–The Age of Death,
The Seventh World, Post Exodus 585–
At its zenith, the star Gypsium was the brightest object in the night. Not even Harbos and Minos, the brother moons, dared to compete with its light, choosing instead to hide within its shadow, awaiting Gypsium's departure before rising once more into the night sky.
The star was known as the Midnight Sun. In its presence the darkness of night was reduced to shadow, allowing all the inhabitants of the Seventh World to temporarily forego and forget their need for slumber. Yearly the Triad of races joined together to celebrate its passing with their Festival of Life, a celebration that not only heralded the coming of a new year but celebrated their survival of the year past.
Through this darkless Gypsium night one man walked, carrying nothing but the robe on his shoulders and a wide smile on his face. The robe was crimson and had sleeves embroidered with frilly golden lace which sparkled in the light of Gypsium. The man's teeth were bright, blinding as they reflected the glow of the Midnight Sun. Dark brown and long, his hair fell past his shoulders, disappearing as it blended with the folds of his cape.
To his left loomed the Gorian range, the great mountain chain stretching from the black heart of the Red Wall to the end of the world itself, the Eternal Sea. He glanced at the jagged peaks threatening to impale the Midnight Sun and breathed a sigh of relief, grateful to have finally left those heights. The Gorian was a tough and sparsely populated land. Those who dwelt there thrived on seclusion, especially the Rock Dwarves who dug their realms deep within Agor's Peak and rarely surfaced to associate with humans or elves. As for the mountain's human inhabitants, they were mainly cave dwellers, hermits who lost faith with Lock Core and its ability to protect them. Gladly, he saw few of either which was why he had chosen the lesser known passes, rustic trade routes often mud covered and more rubble than road. Also, as winter neared, the mountain passes became more treacherous by the day. Lately morning found the paths slick with frost. Dertois Law forbid the use of Magic for impractical purposes, but toward the end of the journey the man no longer thought twice about using the Singularity to ward his camp from the mountain winds.
Tree boughs curled high above the roadside, covering the man in a tangled web of shadows as he continued walking, the steady crunch of gravel mirroring his every step. The man never took his eyes off the road before him and all the while he smiled. Never stopped. Just kept smiling. The glow of his teeth illuminated the path before him.
Behind him, cloaked in rags, three smaller shadows followed -- their six feet struggling to keep pace with the man's longer strides. Occasionally, they exchanged glances or whispers with one another, but for the most part they kept their eyes to the road, focusing all their energy on keeping up with the man. With the air billowing from their lungs, the three nearly ran while the man walked, and smiled.
A dot of gray appeared on the road ahead, zigzagging in and out of the shadows. Steadily gaining form, the object flew toward the man, becoming visible as it ventured beneath the light of his teeth. It was a tiny being, no larger than the man's hand, but with its wings fully extended, the creature tripled in size. Its wings of black leather flapped madly as it hovered in the air before him.
The man halted, while those behind him fell to the roadside, taking the opportunity to catch their breath.
"Well?” the man said, looking directly into the beady yellow eyes of the beast.
"Galimoto found Master Brice's town," his voice was the sound of wind chimes blown by a puff of air. "He followed his nose," the creature said, tapping it with a tiny hooked claw. "Galimoto can find the stench of humans, even in the dark."
The man's smile somehow widened, and his face somehow refused to split apart.
"And the man?" he said, his blue eyes sparkling.
The creature shrugged its shoulders.
"Galimoto don't know," it replied. "To him, all humans look the same."
The smile somewhat faded.
"Nevertheless, we are close. Closer to finding him than we've ever been. For good or ill, I know my quest ends at the town of Shattered Rock."
He turned around, facing his three little shadows hunched together at the roadside, and began issuing orders through his never-ending grin.
"Wait for me here, away from the city." He bent down, sweeping them together within his robe, covering their faces beneath golden lace. "These outland dwellings are no place for children. They're filled with deserters, traitors to the Triad. Those who would make enemies of both the living and the dead."
His smile vanished, and the night grew suddenly darker.
"Remember, keep to the tree line, hidden from the road. Approach no one."
Gypsium dimmed in the heavens, dipping lower on the horizon.
"You’re too important . . ." He was looking past the children, studying the road as the path grew faint . . . shadowed . . . and then wound into oblivion. "Galimoto will watch over you while I'm gone."
He looked back at them and was smiling.
Two of the children nodded while one just stood there, rolling his eyes at the man.
They had handled their journey well thus far, but he wondered how far they could truly go. Their venture through the Gorian range had been very revealing. Not only was he homing in on the Destroyer, but he had also learned a great deal about them, the children, and the nearly infinite potential they possessed.
"Good," the man said, standing up.
He turned to Galimoto who was fluttering above his head.
"Guard them well, Galimoto."
I'm not the only one hunting Godlings, I'm sure of it.
He shivered. His hands glowed a dull blue.
