The mage stared at Birki, unable to say anything. The thought never crossed Tyler’s mind. Now that the obvious had been pointed out to him, it did make sense.
“I didn’t think of it that way, Birki,” he sputtered.
“I know, First Mage. But sometimes things happen. Usually for a reason. But only time will tell.”
“Is there any place we can talk privately? There are a few matters I would like to clarify,” asked Tyler, still deeply affected by what Birki had observed. He didn’t put much weight on deities and now he’s in a position to create a new one? Not only an ordinary pantheon, but one which reaches across different cultural divides and represents some of the strongest energies of Adar. But right now, he didn’t want to talk about it. He needed time to think about what happened and its implications.
“There’s a private room this way,” answered Birki.
Tyler followed the entity as Birki turned left and followed a narrow corridor. The workmanship of the place was indeed exquisite. The mage didn’t even notice that a corridor was there. To the naked eye, the wall appeared seamless.
“You know, First Mage, it would be good if you could get Hrun to contribute to populating the staff. Though I hope the ill-conceived inclination towards prose doesn’t accompany any contributed energy. He is one of Adar’s first children anyway and his power over stone would enhance your own abilities. There’s three more, representing water, fire, and wind. The eldest of their respective clans. But you’ll have your work cut out for you if you venture that way. Fire doesn’t have a good relationship with Rumpr and the water elemental. Nor does wind like Rumpr too. Other dislikes may have formed, but that’s family for you.”
“What are their names?” asked the mage.
“Ah. Extremely bad manners for me to give you their names without their consent. Let them tell you themselves. That is, if you do come across them,” answered Birki.
The two reached a small door and entered an enclosed room which looked more like a study. With a wave of Birki’s hand, a window appeared on the wall, giving a view of the landscape below the keep.
“Nice touch, huh? Windows at one’s command. But it only works for Vathys. And you and me, obviously,” said Birki as he sat down. Tyler followed suit.
“Your questions?” the being started.
“It’s about the nature of this world within an artifact. Is this common?” asked Tyler. “Adar being what it is, I am bound to run into similar items and I really wouldn’t want to be drawn into an unwanted reality.”
“Artifacts are focal points of power, First Mage. Usually the situation you’re worried about happens only a limited scale – a dark, dank cave, a large room, a blasted wasteland of an area, or a ruined city. Differences abound. But never on the scale you see now. This reality is a world, possibly the size of a small moon. With enough power and that means the immeasurable kind, you might even be able to manifest it in your reality. Though I wouldn’t suggest it. A lot of pantheons and empires won’t be happy.”
“You mean this event, this present situation, is unique?”
“I believe so. This is not a normal result. Though under the right ritual and the wrong hand, artifacts also find use in this world as a gateway to somewhere else.”
“Wrong hand?” asked the mystified mage.
“You heard right. There is no god nor mage on Adar now who could direct where such openings will lead, and such gates are usually two-way. The Void Lands would be an excellent example of what I am saying. Rumpr’s memory thankfully does not show any such successful venture. Though it appears a lot of mages, mad or otherwise, have tried to twist such arcane objects to their own ends. All such attempts ended dramatically in a lethal manner, of course.”
“But why this particular staff?”
Birki looked at him and grinned.
“Good thing my sole allegiance is to you, First Mage. The weapon, magical as it is, started as one of the many powerful artifacts in this world. But there is something in you that changed its very nature, that imbued it with the power of creation. Though that’s not enough. To give effect to such a power, a different, vastly more powerful, energy was required. It appeared you had both. Though I personally doubt if the deities knew that tiny bit of information. Rumpr, Hrun, and Wilan may have suspected it, but it didn’t matter to them. Gullen could have suspected it too.”
Tyler’s mind was furiously racing. I did keep the staff close at hand. Some Elder energies could have entered it. But for some reason, it prevented Hal and X from detecting the existence of the world inside the staff. At least for now, it serves me and provides shelter for the young energies under my wing. And what did Birki say about the possibility of the staff being corrupted?
