The twinkle of the stars burned bright despite the gauzy thick veil of clouds. And the moon was the white beacon of protection for all those who feared the dark, the witness of lovers who could only meet when the sun set, and the perfect silent friend for those who basked best when no one could see the flaws brought to light so often during the day. Shivers trembled down her spine as the chills of a passing breeze brushed against the exposed, sensitive soft skin of her neck despite being covered in silk and leather from head to toe.
Her forearms protected with thin layer of fine silk, and on top of that delicate layer were plated gauntlets. The rest of the world never seemed so small before as she stood from the elevated mountain peak. The world was dark.
As her boot-clad feet traveled a trail all too familiar, the light from the heavenly fire pits enveloped her in its warmth as she walked through the magnificent palaces of the Gods. Although she was all alone and only the swishing of her robes kept her from traveling in complete silence, the growing knot in her stomach began to unravel as drums of padded feet followed her closely in rhythm. She stopped.
Tilting her head to the side, Yaya peered over her shoulder and there were more than a handful of handmaidens bowed in reverence to her. They kept their heads facing downward while maintaining the silence of the night. There was a respectable distance between her and the group of women behind her. Sensing no immediate danger from them, Yaya followed the instincts that drove her in this wistful fantasy as she turned her back to them once more, knowing the handmaidens would blindly follow her lead. Her feet marched through the glitzy, glided hallways made from wood and stone and it was there the beating drums of war sounded. It echoed first, resonating, following a steady beat. And as she made progress through the tunnel with the jewel encrusted ceiling and the pearl-covered lantern wall lights, the beating of the drums grew louder and louder until it was deafening. Her heart pounded in time as her feet broke into a sprint while the bowed figures behind her wailed, “My Lady! My Lady!”
“My Lady! My Lady!” cried the handmaidens. The guttural, throaty screeches pierced her eardrums like the pinprick of a silver needle. She could taste the anguish, the hurt, the anger like charred bits of meat coating her tongue. “Where have you gone?! Why have you forsaken us?!”
Running in the silk robes proved no difficulty as the girl lithely escaped the wails of the women, but there was little to no reprieve from the drumming of war as the sound came closer and closer to catching her. It almost felt as if the giant hellish hounds of the Kavkaz Mountain Ranges were chasing her. Her feet were light as feathers against the disappearing floorboards – she didn’t dare look down – what if there was something else awaiting her if she missed one step? The tinkling of bells rang alongside the drums now, and her curiosity turned in motion as the bells rang over and over. The annoying reminder sounded like the beep of an alarm, gnawing at her inquisitiveness. Peering her shoulder, Yaya’s eyes could not detect anything while her feet felt nothing but air as the floorboards melted away, leaving Yaya with no choice but to fall through the hole. And with one misstep, the sounds of war stopped and distorted, shaping itself into a rugged, large hand as its grasp caught the tail end of the fluttering ribbon that neatly tied her braided hair together. Perhaps it was by luck, perhaps it was by fate that she fell from the skies and into a thick grove of towering trees where the leaves were made of emeralds and the trunk and roots were shards of jade. It didn’t hurt when she fell. The ground was soft and warm, and where she fell from the skies seemed so distant now as if she was worlds apart from where she once came.
The forest was so warm, inviting for a good slumbering session, but as she placed her bare palms against the warm, crumbling forest floor, Yaya pulled herself up. And near where she landed, there was a deep, endless lake. Silent and still with no signs of life within, the young woman peered into the water. When the girl saw herself garbed in the finest of jewels, the cascade of fur draped across her chest, her hair long and untamed, and armed with impenetrable armor, she said-.
Dark eyes blinked wearily, opening to a clean vaulted ceiling above. Yaya was caught somewhere in the strange in-between moments of stagnate reality and shattered dreams as she sleepily stared at the ceiling. Morning light streamed in through the windowpanes and the light was almost overbearing. Her thick, long lashes fluttered thrice like the beating of butterfly wings before exhaustion claimed her consciousness once more as the urge for sleep overcame everything else. Perhaps it was that desire to dream more – to see more than what her world currently held as there were times when she saw faces other than hers. The faces were intimate and familiar despite the fact she never known any of them before. The logical part of her – the scientist – reasoned the faces were populated in her dreams from glancing around crowds, formulating into these people whom she knew inside and out. Though for the life of her Yaya could hardly say or even wonder why her psyche was so conscious of people she had never met, spoken to, or heard even though their voices rang clear as day.
