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The Spectral Mask
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PostSubject: - TENEO -   Sun Mar 27, 2011 8:08 pm

Prologue

We are barely able to grasp the boundaries of our own reality. For centuries, scientists have pondered and pushed against the plausible restraints of the human mind to understand who we were as a species, as a planet, as a solar system, as a galaxy, as a universe. Even today, with such incredible awareness of all that exists, our ignorance looms ahead. How long ago did we think the Earth was the center of the universe? Yet now, we know this is not true. We like to believe that existence is firmly divided in two; what is real and what is unreal. But this is hypocritical! What we believe is real might be one day discovered to be unreal, or the other way around. It doesn’t change the fact that it was unreal to begin with, only that we were unaware of its nonexistence a short time ago. Time and time again our own mistakes regarding the nature of existence as a whole have been proven to us by evidence undeniable; it has led many to loose faith in that existence. What we know today may be at any time disproven and a new understanding adopted and acknowledges only to in its own time be proven false.

One such belief is that existence pushes beyond the walls of the universe. The theory states that there may in fact me entire alternate universes, alternate dimensions, alternate realities. And if this theory is correct, then ignorance and knowledge, those two concepts which we hold so fatly to, may themselves be flawed. For how can something be false if, in another world altogether, it is true? And how can something be right if elsewhere it is wrong?

This is why someone who deals in entirely alternate universes, planes in which truth, falsehood, and existence may transcend, differ, or parallel our own, can not think of “known” and “unknown” being what is real and what isn’t; in the multiverse, the network of everything in existence and beyond, fact and fiction are places.

I ask you now to suspend your disbelief. The story I have set out to tell is one which takes place in an alternate reality, and as such will be, for a time, labeled fictitious. I will begin, therefore, to suggest that this story is entirely true. If there is, as the theory suggests, another universe separate from our own in which what is and what isn’t is different, then it is not too far a leap to suggest that there is a universe in which the story I tell exists in full. In fact, there may be a reality in which any single fact of our world is a fiction, and vice versa, or every possible combination rearranged.

Imagine, for example, a universe nearly parallel to our own. Every event, happenstance, law of physics, element, and detail of this dimension is exactly the same as our own, with one small difference...

A man, walking through his living room. He spots a fly, yearning to escape the confines of his abode but unable, the hard but invisible glass of the window preventing the flies escape. The man frowns, and pulls a tissue from the box and, in one swift, accurate attempt, kills the fly and tosses it in the trash.

In the alternate universe, however, a man walks through his living room. He spots a fly, yearning to escape the confines of his abode but unable, the hard but invisible glass of the window preventing the flies escape. The man frowns, and pulls a tissue from the box and, attacks it; he narrowly misses and the fly hovers near the pane for a while, settling back on its perplexing surface, only for the man to accurately kill the fly and toss it in the trash, just as had been done before.

This tiny happening means absolutely nothing. For the rest of both realities, all things will happen simultaneously and coexisting, with no detail slightly differed. But imagine that a third universe existed, again the same as the previous two; in the first, a young lady walks through a park beneath some apple trees, and one of the delectable red fruits falls right into her hands. However, in both our reality and that in which the fly took two times to kill, the girl pulled the apple on her own accord.

It would then stand to reason that these combinations would be nearly infinite, for truly the multiverse would never run out of new paths to take, new options to choose. And so every book, every story, every fable ever told; these fictions, unreal in our world, would therefore be true in another. Imagine these fantasies a reality, these tales come true. And I would put forward, as a result of this, to wager that the following sequence of events has occurred, or will occur, in several realities inhabiting the multiverse like our own. There may be slight differences between them, but the bulk of the events in this story happened in thousands or even millions of universes nearly exactly the same as the next, give or take a roaming fly or a falling apple...

&

Their travel hardly took more than an instant, which he wouldn’t have expected from someone as inefficient as his companion.

The being was of an esoteric sort, a dark figure who draped his shadow around himself, his facial features hidden by a grim aura of his own inevitable demise. A black cloak wrapped him, only making him feel colder in such a chilling destination, although he did not complain. He had expected freezing temperatures in a place such as this, if it could yet be called a place. A deep brown satchel, as dark but aesthetic as its contents, was draped his shoulder, half-hidden under the folds of his open cloak but not quite as concealed as it could be. His one occupied hand held firmly his weapon, one he was afraid he might need.

