In the northern lands, where the lush, dense forest of evergreens gives way suddenly to ice and rocks, most travelers stop. They say there is nothing else to see in such a barren waste. Very few even bother to climb to the top of the first mountain, and for those who do, it is a treacherous hike; loose rock, and deceptive heights are enough to undo even the best if they are not careful. After the long and dangerous hike to the top, adventurers are rewarded with a view of a narrow, steep sided valley made of the same loose rock as the other side. Very few indeed venture across the desolate valley to the next mountain range. Almost none ever bother to climb the third range. No one ever has enough supplies to even bother with the fourth. They would actually have to cross another two ranges before they would see anything resembling life again.
As you start down the slope of the sixth mountain range, the first thing you notice is that unlike all of the previous narrow, winding vales, this valley is actually circular in nature, much like a giant caldera of some long extinct volcano, or the crater left by some enormous meteor. No volcano ever existed here, however. No, closer inspection of the area would reveal rock formations that no volcano or meteor ever could have created. Some of these lumpy extrusions, which appear to be nothing more than strange rock and ice protrusions, are in truth some of the strangest plants ever known. If you were to be quiet and still for a while, you might even see one of these plants get up and move. Wait a little longer and you might actually get to see some of the residents of this land. To some people, these creatures might appear grotesque; a hodge-podge of creatures that shouldn’t go together. To these creatures, however, nothing could be more beautiful than the variety and mixture that flourishes on The Edge.
The Edge gets its name from the fact that it exists on the edge, truly the very edge, of reality. When the land was created, Ovven purposefully left the Edge less finished than the other portions of the world. To those who are sensitive, as many on The Edge are, the fabric of reality is tangible. On The Edge, reality is also much more loosely woven than it is in other places, and therefore much more easily torn. There are fewer beings in The Edge that are willing to tear reality than there re creatures that can feel it, for fewer still, maybe one in one thousand can survive the chaos that lies beyond. Such an unfinished state is just more proof to the residents of The Edge that life is fragile, held together by literal threads. The tearing of reality is not the only danger in The Edge, there are many more, not least of which is the ever present threat of war between the clans. The stronger the clan, the greater the threat is. There is only one clan that does not participate in such wars: The Guardians. The only complete clan to posses the ability to survive Chaos itself, the Guardians are kept too busy keeping balance in their tenuous reality to bother with the petty squabbles of neighboring clans. And those neighboring clans learned long ago to leave The Guardians be, unless they had a wish to see Chaos for themselves.
During many years that The Guardian Clan has inhabited The Edge, they have developed their sense of reality so much that they can actually sense any disturbance that happens within the boundaries of The Edge. They are the ones that respond when such a disturbance takes place, sending select members to fix any and all problems that might have occurred. Such problems include the accidental tearing of reality, sudden deposits of random matter into The Edge, and, much more rarely, the occasional wayward visitor. That was how Riantz first found the newest arrival to The Edge.
“Good day to you, traveler!” The creature’s greeting arrived several seconds before he himself touched down. His lower portion landed with a slight thud and immediately started oozing mucus upon the ground. Folding the enormous black wings around himself so that they formed a sort of living cloak that hid the disturbing sight of his slug like body, the man gave a stiff bow. “I am Riantz, of the Guardian Clan, ad I welcome you to The Edge.”
There was a pause as the new arrival glanced around, no emotion playing on his face. The wind, playful as always, flitted through the creature’s white hair, whispered tentatively around the ragged black wings upon his back, and wrapped itself around his draconic tail. If it hadn’t been for the fact that the rest of him was humanoid, he might have been mistaken for a resident of The Edge.
Finally the foreigner spoke, “Where in exactly in Rey is this “edge”?” His eyes never focused on Riantz, but continued to sweep over the strange landscape.
“I am sorry, good stranger, but I know nothing of this Rey. The Edge is an entity unto itself, though it is rumored that beyond the mountains lie many strange lands.” The smile was sincerely sorry. “You are welcome to stay or leave at your leisure, stranger, but I would suggest staying, at least until the Guardians can put together an expedition to take you over the mountains. Traveler-“
“Dyne,” The word cut Riantz off. “My name is Dyne and I am now certain that this isn’t Rey.” His emotionless eyes closed. Damn you Zack! he cursed silently, You sent me to some forsaken place when you should have killed me. Why? Why?!
A hand on his shoulder caused him to open his eyes again.
Riantz was watching him. “Dyne, we all have our guilts.” His amber eyes turned away, “Mine happens to be my sister.”
“Were you,” Dyne hesitated half a second, “Were you reading my thoughts?”
“No, I am not privileged enough to read minds. I sometimes read auras, though, and yours speaks of a great sorrow.” Riantz turned, “Come, it is getting late and we must make it back to the clan.” He glanced over his shoulder at Dyne. “Will those things carry you?” He asked, referring to the ragged black wings that protruded from Dyne’s back.
“No,” The reply was soft and tinged with the slightest bit of emotion, though Riantz couldn’t make out what it might be.
