Tag Archives: Gemkith

Gunari: The Tundra Beatdown ®

Elqanah – 2nd Era
Age of the Gemkith

Gunari didn’t hear the predator stalking behind him any more, but he knew it was back there sizing up its strike. The wind blew his light gypsy clothing about and whistled in his ears making it difficult to keep track of the beast. But he wasn’t afraid. The fighter had trained himself to use all his senses. To take in every minor variance in the world around him to assess his situation and challenges with the utmost care.

He stood deathly still, his black, Middle-Eastern eyes staring out into the frozen tundra, the mountain he had just climbed at his back. She’s still back there, he thought. Gunari closed his eyes to focus on his other senses. This made the bitter cold all the more difficult to endure, particularly for his bare feet.

The fighter had travelled from the lands his empire, the Romi, wandered where their light clothes helped them survive the unbearable heat. They were poor protection from the bitter cold of the Skræling Tundra. But he knew it would come to an end soon.

A soft crunch in the snow drew his attention, and he grinned. There she is, he thought, clinching his fists. A brief moment of silence, then with a quick twist at his waist Gunari evaded the leaping snow leopard. In a moment, the cat had landed, turned on her paws, and leapt back after the Romi Fighter. Gunari’s fighter’s reflexes kicked in and he ducked under the second pounce as fast as it was issued, snow dusted over him from the leopard’s paws as she glided over him. He slammed his fist into the cat’s rib cage, causing her to cry out in a vicious roar.

The snow leopard’s body spun end over end onto the rocky mountainside with a thud, but the cat’s agility aided her in landing on her feet. With a snarling growl, the cat swiped her paw at Gunari, and her sharp claws tore a gash in the caramel-colored flesh of his abs.

“Gah!” he cried out as he doubled over in pain. Throwing out his palm on instinct, he connected with his enemy’s chin and sent her back into the rocks, giving him time to glance at his wound.

The cold is slowing my reflexes. I’ll have to fix that. His eyes took a luminous orange glow as he began using the mystical power of his Quartz. The gemstones on his anklet radiated an orange, misty light, and the fighter stood straight, the pain from his wound and the bite of the cold melting away.

As the leopard shook its head to regain its senses and stood for another attack, Gunari spread his legs and stomped into his power stance. He knew he didn’t have long to finish this fight; he would need to save the physically-restoring powers of his Quartz for the rest of his trip.

The cat leapt… and so did Gunari. The two opponents glided toward each other, the leopard’s claws and fangs reaching to sink into the human’s flesh, Gunari’s foot preparing to lash out into the animal’s face, the mist of his Quartz trailing behind. With blinding speed the fighter’s kick came to bear, knocking his opponent senseless to the rocks below once more.

Gunari’s flight carried him into a rock wall behind the cat where he kicked off back into the air on a course toward his opponent. Just as the leopard began to raise her head, the Romi’s fist came down on it, smashing into the stone with a sickening crunch.

The gypsy stood confidently and wiped the blood from his knuckles onto his open shirt, the light of his eyes giving his indifferent stare a menacing glow. Now to get what I came for. The hue of his eyes shifted from orange to purple as the gems from his anklets lost their glow and the Amethyst in his bracers illuminated. He winced once more as the pain mitigation from his Quartz dissipated from his wound.

The fighter shook off the pain and with a flick of his wrist, a purple, translucent blade formed at the back of his wrist, extending past his hand.  He gritted his teeth and plunged the blade deep into the leopard’s torso.

The sounds of the crowed roared through the slums in the city of Skara. Hundreds of Valdr filled the streets and circled around two men in the center of the northeastern side of the city. Mugs clanked, beer frothed over their brims, and the fur-laden townsfolk chatted, cheered, and jeered in anticipation. Though there were too many people to gather in the immediate circle, every man, woman, and child could see the combatants plainly. Fighting was a highlight for the Skarians, and they had built their arena at a decline so all the town could watch from the streets… and squander their money on betting.

The giant man in the center laughed heartily, sharing in drink with his fellow Valdr. “Njördr! Njördr! Njördr!” his fans chanted, ready to see him pulverize his opponent, as he had in every fight before. The gargantuan fighter turned his attention to Gunari, his opponent in the ring, and his eyes narrowed as his demeanor shifted.

“This is the best jou could find for Njördr? A little Romi?” his taunt bellowed drawing cheers from the crowd. He wiped the froth from his long, golden beard and laughed. “Jou are a lung vay from home, little Romi. Did jour mother make jou that leopard coat?” The crowd joined him once again in laughter.

Gunari stood silent, his jaw steeled as he analyzed his opponent. The champion underestimated him. Good. Unless it was a farce. If the champion was underestimating him though, Gunari wouldn’t replicate his mistake. A drop of blood fell onto his cheek from the tooth of the hood of his newly-crafted leopard fur coat. The droplet ran along the streak that its predecessors had formed before falling onto the snow-dusted dirt.

The lack of response from Gunari was wearing on the proud Njördr’s patience. He gritted his teeth and scowled before telling the referee, “No. Njördr von’t fight the Romi. He must make hees vay to the top to fight the champion.”

“Njördr, the people vant jou to crush the Romi quickly. He doesn’t deserve to fight in the Skara tournament. Hees presence is a disgrace to the legacy. They vant him gone,” the referee said.

Njördr’s anger works against him, Gunari thought. Now was the perfect time to work his way into the upper hand. “Or does Njördr fear the leetle Romi?”

The champion’s head whirled toward his insolent foe, his long beard and hair whipping past following the momentum. He shoved the referee to the side, his face red with anger. “Njördr vill keel the Romi!”

The crowd went into an uproar knowing how much the intensity of the battle had just increased. Gazes locked, the combatants seemed not to notice. The referee stepped forward and addressed the fighters, though he spent more time looking at the foreigner as he relayed the rules.

“There vill be no veapons, and no using stone magic. Jou break the rules, ve break jour skull.”

Njördr’s visage remained unchanged, his stare locked onto Gunari as he pulled the massive double-bladed axe from his back and tossed it aside. Snow flew as it skidded across the arena. Gunari continued to meet his gaze as he kicked his anklets off, untied his gauntlets, and tossed them onto the floor next to him.

“Thees ees not a fight to the death. Jou may knock jour opponent out, or maek him beg for mercy.”

Right. Gunari knew this would end in victory or his demise, though he didn’t know which was preferable. With no home or family to return to, he often wondered what kept him pressing on. It certainly wasn’t the money, as it left a lot to be desired. Fame certainly didn’t appeal to him either. Whatever it was, he had it to thank for getting him into this mess.

The referee looked at Njördr, then back to Gunari before raising his arm and bringing it down. “Begin!”

Njördr broke into a rush with a roar and the ground around him shook beneath his monstrous footsteps. Gunari waited, unmoving. Terror that usually glared from his opponents’ eyes was missing in the Romi’s. That should have been a red flag for Njördr, but his rage was blinding him, just as Gunari had hoped. Reaching to bear hug the Gunari, the giant caught nothing but air. When he paused to look into his arms, Gunari shoved his heel into Njördr’s cheek.

Gunari spun and went into a series of punches in Njördr’s ribs. He finished the combo with a leap and another kick to the face. The Romi stepped back into his power stance and fought back a blanch when he looked upon the unfazed Valdr. Njördr ‘s shadow crept over Gunari as he stood, towering over him.
Gunari quickly leapt back as Njördr brought his two fists into the ground with amazing speed, sending dirt and snow into the air around him. The Romi ducked under a two-handed haymaker and leapt back again to dodge the Njördr grasping at him. “Come here, puny Romi!” The Valdr was becoming visibly irater.

He may be tougher than anyone I’ve ever faced, and he’s unbelievably fast. Gunari kept the dance going, moving fluidly between the erratic strikes. He continued to land occasional blows to test for Njördr’s weak spots. Unfortunately, there were none.

When Njördr’s massive hands finally wrapped around Gunari’s torso, his confidence began to waver. The giant lifted Gunari into the air, his grip tightening with every passing second. The Romi gritted his teeth holding back a scream as he felt Njördr’s thumb slide into his wound from the leopard and press against his exposed rib.

The crowd’s cheering grew intensely as they saw victory drawing near for their champion. Njördr laughed as he squeezed, and Gunari felt his vision waning from the intense pain. Through the slits of his eyelids Gunari saw what could be his ticket to victory. The glimmer of hope returned to his demeanor as he glanced down at Njördr’s knees.

Now I just have to get free. Gunari used every last ounce of his strength as he released Njördr’s hands removing the last bit of resistance from the squeeze and shoved his thumbs into the Valdr’s eyes. With a bellowing roar, Njördr threw his opponent to the ground, sending him tumbling through the dirt and snow.

The world spun in a haze as Gunari forced himself to his knees. He looked over to his Quartz wishing he could let its empowering qualities wash away this pain. Shaking away the worthless thoughts, he stood, wobbled as he regained his strength, lifted his hands into a fighting stance, and looked back to his recovering enemy.

Njördr was rubbing his eyes rabidly in a vain attempt to wipe away the pain. When he noticed Gunari standing once more, he locked his bloodshot gaze on him. Gunari ignored the impending danger and made sure he had seen correctly in his desperate state.

Yeah. The right knee doesn’t have any snow on it. He took that brace off so I didn’t see his weakness. He grimaced as he fought through the pain and broke into a sprint. Njördr stood ready to intercept the Romi. They both knew this would be the end, whatever the outcome may be. The crowd’s silent anticipation showed they understood the importance of this moment too.

