Crystal Forge Lore

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   Back to Main           Prologue                  Chapter 1

   Chapter 2                 Chapter 3                 Chapter 4

   Chapter 5                 Chapter 6                 Epilogue

Chapter 6

          Oli, welcome back,” beamed a Treeforge Drifter in the octagonal common room. Several other Drifters poked their heads around the corner and entered when they saw their Guild Leader who’d just arrived back from a solo outing in one piece. 
          “Hey, guys,” replied Oli. He limp drifted to a halt and then slumped into one of the chairs by the table at the center of the room. 
          “Are you O.K.?” asked a Treeforge member, their expressions souring at the sight of their leader’s exhaustion. “Someone, bring water!” 
          Normally, Oliver would have chuckled at that. The things he saw on his excursion weighed too heavily on his mind for anything of the sort, so he said simply, “I’m fine.” The other Drifters didn’t look convinced, so he added, “Whoever thought drifting didn’t involve exercise was so wrong. I just imagined it would get easier as your muscles adjusted to the ability, but I guess they never quite do.”
          “Well, you were gone for four days! How far did you go?” asked someone.
          “I probably covered around 2,200 miles.” 
          “Only 2,200? What, did you just ignore the fact that portals are there for shortcuts or something,” they teased.
          “I had to,” he said as he unfastened his outer cloak and set his deck on a table.
          More than a few more Treeforge Drifters had piled into the wide room. They looked to their leader for the lowdown on what he might or might not have discovered. Eeventide was changing, and lately it seemed there were more questions piling up than there were answers for. 
          Oliver achingly rubbed the back of his flower laden neck. “The portals are acting sporadically. At first I thought it was my imagination, but the farther I traveled, I noticed that they weren’t floating along their usual predictable paths. I jumped through a few of them without any issue, but then I saw the real problem…distortion.”

          Everyone at the debriefing breathed heavily down his back until someone finally asked for further explanation. 
          “Some of the edges of the portals are distorting—stretching. I thought nothing of it until I tried to float through one of them and it sort of…” Oliver searched for the right words, “flitted away from me—like a glitch.”
          “We’ve never seen a portal do that.”
          “Nope,” Oli concurred. “And when I tried to backtrack to look for an easier way, the portals I’d come through started reacting similarly, so I pressed on. But literally everywhere I went the land was frozen. Temperatures are dropping rapidly because of the ice, and I couldn’t help but think that Eeventide and her portals are put off by it.”
          “Do things really look that bad out there?”
          “Shardveil is advancing, fast. There’s no good news on that end. People just seem excited to join their cause.” 
          The other Drifters in the room sank a little. 
          “Do you think Carcery will be able to help us stop them?” asked someone. 
          The topmost card of Oli’s deck seemed to shiver slightly at the mention of its name. Oliver looked downtrodden at the facedown card as if he hoped he’d never have to see its face again. “See, that’s the weird thing about all of this. At first, I figured the ice is what’s causing the planet to feel so unstable, but then it occurred to me that it might be the presence of Carcery. But to answer your question: I don’t know. The card is so—unyielding. I did what I had to that night when I sealed him inside the card.”
          The room collectively stared at Oliver’s symbol-covered ribbons that now hung lifelessly from his robes, the very same ribbons that had danced animatedly before them right before the Treefolk known as Carcery was locked away in a card. The creature was one-of-a-kind, only to be summoned again by the Guild Leader himself.
          “Every time I summon him, he finds a way to hurt me. It’s like—even though he’s bound by my power and Eeventide’s laws concerning card physics, he’s still trying to kill me.” 
          “Ice seems to be the more logical cause. Why would Eeventide be scared of a single Treefolk,” asked a guy, addressing the bigger question. He received judgmental stares from nearly everyone in the room. He obviously hadn’t joined the Guild until after the night Carcery wrecked havoc through the Complex. 
          Oliver slouched in his chair, regrettably recounting the vivid details. “Before Eeventide, before I really knew anything, I noticed a castle started appearing by my home back on Earth, in Morro Bay, California. It’d never been there before, and like an apparition, it appeared only sometimes late at night by the ocean. One time, it appeared longer than usual and I was able to drive right up to it. I touched the stone walls and it was real. However, looking back, my home faded away. There were no clear-cut boundaries between time and space like there is here. I eventually realized that another dimension had been mistakenly merging with my own. That was Psylerra. And that was where I first met Carcery.” 
          “Wasn’t he your friend?” asked a girl who’d been told a version of the leader’s story once before. 
          “Originally, he was a friend of my great grandfather who I was named after. But yes, he was my friend for a while… until I saw through his illusions. At first, he was friendly and I even thought he would be a great mentor. Yet, there was always something about him that made me feel uneasy. For the longest time, I couldn’t pinpoint what it was. Carcery was a natural-born leader. He was the head of the C.A.A., also known as the Crusade Against Affinity, in the Psylerran version of California—an organization literally in charge of stopping the dimensions from merging. You have no idea how much of an eye-opener that was for me: Psylerra being a place crawling with goblins and wraiths, creatures we would call fantasy in real life, and yet there they were in the flesh—just in another dimension of reality; another world occupying the same space that had gone undetected. Or so I thought. Then, I figured that’s where the ideas for our fantasy stories came from, that no matter what there was a smidgen of truth behind everything we call fiction. That someone somewhere had seen those things with their own eyes and returned to tell the tale. My great granddad was one of those people. He died back in our ‘normal’ dimension when I was just four years old, and that’s when Carcery took over the organization. Come to find out Carcery was much older than he looked, and was keeping himself alive with a kind of false magic.”

