Crimson Shards: Origins
Chapter 1: A Strange Woman
It was a quiet night in Orristin, the streets dimly lit by the street lamps overhead. Cassandra smiled as she walked down the street with her bag of groceries as she had just managed to finish shopping before the store closed. Looking up at the night sky she could tell it was going to rain soon so she tried to hurry home. A mere block away from home Cassandra heard a loud crash down the next alleyway making her nearly drop the groceries she had. As it started to rain Cassandra slowly made her way to the alley where the loud crash came from and stuck her head around the corner to saw a cloaked person lying motionless on the ground. Looking around Cassandra saw dumpsters and garbage littering the alley as if two orcs had been brawling but there was no one else around and no exit for anyone to leave other than the way she came in. She didn’t know who this person was but they were surely injured and Cassandra knew they would likely die if left in the cold rain. Since she was so close to home Cassandra decided to take the person home at least until the morning when the rain stops. She pulled the hood of the cloak aside and saw the very pale face of a woman then proceeded to hoist the woman onto her back. Cassandra struggled as the woman felt to be the weight of four people which she concluded was due to the backpack the woman was carrying under the cloak. As Cassandra slowly walked in the rain she could feel the woman’s large breasts press up against her back, they were firm but still felt soft. Cassandra’s face began to turn red at the thought of the woman’s chest and she quickly began to think of something else until she made it home.
Upon entering the house Cassandra was greeted by her younger adoptive-sister. She had shoulder length blonde hair, blue eyes, slightly tanned skin and was about as tall and old looking as a fourteen-year-old even though she was eighteen.
“Hi sis, it took you a long time to get home I was getting worried,” Ayva said.
“Uh yeah, I got a little sidetracked.”
“Who is that? A date of yours?” Ayva snickered.
“I’m not sure, I found her in the alley not far from here.”
“You know you shouldn’t bring strangers home. What if something happened and you got hurt?”
“I know but I just felt that I should help her. Anyways, could you get dinner started? I’m going to get this woman out of her soaking wet clothes.”
“Ok don’t forget to get yourself dried off as well it wouldn’t be good if you got yourself sick.”
Cassandra handed off the groceries to Ayva and proceeded to carry the stranger to her room. Placing her as gently as possible on the bed Cassandra pulled back the woman’s hood revealing her face. She had long brilliant crimson red hair framing her pale beautiful sharp-featured face. Her lips were tinted black making them a dark red and around her eyes were stained black as well. Next, she pulled the rest of her robe off but was so surprised that she backed into the dresser along the wall. She was expecting the woman to be carrying a backpack due to the bulge of the cloak but what she had found was a pair of large black feathered wings. Cassandra could hear her adoptive-sister walking down the hallway and she quickly draped the cloak back over the woman.
“Hey sis, is everything ok?” Ayva said as she poked her head through the partially open door.
“Oh yes, I’m fine. Just slipped on the wet floor is all.”
“Ok dinner will be ready in about twenty minutes.”
After Ayva left Cassandra pulled the cloak back off the woman and looked at her again. The feathers were shiny and a deep endless black, one of her wings seems to have been injured with an odd bend in it and she had several other fresh looking wounds across her body. With the woman out of her wet cloak and under some warm blankets Cassandra took the cloak and went to get herself washed up and dried off as well. After her shower, she laundered her clothes as well as the cloak of the woman and headed for the kitchen for some dinner. There she saw her younger adoptive-sister busily eating away.
“Sorry you had to make dinner,” Cassandra said as she took a seat. “I know you have trials tonight at the Academy.”
“It’s alright sis, I don’t mind making dinner from time to time. I am worried about that woman that you brought home though. You should probably sleep in my room tonight and lock the door.”
“I appreciate you being worried about me but I’ll be just fine. I’m a capable support personnel of the Academy too you know.”
“Yes I know but that doesn’t mean you can defend yourself when you need to.”
“Well don’t worry about me I’ll be fine tonight.”
Ayva finished her dinner and placed her dishes in the sink before leaving the house into the rainy night towards the Academy. Cassandra sat there alone at the table eating her dinner looking around at the dimly lit house. While she was grateful that the Academy allowed her and her adoptive-sister to stay in the house, she did wish that her and her adoptive-sister could complete more jobs offered by the Academy, as it was now her and her Ayva were just making enough to get by with the two-person jobs which were far and few between. She was hoping that Ayva would pass her trials tonight which would increase their ranking in the Academy and make them more desirable to some of the stronger members of the Academy. Though she still found it odd that they’ve never been approached by any of the other members of the Academy even those lower in standing never asked to join with them. With that thought, Cassandra took the last bite of her dinner and washed the dishes.