Feigning left, Gunari drew the Valdr’s strike away from his target. He threw his palm into Njördr’s face sending him off balance momentarily. It was enough. With one wide step, he put himself into the perfect position as he lifted his leg.

Nyaaaaaaaahhhh!” Njördr’s cry rang out as Gunari’s heel struck through the side of his knee. His state weakened, the Valdr fell prone, giving his opponent the much-needed opportunity to strike. Gunari leapt into a kick to the back of Njördr’s neck, and the giant went still.

Gunari breathed heavily, the hot air drifting in mist from his lips. He wiped blood from his mouth and looked about at the silent crowd. With a smile, he accepted his winnings from the gawking bookie. He limped to his gear, sat down, and slid it on tenderly as the group of Valdr began dispersing. If anyone was excited at winning bets for the underdog in this fight, they weren’t letting it on. It would almost certainly spell a fight for them amongst their proud tribe. Or worse.

“Hey, mister” a young, fur-clad Valdr boy called out as he ran up to Gunari. The Romi turned back a little too quickly and winced in pain. “Good fight, mister! No vun has been able to beat Njördr before.”

As Gunari smiled and opened his mouth to respond, a woman ran up and grabbed the boy by the arm, dragging him away. “Jou don’t talk to Romi, Eluf. Come geet home and vash up for dinner.”

Gunari just shook his head. The innocence of children never failed to amuse him. What exactly happens as people grow to drive them apart at racial lines? He stood slowly and focused on his Quartz. As his eyes began to glow, he picked up his bag and made his way back toward the city gates and onward to whatever city held his next challenge.

I thought the Valdr had the toughest fighters. Maybe the next one will be it for me. Or maybe I’ll find what I’m looking for. Whatever that is…

Ephraim: The Afflicted Tome ®

The chirps of the indigenous birds of the rainforest hang on the air as Ephraim and Roald make their way down the beaten path. The humid air causes their silken robes to cling to their moistened bodies. With each step that draws them closer to their destination, they feel the threats of the jungle’s wildlife and harsh environments diminishing. The trek has been long and hard, but they will soon be rewarded by reaching their the city they set out for.

Ephraim’s agitation begins to show through as exhaustion from the trip takes its toll on his emotions. “I find it hard to believe that this is the only scribe that could put a tome together for us.”

“The only one? Certainly not.” Roald answers as he casts a smirk over his shoulder. “If you want a tome that will subsist during the journeys you and I will be taking, you must be willing to traverse wherever necessary to find the best at their craft. We are drawing near now anyway, so keep up and stop your grumbling.”

“I’ll stop my grumbling when I can get a bite to eat and stop walking.” Ephraim replies under his breath. When Roald glances back over his shoulder with a look of indignation, the student quickly looks into the forest to avert his gaze. I’ve gotta learn when to keep my mouth shut, he thinks.

As the splendorous city of Queloria peaks over the hill, Ephraim’s contention is all but washed away, setting a look of awe on his tired face. The beautiful city with white walls and towers sits back in an alcove in the light gray mountain behind it. A beautiful blue waterfall cascades behind the castle at the back of the province. Dark blue accents dot the serene whites of the city’s buildings, giving the city a beautiful contrast in design.

Ephraim takes a deep breath. Aromas of a floral spring fill the air making the city’s aura all the more pleasant. The combination of being nestled into a mountain and the grand waterfall backdrop combats the calefaction of the jungle air around the magnificent city, bringing it to a temperate climate. Everything about the environment calms their nerves and refreshes their spirits.

Roald turns around to face his apprentice as they approach the city’s ivory gate with beautiful designs that reveals the excellent craftsmanship of its makers. “You appear to be in a better mood already. Stay here for a moment, and I’ll talk to the guards. Perhaps they will grant us entry without taxation I can help them understand the urgency of our quest.” As the teacher makes his way to a guard standing by the doors, Ephraim continues to take in the splendor of the scenery. A movement in his peripheral vision catches his attention. He’s able to make out that it is a dirty child holding an empty drinking pouch and it seems to be approaching him. With a quick turn of his body he is able to ignore the oncoming inconvenience and put some distance between them.

I should help her. Ephraim feels a pull to turn around and comfort the child, and pulls his Topaz from his pouch. He runs his finger across its cool, smooth surface as he examines a small crack on it while keeping his walking pace. I can’t use up my Topaz though. I am definitely going to need it to make myself some drinking water soon. She’s right outside one of the grandest cities in Elqanah. Surely someone will see her and help her. He peers into the reflection on the gem to see that she has diverted her attention to someone else that is giving her the same consideration as he is. An approaching figure startles him, causing his abrupt stop that narrowly keeps him from plowing into it. His teacher, who is returning from talking to the guards, stands before him. The student’s heart sinks as he sees Roald’s angered expression.

“Wow. You scared me.” Ephraim chuckles. The teacher’s unrelenting gaze gives him further discomfort. “So are they going to let us in?” He attempts to make casual conversation to deter the inevitable scolding he feels is approaching. He winces as Roald tears the Topaz from his grasp and walks over to the little girl. The teacher bends over and uses the last of the gem’s essence to fill the little girl’s drinking pouch. The jumping and laughing she exhibits in elation that should be a heart-warming sight is like daggers in Ephraim’s heart as he watches her thank his teacher for an act he knows he should have committed. After exchanging a hug with the girl, Roald hands her a nice-sized pouch with gold coins and rubs his hand on her shoulder. He begins walking back to Ephraim as she runs back out to a little hut outside the city walls.

“How are we going to make water for ourselves without Topaz or gold to buy more?” Ephraim asks sheepishly in a poor attempt to mask his embarrassment.

Roald’s scowl slowly fades away as he pauses for a moment. He takes a deep breath and habitually rubs his hand over his beard to smooth out the area around his mouth. Ephraim reads this telltale sign of his teacher’s attempt to calm himself and gathers a little relief. “You don’t understand this now, but you will soon, Ephraim. Just have faith and when you read the tome we are here to get, it will all begin to make sense.” Ephraim looks away in discomfort as Roald begins walking toward the now-opening gate.

“I wanted to help her, you know. I just don’t see how much help one pouch of water is.” The pupil’s words cause Roald to pause and look back at him. The instructor turns back puts his hand on Ephraim’s shoulder.

“Everyone wants to help, Ephraim. Intentions are good, but you have to be driven to action. It’s only through compassionate action that poverty is slain; one small act at a time.” As Roald turns back and begins walking into the city, Ephraim oddly begins to feel challenged and empowered. Where he recently felt shame, he now feels compelled and eager. He feels his shocked expression shift to a determined grin as he follows his leader into Queloria’s gates.

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The pair make their way through the hustle and bustle of the crowds in Queloria to The Redeemed Scribe. The tranquil sound of the rushing waterfall at the back of the city lends itself to the serenity of the city as merchants and townsfolk converse in a scene that would be a little chaotic in any other township. Mist that sparsely hangs high casts a glorious rainbow over the pristine walls, but doesn’t prevent the sun from giving light to the kingdom. Ephraim glances over as he notices a blue gleam in his peripheral vision, but quickly looks away as he notices it is on the ring of a stern-faced guard. He is quickly reminded of his lessons about the aristocratic Mayim Nation. The wearing of the gems by their Gemkith in their rings is symbolic of the role the nation plays in the grand scheme of the world. Rings signify a ruling position, and the Mayim consider themselves nothing less than worthy of that classification. Ephraim focuses his attention back to his path as the pair walk under an azure canopy set against the white walls of the scribe’s shop and walk through the door.

An aromatic wave of ink and wood floods their noses. Ephraim takes a moment to pause and admire the craftsmanship of the room. The white walls, floor, and ceiling are fashioned so seamlessly that it appears as if the room was naturally formed from the building itself. The walls are lined with ornate walnut bookshelves filled with books of all shapes and sizes. Large, arched windows at the back of the shop give light to the laborer who is milling away at meticulously binding books. The beauty of the room soon tarnishes as Ephraim meets the shopkeeper’s grim gaze from across the counter. He is a tall, dark-headed man wearing a fine silken robe. His work in the press has earned him a few black ink stains on the red and gold material as well as on his cheeks.

“It’s about time you got here, Roald.” He scorns. “You know I’m not supposed to be making these books for you, and I received your request six months ago. If King Zolia were to find out…”

“I know, Saul, and I thank you.” Roald interrupts, “This is the soonest we could journey here, I swear it. What can I pay you for your labor?”

“Just… consider us even for that time you saved me in the jungle.” The shopkeep says as he sets the two tomes up on the counter.

Roald grasps Saul’s shoulder with a grin and says, “Thank you, brother. Our friendship is valuable to me beyond words.” He turns and hands one of the books to Ephraim. The apprentice leans into catching the book as he expects the weight of the deceptively large object to drag his arms to the floor. Roald fights back a grin as his student regains his composure. He runs his fingers over it as he studies the amazing workmanship of the leather cover and the facets embedded into it. The art depicts an armored angel spreading its wings over the city of Queloria.

With a look of puzzlement, Ephraim turns his attention to the book’s maker and asks, “So what is so dangerous about this book?”

Saul looks at Roald with mild disbelief. “You didn’t tell him what’s in the book?”

“I thought it best to keep a little ambiguity until we made it out of Queloria. The less he knows of it in these walls, the better.” Roald exchanges nods with the scribe and turns to Ephraim. “Come. We risk our ally’s lives by staying here any longer than need be. We will make our way to the lapidary to get these gems fitted for the facets in these tomes.” He turns back to Saul to issue one more statement as they step out of the door. “Farewell, and may the next time we meet be under better circumstances.”

