ACT I: THE FIRE WITHIN
Chapter 1: Family Ties
Dark clouds rolled in as lightning crackled across the skies of Edenia. The clouds shed their rain in a heavy downpour over the landscape, causing sporadic flooding throughout the area, most notably the village of Drogen which was situated at the base of the famous Mount Dragnier.
The mountain and its adjacent village were named, ages ago, after a great war that took place between the human race and the dragons, which were little more than savage beasts at the time. The climax of the war took place in that very region millennia earlier, though devastation caused by their fighting had still scarred the landscape.
Out of nowhere, a fully grown gray dragon bellowed its fearsome roar atop Mt. Dragnier and took to the skies. It tore through the clouds leaving only wisps in its wake. The dragon descended upon the village of Drogen and, at that moment, a young man in his early teenage years watched in awe as the elder wyrm opened its mouth and he could see its flames begin to crackle out of its maw.
He braced himself for his death, waiting to be consumed by a breath of fire, but instead the flames passed through him, warming him to his core. He felt strangely at peace as it happened, and he found himself embracing his end.
"Arise young one," he heard the dragon speak. Reality began to blur as the blue haired boy began to char under the intense heat, yet he continued to feel no pain as his skin blackened and cracked.
The enormous gray wyrm landed mere feet in front of the boy, who remained emotionless as he was cooked alive. Even the ground trembled in fear at the creature's arrival. It eyed its prey with interest for a moment and suddenly lurched forward and whipped its wings at the child, who was struck by an opposable digit located at the tip of the immense creature's wings. The digit, complete with a three inch long claw, pierced through the boys shoulder, and used the muscles in its wing to pin the boy down. All the while, the flames erupting from the dragon's mouth never ceased their inferno.
"The village is under siege by the Dark Ones," it added as the voice began to take on a feminine sound.
The long face of the dragon began to shrink and reshape itself. The body, as well, took a new form - a much more familiar one. The face rounded and sprouted something similar to ears, then the amorphous dragon's color faded from gray to a shiny jet black. The tail disappeared into the dragon's body, if it could even be called a body then. Its teeth lost their keen edge. It's head began to grow long locks of gray hair that soon seemed to gain some life. The hair became a lack-luster bluish gray.
"You'll perish if you don't wake up!" the dragon roared.
The claw that had pierced his shoulder became a hand. As he quickly returned to consciousness, the hand grabbed his shoulder so hard it caused him to scream in pain. Or was it in fear? He could not tell.
The hand shook him, bringing him closer to reality.
His surroundings continued to warp, and eventually he found himself in his bedroom, safe and sound. Or so it seemed at the time.
"Wake up child," said a stern matronly voice. It was more of an order than a request.
When Ryu opened his eyes, he saw a tall, elderly woman dressed in the priestly garbs of the Church of St. Eva. He instantly recognized her.
"Grandmother?" he called out to his ancestor, who shared the same blue hair, groggily. Though her hair had most likely once shared their families most characteristic trait, it had bled out in time seeming to have faded for the most part. At sixty two years old, she had dedicated her life to the calling of Saint Eva and had since proven to be among the most gifted in the divine arts during her apprenticeship. Lately, however, it would seem her age had begun to catch up with her. "What is it? It's the middle of the ni..."
She covered her grandson's mouth, pressing her pointer finger to her lips to signal him to be quiet. She tip-toed to Ryu's dresser and quickly grabbed an outfit, tossing it on top of him. He threw the tattered robes on hastily, and slid into his wooden sandals on the side of the bed.
"Disaster has struck," she whispered as he got ready. "We need the power of the dragon."
"Grandmother," he whispered hesitantly. "What's going on?"
"The village is engulfed in flames! Everything is burning! We must go, Ryu." She paused for effect. "NOW!" she added, in the loudest whisper she could muster.
Ryu and his grandmother crept towards the door and, as the door slid open, the entire atmosphere seemed to change, going from dark and cold to bright and hot. Flames licked into the room and the woman instinctively covered Ryu, suffering only superficial burns to her robes.
