IT HAD BEEN TEN MINUTES SINCE TOMMY DEAN had left, and Sebastian just sat there, unsure of what he was going to do for the remainder of the day. He was almost tempted to chop down a few more trees, but with what, exactly? His hand? The defeat of that Hellhound seemed to be a bit too easy. Not only that, but its entire body vanished when he cut it down. Was it the same with every unholy creature? Was one hit enough to destroy the bonds in their body to disintegrate them? There were so many questions he had unanswered, but he just decided to learn each bit of information one step at a time. Besides, he had all day, so he wasn’t in a rush.
“The answer is a bit more complicated than that, Bash.” Zuri appeared, standing next to the tree stump. “You see, each living object, and even the monsters, has its own aura, which controls the essence within them. I guess you could call it magic, but that isn’t its official name. Their magic, being controlled by this aura, flows in a state relative to their command or emotional activity.
“There are two ways magic can flow within someone. If they aren’t paying attention to their magic, it will flow based on how they feel, and that is called the static state. Calmness equates to a still lake, while anger and fear equate to a rushing river. Next would be the lucid state, which can be controlled at the user’s will. Since that requires a lot of concentration, it usually isn’t as efficient as that person’s static state. The body and soul are excellent at controlling magic, so when your conscious mind takes over, it can be a bit difficult to tap into its full potential. Take breathing for example. You subconsciously do it, but it gets a lot harder when you become aware of doing just that. While it can be directed better when you are lucid, it also comes with more difficulty.”
Sebastian looked down at his sword, absorbing the information with every word that exited Zuri’s mouth. He never realized the sword’s intricacies. Looking down the blade, half of it had a design that seemed to sport thousands of blades of grass, just like in the meadow. Their sporadically placed design perfectly replicated nature in such a way that made him believe that whoever made the sword wasn’t even human. There was no way someone was that good. Who knew, maybe he was just awful at art.
Right where the grass ended, there were thousands more stars sprinkled across the blade, some large and some small, some bright and some dim. Going down to the round hilt of the sword, it looked like an inverted tree trunk, which was made out of a dark blue glossy material with the most intricate detail he had ever seen. That tapered down to the handle, being the remainder of the tree’s trunk. The end of the handle was capped with this beautiful roundish miniature moon. The whole sword was a work of art.
After a bit of time, his feeling of awe was quickly interrupted by the realization that he hadn’t answered Zuri’s question, something he hadn’t even intended on ignoring. “I’m so sorry, I was just——”
Her eyes closed as she gave one of her many genuine smiles “It’s okay, Bash, that sword is beautiful, is it not?”
“Yeah, it’s just...down to the last blade of grass...so well made.” Sebastian continued to turn the blade, admiring what he had already looked over. He could probably spend his whole vacation day doing just that. His eyes then shifted from the sword to Zuri, “So, you’re telling me that I can harness magic? I’m guessing when I chopped down that tree, I was using the static state of magic, right?”
She gave a nod and continued with her answer, “You are exactly right. When you chopped the tree, you had no idea what kind of magic you were storing up in your body. Since I had removed the limiter from your soul, you had to do something to release all of your energy, and cutting down the tree presented you the perfect opportunity to do that. Unfortunately, you cannot get a massive surge of energy like that all the time, since your magical abilities haven’t been trained for it, but given time, you can improve your usage of magic, just like this sword, to have incredible powers.”
Sebastian’s excitement quickly returned to disappointment. He had hoped that this new stupidly powerful ability would stay with him, but it seemed like he was just a one trick pony.
An apologetic look filled Zuri’s eyes, and she blurted out, “Don’t worry, though, it was your strength that defeated that Hellhound. You should be proud of yourself. You’re a natural at swinging the thing.”
She always was able to see the brighter side of things, which perfectly complemented Sebastian’s more cynical view on the world. He then jokingly said, “Yeah, well, if you spend six years every day cutting down trees, you get pretty damn good at swinging things. I guess I’m a bit more useful than only putting food on the table, then.” What a thought that was for him, his view of the world and his future changing so quickly in one day.