          The common room was absolutely full now, overflowing with Drifters who came because they’d heard their leader had returned. They stayed because of the first-hand account being told of Oliver’s life story which usually had to be cross-checked via those few who’d already heard it directly from him. Not that it was a secret. Oliver was very open about everything.
          “Carcery was human like us, once upon a time,” continued Oli, “and he claimed to be a mechanical wizard. Tall and muscular as he was, that was why, presumably, he had metal patchwork installed on every part of his body. But he was missing an arm. Later, we discovered that he was secretly holding prisoners, sapping their energy to fuel his own all while performing a demented kind of scientific magic. Really, he was an alchemist, manipulating chemicals across great distances to create this guise of power that was meant for good. He also so happened to be the blood brother of an experiment gone wrong—a man by the name of Chance Cassius, a phantom, actually, who was the Count that owned and lived in that castle I’d discovered by the bay: Morenia Castle. But Carcery was the rightful heir to the estate, written out of his family’s will for perverted acts against nature.
          “I was too young and naïve; I was only worried about stopping fantastical creatures from flooding my city street and attacking my family. While everyone thought we were blessed to have someone so strong on our side during our mission to pull the dimensions apart once again, I soon realized that Carcery had lost himself along the way and didn’t care at all about the C.A.A.’s goal. In his lust for power, one of his arms was engulfed by energy, by lightning—some sort of blazing-hot matter. Once he lost that limb…it was almost as if whatever was left of the man died with it. He became an absolute monster.
          “Whatever problems he’d had with my great grandfather he took out on me. And once I’d learned just how corrupt he’d become, I refused to help him and that made matters worse. After he’d discovered that there’s a Twisted Tree branch inside my neck, all hell broke loose and he became determined to kill me and extract the branch for himself.”
          The gathered crowd gasped as a brief silence fell over the room. 
          “And yes, for those of you who always wondered how and why in the world a white rose started growing from my neck, that is why,” Oliver said, putting a hand to the soft white pedals below his jaw. “It’s another tale for another day, but long-story-short, the Twisted Tree was a tree native to Psylerra which granted absolute power. Its bark was used to make staffs and other weapons worthy of kings for millennia, before it was lost. Think of it like the Tree of Life, but withered and gone bad. This branch is likely the last remaining, and it basically wound up pseudo-surgically placed into my throat because of my misfortunes in Morenia Castle. It can never be removed, believe me, I’ve tried.”
          A third of the room looked sick, another puzzled, and the rest lost for words. One managed, “But how can it be sitting inside your neck? Wouldn’t you be unable to eat? Or breathe?”
          “You would think, but look around us,” said Oli, gesturing to the wonders of Eeventide beyond the glass windows. “If all of this is possible, then should it not be that far of a stretch that a little piece of wood can be in my body and still somehow occupy a slightly different part of the physical dimension I’m in?”
          Nobody argued with that.
          “Anyway,” Oliver continued, catching himself from getting on another tangent, “I suspect that Carcery’s missing arm was the one Eeventide chose to be encased by a Helver, but when it wasn’t there to form, he materialized as a creature upon entering this dimension. What I can’t figure out—is how he got here in the first place when he’s supposed to be dead.”
          Most didn’t have time to consider the implications of what was said as the captain of a Treeforge scout party barreled into the room. People moved aside for him.
          “Captain Derrick Dorman,” said the Guild Leader, “your search party is back?”
          “Oliver, Sir!” addressed the man, catching his breath. “I know you think that Carcery is the cause of Eeventide’s groanings, but that’s not the reason!” 
          Eeventide seemed to affirm the statement by way of a sudden earthquake. The room tilted and everyone jolted into a drift above the floor in response to the tremors. Shifting back to the conversation, someone interjected, but Oliver clarified that he’d rendezvoused with Derrick’s scout party at some point during the last couple days. 
          “Who else could it be, Captain,” asked Oliver Rose. He scooped up his deck and cloak, sensing the urgency in the captain’s tone.
          “It’s not who, but what—Err, how can I describe it…?” He glanced around the room at a loss for words before settling on, “You’d better just follow me.”
          Mr. Dorman dipped out of the room with Oliver Rose swiftly in tow. The rest of the Treeforge Drifters followed which, normally Oli would have been opposed to with all the reconstructive work that needed to be done still within the forest, but he didn’t object. The other 5 members of the scout party were waiting outside their meeting building and the captain led them to a cluster of portals just beyond the forest.