The places inside of her dreams were more than likely images her brain imprinted into memory from some sort of book, article, or documentary. Of course, forests with jade trunks and emerald leaves were probably nonexistent, but wasn’t that fantastical embellishment what made her dream-self safe and sound in a place she had never been to? Compared to the endless corridors and hallways, there was a sense of security in the dense, lush vast ocean of trees…
The dreamy, wistful part of her – the magician – yearned to experience the different decades of lives she would never live, her logical side reasoned. Why else would her brain formulate imagined experiences of eras and decades that have long since passed? Perhaps it was because of her youth that she yearned and yearned, dreamed and dreamed until her own brain could grant that tiny happiness in the form of a bubble created only for her. To be lucid and conscious. To feel like she had known it all, and when it was time to wake up to the magical, but cruel reality of her world – those images and those feelings were made to fade into her, buried deep within the depths of the brain’s memory core only to experience violent, hazy dreams once more when sleep lulled her into its slumbering reach.
And so, the girl slept dreamlessly until her holographic school alarm notification gone off. The noisy alarm was a smart, digital interface linked with the single dorm room she occupied during the school year. The alarm rang once at approximately 04:55 AM. The alarm rang a second time at 05:30 AM, and by 06:30 AM, Yaya’s alarm went off for the third time. It was by 7:30 AM that she finally dismissed the beeping alarm with the quick swipe of a raised finger on the holographic screen.
Her slightly bent knees stretched as her body and mind were no longer drowsy with sleep. A soft yawn escaped her body as her raised arms reached upwards toward the ceiling while her dark black-brown shoulder length hair hanged freely off her shoulder. Her manicured nails lightly scratched against the column of her neck before making a zig-zagged beeline down the valley of her breasts.
It took Yaya another three minutes to finally roll out of bed, and head straight into the shower stall. Hot water rained down her body, and she let out a little relaxed sigh as she breathed in the steam, letting go of what she saw in her dreams as soap bubbles floated down the drain.
Yaya showered until her hands turned wrinkled. Her routine in the morning was simple. Shower. Dry off. Brush her teeth. Get dressed in her uniform. Put on a light patting of makeup. Make sure her accessories like her headband were on. Fix on her crystal flower earrings. Put on socks. Admire herself in the mirror now that she was a Third Year. Her new robe was lined with pink while her tie was pink – the different color lined robes made identifying students in which year easier.
The girl hardly thought of herself as vain, but rather her efforts were regular maintenance. Like a flower needed sunshine and water, Yaya needed her accessories, bi-weekly manicures and pedicures, and her daily dosage of makeup. She hadn’t known when the maintenance became a regular fixture in her routine, but as a young girl and even till this day, she was pampered, raised with the most delicate care so she could live carefreely without worry. Her hands were soft and small unlike her mother’s hard and callused hands. Perhaps what motivated her to maintain her appearance was because of her own vanity influenced by her beloved mother.
These hands, her mother would say in their native language from the Western Mong Bluffs (though Yaya was not born there). Her small, soft ones that had never toiled in the family’s farm fields clasped in her mother’s grasp. These hands are soft and small. My greatest wish is to never see these hands darkened and cracked. I love you.
Yaya was many things. She was the youngest of nine children. Last year, she was a Second Year at the Imperial Academy of Magic, University Preparatory Division at the Ivory Citadel. And now Yaya stood proudly as a Third Year.
She took a walk down the stained-glass hallway where she saw many old, familiar faces in the form of her upperclassmen and new faces in the arriving First Years – fresh from the Elementary Division. Not that Yaya cared too much about other people. She wasn’t anti-social, but Yaya found it hard to keep a conversation going beyond pleasantries. Talking and speaking to people sometimes just required too much energy especially when she didn’t care if she was being honest.
