The land of Itarna was dying. Over half the population had already succumbed to the terrible virus and more were dying by the second. Seven-thousand men, women, and children killed in less than three days by an airborne toxin, its origins unknown to anyone, except that it probably began as a liquid. An analysis of one of the deceased revealed that the effect had similarities to the effects of shanteoc venom in the human bloodstream. One exposed to the mystery virus will soon after fall into a state of rapid decay by way of cellular degeneration. In the last thirty minutes of consciousness, the body will enter the final breakdown process; one hour or so later the epidermis will have turned to liquid and the skeletal structure will have crumbled, leaving depleted muscle and organ tissue in puddles of body fluid. It was a horrifying sight to behold. Those who attempted to help the dying contracted the virus, virtually within a minute of coming within five yards of the infected. It was decided quickly that the only way to control the outbreak would be to close down the continent. Those who remained uninfected were transported to either sky infirmaries or the Morbicias Disease Containment Facility just forty kilos off the southern coast of Nasiphym. Border patrol set up dura castors every five sparcets along the border around the entire continent. These generate an energy field of sorts that would serve to keep the infected from leaving the continent. If the infection reached the waterfront, it would be the end. The infection moved at an alarmingly fast rate through the air, there was no telling how quickly it could move in water. Duarume Prime Cale Haphenschein clenched the burnt out cigar tightly in his fist. He had been trying to quit for a year now, but as the saying goes, old habits just don’t die. A small pulse of heat and light emitted from his clenched hand. When he opened his fist the inside of his hand was covered in hundreds of gray flakes. With a sigh of exasperation, Cale walked over to the waste fragmentary and cast down the ashes. He made a mental note to practice more efficient disintegration. Cale looked around him. For about four hours he had shared this room with several other officers. Some had been writing reports while others had nothing to do but sit. Cale saw one or two of them on a console designing multi-complextritis anomalies in order to play a practical joke. One soldier, a wind disciple, was generating miniature wind storms while the other soldier, a mind shifter, was creating a telekinoctic shield surrounding the swirling gust. They took their practically invisible prank out of the room about two hours ago. Cale didn’t see them again, but he did get message saying that three soldiers were going to be unable to report for regular duty the rest of the day. This made Cale chuckle, but did not lift the current monotonous atmosphere in the room. It seemed as though the days were growing longer. It was as if Kesuleclaris and Shizorinne were competing for control over the skies. It seemed that the sun was winning. With all of the people in detainment, under lockdown, there was no activity. There was nobody to monitor, no more reports to file, no outside activity was permitted. Cale was actually bored, a state of being not often felt by the soldiers of the Bauro Ryys Syndicate. Cale began viewing old mission files to pass the time. He had been in the armed forces of Anesilar for seven and a half years. With them came memories and with memories, feelings, long thought buried away in the deep recesses of his mind; triumph, loss, sadness, envy, betrayal, hatred, love, happiness, lust, power, depression. The more he looked at it, Cale’s life had been like one of those incessant circular dramas. In a way it was kind of sickening. He collapsed the disc and shoved it into his left breast pocket. Cale was a tall man with broad shoulders with a good amount of muscle to accompany them. His white hair he pulled back into a pony tail that hung down to the base of his neck. His gaunt jawbones made room for his large mouth and high cheekbones gave him an intimidating appearance. His eyes were a pair of deep, intense pools of green, shimmering each time he activated his property. His dark skin appeared light in the rays of the red sun. A signal chimed at his console. In no hurry, Cale sauntered over the desk expecting another warning. He took a glanced at the note. It got his attention. Quickly, Cale gathered his dispatch bag and various liquid screens and walked briskly to the maglev. He took it too the top level, the stables. In the eleventh stall, he found her resting, tearing away at freshly slain norae kat. Athastynese, a beautiful hippogryph from the land of Grae, looked up at Cale as he put his hand through water matrix barrier. Athastynese extended her neck out allowing Cale to stroke her feathered head. Pressing his thumb into the gel scanner, Cale passed through the receding force field. Athastynese leaped up to all fours, stretching her enormous, twenty-four foot wing span, the tips jut brushing either side of the metalline stall. On all fours, she stood at about seven and one half feet. Her body length was at an impressive twelve feet, remarkable even for a hippogryph. Cale brushed her for a few moments, until Athastynese began to stomp her hooves. She had been locked in this stall for too long, and the inside flying range just wasn’t cutting it anymore. She wanted out. Jabbing with her front talons, Athastynese moved towards the door, pulling as Cale tried to attach her saddle. “Atha, whoa girl, slow down,” Cale spoke in low, reassuring tones, “Just let me…fasten this last…latch…” Cale tied his satchel to the leather ties on the saddle, then swung him self