Ryu broke free from her grasp as the flames subsided. He then remembered his own burns and checked himself to remind him that it was only just a dream.
His grandmother, whose name was Esma, said a prayer to her patron saint, the goddess Myria, and asked her for her protection. Only the priestesses of the church of St. Eva were taught the ways of speaking to the Gods and sometimes they answered back. Rarely did the Gods listen to the non-devout, but it had happened and those times that it did, it was viewed by Edenia's people as a blessing from the Gods.
They made a left out of the doorway, and as the pair headed down the hall, a large flaming support beam fell between the two relatives. Esma lurched down the stairs to avoid getting crushed under the weight of the beam and suffered considerable damage from the fall due to her age. Ryu, despite his younger age, was not so quick to react.
"Ryu!" she screamed, more out of fear for her grandson than from her aching bones. She ignored her numerous cuts and bruises, specifically the large knot on her head, as she forced herself to her feet. She could hear her grandson's cries but whether they were from fear or pain, she could not say.
The old woman extended her frail right arm and wiggled each of her fingers, chanting something inaudible under her breath. Something similar to rain trickled from the ceiling and landed on the flames that engulfed the beam.
The fire on the staircase subsided, as well as Ryu's cries. Esma limped her way up the stairs to inspect the steaming log, which greatly reduced her visibility. At that moment, she feared her grandchild's silence far worse than any dragon.
Then she heard him coughing.
"Ryu! Are you okay?" she screamed, still concerned, as most grandparents would be.
"I'm still alive if that's what you mean," he answered, chuckling yet still coughing his lungs up.
"Thank the Gods..." she mumbled to herself as she scanned through the now-dissipating steam."My magic was once strong but at my age I can barely douse this fire," she chuckled, the tension over her grandsons fate having been lifted. She soon found him and helped him over the charred beam. "Quickly, come..."
The pair descended the steps and opened the door at the bottom of the staircase. The door led into a room that was seemingly untouched by the fire. There were four other people inside of it, each of which Ryu recognized.
Eljhin, the village elder and chief, stood at the front of the assembly. He looked to be even his grandmother's senior, and given his title that was likely true. He wore a tan-colored cloak with a dark brown fringe around the wrists and hood.
"This section of the building is safe from the flames for the time being," he cut straight to the point. "Your sister," he eyed Ryu, "has been working to protect this building with runic inscriptions, in the event of a situation just like this."
"Clearly she failed to finish the job. The whole top half of the building will be gone in less than a half hour!" complained an overweight man in the audience. As most people guessed from his stature, he was the butcher for the village of Drogen. Everyone in town knew the man as Billi, though his real name was Billian - a name that only his father had the gall to call him.
"Calm yourself Billian. The inscriptions had not been finished before the Dark Ones fell upon us," Eljhin scolded his son. Regardless, this section of the house can be used as a sanctuary while we rebuild."
"But the fire is so intense! Are you sure it'll hold up?" one of the women, Vareesa, asked. She was in her late twenties and positioned next to her twin sister, Vanessa, who undoubtedly dressed in matching outfits only to further confuse everyone in the village. They both wore green dresses, and both were smudged with soot.
"Listen. We don't know what caused the fire, but Sara's magic will hold!" Eljhin finished the argument.
"Or at least long enough for us to escape," Billi added, refusing to let his father get the last word.
"The people here are safe!" Eljhin glared at his son.
"We woke up surrounded by flames. What did we do to deserve this?" Vanessa asked.
"We survived," Ryu's grandmother added, matter-of-factly. She held a hand up to her head, which now seemed warm to her. Her hand became red. "Has anyone heard from my granddaughter?"
At that moment, the front door burst open and two more villagers ran in. One of them, a blue haired female, situated herself next to Ryu and Esma.
"Speak of the devil..." Esma said with a grin. She knew her granddaughter hated that expression.
The other newcomer Ryu did not recognize, although he seemed to know his sister well enough.
"Not the time, grandmother!" she yelled, clearly agitated.
"Calm yourself Sara. Tell us what has happened."