A bright ray of morning sunlight hit her eye as she turned the corner. Stunned, her eyes fluttered shut. Her lashes thick and long. She stood in front of the entrance to the Mass Hall, holding a hand up to block the sun’s rays from stunning her once more. And when she could no longer feel the brightness, her dark eyes opened cautiously, quivering a couple of times before she could relish in the beauty of the rays pouring past her fingers’ crevices. The rays were no longer hitting her eyes directly, but her breath was stolen from her in that small moment in time, wishing she could capture the source warming the palm of her hand. Her hand reached toward the window, grasping the light, but alas she could not capture it.
“Ah,” she breathed out wistfully, dropping her arm to her side as she moved out of the sun’s ray. Who knew that at 16-years old she would be contemplating about the sun and its brightness? Smiling just a bit, the girl finally turned her back on the ray and entered the Mass Hall. It was packed with early raisers. She, herself, was one of them. The savory, salty, sweet smell of perfectly cooked crisp bacon made her mouth salivate with anticipation. Yaya ogled the floating dishes of pancakes, ham, bacon, chicken, potatoes, scrambled eggs, boiled eggs – there were even tea eggs and congee and porridge! Soup, tofu, rice, and fish! Buttered toast and waffles! Everywhere there was an array of food waiting to be eaten by its carefully, curated international students.
A few days into the new semester already made Yaya wish for break to come sooner rather than later as she sat in Rituals 345: Legacy of the Dark Sun. Not that her schedule was overly demanding as she had every Friday off, but attending seven classes over the course of four days a week was a bit tiring for the young girl. Mondays and Wednesdays were allocated to Rituals 345: Legacy of the Dark Sun, Calculus and Numerology, AP Science of Elements, and Physical Exercises. On Tuesdays and Thursdays was Divination 301, A History of Gaia 336, Speech Theory 378: Articulations, and of course, Physical Exercises.
Passing by her was another Third-Year girl, and in her hurry to catch her morning class, the girl dropped a piece of paper in the hallway. Yaya bent down and picked up the sheet before calling out to the girl, “You dropped this.”
The girl turned around, and said, “Than-” before gasping loudly, taking steps further away from Yaya. Her eyes shifted to the ground while her outstretched hand returned to her side as there was a slight tremor in her body. The girl didn’t look back up, and instead said quietly, “Sorry to inconvenience you…”
The girl didn’t take the piece of paper in Yaya’s hand; instead, she turned around quickly, zooming away from the scene of the crime as if Yaya held her at gunpoint. In the span of the seconds of interactions between the girls, one practically ran away seemingly in panic while the other stood motionless, not blinking even an eyelid before she continued her day.
Taking history at eight in the morning was not the best idea she had, but she would make do with what she could. Yaya yawned into the back of her soft, smooth hand and gazed outside the window. The girl sat near the back of the class where the view was best to look outside the windows. Her seat allowed her to peer over students walking through the small neat garden, the pathway into the academy halls, and there was the stone path that led down the decorative creek. The classroom was set up where those who sat in the rear were seated higher than those in the front. The tiered seating arrangement enabled Yaya to daydream at times while allowing her to see and learn from the Professor.
Being a student at the Imperial Academy of Magic meant attending different Academic Halls throughout the years on the islands. As an Elementary student that meant from the ages of 11 to 14, you would spend four years studying at the Gainsboro Bastion. Then after Elementary promotion, the next four years were spent at the Ivory Citadel as University Preparation division students. And then if your scores met the minimum requirements of the University division at the Onyx Towers, your next four years of schooling was secured at a higher level of education.
The need to succeed was instill in all parts of her body, and Yaya couldn’t help, but feel it was only way she could repay her parents for their efforts, their suffering, and all the hopes and dreams placed on the nine. Afterall, she received a rare opportunity to study at one of the most prestigious institutes in the world. She couldn’t just let it all go to waste… But as she sat and waited for class to begin, Yaya contemplated her future. She knew she was going to go to university for sure. That was guaranteed as she was currently ranked ninth in her entire class out of two hundred and fifty students.
But what was she going to do?
She let out a sad little sigh, tucking away the terrible thoughts that plagued her mind as her future beyond university seemed unclear. The girl would just have to take it one step at a time, one day at a time.
