Book 1: Ch. 1-3

A mystical realm of earth, sea, and sky floating in the far reaches of space.

 That is the reality of this world.

 The world was created by the seven Aeons, immortal beings that emerged from the Universe itself. With their combined power, they summoned the First Star, an all-powerful crystal said to be the source of all creation. They breathed life into the world that would become known as Aeos, along with the humans and animals that inhabit it. Humanity soon created technology that harnessed the planet’s energy, transforming their world into an advanced civilization powered by magic. For centuries, they lived in prosperity until they waged war amongst each other for control of the First Star, seeing themselves as superior to the gods. 

 Zadon, the God of Destruction, saw this blasphemy as treachery, so he himself betrayed his immortal brethren and waged war on humanity. He entered the mortal realm through a crevice that split the kingdom in two in a Great Cataclysm. With his evil magic, the Destroyer created an army of bloodthirsty demons and unleashed them on the world. Their reign of terror shrouded the planet in eternal darkness, nearly wiping out all of mankind. In response, Astraea, the Goddess of Creation, chose a man, pure of heart and strong in will, to lead the fight against the Destroyer’s army. He was blessed with divine powers by Arkaeon, King of the Gods, so that he may combat the demons. The chosen knight shared his powers with his disciples, allowing them to harness the energy within themselves. These warriors then formed the Order of the Ark Knights.

 With the gods and the Ark Knights leading them, humanity fought the Destroyer and his legions in the Divine War. The humans and the demons fought for what seemed like an endless time. That is until the chosen knight managed to pierce Zadon’s head with his sword, stunning him long enough for the Goddess to seal the Destroyer away in Darkrelm, a prison of pure evil.

 With the world at peace, the gods went into slumber inside Crystal Stars to regain their strength for when they would be needed again. The Ark Knights then left the kingdom to continue watching over humanity from a world of their own. The Goddess also chose to shed her immortal form so that she may lead mankind in the New World of Astrelm. For centuries, the Ark Knights protected the world from the darkest of threats in secrecy, making their existence a myth.

 But one day, when they were needed most by the people of Aeos, the knights did not appear. In their absence, the Novarelm Empire rose up from their land in the East to wage war on Astrelm, leading to the return of an even greater darkness. Even with the Destroyer gone, the demons still lingered in Aeos, and the threat continues to grow.

 The people of Astrelm now fight this war alone, hoping for peace to return, and for a miracle. These are the legends of this world…

 The Legends of the Stars

Part I

Genesis

July 19th, 2017-July 10th, 2019 AE

“This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.”

-T.S. Eliot

“To live alone is the fate of all great souls.”

-Arthur Schopenhauer

“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”

-Sigmund Freud 

Chapter 1

The Last Ark Knight

July 6th, 2019 AE, 4:21 PM

The Ark Knight slowly approached the shrine with his sword at his back. The mountain towered into the heart of the dark storm. Howling winds and thunderous clouds echoed throughout the eternal skies. At the mountaintop sat a stone altar in between two matching pillars. After many hours of climbing and braving the chaotic tempest, he finally reached his destination. He took out his crystal pendant, which resonated with a shining blue light that illuminated the entire altar. The gray skies in front of him began to warp and distort until an enormous, floating island of stone and magic appeared from the haze. It was the ancient city of Arkrelm: the mythical sanctuary and homeworld of the Ark Knights.

All his research into the ancient texts brought him to the right place. According to legend, the gods lifted a sliver of land into the sky, giving the knights a new home. This heavenly isle was also where they kept and protected a divine treasure before they all disappeared. What remains to this day were ruins and the swarms of demons that made their nests there. The city had spent centuries floating in the clouds, hiding in a veil of magic that rendered it invisible to the world. This made it unreachable to the Empire and practically everyone else, until now.

Taking a few steps back, he sprinted towards the edge of the cliff before catapulting myself into the air. He soared through the clouds before grabbing onto the face of the island, holding on for dear life. With his right hand, he fired the hookshot attached to his wrist at the top of the cliff. The device shot a cable with a grapple at the end, which latched on tight to the rocks above. Reeling him towards the top, it launched him through the air until he landed right at the entrance to Arkrelm.

The Ark Knight searched the ruins of the once marvelous city with the heavy winds blowing against him. Colossal stone towers loomed over him, acting as tombstones for a once-mighty paradise. The whole island looked like it had become a war, only to be reduced to a graveyard and a testament to his race’s existence. In the heart of it all, he came across the city’s Divine Temple, standing tall but weathered. Vines and moss covered its stone facade, which had a trail of pillars laid out before it. Approaching the grand structure, the Ark Knight stared up at its tall, white door before becoming the first person to open it in years.

Taking off his hood and goggles, he looked down the staircase laid out before him, which led into complete darkness. The Ark Knight just stood there, sensing the dangers that lurked down there. Fear started to boil up inside him, but he immediately cast it aside and braced himself for the challenge ahead. He finally gathered up the nerve to enter the labyrinth waiting for him. 

* * *

 The Ark Knight slowly walked down the stairs until he finally reached the bottom. Sensing the evil forces dwelling inside the temple, he stopped in his tracks and unsheathed his sword. The darkness was all around him, and the ravenous demons were nearby. He used his magic to form an orb of light to pierce through the shadows. He could now see the skeletons of the people who perished in these ruins. The skull and the bones didn’t scare him at all. He was used to seeing them.

 He continued down the corridor until he reached the temple’s great hall, which resembled the heart of a cathedral. Tall, glass windows framed by marble columns lined the walls before him. An enormous hole had been blown through the roof, painting the ceiling with gray skies and dark clouds. Bones and cobwebs littered the floor beneath him, which was itself covered with reflective stone. Spiders the size of the humans skulls around them crawled across. The rotten stench of death filled the air, like he was walking around inside a predator’s stomach.