          “What the—” Oliver then understood the captain’s loss for words.
          The Order might as well have been playing ominous music in the background; dark clouds—no—smoke spiraled down into Eeventide’s atmosphere over a rocky wasteland. It unfurled into odd shapes like a black plague, convoluted and alluring all at the same time. Drifters from Treeforge bumped into each other as they emerged from portals that glitched to no end. Their complaints turned to mumbles as they became aware of the mesmerizing sight ahead. The smoky substance was far away, but it clearly wasn’t anything like the Thoughtstream. Strangely, it wasn’t even coming from outer space. The sky itself had been torn in two—or three— like a swath of fabric with a chunk missing. In place of the missing piece of sky oozed more of the black smoke. From the smoke came terrifying shapes and silhouettes. Shapes like claws and needle-like lines. Attached to something or nothing, nobody knew. 
          Panic had begun to ripple through the gathering of Drifters when Oliver felt a cold metal-covered hand upon his shoulder. He turned to find a worried Captain Dorman and his crew. Behind him stood their Cardsmiths, including the one known as Carter. Gauntlets clanked as they shifted in their armor, cards drawn at the ready. Treeforge was full of champions, but somehow this emerging threat looked like it would take more than their Guild to handle. As if they needed more hurdles to overcome.
          “What do you think it is?” asked Derrick. 
          “I’ve never seen anything like it,” admitted Oli. He peered past his breath in the frigid air; his gaze swept the horizon looking for an identifiable cause. His hope faltered when he found none. 
          “Could it be an irregular weather anomaly?” asked someone behind the Guild Leader. But even as she said it, the gaseous material took on a slightly more recognizable form, or rather, forms; from the cloud emerged creature-like bodies each with their own jagged head and floating hands. Their smoky silhouettes gained depth with each passing moment.
          Without taking his eyes off it, Oli said, “This is no weather anomaly. It looks more akin to something coming through from another dimension, but that can’t be right either.”
          The edges around the growing void looked 2-dimensional, almost like a rip in the existence of existence itself—however impossible that may seem. If anything, Oliver had learned to trust his eyes above all else over the past few years, and his feelings. His gut instinct was rarely wrong.