Professor Kalli Chemi walked into the lecture room with all the poise of a grandmotherly sage. There was a certain kind of motherly warmth radiating from her as she placed her babbles, books, and bag on the long wooden desk in the front. Professor Kalli had pale brown eyes that often-reminded people the color of sand, and the short stature woman was stick-thin and so advance in age that Yaya couldn’t help but wonder if she was close to retirement. Professor Chemi’s short bobbed hair was salt-n-pepper grey, ending near the edge of her square jawline, while her beady eyes roved over the classroom. She then sat on the edge of her Hazelwood desk, waiting patiently for the class to quiet down before she began her lecture.
“Good morning,” Professor Chemi said warmly. Her voice was energetic and upbeat as she clapped her hands together while the windows lifted themselves up just a smidge bit from the sills. A light breeze circulated inside of the lecture room, carrying with it the scent of salty sea spray. The island must have been over the ocean currently. “and welcome back. I hope you all have a wonderful summer break.”
She then said, “I hope everyone did the summer readings as recommended. Song of the Sea and Waves was not too challenging of a text, I hope. So, let’s dive right in with some basics. Who. When. Where. Mr. Young, you start us off.”
As per the customs instilled in every student and classroom of the University Prep division, whenever a student was called upon to answer – the student must literally rise to the occasion. Chase straightened his back like a lightning rod, parted his legs a bit, and rose from the chair with his hands behind his back. Chase was currently only wearing the Third Year’s uniform shirt with pink borders and pant while his robe with the pink decals draped over the back of the chair. He coughed into his shoulder first before puffing out his chest and answering the professor’s questions. “Song of the Sea and Waves is a memoir from the era known as the “Silver Age” of magic – Yawen Tian’s memoir begins the summer of 1610, and roughly ends around the new year of 1617. Yawen Tian was a Hero from the Song Mountain’s Dugu Sect, famous for his archery skills that were weaved with magic.”
Professor Chemi beamed, and clapped her hands, motioning him to sit down as she said, “Excellent, Mr. Young. Now that we know the basics, I am expecting a robust discussion regarding the reading material. Let’s begin with the facts. Who else is in the memoir? Mr. Byrne, why don’t you give it a shot?”
A slightly taller than average young man rose from his chair and beamed somewhat shyly at the professor as he placed his hands behind his robed back. His skin was very fair, allowing the light, small brown spots on his face stand out while his strawberry-blonde short hair curled out near his sparkling pale blue-purplish irises. Her eyes peered at him up and down before her lips curled up slightly at his nervous stance. If there was one-word Yaya had to describe him, it would be “puppy.” After all, he was a very cute boy. She laughed through her noses before turning her head toward the windows once more as she watched the clouds.
“Besides Yawen Tian, there are brief mentions of other famous heroes such as Jun Jin; however, the journal focuses on tracking Eve of the Sea,” said Mr. Byrne. “from the ancient mecca of Briar to the Ramiro desert.”
“And Ms. Tao,” came Professor Chemi’s voice. She allowed Mr. Byrne to sit down. “What do you have to add to the discussion regarding the summer reading?”
Yaya snapped to attention, recomposing herself as she stood up straight and placed interlinked hands together on top of her tummy. Her dark shoulder length hair was curled slightly at the ends. Now that she was at attention, Yaya smiled as if she wasn’t caught daydreaming at all and proceeded to answer, “What more is there to add, Professor? I believe all the basics have been covered.”
“Please expand on the basics,” replied Professor Chemi in her smiling stern manner.
“Any part, Ms. Tao,” replied Professor Chemi. “I would like to know your thoughts.”
“Well,” began Yaya. “My favorite character in the novel is Eve of the Sea because she is elusive enough that it took one of the greatest Trackers of all time six years to find her and defeat her. And if we are to take this journal as fact, and not embellished non-fiction, then from my research, study of the text, analysis, and interpretation of the documented facts – Yawen Tian was not that great of a tracker as we have painted him to be as he allowed a non-recorded individual to best him for six years.”