“Well, I’ll just have to carry you then.” He moved a few feet away, leaving a trail of ooze. “Don’t be alarmed by what I’m about to do.”
While Dyne watched with little interest, a light mist suddenly appeared around Riantz, covering him completely. The mist started to shift, boil and grow. Then, just as suddenly as it had appeared, the mist was gone. Riantz was still there, but he appeared now as an enormous winged serpent. A frill of what Dyne assumed to be spike like scales surrounded the neck and head of the beast, mirroring Riantz’s humanoid black hair. The whole thing glistened wetly in the faint and dying sunlight.
“Hop on,” Riantz almost whispered in an attempt to keep his voice from booming.
With a barely perceptible nod, Dyne did so, jumping onto what he assumed would be a hard and scaly back. Appearances, however, were deceiving. What he had taken before to be scales and spikes, Dyne now found were a type of feather, as soft as the finest down he had ever felt. So soft were they that Dyne almost didn’t notice the slick, oily, mucus like secretion that coated them.
“Sorry, I forgot to warn you about that,” Riantz said amiably as Dyne pulled his hand away with a grunt, “That stuff is what protects me from chaos when I have to close a tear in reality.” A ripple ran through the full length of his long body, whether of remembered excitement or of something else, it was unclear. “Let’s move.” And sudden they were airborne, traveling high and fast towards the clan’s den.
They arrived half way through the evening meal, though to sizable portions had been left for Riantz and any companions he might bring. The matter upon the platters in front of them was hardly recognizable to Dyne as food. For a while he simply sat and stared at it while everyone around him ate. As he stared at nothing, however, a young child of the clan bounced over and happily started showing Dyne how he was supposed to eat the various things on his plate. Ignoring the child almost completely, Dyne ate. He had just picked up a knobby, fibrous plant with a rather pungent odor to it when he noticed the child was gone. He looked around and noticed that most of the clan had drifted over to a corner of the den where they were all lying down together.
“Dyne,” The white haired demon turned at the sound of Riantz’s voice, “You must come, the Shift is about to take place.”
Looking decidedly unimpressed, Dyne asked, “What exactly is this Shift, and what’s it got to do with me?”
“The Shift,” Riantz replied, “Is an event that occurs every night with the setting of the second moon. It is a time when reality reorders itself and repairs any damage that has been done to reality during the day. Any temporary fixes made by the Guardians is also fixed permanently. To keep the beings of The Edge safe from harm during The Shift, we are all temporarily taken out of reality. Everyone falls asleep during this time and only wake again once we have safely returned. You must come, though, or else you will get lef…” He faltered suddenly, his eyes closing just before he collapsed.
Raising an eyebrow, Dyne stood and took two steps towards were the creature had collapsed.
It wasn’t until Dyne opened his eyes and discovered that he was no longer in the clan cave that he realized that The Shift must have occurred. Glancing around, he couldn’t see any rock formations that looked familiar either. He was definitely lost. How he was going to find the Clan suddenly became the least of his worries, however, as a series of scrabbling sounds reached his ears. He turned to see several greenish-grey “plants” scurrying down an embankment towards him, their tentacle like roots sliding along faster than he would have thought possible. The plant things were vaguely familiar; for a moment, Dyne couldn’t place where he had seen them before. Then he remembered. A glance down confirmed it. He was still holding one of their cooked brethren: the odiferous vegetable he’d taken from the clan’s table.
“No problem,” Dyne said aloud as he threw away the plant carcass, “I’ll just fry ‘em.” He called upon his massive quantity of DYNE..and nothing happened. The plants launched themselves through the air, attaching themselves to him on impact. Annoyed now, he tore at them only to find that removing them left gaping wounds where the roots had already burrowed deep into his skin. Blood poured out of the wounds as even more of the parasitical plants arrived and launched themselves at Dyne. These too he tore from his body, but for ever one he removed it seemed that for every one he removed, two more attacked. He could feel himself beginning to weaken as the plants drained him of blood faster than even his superhuman body could replace it.
“Yaah!” Twin blades of transparent stone were suddenly dancing around Dyne, slicing the plants off. He pulled out the stumps that had been left while watching one of the prettiest tiger demons he had even seen fight the plants still on the ground. At least, he assumed she was a tiger demon. She certainly looked nothing like the other creatures he had seen in this world. She was the only being he had yet to behold who had a completely humanoid body. She definitely wasn’t human, though. No human would ever be covered in fur so thick, have a tail so long, or be graced with cat ears so large. Long silver hair flowed gracefully down her back, or rather, would have if she had been standing still. As she fought, it flowed around her like water dancing around a rock.
For a moment it appeared that she was winning; the plants seemed to draw back in retreat. It was only for a moment, though. All at once every plant present launched themselves at her. She was covered; so many plants hit that some were actually forced away. The pile collapsed in upon itself as the host was overcome. Before Dyne could do anything more than raise an eyebrow, an explosion of intensely bright golden light from underneath the writhing mass of plants blinded him. He blinked several times before he could see again. When his sight returned only the tiger was left in front of him; the plants had all disappeared mysteriously. Or perhaps not so mysteriously: Dyne could see what looked like the charred remains of one of the plants not so far away.