“Take care, Roald. I pray your path is made safe for you by the One who watches over us.”

As the pair walk out of the room, the shop’s workman in the back wipes beads of sweat from his brow and watches with a look of desperation and malice in his eyes.

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The next morning, Ephraim steps out of the Rosehall Inn at the town’s center. Rushing waters from the backdrop of the city enhance the repose of the dewy morning in Queloria as the lingering mist shifts about through the streets. He assumes that the bustle of the townspeople reserves itself to the afternoon, leaving the morning even more tranquil and pleasant. The sounds of the waterfall and the revisited floral fragrance add to the peacefulness of the scene. He can’t help but find himself wondering how a king of such a peaceful and beautiful kingdom could entertain the idea of punishing someone over a book.

After a few moments, Roald steps out of the inn and hands his pupil’s tome to him. He thought it better to keep it himself for the night in case someone were to catch wind of the book’s creation in the city and the guards were to search the inn that night. The teacher certainly didn’t want to risk his apprentice’s life, but he also didn’t want him reading it without first being told the importance of what its pages contained.

Ephraim is compelled by the book’s exquisite craftsmanship to run his hand over the cover once again as he collects his thoughts for the morning. His mind drifts as the art on the book draws his loose focus. The grooves in the design naturally draw his fingers from one side to the other. As his appendages reach the edge, he has to remember his promise to his teacher and fight the urge to crack it open and read its contents. Roald finishes lacing his boots and notices his student’s fanciful state. He draws Ephraim’s attention back into reality by saying, “Right then. Are you ready to go?”

Ephraim lingers in his trance momentarily and lightly shakes his head with a smirk as he tries to imagine a reason for such a fuss over a collection of words. “Yeah. Let’s get going.” As the two begin making their way down the city’s stone walkway, the pupil’s fleeting resolve loses out to his curiousness. “You are going to tell me why it’s so dangerous to have this book, right?”

“I promise to tell you the moment this city’s walls disappear behind the hill, but right now we need to focus on making it that far.” Roald pauses for a moment as he hears a crowd jeering and chanting. The pair follow the sound, and as they round a corner and emerge from an alley way, they see why the streets are empty this morning. A crowd of people have gathered in a corner of the city that has obviously not been kept as well as the merchant’s square where they have been. The dusty streets lead to a platform where a man in an executioner’s hood bearing a giant axe is standing. The crowd standing around the platform is restless and calling for blood. A town guard leads a man with a hood over his face onto the platform and next to the executioner’s block. The mage feels his heart sink as the soldier jerks the black veil off to reveal the face of doomed man.

“Saul the Scribe, you have been charged with printing religious propaganda that has been outlawed by the state of Queloria.” The guard declares. “The penalty for said crime is death by beheading and is sentenced to be carried out immediately by order of King Zolia. How do you wish to plea?”

Saul looks over his shoulder at the soldier with an icy glare. “Does it matter?”

“The criminal wishes to not give a plea, what do the good people of Queloria say?”

“Kill him! Kill him!” The crowd begins to chant. Roald’s rage builds flushing his face as the watchman allows the humiliation to ensue momentarily.

Ephraim turns to him to ask, “What should we do?” But his query doesn’t penetrate Roald’s fixation on the scene unfolding before them. The guard raises his hand to calm the crowd so they can hear him speak.

“The people have spoken! Do you have any last words, criminal?”

Saul’s skims the crowd. He ponders on how the city that he had so loved, and had so loved him, could so quickly be calling for his life. A rogue tear streaks through the dirt on his cheek as he tries to find the words to express what his heart feels though his resolve does not break. His eyes meet Roald’s. He reads the anger in them as Roald reads the call for hesitation in Saul’s eyes.

“If there is one among you that has sympathy for me, I tell you not to grieve. Do not make it known if you do have sympathy for me, for you would do so at the exchange of your life.” Ephraim glances at Roald as he begins to understand that Saul is speaking to them. His teacher’s expression is gradually softening from hard anger to disconcerted sorrow for the inevitable loss of his friend. “You have many important things ahead of you in your life. Do not risk them for one that is doomed. Go be the change the world needs. I go now to meet my Creator; the merciful Savior of manki…” The guard punches him, ending his proclamation.

“You won’t spew your religious nonsense from my stage, filth.” He shoves Saul to his knees. Roald spins Ephraim around and they begin making their way toward the city gate in an attempt to prevent himself from acting out. His fingers begin to clutch his tome tightly as his anger continues to rise. The feeling of helplessness and sorrow sends a cold shudder down his spine as their pace hastens. He can’t escape the vicinity soon enough to prevent hearing the cheers calling from behind him that affirm his fears. His friend is dead. A torrent of emotions flows through him as they round the last corner, placing the town gate just ahead of them.

“Come on, Ephraim. We have to get out of the gates before the people of the town lose interest in what’s going on back there. They will undoubtedly begin searching everyone to find the books he made.” Roald says. Ephraim looks at his teacher sympathetically as he follows his command. “I have a good rapport with the guard here, so let me talk to them, and maybe they will let us through without checking us.”

Ephraim waits as Roald makes his way over and begins speaking with one of the guards at the left side of the gate. As he notices a guard from the right side of the gate giving him an unnerving glare, he begins to slightly shift uncomfortably in place. A cold bead of sweat accumulates on his brow as he feels the guards eyes make their way to his tome. He quickly slides the book into the arm opposite of the guard which only further raises the sentry’s suspicion. Ephraim knows he is about to be found out. To his fortune, the gate begins to slide open as Roald approaches him. The keen teacher notices the alert guard and casually turns from moving toward Ephraim to leading him through the aperture to hasten their exit.

“Hey! You!” The guard shouts from behind them. “Let me see that book!” As the pair pick up their pace, the guard becomes certain he has found who they are looking for. “It’s them! Quick, shut the gates!”

“Run!” Roald shouts as the pair barely clear the opening to the closing gates. Ephraim breathes a sigh of relief as they emerge on the other side of the city walls and the doors slam shut behind them. The moment is short-lived as he sees the impending handful of guards that keep watch from outside the city. Roald turns back to his pupil to say, “Ok. The Mayim Empire is known for using water-elemental gems, so you know what to counter with, right?”

Ephraim issues an eager nod with a determined grin as his eyes begin to shine green. A glowing mist of the same color begins to trail from the Peridot on the face of his tome as he throws his empty hand overhead. The ground beneath them quakes as a nearby boulder separates from it and barely blocks an incoming razor-sharp, liquid wave. Like controlling a marionette, the mage swings his arm around and sends the boulder smashing some of the guards and pins them against the city wall. The white barrier cracks behind them from the pressure of the attack. As he focuses on controlling the boulder, he begins to feel the air condensate around him. He turns to see two remaining guards with sapphire-colored glowing eyes; one creating a liquid bubble around his head and the other preparing to unleash another slicing attack. The back of his throat collects moisture as he takes one more deep breath before his head is completely encased in a fluid sphere. Unable to keep his concentration, he drops the boulder and covers his mouth and nose. Desperation sets in as he realizes he can’t gather the focus needed to block the attack from the second remaining guard. His vision begins to darken and he feels his consciousness beginning to fade as he tries to keep his footing.

Roald turns back from taking down a few guards to see his struggling pupil. His rage that is still burning at the loss of Saul is fueled beyond control at the sight. His eyes begin to shine with all of the colors represented on his tome simultaneously, causing them to take on a malicious purple hue. A trail of mist of the same shade follows his book as he begins his assault. In fluid motion he causes the two guards to turn their attacks on each other. He turns and ignites two men that are recuperating from being slammed into the wall by a boulder. With a spin of his body he sends the boulder that Ephraim used crashing into the four poor charred and bleeding people he has just overcome. As his relentless onslaught presses on, the guards inside the city have gotten the gate back open and are beginning to advance on them. Roald’s darkened gaze petrifies them with fear as he sends a mountain of earth rising in front of the gate to trap them behind it.

Ephraim coughs and gasps for air as he begins to regain his focus. The realization that Roald is getting dangerously close to becoming drunk with power exhorts him to call to his mentor, “Roald! We’ve won! Let’s get out of here!”

Roald’s eyes quickly lose their shine as he regains his composure. A glimmer of shame skims his eyes as he pauses momentarily. He doesn’t let the moment linger, knowing that the people of Queloria wouldn’t remain behind his wall for long. As Ephraim runs past him, he quickly falls in line behind his student as they vanish back into the jungle overgrowth.

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As Ephraim emerges from the jungle with his teacher, and he finally feels that they are safe from the Quelorian guard, he looks down the road ahead. The seeming unend and mystery of what lies beyond the mist connecting the forest on both sides of them a metaphor for his destiny. After travelling a short distance, his anticipation overcomes the flurry of other emotions their time in the city gave him, causing him to finally swallow the lump in his throat and ask the question that had been circling his thoughts since he first touched his tome: “Why are they killing people for this book?”

The discerningly somber look in Roald’s eyes makes Ephraim’s soul cry. The student offers a wry smile in solace to his teacher’s misery. Roald responds, “Do you remember the lesson you were taught about the turning of the eras, and the Hero of Elqanah?” Roald finally asks.