  While walking down the hall, ancient torches framing the pathway suddenly lit up, as sensing his presence. He was surprised to see this technology still working after years of decay. In the middle of the room, he stumbled upon a massive trench cut across the floor. He looked into the dark abyss below for a moment, sensing dozens of demons lurking down there. After hopping across the trench, he kept walking until he reached the next room, where the hallway split in two directions. 

The Ark Knight sensed more demons scattered throughout the temple, but that the treasure was just somewhere ahead. Detecting no demons on the right, he continued down that direction. These dark corridors kept on splitting and turning as he advanced further into the temple. But his senses acted as his guide, as he followed the flow of energy through the maze. Though he managed to steer clear of the demons, he crept down the halls to not alert them of his presence. Despite his immense strength, he didn’t want to risk facing an army he couldn’t handle. 

 While the demons were defeated in the Divine War, many of them remained on Aeos, and their numbers have increased over the centuries. These vile beasts would kill anything that moves or make nests in ruins like this. They were attracted to the magical relics kept inside like moths to an open flame. And with the great treasure held inside this temple, the entire island was a demonic breeding ground. 

 Legends say that this treasure was actually the source of the city’s energy. While the gods’ magic kept the island afloat, it was the treasure that powered the city, making them as advanced or even more so than Astrelm before the Divine War. But now, the legendary utopia had joined the rest of the Old World in the shadows of history.

After spending a few minutes navigating through the labyrinth, the Ark Knight arrived at the entrance into the main vault. Engraved on the door was an octagram and a lock built into its bottom point. He examined the shape of the lock, and it looked like only a magic key could open it. Feeling a surge of energy from within his shirt, he took out his pendant to see that it stone had lit up neon blue. He inserted it into the lock, which caused the door’s rune mark to fill up with streaks of blue light. The door opened to a large room with a marble pedestal sitting in the center: precisely what he was looking for.

“There you are,” he said softly. 

Having put away his sword, he cautiously approached the pedestal out of fear that it was rigged with a trap. When the Ark Knight finally reached it, he looked up at the mural on the wall depicting the ancient gods around the First Star, presented as an eight-pointed star. Embedded in the pedestal was the Star of Valon, the God of the Skies, whose spirit is said to be slumbering inside the crystal. He could sense an enormous amount of magic emanating from it that stretched across the whole island. By his estimation, it had enough energy to power the city for ten-thousand years. It could even vaporize it in about five seconds. The raw power resting inside this ancient Star was extremely terrifying. But now that he found it, Astrelm would finally have a chance at defeating the Nova Empire.

He hesitated to take the crystal, as he feared that doing that would set off a trap. A civilization with such advanced technology must’ve surely had some tight security. Taking a deep breath, he stretched out his fingers to prepare himself for the worst. He finally reached out to the green crystal and grabbed it, causing it to emit a wave of emerald energy that illuminated the entire chamber. As he opened his eyes after the light faded, a smile of relief ran across his face. 

But just as he put the stone in his coat pocket, he heard a spine-tingling cry wail in from afar.

“Kraaahhhh!”

Loud, grotesque shrieks tore through the temple air behind him. Dozens of thunderous footsteps shook the labyrinth, growing louder with each second. He sensed countless dark figures stampeding through the halls, all heading towards the vault. They sensed him trying to take the crystal from its resting place. 

“I was wondering where you guys were,” the Ark Knight said.

He checked the Stargate Ring around his wrist to see if he could make a quick escape. The device flashed neon red as it failed to activate. He couldn’t tell if it was the weather or the demons’ evil energy blocking the signal. But he knew one thing: he was trapped.

“I guess I’m taking the long way out.” He then took his sword out of its sheath, preparing himself for what was coming.  

Out from the shadows emerged a pack of Taloks: tall, reptilian demons as swift as the wind. Their long, muscular limbs stretched across the floor as they came charging towards the Ark Knight. Their sulfuric, golden eyes shot through the dark, and their rows of fangs were just as sharp. Wave after wave of them poured into the vault, many of them carrying weapons they found throughout the ruins. Though they all came at him with their jagged claws and long swords, his one blade was enough. 

He slashed at every demon that came his way with remarkable speed, killing each of them with a single attack. Streaks of ebony blood shot out of their wounds as they collapsed to the floor. But when one of them was destroyed, two more took their place. The demons just kept coming, and their numbers were starting to overwhelm him. He had to end this now.

“Yaaaahhh!” 

Directing energy into his sword, he spun himself around in a whirlwind of magic that incinerated them all. Their charred, mutilated remains dissolved into a black mist that vanished into the wind like a howling specter. For him, that was all too easy.

 But even though that battle was over, he could sense more demons crawling throughout the temple. The Ark Knight sprinted back into the labyrinth to make his escape. He had remembered the path that he took the first time, so navigating the maze was easy. The problem was that the Taloks knew how to find him.

Three of them popped up around the corner in front of him, each with their own swords. The Ark Knight jumped across the walls and over the demon’s head, stabbing them dead from behind. He immediately swiped his blade across the second one’s chest. He finished off the third with a magic blast that sent it flying through the air, straight into the wall. With the path cleared, he continued making his way out of the temple.

In no time at all, he made it back to the main hall, where a horde of Taloks came pouring in from the opposite corridor. Making a quick left turn, he leaped across the chasm and left his pursuers in the dust. But not without leaving them all a little present.

The Ark Knight had dropped a pulse bomb filled with his own magic, which rolled towards the demons as they chased after him. Thus, he braced himself as it blew the demons away with a massive, blue explosion.

Though he had barely stuck the landing, he safely returned to the main hall with the treasure intact. Just as he got back up to leave the temple, he heard the booming sound of flapping wings overhead. He also felt a massive amount of dark energy swooping down onto the temple.

* * *

Suddenly, a giant dragon with scales as black as night burst through the roof above. Descending to the ground in front of him, its landing shook the entire temple like an earthquake. The beast’s body surged with the strength of a lightning storm. Its roar was like thunder that made the air quiver in fear. It was a Zepherok: the Lightning Dragon. It flapped its enormous wings and blew him across the room with the force of a tornado. After he regained traction, the Ark Knight taunted the foul beast.