It was odd for him to be so cautious in a location such as this; there was no one here but himself and his two companions. In fact, there wasn’t anything at all. The three floated in an endless black void, a starless, empty expanse of nothingness. No light reached their eyes for there was no light, and if there was there was nothing to see.

This was why he felt his particles pulling together, condensing, with no larger mass, or any mass at all, to gravitate towards. A lack of oxygen would have been a worry; but luckily for the trio all of these needs had been foreseen. They were dressed like undersea divers, simple breathing devices pulled over their faces. They did not, of course, let this overshadow their own personal choice in apparel. A small, soft smile touched his lips as he looked at his companions flailing slightly, trying to comprehend the utter barrenness of this universe. His first ally was dressed in golden fabric, a surprisingly inexpensive material he had always been fascinated with. The breathing apparatus couldn’t hide his curiosity, or his excitement for the task he was so essential to. The other traveler was perhaps grimmer than the first, a dark grey robe over a frustrated, uneasily amused face. A beard grew on his chin and his eyebrows were furrowed, already sick of being made a fool in this matterless dimension, eager to get back to his own.

The group was one of travelers, but that is truly an understatement. The first traveler looked from golden to grey, feelings of respect and a twisted friendship washing over him. Both had come from a separate, alternate universe; they had journeyed under his leadership – if they had only come under it through questionable circumstances – knowing the danger they would face. These men, and he, had a task set for themselves, one they had no choice but to take. It was a task that faced steadfast opposition, but at last it was nearly complete.

The first of the travelers gave a silent wave to his companions and attempted to worm their way through nothingness. Their leader knew what he was doing, though; this universe was not entirely empty. It had a single point of matter, a seed of sorts, somewhere within it. All matter, at least in the universes the group had seen, pulled towards all other matter. It was a simple law of physics several worlds obeyed, and it would take them to the seed.

It wasn’t long before the group saw it, if time passed in void; a single point in which all of the matter in this universe rested. The leader looked to his second, and then to his third. They nodded to each other. It was time for the last phase of their journey together to begin.

The leader reached out his hand to the seed, bracing himself for the result of his next action. This could all end very poorly if his golden ally wasn’t fast enough, and the grey traveler – he was unnecessary to the mission, and had only endangered himself by insisting upon coming along. None the less, the first was glad for his company, however poor, now. If they all went down, then they would go down together.

Each held on to the golden one’s hand, squeezing, looking at the moment they had spent years preparing for and were now terrified of. The leader barely touched the seed, but as he did he sent a surge of his energy into it.

The trio, ever so fortunate, managed to transport themselves back home before the explosion of matter and antimatter vaporized them.

}I{

Their golden companion never did mention how long they waited before they returned to the universe they created, although their leader supposed it hardly mattered if they missed a few eons of matter blasting off of matter.

Of course, back at home, it had only been a few minutes to get everyone organized and return. The leader and his first two companions had only been the tip of the iceberg, a scouting party, just enough men to get the seed nourished and the universe moving, before returning with the entire alliance.

They had been working towards this for so many years. The leader needed to speak no words before they immediately got to work, each knowing exactly what they needed to do.

Each initiate to their alliance had a power, and each power was different, if they all had the same idea. Every individual member could manipulate a different kind of matter, an incredible, godlike power which would be catastrophic if it fell into the wrong hands. They called themselves the Shapers, an elite organization including one Shaper of each element, each single component of the universe.

They had begun with a simple task. The dimensional theory they had become accustomed to working with dictated that there was an alternate universe for every fathomable (and most likely unfathomable) possibility in and endless stream of simple two-way decisions. That meant, they had realized, there had to be countless, possibly infinite, scenarios in which the universe never came into existence in the first place, just a pointless pocket of dark matter and emptiness.

The Shapers had taken it upon themselves to rectify this.

The Shaper’s Leader, the first traveler, felt his feet touch a solid, forming rock. The Shaper of Stone stood behind him, molding raw energy into its new structure. That was all there seemed to be at the origins of a universe, or perhaps just a select few universes; raw energy. Each Shaper, however, could manipulate this energy into new forms. They had been forces to wait until they had gathered a Shaper for every element before their journey began, but it had been a success. Now all they had to do was convert this energy into materials and leave the universe on its way.

