—it was the parents who were completely awestruck.
“Now what you’re alking’ us is the truth?” Karo asked after nearly two minutes of full silence.
“Yes,” Dominic replied.
“You are a quick thinker, but even the smartest of people couldn’t make up a story like that on the spot,” Isabel said, speaking for the first time. Her voice was very quiet and dignified, quite unlike her husband’s. “So I believe you completely. You seem like a good, well-learned, boy, and I believe you, even if you’re so young.”
“I’ll have to agree with my wife, here,” Karo stated. “The story is so out there, but you know too well what you’re alking’ about to be lyin’.”
Dominic smiled. “In that case, I have two requests for you: the first is to bring me to the Messereth River so that I can find Falzhun, and the second is to tell everyone you see about Volatin—if the world knows to fear it, than far fewer people will be killed.”
“I’m an honorable man, Dominic,” Karo replied, “and you can trust me. I’ll take you to the Messereth River, but first we need to figure out what direction that’s in.”
Nourished and full of energy, Dominic was thinking quickly at this point. Because he traveled the world so much, he knew quite a bit about the geography of Anvalé. “I fled directly south from Tedaylia, judging from the position of the coast,” he said, “so if we go southeast, we should reach a river. I think we’ll have to cross some high hills, but once we do, the path to the Messereth River should be pretty straightforward.”
He paused for a moment. “I think we’ll actually end up at the Virgo River first, and even then that won’t be for at least a day, even if your horses are running at full gallop, which they can’t even do for more than an hour or two.” From there, we can follow the river north, and we’ll end up at the Anvalan delta, where all of the three main rivers meet and empty into the sea. I don’t think there’s an official town there, but it’s pretty densely populated by merchants and farmers… I bet one will be founded pretty soon. Anyways, from there, there’s a pretty obvious path which travels from east to west across northern Anvalé… it starts at Feniad and ends at Reullon, and it stops at Easton on the way. When we get there, I’ll leave you so that I can head to Falzhun and find whatever it was that I needed to find.”
“You’re smart,” Karo said, “but I think you’ll have to repeat that plan a few times in the future.” He chuckled. “So we should probably be goin’ right now, don’t you think?”
Dominic looked at him, confused for a moment. “You’re asking me?”
“You know what you’re alking’ ‘bout the most,” Karo replied, “so you had ought to be callin’ the shots, wouldn’t you agree?”
He’s a fully grown adult, Dominic thought, and yet he wants a teenager to lead him to safety… he trusts me completely.
“No,” Dominic finally replied, “I think we should rest tonight before we leave tomorrow morning.”
“But I’ve got the horses,” Karo protested. “Do you know how to drive horses?”
“Actually, no… I don’t.” If there was one thing Dominic wanted to know how to do but didn’t, it was to control wild animals without magic. It was almost embarrassing that he was fifteen years old but didn’t know how to drive a horse—such skills were almost universal in Anvalé.
“Is that so?” Karo asked. He seemed slightly perplexed.
“Yes.” Dominic blushed, but tried his best to hold his dignity regardless.
“Well then maybe you were right all along,” Karo said. “I can’t stay up all night on my own drivin’ the horses. I was hopin’ we could take ‘em in shifts, but I don’t think that’ll be happenin.’ Stayin’ here tonight’s probably the best idea.”
“I’m glad we agree.”
Dominic spent the rest of the night going over the plan with the rest of the family. The wife, Isabel, was the only one paying any real attention, as Karo was watching over the two girls, who were both very restless—evidently very nervous about this strange new boy. They have the right to be, Dominic thought. These people found me on a hillside this morning, and already they’ve made me their leader. Either they’re hopelessly lost and simply being optimistic about it, or they’re simply very kindhearted people… maybe both. Or they could be simply dim-witted…well, no matter what, I need them.
Dominic approached the two children. They were both very young—the older one didn’t look a day over eight, and the younger one was about six by Dominic’s estimate. “Hi,” he said in the most enthusiastic voice he could muster. “How are you doing? What are your names?”
The younger girl cowered behind the older one in fear. “I’m Eleanor,” the older one said, showing no fear whatsoever. “It’s okay, Xavia,” Eleanor said, “he’s just big.”