She extended her arm and pointer finger and posed in a gallant manner. Her stature went from slightly relaxed to more rigid as she chanted confidently, “Exactly! You’ve already got six years of training out the way, so you should be more than capable of being in a fight, not easily running out of energy. You’d probably tire them to death before you could even strike them with your sword.”
Sebastian didn’t think his smile could get any more pronounced, but those words that came out of her mouth proved him wrong. He was so used to not doing enough, so when he was actually getting praise from someone, he was beyond happy.
“So, Zuri, can you teach me how to draw in more magic? I mean, when I’m in a fight, I want to be able to pull some in so I can release some ultimate attack——you know, like my failed Divine Light move. I know I was able to take that thing out pretty quickly, but there have got to be monsters that are a bit tougher than a tree out there.” Sebastian rose from the trunk still inspecting his sword.
“Well, of course I could help you with that. As you know, this sword was able to store all of that energy over five hundred years, simply by calling on the magic to enter its blade, but you could get five times that energy collected in about a minute or so. It’s actually quite easy.
“Because we’re in a forest, the area is already teeming with magic. The trees, the animals, the wind, the falling leaves, and even the ants on the ground all have a bit of magic in them. Don’t worry when you call for their magic, though. The sword was designed to not kill them. It takes a maximum of fifty percent of their magical energy, still leaving them virtually unscathed. They wouldn’t even notice that their strength was sapped. So, it’s quite easy, actually. I know it will be a bit difficult at first, obviously, but you have an amazing affinity for magic, so it should come to you quickly.” She paused and waited for Sebastian to affirm that he was listening.
Sebastian’s eyes were intently focused on her when she explained, and to not interrupt the flow of information, he nodded as silently as possible.
That was all she needed, so her mouth opened again to continue her speech, “Great. Now, you must first realize that this magic exists. A simple way to do that is to close your eyes. You cannot see the magic, but you can most certainly feel it, so you will do just that. It’s quite simple to feel it if you are willing to accept its existence. After your eyes are closed, you will feel small amounts of pressure within your body, flowing around inside it and around it.
“Imagine that pressure to be blue strings, waving around the sky while tying you to all life around you. If you really focus, you should be able to see brighter blues near stronger creatures, which would show you that you are on the right track. Would you like to give it a try?” She stopped, not even breathless from what should have emptied her lungs five times over, or at least Sebastian’s.
“Yeah, of course. Let’s give it a go.” Sebastian, by instinct, walked to the center of the opening in his part of the woods. She mentioned feeling out the environment and understanding where the pressure came from. He was fortunate, since he already had the ability to sense a presence pretty well, but he was sure it needed some work. He wasted no time slowly closing his eyes, washing away any light that was entering his pupils. Standing completely still, Sebastian began to focus on his breath, which was, as he hoped, a good way to activate his lucid state of magic. Breathing in, breathing out, in, out. He continued that process and slowly began to focus on the things around him, making sure he wouldn’t have an unwanted ray of light intruding in on his inner peace.
The pressure started out light, but with every inhale, and every exhale, he could feel an increasing amount of it, reminding him of what was around him. The sound in his general vicinity seemed to be almost unnoticeable, almost like that of the night before, except this time he felt at ease.
With the increasing amount of pressure, Sebastian decided to take Zuri’s advice and slowly create those strings of blue light: the strings of life. They were dull at first, but as they began to develop in front of his closed eyes, the main picture was more clear now. After a while, he could make out the trees, spot ants from hundreds of feet away, feel and see the wind and all of its movements, and...what was that energy?
The growing concentration of these strings pulled his attention to where Zuri was supposed to be. There was so much magic surrounding her that her body was fully formed in front of Sebastian’s closed eyes. Was she really that strong? He hadn’t noticed before. Her ability was off the charts! Not only that, but he could see this massive collection of strings attaching Zuri to Azure's Edge. Come to think of it, the sword was also fully formed. Did these things really hold that much power that he could see them as if his eyes were open? The pressure coming from them was insurmountable. It seemed like his lucid state was consciously picking up on how awesome Zuri and Azure’s Edge actually were.