"We're not the only ones... The Dark Ones are moving to take the whole region. Camlon's already been occupied... and... and..."
"Spit it out Sara!" the village chief shouted, clearly impatient.
"Oh, the humanity..." uttered Sara's friend.
"They're outside the village! We're surrounded!" she finally managed to say.
"The Dark Ones are scheming against the other families," Vanessa finally chimed in. "Sara, who's your friend?" At that point, the man who came in with her gathered his composure.
"My name is Laurent. I'm the general of Camlon's army. Or was, rather... There is no more army!" His eyes glossed over, reliving the pain of watching his men die at the hands of the Dark Ones's forces. "I am the only one left..."
"I had heard that Zoggoth had vowed to conquer the world by years end but I took it as gossip. You know how the villagers talk..." Laurent finished.
"But why did he plan on taking over this region first? Doesn't he know that we lost the power of the Dragon Soul?" asked Eljhin.
"Either he doesn't know or doesn't care..." Billi cut in.
"Does it really matter? Our people are outside dying!" cried Laurent
"Either way, he fears us!" Eljhin thought out loud.
"Then why is this self-proclaimed Dragon King trying to destroy us?" Ryu chimed in.
"Because if we did have the Dragon Soul, then we would be the only thing standing in his way!" Esma explained.
"Zogg is a fool! He knows nothing!" the village chief shouted, pounding his fist into an open palm.
"I won't sit by while they attack us. I say we act now!" pleaded Ryu's grandmother. "If we can't escape, there's only one thing to do..."
"Then let's take the fight to them!" Laurent suggested.
"I will... No, I must... use my magic against the Dragon King's forces. Let's go!" Esma said. She didn't wait for the audience's approval. She stood up and stormed towards the door.
"We are too weak, grandmother, " Sara said plainly, grabbing her ancestor by the wrist to stop her in her tracks. "You especially. You are injured." Sara turned her wrist upward, revealing the blood. "Looks like you got a nice gash on your head there."
"She's right. Our group would be devastated by their powerful army," Billi - ever the pessimist - chimed in.
"I won't give up! I will show them our will to live." Sara refused to back down. Her grandmother was right, after all. They had to protect each other. Ensure one another's survival despite all odds.
"C'mon Sara. Let's go!" agreed Laurent, who unsheathed his longsword for effect.
"No!" Sara held her ground. "I must do this on my own."
At that moment, her eyes began to glow with a white light. She held up her open palm, facing it towards Laurent, and closed her fingers. By the time her fingers touched her palm, Laurent had been turned into stone.
"What have you done?" the chief asked Sara as the others watched in horror at the turn of events.
"I've turned him into stone so that the fire will not affect him should my runes not hold up. Remember our mission, Eljhin."
"Stone or not, they'll still find us!" There was truth behind Billi's smart remarks.
But it was too late. The spell was complete and everyone save Ryu and Sara were turned into stone.
"Fear not, brother. When the Dark Ones search the building, and they will search the building, they will find nothing more than stone statues. Hopefully, they will think nothing of it. I'll distract them in the mean time."
"No! Why does is it have to be you?" Ryu asked, pleading for his sister to stay.
"We've suffered enough, brother. I'll take care of the Dark Ones."
That was the last thing Ryu remembered before he too succumbed to the effects of the spell. His right arm was petrified, reaching out to his sister.
"Be strong. When you grow into a warrior, you'll bring peace to the world... Take care, brother." She made her way to the door, yet continued talking as she did so. "May the power of the Dragon Soul protect us all..."
And then Sara walked outside to single-handedly face the Dragon King's army.
I'll try to distract the Dark One's soldiers, Sara thought to herself, as she slammed the door to draw as much attention to herself as possible.
"Hey! Someone's there!" one of the soldiers shouted, drawing the attention of three more soldiers.
There were four of them, that she could see at least, who instantly noticed the blue haired woman exiting the building. They each drew their swords and the ring of steel drew her attention towards them and she knew her only way to protect her friends and family was to end this now.
"She has the Dragon Soul! I can feel its power emanating off of her!" the first soldier said, as he grabbed her by the wrist.