up. Atha trotted out and down the hall to the great opening, the doorway to the sky. A technician opened the aqua-gate and the creature broke into a sprint. With Cale holding on tight, clasping his legs to her sides, the mighty hippogryph leapt off the edge of the landing pad. With a huge rush of wind, Atha fully extended her enormous wings. They caught the wind and they soared. Duarume Prime Cale Haphenschein did not know what he was needed for in Grae, nor did he care at the moment. It was wonderful to be in the air. Normally, only a windmaster would have such a passion for the air, so be so far from the ground. Such is why most of the world of Grae exists in the skies above the continent. The massive sky country was the home Cale never had. His being a fire imperium only made this fact stranger. It had been nearly a year since he had seen the green forests and the dark red oceans of the sky, but he knew that Atha was twice as anxious. He gave her complete control, holding on the reins only for safety. Atha lifted her powerful wings and slammed them against the coming front, throwing her and her rider forward, toward the golden city. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Lumen woke up with a sudden jolt. Euneumatic energy tore through his body, wreaking havoc with his nervous system. The young man screamed in torment and confusion. What is this? Where is this? Lumen’s body convulsed, as he willed himself to double over. But something held him in place, some invisible force. Resistance was futile. The shocks finally ended just as the force field broke and Lumen slumped to the ground. Why had he been standing? Lumen tried to open his eyes, and found that he could not. He reached to touch them and found his eyelids to be fused together. Lumen winced as he ran his fingers along the raw skin. It was unfamiliar. He knew that that’s where his eyes were, and his brain recognized it, but he did not feel right. He felt lost. First my family is taken away and now I have been raped of my eyes? Lumen came away from his thoughts at the slam of a door. He heard several high pressure locks snap into place followed by the sound of footsteps coming towards him. He looked up to face his presumed torturer, but looked down again right away. Looking up wouldn’t profit him in any way; it would just make him look stupid. “We have been watching you, Lumen ive Acerbus,” a voice speaking from somewhere, seeming like several men and women speaking all at once, “and we like what we see.” Lumen clenched his fists. He couldn’t stand his current blindness. He tried to concentrate, looking back to his studies at the academy. His experience as a healer had only gone as far as repairing a scarred throat or a scraped arm. He had never had a reason to heal anything that couldn’t be taken care of with a cellular reconstructive apparatus. Who was this voice? Lumen tried to focus, but found it extremely difficult. His thoughts were running straight, he was confused. Memories weren’t the same and his thought processes were resulting illogically. He searched around, but could not find what he sought. It was as if something was blocking his neural pathways. A poison, or possibly some sort of machinery, but most likely a mind imperium, a telepathic, and a strong one at that. “You will not find what you seek, Lumen,“ the voices said in eerie unison, “For that which you seek, is that which we must have.” What is that supposed to mean? Lumen thought. “You possess great power, power that is secretly coveted by all who know of it. You who possess it do not even know of it. It has only recently begun to reveal itself to you. It is called, the Animus and it has not been seen, felt, or heard of in four thousand years…until now. Lumen did not know what to think nor could he with the telepathic ripping through his mind. His state of confusion was getting worse with each passing moment. A surge of pain coursed through his brain causing his eyes to burn. His body convulsed as he screamed in torment. Something pulled him up and slammed him a wall. The wall wasn’t the smoothest. When the surges stopped Lumen fell to the ground, meeting it face to face. Slowly, he lifted himself to his knees, paused to gift the floor with something black, wet, and unfamiliar, and then stood up to rest of the way, pulling himself up with some wood shaft protruding from the rough edifice that was the wall. Coughing, he fought to regain regular breathing. His eyes were on fire. “Look sirs-,” Lumen said in between great heaves, “I don’t know what you are ta-…talking about. I’ve never heard of an anime, anicane, amniset, or-…whatever it is you are talking about. I’m just on my home. My-…my family members have all died by way of the plague and I-“ “Ah, yes,” the mass of voices sounded closer, more like it was inside of his head then coming from another person, “the Tannon Strain; a most unfortunate circumstance for you, but quite inline with our desires.” Lumen felt as if a giant metallant wall had been thrown at him. He had been under the impression that the virus had been an accident, a random freak incident. But now, to hear that there was a purpose, one of seemingly insidiousness, it was more than he was ready to hear. Why would anyone unleash a virus upon Itarna, the most peaceful of the eight continents on the planet, Anesilar? “I don’t understand.” “It’s all quite simple really. We felt the Animus presence in Itarna, but could not find its host, you. We searched all through out the country but it was not until eight days ago we found what we thought to be the source. We came to your home, the Acerbus Estate, the Lighthouse as your dear little sister called it,” Lumen’s body tensed. “but when we did not find you there, we had