“Sebastian, you did it. You can see the connection between me and the sword, can’t you? You know what that’s called? When I entered this sword, my spirit was attached to it. It was my body, and it still is. The cord that tethers me to it is the most important thing in this universe. It’s called the Eternal Lifeline. Everyone has one, even you. Except, your Lifeline is attached to your physical body instead of a sword. If it were to ever be severed, the sword’s power would crumble, and my soul would begin to deteriorate. I know that sounds scary, but it’s not as easy to cut it as it looks, so don’t worry.” She smiled. “Besides, I trust you with my Lifeline.”
Sebastian’s eyes fluttered open, allowing for the blue strings to slowly wash away with the wind, and he let his own eyes lay themselves upon the scenery he had just felt. This sword, this forest, this spirit. It was hard to see it with his eyes open, but they were most certainly one thing. All of it. The infinite majesty of the forest, the planet, the universe...it was all one entity, gracefully allowing for magic to flow in between the vessels, as if space and time were not an object, but rather a living being. “This is all so much. It’s…amazing.” His mind drifted off for a few seconds, but he pulled himself back into reality. “So, how exactly would I call for that magic when I needed it?”
“That’s simple, actually. Think of your body and your magical aura as the same thing, but detach your physical movements from that of your aura. It’s almost like moving two fingers on their own. If you can do that much, then you can use your aura as an extension of yourself. When you accept that, then you can use your aura to reach out and pull in magic that you need. Let me show you, for example, Azure’s Edge. Now close your eyes, and watch as I pull in magic. I won’t do much, since I don’t want to bother the forest when we don’t need to, but it will be enough for you to see.” She whispered as she concentrated her essence to connect to the sword. Sebastian followed suit and closed his eyes to focus on her actions.
It was much easier this time, and those familiar strings of life that surrounded him before came to greet him a second time. He could see the sword’s energy, as if there were thousands of hands slowly reaching out, picking at the strings like they were apples on a nearby branch.
With every bit of energy plucked from the surrounding flow, there was more energy to replace the disrupted areas, and the light emanating from the sword glowed brighter. Sebastian, after looking at that, decided to try the same thing, and he imagined just what Zuri told her to do. Within seconds, small hands formed from his soul, and they began to explore the surrounding environment. He pulled more of the energy towards him, careful to not disturb the flow too much, and opened his eyes with his newly acquired strength. With confidence, Sebastian walked towards the sword that was placed on the trunk, and he firmly grasped it in his hands. He knew what he had to do.
Zuri understood what was on his mind, and she gave her blessing for him to carry it out. Sebastian wanted to try something out, and he wanted to see the results of his idea.
“Here goes.” He got into his stance and twisted his torso until he was sure that he was fully flexed. He closed his eyes and attached his aura to Azure’s Edge. There was almost an instant bond that formed between the two of them. Besides, their souls were one. His eyes continued to stay closed, careful to observe the flow of magic in between the trees. “Now it’s time for round two! Divine Light!” He cried out as he released his full power from the sword, sending a massive blade of blue light directly towards the trees in front of them. Its arch was big enough to catch at least ten trees. And, as it made contact with the trees, there was a swirl of blue around the concentration, and the bond of flowing magic within the trunks was severed.
It was no time before their flow was cut from the rest of the trunk, and with every second, the flowing river of blue dwindled down until it was nothing more than a droplet sliding down to where the rest was pouring out.
After a couple of seconds, the arc dispersed, and the blue strings did the same, making their way while divvying themselves up to the rest of the magical flow in the forest. Sebastian was right. If something died, its magical energy went everywhere for the rest of the world to use. After his magic was once again drained, Sebastian opened his eyes to see a spectacular sight in front of him. Within seconds, he had severed at least fifty trunks from their base, which would cover at least five more days of work. He was finally beginning to understand magic.
Sebastian turned his head towards Zuri, and he saw the familiar happy look plastered onto her face. “Bash...you did it. Oh my goodness! You’re such a natural with magic! Just by looking at what I did, you were able to take in enough energy for a move like that.”
