A high-fantasy story full or rich characters and an engaging story.
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Keepers Garden Home
The royal seat of Keepers' Garden has been usurped through assassination and the loose confederation of city-states within its borders is crumbling. After months of conflict, the Liberation and Imperials have emerged as the two major contenders for the throne.
But as one battle draws to a climax, another, darker cloud looms on the horizon.
The Flame Within follows Spirit Knight Aralon Mittel, part of a select elite of the soldiery trained in magic and the sword since late childhood. Yet Aralon is less known for his personal achievements than he is for being the younger brother of the missing Hyval Mittel, the Garden's greatest Spirit Knight.
Aralon is accompanied by Darvin Hegg, his former instructor and now his second officer, and Kiyana Irhan, a Mist Elf from beyond the reaches of the Garden. Join them as they attempt to end the Garden's civil war and are propelled into a conflict more profound than any had ever imagined .
The bitter Shiryan wind has passed, the dust has settled into place, but the conflict will rise again and I fear for our future readiness. Weak and battered, we will need time to recover, much more than we will be given.
When the scourge comes again it will rip life asunder from the earth and leave nothing in its wake but death, suffering its only defeat when there is no more land to rape.
For those who think they can replace the Creator and renew this taken life, they are playing at a winless game. As a man of principle I have no choice but to continue my refusal of the company of fools.
- Passage uncovered during the excavation of Old Hivnem
Secrets of the Temple
“Please sit, daughters. Sit and listen.”
Several of the girls skirted the glare of the Great Mother as they shuffled groggily to their seats. Most had been attending morning class for years, but the youngest among them were still unaccustomed to waking so early.
“This is not the first, nor is it the last time I will remind you that the words spoken inside this classroom are never to be discussed outside the temple, even amongst yourselves. Our secrets are for your minds alone – this place, their only freedom. You gained the privilege of this knowledge because you have shown yourselves to be diligent while in the service of the Keepers. Remember that, as you listen today. That you have earned this right.”
Compliant nods came from several students while the remainder of the class easily tuned out the warning heard many times before.
The Great Mother stepped up to the old wooden podium, so worn it was beginning to splinter at its joints. She opened a heavy, leather-bound book to a passage marked by a ribbon. “Today could be the most important lesson of your spiritual education, daughters. In this passage we will hear Aialiss’ account of the end of the Great War and of the subsequent formation of Keepers’ Garden.”
Before beginning to read the Great Mother scowled at an older girl in the front row who was busy biting at a fingernail. “Kyla! How can you expect to gain the respect of your future temple’s congregation if you cannot bring yourself to listen in a respectful manner?”
The girl’s face froze and she dropped her hand from her now gaping mouth, letting it fall limply in her lap. “Apologies, Great Mother,” she murmured, keeping her eyes on the floor. “It will not happen again.”
“See that your promise holds the weight of action, daughter.” Shaking her head, the Great Mother pulled a thin, round shard of bluestone out of the pocket of her robe. She positioned the magnifier so she was able to read the fine, faded print of the ancient text.
“The ones who stood against Creation came and ravaged our land with war, sucking the natural energies from our plane to leave soil fertilized only with blood and death. Arable land was in short supply and we who stood against the scourge could no longer step back. The enemy stirred in their own lands and we ignored them. They came to our realm and we gave them room. They took our villages and towns and we pulled away in retreat. They razed our greatest city and we fled into the wilderness. There was no longer a choice. A line had to be drawn and I hope the future has seen to forgive us for our choices.”
“The fortress of Almach Tur was wracked with desperation, yet somehow Kanus found a plan amid the chaos. It was designed to be our final stand, so a choice was given to those present: stay and fight and likely die or hide underground and survive – continuing our civilization in some small fraction of its former grandeur until the true reckoning came. We made the same offering to everyone present, save ourselves; the six of us had no real choice. The continuation of human existence required a set price – the end of our time.”
The Great Mother looked up from the text and shook her head. “I should have given you a warning before reading this passage, daughters. These words may be difficult to hear and even to believe, but you must remember that these texts are the one and only truth. They serve as the basis of faith in our temples. Is this understood?”