The soldiers were wearing a dull gray armor that looked like it may have once been brilliant but it had long since lost its luster.
There was blue decal on their helms and in the center of their breastplates there was an emblem - a bright blue comet-like fireball that descended from the armors left shoulder. The emblem was surrounded by a banner of dark blue, the same hue as that used on their helms.
"Take her to the commander!" the second soldier ordered the others.
At that point, the third soldier grabbed her other wrist and two of them escorted her south, towards the village entrance. The leader situated himself to her front, and the other covered her rear. They were being cautious because they weren't sure how many other villagers were still hiding in the area and didn't want to deal with losing their prisoner.
"We'll search the area later. We must take care of her now."
They continued to escort her south and when they arrived at the entrance, they were greeted by two more soldiers, who wore the same armor as the others, and another more spectacularly dressed individual.
"Sir, we've captured one of them," the leader of the escort reported.
"You set fire to our community. What do you gain from this?" Sara asked bluntly.
"Straight to the point, are we?" answered the soldier who was dressed in a golden armor with pauldrons crafted of something akin to crystal. He had the same emblem on his chest but the helm he wore was much more elegant. It had a lock of long blonde hair that hung lower than, but matched the color of, his own blonde hair. He also sported a cape of a deep dark blue with a gold fringe, and a large broadsword that he had to hold with both hands.
"Very well," the commander agreed, looking between his soldiers, finally ending his gaze at Sara. His eyes glowed with a fire.
"My orders were to eliminate all of your family, and, well..." he paused to laugh. "I always follow orders."
Sara had had enough. She balled her fists up and tried to calm herself. Bolts of lightning surged through her closed fists and the soldier holding that arm became startled.
"I'm just doing my job. Please don't blame me," he whispered.
Soon lightning fell from the sky striking the guard who blocked Sara from the front. Another bolt followed shortly after barely missing the guard in the back of their formation.
Almost instantly, the four remaining guards decided to run. They made a break for the fields not far from Drogen. Several dragons waited for their riders in the direction that the soldiers ran and each became startled from all the commotion.
The dragons were covered in black scales but the tip of each scale seemed to give off a violet hue. Sara estimated that each of the creatures was roughly ten feet long and half as tall. Judging from their size, they were only adolescent dragons. Drakes, they were called, and Sara knew these specific beasts to be midnight drakes, a commonly used mount of the Dark Ones.
Though the creatures were mere beasts compared to the great dragon families, which were sentient creatures with a social hierarchy, they still made great siege weapons when piloted during war. Many midnight drakes were raised in entire clutches by the Dark Ones and many believed that to be the reason behind Zogg's title, the Dragon King.
Two more lightning bolts struck out, this time at the soldiers who were holding her hands. Both died horrible deaths, the electricity surging through their metal armor. The final soldier made it to his drake, and even managed to hop on before being pierced by a fifth bolt straight through his back. It coursed through him and passed into the drake before exiting into the ground.
The other drake mounts flew away in fear of their family member being cooked alive. One, however, remained. One which appeared to be different from the others.
Despite the fact that the remaining drake was slightly larger than the others, it was no mere midnight drake. Sara noted that it's scales were jet black, lacking the violet hue of the others. Instead, the tips of each scale seemed to get darker at the end and, rather than flee, the jet black drake roared in agitation. Sara had never seen this kind of dragon before but it was, no doubt, the commander's mount.
The commander raised his sword in defiance. "Show me what your made of witch!" He charged forward.
Sara continued to channel her lightning spell. She had learned everything she knew from her grandmother, Esma, yet she still retained the spirit and vigor of youth that Esma had long since lost.
The commander rolled to the right, dodging the bolt that would have otherwise been spot-on. Sara had never seen anyone move so fast before, not even those of the Grassrunner clan whom she had witnessed, with her own eyes, sprinting at twice the speed as any human.
And this man was clearly not of the Grassrunner clan.
She continued raining lightning from the sky and the clouds began to darken. The electricity surging through her fists was now coursing up her arms and crossing her shoulders. It bolted down into her from the clouds and she became the lightning's conductor.