Sebastian smiled, but she gave him too much credit. That single move took all of his concentration and a total two minutes to complete. In a real battle, he wouldn’t be able to just do that, especially if it were against a Hellhound. He needed to be able to subconsciously do that, so a lot of training would be needed.
She seemed to have read his mind, since she immediately found a verbal remedy for his concern. “You don’t have to worry about that. There isn’t a big threat for miles on end, so you can just worry about training for now. And when something big comes along, you’ll likely be ready to strike.” She put her thumb up with an emphasized tone.
“That calms my nerves a bit.” Sebastian scratched his head and exhaled a bit of a laugh. “But, I do have one more question about all of this. What color does evil energy exhibit?”
“It is a dark crimson color when observed in the lucid state. You can’t miss it. It’s so intrusive that its reach can obscure sunlight. That is exactly why it gets dark whenever they get near, so it’s actually quite easy to observe in your static state.” She answered as if she prepped all of her responses. She was good.
“Wow, thanks. You have been a huge help to me today. I think I would have died ten times over if I didn’t meet you.” Sebastian said in a light-hearted tone.
“Oh, of course, but you probably could have defeated them on your own.” She was always so reassuring and calm.
Sebastian spoke seriously and softly, “I mean it. I had never been so scared for my life. When I showed up in your meadow, the most calming feeling of happiness washed away my fears. Seeing you at that tree stump made me realize that everything was going to be alright.”
She nodded, “Mhm. I promise I will do my best to protect you, Bash.”
He responded, “And I will do anything to make sure your Lifeline isn’t severed.”
They both just stood there for a good minute, not knowing what to say. Wow, this was the first time that she was at a loss for words. But he said that like he knew her for thousands of years. Of course, given a small sample of time, he would notice that she just happened to not have a loss for words for most of the time. There were always those anomalies that stuck out.
Sebastian finally spoke up, “You know, I have my day off, so I can show you around the town if you’d like. Despite their protest on innovation, my people have been able to develop an amazing village. Why don’t you stay for a while and check everything out with me?”
She looked like she had just won the lottery or something, another phrase he learned from his grandfather. Her look of shock was met with an equal amount of silence. She slowly nodded her head, and her flustered appearance was put to an end by one of her calming smiles. “I would love to. Maybe you could show me where your dad and mom work, too.”
The two of them headed up the hill and through the path he had walked every day for six years. Only this time, Sebastian headed back before it was even midday. Their trek was mostly silent, but it wasn’t an awkward silence, for they were both fixated on the scenery.
Every once in a while, Sebastian would close his eyes and see just how much energy was in each of the trees. He was just so amazed by the marvels of the magical blue strings. Their walk was eventually met by the gate that welcomed the returning lumberjacks. Since everyone was still out working, Sebastian was the only one in line to Tommy Dean’s stand.
“Well, looks like you finally made your way back to town. But you know, you don’t have to go in line. You’re on vacation today! Unless you want me to take back what I said?” He raised his eyebrows. Sebastian knew he was full of shit, but it wasn’t that big of a deal He was about to tell him something unbelievable.
“Actually, I was just coming here to report the amount of trees I cut down. As you saw, I did cut down two, but there were more after that.” Sebastian leaned in a bit.
There was a pseudo-serious look on Tommy Dean’s face, and his low voice began to make a sound as if it were a life and death situation. “How many are we talking?”
Sebastian smiled smugly and held up a five and a zero with his hands. With that, Tommy Dean looked as shocked as a rat in a breaker box, but that priceless look went away as quickly as it washed over his face.
“You know, if any regular person said that, I would call them a long nose Joe, but from what I saw, I would believe anything. Damn, Seb, where did all those years go?” His expression was a bit downcast, seeming to display his fears of what Sebastian was up to. “How much longer are you going to stay here for? I know that look on your face. It’s the face that says, ‘I’m going to stir shit up in another land, and I’m not coming back.’”
He was good. Sebastian thought he had done a good job hiding his aspirations, but that was clearly a mistake on his part. Tommy Dean was clever, though, so it was hard to get anything past him. His eyes would just tear through someone’s disguise, regardless of how good it was, and he would immediately shut down any scheme someone had cooking up. If it weren’t for his good judgement, he likely wouldn’t have even been chosen for the check-in station job.