“Oh good, I thought this was gonna be too easy!”

As the Ark Knight sprinted towards the black beast to strike, it opened its jaws and breathed a stream of blue fire. He quickly avoided the flames and slashed at its head with his obsidian blade. The dragon swung its massive wing at me in retaliation, but he managed to jump off its head and onto the wall. Again, he jumped over the dragon’s head and stabbed it right in its armored forehead. The force of the impact brought the beast’s head to the floor with a shocking thud.

Despite this, the beast quickly recovered and tried to shake the Ark Knight off. The Zepherok prepared another attack, but this time, it fired a beam of red energy from its gigantic mouth. He conjured up his shield, and he managed to block the demon’s blast. Even so, he was losing his ground fast, and the beast wasn’t letting up. In the heat of the struggle, he summoned a burst of strength that deflected the beam upward.

“Rraaaahhh!”

The Ark Knight retaliated with a blast of his own, successfully shooting the dragon in its cold, blue eye. As it recoiled in extreme pain, he focused all of his energy into his sword, infusing it with a sharp, blue light. He then jumped above the beast’s head and once again impaled its skull with his now-stronger blade. This time, the dragon painfully roared out streams of fire until it collapsed in a tremendous crash.

With his adversary defeated, the Ark Knight victoriously leaped back onto the stone floor to discover that the temple was crumbling around me. The force of the dragon’s beam had disrupted the entire foundation. He hurried up the staircase as the temple caved in behind me. The stairs quickly filled with debris that was about to swallow him whole. With a quick burst of energy, he launched himself outside the temple just before it collapsed completely. 

His hasty escape caused the Ark Knight to stumble onto the ground, forcing the Star out of his pocket. The crystal rolled across the ground as he lunged after it. But just when he grabbed hold of it, he saw the wrong end of an assault rifle in front of him.

“Hold it right there!”

The Ark Knight looked up to see that it belonged to a Centurion, an Imperial soldier dressed in grey armor and a helmet without a face. There were about two dozen of them pointing machine guns at his head. Having detected the island’s sudden appearance, the Empire finally caught up to me.

“Drop it and put your hands up!”

“You gotta be kidding me!” 

Backed into a corner, the Ark Knight irritably met their demands and let go of the stone. Two Centurions came over and grabbed him by the collar, forcing him onto his knees. He then saw a black Imperial airship descend to the surface of the island. This metallic beast laid down its long wings as it landed in front of them. The image of a giant anglerfish came to mind as the mouth of the ship’s hull opened up.

The squad’s leader emerged from the craft’s hull and touched down onto the city in his black, leather boots. The crowd of Imperials opened a path to let him through as he slowly approached the Ark Knight. He reached down to the crystal and held it in his leather-clad hands. 

After taking a moment to admire its mystical, green glow, he turned to his subordinate and spoke.

“Is he the only one?”

“Yes, General Lok.”

He then crouched down in front of the Ark Knight, who had a clear view of the man himself. He was a young man, seemingly in his late-twenties, veiled in a black cloak with a long, black saber hanging from his waist. But what really caught his attention were his eyes. His eerie, yellow eyes were as venomous as a snake, and the symbol of Zadon was tattooed around his right one like a deformed eyelash. And behind those eyes, beneath his seemingly human exterior, burned the heart of a devil.

“What do we have here?” he asked with chilling glee.

“Look, I’m just a merchant on expedition. He haven’t done anything wrong!”

“You really expect me to believe that? I know a Ranger when I see one.” 

“Worth a shot.”

“Not that it really matters who you are. What does matter is this!” Lok said, gesturing to the Star. “How did you find it?!”

“Does that really matter?”

“Well, no matter how you found this, it now belongs to the Empire.”

“So, what happens now? You gonna kill me?”

“Normally, I would love to…but not now. Lord Kaiser will want to speak with you! Take him away!”

I shuddered with horror from hearing his master’s name. Everyone on the planet knew it, and it was enough to make it come to a complete stop.

 “Can’t we just talk about this first?!”

 As Lok walked away with the Star, two more Centurions slowly approached the Ark Knight with a pair of electronic handcuffs. Their faceless helmets showed no sign of relenting as they prepared to restrain him.

 “Ah, shit.”

 Catching them all off guard, the Ark Knight blasted the Centurions behind him, sending them flying across the ruins. Before the other soldiers could fire their weapons at him, he hurled his second pulse bomb, which catapulted them all in a massive shockwave.

 The explosion kicked up a cloud of dust in front of Lok. Using this cover, the Ark Knight shot himself towards him for a surprise attack. Sensing his presence within the smoke, Lok drew his saber and parried his blade.

 “An Ark Knight?” he exclaimed. “My lucky day!”

 With his opponent drunk with arrogance, the Ark Knight blew him into the rubble with a blast to the chest. After picking up the Star once again, he immediately started sprinting across the ruins towards freedom.

 Halfway out of the city, he discovered two more Imperial airships that had touched down minutes ago. The Centurions guarding them let their rifles loose as he entered their line of fire. He deflected each of their bullets with his sword before cutting them down like a gust of razor-sharp wind. The others came charging at him wielding sharp, mechanical blades. With an astonishing display of acrobatics, the Ark Knight traversed the wave of Centurions and took them out before they could hit him.

With the coast clear, he kept running until he reached the rim of the isle. He looked out to see the mountain he reached the city from was no longer there, for the latter had floated away from it while he was in the temple. He checked his Stargate Ring to see if he had a signal. Still nothing.

“Damn it!”

 Sensing intensely wicked energy close by, he turned around to see that Lok had finally caught up to him.

“Going somewhere?!” he asked. He then imbued his blade with his dark magic to create a sword of demonic fire.