Ephraim is hesitant to offer his answer. “I do. Of course I do. But why don’t you tell me what you know so I can make sure you’re right,” he says jokingly. The wisecrack does little to lighten the mood. Roald stops and throws his head back with his eyes closed in disappointment. He takes a deep breath as he runs his hand over his mouth again, smoothing out the short hair of his beard. He looks over his shoulder for a moment to assure they are alone and glances around for a spot for them to sit. He gives a slight head gesture towards a small alcove off of the path with a few logs laying about. As Ephraim passes by the tree line, he notices a green mist trailing from Roald’s tome. The creaking of tree trunks causes him to look back and see that the trees have bent in and are blocking the clearing from the sight of the road. Roald takes a seat on a log and pats the spot next to him as he looks at Ephraim.

“Have a seat, Ephraim.” A hurricane of thoughts blows through the pupil’s head as he follows Roald’s command. “How much do you really know?”

“Uh,”

“Honestly.”

Ephraim lowers his head. “Not much.”

“Okay. I’ll start from the beginning: when Elohim created Elqanah, He made two humans to live on it. They lived peaceably for many years amongst the wildlife and vegetation. One day, a dragon that was jealous of the relationship the humans had with Elohim convinced the humans that they should use their magic to create a being of their own so they could be like their Creator. So the couple worked their magic together to create a creature unlike anything that had been created before. They made the creature and named it Maveth.”

Ephraim’s jaw dropped open. He remembered the beast Maveth from several stories. It roamed the world killing mercilessly and leaving many dead in its wake. It was said that no person every died of natural causes in those days. That Maveth eventually found you and ended your time when he was ready. He was an indestructible, unwavering force of destruction.

“I see you remember that name,” Roald lightheartedly jested. “I would hope you didn’t forget him. The humans went into hiding and the races of the world grew out of their children. During Maveth’s time on Elqanah, many prophets gave hope to its inhabitants by foretelling of a Hero that would come and destroy the creature. After centuries of the races of Elqanah surviving the beast’s grasp, the Hero came. He lived His life teaching people of the ways of Elohim until His time to meet Maveth came.”

Ephraim’s happiness bubbled out as he said, “And He killed Maveth?”

“No. Maveth killed Him.”

Roald’s abrupt delivery of the unexpected turn of events shocked his pupil, causing him to suddenly lean back. Ephraim turned the thoughts over in his mind momentarily before asking what anyone likely would in that situation: “what happened to Maveth?”

“That’s where it gets beautiful, Ephraim. Everyone expected an epic battle between the Savior of Elqanah and death incarnate, but He didn’t fight him. In fact He accepted His death willingly in spite of being the Chosen Savior. Many people battled the beast before Him, but he could never be bested. It was the necessary sacrifice for the Savior to be raised from death by Elohim to conquer Maveth once and for all. His death saved us all from Maveth’s tyranny over the races of Elqanah.”

Ephraim’s face lit up as he began to feel a little overwhelmed with joy. Then he began to wonder, though, as his thoughts drifted back to the events in Queloria and the book in his hands. “But what does that have to do with them killing the scribe back there?”

“The book in your hand has been attacked since it was written. Men have tried for years to wipe it from the face of Elqanah. It is a combination of the scrolls written by the prophets that tell how people of the time should live, the history of Elqanah, the prophecies of the coming Savior, and eye witnesses that walked with the Savior during His time here. It helps us understand the nature of Elohim, the Creator, and how we can grow closer to Him.”

“But why would someone want to destroy that?”

“You’ll understand more when you get the time to read and study it, but generally men don’t want to be told how to behave and act. The dragon that was present with the first humans still imposes his malicious intent amongst men, and tries to destroy the book as well. It is only under Elohim’s guidance that this tome has survived through centuries of attempted destruction to be in our hands today.”

Ephraim has a hard time processing it all. He rubs his fingers and thumb back and forth across his forehead to alleviate the swirling sensation inside of it as he tries to take it all in. “Why would that matter though? Don’t people still want to know what happened?”

“Well, with the passing of time, and the spreading of lies by the dragon, some people have come to believe that the history of the Savior is a myth. Nothing more than a legend told to the youth and weak of the world to give them a false hope.”

“But what do they think happened to Maveth? He isn’t around killing people anymore.”

“They tie him with the records of the Savior and question his existence too.” Ephraim leans back with his hands on the log behind him for a moment and contemplates what he is being told. Roald reads the look on his face and stands up before the student can question further. “As I said, you’ll understand better when you have ample time to read and study it. For now, we need to separate ourselves from Queloria and make our way to our next destination.”

“Which is where?”

Roald looks back as the trees begin to unfold ahead of him and smiles with a shake of his head. “That, my student, will be revealed to you in time.”

Ephraim: The Temple’s Dark Secret ®

The unforgiving heat makes the windless day all the more unbearable for a pair of travelling mages. The haze of the heat coming from the hot sand makes their target on the horizon hard to recognize. Identifying the distance proves to be even more of a challenge. The men’s lavish robes sit beneath coarse tan cowls that provide little comfort for their heads from the sun’s unforgiving rays. Ephraim lifts his water pouch to his parched lips to get some relief. To no avail.

“Empty.” He sighs. As he begins digging in his gem pouch in search of a Topaz, he looks over to his teacher with exhaustion in his eyes. “Are we even gaining any ground? Every mile we travel towards the temple, it seems to travel two away from us.”

His teacher keeps a calm resolve in the unrelenting weather. “All the better. You need quizzing prior to entering the temple anyway. It is sure to be lined with challenging traps. Elsewise someone before us would have obtained the Owl Agate from the statue’s eyes long ago.” Ephraim drops his shoulders with a sigh.

“Quizzing… How do you expect one wizard and his apprentice to get the stones if so many people have tried before us and failed?” He holds his topaz over his water pouch and his eyes begin to glow a light blue. As a light of the same color shines from inside of his hand, water pours out of it into the empty pouch.

“We’ll worry about that if we get there.”  Roald adjusts the strap of his gem pouch. “Now, if you were to be attacked, by say bandits, what gem would you use for defense in this unforgiving desert? Concurrently, what would you use for offense? You favored Peridot when you were retrieving the Moonstone at the cave, but numerous granules of sand will prove too great of a challenge for an amateur Gemkith such as yourself to control. (From Ephraim: A Test of Aptitude) So I’m afraid the gold you spent on that Peridot when we stopped in Limone will have turn into a long term investment.” As the student finishes drinking the water in his pouch, he ties it back to his belt, reaches into his gem pouch, and pulls out the rest of his jewels with his Topaz.

“Well, I haven’t used my Aquamarine yet.”

“Ah.” The teacher raises his finger. “The arid desert air won’t provide enough humidity to use the water in the atmosphere, and you don’t want to use any of your Topaz’s essence to create water or we won’t have enough drinking water to make it home.” Ephraim sighs and drops his Topaz, Aquamarine, and Peridot back into his pouch, then opens his hand to investigate the remaining gems.

“Okay, well.” He takes a moment to study the minerals. “You want me to stick to elemental gems before moving on to the harder ones, so maybe my Citrine?”

“While there is a surplus of wind for you to control with your Citrine, the winds out here can already be fierce. Most bandits are geared with armor to withstand high winds, particularly if they spend any amount of time in this region, and most beasts that survive out here were created to endure them as well.” The apprentice begins to show a little aggravation as he drops the yellow stone into his pouch.

“All that leaves is my Garnet, but I don’t have any Ruby to create fire.”

“You’ll have to be creative. Fire is in any spark, and it will be easy to ignite in this dry air.” Roald pauses and runs his index finger and thumb down both sides of his jawline as he thinks. The black, and occasionally grey, hairs in his finely-trimmed beard bristle against his fingers. “I’m going to break one of my rules though in favor of a lesson. While fire is among the best offenses, it makes for poor defense. You may use your Amethyst for defense for this test. Normally I would have you use a different gem in this test than you used in the last one, but Amethyst has a plethora of ways it can be used.” Ephraim’s eyes light up as he looks back at the magnificent purple gem. He quickly drops the rest of the stones into his pouch and holds his Garnet in one hand and his Amethyst in the other. His memory drifts back to how he was able to project an image of himself to deceive the imps and dodge some attacks. “Last time you projected images of yourself, so you may not do that this time.” Roald’s statement deflates excitement, as his statements have a tendency to do. “Since Amethyst has so many capabilities though, you’ll need to make your focus shielding at this time.”

“What all can it do?”

“Another time.”

“How do I choose what I do with the power? All I have done until now is control the element that the stone’s…” Ephraim’s words trail off as he begins to feel the ground shake. “Wha.. what’s that?” He looks over to see a look of knowing determination on his trainer’s face as he surveys his surroundings. The sand beneath their feet begins to sink into a forming hole nearby, causing the men to fall back. With just a short distance left to reach the temple, he contemplates making a run for the entrance, but after the realization that he won’t reach the building in time, Ephraim fixes his gaze on the hole forming in the sand. Suddenly a tower of putrid pink flesh emerges from the void in the silt and leans in their direction. As the grains sift from the top of the creature, the tip opens into three flaps that are lined with teeth.

“Braaaaaww!” It screams.

“Sand worm!” Ephraim yells. He looks over for a glimpse of hope from his trainer only to find the vacant seat in the sand he once occupied. “Are you kidding me? We get attacked by a monster and you leave me?”

“The teacher is always quiet during the test.” The invisible mage states. “This is an excellent learning opportunity for you. Just focus on our conversation and show this thing what you are made of.”