Sentient Anomaly

          “Where are you going!” someone shouted which pulled Oliver away from his thoughts. He then realized he was subconsciously drifting toward the black mass, but he didn’t stop. If he could find out what those things were, he fully intended to do so. But less than a mile into his plotted course, the air grew much thinner, making breathing difficult. And he noticed the smoky creatures were descending upon Eeventide’s portals. They spread out for miles above the land, sideswiping those distorted shortcuts as they flew by. A startled Oliver changed gears and plotted a new side course himself, but he didn’t know until moments later that Derrick, Carter and a handful of other high-ranking Treeforge members were following him. Most of the Guild hung back at the cold high-rise as Oliver never gave any official orders. 
          “Oliver, what do you plan to do?!” hollered one of the men beside him. But Oliver Rose didn’t hear the question; the normal wind noise from drifting at high speeds had turned into something more. It sounded exactly like the wispy creatures looked: horrifying. 
          The wind howled at them like a harsh whisper unable to form proper words. He glanced downward at his Helver which was rattling fiercely. A card inside was trying to get out: Carcery.
          The men followed Oliver as best they could despite their own attentions wavering.
The portals hovering above Eeventide's surface trembled violently as they became unhinged from their usual discourse. 
          Oli made a hand signal which the other Drifters knew instantly. They were going to single in on a target to try and observe what exactly these creepy creatures were made of, prepared to retreat if necessary. But along the way they had to unexpectedly dodge rogue portals; vortexes raced through the air, narrowly avoiding one another until they didn’t—the collision caused everyone near and far to cry out in pain and horror. Generating deafening sonic booms, each pair of portals that slammed into each other disappeared, leaving a new tear in the fabric of existence in their wake. 
          “This is bad,” bellowed Oliver, saying what they were all feeling. The others had already summoned a horde of Treefolk that plowed on ahead toward the main rift, uprooting any ice along the way in order to pave a clearer path. It was then Oliver realized that the rest of his Guild had followed suit, a large percentage of what had to be over fifty frozen miles reclaimed in a matter of minutes.
          Derrick tried to say something, but was forced to fly abruptly in another direction due to incoming loosed portals. Oli refocused just in time to avoid one coming his way before dodge-rolling back toward the main black hole. The spatial rift, and the alien creatures spewing from it, definitely gave lightheadedness an entirely new meaning. 
          Treeforge’s white-eyed leader swiftly manipulated cards on the fly, energy spiraling around him in preparation for multiple summons. But Oliver found his attention seized yet again, not by the frenzy of action below and behind him, but by those smoky creatures that took on so many shapes and sizes ahead of him. They were so defined, yet weren’t. Approaching one at breakneck speeds, he drew a handful of cards, shuffling away the one trying to be let out. 