The younger one stepped to Eleanor’s side. She clasped her hands together and whispered, very quietly, “my name’s Xavia.” She took a step back. Dominic could tell she was very shy. Eleanor, on the other hand, was very outgoing—in a few minutes, she had told Dominic everything that she found interesting about herself. She was learning to read and ride horses, and she had a best friend in Terma named Katrina.
As the sun began to set, an odd quiet descended upon the family, and Dominic could tell that they were beginning to realize their situation. They had been forced off of the road by Volatin, and they soon lost their way—even if indirectly, Volatin was the source of their woes. They had been forced to resort to a strange, fifteen-year-old boy for protection and leadership, and it was clear to Dominic that they were humiliated by it.
An aura of tacit acceptance was spread around the campfire. “So you said you wanted to see magic before,” Dominic said in an attempt to break the awkward silence that he found himself in.
“Oh! Yeah, that would be great,” Karo replied after a moment of slight hesitation.
“I’ll make a tree,” Dominic announced, “and I’ll use a spell called Creation to do so.” Dominic focused his energy on a patch of ground that was a safe distance away from the fire circle that Karo had built earlier that day. Once he had channeled enough energy, he raised his hand to the sky, and a tree sprout appeared. It grew instantly, starting as a seedling, but becoming fully grown in a few minutes time. It towered to the sky, reaching a height of nearly fifty feet.
“What do you think of that?” Dominic asked.
“Incredible,” Isabel said, her eyes filled with disbelief and admiration.
Eleanor and her sister, Xavia, cowered away from the tree, frightened by it, while Karo simply stared at it with his jaw slack and his eyes showing the same emotion as his wife’s.
Dominic spent the rest of the evening showing off his magical ability and telling stories. Because he spent his entire life traveling Anvalé, he knew many folk tales and legends very well.
“… and that’s how the Fountain of Purity came to be. Some say it was never actually built, and others say it’s still hidden deep in the Beacon Range. Who knows? Maybe Oserri’s soul is still kept alive by its sacred waters.”
After Dominic concluded one of his favorite tales, Oserri and the Fountain of Purity, the two girls retired to the buggy to sleep. The horses had fallen asleep hours ago, leaving only Dominic and the two adults.
“I’m getting tired, too,” Karo said as he heaved a large yawn. “I think I’ll turn in fer the night.”
“I’ll be joining you shortly,” Isabel said. She turned to Dominic. “You should sleep, too. I regret to say that there’s only enough room in the buggy to sit up and steer with, so you won’t be sleeping there, but now that you have your energy back, perhaps you can make a tent with magic?”
Dominic nodded. “That should be fine.” Though it saddened him, he couldn’t blame the family—he was still a new character, so suspicion was bound to be present. Allowing him to spend the night in close proximity to them would be a very foolish move. Dominic made peace with that fact quickly, and he proceeded to do exactly as Isabel recommended and conjure a tent with Creation.
After creating the tent, Dominic quickly resigned to it for sleep. However, it took him nearly an hour to actually fall asleep, as his mind was full of thoughts, and he was, quite frankly, not particularly tired.
Despite his lack of natural desire to sleep, Dominic woke up the next morning very well-rested. He quickly found out that he was the last to get up—the family had already gotten ready for a day of travel by the time Dominic used Destruction to get rid of the tent.
“Let’s go, then,” Dominic said as soon as he was ready himself. The wagon left shortly thereafter, with Karo driving it. Dominic sat next to him, with the rest of the family in the back.
“So yer sayin’ that we should be headin’ south?” Karo asked.
“Southeast,” Dominic replied. “And we should be moving quickly. Make sure your wife and children are secure in the back, because if we are to reach the Virgo River by night, we need to be moving quickly. Not necessarily at a galloping speed, but a fast trot would do well.”
“I know,” Karo replied, “and so do they. We’ll be fine.”
“Good. Now we’ll have to cross through some large hills, but if we go around them, that shouldn’t be much of a problem. It will likely send us several miles out of our way to do that, but the only alternative is to go over them, and that probably isn’t safe.”
“Alright,” Karo said. “Let’s get movin’, then!” He whipped the horses, and they broke into a steady trot towards the hills.