Of course, thought the Shaper’s Leader, I am perhaps the exception to this rule. For the leader, still looking dark and dreary but still with the wry, ironic smile, like a man who is joking before his death, did not shape in the same way as his companions. He had a separate, stranger job, a role to play which was separate. The power he had was not control over any one element that needed to be introduced to the newborn universe.

He was the Shaper of Life, and the energy he had expended on the seed of the universe was his contribution to its existence.

The Shaper of Stone was creating a large pillar of his element, pushing himself off, giving a loose salute to his leader after seeing he had been spotted. The Shaper of Life took the opportunity to rise out of his trance and take a gander at his surroundings. It was suddenly very warm, and those Shapers working nearby him were likely the cause. Fire, stone, and energy collided against each other, the natural happenings of the universe indistinguishable from the experiments of some of the younger Shapers. He was standing on a very large meteorite, now floating through space, but large enough to pull the newly created gas, oxygen, towards it. The golden clad Shaper had already removed his breathing mask, inhaling deeply. He glanced towards his leader, nodding, but fixed his eyes in a lonely stare at the Shaper of Life’s satchel.

Suddenly rather uncomfortable, the Lead Shaper drew his cloak over the brown bag, turning his attention foreword. His company from the Sprouting Group, the grey and golden cloaked Shapers, took either side of him, and the Shaper of Life became painfully aware of the bearded man’s gaze on his weapon.

He knew he had not always been a respectable leader, but especially when it came to interactions with the two of them. They were perhaps he closest allies, but hypocritically also his worst enemies. Each of them was bound to him in a rather questionable manner, a bind which at least one of them desperately wished to escape.

The man clad in grey was not a proper Shaper; his power wasn’t necessary to create a universe. His role had become a Toolmaker, a crafter of weapons and devices which had saved the Shapers from sticky situations in the past.

One such tool was contained in the satchel, and it was truly a tool which the golden one despised. The tool, they knew, was essential to ensuring the universe’s existence, but his golden friend loathed it with a passion, and his warm curiosity hid a burning hatred and hurt. The Golden Shaper had a power perhaps more significant than any other, the ability to travel from one universe to another. He was hardly efficient with that, and in occasional fits of perfectionist desires his Leader had considered replacing him, but while he was calm he knew he was truly irreplaceable, not because his power was unique, but because they had all grown too fond of him; and that was worth occasionally landing in the wrong place or time. It was why the Shaper of Life felt so guilty holding the all too necessary tool in his hand, knowing how much his ally must be hurting inside. The Shaper of Travel one had another function within the group, also; he had once managed to forge several very powerful weapons, which he had given to several of his allies. It was one of these weapons the Shaper of Life held now, and it was this weapon the Toolmaker lusted for.

It was ironic, really. Both of them had given their Leader a powerful artifact which the other now wished to possess, one to destroy it, and the other to use it. For better or for worse, though, both items were vital to completing their mission and saving this universe from a doomed eternity, and their leader felt confident that neither would endanger the mission for their own personal sake.

Very confident indeed.

}I{

The trio from the original party (the Toolmaker, the Shaper of Life, and the Shaper of Travel) now stood on a another chunk of solid substance, newly created by a Shaper, although the Shaper of Life had slipped deeper into his creeping depression and cared not to identify it. They were watching a demonstration by some of their more upbeat companions, which probably would have genuinely interested him on any other day.

It was light, reflecting off of charge air particles in a spectacular display. Each color was as if printed of translucent paper and waved about like a flag, distorted by the nearly random motions of pure oxygen.

The Shaper of Travel walked near his leader, letting out a low whistle. “We have those back home, too, you know,” he comments, “It’s a shame you still haven’t seen them,”

“A true shame,” the Shaper of Life mumbled, seeming more interested in his shoes than the display.