Professor Chemi thoughtfully digested her student’s words before engaging Yaya in further discussion. She said, “Ms. Tao, you used the words ‘character,’ ‘novel,’ and ‘not embellished non-fiction’ to describe what is widely acknowledged as a personal journal of documented history. Can you elaborate your stance on the particular word usage on your part?”
Yaya shrugged, and replied casually, “I’m just used to thinking about the book as a novel rather than a memoir. Eve of the Sea is not documented in other Briar historical texts, records, tablets, nor is there an indication she existed outside of Song of the Sea and Waves. I am not saying that she didn’t exist – clearly, she existed for one person, Yawen Tian. What I am saying is that the translation of the dead language is very sentimental in nature, and the sentimental word choices remind me of novel-like writing.”
“Ms. Tao,” Professor Chemi smiled. “Let me ask you this. Can diaries and journals which hold our inner most thoughts not be sentimental?”
“Yes, they can be sentimental,” Yaya replied seriously before adding, “I would like to know though about why we use such a source when our jobs as ‘historians’ is supposed to view, interpret and analyze history in an objective manner?”
“Journals and diaries allow us to compare the nature of their thoughts to the social climate of the era. Like you said, to the world and recorded Briar history, Eve of the Sea was no one, but to Yawen Tian, she was someone,” Professor Chemi said before nodding her head in approval. She then allowed Yaya to take a seat once more before the class resumed. It was then in the back of the classroom when she heard the chitchat of two students.
The conversation between the two Third Year students went something like this, or so what she heard.
“Did you hear they aren’t letting the First and Second Years join Faction Wars because they’ll just get hurt and confused?”
“Sounds like a lame excuse, but kind of sucks for them to not be able to join in on the festivities…”
Yaya couldn’t help but cover her yawn with a dainty hand as a notification pop-up screen floated above her desk. The Associated Student Body (A.S.B.) announcement was blindingly bright with its white and blue lights. Yaya cracked an eyelid open, peering at the screen. The holographic image of the scoreboard between the two warring factions was close. A.S.B. President Juliette’s White Lotus faction was leading the war 60 points to Secretary Dara’s Usurper Rising 50 points. Not that it was particularly of interest to Yaya, but the school’s big hoopla about the event was headache inducing. Yaya was part of a small minority who didn’t give a fig about who won what – there was nothing at stake for her. Her finger swiped the hologram closed, and her eyes went back to the clouds while her mind was on the lunch and dinner menus for today.
“I heard Dara and Juliette made a Magical Agreement,” the voice paused before continuing in the loudish tone of the non-whisper whisper voice. “And that the losing faction has to do what the winning faction wants.”
“One-hundred percent Juliette will win. She recruited Chase into White Lotus. He’s a hero.”
“Yeah! He’s so strong, nice, and super polite too!”
Yaya couldn’t help but roll her eyes upon hearing their gushing words about Chase Young.
Paragons were neither Gods nor monsters. They were once human, but not human. And if they were neither Gods, monsters, nor human – then what were they? The young girl with the hairband walked down the ivory halls of the Kingmaker. It was a small alter compared to the Paragons who had dozens of chosen Apprentices. At the very front row where the marble statue of a woman covered in ropes of pearls standing in a flowing fountain was, Yaya made herself comfortable on the bench. She then announced, “I’m here.”
She placed her designer backpack on the rest of the empty pew and stared at the stone woman. The words of her mother and father ringing in her ears, echoing like the distant vibration of a plucked harp string. You must never forget that although the Sixteen teach us the many ways of magic – there are still the Gods above watching, and the Gods below waiting. The Sixteen are Paragons of the Gods, and the Gods are the true masters of the universe.
Yaya broke out of her reverie, noticing the change in temperature as the tepid air cooled and there was that pop! Although the sound was hardly noticeable, the girl knew she was no longer alone as a phantom swept itself about her. The crackle in the air gave away the elusive Paragon’s presence as Senka the Kingmaker’s silvery cloak appeared out of thin like a woven tapestry. Wrapped in her cloak, the humanoid giant craned her neck down, golden eyes peering at Yaya through a bronze death mask. At first, Yaya found the experience unnerving, but now it was simply one of their little oddities running its course like the water flowing around the marble statue.
“Are you going to declare?” the Paragon asked, twitching its neck to the other side as if it was trying to unravel all the innerworkings of Yayua Tao.