Preparing himself for a tough fight, the Ark Knight focused his energy into his sword and wrapped it with an edge of burning light.

“That’s quite a lot of power you have there. I’ve looked everywhere for someone who could put up a fight! Try to make it fun while it lasts!”

“Count on it,” the Ark Knight said, formidably.

In a flash, his sword clashed with his saber, and the sparks began to fly. Each attack was a strike of lightning that was almost imperceptible to the naked eye. Neither of them could land a single hit on each other. Instead, they sliced through the air or bashed their swords together until they reached a blazing stalemate. 

The light of their blades ground against each other like crackling glass. As they both locked eyes, they both sent out enough rage to light a fire. But Lok’s insatiable bloodlust only made him powerful with each second. He could feel the lethal sting of his blade getting dangerously close to his face. Just before he could overpower him, the Ark Knight summoned a burst of primal anger that significantly amplified his sword’s energy. This gave him the edge he needed to force the infernal weapon out of his hand.

With that opening, he prepared to bring the ax down on the dark knight’s head. But to his surprise, Lok had caught his prey’s sword in between his fingers. Even with its enhanced strength, he still grabbed it like it was just a pencil.

Lok regained the upper hand by tossing his sword away before kicking him almost off the island. As he stared up at his fiendish foe, the Ark Knight realized what his strategy was. Lok was trying to drive him over the cliffs. 

The Ark Knight got so swept up by the excitement, he almost missed that. He had never fought anyone with this kind of strength. He couldn’t help but grin at his opponent, who loathed losing control of a fight.

Lok fired a red energy bomb that the Ark Knight swatted away with his arm. Seeing the swordsman sprint towards him, Lok conjured an ebony dagger to use against him. Though they mainly engaged each other with their fists, Lok still tried to slash him with his knife. The weightless blade danced around him like a leaf in the wind. The Ark Knight almost couldn’t keep up with it, but he did knock it out of the assassin’s hand. 

He hammered Lok’s face with his fists before slamming him into the ruins with his knee. His next punch took a chunk out of the column, failing to hit his target. Lok then grabbed his arm and threw him to the ground. Just before he could bash the Ark Knight’s face in, the latter caught his fist and rammed his head into his opponent’s. Vaulting away from him, he picked up his sword from the ground and went back for the kill.

Unfortunately, Lok summoned more daggers and flung them towards his head like darts. Though the Ark Knight managed to block them with his sword, his foe picked up his saber and started driving him back. Filled with vicious anger, Lok slammed his blade harder and harder with each attack until he broke his defenses.  But instead of finishing him off, Lok grabbed the Ark Knight by the neck and forced him to the edge of the island. With one hand at his throat and his other on his sword, Lok leaned in and spoke with a menacingly zealous tone.

“Another fighter who fell too quickly.”

He saw his Stargate Ring had lit up neon blue, meaning it had finally gotten a signal. With a triumphant smile, the Ark Knight thrust his legs against Lok’s chest and blasted himself over the edge. As he plummeted towards the earth, he activated his Ring and held it up high. 

“Teleport, Argos,” he chanted. 

The Ark Knight’s body became enveloped in a mystical, blue light as it began phasing into the aether. And then, he was gone.

* * *

A second later, the swordsman came flying out of the Stargate in the city of Argos. He glided across the altar so fast, he had to impale his sword into the polished floor to slow himself down. This created a large tear into the tiles, which was noticed by the two security officers guarding the gate.

“Sorry about that,” he said before leaving them stunned by his spectacular entrance.

Having made it back home with the Star in one piece, the Ark Knight sat down on a bench in the city square. All that fighting burned a lot of his strength, so he needed to catch his breath.

“Oh, man!” he said to himself. “What a day!”

Lying there, the Ark Knight took the Star out of his coat pocket and gasped for air. As he stared into the eye of the holy crystal, he couldn’t help but think about how he ended up like this, how his life became about fighting monsters and searching for treasure. His mind traveled back to that fateful day two years ago, which changed not only his life but also the lives of everyone in Astrelm.

Chapter 2

Brave New World

July 19th, 2017 AE

The stars filled the night sky over Astrelm. The cool, summer air blew through the lush, open fields, and the moon hung over the kingdom like a silent guardian protecting the land. The sun then shined bright as it rose over the horizon, piercing through the darkness. The fields lit up green as the sunlight covered the verdant expanse. The sky was painted cerulean blue, and the realm awakened from its slumber. A new day began. 

The young Ark Knight rode across the field on his horse as the sun rose in the distance. He had just woken up that morning happy, even after staying in that disgusting inn in the last town. For about three days, he traveled across the region on this horse that he borrowed from home, but it felt like he was riding for an eternity. While it was just as hard leaving his home and his family, he still felt liberated being out in the world and on his own for the first time. After leaving home to journey to the capital, he finally reached his destination, which stood tall and proud from across the hill.

The city of Newtown was a walled metropolis brimming with life. It was the capital of Astrelm and the city of opportunities. Divided into two sections, the majority of the city was within the Outer Ring between its two stone walls. In the Central Ring stood the glorious Citadel, where the Royal Family has lived and ruled over the entire kingdom for centuries. And with the most advanced technology protecting it from the Empire, the capital was the greatest stronghold on the planet.

The Ark Knight arrived at the southern gate to the Outer Ring at about eleven o’clock. After dropping off his horse at a rental station, he bought a ticket for the train to the Central Ring. Riding the train as it ran high above the streets, he looked out the window to see it all stretching across the valley. Beyond the city boroughs were more green fields and even a lake that flowed into the surrounding river. Though he’s only glimpsed at a fraction of the capital, it already seemed like paradise. The train then reached the Central Wall, and after about thirty seconds of traveling through a dark tunnel, he finally saw the Central City in its full splendor.