* * *
The morning went was so uneventful, that Dominic began to grow bored by midday. He found Karo to be a fairly bland man—and he wasn’t particularly well educated. He was very strong and knew how to work the land, which was what Dominic deduced as the reason that Isabel married him when she was clearly more intelligent.
All Karo wanted to talk about was his life in Terma—he worked as a blacksmith, and he was paid well, as his children were tutored during the day. Tutors were expensive, but also the only way of having one’s children educated, so it was considered a mark of wealth and status to receive education.
After passing the last hill a few hours past noon, Dominic could see the rest of the Anvalan plain. Even of the area was fairly densely populated, what he was looking at was quite desolate—there wasn’t another human soul for miles. However, there was a long line of trees in the distance, which marked the Virgo River. Even if it was perhaps twenty miles away, they had made excellent time. Notwithstanding, Dominic was disappointed when he saw that there was no path in view at all—they were in a very seldom-traveled area—because of its overall lack of anything interesting, the Anvalan plain was generally ignored by people and animals alike.
Nevertheless, across the panoramic view of the area, Dominic could see several scatterings of Volatin—one in particular to his left was at least half a mile high. “That’s Volatin,” Dominic explained, not without menace.
“I’d thought as much,” Karo replied. “We’d best be careful of it, eh?”
“Yeah,” Dominic answered, “it isn’t moving, though, so it shouldn’t be particularly dangerous if we steer clear of it.”
Karo was set on his goal of reaching the river without going near Volatin, and he was doing well to accomplish that for the next two hours. Dominic, however, was studying the Volatin as much as he could. This was the first time he’d seen it when he wasn’t in some sort of peril, and it both fascinated and disgusted him. It was completely black—there were no shades of gray caused by reflected sunlight, making it look oddly two-dimensional.
Even after he realized there was no activity going on in or about the various scatterings of Volatin, Dominic was still observing it as closely as possible. He used Creation to make boulders appear before him, then telekinesis to hurl them into the Volatin, and it simply disappeared. Dominic tried sensing the magical energy that the boulder held, but when he tried to sense it, he got the same nothingness that he got before the boulder was thrown in, which meant the boulder had fully ceased to exist.
Eventually, he stopped wasting his magical energy on it, as he was growing bored. Dominic was almost sure that he fully understood it—what went in did not come out.
About an hour and a half later, Karo had reached the riverbed. “We’ll spend the night here,” Dominic announced, “as dusk will fall soon. The shadows are already growing long. I’m sure it’s been a tough day of traveling for you,” he said, looking towards Isabel and her children. He knew that non-nomadic Anvalans were often exhausted by travel alone, even if the journey was completely uneventful.
“That sounds nice,” Isabel replied.
* * *
The rest of the night was spent passively. Dominic told stories and performed magic while the family watched; they played dice, and were very worry-free. It wasn’t for several more hours that Dominic decided to turn in for the night. He was shortly followed by Karo and Isabel, whose children had been asleep for over an hour.
Dominic was having trouble sleeping. He found the presence of the Volatin nearby to be very unsettling, and the fear of it kept him awake. Volatin has only been around for a month, he thought, and it’s already all over the place… I don’t have very much time left. But how am I to battle Varen when Aroen—a god—failed?
At about three hours past midnight, Dominic heard a shuffling outside. Nervous as he was, he jumped right out of bed to see what it was, but when he looked, he found nothing. He sensed the area and found nothing unusual—the only life forms were the family, his self, and a few animals sleeping in or near the river. There was certainly nothing awake to make the shuffling noise. Perhaps I imagined it, Dominic thought.
He got back into his tent and tried to rest, but five minutes later, he heard the same noise, only louder. Once again, he got up and scanned the area, but he once again found nothing.
Dominic felt an arm lash across his face, drawing blood instantly. He healed himself and sensed the area, but found nothing again. Even so, the screech continued, and Dominic could hear shuffling towards the buggy where the family was sleeping. Still, Dominic could detect nothing, and there was nothing that could not be detected by magic that Dominic did not know of. He used Creation to conjure a torch, and waved it around, looking for whatever it was.