“Are..are you..okay?” The tiger asked, her lungs heaving.
“I could have handled them.” Dyne frowned. “What’s your deal, I had them.”
The cat shrugged. “Whatever. I had a bone to pick with those stupid plants anyways. I’m not a Guardian that I go protecting people.” With that she plopped down where she had been standing. “I have to say, that’s a pretty neat trick how you got rid of your wounds so fast. Name’s Silver, by the way.”
“Dyne,” He muttered. Nodding, Silver watched him. Dyne looked down to see the wounds that had covered him were almost entirely healed. “I heal fast,” he shrugged, “I need to find the Guardian Clan.”
“Actually, it would probably be faster for you just to wait here if they are looking for you. Which means, of course, I should probably be getting out of here.” She tried to stand, but didn’t get very far.
“Why?” There was what might have been a hint of curiosity in his voice.
“Well, you see, my brother is in that clan, and he doesn’t like me very much. In fact, he’s sworn to kill me. His name is Rianz, and he’s—”
“Get away from him!” The feathered serpent flew in low, knocking Silver back. He landed between the two that had been on the ground, changing back into his normal form. “You filthy, disgusting creature!” He yelled, turning on Silver, “You have no right in line to even come near one of the clan’s guests. I shall kill you!”
Silver rolled her eyes, though there was some trepidation in her gaze. “You say that every time you see me.”
“And one of these days, dear sister, I will kill you!” He snarled, drawing his sword, “Hopefully that day will be today!” A slashing strike of blackened energy flew towards Silver. She wasn’t there, however. Riantz turned to see Dyne setting her down.
“Stop! You don’t know who it is you are protecting!” The feathered serpent warned.
“She protected me,” Dyne answered quietly, “And that’s all I care about. I will repay my debit to her.”
Riantz frowned at the two of them. “Dyne, that thing is not even worth the flesh of which she is made. She should have rotted back into the earth many years ago. Protecting her will only hasten you along the same path to destruction. I shall give you but one warning: Shat out of this or you shall perish.”
“Yeah right,” Dyne smirked, “You can’t touch me.”
“We shall see, Dyne, we shall see,” Riantz’s words were quietly threatening.
Not willing to wait through any more banter, Silver jumped at her brother, her twin short swords flashing a warning, “Leave him out of this, Riantz! Fight me! Kori and Tsume can take anything you can—” Her words were cut short as Riantz’s blade slit her stomach from side to side.
“Fool, you left yourself wide open to my attack,” Riantz watched with disdain as she dropped to her knees, sidestepping Dyne’s attack. “Well, at least now things will get more interesting.”
As he spoke, a golden light, the same shade as the explosion that finished off the plants, seeped through the fingers Silver had pressed to her abdomen. Slowly at first, then more rapidly, the golden hue spread outwards along Silver’s body, covering her completely. There was a bright burst and the light that covered her was gone, leaving a different creature behind. Hair as brilliant as the sun hung down in rivulets, and a golden color tinged her skin. Even her once silver eyes were now gold. She shown with a light greater than that of the pale sun just rising. With an unconcerned look adorning her feature, Gold surveyed the scene before her.
Before she had truly had a chance to assess the situation, however, Riantz struck. His savage blows might have landed too, had Dyne not caught with his bare hands the energy Riantz had thrown. Blood ran silently down as he stood there, holding the two black slashes of energy.
“Riantz,” Gold shook her head, “You have broken you sacred oath as a Guardian. You have, intentionally or otherwise, attacked an outsider. You will be punished.” She stood slowly, dragging with her the single long, thick blade that lay beside her. “Tsuko, the Sword of Souls, shall be your judge, and, if necessary, your executioner.” She pointed the blade at him; the weapon throbbed with energy. “Goodbye, brother.” She let go, sending the sword sailing towards Riantz.
Try as he might, Riantz just couldn’t become the feathered serpent fast enough. The mist was just receding when Tsuko pierced his wings. He roared in pain as the hilt followed the blade, punching an even bigger hole. The sword kept right on flying until it lodged itself in the ground. As he looked at the sentient sword suspiciously, Riantz found he was growing sleepy. He turned to see Gold standing by him. Writhing, he tried to twist away from her, but found that he couldn’t.
“Fear not, brother, for you have already been judged.” He froze. “My brother, I believed you to be evil, but Tsuko thinks otherwise. I have misjudged you.” Gold then put Riantz to sleep.
After she had healed her brother’s wounds, Gold turned to Dyne. “I thank you twice over, Dyne, both times for my life. Now I will do what I can for you.” She reached out and took his hands, healing what his body hadn’t. “It is little enough,” she said with a sigh, “but it is all I can do for now.”
Dyne blinked as Gold’s light flared one last time before going out. He caught Silver as she fell. The fool had used the last of her energy on him. He hoisted her into his arms. “I will protect you.”