Skyscrapers now colossal in size continued to grow as the train raced down its track. Dozens of billboards crowned these buildings, shouting their advertisements across the skyline. One of them greeted him with the colorful tagline, “Welcome to the World of Tomorrow!” Winding highways branched throughout the city like vines in a jungle. Fleets of cars filled these roads as they made their commute across the capital. All the wondrous sights sped past his gaze until the train finally reached Crown City Station in a grinding halt. His first step off the train was his first step into his new life. 

The Central Ring was lined with buildings painted a rainbow of colors. Hundreds of citizens traveled throughout the streets, each of them adding to the city’s exhilarating spirit. While a storm of cars crowded the roads, rows of merchants filled the sidewalks with their stands as they sold their wares. While each of the people’s conversations were about a variety of things, they all powered a loud, energetic noise that echoed throughout the city.

Amid all this commotion, he walked down the street captivated by the liveliness of this grand city. A pilgrim in an unfamiliar land, he continued to explore until he saw a “FOR RENT” sign in front of a small, brown building. He knew this would be a perfect place to stay for a while.

 The Ark Knight stepped inside to see what looked like a run-down shop. Many boxes and sacks filled to the brim with goods were piled up behind the counter. Their contents included a variety of foods, exotic spices, potions, textiles, and even weapons. He could that this was the store of a prolific merchant.

 “Hello,” he yelled. “I’m here about the rent!”

 The next thing he heard was a thump coming from under the counter.

 “Ow!” someone screamed.

A young man, about his age, stood up behind the counter, rubbing the back of his head. He had brown hair and was wearing a red vest, light brown pants, and brown leather boots. With a small scimitar hanging off his left leg and a revolver off of his right, he bore the image of a professional hunter. He immediately went from having an irritated frown to a welcoming smile.

 “Oh, hey there,” he said. “Are you interested?”

“Yeah, I just rode into town, and I need a place to stay.”

“Well, you’re in luck! The rent’s cheap, and we’re movin’ out today. Oh, right. Sis!” he shouted up towards the stairs to the second floor. “We got a buyer here!”

“I’ll be right down,” a woman’s voice responded.

  “My name’s Jesse, by the way,” he said.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Jaden.”

 As they firmly shook hands, a spark rippled through Jaden that he couldn’t explain. Jesse had a face that only come across once or twice in a lifetime. It somehow seemed familiar to Jaden, though it wasn’t like he had seen it before. His face was familiar in the sense that Jaden felt comfortable with him, that he could trust him. His smile was that of someone that seemed to have known him for his entire life, despite having just met mhim. He could tell he had traveled all over the earth and welcomed the world with open arms. This was the face of a true friend.

“Oh, hi there,” someone else said.

Jaden looked up to see a pair of brown, leather boots scaling down the stairs. Wearing them was a young woman, also about his age, she resembled Jesse a great deal. She had short, red hair, was sporting a blue, leather jacket with jeans, and was carrying a cardboard box full of medicine in her arms.

“This is my sister, Kaylah. Sis, this is Jaden. He just arrived in the city.”

“Oh well, welcome to Newtown!” she greeted as they shook hands.

Jaden looked at her, and he was so captivated by her great beauty, he almost choked up inside. He could see the resemblance between her and Jesse, but she was something else. She looked like she was painted by an artist in what would be their masterpiece. Her stunning, red hair glistened in the sun seeping in from the window beside me. Even her hand felt as soft and delicate as a rose, and his heart was in full bloom. 

“Thanks…so, what’s the rent?” Jaden asked, having just got out of his daze.

“Well, it was twelve-hundred Cal,” Jesse answered. “But you seem like a nice guy, so I’ll make it ten-hundred.”

Jaden was surprised to get such a generous offer from a complete stranger, even when he didn’t know me. Though he was only in the city for almost an hour, he already knew that he was one of the nicest guys in the city.

“Wow, thanks.”

“No problem. Hey, since you’re new to town, how about we give you a tour of the city, and then we can get some lunch?” Jesse offered.

“Really? Yeah, sure!”

* * *

The three of them walked to a cafe on the other side of the city. They tried a variety of foods that all had their own delicious and unique taste. Out of all of them, Jaden’s favorite one was the roast beef sandwich he had for lunch. The meat was bought fresh from the ranch in the Outer Ring, served hot on a fresh loaf of bread. It’s soft, but crunchy texture filled his mouth with its warm flavor. The seasoned beef lit up taste buds like fireworks. He was so happy from eating that he was uncontrollably humming the entire time. It was the best meal that he had in the past three days, but nothing ever beats his aunt’s cooking. 

After they paid the bill for lunch, they spent the rest of the afternoon touring the city streets. Jesse showed Jaden some of the city’s most historic landmarks. They passed the glamorous Royal Theatre, the center of knowledge that was the Athenaeum, and the luxurious Crown City Hotel. This was the heart of civilization that pumped the kingdom’s lifeblood into the roads and highways that branched through its anatomy.

After a few hours, they stopped in Solana Park near the Village District just outside the main city. They sat down and relaxed in a large, green field in the center of the park. At around the same time, the bells of the city’s Celestial Clock tolled for the third hour. Jaden was exhausted from the tour, but he was overwhelmed with happiness. It was the middle of summer in Astrelm, and the temperature and weather were just perfect.

“Wow,” Jaden said in amazement. “What a day!”

“It sure was a hell of a time,” Jesse responded.

They continued to watch the sun go down. To Jaden, it was the perfect end to a perfect day. He then turned to Jesse and asked something.

“Hey, Jesse. Why did you guys show me around town exactly? Were you trying to butter me up so I would rent your place?” he asked with a glance of humor.

“Oh, no way! We were just trying to be nice, since…you know, it’s you’re first time in the city!”

“Oh, well…thanks.” Jaden was utterly stunned by his response. So much so that he regretted even asking him that question. He never met anyone who had such a kind and generous demeanor.

“Our pleasure. Anyway, what are you going to do now that you’re here in the capital?”

After a few seconds of thought, he said, “Honestly, I don’t really know. I came into town to make something out of himself, but I just really wanted to leave home up until now.”