Bolt after bolt fell from the sky, some aiming at the commander, some trying to predict where he'd dodge next but she never seemed to hit her target. This infuriated her because she never missed a target without planning to do so.
"Wow... You're strong!" the commander said sarcastically, clapping slowly yet clearly unimpressed.
She tried to strike him again and decided to channel the lightning running through her. She pulled the bolt out of the ground and whipped it towards the commander, but he jumped over it as if it were a child's game.
"Come on!" shouted Sara, who was more than agitated.
"I can't let you interfere with Zogg's plans. Nothing personal," he replied with a grin. He was a mere ten feet away now and Sara had to try a new tactic.
Instantly, the lightning stopped and the clouds whitened. She shifted her stance and threw an open palm forward and a medium-sized fireball burst from her finger tips.
"We will stop you!" she screamed as she released the fireball.
He dodged the new spell like it was even less difficult than the lightning, and then stood completely still, as if to taunt Sara.
"I don't think so," he played with his sword, jutting it into the ground and leaning on it. "Can I tell you a secret?" he asked mockingly. "Of course I can..." Jade smirked as his lips began to move. "We have the Goddess Keys!"
Sara knew all too well what that meant.
When the dragons were at the peak of their power, a goddess of desire appeared and watched the civil war between the dragons escalate. The goddess Tyr granted the dragons wishes and, in turn, fought each other over her power.
When the world was at the brink of destruction, a warrior stepped forward. The warrior battled Tyr alongside seven companions and locked her away using six keys. Each one crafted of the elements by the Gods themselves.
Those Goddess Keys were scattered throughout the world and hidden away.
The dragons decided it was better to not use the wishes granted by the goddess, rather than to let their power be abused. Another goddess, Deis, had promised to watch over the ones who did not comply and vowed to imbue her wrath on those who would not. The power was balanced and peace reigned again for a time. But it would seem that that balance had shifted again.
"The Goddess Keys?!" she shrieked, unable to contain her fear.
"You're a pretty good sorcerer, honestly. It's a shame your on the wrong side," the commander stated. He inched his way towards Sara, his sword held high again.
"Don't come any closer!" she said, regaining her composure. "What exactly will you do with the goddess Tyr?"
"It's all over Sara. You mustn't worry..." He began to sprint towards his rival.
"Take this, slime!" shouted Sara as she unleashed her latest fireball, this one much larger than the last.
The commander kept running straight for her, regardless of the burning gas in his path, and took the fireball straight to the chest. He didn't miss a step.
"You didn't even flinch!"
"C'mon..." he said with a sinister grin, as his body smoked from the impact of the fireball. "Is that all you've got?" He began to cackle maniacally.
He closed the gap between Sara and himself and smashed the hilt of his sword into her temple.
An unknown amount of time later, the sanctuary remained eerily quit. As Billi had guessed, the top half of the building had failed to hold, but the section of the house under Sara's protection stood strong. Her petrification spell, however, began to wear off - starting with Laurent - and one by one the villagers were turned back into flesh and blood.
"What's going on?" Laurent asked Ryu, assuming he knew something more. "What happened to Sara?"
"She saved us!" Vareesa spoke up.
"Chief, don't you think that we should fight for Sara?" her sister, Vanessa, chimed in but Esma stepped forward to answer in his place.
"We renounced the dragons ages ago. Their battles aren't ours. Sara has made up her mind."
"But we must fight for Sara and the pride of our people!" Billi countered.
"We must think of survival." Esma looked outside, displaying what was once the proud village of Drogen. "Soon this place will be in ruins."
The villagers contested but, as if in answer, the foundation beneath them began to shake. They quickly moved the conversation outside, where Ryu eyed the chief defiantly.
"I have to know what's become of my sister, Eljhin." It sounded like a question but the village chief knew it wasn't.
"Don't, Ryu... You have no idea how powerful the Dark Ones armies are. What can one man, a child at that, hope to accomplish?" The chief didn't intend to insult the boy but he felt as if letting the boy leave was to let him die and he would do anything to prevent that.