Excellent learning opportunity. Ephraim thinks. The young student looks back as the colossal beast begins to lunge at him. Sand flies from his arm as he quickly raises it across the top of his head as if to block the blow. A purple light begins to glow from his eyes as a translucent bubble forms in front of him just before the worm collides with it. The monster lets out another boisterous scream and begins snapping feverishly at the translucent dome. Panic begins to set into Ephraim’s face as he begins looking around for a comburent. The creature biting down on his shield is only worsening the feeling. He uses his free arm to quickly wipe the sweat from his brow that has been stinging his eyes as it pours into them. As the beast’s teeth clash against the purple guard, something catches the mage’s eye.

He is able to calm for a moment to think to himself. The clanging of the worm’s teeth and its irritated growls quieten as Ephraim is granted a moment of artificial peace while he concentrates on his thoughts. When his plan is set, his expression transitions from grimace to excited-determination. The glow of his eyes gains a red tint in the preexisting purple rays. His shield begins buckling under the invertebrate’s blows as Ephraim times his attack. Going to have to do this. The worm regroups for a massive strike.

“Your shield won’t take another hit, Ephraim. Find your fuel and attack now!” A voice shouts from beyond vision. The pupil throws his blocking arm from in front of his face, launching the bubble into the behemoth’s mouth. It bites down causing the shield to shatter into pieces. The glow from Ephraim’s eyes turns crimson red as he jumps to his feet and raises his other arm over his head, a red misty light in tow. A flame ignites in the sand worm’s mouth, and as its creator throws his fist to the ground, causing the blaze to travel down into its stomach. He remains silent and focused as the creature writhes and screams in pain, sweat glistening his body and his face contorted in determined rage. After a moment the fire explodes from within the monster. Flames spurt from its mouth as it falls to the ground and lays lifeless. After a short moment the body begins to slink slowly into the hole from whence it came, and the instructor fades into visibility between the beast and its conqueror.

“Great job, Ephraim.” Roald says, fighting back a proud smile. The teacher has long held the belief that keeping a solemn demeanor instills faith in his actions to his students and teaches them that cool, logically thinking in the heat of battle leads to more favorable outcomes. The belief stemming from a lesson that remains firmly in his memory. His teacher from Gemkith college let his emotions dictate his actions in battle, and in a fit of rage gave his advantage away to the enemy. It was a mortal mistake for the teacher. For Roald it is a lesson forever etched in a small scar above his brow, keeping it at the forefront of his thoughts. It is a mistake he does not plan to make with his teachings.

As he approaches his pupil a mighty wind picks up. All of their exposed skin begins to sting as the sand pelts them. They throw the loose material of their cowls in front of their faces to soften the burn of the bombarding granules. “Quickly! The temple is just ahead!” The teacher’s voice is muffled by the sound of the sandstorm, but Ephraim follows the instructor’s movements to the nearby safe haven. The sand has piled up from the frequent sandstorms of the desert to make the once profound staircase into a handful of steps. They quickly ascend the stairs and teacher and student push on the giant, stone doors but the wind and loose sand on the floor make it impossible to gather their footing. “Stand back!” Roald yells as he grabs a Peridot from his pouch. A green light emanates through the thin material of the cowl and another matching light trails his hand as he throws his arms out, commanding the doors to swing open. The teacher’s years of practice in gem magic make the tons of earthen rock slide as if they were pebbles. Ephraim’s amazement at his teacher’s prowess is quickly suppressed as the two run inside. Roald immediately turns inside the temple with a swing of his arm and slams the doors back shut. They pant for a moment, their short breaths stinging their lungs with grains of sand and hot, dry desert air. They look at each other as the sand in their lungs constricts their breathing. Almost simultaneously they realize that they have stepped out of the frying pan and into the fire by entering the temple. Slowly, they turn around expecting to find rooms and hallways filled with traps, but to their surprise they stand in one giant room. The room is a large rectangle that is lined with pillars. The architecture is as simplistic as the floor that is composed of large, square blocks of sandstone. In a corner of the room a mirror reflects a light from a hole high in the wall that gleams off of two gems that sit as an owl statue’s eyes across the room.

“Huh,” Ephraim huffs as he stands, stilling catching his breath, “it’s that easy? How could no one else, have made it here? All we have to do, is walk across the room, and grab the gems.”

Roald takes a deep breath through his nostrils trying to quickly regain his composure. “It pays to always be on your guard, Ephraim.” The instructor stands and brushes off his robe. “Things are not always as they seem.” As the teacher and student make their way across the room they notice piles of bones sitting atop the stone floor. Ephraim begins to become uneasy as he thinks of the sight. He looks to Roald to see if the view is as unsettling to him, but as always the teacher keeps a steel resolve.

“What do you think happened to them?” The apprentice’s question is hollow. He knows they were the ones who had tried before them and failed, but he asks the question with a false hope that his teacher will comfort his fear. Roald reads this in his tone.

“Ephraim, it is better to look at the situation accurately than in a false light with false hope. Painting an ugly picture with beautiful colors still creates an ugly product. If I didn’t think we could overcome this challenge I wouldn’t have brought you here. Sometimes you just have to call on your Faith for comfort.” While not the ease in spirit he was looking for, the words do queerly calm his nerves. He is able to, tentatively, square his shoulders and walk with more confidence.

As the two approach the statue the teacher’s firm beliefs slip, and he begins to show slight signs of discomfort. Ephraim notices his change in body language, closes his eyes, and hones in on his Gemkith senses to see what is causing Roald’s change in composure. A strange pulsing sensation washes over his body dizzying his balance slightly. Back and forth, back and forth almost drawing him in with each pulse toward the statue. He concentrates deeper. The pulse is coming from one of the gems in the statue. Immediately after he opens his eyes, the gems in the statue’s eyes begin to glow. Almost as if the statue was sentient and knew what the Gemkith was doing. Strangely both eyes aren’t glowing with a gray tone as he thought they would. One is a deep black that is emitting unnaturally dark rays of light. Roald turns to his pupil with a look of grimace. His typically strong and certain voice carries a tone of distress. “Ephraim, that is Black Topaz. Its essence carries the repulsive power of necromancy. I’m sorry that I brought you here.” As the instructor finishes his sentence, Ephraim’s stomach turns in knots. All of the bones in the room lift from the floor as if a puppeteer pulled their strings. The bones all lock together with unnerving knocking and crunching, furthering the unsettled feeling in the student’s stomach. There is a brief silence. After a brief moment it is abruptly ended when the shifting sound of the skeleton’s sliding feet fills the room as they all turn toward them. The holes of their skulls are suddenly and simultaneously ignited with light blue flames. They all bend down to pick up weaponry before standing. Deafening screams come from the animated bones and fill the room as they all begin to advance toward the two Gemkith. Ephraim covers his ears and his face gives a distressed look as the steeled composure returns to his teacher. Roald has resigned himself to his fate.

“Get behind me!” Roald yells. Ephraim scrambles to pull jewels from his pouch as he follows the command. The teacher’s eyes glow green lighting the look of solemn determination on his face as he lifts his hands to bring two stone slabs from the floor into the air by a skeleton. The large rocks slam together as the gem-master claps his hands. He separates them and places the flooring back in place as the heap of bone shards fall into a pile on the floor. In moments the shards reform to make two whole skeletons again. “That’s what I feared. We can’t physically kill something that is already dead. All we can do is fight to hold them back as we formulate a strategy.” Before he can finish his statement, a skeleton has reached them and swings an axe at Ephraim, but the attack freezes mid-swing. He looks over to see Roald’s eyes emanating a light blue light. As the grand mage raises his hand, the skeleton is lifted off of the ground. With a sweep of his arm, Roald slams the monster into its neighbor causing them both to explode into pieces.

The noise snaps Ephraim out of his trance. He quickly looks at the stones in his hand. Amethyst and Garnet. Manifestation and fire control. A sudden scream from behind him breaks his concentration. He turns around to see another skeleton about to strike him, but its skull gets crushed between two rocks. “Ephraim, focus!” Roald shouts. “Use this to get started.” The two rocks rub against each other and cause a spark. Ephraim seizes the opportunity by igniting a fire from the flash using his Garnet. As the flame floats by his face, it lights his look of hesitant confidence. In one motion he turns and swings his arm causing a giant flame to crash into a wave of skeletons. The clacking of bones knocking together accompanied by the whoosh of the flame fills the room as skeletons are pushed back into each other. He continues to move his arms to keep control of the blazing flame. One by one the skeletons are blasted by the flare.

“Do we have a plan yet?” The student yells.

“Hardly, but I am open to ideas.”

“It’s hard to focus while we are doing all of this fighting.” Suddenly Ephraim remembers the gem in his other hand. He lets the fireball dissipate as he uses the Amethyst to form a bubble around them that quickly becomes surrounded by skeletons pounding on it with weapons.

“Great thinking, Ephraim, but I’m afraid we are delaying a sure fate. There hasn’t been an instructor that has lived to tell how to defeat such a wealth of undead.” The student shakes his head in despair as he feels the knot returning to his stomach. In a last hope he pulls some gems from his pouch to look at every last option. He glances over every precious stone.

Citrine, wind control, nope; Garnet, fire control, nope; Pink Tourmaline, powers of the mind, nope. Just as he begins to lose all hope, he fixates on one particular jewel. “Diamond!” He shouts. “What if we tried to use the pure healing qualities of the diamond to counter the impure dark qualities of the necromancy?” Roald’s issues a well-earned look of pride in his pupil.