Once she was done she went back to her room where the woman was still passed out. Curious about the woman’s condition she walked over and placed her hand on the woman’s forehead which was cold to the touch as if she were dead. In a panic she quickly checked her pulse and for a moment she really did think this woman had died since she had no pulse but she eventually could feel muscle contractions in the woman’s neck that put her at ease knowing the woman hadn’t died. Normally Cassandra would use her healing magic abilities but she wasn’t advanced enough to use it on unconscious people yet. She had no other means to warm the woman up so reluctantly Cassandra crawled under the blanket to help warm the woman up. Being up close and personal with the strange woman she was able to get a better look at her. Her long hair was a hypnotizing deep crimson red and her skin was pale and flawless. The wings and feathers were real as far as she could tell which wouldn’t be unusual if she were an Itos which were winged humanoid birds. But Itos were usually fully feathered and their arms were a part of their wings not separate. Cassandra moved closer and pressed herself against the side of woman’s body. Cassandra looked at the woman’s face that was tilted towards her as she lay there trying to warm her up. Cassandra found the woman’s looks quite beautiful and soon her face started to feel flushed. Cassandra closed her eyes to try and shut out her feeling of lust for this stranger.
It was only for a moment which was all she needed to calm her mind but when she opened her eyes again she was met with piercing red eyes and it felt like her soul was being sucked out. In a knee-jerk reaction, Cassandra nearly lept out of the bed losing her footing and falling on the floor hitting her head. Blinking and trying to shake off the haze of confusion Cassandra looked up from the floor to see the woman leaning over the edge of the bed her wings arching up on each side of her head and her crimson hair flowing past her face and nearly reaching the floor. Cassandra felt frozen as she lay on the floor unable to muster the will to move as the piercing gaze of the woman looked at her. Without a word the woman turned and ran out of the room. Cassandra quickly stumbled up and over the bed nearly falling again and ran out into to hallway. The door at the end of the hall was wide open the rain outside was being thrown sideways by the howling wind. Cassandra grabbed a raincoat and headed outside into the storm. Looking both ways down the street she saw a small white figure to her left, it could have only been the woman draped in the bed sheets. Cassandra ran after her putting her arm up to shield her face from the blowing rain. She kept running after the white figure slowly closing in. When Cassandra rounded the next corner she slid to a stop. There in front of her under a street lamp, the woman impaled in the shoulder with a spear. Behind the woman stood five figures one of which shocked Cassandra, it was her adoptive-sister Ayva.
Chapter 2: Truth
“What’s going on here Ayva?” Cassandra said loudly making sure that her voice was heard over the noise of the rain.
A tall man walked forward, Cassandra knew who it was by his body language. It was Tim Cosworth, the highest ranked member of the Academy. His presence gave off a sense of intimidation and fear.
“This is none of your concern Rank 508.”
“Yes this is absolutely of my concern, she is in my care! How dare you harm her!”
“In that case under section two paragraph four of the Academy rules, I hereby place you under arrest.”
Cassandra dare not resist as not only did she have no chance against Rank 1 of the Academy but she also wasn’t sure why her sister was here. Cassandra was placed on the wagon and watched as the woman tried to resist but was beaten by the rest of the group. For a moment it seemed as if she could get away but Tim put a swift end to that with a punch across the woman’s face. The group loaded up the woman into the cage on the wagon and headed off towards teh Academy. The entire half hour it took for the wagon to make it to the academy never once did Ayva make eye contact with Cassandra. Once they arrived the courtyard was brightly lit even in the dead of night and the rain had finally let up but the ground was still slick and wet. Cassandra could only watch as one of the men dragged the woman out of the cage by her handcuffs making land in a heap on the ground. The man continued to drag the woman to the center of the courtyard and locked her cuffs to a ring embedded in the ground. Cassandra knew what was happening, they were going to execute this woman.
“Ayva! Why are you doing this?” Cassandra yelled out.
Ayva walked over and pulled a piece of cloth from her pocket and tied it tightly around Cassandra’s head and over her mouth. She struggled and tried to scream as she watched them strip the woman naked. The blood from her current wounds easily visible and dripping on the ground. The woman struggled once more and was stopped by a kick to the side. Tim walked up to the woman with the large axe in hand. Cassandra’s vision started to blur from her tears as she screamed through the gag and pulled as hard as she could on her restraints. As Tim hoisted the axe ready to deliver the killing blow a flash of blue light spread across the courtyard.
“Enough!” the grand voice said.
Cassandra knew from the voice who it was. Rurik Cosworth, the current reigning headmaster of the Academy. He was a bonafide god, the city’s most powerful magic wielder. Cassandra heard that he was capable of stopping people in their tracks but she had never seen it until now. She was fully aware of what was going on and could see everything that was happening Tim, Ayva and the two men and other woman were all frozen in place. Yet oddly the woman was still moving struggling to get away.
“Tim my son, are you trying to kill the entire Academy?” Rurik yelled in anger unfreezing everyone.