“So then, what do you want to do?” Kaylah asked. 

“Well, what I really want is to help people, you know? Make a difference like everyone else.”

“Is that why you have that sword?”

 Jaden looked over his shoulder at his trusty blade, sleeping within its sheath behind his back. He took it out and stared at himself in the sharp, reflective steel.

 “Yeah. My uncle taught me how to use it, and I always dreamt of becoming a knight. I was actually the best swordsman in my village. It’s the only thing that makes me feel like I mean anything.”

 “Can we see some of your skills?” she asked.

 “Yeah! Sure!”

 Jaden happily got up and moved a few steps away from them. Getting into a fighting stance with his sword in hand, he swung his right arm and let out a powerful slash. 

 “Hyaaahh!”

 Jaden brought his sword down in front of him with lightning-fast speed. He followed that up with a few more slash attacks that blew through the air like a storm. He then held his sword and prepared for a spin attack.

 “Yaaahh!”

 His sword picked up a whirlwind as he swung his sword around himself like a tornado. And with that, he put his blade back in the scabbard hanging from his shoulder, and turned back towards his audience.

 “Wow, that was amazing,” Kaylah said in amazement while clapping for his performance.

 “Awesome moves!” Jesse complemented.

 “Thanks. But it was nothing,” Jaden said modestly.

 “Hey, you think you could teach me how to use that thing?”

 “Wait, you don’t know how to use a sword?”

 “Not really. I’m not much of a fighter,” Jesse answered while grazing the hilt of his own blade. “I mean, I have this sword in case any demons attack us, but I never use it.”

 “Well, I guess I could give a lesson.”

 Jesse got up and took out his sword, which he gripped like a vice. His body was as rigid as a rock, and his stance was off. He obviously wasn’t experienced using it at all. 

 “Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and your right foot forward. Relax and let your body take in the weight of the blade.”

 Jesse took in a deep breath and let his body relax. His grip on the hilt slightly loosened, and he felt the strength of his arm balance with his weapon. It was as if it the blade was being absorbed into his forearm, becoming a part of him. He then lightly swung his sword at Jaden multiple times, but he quickly blocked each attack. Jesse turned his head to Kaylah as she smiled and watched them from the side.

 “Jesse, just focus on me and on the rhythm of your attacks,” Jaden said, “Like this!” He slowly stepped towards Jesse and softly swung his blade at him. “One, two, three!” Jaden said as he deflected each of his attacks. “Like that!” Jaden continued with more triplets of attacks to the beat of his chant. 

 “One, two, three! Keep it up!”

 After a little time practicing with defense, Jesse got the hang of defending naturally, so he switched back to offense. He followed with the same measure of attacks as Jaden, and he slowly sped up his strikes until he got lost in the movement. Their swords were dancing with each other to the rhythm of combat.

* * *

 After about an hour of practicing, they dropped to the ground completely exhausted. They then just sat next to a large oak tree on top of the hill and watched the sunset. The sky was painted with a bright shade of red and orange.

 “Great job Jesse,” Jaden said. “You’re pretty good for a rookie.”

 “Thanks, but I’m still not as good as you,” he said.

 “Well, if you want to get better, you just gotta keep practicing.”

 “You know, Jaden. You could be a fantastic knight if you wanted to,” Kaylah added.

 “Thanks, but honestly, I’m not sure if I want to. I mean, I practiced swordplay every day for years so I can protect people, but I really don’t know if I belong in the army.” 

 As Jaden spoke, he stared out at the vast horizon of Astrelm, which was bathed in the golden summer twilight.

 “What I really want to do is to see the world. There’s so much out there that I haven’t seen yet. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever left my hometown.”

 That was the thing Jaden wanted to do the most: to see the world. For all eighteen years of his life, his entire world was his hometown, living in a simple house with his aunt and uncle. However, he always had a thirst for adventure, and he wanted to discover his place in the world. Jaden knew that he couldn’t stay in his village for the rest of his life. But now that he was there in the capital, for the first time in his life, he didn’t have a plan.

 “Well,” Jesse said, “maybe you could travel with us!”

 Jaden turned his head to him, so surprised by the offer that he could barely believe it. “Really, you mean it?”

 “Yeah,” Kaylah said. “We really just wander around the world selling goods to people.”

 “We go wherever the money takes us!” Jesse said jokingly. Jaden couldn’t help but laugh a little.

 “You sure you want me with you guys? I mean, we just met, and what about your house and the rent?”

 “Hey, forget about it,” Jesse answered. “We don’t need to rent out our house. As long as you help us out, that is. I mean, that is what you want, right?”

 Jaden spent a few seconds processing this momentous offer. No one except his aunt and uncle ever displayed this much kindness to him. When he came up with his answer, he gladly smiled and said, “Yeah, I’ll do it!”

 “Alright, you’re one of us, now,” Jesse proudly exclaimed.

 He took out his hand, and Jaden happily held it tight. Kaylah reached for a hug, and he granted it to her as well. At that point, it was the happiest day of his life.

 “Now we gotta celebrate this,” said Jesse. “I know this little restaurant close to here with the best steaks! Do you like steak, Jaden?”

 “Hell, yes!” he wholeheartedly agreed.

 “Okay, then, let’s go!”

 They got up and began walking west to where the restaurant was supposed to be. However, they stopped when they saw a trail of black smoke rising up from the city skyline.

 “What is that?” asked Kaylah.

 “I don’t know, it looks like there’s a fire in town,” Jaden answered.

 They heard the boom of a fireball exploding in the same spot in the city. They trio recoiled in shock as they witnessed the disaster unfold. 

 “Oh no,” Jesse said in horror.

 They then began running towards the site of the fire to see what had happened. It was at that moment, on July 19th, 2017, at 5:24 P.M., the Great War began.