Yaya’s reply was quick, confident, and concise. “No,” she said without blinking an eye. Her small hand traveled up, grasping the knot of her tie, and she shook it back and forth, loosening it a bit.
The Paragon was silent, waiting for the young girl to elaborate
“I’ve no reason to,” continued Yaya. “Nothing really.
Her pink painted lips then pursed together before she continued in a soft voice, saying, “Senka, I’ve been wondering for a while now…”
“Are you a God?” asked the girl. She stared at the silvery cape and the death mask – and although the Paragon was frightening at first when she first saw her as a 10-year old girl – now those golden, piercing eyes were familiar and just another aspect of her life.
“I am not a God,” Senka replied very serious, “I am a Paragon.”
Before Yaya could roll her eyes, the golden-eyed Paragon continued. “I was once a human like you during the First Age of Man when the Gods still walked amongst mortal-kind.”
Yaya took in her words, and then said, “How did you go from human to Paragon?”
Curiosity drenched her words and the young girl couldn’t help but smile as she looked up innocently at the Paragon. She was hoping for an honest answer. Senka’s golden gaze remained constant, and it was in an instant that the silvery cape dissipated into nothingness, not even leaving a trail of dust behind as the Paragon quipped, “Did you not take A History of Gaia? That’s a mandatory class. Have I grown too soft?”
“I’ve taken the class,” Yaya replied with haste. Her hands clenching into small balls while her body jolted to action. Her face appeared excited and happy, but there was that bit of anxiety that colored it as the Paragon began leaving. “I want to hear it from you. I want to hear your story!”
The Paragon disappeared, and she stood in front of the statue with her back stiff. The beauty of the statue was undeniable, but it couldn’t please the young woman now. Her words were now dull and lacking an energy as she recounted her thoughts, “To live forever seems nice. You’ve seen so many changes… How does it feel to be thousands and thousands of years old?”
And then Senka spoke once more, whispering to her ears. Although she didn’t know if it was an auditory illusion in the mind, or the non-human mentor carried its words through the wind, saying her name.
The girl answered, “Yes?”
You will be the last of the Kingmakers.
“Where are you going?” She asked then shrugged. “Not that there were too many before me… maybe 12… but those words sound as if you are going to disappear?”
To rest is my desire.
“So, you’re saying that you’re going to die?” questioned the girl. The disbelief in her voice couldn’t be masked, and Yaya had no intention of masking her doubt. The notion of a Paragon dying was unfathomable. After all, if they could die, then did that mean nothing was scared in their tiny world? “How can an immortal being die?”
A scoff burned at the tip of her pink tongue yet fear of being disliked held her back like always. The girl softened her stance, relaxed her shoulders, and released the frustrations that curled her fingers into two balls of flesh. She breathed in the cool air and released the warmth inside of her lungs as she backed away from the statue, hitting the back of her calves against the wooden pew. At that moment, the girl laid down with her back straightened against the flat bench and said to no one, “Should I sing you a song?”
With no one’s permission except her own, the girl sang. Her tone flat like the surface of a polished gem, lacking a melodious flair, and there was no heart in the words she sang. Her words held no mocking tenor nor were they full of longing. The old nursery rhyme of A Knight’s Veil she learned as she spoke were, “When the knight’s veil falls and you say the dawn is forever lost, come one and all, as the rose petals are touched by frost, remember, remember me when the night ceases to be, remember, remember me when dusks blooms amongst the crowned leaves, remember, remember me…”
The collection of floating islands continued onward in its wayward journey, following and changing directions as the winds blew. If the winds blew south, the islands followed till otherwise. And beneath the damp darkness, within the earth of the islands, the rattling of iron shackles made from eons ago hummed and shook to the toneless, rhythmless lyrics. And although the words were faint, the creatures jailed in the darkness possessed very good ears, so they listened and listened to all the secrets and whispers exchanged, but most of all, they waited. For what was another year, decade or more when they too survived more than thousands of years of eternal damnation. The creatures stretched their claws towards where they knew the light would bleed through – that singular crack in the earthen sky above – and asked once more, “Can you hear me?”