“Perhaps I should complete the experience?” asked a voice. Without looking, the cocky tone and the chill going up their spines told the Shapers present who the voice belonged to – the Shaper of Cold, whose power was simply to slow or quicken the movement of molecules, therefore controlling temperature. Like the Toolmaker, he hadn’t needed to come with them, as heat and cold weren’t elements and therefore didn’t needed to be molded out of energy; but all of the Shapers had come, everyone who had helped along the way.

The slick, white figure of the Shaper of Cold joined the trio in their watching, the other Shapers playing around with light and air below them, rigging this haunted view. The Shaper of Cold nodded smugly, remembering some event or another in his homeland. “Good times, good times,” he grinned, looking over at his companions. Suddenly his smile shrunk as he gazed inquisitively over his fellow Shapers. “Are you folks all right?” he pondered, looking over them.

The Shaper of Travel nodded absently, “Yeah, I am,”

A slow nod growing faster came from the Shaper of Cold. “You and our noble leader seem to be in la-la-land, and Grey and Grim over there isn’t even trying to hide it,” This received a low grunt from Grey and Grim himself. “So what’s bugging you?”

The Shaper of Life turned to face the three of them with a sigh. “I should tell you, I suppose,” he managed to struggle out, “You have traveled with me away from your homes, your families, and, in most cases, your dimensions I cannot truly comprehend,”

A grin came from the ever curious Shaper of Travel, his interest suddenly renewed. It was true; his home universe was far different from his leaders.

“You have at last completed your journey, and we have collected a number great enough to Shape a universe together,” their leader continued, each word taking longer to force out, “You expect we will soon travel home, our goal accomplished. But you are wrong; we shall not return. At least, not all of us. For most of you, I believe a return to your roots, long awaited, is a reward enough for helping me save an entire world from an eternity of void. But when you return, you shall do so alone,”

By this point, a crowd of Shapers had gathered; perhaps a dozen, although this was only a fraction of their entire organization.

“It is my doom to remain here,”

}I{

Slowly all of the Shapers gathered on a chunk of rock and metal large enough to hold them all. The original trio stuck close together, the Shapers of Life, Travel, and the Toolmaker standing an arm’s width apart from each other, facing the crowd.

The Shaper of Life let out another breath and continued speaking. “Many years ago, our organization set out to save a universe. Unfortunately, simply setting it in motion, however great and difficult a task it was, isn’t enough to truly save and preserve it,” he paused, ensuring he had their attention. Most of the Shapers watched dumbly or confused, but he could feel the cold stares of the Toolmaker and Traveler behind him. He began again, saying, “I shall remain behind with some supplies to sustain me until an inhabited planet becomes available, and ensure that everything goes according to plan,”

“According to your plan?” came the Toolmaker’s skeptical voice.

“Yes,” the leader said, gulping, “Shaper of Power, please step forward,”

The Shaper of Power did so. He was an odd, spiderlike man, a fellow who honestly made the Shaper of Life feel unease; or perhaps that was merely the situation. “I have done my duty, my lord,” he said, a slight wheeze running under his breath.

“A duty you discussed with none of us, my lord,” the Traveler broke in. Both the Shaper of Travel and the Indentured Servant walked around their leader to face him, the former from his right and the latter from his left. The Traveler folded his arms disapprovingly, while the Toolmaker clucked his tongue.

Why am I so nervous? the Shaper of Life wondered, What have I to fear with these men and women who stood at death’s door with me? Who fought the vilest thing in our universe by my side? Of course, he realized, it wasn’t their universe as a group. They inhabited it for much of their lives, and true, some had been born and raised there. But he had uprooted them from their homes for incredibly difficult tasks, and now he was sending them back, with what? Contentment? A job well done?

“Of course,” said the Toolmaker, “He stays here, having created a universe, to be worshiped as a god and see his little scheme play out, and what to we get?” The Shaper of Life saw the Toolmaker’s eyes flicker to the weapon his leader was carrying. “Nothing,”

“And what is your master plan, lord?” the Traveler asked.

The Life-Giver straightened his posture and tried to calm himself. “I have no delusions of godhood. You know that, and you know me. I lead you because you wished to be led, led towards this noble purpose – ”

“Some of us had no choice,” the Toolmaker said quietly.