“Now you are thinking, Ephraim.” Several skeletons pound on the waning shield as the apprentice opens his hand toward his teacher, offering the diamond to him. Roald closes his student’s hand back around the gems. “You can do this. This is your lesson, even if it fails to our doom. Now, you have to focus much harder on a quality gem like this than you do with elemental ones, but I have faith in you.” The instructor takes the Amethyst from Ephraim’s other hand, and the shield glows a little brighter as his stronger power over the gem’s essence takes over. Ephraim’s body tingles with a mixture of excitement, pride… and fear. He drops the rest of the gems back into his pouch as his eyes turn white and glow. He looks up at a skeleton that is about to swing a hammer at the bubble with ferocity and throws a punch at it. It shatters to pieces and the shards emit a white light as they disintegrate. Roald looks over his shoulder at his student, his shoulder hiding his smile.

Suddenly a roar bellows from the stone owl. The ground around it crumbles as a body stands from beneath the floor. The owl head sits atop a well-toned, male, human body that towers almost as tall as the 100′ room. It raises its arm to pound its enemies. “Ephraim, you only get one chance at this! Make it count!” A hole forms above Ephraim and Roald’s eyes get a blue tint as he uses his Apatite’s telekinetic powers to launch Ephraim into the air. The statue’s giant fist smashes the shield which causes it to stumble back momentarily. As the teacher holds Ephraim in the air, completely exposed to attacks, the apprentice closes his eyes and clenches the diamond at his chest. The world feels like it slows down around him and the noise of the room turns to a whisper. He focuses, deeply. His veins begin to feel as if a hurricane is flowing through them. A light begins shining through where his eyelids meet. Finally he opens them and an immensely-bright, white light radiates from his eyes. When he speaks it sounds as if he and the feminine essence of the crystal speak as one.

Be at rest!” He throws a punch and a massive beam projects from his fist as he is suspended in air. The temple begins to quake at the unleashed force of the beams projection and sand filters through the cracks in the ceiling all around him. As he slowly turns waves of skeletons evaporate in the beam.

During this time the giant effigy has prepared its second attack and swings its colossal arm at Roald. “Finish it, Ephraim!” He shouts as the stone fist bats him into the wall. As Ephraim begins his descent, he finishes the last undead enemy and pulls all of his gems from his pouch. He lifts his hand and a rainbow of colors shine from inside. In seconds the giant sculpture becomes contorted. Its body shifts into unnatural shapes for several moments before turning iridescent and blowing into tiny pieces. As Ephraim hits the ground, he falls to his knees and the shimmering shards of statue float as they fall around him reflecting light like a mass of glitter. He is physically and mentally exhausted. Every ounce of his being aches and screams in agony as he closes his eyes in utter weariness. He knows that he isn’t finished though. Looking into his hand, he notices that the Diamond is beginning to crack as what is left of its essence starts to leak out.

“I know you’re tired too, but I have one more job for you.” The Gemkith gathers what is left of his strength to stand. His body groans defiantly as he hobbles over to his fallen trainer. The echo of his feet dragging carries through the room for what feels like an eternity as he pushes himself across the battle-ridden floor. He falls to his knees again as he reaches Roald. With his last ounce of strength he puts the Diamond against the grand-mage’s chest. A faint light glows from underneath for a second before it fades and the diamond crumbles to pieces on the trainer’s fallen body. Ephraim collapses. Minutes of uncertainty pass in silence. Slowly Roald’s eyes open. He lets out an unobtrusive moan as he turns his head to look around the room. The muscles in his neck tense painfully. His subtle laugh is intruded by a small cough.

“You did it.” He whispers more to himself than anything as he looks on his unconscious student. Every muscle in his body screams in pain as he reaches into his gem pouch. He pulls his hand out slowly and picks out a quartz before dropping the rest of the stones back into the pouch. His fist smacks as it falls against the cold, stone floor as his strength fails and a faint orange luminance begins to shine from inside it. The two men begin to feel as if lightning is coursing through their broken bodies as the crystal gives them renewed strength and energy. The weariness of battle still sits heavily on them from the outside, but the vigor of strength from the Quartz dances with life inside of them. Roald stands up and dusts off his robe. Ephraim rolls onto his back with a look of confusion on his face. The teacher looks at him with his regained composure. “This is the first time you have been under the effects of Quartz I take it.” Ephraim sits up and rubs his forehead, the unmistakable ache remaining.

“Am I supposed to feel like I could lift off of the floor any second?”

“The feeling will pass.” As Roald bends down next to him, the orange light from his eyes glean off of Ephraim’s cheek, even at the foot and a half distance between them. “I’m not entirely sure what I saw before losing consciousness is correct, but I think you might have reached Cumulative Mass when you were using that Diamond.”

“Really? That’s.. wow.”

“Do you understand fully what that is, Ephraim?”

“Well, I remember a brief conversation in class.” Seeing the look of disbelief in his professor’s eyes, the illusion that he is fooling him fades and he changes his tone. “Uh. What is Cumulative Mass exactly?”

“I thought you might want to know.” Roald says with a mockingly raised brow. “Cumulative Mass is when you get so attuned with the jewel’s essence that it emanates within you. Almost to the point of combining with your essence. Your soul that is. It’s a dangerous process though, because your soul uniquely designed for you. Allowing the process to take full effect would be a great offense to your being.” He pulls Ephraim to his feet. “Ultimately when the two essences resonate so closely together your physical being expounds upon itself to the point of exhaustion. That’s why we are depending on this Quartz to get us to a safe place to rest.” Roald begins walking with his apprentice toward the jewels that fell from the statue that rest across the room. “Let’s go collect your prize before this Quartz gives way.”

As Ephraim bends down and picks up the Agate, he looks over at the Black Topaz. It captivates him, placing him a trance. The allure of the gem pulls at him as if a magnetic force was pulling him toward it. The room darkens in his sight and the only glimmer of light he sees is fixated solely on the mesmerizing jewel. The draw is broken as a stone hammer smashes the Topaz to bits. Ephraim jumps up in a fit of rage. His blood boils unnaturally as he stands with his face inches from Roald’s.

“Why did you smash that? We could clearly have used it! Can you imagine the hordes of armies we could obliterate with an undead army?”

Roald fights back his anger as he knows Ephraim is speaking from the remnants of the control of the gem. He speaks firmly. “Black Topaz uses a dark magic that tempts the user. Just as every time a man accustomed to doing good sins he can feel his soul blacken, every time you use that stone’s magic you feel a part of your being ripped away.”

“So don’t use it. I can use it. You shouldn’t have a say in what I use.”

“It would tear you apart, Ephraim. Take a look at how you are behaving now. You are clearly not yourself, and that’s after only looking at it.” The words ring clearly for Ephraim’s. He looks down to realize that he has grabbed his professor’s robe unknowingly. As he releases Roald and steps back he feels like a dark veil has been lifted from his mind, and it is replaced with embarassment.

“You’re, uh,  right. I’m sorry.”

“Worry not. You weren’t yourself.” The instructor assures as he pats his pupil’s shoulder. The gesture does little to calm Ephraim’s shame. “We need to get moving to the nearest inn or this Quartz will give out and we may find ourselves resting unwillingly in a dangerous place.” Roald’s arm moves to the middle of Ephraim’s back for both physical and emotional support and the two continue to talk amongst themselves as they work their way back to the temple entrance.

Ephraim: A Test of Aptitude ®

The air is cold and wet in a pitch black cave where a lack of sight heightens the sense of hearing. The cave is all but silent, save the intermittent splashes from drops of water falling from the ceiling into puddles on the floor. The shuffle of footsteps echoes through the quiet cavern as a light begins to glimmer at the entrance. A man with short black hair, peppered with gray and a short beard is holding a small, glowing object that lights his way above his head as he leads a young man. The older man is wearing long purple robes and black sandals, both with extravagant white trimmings. The younger man has shiny, brown hair that reaches the bend in his back. It is tied low, just a few inches from the bottom. He wears simple brown sandals and his long blue robes are outlined in golden yellow. The leader suddenly stops and puts his arm out to bring his apprentice to a halt as well. As he shines the light to survey the room, the walls shimmer and dance with reflections. He nods his head.

“This is it, Ephraim. Where I let you take the lead.” The light he is holding extinguishes and the leader grabs Ephraim’s arm. He places an object in the apprentice’s hand and closes it around the smooth, hard surface. The darkness lending to Ephraim’s heightened sense of feeling makes it easy to distinguish the item as a well-cut gemstone. His heart begins to beat against the inside of his chest as the reality of the impending task begins to set in.

I’ve known this time was coming, but now that it is here, I don’t know if I’m ready. He thinks. The thoughts have to be pushed aside as his teacher continues.

“Extracting the essence of Opal will make it a source of light. Remember your lessons, focus on its essence, and draw it out.” Ephraim clutches the gem tightly and silences his nerves as he closes his eyes to concentrate. He pauses, allowing his conscience to go deep into the center of the gem as he searches for the source of its energy. Seconds seem like minutes as he feels his thoughts digging deep within the stone. Suddenly he feels the corners of his mouth raise in a smile in the dark cavern.

“Found it.” He whispers.

“Good, now draw it out. Remember not to force it out, rather tempt it into leaving the stone.”

