Chapter 1 : Awakening
"What annoying weather!" complained the young traveler, as he rushed to find shelter from the rain.
But he was right. It had been raining since morning and the young man was drenched in water. Downpour had always been an annoyance to journeyers, who were usually left irritated and restless. Covered in glistening water, the landscape blended together in a saturation of green. Land and sky were imbued with this perfect green, hinting at signs of life.
The young man seemed unimpressed by this harmony, anxious to locate some place to stay away from the rain. The long journey must have worn him out physically; still his eyes showed some vivid look that only belonged to fresh adventurers.
His walk slowed to a crawling speed, maybe because the sense of futility was gradually overpowering him. He looked bedraggled and beaten now, as if his body was telling him to give in to this rain, this land and this green.
Suddenly, he spotted a large tree - shelter! This evergreen life seemed to remain hidden in the scenery eternally, and only revealed itself as the young man approached. As if full strength had come back to him, the young man hurried toward the tree. At that very moment, he had a strange feeling run through his body, a feeling of home. The tree covered him, embraced him and welcomed him.
However, to his surprise, he found someone already there, another refugee just like him. Before he even had time to enjoy a bit more of the warm feeling he just had, he noticed this disturbing existence in front of him. Something black, completely unfitting in the picture of green.
It was an old man.
It was hard to tell if it was still alive, even harder to tell if it was truly a human being. He was just there, not showing the slightest move or sign of life, emitting an aura of unrest.
The young man closed in, carefully examining the being with his amateur experience as an adventurer. After being sure that it was indeed a human, the young man tried talking to him.
"Hi... are you alright?"
The old man didn't manifest any reaction. It was only after the young man repeated himself three times that the motionless being raised his head slightly. He gave a quick glance over the unknown face standing in front of him, and then returned to his previous mindless state.
The young man sighed and sat next to him since it was the only spot which was hardly wet. Nonetheless, he appeared relieved after knowing that he was not sitting next to a corpse, and to some extent he was actually happy that he had someone to talk to, even if the listener didn't show any interest.
"Say... what are you doing out here?"
The old man remained in his slumber.
"I am on my way to Zeal, the greatest capital of all magic," the young man tried hard to communicate with his only companion, "are you heading there too?"
"Oh, and by the way, I am a magic apprentice. Had the rain been lighter, I would have set up some fire for us," he added.
The young man brought out from his pocket a small piece of amber with a dimly glowing symbol inside. As he focused his mind on it, the glow became a bright shine and small flames sprang up from his hand, licking but failing to ignite the wet chunk of wood they were aimed at.
"This is the best I can do for now. But I am sure that I can get better once I reach Zeal. After all, the best magi of Estiah are gathered there." He looked excited, like any adolescent eager to learn, enthusiastic about the world.
While the young man carried on a monologue on his own, somehow he failed to notice that each time he pronounced the word "Zeal", the body of his listener would tremble unconsciously. As if, despite a mind which had been paralyzed by age, his body still recalled all the torment and anguish he had suffered. Since his face could be hardly seen, it was not possible to tell whether the name of the ancient capital had caused him fear or regret. The longer he stayed in the scenery full of birth and life, the more he was revealed to be alien to this place, and the heavy rain was not enough to wash off the breath of death he released.
Completely unaware of the changes undergoing in the companion, the young man talked continuously. He told about his birthplace, his training to become a mage, and eventually his ideals. He simply could not stop; he needed to tell all the things he knew. He had a strange feeling that the moment he stopped talking, his only companion would leave him alone. He believed his stories were keeping the old man alive. But from another point of view, he looked just clinging desperately to another life, ironically someone more dead than he was.
"So I was telling you that my dream was to someday become one of the four High Councilors, I have endured any hardship you could have imagined, that's why I am going to Ze..."
"You sure talk a lot for someone who is tired."
A voice interrupted the young man's speech, a deep, distant, almost rumbling voice.
The young man looked confused, unsure where the voice came from. He was so surprised that he even forgot to look at his companion, persuaded that the voice could not possibly come from a human being. He stood up promptly, afraid he was in danger and looking around trying to determine who or what was talking to him.
"Calm down, no one is going to hurt you," said the same voice.
But this time, the young man was able to perceive that the voice came from the old companion. Astonished, he was struck speechless. Maybe the voice was way too perplexing, or maybe he had nothing to say anymore. He sat down silently, and stared at the being that was finally more alive than he had guessed.
"You sure seem to like stories," the voice continued, "then hear one of the past, a story as old as the world itself."
And then in a hissing whisper it slowly added, "And see for yourself what the world was before the Curse."
The young man was still unable to talk, but his attention was definitely caught. He had never believed these legends or fairy tales according to which the Curse did not always exist on the world, and that it had been brought from men's actions. But this old man did not seem like a bard making up tales. Maybe it was because of all these surreal elements around him, but he knew that he was about to hear a part of the obscure truth about the world.
He was afraid, yet shaking from excitement.
The old man, however, showed no interest in his audience. He slowly began talking in his disturbing voice, his face half-hidden in the shadow so that it would not be possible to tell what he was looking at, it would not even be possible to be sure that his mouth moved.
The rain poured harder and harder, the earlier dominant green of landscape shifted little by little into gray. The world was disappearing, leaving behind only the two travelers under a tree, trapped.