All of the Shapers fell silent for a moment, but the Shaper of Life broke the silence, “Some day, the universe will again be in jeopardy. We will not be here to save it; not all of us. And so, the Shaper of Power has created an Energy within this universe, and energy which surrounds us even now. This Energy shall give certain individuals power nearing what we posses, the ability to influence some element, some aspect of existence. I will watch over them, guide them towards their goal ... ”

You would,” the Traveler interrupted.

“And they will triumph, the universe preserved,” the Life-Giver finished, “Now, it is time for us to part,” he nodded at the Traveler, who, despite still looking like a father who had seen his child act disgracefully, began his work. Each Shaper, one by one, left their current location and returned to their home.

The Shaper of Life began sauntering away. He had known for some time it would come to this, and he truly regretted breaking up the alliance this way. Again, he looked at the two items he carried; the satchel, with its contents the Traveler dreaded, and the weapon of the Toolmaker’s dreams. He knew giving up either would endanger the world he had worked so hard to save, but perhaps he could spare with one of them. His ally deserved it, after all. True, the two were bitter with each other at times, but the Life-Giver felt that all of the Shapers were, in the end, allies and companions to each other.

It was at that moment, the second in which he decided he would give up one of his possessions, that one of the two who accompanied him to nourishing the seed used his power upon his leader.

The pain coursed through the Shaper of Life’s body, causing him to fall to the rocky surface, wreathing in pain. It was a truly torturous feeling, as if he was being torn in two, a deep black evil reaching into him and twisting his soul. His head throbbed and his limbs burned; the pain was indescribable. Then, inexplicably, it stopped. That's odd, he remembered thinking, He could have killed me.

And, as unconsciousness washed over him, he found himself thinking, he should have killed me.

He didn’t know how long it took to wake up. The Shaper of Cold stood above him, a hand outstretched.

Rising off the metal surface was harder than the Shaper of Life could have imagined, the lingering affects of the traitor’s power aching inside him. He surveyed his surroundings, which hardly improved his mood. One of his closest advisors remained, along with the Shaper of Cold, the Shaper of Power, the Traveler, and the Toolmaker. The traitor, of course, was in custody of the advisor, his arms pinned behind his back as he stared at the ground in anger and shame.

“What ... happened?” the Life-Giver moaned.

The Shaper of Cold frowned. “This creep,” he said, jerking his thumb in the traitor’s direction, “Tried to take you on after most of us had left. Had it just been the three of you, he probably would have killed you,”

“It was just the three of us earlier ... ” the Shaper of Life said, his mind slowly wrapping around what had occurred, “He still could have killed me. Why didn’t he ... ” his voice trailed off, seeing one of his companions face down in the ground.

“He jumped between the two of you,” the Shaper of Cold whispered, “And took more of the hit. He’s still alive, but ...”

“He will never be the same,” the Advisor finished, “It’s ironic, actually. They both went with you for the nourishing, and while one ends up trying to kill you, the other sacrifices himself on your behalf,”

The Life-Giver barely responded to that comment, suddenly filled with a pain completely separate from the attack. He had been betrayed; worse, he had likely caused it. Both the Traveler and the Toolmaker had every right to attempt that, there was no question about it. He had considered himself a good leader; now, he questioned his own actions. Now, of course, it was too late; the plan had been made, and too much had been sacrificed for it. Stopping now would make it all in vein. But what was worst of all, he had been determined in that last instant to give on of the items, the item he thought the universe might be able to cope without, to his companion.

The companion who had become the traitor.

And now, he knew that the second item certainly couldn’t be let go of, and this brave Shaper who has risked his life and probably ruined the rest of his existence, could not be fulfilled.

The remaining Shapers had to help, nearly force, the miserable Traveler to take the rest of them away, back to their home. The others would ask what happened, and they would be answered. The Shaper of Life would remain in the universe he had nourished and overseen the creation of, miserable. Something inside of him was missing; even when he had been in his depression, he could hide it with a fake smile, an ironic humor. Now, that too was gone.

The Life-Giver looked out over the universe, matter colliding and exploding, gases merging and reforming. He knew a planet would be created, a planet which would be inhabited by intelligent creatures, which he would watch over and protect. But the vigor he had expected for this new task, whether real or forced, was not to be found. He had given energy to the universe; now, it seemed as if the universe had stolen it from him.