"If I could give my life to insure my sisters safety, I would do just that." Ryu wasn't backing down. "She's too important to our people's survival..."
"But," his grandmother didn't even want to think about it, and so Eljhin stepped in to finish the sentence for her.
"Ryu, we don't even know that she's still alive."
"I know, but I have to try..."
"I know that I should continue to try and stop you, but I cannot. Like your sister, you have already made your mind up," Esma gave in.
"Take this," the village chief said, handing him a small leather satchel sealed with a string. "It's not much, but you can use it to pay for your stays in whatever inn you may find yourself in."
Ryu searched inside of the satchel and found that it contained three hundred zenny, the most common currency found in Edenia. The average inn price was between sixty and seventy copper so, indeed, Eljhin's gift would last quite a while if Ryu managed his money well.
"This is for you too." Vanessa handed him a finely crafted short-sword that was encased in an elaborate sheath, that she herself had crafted. Unlike Billi, she didn't look the part of her profession one bit but she was actually one of the most sought after blacksmiths this region had to offer.
Ryu inspected the gift. The sword had a strong and straight blade. It sported a keen double-edge and yet still maintained its sharp tip.
He slid the blade back into its sheath which was made of an orange-stained leather. Its hilt was crafted from the regions finest gold, which Ryu assumed was probably from the mines deep inside of Aura Cave.
The thought of where the blade came from sent chills down his spine. Ryu had bad memories in those mines which he cared not to relive. He shrugged the thoughts off and thanked Vanessa and Eljhin for their gifts and Esma followed suit.
"It's not really a gift, but these are your things." His grandmother tossed him a pack filled with some of his clothes, a tunic and boots that would be better suited for travel than the sandals that he now wore. "I found these in the wreckage before the spell your sister had cast on you had ended."
"Thank you, grandmother."
He quickly got changed, showing no shame in doing so in public, yet the others still looked away out of respect. The outfit Esma had found was one of Ryu's favorites; a white tunic with gold fringe at the ends of its short sleeves and the base of the tunic itself, which covered him halfway down his thighs.
Inside the bag he also found a gold belt, to which he attached his new swords sheath after putting it on. He also found his favorite red cloak inside, which he wrapped around his neck so that it draped over his back.
He looked ready to go, physically at least, but emotionally was another story. He stared deep into his ancestor's eyes, looking for her approval.
"Go on, Ryu! We'll stay here and start rebuilding. Come back if you need a rest," she said with a big smile. He nodded in response.
"Zogg will be brought to justice soon." The chief hoped his words would ring true but he honestly doubted it. "Good luck, warrior!"
And he truly looked the part of it now.
He tied up part of his hair but let the lowest layers of his long locks hang halfway down his back. As he did so, Billi stepped forward and shook Ryu's hand.
"Ugh..." Billi blushed. "I feel horrible. I have nothing to give you."
"Billi..." Ryu laughed. "You have the most important thing of all!" He rubbed his stomach as he said so. Billi got the hint.
"I think I could probably spare some jerky!" he said, running to go get it. Ryu couldn't help but laugh at the overweight man sprinting into the horizon.
"Your son's a riot, Elder," he said, holding the back of his head with his right hand while laughing.
"Tell me about it," Eljhin said and the whole group thought that hysterical.
"Ryu, all I have for you is knowledge," Vareesa explained. "Zogg's empire is beyond the ocean. It will be a long journey but you can head to Nanai. It's a port town to the north, but to get there you have to get to Camlon first, then head northeast, and it's just over the river. You can catch a ferry from there though."
"Good to know. That ought to come in handy,"
Eventually, Ryu said his goodbyes and headed out on his quest. As he got just far enough away that he could barely see the smoke from the ruins of Drogen on the horizon, he stopped for a moment to look back.
He wondered why his sister would risk her life in that manner. He wondered what it was that she knew that would make her act in such a way. He had no idea. But he wanted to find out.
He said a prayer to St. Eva for protection from harm upon himself and his friends and family in Drogen and set back on his course for Nanai.