by Michael R. Grice

Traitors to the Light

Rushing water spilled passed the stairs and flowed peacefully around the massive blue tinted palace. Colren couldn’t stop the feelings of awe and reverence that shivered through his entire body as he stared up the perfectly crafted blue columns, columns that almost looked as though they were made of crystal. The walls looked equally impressive but were formed of a blue steal coloured stone that made the palace appear part of the water itself, not an object placed in the middle of the shallow lake.

“I guess we had better go in,” Anil said, shattering the silence that had gripped them on crossing the low level stream before the giant castle. “It’s hard to believe that this place could house one of the most powerful sources of Mana in the world,” she stated flatly. Colren choked but began walking up the long flight of stairs.

“How can this be so dull to you and Pandora have been so amazing? This isn’t even slightly natural, it can’t be. I wouldn’t be surprised if this building was made by Undine herself!”

“The water elemental? What use would she have for such a building?” Anil grimaced and followed Colren up the stairs. She looked out over the forest they had traveled through and sighed heavily, wondering if staying in Pandora would have been better for her.

“Anil,” Colren scolded. “Have some respect at least for the power that would have gone into making such a palace. And besides, the Water Seed is here, a magic that is the truest source of water Mana in the world.” Anil shrugged but nodded her head at the same time in agreement. Colren pushed open the ornately decorated double doors and stepped inside.

Every step echoed hollowly and rebounded off the empty walls, untouched by the sound of tiny water falls that collapsed down the far wall to slide passed a wide stone path that led to another staircase. “It is amazing,” Anil breathed, finally impressed. They walked down the main path gasping at the sight of tall basins filled with crackling blue flames that let off almost no heat. Colren thought that if he touched the fire, he would be more likely to freeze than burn.

They passed through the stairs and reached the next floor, finding themselves apparently trapped on an island in the middle of darkness. A mist of spraying water wetted their hair and clothes and Colren looked up to see the next floor floating just in front and above them, the tumbling thin water falls that passed by them dropping from all four corners of the island.

Anil suddenly pointed to a red tile on the floor that looked extremely out of place among the blue brick ground. Colren nodded, not willing to speak and break the beauty of the palace’s calm. Anil bent down and pressed the tile with her gentle hand and the tile began to glow. Stairs suddenly began to appear from the darkness in front of Colren and Anil. Moments later Colren was testing the stairway with his foot and found the unsupported stone to be completely solid.

The two quiet partners ascended the steps and found themselves up to their knees in a large pool of clear water, the brick that had formed the path and stairs previously continued beneath the water and up another large staircase. They waded through the cool water and traveled up the final staircase to greet the stage room at the back of the palace.

“No!” Colren exclaimed in complete shock and terror. The pyramid shaped stage spilled water down its four sides but the box upon which the seed would have rested was empty.

“Colren look,” Anil whispered as she stared at the high stage. Colren wanted to vomit as his eyes recognized the slight haze of red in the water as it drifted on the first few levels of the boxed pyramid. Colren’s lungs refused to breath as he remembered that one of the biggest reasons he was at the palace was to find Tyras, his older brother. Both Colren and Anil rushed to the stage calling for Luka, the Guardian of the mythical palace and the now missing Water Seed.

They were answered not by a voice, but by the site of the beautiful blue skinned woman fallen against the back of the stage, her hands held tight over a bleeding hole in her gut, her eyes glazed in death. Colren’s legs finally collapsed beneath him and he fell, landing on his back, his hands gripping his head to stop the dizziness that swam through his mind. “No, it can’t be,” he moaned over and over. Anil slowly moved to the dead Guardian and closed the woman’s eyes.

“Undine should have come to help her,” Anil said calmly, her voice filled with sadness. “I thought Luka and Undine were close, so why wouldn’t the elemental stop this from happening, or at least heal Luka before she died?” Colren shook his head wondering the same thing as he sat up, unable to look at the beautiful Luka. …As I warned you Colren… The drifting companion of his mind spoke sadly. …But I also said you must continue. Much more than your brother’s soul is at stake here…

“No, no, no,” Colren said weakly. “Tyras could not do such a thing. It’s not possible.” Anil lowered her eyes and took a deep breath preparing to speak words that Colren was not ready to believe.

“Colren, Luka would have been able to defend herself unless her killer was someone she did not expect. I know it’s hard, but it could have been Tyras. I only new him for a few days, but something in him made me scared. You’ve lived with him your whole life so you would know better than I would. Could Tyras be capable of murder?”

“No, of course not,” Colren almost cried. …Colren, listen to the girl. She knows better than you think… “Of course not,” he said more weakly. His voice grew stronger and he was finally able to stand. “But what could make him do this? Everyone in our village had great respect for the Guardians, almost as much as we had for the Elementals, Priest Vesray made sure of that.” …Yes, but what drives Tyras to become the Mana Knight?… The voice asked. …What would be his reason for so quickly accepting the charge he has been given?… “But why?” Colren asked the specter within his mind. …You will understand fully when you find him again… Anil walked to Colren and put a hand on his shoulder.

“But where do I start looking for him? You must know that,” Colren continued speaking to the spirit that only he heard, the spirit that gripped him as tightly as his magic. “No,” he gasped. He turned to Anil and the voice faded. “We must go to the caves east of here, now.”

“But that’s Undine’s home!” Anil exclaimed in wonder. “To enter would be sacrilege.”

“You said yourself that she should have helped Luka, but she didn’t. Tyras knows I came along to learn magic, so what would he do to stop me from learning enough of Mana to stop him?” Anil’s eyes widened in wonder.

“He wouldn’t dare. He couldn’t possibly kill both Luka and Undine.”