“Yes, Great Mother,” resonated from the class.
Satisfied with the response, the Great Mother returned her attention to the text. “The plan was a trap, in essence; to lure the greatest of the Shiryan Lords to Hivnem. As the only great city still standing it seemed an appropriate location. The bait was set with ease, simply by loosing a rumor that our shard of the Creation Stone was to be moved to Hivnem. In reality only our army was present, waiting for the Shiryan Lord and his blight with a welcome of blades. I stood among a force of nearly every human who remained, armed with whatever weapon could be found. All were weak, hungry, and tired, but also fiercely determined.
“Our resolve was reinforced during the final hours as the Archons came to our aid. The winged giants joined our lines willingly, hoping to become a part of the first army in recorded history to repel a Shiryan onslaught.
“As we had both dreaded and desired the Council sent the human traitor Dregus Antonesius to our lands, leading a horde of Shiryans with the sole purpose of acquiring the third shard from its human protectors. Dregus accepted our bait without reservation and the Shiryan army descended on Hivnem, yet the stone was hidden –”
The Great Mother looked up from the text. “The third shard still exists, daughters, but its location has been forgotten for centuries. According to temple history the secret died along with the forty-ninth Great Mother. The location of the shard may be unknown but it is still here. Perhaps somewhere among us, perhaps even within these halls.”
The students in the front row leaned forward, eyes wide with interest. For that, the Great Mother smiled internally and she resumed her reading. “Dregus accepted our bait without reservation and the Shiryan army descended on Hivnem, yet the stone was hidden in a safe place – a location that, if I wish to keep secret, should not be revealed in this memoir.
“Dregus Antonesius was unprepared for what awaited him. Once the Shiryan Lord had gated to our plane Kanus draped a permanent shield over our remaining cities to sever them from the Foundation forever.” The Great Mother looked up from the text. “Thus creating Keepers’ Garden.”
Some in the class raised their eyebrows at the correlation while the others continued their glazy forward stares.
The Great Mother furrowed her brow, annoyed by the lack of reaction from her students, yet she continued without further pause. “With access to the Foundation lost, Dregus was severed from his source of power. He instantly lost connection with his hordes. The creatures of nightmare ravaged everything in sight without discretion – Humans, Archons, and even their Shiryan brethren were targets. It was carnage on a scale I never wish to experience again, but experience tells me it will return. If I have learned one thing in this life it is that history finds a way of turning back on itself again and again, like the steel of a strong sword.
“When the dust of the battle had settled, Dregus Antonesius was alone across the field. Fulfilling one of my last duties I took up my sword and stepped out to confront him alone.
“I regret that too many years have passed. Time has stripped the details from my memory, but one particular point remains – I remember his hate, his pure anger – anger at his Council allies for leaving him without assistance the once he needed it and anger at me as his sworn enemy. But anger cannot be used as a weapon. Without the Foundation Dregus was weak. As the superior swordsman I was able to run him through.
“Most present thought it a moment for rejoicing and relief, but I knew the ordeal was not finished nor would it ever be. Dregus’ spirit is much too strong to simply give up and cease existence.”
The Great Mother closed the book abruptly, sending a jolt through the sleepier students. “Do you understand the significance?” she demanded. There was no immediate response. “You must have questions, daughters.”
A slender hand rose from the front row.
The Great Mother gestured to the beaming girl, an older student who was nearing her Attainment. The girl took a moment to push a few wisps of streaky blonde hair out of her eyes and, once she was sure she was the center of attention, she smacked her lips and chirped, “I understand the need for this reading as a theological reference, but how does this story maintain its relevance today? If we are sealed by the Keepers, then we are safe.” The girl looked from side to side, searching for support from her classmates. The other students had been pupils of the temple long enough to know that abstention was the best policy until the Great Mother had chosen the side she would support.
The Great Mother drew a pleased smile, showing her straight teeth. “I will do the best I can to address your question, daughter, but I must warn you; the answer is both long and complicated.”