Prologue 1 – Fog of Champions
Tancinia groaned as she awakened and looked at the blurry night sky above her, especially mesmerized by the softly swirling galaxy that glowed with a cyanic light.
“Wait. Sky?” she murmured drowsily to herself. She rubbed her eyes and rapidly shook her head, forcing herself awake, and tearing the warm blanket of sleep that had surrounded her cozily.
“This isn’t my tent!” Her eyes opened wide in alarm. She jumped up to her feet and immediately assumed a defensive stance, bringing her hands forward in anticipation of an attack. She looked around wearily, taking in her surroundings.
“Obara!” She conjured a translucent green force field around her.
She wasn’t a stranger to new environments. Her time as a scout for the New Kaiser of Seeklin had seen to that. However, this…place…was a whole new level of strange. A massive sea of fog lay in front of her, twisting, churning, swallowing everything it touched as it slowly approached her. She quickly stepped backwards and turned around, only to face an eerie forest, whose trees had trunks shaped like bones and seemed to stretch to the sky while bending ever so slightly toward her, as if trying to cave over and devour her whole. Her senses screamed at her to stay away. Her eyes widened in horror, her force field automatically dissipated, and she stumbled over her own legs and fell on the— there was no ground!
She clenched her eyes shut. Her hair stood on its end as a piercing scream resounded in her ears. It was only when her throat became raw with pain that she realized it was her own scream. Her stomach stopped plummeting as something broke her fall. She slowly opened her eyes and looked around, still seeing the forest to her left, and the slowly creeping fog to her right. She looked down, heart palpitating in fear like a frightened rabbit as she gazed deep into the infinite expanse of darkness underneath. And yet, somehow, she was levitating, as if a solid, stable thing was keeping her grounded.
Hesitant, she stretched her hand below her, testing to see if it would also be blocked from reaching towards the abyss. And as she suspected, it met an invisible barrier, almost as if her hand had pressed up against a pane of glass. She gingerly attempted the same thing with her other hand, which encountered the barrier as well. Determining that it was somewhat safe, she slowly pushed herself to her feet, still wary of the abyss and distrustful of the seemingly invisible floor.
“Welcome to the Eternal Courtyard!” A deep, rough voice boomed from within the writhing fog that lay ahead of her.
She jumped back in alarm. “Thumras!” The fingertips of her right hand immediately began to glow a light orange. She extended her hand in the direction of the voice, brow furrowed in caution and slowly stepped back. “Obara.” She chanted, as a force field once again flashed into existence.
“Let’s put those spells away, mortal. I mean no harm.” A numbing gust of wind brushed past her, briefly touching against her clothes, as it dissipated the force field and erased the glow emanating from her fingertips.
“Viniqastupor!” She yelled another mantra in a bid to protect herself. Contrary to her expectations though, nothing happened. The pulse of her blood roared in her ears, as terror nearly took over all her senses. Her spells had never failed her before. Her arsenal had always been there to aid her. It was the sole reason for her survival as a scout for a cruel ruler.
Why weren’t they working!?
She stood frozen in fear, despite knowing that her best bet for survival would be to run, run away as fast as she could.
“Calm yourself, mortal.” A wave of tranquility washed over her. Her heart slowed down to a timely march and her fear dissipated like the smoke from a raging bonfire. She stood straight, breathing deeply, and stared at the fog with a new-found confidence. It had been so long since she hadn’t been afraid and wary of everything around her. She basked in this feeling, despite knowing deep down inside that it was artificial…and temporary. She clung on to every tendril of this feeling with a burning intensity, never wanting part from it again.
“You are one of the 100 mortals present here in the Eternal Courtyard. All of you have been brought here to participate in a trial. It is simple, with only one requirement to pass: survive the Fog of Champions. Of course, you could always opt out of the trial, but as a consequence, you would lose the only chance you will ever have to gain the power you so deeply desire, and that confidence you crave for will forever remain unattainable. Do not worry… If you die in the fog, you will only lose your memories of this, and wake up as if nothing ever happened. So…tell me, Tancinia, Scout of Seeklin, do you wish to try your hand at earning power you could otherwise never dream of? Will you choose your ambition and the possibility of greatness or will you stay satisfied in your mediocrity like the rest of your kind?”
Tancinia’s heart palpitated once more, not in fear, but rather in excitement. How many times had she wished to become powerful enough, confident enough to stand tall with pride instead of shaking in fear? How much had it burned her soul to stand back and do nothing as the vile mercenaries of the corrupt Confederacy committed a plethora of despicable acts? Her eyes glistened with a barely suppressed emotion, and her mouth opened on its own accord and said, “I do.”
Immediately, the fog rushed towards her, and before Tancinia even had a chance to react, it swallowed her whole. She found herself blind, wisps of gray clouding her vision for a few minutes. Her confidence slowly slipped away, like someone’s grip from the edge of a cliff, and desperately tried to hold onto it. She told herself that she was capable, she was incredible, she was amazing— No, she couldn’t convince herself. Her insecurities plagued her once again, but suddenly the fog vanished.
She found herself surrounded by two plain obsidian-colored walls that reached the sky. She stared into the darkness, quivering in fear.
“It’s okay,” she whispered to herself. “Nothing will happen, even if I die, I’ll wake up in camp tomorrow.” However, the aura of this place sent shivers up her spine. In her five years as a scout, she had completely memorized the lay of the land. She could easily navigate through the jungles of Seeklin and the Confederacy, and yet, the jungles still held terrors that she could only flee from. And now she was in a place with mysterious beings who could strip her of her magic in an instant…
The sound of metal creaking rang out behind her. She craned her neck to look behind, and her eyes widened in horror, as another obsidian-colored wall, this time soaked in blood, slowly advanced towards her. Her breathing began to quicken. She stumbled and fell to the ground, her body freezing in place and refusing to let her run away. How many people had that wall killed to be covered in so much blood? How many had failed to run away?! She had to get up. She had to run. But her body wouldn’t move. GET UP. RUN. She told herself. SAVE YOURSELF.