“You caught me,” Sebastian looked around, “I’m not sure when, but I am going to travel the world and uncover its mysteries. Zuri and I are going to cleanse it and make it a better place.”
Tommy Dean’s lamenting and sharp gaze, after burning a hole through Sebastian, quickly darted and softened as it reached Zuri. She nodded in agreement, which seemed to be sufficient enough to calm his nerves. “Mhm, well. I guess if you’re both going, it should be fine, but you better take care of that boy. He’s like a son to me.” His lips quivered.
“Cut it out, Tommy Dean, I haven’t even planned to go yet. It will probably be a good month or so before I do that. I want to make sure this here sword and I are in sync.” Sebastian pointed to the blade in his hand.
That seemed to reassure the man, and with that he let out a breath of relief and sat back down at his chair. “You worry me sometimes, Seb. Well, I guess it’s alright. I just don’t want you to run off without a proper sendoff. When you do decide to go off, come by my place. I’m always open.”
“Yeah, of course.” Sebastian nodded in a calm but excited manner.
“We most certainly will, sir.” Zuri said patiently with a jovial tone.
The two set off into the town to head to the construction zone where his dad would be working. The streets were very consistent and clean, which was probably a result of his mom’s nature, and every single building had that same wooden exterior and brightly decorated siding. With the heart of the town coming near, Sebastian could see that the size of each of the buildings had begun to increase.
They were so harmonious with their design that he could be spun around with a blindfold on and not know where he was after it was taken off. Zuri was happily tagging along, once again, studying each and every detail of the buildings with awe and care.
“You know, these buildings are much nicer than those steel ones. They were nice, but they weren’t as warm and friendly as the ones in this town.” She waited for a response from Sebastian, but he was still stuck trying to figure out what buildings she was referring to.
“Oh, you haven't seen one of them yet. They’re called skyscrapers, and they were extremely common half a millennium ago. I guess your people haven’t seen them yet.”
“Well, actually,” he tried to remember the dream he had last night, “I did see something. There were these towers that seemed to stretch on for infinity, but I previously thought they were made of stone.” He spared her the detail of the Hellhounds and other monsters scattered about, but he made sure to talk about the streets.
“Oh yes, those were skyscrapers. See, humanity was so crowded on this planet that they could no longer spread out for housing, so they had to build up. And those streets you saw, they were made of asphalt, which was a common material used to connect the many cities around the world. Humans would use these automobiles, run completely on their own, to get around and travel these vast distances. Some could travel hundreds of miles in mere hours.”
Hundreds of miles in hours? What kind of magic was that?
She seemed to see his confusion, so she started again, “Oh, it wasn’t magic. These humans had almost completely severed their relationship with nature, which, in turn, severed their connection with magic. Everything was automated, and they had spent so much time straying further and further from nature that they no longer had a need for the source of energy.”
“Wow, that sounds scary.” Sebastian could just imagine what defenseless humans would be like without a shield of magic protecting themselves from those monsters. Maybe that was why his people were so scared of innovation. They didn’t want to stray away from nature again, but the problem was that they were never magic sensitive. Maybe it was the forest and the reliance upon it that gave everyone their protection. He didn’t know, but it was as good a guess as anyone else’s.
They walked a bit more in silence until Sebastian could see his dad in the distance, chatting with his mom. They seemed so happy together, always having something to say. He hated to break up their conversation, but he was on vacation, and he intended to spend it right. As he got closer to his parents, his appearance seemed to catch their eyes, since they both glared over towards him. Within seconds of him getting into earshot of his parents, they both cried in unison, “Why aren’t you working?”
He retorted, “The check-in station has a new policy that allows someone a paid vacation day for showing ‘superior’ work effort, so I guess I was good enough for them to qualify for it. I decided to visit the two of you and introduce you to my new friend here.” He pointed to Zuri, who was as welcoming and happy as usual.
“Hi, my name is Azure, but you can just call me Zuri.” She waved at Sebastian’s parents.