“He could try if he took the Mana Spear from Luka. He’d have a better chance and the magic of the spear would give him more skill in fighting than otherwise possible. Come on, we must hurry and hope that Tyras isn’t as far ahead of us as we first thought.” Colren grabbed Anil’s hand and almost dragged her from the stage room. They practically fell down the stairs they had followed to the top floor of the palace and dashed out into the knee high crystal water before the holy temple.

They rushed through the shallow water, moving east in hopes of finding the Elemental’s cave. No one had visited the sacred home of the worshiped Elemental since Haiden, the last Mana Knight and the savior of Fa’Diel during the Resealing. And now my brother, who was called to become the Mana Knight, is doing the exact opposite of all Mana Knights before him. He’s destroying the balance of the world. What is he thinking!?

Colren and Anil spread the tall leafy water weeds with their hands as they splashed through the deepening stream; the cliffs where it was believed Undine lived were just ahead. They emerged from the reeds and both Colren and Anil sank into the water, Anil’s head dipping under the surface before she was able to paddle her way back to the top. They both swam towards the cliffs, a short trip fueled by the site of the cave entrance that only existed during trouble or when Undine wanted to be found.

The ground suddenly formed beneath the swimmers as they reached the cave and the dripping companions stood. Without even looking at each other or saying a word they moved into the large tunnel, finding it lit by strange pockets of blue glowing rock. The first smooth walled room held no signs of a battle but through the jutted opening in the far wall Colren found a long shimmering mermaid lying on a small island in the middle of an underground sparkling lake. Colren cautiously moved towards the attractive Elemental, scared to even look at her for fear of being struck down by magic. The long green scaled back end of a fish was the Elemental’s leg and her long navy blue hair glittered with shells and dripped with seaweed. The goddess in humanoid form did not move and Colren couldn’t be sure if she still lived. But a goddess can’t die, can she? It’s not possible.

“Uh, Undine?” Colren said quietly. He sighed in relief as the Elemental moved and turned her head to look at him. Her movements were slow and weak, but she was alive and that’s all Colren cared about. “Are you okay?” The mermaid stared at Colren for a while and in those few minutes Colren felt like he had told her every part of his life though he had not spoken one more word.

“Your brother,” Undine whispered, her voice like a soothing stream passing over rounded pebbles. “You must stop him. You already know a little of what I am talking about, but I can’t spend the time to explain any more to you. Every minute counts in your hunt for Tyras, and you have to stop him.” Colren was suddenly struck by the charge he was being given by a being he had been taught to worship all his life. “I do not know exactly what your brother hopes to accomplish, but he strives for power and I will not even begin to dream why.”

“But,” Colren stuttered. “Master Vesray, the priest in Atorel, was visited by five Elementals who told him that Tyras had to become the Mana Knight. There can’t have been a mistake,” Undine lowered her head and appeared severely shaken. “Are you sure you’re okay?” Colren asked respectfully.

“Water is the source of life, the earth’s blood as well as mine. I will recover. Your brother is a strong warrior, much more impressive than I had expected. And he will only grow in power.” she coughed and Colren thought he saw a thick blue blood-like liquid touch her lips before she wiped it away with the back of her shimmering hand. “You must find a way to stop him and to do this, you will have to improve upon your own abilities.” Colren’s thoughts immediately turned to the voice. Undine smiled and nodded her head, somehow reading his eyes. “Yes Colren, she is your guide and will be your teacher. Continue to listen to her and never lose the innocence you have lived most of your life in.” Colren grimaced, not liking the slightly foreboding tone that had slid into Undine’s voice.

Colren turned around and moved towards Anil, the water at his feet splashing as he moved. Colren knew that the conversation between the Elemental and himself had ended, but one question still nibbled at his spirit and he couldn’t help but turn and ask, “How could the Elementals have made a mistake in choosing Tyras as the Mana Knight, and what is the reason for choosing him so soon after Haiden’s death?” Undine smiled sadly, pain filling her lake-mirroring eyes.

“We made no mistake in who we chose, but we made a mistake in our reason, and I don’t know what will have to happen for most of my brothers and sisters to see the evil we have begun. I still don’t understand how I was so completely fooled, but I will find the answers and no doubt so will you, maybe you will know sooner than I. Now leave me, I need to rest if I am to do you any good and heal.” Colren heard a slight plunk at his feet and he looked down to see a misty oval gem no bigger than the nail on his smallest finger resting on the bottom of the lake. He bent down and picked it up, surprised to see the blue mist within shifting in intensity, sometimes as light as the sky in mid day and at other times as dark as the sky just before twilight. “Press that against the inside of your arm just above your wrist. With Haiden and his two companions, I was able to appear to them whenever they summoned me and I would cast magic for them. But now, since the Mana Seed is gone, the element of Water is much weaker, and this stone is the only way I’ll be of any good to you. It gives you a direct connection to my magic and the Mana element of water, but you still must learn how to use it.”

Colren uncertainly rested the hand that held the stone on his upturned lower arm and screamed at the quick burning pain that shot through his body. “Ahhhhh!” He pulled his hand away and looked down to see the gem completely imbedded into his flesh, one half of the pebble sticking up as a blue dome on his skin and the rest sealed into his arm. The pain disappeared almost as fast as it had come and he could hardly breath as he looked up at Undine. “Thank you, but how will I use it?”

Undine smiled. “For a while, the magic will come and go just as your own magic has come and gone, but as you learn more about it, and with the help of that stone, you will be able to call the element of water whenever you need it. You are now the master of a very rare magic, use it wisely Colren and may Fa’Diel’s blood flow through your veins.”

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