He would watch over the planet with a face of stone and a heart of steel, his shadowy cloak wrapped tight, unable to let anything pass its membrane, isolated. He would be a proper guardian; the planet would live up to the potential it needed. He would settle on the planet, and hope he could find contentment in fulfilling his quest.

Hopefully he could make a comfortable living on Teneo.

}I{

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PostSubject: Re: - TENEO -   Sun Apr 03, 2011 1:01 pm

Chapter One

Farnik closed the ancient text, grinning stupidly, with the words, “And so our Universe came to be,”

The sixteen year old Haporian stood behind of a hardwood podium in a dimly lit chamber deep beneath the Raunoran Manor. It was a gaping cathedral, shaped like the inners of a sphere with a wavy ceiling culminating behind a raised platform in its back, the throat of a great beast swallowing their loyalty whole. The floor had been courteously leveled for the twelve rows of benches, side by side, to rest upon, a healthy number of followers imbedded in the bleachers, mystified by the tales spun in this room of heresy.

Barely even of age, Farnik was held with the respect of a demigod. It had been little over a year ago when the Haporian settler’s son had broken into a restricted library – books the Guild thought were too dangerous to allow in the hands of its governed yet containing knowledge which might one day be valuable, and so could not be destroyed. In simpler terms, most books.

Farnik and his twin brother Jenro had happened upon this one tome, a black leather book imbedded with a green gem engraved with a symbol, ‘}I{’. Some whispered it might be a butterfly, or a flower; perhaps this was their deity’s own symbol. It had become a rallying point for this secretive cult, a small group of people who had heard the stories the Guildsmen-To-Be had to tell about Shapers and Riftspawn and had treasured them. It was sadly ironic that what the symbol truly meant was much darker, much more dangerous than any of these Haporians and Queritor could imagine. That was part of the appeal, actually; the mystery. Teneo had orbited once around the sun since the twin’s father, Lord Raunoran, advisor and scholar to the Guild, had begun translating the Book of Gia’Kun, and letting rumors spread about what was told inside. Raunoran was a Queritor sympathizer, or whom in the Guild there were very few, or, from some standpoints, many. There were very few Haporians in this hall, brought here to gape like sheep at the adolescent babblings of two boys and their half-mad father and this strange but wonderful book they had found.

One audience member was not impressed. J’ang never knew his father, but his mother had always fawned over the also single father of three, Lord Raunoran. She worked in a partnership housecleaning with another wife in the village and was often on Raunoran’s payroll. She was one of the first to whisk herself and her only son, J’ang, away to this torchlit world; she would be the last to leave.

J’ang wanted out now. He hated this stupid religion, he hated Gia’Kun, the Shaper of Life, the Toolmaker and the Traveler; most of all he hated Haporians. They were travelers from another world, it had been said, who settled on Queritor land. This continent was once a lush, green place teeming with plant and animal life; a war between Haporians and Queritors had destroyed the rainforest in an epic wildfire. The Haporians drove the Queritor up into a desolate mountain range, secretly hoping for them to die.

A group of sympathizers called the Authoritarian Guild, their easily recognizable symbol painted on their shields, had come to their rescue. The Guild defended the mountain region and helped the Queritor become settled in their new home. For some time, they were viewed as saints, saviors, heroes.

Then the Gorrin Dynasty began. The Heir to a major subhouse had surveyed the bitter conditions of the mountain range and determined it one of the harshest places on Teneo, perhaps rivaled by the desert, but the Haporians down southwest had already built their shiny Fortresses and were very happily safe. The Heir, a vicious Haporian named Gorrin, began training a military in the unrelenting snow storms outside the boundaries of struggling villages. He was appointed general of their army, and, in one fell swoop, wiped out the ruling house, becoming Head Guildsman. He changed the title to match his name, and decided that every first-born son in this Dynasty would be named Gorrin after him.

These events occurred almost a millennium ago. Gorrin the Seventeenth was the ruler now. He continued the traditions of his ancestors; the Queritor and their Haporian rulers were kept in separate villages. The Queritor worked in a socialist system, doing as their masters and mistresses commanded, in the medial labor jobs. The Guild kidnapped and trained Haporian children into their army, and rented out their muscle and stealth to Fortresses in the desert. In this day and age, they were the Authoritarian Guild no longer; they were the Assassin’s Guild.