BOOM! The wall exploded in a fit of flames only a few feet away from where she stood. She stared in shock for a few moments, and slowly grew relieved. Her breathing slowed down, and she hoisted herself to her feet. She gazed at the debris left behind by the explosion, and came to a chilling realization that whatever had obliterated the wall could just as easily obliterate her. She immediately turned around, and sprinted in the other direction.
She had only managed to put a small distance between the rubble and herself before a red glow flashed in front of her. Long, slender, fingers grasped her neck, stopping her momentum in a single motion. Razor-like claws began to dig in her throat, causing her to twist in agony. She tried to scream, but the hand wasn’t even letting her breathe. She tried to peel the fingers off her neck, only to have her wrist snapped by another hand. She kicked and thrashed around in an attempt to wrest herself from their grasp, but the hands didn’t even budge an inch.
“Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. The Gods sure do look after me. I was just getting hungry.” a masculine voice hissed in front of her. Her gaze followed the length of his arm, traveled up his shoulders and went past his pale neck before finally catching a glimpse of her attacker’s face. She was quite taken by his appearance. His face was paler than anyone’s she’d seen before, and his jawline was well defined. But the transparent drool dripping down his chin drew her attention to his thick lips, and she suddenly noticed the dark blood crusted around them. And his eyes… his eyes were red like blood, much like the blood of all the people he’d devoured before her, and his pupils were slitted like that of a feline.
He grinned, and her eyes widened in trepidation as she saw his teeth… and his fangs. Vampire fangs. Her body went limp with fear, and she closed her eyes, knowing she wouldn’t survive this. At least she could keep her life. She’d wake up, and everything would be fine. NO… She couldn’t go back like this. She couldn’t continue to live the rest of her life in fear! She had to fight back! She couldn’t speak, so she wouldn’t be able to use any spells right now. But every man had a weak spot. She booted her leg forward with all her strength, aiming at his crotch. The moment her leg made contact, his grip loosened ever so slightly, just enough for her to let a whisper through.
“Viniqastupor!” she barely muttered before he squeezed her throat in anger.
“How dare—” his words were cut off as his hands were suddenly pried open, his body shoved backwards by an invisible force.
“Spatial magic? How can a weakling like you use such magic?” He growled in fury. CRACK. His jaw bones suddenly ruptured, and his cheekbones caved in. His nose suddenly crushed. The sound of more bones snapping bounced off the walls. His eyes began to blaze and glow even brighter as the cracking stopped and a wall of blue energy manifested around his face. A seed of hope grew within her as she watched it crumble his face. But terror soon began to claw at her once she noticed a glowing red orb repel the blue force from within. The vampire’s face began to heal, his nose popped back up, and his disfigured jaw and cheeks mended themselves. His crimson eyes glowed even more intensely, which was immediately followed by the red sphere pushing against the blue energy with much more force, until the blue force finally popped and dissipated.
He glared at Tancinia with burning hatred. “I will make you regret ever doing that. YOU GRUB! KNOW YOUR PLACE!” He opened his mouth wide and brandished his fangs as he lunged at her.
“Obara! Thumras!” she yelled. Her forcefield was immediately ripped apart by the vampire’s claws. She shoved her unharmed hand towards his eyes, the tips of her fingers glowing orange. But even that hand was simply smacked away by her foe. She braced herself, expecting his fangs to rip her throat out. But the pain never came. In place of the monster, stood a man cloaked in white robes, his hand still in the motion of having pushed someone aside.
She fell to the ground, her adrenaline fading and her exhaustion from her injuries and stress finally getting to her. She looked up at the man in white, who faced the fallen vampire. His face was covered by the hood of his cape, but she could still make out strands of his grey beard poking out.
“Return to Hell, demon. You have no place here.” The man stated, and began to step towards the vampire.
The vampire hissed and got to his feet, glowering at the new man. “You cannot kill me, human.”
The man did not bother replying and simply vanished into thin air. Tancinia gasped and looked around, worried for her savior, or perhaps what his disappearance would entail for her. WHOOSH. BOOM. A blinding flash of light appeared where the vampire was standing, and rammed into the vampire. Tancinia watched in shock and awe as the light began to eat away at the vampire.
“AHHHHHHH!” the vampire screamed. His eyes glowed with a blinding intensity while waves of red energy began to roll off his body, struggling to fight off the light. But she could see how useless the attempt was. The light simply carried on its business unbothered. The lower half of his body had already been devoured, and in the next few moments, the light engulfed the rest of him. And just as suddenly as he had disappeared, the man materialized into existence, right where he’d been standing before. She stared at him in awe. Not even her commander, who was able to vanquish entire squads of mercenaries single handedly, could claim to be able to take down an adult vampire with such ease.
He turned to look at her, and flipped his hood down. Her eyes flitted across his face for a moment before her mind finally registered who he was. It was Gron Chivaros, The Interdomain Ambassador of Ryanor. It was no wonder the vampire was slain in an instant.
“Hahahaha, There’s no need to be so formal. Call me Gron. But before we continue our exchange, let’s heal you up first.” He waved his index finger, drawing water from empty air and directing it at her. The water darted towards her. It lightly brushed against her whole body, healing any light wounds caused by the battle with the vampire. The water then gently grazed over her neck, spending some extra time cleaning up the cuts from the vampire’s claws. It then went on to caress her wrist and mend her bones before vaporizing into the air once more.
“Now that that’s over… What is your name, little girl?”