Thud. The sound of the buggy being struck at was as clear as anything Dominic had ever heard, but there still appeared to be nothing there. Dominic used Creation again to build a larger fire pit nearby, which he lit, giving him better light so that he could see the area around him better.
“What’s goin’ on?” Karo’s voice sounded tired and raspy. He had just awoken.
“Karo,” Dominic instructed, “wake up your family and leave the buggy. There’s something attacking you, but I can’t figure out what it is…”
Karo snapped into reality. “Isabel! Eleanor! Xavia! Wake up! We’ve gotta get outta here!”
The rest of the family woke up and quickly gained consciousness. They left as soon as they were all fully awake. Dominic heard them running up the river. Good, he thought, they won’t be harmed… hopefully…
Dominic quickly surveyed the buggy and saw a small, grotesque figure. It was about three feet tall, but one of its legs was almost completely gone, and the other was very thick and short. It didn’t even appear to have a foot. Its arms were longer than the rest of its body, and its head was half detached from its neck. Its mouth was torn open across its entire head and one of its eyes was missing. The other was hanging by a pinkish, gooey thread out of the socket. It turned to Dominic.
It lunged at him and bit him on the shoulder. The monster was thoroughly grotesque, and Dominic wasted no time in healing his wound. He unsheathed his sword and sliced at it, cutting its head clean off. The lower part of the monster’s body faded away into nothingness, while the head rolled about on the ground, revealing no blood whatsoever.
Dominic sensed it, but once again found nothing. It was as if the head was not even there—it contained just as much magical energy as air. Cautiously, Dominic picked the head up and looked through the gap where its neck once was to find nothing but darkness. It weighed very little, but Dominic was careful with it nonetheless. He lit a torch and tried to reveal something, but it was still perfectly black—just like Volatin.
Horrified, Dominic threw it aside. It has Volatin inside its head! Dominic thought. What is that thing?
“KREEAH!” The same cry came from all directions. More of them?… Dominic thought. Where are they coming from?
His curiosity temporarily left him when he was slashed in the face by another one of them. He quickly slew them all—they were thankfully very weak, but they were definitely creatures of evil.
Thankfully, none more appeared, but Dominic patrolled the area for another thirty minutes, just to make sure.
Those must have been Volatians, Dominic realized. They were each different in shape and size, but they all attacked the same way—with sharp claws and teeth. Dominic was glad that they were very easy to kill, but he also realized that they were probably not designed to kill warriors as much as they were designed to steal or injure and kill more defenseless people, all for the purpose of spreading Volatin.
As soon as the area seemed safe, Dominic sensed the area to find Karo and his family. He found them half a mile north, and ran to them as fast as he could to ensure their safety.
“Are you alright?” Dominic asked as soon as he was within earshot of them.
“I think so,” came a voice that Dominic identified as Karo’s. “None of us are hurt. The children are scared, but who wouldn’t be?”
Dominic used Creation to build a flame, which he held above his hand. “The threat’s gone,” Dominic stated. “I think they were Volatians. I’ve only encountered them once before, and Aroen killed them before I could get a good look at them. Fortunately, they weren’t much of a challenge to eliminate, but it would do well for all of us to be careful of them from now on.”
Dominic led the family back to the camp area and was happy to find that there was no sign of a second Volatian attack anywhere. Despite the midnight shock, everyone fell asleep quickly, and they resumed their journey in the morning.
* * *
The rest of the journey went smoothly. There were no further attacks by Volatians, and the river provided an excellent guide as well as food source. They reached the point where the Messereth River conjoined with the Virgo River in two days’ time, and Dominic left the family to fend for themselves on their way to Easton. Dominic trusted them to stay out of danger, and wished them the best of luck to avoid Volatians.
“Continue up this river until it connects with the Mornet River. From there, there’s a well-traveled path to Easton. The full journey should take about two more days.”
Dominic exchanged goodbyes with everyone on the family and turned to the Messereth River. Falzhun should be located somewhere along there, he thought. Now if only I knew exactly why I was going there…
The day was young, so Dominic decided to get a head start on the next leg of his journey. The desert was not far ahead of him, and he was not sure what to expect—he had never before been to the Messereth Desert, as it was usually avoided by the general populous. He prayed to keep away from danger, but he braced himself for the unexpected.