As Ephraim persuades the stone’s essence to leave its locality, slowly a light begins to glimmer through the cracks in his fingers. “There it is. Now give it a little push.” The mentor says. Ephraim concentrates a little harder and the light begins to shine bright. Ephraim opens his hand and the bright light illuminates his delighted expression. The euphoric feeling of accomplishment beginning to overwhelm him, extinguishes quickly as his mentor brings his focus back to reality. “Now give it some direction and push it a little more.” The teacher explains. Ephraim holds the gem above his head, he magically causes the light to split behind them, and draws the sides of the light in front of them into a cone-shaped directional beam. “Your progress is exceptional, Ephraim. Let us continue.” The student hides a grin at the compliment from his mentor.

As the two continue toward their destination, Ephraim grows more concerned about the task ahead. “Teacher, tell me again about these imps I will be fighting.”

“You are a graduate, Ephraim. You don’t have to address me as your teacher any longer. Call me by my name please.” The younger mage acknowledges his request with a nod. “As to your query, the imps are cave-dwelling creatures that command different forces of nature. The creatures that inhabit this cave will likely be lightning imps. They are nimble creatures, and their ability to fly makes them a hard target. Wide-arc range spells will work best against them.” Ephraim’s brow furls while he makes mental notes of his teacher’s answer as the two duck into a narrow passage in the cave. “While battling these creatures, you must remember to keep focused on your task. If you feel you are losing the fight, look for an escape first, and look for a route that allows you to grab your objective on your way out second. Don’t take long though, because you will most certainly have the surviving creatures in tow.”

A drop of water falls onto Ephraim’s cheek as they are walking through the tunnel. He wipes the cool water from his face and notices another light ahead through an opening at the end of the tunnel. “Put your Opal away. We want to have the element of surprise on our side.” His teacher explains. “We should ample sight from here forward.” They squat near the end of the tunnel and Ephraim pulls up his nice robes to keep them from sitting on the dirty cavern floor before placing his gem back into his pouch.

“Tea…” Ephraim stops himself from using his mentor’s title, “Roald, I don’t understand why we wear our best garments on a quest into a filthy cavern. It’ll take me forever to wash the dirt out of them.”

Roald hides a chuckle as he shift his gaze from ahead to Ephraim. He answers matter-of-factly, “your attire speaks directly of you. If you were to dress in rags and ran across enemies, they would think you were an easy target. We wear our best apparel to give the impression that we can afford the best gems, which detours most lowly bandits. It creates a facade that we are able to afford the best gems to defend ourselves.”

Ephraim nods and looks around the corner of the tunnel wall. The room is a large, open space with a healthy amount of sunlight shining in through an opening in the elevated ceiling. With the absence of the offsetting light from his Opal, the light pouring in from the ceiling becomes much more imposing. The sting of the brightness causes him to shield his eyes as he searches the room for signs of life. Nothing catches his attention for a moment, but then he notices something glimmering in the light. Across the room, a slanted wall has formed a natural shelf for a shiny, white gem that sits in the perfect spot to reflect an array of dazzling colors that couldn’t have been better placed if it were intentional.

“It looks like I found the Moonstone, but I don’t see any imps.”

“Do you have a Spinel?” The teacher asks. Ephraim turns away to hide a look of confusion as he digs through his satchel and finds the small, peach-colored stone.

“I do. What does it do again?”

“Use it and find out.”

Ephraim closes his eyes and begins searching for the gem’s essence. He almost feels as if he is beginning to get lost in the stone as he wanders. After a few moments he opens his eyes to a whole new sight. The walls seem to blur and his sight is the only one of his senses that doesn’t fade. Ephraim is startled when he looks at Roald and notices a glowing aura around his teacher.

“The life-detecting gem.” Roald says with a voice that sounds distant and muffled as he instructs Ephraim. “It is a true treasure for Gemkith that like to hunt in dense forests for wildlife. Take a second to look around the room and see if you notice the imps now.”

The dreamy haze is almost dizzying as it causes the walls to wave slightly while he looks around the room. Suddenly he notices two similar auras floating on the other side of a cavern wall off to the side that lies between him and the Moonstone. The loud thump in his ears is almost deafening as his heart begins to race. “Roald, I have only studied battle magic. I don’t know if I…”

“The highest importance of spell casting is confidence.” Roald interrupts. “In the heat of battle you don’t have time to doubt or think about your next action. You have to react to the situation as it arises.” The guide pulls a light purple stone from his pouch as he steps into the room. “I’ll be keeping an eye on you.” He says as he begins to fade away. “I won’t let you die. Now get out there and retrieve that stone.” He vanishes leaving only the sound of his footsteps.

“I wish I could just use Alexandrite.” Ephraim grunts with a whiny tone. “It would make this a lot easier.”

“In time, my young apprentice. You need to be able to use the Magestones before moving into Wizardstones. They are much harder to understand and communicate with. Now which spell are you going to attack with?” Ephraim puts his Spinel away and crosses his arms thoughtfully as he thinks before issuing an answer.

“Wind has a high arc attack spell.”

“But we are in a cavern where wind is relatively scarce. What is the most abundant resource in here?” Roald asks. Ephraim thinks, and thinks… and thinks, the task ahead of him harming his focus. His already-lacking train of thought is disturbed as he hears the sound of his guide’s foot tapping. The hint goes unnoticed by the apprentice. “Look under your feet, dear boy.” Roald says in as much of a shout as he dares. Ephraim’s eyes widen as he looks down, finally coming to the correct answer.

“Earth…” He smiles gleefully as he quickly reaches into his pouch to find a Peridot. He clinches it with his eyes closed for a moment to gather all of his courage, then begins walking into the room as he reopens them.

“Hold one moment.” Roald’s command causes Ephraim to slide to a halt, the shuffle echoing in the quiet room. “You have your offensive stone, but what will you block their attacks with? You need to be able to put up a barrier as well, so grab an Amethyst in your other hand.”

Ephraim grabs the gem from his pouch with a bit of hesitation as he thinks about how he can use the new stone, pauses to take a breath, and starts making his way toward the winged creatures. He sprints behind the wall that the imps are behind to gather himself one last time. He takes a deep breath and looks down at the Peridot in his hand. “Confidence.” He whispers. His body tingles as the excitement and fear, but mostly fear, of battle sets in. The nervous heat of his cheeks begins radiating as a rogue bead of cold sweat runs down his brow. At this proximity, the apprentice can begin to hear the vermins’ movements. One of the imps begins sniffing as if it knows that someone else is there before letting out a low, gurgled growl. Ephraim realizes that he is about to lose the edge of surprise so he looks around the room quickly for a projectile for his first attack. His eyes come to a stop as he notices thinly-connected stalagmite sitting a few feet away from him. He clinches the Peridot and as he begins to use its essence, a green light begins shining through his fist and out of his eyes, the magnitude of the emanation matching that of the determination set in the fleshy orbs that they come from. The large rock snaps as it lifts off of the ground and he spins around the wall toward the imps. The green light trails like a mist with the swing of his arm as the rock follows the movement and smashes one of the imps into the wall. The other foul creature whips its wings downward, launching it into the air.

“Screeeeee!” It shouts as it throws a ball of lightning at Ephraim. The sphere of electricity gets within inches of his face, and he lifts his other arm to block the attack with a force field. While the block stops the spark from hitting him, the force from the blast launches him across the room into another wall in the cavern.

“Ugh!” His grunt echoes loudly in the chamber as a bolt of pain shoots up his spine. He shakes his head letting the spare strands of hair that escaped his low ponytail whip around his face and slide over his angered expression as he looks up to see the monster approaching quickly. With a quick jump he is out of the line of the Kamikaze dive of the imp. The Mage uses the manifestation essence of the Amethyst to project a ghostly image of himself where he once stood. The trick is successful and the imp runs straight through the ghost and into the wall behind it. While still aloft, Ephraim swings the arm holding the Peridot to break off a stalactite above the imp and brings it crashing down as he lands simultaneously. Dust from the smashing rocks billows out and soon after the imp comes flying through the cloud at him. The mage doesn’t have time to react, allowing the imp to sink its sharp teeth into the top of his shoulder. A deafening wail pierces his ears, to be recognized seconds later as his own voice as the piercing pain shoots through him. He throws his hand with the Peridot up and brings a large chunk of rock from the floor smashing into the creature and forcing it to release its hold on him. Just as the rock is about to smash into the ceiling, the imp flies out from behind it and its path is quickly redirected back into an attack.

“You are blindly swinging, Ephraim.” Roald’s voice surprises his apprentice, causing him to glance around. “Remember to stay on defense and wait for the right moment to attack.” Ephraim steps out of the way as the beast swoops past him. Quickly the imp circles around for another attack.

Defense. Wait for the opportunity. Ephraim looks through the strands of his messy hair with angered determination as he lights up his Amethyst to create a dozen ghostly copies of himself. He and his images scatter in different directions causing the imp to pause. It takes a moment to look around, lets out a furious scream, and curls up into a ball. Bolts of electricity swirl around the creature like fingers reaching into the cavern before concentrating into a ball around the beast. Suddenly the imp throws his body open and a large surge of electrical energy bursts into the room. All of the ghostly images evaporate and Ephraim is thrown to the ground. The imp has to land to gather its energy for the next attack which leaves time for Ephraim to stand and gather his wits.

“I’ve had enough of this!” Ephraim shouts. A fierce green light emanates from his eyes and the jewel in his hand again. Suddenly rock from different places in his vicinity gathers around him before forming on him like armor. The imp sees its impending danger and is back in the air again with a flap of its wings. Its energy hasn’t recovered enough for a lightning attack so it begins flying toward the mage for a physical assault, its basic intellect not grasping the physics of the protection the armor affords. Ephraim waits for the creature to get close before throwing all of his strength into a jumping uppercut. The shot lands on the imp, and sends it flying into a stalactite on the cavern ceiling causing its impalement. Ephraim lands and lets the essence of the Peridot fade causing the stone armor to fall off of him. He bats his eyes when the exhaustion of the fight begins to set in as the adrenaline begins to dissipate in his system.