"People are disappearing in the night. Whether it is related, I cannot say. But, there is evil out there none-the-less."
"Humph," Galimoto scrunched his face, snarling at the man. "Not only must Galimoto fly through the dark, by himself, seeking stupid human city. But now, Master Brice would have Galimoto become a baby-sitter."
A clawed finger waved, inches from Brice's face.
"Well. Galimoto will not fly here taking this abuse while . . ."
"Silence!" His face was all hard lines, his expression grim. Golden fringed lace fluttered at his feet.
Stunned by his abrupt change of mood, Galimoto nearly fell to the ground.
"I will not have you stirring up trouble in Shattered Rock. You will stay behind or be thrown into the Rift. Those are your choices."
Galimoto recovered himself and was once more flapping in the air.
"Galimoto wants more choices," he mumbled.
His wings folded on his back as he drifted toward a tree. Mumbling curses all the while, he squatted on a branch and crossed his arms.
"Ah, good then," Brice said smiling brightly once more.
Directing a final smile at the children he headed down the road, vanishing as his robe became one with the shadows.
"Wizard my eye," Tetloan said as he and the other children watched Brice disappear in the darkness. "We've been abducted by a madman." His freckled face sneered at the night.
"What do you mean?" Emily replied, her voice squeaking from a pair of pouty lips. "Master Brice is a wise and powerful mage, someone who knows far more about the world than you ever could, even if you had the patience to learn from him."
Plopping beneath a tree, she shook the dust from her clothes before pulling back her hood, letting her curly dark hair tumble past her cheeks.
Doing his best to mock Emily's voice Tetloan said, "What do you mean?" -- overemphasizing the squeakiness so that his words became a continuous screech. Irritated by her ignorance, he rolled his eyes and arched a pair of crooked orange eyebrows.
"You know what I mean, stupid. You saw him standing there. For dead sake he just had an argument with the air. He's been doing it ever since I've met him. Don't tell me you haven't noticed?"
Unfazed, Emily looked back at him and smiled.
"You can't see him, can you?"
"You know what I think?" Tetloan continued, ignoring her question. "You two have been with him so long he's polluted your minds. You're just as mad as he is. Imps my eye. Next you'll be telling me you're seeing the undead."
"Just because you can't see him doesn't mean Galimoto isn't real," Emily replied. "Master Brice says he's pure Magic. A creation of the Gods themselves."
"Really?" Tetloan said, his eyes nearly rolling out of his head. "Even if the Gods were real, you think that with all their power the best they could come up with was an imp?"
He turned to the other child, a thin, curly blond haired boy wearing wire rimmed spectacles. Standing at the side of the road the boy hugged his cape tightly to his body and shivered uncontrollably.
"What do you think, 'Whimpy'?" Tetloan asked. "Seen any imps lately?"
The boy stared at the ground, trembling.
"Whimpy? Hey, Whimpy?" Tetloan continued to prod him, but to no avail. "Is this kid deaf as well as dumb? He's hardly said two words since you guys took me."
"His name is, Whimly," Emily said. "Leave him alone. Can't you see he's scared?"
"Oh yeah?" He grinned. "What are you scared of, Whimpy?"
Tetloan walked over to him.
"Huh? You afraid of the dark or something?" No longer willing to be ignored, he shoved him. "Well!"
"What?" Whimly said, looking up and blinking weakly as though roused from a slumber.
"Whoa, he is alive," Tetloan said. Suddenly sympathetic he hung his arm on Whimly's shoulder. "I was just saying that Emily wants to know why you're being such a baby?"
"She does?" Whimly said, sheepishly looking at Emily then casting his eyes to the dirt.
"Yep," Tetloan patted his shoulder. "She told me she's tired of changing 'Whimpy's piss pants every time he gets scared."
"Shut up!" Emily leapt to her feet.
"She's worried that you'll keep pissing yourself all the way to Lock Core."
Affectionately, Tetloan rubbed Whimly's shoulder casting a devilish grin toward Emily.
"And that we'll be stuck smelling you the entire trip."
For an instant, Tetloan thought he saw Emily glowing, bright as the Midnight Sun. As quickly as it came, the vision faded into darkness, and then for a time Tetloan thought of nothing at all.
"What did you do to him?" Whimly asked as he bent down and inspected Tetloan's motionless body.
"Wasn't me," Emily replied, a residue of blue flames still clinging to her form. "It was the imp."
"Oh," Whimly looked up into the tree branches.
Legs crossed, hands clasped behind his head, Galimoto reclined against the tree. Beneath the canopy of leaves, his skin appeared dark red -- the color of coagulated blood.
His words jingled through the air and into their ears as the imp piped down at them, "Now. Children be quiet, so that Galimoto can sleep."
She wasn't entirely sure, but Emily thought she saw a tiny yellow eye wink at her.
"Thanks," she softly replied.