Sebastian’s mom, who was not particularly buying his excuse, switched her suspicious attitude to a more welcoming tone. “Well, hi there. I’m Seb’s mom, but you can call me Olivia. He didn’t tell me he had such a beautiful friend.” She looked over at Sebastian, giving him that mom look that managed to drill fear into his body without anyone’s knowledge.
“And I am his dad, but you can just call me Peter. Yeah, it is kind of weird. How can you be making friends if you’re working all day, Sebastian? Is that why you were late yesterday? You wanted to meet up with——”
“Hey, cut it out! I was telling the truth. I just met her in line one day at the check-in station. She recently got the job in one of the sites deep in the woods. We just happened to bump into each other, and we started talking like we were long lost friends.” Sebastian’s lies were truly devious. He was sure he was just teeming with that crimson magic with every mistruth he told.
His parents seemed to buy it. They couldn’t stay long, since they had to get back to work, and they made it a point to say that ‘someone’s gotta work’ and ‘it isn’t all fun and games’. After their encounter, Sebastian thought it best to leave the town square, careful to not draw any more attention.
“You know, Bash, you surprise me with how quickly you can spin a tale. It’s quite amazing, actually.” Zuri quickly stated as they went back down the street they came in from.
“Yeah, well, I probably shouldn’t lie so much. My parents know I am up to something, and your kind presence was the only thing keeping them from prying me with deeper inquiries. We do have each other’s backs, though. Like partners in crime.”
“All the time.” Her voice trailed off as she continued to look at the carefully decorated buildings around the village. Looking at her excitement and happiness made Sebastian happier himself. She was so proper when he had first met her, but she did have a child-like mind at some points. Despite that, he knew what kind of a powerhouse she was, so it was an ironic thing to behold.
“So, Zuri, I have another question for you. You mentioned that there were many cities around the world and that there was a massive number of humans living in them, but you always referred to them as if they were a thing of the past. So, can you tell me one thing? Are there humans alive who don’t live within this forest?”
Zuri stopped moving around excitedly, and her awestruck look reverted to her normal patient gaze, “Do you actually want to know the truth, Bash?”
That was odd. Of course he did. That’s why he asked the question. Why would she ask him that unless there was something he didn’t want to know? Was the truth really so bad that he would be advised against hearing it? Regardless of what horrors riddled his mind or were to come, he wanted to know the truth about humanity.
“Yes, I am prepared to hear it. Don’t sugarcoat it. Don’t be reluctant to tell me. Are we alone?” Sebastian said and waited in apprehension.
“The truth is…” She looked down, “This is the last civilization on the planet left. Five hundred years ago, when I was put to rest, there was a war that obliterated everything, and, well, the humans killed themselves. The survivors of the closest city went deep into the forest, vowing to accept nature’s grace and protection, not wanting to develop planet-destroying technology anymore, and they made a village with my help that would protect them for the rest of time.
“This forest is a magical labyrinth designed to ward off predators, and it worked for the most part, but you discovered a weak area in the path and ended up facing those Hellhounds and finding me. I’m glad to see this place thriving. I didn’t know if it would last, but it turns out that humans are more capable than any creature I have ever seen.” She smiled to herself, clearly remorseful about something.
Sebastian didn’t know what to do with this information. That truth hit him like a brick. Everything was coming together, but, at the same time, falling apart. He was silent for a good minute, and his distress seemed to be picked up by Zuri, which made her even sadder.
Even so, he was still determined. “Do you think there are some humans who live out there in the world? Ones who aren’t technically part of civilization——no, what if there is civilization out there? The last time you were out in the world was five hundred years ago!” Sebastian just couldn’t accept that humanity only lived in Eden Village. “If so, let’s find them so we can save them from the cruelties of this world. I don’t care if we are the most advanced civilization on this war-torn planet, that just gives us even greater reason to do something about it and step up to lend a hand. So I’ll ask it again; Zuri, do you think we can save those people out there?”
Her happiness returned to her as she looked Sebastian in the eyes, “Yes. Together, we can save humanity.”