“Well done, Ephraim.” His instructor states plainly as he becomes visible again. The look of solemn pride in his eyes softens the pain Ephraim is masking. “Let’s take this Moonstone to be cut into a usable gem.” Ephraim puts the Amethyst into his pouch and as he opens his hand to look at the Peridot, it turns into green sparkling dust and falls through his fingers. “It appears that you got all of the essence from that gem. You were fortunate that it ran out after the fight.” Roald clasps his pupil’s shoulder causing him to wince in pain. The teacher smiles unapologetically as he holds a Peridot in an open hand toward the Moonstone. The gem breaks out of the rock wall and flies into his hand as they make their way back out of the cave.

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The stinging light from the sun blinds them as they emerge. Ephraim holds his hand over his eyes as they walk back out into the open field. When the two get back onto the road, the ache of the student’s weary body begins to heighten causing him to lightly limp as Roald explains their course.

“We will travel to Limone. There is a lapidarist there that will give us the best cut to get the most essence out of this Moonstone.”

Ephraim looks at Roald in confusion. “Wouldn’t we get more out of the stone if we didn’t cut it? Doesn’t cutting the stone make it lose some of its essence?”

Roald lightly shakes his head before responding. “Think of the gem’s essence as its soul, for lack of a better word. If you cut off your finger, do you lose a part of your soul? The essence is the gem’s being. That’s why when you used up the essence from the Peridot, it crumbled into dust.” He explains before turning a leery eye on him. “You must have forgotten this from class.”

“I learn better from experience. I can be taught something from a book, but until I see it in the outside world, it doesn’t become real to me.”

“Well then, we need to keep you in these training quests as much as we can.” Roald looks down the road as he finishes his sentence. There is a horse-drawn carriage making its way down the road in their direction. The apprentice begins to feel worried as he sees his mentor straining his eyes to investigate the oncoming group.. but his heart sinks when Roald’s eyes go wide. “ Just as I feared. Ephraim, step off of the road quickly.” The teacher pushes his student and the two begin following the road alongside it, just a few yards away.

“What’s wrong, Roald?”

“That is a caravan from the Romi Empire.” Roald notices Ephraim’s vacant stare but can’t tell if it is from nerves rendering him incapable of comprehension or lack of attentiveness in class; he suspects the latter. “Another detail you missed in class, I suppose. They are the gypsy tribe from the south. Since they are wanderers, constantly blowing from one location to the next, they favor wind stones, which can be a hard magic to combat. They are crafty charmers, Ephraim, and they like to use stones that control your emotions. If they can gain control of your emotions, they can get you to trust them, or even blindly serve them. Even with only trust on their side, they can rob you blind and be gone before the enchantment wears off.”

Ephraim blinks for a moment, stunned and unable to find the words to accurately convey his inquiry. Whether from exhaustion or fear, he is unsure. “How do you fight control over your emotions?” He finally asks.

“There is no stone magic that can block those abilities; it is all in the power of your will. The best way to keep from falling under their spell is to not look into their eyes. It’s a lot harder for their magic to work on someone who isn’t giving them their full attention. As they get closer, you will need to keep your hand on your pouch so they can’t snatch it away, and your eyes straight ahead of you. Now keep quiet, they are almost upon us.”

As the cart gets closer, Ephraim has to fight the urge to look at them. The squeak of the wagon wheel taunts him and the allure of the legendary beauty of the gypsies makes it hard to continue to look away. As if an undeniable magnetic force is drawing him to the cart, a wave of seductive power washes over him, pressing down on his will to the breaking point. His curiosity gets the better of him and he glances up to see a beautiful young woman riding on the cart. Her fine garments set her apart from her raggedly dressed, albeit colorful, companions. Her loose fitting apparel and thin sashes drift behind her majestically in the wind while the two men with her wear rags on their heads and clothes fitting to a bandit.

Ephraim can’t make himself look away as her magnetism gets more and more strong. She looks over to him and their eyes meet. His peripheral vision begins to blur, his skin goes cold, his heart races, and he soon finds that he can only focus on her gaze. Time seems to slow as the caravan rolls by, but the eye contact is eventually broken as Roald’s lowered head passes through their line of sight. Ephraim shakes his head, which causes Roald to look up at him. The guide considers him curiously for a moments before realizing the head shake’s connotation; that Ephraim just came out of a spell. He quickly looks down to his pupil’s hip and Ephraim’s eyes quickly follow.

“You didn’t keep your hand on your pouch, you fool!” They quickly look back to see a gypsy hopping back into the travelling cart carrying Ephraim’s stone pouch. Ephraim’s face flushes in embarrassment. “She used a concentration spell to keep you in a trance while her lackey grabbed your gems.” Roald breaks off into a sprint with Ephraim close behind. “You have some field experience with Peridot, so use this.” He says as he tosses a stone to his apprentice while in stride.

“They’re coming. Yah!” The wagon driver shouts as he whips the reins of the horse after noticing the two magisters advancing toward them. Ephraim stops and throws his arm up with the Peridot, a look of renewed determination replacing that of exhaustion on his face. The sudden rush of adrenaline purges the pain of the last fight from his body as it courses through his veins. Suddenly a large mass of earth rises in front of the nomads causing their horses to stop abruptly.

“We can’t get away. We’ll have to kill them!” The gypsy that charmed Ephraim yells. The nomads jump out of the cart and begin rushing toward the two mages.

“Here they come, Ephraim! They keep their gems in anklets, so watch their feet!” Roald calls back as Ephraim begins to give chase once more. As the young female rushes toward Ephraim, a light trails behind the gems in her anklet. A yellow light twirls behind her looking almost like a mist as she leaps into the air. Her majestic call to entice the weak of will as she performs amazing leaps and twirls in her feats of agility. With a final twist of her body she spins a kick around and a blade of wind blasts into Ephraim. His hair whips in front of him as he is thrown back into some bushes in the nearby wilderness.

The gypsy turns to see Roald preparing an attack, and begins rushing toward him. The mage swings his arm in a semi-circle over his head releasing stones in an arc around him. One of the gems, a White Moonstone, begins radiating and the world seems to come to an abrupt stop around him. The mage’s time-slowing spell causes the gypsies to run so slowly that it seems as if they aren’t moving, and the stones seem to practically float over his head. Roald looks at the approaching nomad and lets a look of grim satisfaction sneak onto his face. A rainbow of colors begins to shine from his eyes as the gems over his head begin to glow. As the Quartz begins to shine brightly, he feels the aches of a tired, old body melt away. He closes his hand and a flame engulfs it as he breaks into a dash. Colorful mists trail behind him as he runs past the first gypsy and toward his other sloth-like targets.

He moves swiftly as the Quartz nullifies the wear age has left on his body and gives him super-human physical qualities. A fiery punch causes the first male nomad to go flying into his wagon. The once crawling speed of his approach is multiplied into a fiery bolt of speed in his departure. The carriage explodes in a ball of flame causing pieces to go flying in all directions. Roald catches one of the wagon’s wheels as it floats by, and with a quick spin, launches it toward the drifter that snatched Ephraim’s gems. He uses the wind power of his Citrine to give the wheel a boost to maximize its speed. As the wheel crashes into the thief, he flies backward and releases Ephraim’s pouch. After a shallow attempt to fight back his laughter, he holds his hand out and uses his Apatite to telekinetically carry the bag back to him.

He turns back to where his stones are floating in place and glances back to the female gypsy as he walks by. Standing beneath the gems he makes a quick swing of his arm and retrieves all of the stones he released earlier. He places all of them but a Peridot back in his pouch as he looks back to the gypsy. With one more look at his accomplishment, he feels his excitement peaking and with a flick of his wrist he raises a pillar of earth inches in front of her face. He slowly raises his arm in the air and snaps causing time to return to normal. The gypsy plows into the pillar and falls onto her back with a grunt. She sits up quickly with a her eyes widened to what appears to be dramatically past their physical capabilities as she stares at the mage. She opens her mouth to speak, but she is silenced as Roald makes the earth beneath her encase her hands and feet with the Peridot that remains in his hand.

Ephraim pops out of the bushes with stones in hand and ready for action. As he begins to look around dazed, the green lights emitting from his eyes begins to dissipate. Roald smiles a bit pretentiously back at his pupil as he drops his stones into his pouch. The student shakes his head in disbelief, his mouth agape.

“How… All I heard was an explosion!”

“That is why we have three semesters of lessons on Moonstone. Time Magic can be a powerful weapon.” The teacher explains with a smile.

“So I can do that with that Moonstone we just got from the imps?”

“First of all, it’s only White Moonstone that has time essence. Secondly, it’s expensive and you would not use it properly so you’ll get a stone when you are more trained with it.” Roald begins walking down the road. “Come, before we are met with more trouble.” Ephraim looks around the battlefield once more, not completely able to comprehend what took place there before rushing to catch up with his mentor. As pair begins traveling back down the road toward the city, smoke from the smoldering cart pours into the colorful dusk sky. The trapped gypsy tugs defiantly with her hands and feet, stubbornly trying to free them before she spits on the ground and waits for the trapping spell to wear off.

“Don’t think this is over, mage.” She hisses through her gritted teeth. “You’ll see me again.”