“But father the Purity Crystal identified her as a Sihrili. We must exterminate her as soon as possible.”
“You idiot, does she look like a Sihrili to you? Go to the assembly hall, all of you, I’ll deal with you later.”
Cassandra watched as the group left the courtyard and headed to the assembly hall. As she was still restrained Cassandra sat quietly, watching as Rurik directed staff members to take the woman away on a stretcher. Cassandra knew what the headmaster looked like but it was different in person. Most people knew him as a strict and strong-willed old man. But looking at him with his white hair, deep blue eyes and tanned soft face she could see compassion in him.
“Hold still this will be cold for a second,” Rurik said with his now soothing voice.
Rurik pointed his finger at Cassandra’s restraints and for a split second, they felt as cold as ice before shattering into dust.
“Where are you taking that woman?”
“To the Academy’s infirmary.”
“Then I want to go see her, to make sure she’s safe.”
“Very well follow me.”
Cassandra followed Rurik to the infirmary where the woman lay on the bed covered with white sheets slowly getting stained red by the wound to her shoulder. She walked up to the woman and ran the back of her hand beside the scratches on the woman’s face. With tears in her eyes, she turned to Rurik.
“What are you going to do to her?”
“We will have to contain her permanently or exterminate her.”
“What! Why? Why are you doing this? Why did they think she was a Sihrili? And why was Ayva part of this?”
“Ok, ok, calm down. I think it’s time to tell you the truth but it may be easier to explain somewhere else,” Rurik said trying his best to calm Cassandra.
Cassandra watched the scenery blur past the train window as she sat beside the woman that was loaded onto the train car as well. Cassandra knew about the Academy’s private train that only the top tier groups were allowed to use for deployment. The cars of the train were all interconnected only separated by thin privacy walls. The interior of the train car was lavishly decorated with handcrafted dark hardwood trim and gold leaf lit by traditional oil-filled lamps.
“You know she’ll be safe on the train you should get some rest,” Rurik said as he sat across the two with his tea in hand.
“I refuse,” Cassandra said scowling. “Especially with my adoptive-sister and your lapdogs onboard.”
The atmosphere quickly changed as the train entered the unlit tunnel going through the mountain. The shadows seemed to be alive as the flames of the oil filled lamps flickered and moved.
“I’m sure you’ve been told about this before in your training classes but the borders of the Wastelands is a place that’s very dangerous even for a god. They’re simply here to protect the train and its passengers. Please get some sleep you’ve had a rough night and it’s still a few hours until we reach the Wastelands.”
The train lurched as it came to a stop and Cassandra awoke. Wiping the drool from the corner of her mouth she looked out the window. Before her was a vast open land devoid of any signs of life and only filled with rock and sand. She had read about the Wastelands and its dangers and how it could no longer support life but seeing it in person for the first time was humbling. Cassandra got up and exited the rear of the train car, climbed the ladder outside to the train car’s roof. The sun was warm on her face and her shoulder-length black-tipped white hair flowed in the breeze. Looking over she could see Rurik joining her on the roof as well as her sister and the other Academy members gathering on top of the train six cars ahead of them at the other end of the interconnected cars.
“This is what I wanted to show you. This wasteland used to be a lush life filled forest like the one on the other side of the tracks. Ten thousand years ago gods and demons were always at war and all the other beings were caught in between. The war seemed to have no end in sight until an enemy came along that everyone could unite against. The Sihrili came upon them suddenly and without notice. They were creatures of pure black death magic and like a plague had no remorse for good or bad, rich or poor, they attacked everyone equally and were nearly impossible to kill. The gods, demons, human, orcs, elves and dwarves all united together to exterminate the new threat. Even with their combined strength, they could just barely hold off the Sihrili. In a last-ditch attempt, they gathered all their forces and decided to make a frontal assault on the Sihrili. The battle went well in the beginning but eventually the allied forces began to dwindle down and they began losing. When the remaining forces were about to lose hope a streak of red light came down from the sky. Once the dust settled a tall woman with long white hair, blue eyes and large white feathered wings stood between the Sihrili and the allied forces. It was said that the Sihrili stopped their advance as if they were afraid of the woman and rightfully so. With her hand raised in the air a red aura began surrounding the Sihrili, each one of them falling one by one. And for a while there was peace across the world, thanks to her, that woman laying on the bed in the train car. Many called her Serena Skyfall, which she eventually accepted as her name.”
Cassandra knew that gods and demons could live an extraordinarily long life but she could hardly believe that the woman laying on the bed could be several thousand years old especially since she didn’t look much older than herself. “But if she saved the world why don’t we see any statues or mentions of her doing that? Also what happened to her wings and hair? They’re not white.”