Everywhere J’ang looked, he seemed to see Haporians oppressing, hurting, and stealing from Queritor. Lord Raunoran might be a kind master, and he might seem like their savior; but so had the Guild a thousand years ago. J’ang, a young Queritor of thirteen, soot black hair and faintly yellow complexion, fumed in his pew as Farnik monologued about the Shaper’s Tool and Weapon, and about how the Shaper of Life had given us the Lord of Growth, Gia’Kun, to protect the native people. But to J’ang, the Shaper of Life was a Haporian too; a traveler, a settler who had come into a new world and made himself dominant, thinking he new better than the Queritor People who inevitably sprung up on this planet, promising to protect them. If Gia’Kun was meant to care for them, then how could the Haporians destroy thousands of acres of forest? If the Shaper of Life was their guardian, why had he not drained the very life force from their enemies and planted the rainforest anew? Surely he had the power!

But J’ang defended his mother, and went with her to these underground meetings at her bidding. He sat in the pew, stirring in his own frustration, as she hung on to every word out of that stupid book. Raunoran was about to speak, J’ang noticed, and he let out a small moan, which earned a reprimanding look from his mother.

Raunoran was a Haporian; you could hear it in his name, see it in his posture. Their noses were set and large, their hair any color, rivaling the smooth, pale skin and brown hair of the Queritor. His eyes were slightly glassy, always, and he often had his mug nearby; the lord had a love for steam and warmth. Fire was outlawed among the Queritor, after the forest had been burned to the ground. Fire was freedom, thought, and kindness. The Guild agreed it was for the best no fires were lit, even in the freezing, biting wind; the Queritor has learned to fear it.

“My friends, my neighbors,” Raunoran said, his smile warm and welcoming, but also seeming in a way superior, as if he was the lone adult speaking to children, his mouth curving upwards at the sight of their adorable ignorance, “I have come to think of us all, Haporian or Queritor, as family,”

“Gorrin and his ancestors have imposed upon you their will for too long. I came to work for him as a translator and a scholar, but I have seen his intentions,” the lord paused, his face hardening, “He tells you that your people need him, need my people. He is a fool. The Queritor survived for centuries in a lush, green paradise unrivaled in the world. My people arrived, and there was conflict between us, regrettable death. We did not realize that there was room enough on this continent for all of us to coexist,”

My people welcomed yours, J’ang thought bitterly, Your people are to blame. It’s your fault, it’s all your fault!

“The lies of our self-proclaimed ruler are clear. Is there anyone gullible enough to believe Gorrin protects you – Does quieting your voices protect you? Kidnapping our children? Locking away innocent people for speaking out against him?”

Our children? J’ang wondered, You have up your twins to training freely, and you’ve done the same to your youngest son. The Guild doesn’t want Queritor assassins, only Haporian.

“The Guild has taken away your freedom, your decedents, and many of your lives. But what they took last of all is the greatest insult – he took away your faith, your protector, your Gia’Kun,”

This last line received some attention. The Queritor followers of Raunoran had known Gorrin and his cronies had locked away this book. But what he was suggesting now was preposterous – had their leader truly been so unkind to have stolen it from them? Could it be that...

“I have translated a new section of the Book, hardly believing it myself,” Raunoran continued, obvious pain in his voice, his speech slightly strained, “The Queritor had been worshipping the Life-Giver and Gia’Kun for centuries and the Guild outlawed the Books, destroying all but one,”

There was an uproar, and even J’ang became outraged. There wasn’t any religion practiced in the mountains, excepting their own slowly growing meetings this past year and any other cults they didn’t know about. The Queritor did not even know what religion was; when they learned about Gia’Kun they had been fascinated. Never before had anyone wondered how the universes had been created, or considered any supernatural being their caretaker.

“Soon, these wrongs will be corrected,” Lord Raunoran spoke, his voice gaining speed, and power, “Queritor and Haporians shall live side by side. A man or woman shall walk down the street and speak a word against their governors, and no harm shall come to them, nor will it be considered outlandish. Soon, the Guild will be overthrown,”

“Soon,”

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