Chapter 3

The Fall of Newtown

 Jaden and his friends rushed over to Highland Square in the center of the city, where they saw the Royal Citadel on fire. Crowds of horrified people gathered in front of the castle, staring in horror at the gigantic blaze. Their screams filled the square as the smoke surged out of the inferno into the sky, sealing the city within a humungous black cloud.

 “Oh my God,” Kaylah said in shock.

 Jaden then asked the woman next to him, “How did this happen?”

 “No one knows,” she answered. “The Citadel just blew up from the inside, and it went up in flames.”

Suddenly, a second explosion blew up the northwest gate to the city. When they turned to see what had happened, they all realized what was really happening. Newtown was under attack.

 Another explosion blew up the western gate, collapsing onto the streets leading in and out of the city. The southwestern gate burst into flames as well, immediately filling the streets with rubble. More explosions followed until all eight gates around the city were destroyed. They saw the fire rise up in the distance like trees sprouting from the earth. Black smoke from each explosion filled the sky, shrouding them all in darkness. In an instant, thousands of screams from all over the city fueled a primal cry of fear that could be heard from miles away.

With no way out, thousands of people throughout the city charged towards the square in a wild stampede. All of them were stricken with an uncontrollable fear that contorted each of their faces into a mask of hysteria. They all crowded the entire square, shoving and elbowing each other like a pinball machine that the three of them were trapped in.

Another series of explosions occurred all around the square, causing the crowd to recede in fear. One explosion erupted from the Stargate, destroying their closest means of escape. The Celestial Clock that once crowned the altar crumbled before them, frozen in time. And then, out of nowhere, a giant figure appeared above them from the maw of the flames. It was a hologram of a man clad in black with thick, gray armor over his rugged torso. A long, black cape flowed off of his steel shoulder plates. But what stood out most about him was that he was wearing a black, horned mask that looked like a skull. It was as if Death himself appeared right before the entire city.

“Attention, citizens of Newtown!” the giant announced with a loud but muffled voice. “I am Kaiser, and I appear to you, on behalf of the Nova Empire, as the new ruler of this land!”

This man’s shocking announcement echoed throughout the square, now filled with an air of confusion. People started whispering to one another, asking questions with pure bewilderment. Jaden and his friends also turned to each other, as if doing so would confirm that this was really happening.

 “For too long, the kingdom of Astrelm has reigned in decadence while our people had to suffer in austerity! The time has come for a new order to rise up and take control! With my power, I have single-handedly defeated your army, taking control of the Citadel and your precious city. I have driven out the Royal Family you so highly revere, and all of you beneath me have had merely a glimpse at the destruction I can unleash upon your realm!”

At first, Jaden struggled to comprehend the kind of power he claimed to possess. The thought that this man alone was able to torch the city in seconds was frightening enough. So much so that everyone in the square was shocked into complete silence. They all just stared up at the dark giant. It was as if time had suddenly stopped as the world continued burning around them.

“This guy can’t be serious!” Jesse exclaimed. “There’s no way he could have this kind of power, right?!

No matter how much he wanted to believe Jesse, Jaden could sense it was true. He felt a mountain of dark energy pouring from Kaiser, engulfing the entire city in its shadow. This was the power of the Devil himself, who had just crawled out from the world of nightmares and unleashed his wrath on the kingdom.

 “To all the people of Astrelm, I give you this single warning! Do not try to defy us! Any attempt to do so shall result in complete and utter annihilation at my hands! Soon, your entire kingdom will submit to the Nova Empire, and you will remember this as the last day of Astrelm!”

 The hologram of Kaiser disappeared before our eyes, and a massive shockwave was released from the fading giant. Hundreds of windows and lamps shattered in an instant while many people were thrust onto the ground like dominos. They all then heard an ominous sound coming from the sky, which seemed to be tearing apart. A dome of blue energy appeared over the whole city, and it was bombarded by a massive red blast. This was the magic barrier protecting the city from attacks, and they were all watching it disintegrate.

Jaden realized that Kaiser did have some sort of destructive magic. No weapon on the planet was powerful enough to shatter that force field. But now, the city’s greatest defense had been torn down, leaving it completely vulnerable to outside attacks. Just beyond where the dome stood, several Imperial airships were seen flying towards the city before the bloody sunset. They began firing rockets down at them, and everyone started screaming.

“Guys, we gotta run! Now!” Jaden motioned. 

Countless people began running in the streets in a frenzy—the sound of a missile hitting a building echoed behind them. A huge explosion burst through the tower, which immediately fell to the earth, releasing a large cloud of gray smoke into the streets. As everyone was running for their lives, some of them shoved each other out of the way to escape the chaos. There were even a few running over people who had fallen. The city had entered complete anarchy.

Jaden was sprinting past dozens of people while also trying to stay close to Jesse and Kaylah. The frantic crowd was like a maze that was littered with fire and debris. He managed to successfully navigate through it all until he tripped over some rubble. Hearing him fall to the ground, Jesse and Kaylah stopped to help him.

“Jaden, are you okay?” Jesse asked.

“Yeah, thanks!”

Jaden struggled to get back up, but Jesse helped him stand. When he did, he looked back at the cloud of smoke coming towards them. He was about to continue running when he noticed some people getting caught in the smoke behind them. The thick, gray giant was towering above him menacingly, but all he could think about was the danger those people inside were in. He was worried that they wouldn’t make it out alive.

“Guys, I’m going back,” he said to them.

“Jaden, you can’t,” Jesse said. “It’s too dangerous!”

 The next thing Jaden knew, he was running into the smoke. Jesse pleas faded as the roaring cloud flooded the streets until it swallowed Jaden whole. He was surrounded by a gray veil of smoke, obstructing his vision. The only things he could see were fire, rubble, and the bodies of those that perished in the destruction. The first living thing that he saw was a pale horse wandering aimlessly, completely coated in ash. Hardly able to breathe, he covered his mouth with his shirt as he walked through the haze. He came across a man lying hurt on the ground, covered in dust and soot, and helped him get back on his feet. He began running out of the smoke as Jaden continued looking for others still trapped inside.