Lightstruck Lebanon

          Lightstruck Lebanon appeared, sending an array of true weather anomalies toward the hostile invaders. But lightning went straight through the creatures’ smoke-like bodies, not fazing them one bit. Brilliant Brightveil was summoned alongside a mix of other Treefolk and Mushfolk at the Guild Leader’s command, all attacking with maximum energy counts. Oliver’s attention hyperactively shifted around the field, watching out for any wide-swinging portals, but in his haste missed two more portals below him on a dead-on collision course. The recoil sent him flying upward, his ears screaming with pain added to the lightheadedness. It was like his battle at the Complex all over again; the possibility of passing out threatening to drag him into unmistakable sleep—only this time he might never wake up if those shadowy creatures had their way. 
          Oliver Rose tumbled until he regained control. Control. He had to gain control of the situation. That he was good at. But none of his Treefolk had done any visible damage to the murky life forms. Not even Brightveil’s rays shone through them. His heart rate quickened, and he then felt the irregular beat. Not his own, but Carcery’s. Would he have no choice but to resort to using him after all? 
          Treeforge Drifters struggled against the wave of crashing portals amidst the battle. A battle was what it had turned into; more and more of the smoke-like beings came through the new, smaller rifts as far as the eye could see, and easily shredded bark and roots and vines with their needle-like claws. Meanwhile, nothing appeared to slow them down. Slow them down, thought Oliver as he resisted the urge to summon the Chemical Oddity and instead called forth Vanquish. 
          “Time,” shouted Oli, “give us more time!”
          The hulking tree moved accordingly and plowed its decorative spear through the nearest smoke-thing until it came to a creeping halt. Oliver got up close and personal with it, cautiously examining it from every angle. The enemy creature was steaming; black smoke rose slowly from its body with the rise and fall of its…what, exactly? It was not breathing as far as Oli could tell. Through the substance he saw nothing of substance—the monster was as hollow as can be. The light cast through it from Vanquish’s weapon made the thing look even more like a living shadow. For the first time in a long while, Oliver found it very hard to understand what he was looking at. Despite being impaled, the thing reared its ugly head, and Oli saw it had some semblance of a mouth. No eyes, but only a mouth, as if eyes were not a necessary tool wherever it was from. It turned and ‘looked’ straight at him, moving being something it shouldn’t be able to do at all with Vanquish’s spear turned inside it. 
          “More time…more…time!” commanded the boy with the white rose, and Vanquish obeyed. It rotated the glowing needle fifteen degrees clockwise, thirty-five degrees, seventy degrees, ninety, one hundred and twenty, one hundred and eighty. “…Keep…turning,” even Oliver found it difficult to maneuver around his Treefolk’s time bubble. Any more and time would stop for him, too. What is this thing, he thought. He reached out with his Helver, but the creature responded and almost matched his reach with its floating hand. That’s impossible. Normally, any creature would be completely frozen in time with even the slightest turn of Vanquish’s spear. That scared Oli. But what came next scared him even more. 

          “Oliver, watch out!” warned a Guild mate soaring toward him.
          Oli looked up and lost what remaining breath he had at the sight of eighteen or twenty more of those things heading straight toward him from a dimensional rift overhead. “Vanquish!”
          With that, the Reverser of Time did just that as it rotated its clock hand the other way, counterclockwise. It was a dangerous attack for sureOliver normally wouldn’t use it if he was nearby due to serious risk of injury; turning the spear counterclockwise would destroy everything nearby that was even remotely composed stardust, but would also cause Vanquish to vanish. He would be unable to re-summon the time manipulator for a time, but all that time had run out. Oliver braced for impact as he was blasted out of the sky. The visceral creatures overhead all dissipated like vapor from the time flash, their existence literally erased by the reversal. Or at least, they should have been.
          Before Oliver could finish brushing off the shattered ice he’d fallen into, he was staring at the same legion of colorless creatures coming at him, remade almost as fast as they’d been unmade. Impossible! He grabbed his gauntlet arm to stop it from shaking, refusing to summon yet another unnatural monstrosity that might kill him just as easily. Instead, he reached for a clasp that fully released the ribbons from his cloak. They erupted into a storm of flashing symbols and streamers around him as the first time-altering/withstanding black abomination came into contact. The ribbons streaked through the air, slashing through the wispy being while looking for something to latch onto. No matter how much energy the ribbons pulled, Oliver couldn’t seal these things away. They weren’t a living thing, not once, not ever. They had no soul; there was no essence to capture. After what felt like an eternal struggle, Oli let go and he fell, crashing again through ice and dirt and broken wood.
          Oliver Rose didn’t know if he’d momentarily lost consciousness from the impact or if he was so consumed by new revelations that he’d completely missed the fact that he’d been scooped up by a comrade. Either way, he looked up in time to see some Chronos vertically swoop into a horizontal smoke-filled pursuit of him and the Drifter who’d airlifted him. Creatures not native to Eeventide that can withstand time-altering conditions and re-shape themselves upon destruction? Chrono. The word that means time. That’s what he would call them. There would be no other name for them. 
          The final things Oliver heard that fateful day before he fell into that familiar sleep were the voices of his Guild mates calling for a retreat while dodging portals whirring by, something about chasms everywhere, and the sound of the wind that accompanied the Chronos, like a voice trying to communicate without words…