“Well she did save the world but there were growing concerns among the race leaders about how much magic power Serena had. At the time Xoana the Empress of the gods and Dragoth the King of the demons were both bothered that there was someone with such power that could overthrow any authority. So the two convinced the other race leaders to declare Serena a danger to all races. Dragoth devised a plan to render Serena powerless and gathered all the greatest weaponsmiths of all races together and instructed them to forge a weapon capable of drawing out a being’s magic when struck with it. The council of leaders invited Serena to a meeting where they expressed their concerns and asked if she would abdicate her magic powers which only required a small prick from the scythe to draw out her magic. She refused, explaining that she could not relinquish her magic so easily. No one knows why but in that moment Xoana grabbed the scythe and lodged it’s crescent blade into Serena’s back. However, the weaponsmiths did not account for the amount of origin magic Serena had. The scythe’s blade fractured along multiple spots and released a massive amount of origin magic so concentrated it made solidified crimson colored shards that spread out in a massive explosion. Xoana, as well as several other leaders, lost their lives the rest were only saved by Yedral’s protection magic. When the dust settled they saw only Serena, her hair red like blood, her wings black as night, her facial features darkened, and her eyes now a glowing red. Before any could get up and catch her she fled and for a while she was on the run. Eventually, Dragoth and the rest of the allied forces surrounded her in a small abandoned town in the forest. No one knows exactly what happened other than there was a large flash from a column of light then a massive explosion creating the Wastelands. None of the allied forces or Serena were ever heard from again.”
Cassandra took a moment to process all this information she was just told. The woman she had saved could possibly be the most dangerous thing on Ecluna. As she thought more it only brought up more questions she had like why the woman didn’t retaliate when she was being captured.
“You see why we have to take care of her don’t you?” Rurik said. “She’s a danger to everyone on Ecluna.”
“But you can’t just-”
“You have no say in this!” Rurik yelled. His usual calming look now angered.
“Fine but could you at least let me ask her some questions when she wakes up?” Cassandra asked a politely as she could.
Rurik could see the conductor motioning everyone back inside so the train could continue on its way. Once Cassandra got back in the train car she checked up on Serena. Her skin was still pale and her wound still slowly bleeding. She didn’t know why but she could feel tears welling up. Before she could start crying Rurik offered her a glass of water which she accepted then sat in one of the padded leather chairs.
“So why was my sister with the top team in the Academy? I know for a fact, trials are overseen by the advisory committee and are done on Academy grounds.”
“I think this is something the two of you need to discuss with each other.”
Rurik walked over to the intercom in the car and paged for Ayva to come to the rear car of the train. After a few minutes the door of the privacy wall slid open and Ayva entered the car. She bowed her head to him and asked what he needed of her. Rurik explained that Cassandra wanted an explanation and that she should explain the situation directly to her. With that Rurik excused himself from the car leaving them to talk.
“So,” Cassandra started. “Care to explain what’s going on?”
Ayva took a seat across from Cassandra. “I am a Synthetic and the elusive fifth member of the top team of the Academy.”
Cassandra knocked over the chair she was in as she backed away from Ayva. “You’re a what?” she asked knowing full well what a Synthetic was. “Then why are you even teamed with me? Was it out of pity? Are you ashamed of my lack of magic ability? Huh? Tell me!” Cassandra yelled through her tears.
“I know you probably feel betrayed-”
“Betrayed? Betrayed!?!?” Cassandra continued to yell. “Betrayed doesn’t even start to describe how I feel right now!”
Ayva got up and grasped Cassandra by the shoulders and looked up into her eyes. “Stop. Look I was assigned to protect you by Rurik.”
“What?” Cassandra said in shock. “Why?”
“You’re not who you think you are either. You’re a hybrid, your father was a god and your mother a demon.”
Before Cassandra could say any words a loud explosive boom emanated from towards the front of the train followed by the sharp lurching of the train car. What the two of them couldn’t see was that a large magic bomb went off on the bridge the train was on that spanned the one hundred fifty foot wide top of a gorge. The explosion destroyed the bridge causing the remaining cars to derail into the gorge. Inside the last car, everything began to get weightless as the cars went into free fall. Cassandra could see the open end of the train since all the privacy walls were blown apart by the explosion. As if time were slowed Cassandra could see every little detail. The first car hit the edge of a rocky outcrop making everything instantly stop moving the border of which slowly moved towards them in the last car. Where the train cars landed was only a mere thirty feet wide causing the train car to jam against the gorge wall and forcing the rest of the train into a zig-zag pattern. When the last car began to slow down Cassandra and Ayva braced themselves. The car then instantly stopped once it jammed against the rocky walls and Cassandra saw Serena on the bed tumble down into the zig-zag of cars soon followed by Ayva and herself. Cassandra landed onto the roof of the train car then slid into the next car, she could feel her body hitting something hard then everything went black.