 “Help!” a man shouted in the distance. 

 Running towards the source of the cry, Jaden found a man and a woman, both around their thirties, kneeling near a pile of rubble. There was also a little boy, about eight to ten-years-old, stuck underneath it. The couple struggled to lift the debris off of him.

 “Help us, please!” he pleaded. “Our son is trapped!”

“Stand back! I got this!”

 Without a second thought, Jaden took over in lifting the rubble off of their son. Even with his enhanced strength, the wreckage proved itself extremely heavy. The pressure skyrocketed the moment he heard the sound of the bridge overhead beginning to crumble. In a panic, Jaden focused all the energy he could gather into his muscles, practically pushing against the ceiling of his own power. 

 The bridge continued to fall apart above them, with grains of rubble seeping down like sand in an hourglass. In the heat of the moment, a spark of energy lit up within him, giving him the strength he needed. With one final push, he managed to free the boy from his prison, but the bridge had already collapsed. Grabbing onto the kid, he jumped away from the bridge just before it could crush them.

 “Are you okay?” he asked the kid.

 Too terrified and awestruck to even speak, he simply nodded before running up to his parents. The young couple tightly held their son, who let out a cry of both sadness and joy.

 “Oh my God, my boy! Thank you,” the mother cried.

 The mother held her son in her arms as the father hugged them both. All three of them were covered with soot, and tears were running down their faces.

 “Go now!” Jaden shouted to them, sending them fleeing down the street.

 Behind him, another building erupted in a thunderous ball of fire. Jaden looked up to see smoke pluming out from the ruins beneath the Citadel. Within that towering inferno, someone was standing atop a nearby building. The figure was hard to make out at first, but Jaden noticed this man was dressed in black and wearing a mask resembling a skull. It was Kaiser.

 He was here now, normal size but terrifying nevertheless. He gazed out at the chaos and destruction he created, all without a single trace of emotion. He then looked down to where Jaden was standing. Although he was dozens of stories above him, Jaden knew he was staring directly at him. He couldn’t see his face under that demonic mask, but He sensed a dark aura surrounding his body. There was an ungodly amount of power emanating from him, encompassing his entire being in a black, empty shape, almost like a living corpse. This was no man, but the vessel of some terrible, otherworldly presence that was pure evil. He scowled at him from below until he turned around, indifferent to his presence, and disappeared.

 Jaden ran back down the southern street, where people frantically crowded the entrance to the Cosmel Tunnel. This subterranean street traveled underneath the river and outside the city. Though he had managed to squeeze into the tunnel, dozens of people were huddled up to escape. Hundreds of abandoned cars blocked the streets as many people were running around or climbing on top of them. City soldiers tried to control the situation by keeping everyone lined up in an orderly fashion. This was about as orderly as it could get.

“Jaden!” he heard someone yell. 

Jaden turned to see that it came from Jesse, who ran towards him with Kaylah behind him.

“Thank God, you’re alright!” she declared.

“It’s good to see you too,”  he replied, awkwardly but happily.

A massive tremor shook the tunnel with all of them inside, and everyone’s screams filled it completely. They all started crowding the end of the tunnel, and the three of them were getting swept up in the wave of hysteria. They were squeezed and shoved around until they nearly suffocated down there. By some miracle, they managed to move outside the line of frightened people. 

“So, what do we do now?” he asked heavily.

“We have a little place a long way from here,” Jesse answered. “It’s safe from the Empire, so we can lay low there for a while.”

“Alright, we better leave now!”

Another explosion hit the city above, shaking the tunnel underneath. Jaden watched and listened to the people screaming all around him. Everything slowed down as he gazed at their frightened faces. They had endured unimaginable horrors that day, and their lives were left in ruin. Throughout the kingdom, there were millions more at risk of suffering the same fate. He realized that he had to do something to support them, but he  couldn’t do that with Jesse and Kaylah. They would be in grave danger if they were with him.

“I’m sorry,” I said to them. “I can’t go with you.” The words came out with a rising tension in his chest. It felt like acid rose up his throat and burned right through it. Both Jesse and Kaylah looked at him in shock.

“What, why not?” Kaylah asked him.

“There are other towns nearby that are vulnerable to another attack. I have to do what I can to help them.”

“Are you sure about that?” Jesse asked.

“I came here to help people, and that’s what I’m going to do!”

Both of them looked at Jaden with disappointment and sadness. Just as he had become good friends with them, he was about to leave them just as quickly.

“Best of luck to you, then,” he responded. He held out his hand like before, and clasped it tight. 

At that point, Jaden didn’t want to let go, but something inside him broke his grip. Kaylah walked up to him and hugged him tight, to which he returned with open arms.

“Be careful out there,” she requested, tightly squeezing him.

For one agonizing moment, they held each other before they reluctantly separated. His lips trembling with uncertainty, Jaden finally summoned the words that he regretted ever having to say.

“Well, I guess this is goodbye. Hopefully, I’ll see you again.” 

Stepping away from them both, Jaden hid his face as he began to flee. Though he had gone a few steps before Jesse called out again.

“Jaden, wait!”

He gave Jesse his full attention as he glanced over his shoulder.

“Thank you for today,” he said happily. “It was great while it lasted.” 

Jesse waved goodbye to Jaden, who did the same with a smile on his face. He turned back around and ran towards the end of the tunnel. Tears started to form in his eyes as a shard of regret pierced into his head. Despite that, he just kept running.

Jaden had escaped the city and continued running to the nearest town south of there. The setting sun shined across the stretching fields, bathing it in a glistening, golden light. Behind him, the rising plume of black smoke poured into the sky, with Imperial dropships circling the city. He left behind his new home, just as he had left his first one. Without looking back, he kept running to the next town, mentally preparing for two years of fighting alone in the Great War.

3 thoughts on “Book 1: Ch. 1-3

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