to resort to other measures. Your family, remarkably enduring people, we might say, would not tell us where you were, even after we tortured them. Needless to say, this did not make us very happy. We will tell you, that we do not enjoy doing many of the things we do. We would prefer not to act unpleasantly towards others, but sometimes we must. Such was the case here. When we left your home, we left your family in pieces…literally. We dare say, that if one were to enter in upon the mess we left, they would not recognize it has human.” Lumen’s knuckles were turning white. Hate ran wild through his veins. His family had not died of the plague at all. They were tortured and murdered, because of him, and he didn’t know why. Fire ran through his blood. He felt the deepest darkest feeling, a feeling which he soon identified as vehement malignity. He began to feel different. His thoughts were gradually becoming clearer. He was somehow fighting against the blocks, as if his rage was breaking through his own mind. The voices seemed unaware. His mind released, opening itself to a new energy, a new essence. It flowed through his body, soothing the bodily pain. But his hatred ran remained. “We felt the signal everywhere we turned so, instead of going to you, we brought you to us. We released the Tannon virus, an experimental toxin of great destructive abilities. Upon contact with nitrogen it turns to gas and then quite nearly impossible to stop. We were impressed when it was. Lumen fought the almost impossible-to-resist-urge to lunge out at his attackers. He would tear them limb from limb, like they did to his family. Lumen felt his eyes. The burned skin was slowly replenishing itself, pushing out the raw flesh as the new took its place. “We knew that if your home was in danger you would go to it. Once we felt your signal moving we tracked you to the transport vessel. You were a pathetic mess when we found you there. And those poor passengers, well they didn’t have anything to live for anyway, all of their families were dead too. By now that star craft is somewhere on the bottom of the Nasiphymiac Sea.” Lumen cursed them in his heart. He did not know who these people were, if they were even human. He did not care. He would look them in the eyes as they died. “So it comes to this young one, we have you, you can not escape. We will take what we need. Lumen heard footsteps coming closer. A hand grabbed him by his long black hair and yanked him back. Oh, one more thing, your sister –the young one- she’s a feisty one. She put up quite the fight, making loud noises- until I sliced off her tongue and tore her arms from their sockets.” Lumen snapped. Fire shot forth from his eyes, disintegrating the burnt skin revealing fiery red eyes, fueled by vengeance. With a burst of energy, Acerbus lunged forward, grabbing his attacker by the neck. With power and vigor he bashed the man against the jagged wall. Euneumatec energy surged from within and emitted through his fingers tips to the man whose neck he held. He pulled the man up and bashed his head into the wall again, this time so he could see the man’s eyes. What he saw frightened him. The man with many voices had the eyes of the Pit. Endless black holes, created by darkness itself. Tendrils of evil poured through his eye sockets. He was a man, but his facial features were horribly disfigured. His veins were a rancid blue-green, and his face itself was a pale, ghostly white. This was what they called wicked. “What are you?” Lumen asked incredulously. The dark being opened its mouth and spoke words that sent chills down Lumen’s spine: “We are the Necroscyse, and you will not kill us with this action. This body is not us. It is but a tool. You can run away from here, but it matters not. We will hunt you, we will find you, we will kill you, and we will take what is rightfully ours!” The sinister man opened his mouth wide and out came spewing tendrils of shadow. Shadow so thick one could touch it like one touches steam, the embodiment of a hateful, demonic soul. This was evil. In an amazing feat of strength, bodily or mind he did not know, Lumen hurled the man across the room, which he now saw was not a room at all, but a tree. He was in the root system of a Guriuan tristlen, one of the largest trees on the planet, native to Mentanium. The thick roots twisted and spiraled, coiling around other roots, forming a prison-like barrier that no unequipped man or woman could break through, from the inside or out. So how did I get here? Euneumatec energy pulsed in the palms of his hands and he dashed towards the shadow man. The demon fiend leapt up to meet him, but he was no match. Lumen’s resolve to kill was so much stronger than his resolve to take. Lumen leapt up and met the demon in the air. He plunged his pulsing hand into the man’s neck. Sixty thousand keons of euneumatec energy drove through the man’s body. Suddenly, the energy stream changed. The euneumatec flow was cut off, and out poured a new stream, dark blue pulses of…something. The demon man’s body disintegrated almost immediately. A vortex of swirling black malice lingered for a moment in the demon’s wake, and then collapsed on itself, leaving nothing but hot air. The smell of sulfur was quickly filtered out by the roots of the tristlen. Lumen just sat, watching the shifting light rays from the sun, shining through the natural lattice. His focus was diverted for a moment, when, out of the corner of his eye, something shimmered. He looked, and a few meters from him, was a silver sliver in the shape of a rectangle. He willed to move, but his body disagreed with the motion. In a minute, he had fallen asleep, utterly drained of all strength. His dreams were dark. He dreamed of windships burning.