“Given what you told me, we do have to keep the staff inviolate and avoid the entry of beings of an opposite alignment. Correct?” he asked Birki.
“I believe that’s what I told you earlier, First Mage.”
“You think you have enough power now to prevent such an occurrence?”
“I am young in matters of power. Above the level of a minor deity, I would find it difficult to fend off such an assault, even with the help of my young wards.”
“Now that’s a problem. The kind of foes we are encountering are already beyond that level. What do you need?”
“Energy. Only magical energy would help us grow,” said Birki.
“Can I give you some from my reserves? And if I can, how do I do that?” quickly replied Tyler.
“You have reserves? That’s quite a trick. I don’t think any entity on Adar could say the same. But about your question, it’s quite simple, really. Just focus on the energy and throw it at me. Just energy, mind you. Don’t include anything else. Otherwise, I’ll be burned, decapitated, melted, or incinerated where I sit,” warned the small being.
“X? You heard?” asked Tyler.
“How much do you think should we give Birki?”
“A quarter of one of our reserve compartments, sire. He has to get used to the sudden increase in his power. We’ll add to it incrementally every time you visit,” answered X.
“How about the younger energies?”
“Too soon, sire. The correct handling of power also requires a degree of maturity. Let Birki teach them first and then we can improve their energy levels.”
“Right as usual, X. Thanks,” replied Tyler.
“As usual only?” teased the guide.
“Yes. As usual. Saying always would be tempting fate. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Fate is indeed an entity in this world,” the mage laughed inwardly.
“Get ready, Birki. I’ll be giving you a bit more power,” he told the waiting being.
“Do it, X.” For such a simple task, Tyler knew the AI could perfectly manage it once the command was given.
The space between Tyler and Birki was momentarily filled with a bright light.
“By the smelly mountains of Banna! If that was a bit, then I doubt if I could handle more than that!” exclaimed Birki after he got his breathing back. The energy had pushed into him, leaving him pale. For a second, Tyler was even worried the amount was too much as Birki appeared to have stopped breathing and the eyes closed. Then Birki started hyperventilating.
“Let’s cut down on the dose next time,” advised the mage. “Though what’s Banna?”
“Yes! Let’s lower the amount of energy next time! That was a bit much. I thought it was the end of me. My thanks, First Mage! This means a lot to me. Not only as a being of power, but also on my ability to handle my brethren. Good thing I still have hair. On Banna, it’s that forbidden large island north of Skaney and Ymir’s Domain. Though I doubt if one could call land almost as big as Skaney an island. Even Ymir’s minions don’t set foot there.”
“Rumpr, of course, had visited it, I presume?” noted Tyler.
“Yes. But my memory tells me he didn’t stay long. Many of its mountains are active volcanoes. Though I think Rumpr appeared in one of the active zones. That’s why his memory of the place is the smell of rotten eggs.”
“You do look bigger now and there’s a glow around you,” observed Tyler.
“The glow will disappear, but I do feel much, much stronger and my magic had grown by a few levels,” Birki answered.
“That’s done. I guess I should be leaving. I have a lot of questions but I’ll try to come back when the party is not in an exposed area,” said Tyler.
“You’ve been away for the equivalent of a minute or so, First Mage. We have time for your surprise,” said Birki with a knowing smile.
“Surprise? What surprise?” asked the baffled mage.
“Oh, something which just happened and we all decided to keep it as a surprise for you,” Birki mysteriously answered. “I was going to bring you there in a run-about way while the young ones gathered to meet us there. But our talk served the same purpose. Come, let’s meet them.”
Tyler again followed Birki.
I’ll quickly get lost here. It’s very difficult to determine where the corridors are. I’ll ask for a map next time, thought Tyler, though he admired Vathys’s work. The boy is a genius.
The duo finally reached a door. From Tyler’s observation, the room it led to must be adjacent to the meeting hall. As they entered the chamber, the young energies were all there, standing and clearly waiting for them. Repressed smiles marked their faces. Vivindel was even clapping her hands in excitement. That mystified Tyler even more. In front of the children was another door, smaller in dimension which to the mage meant it opened to a very small room.
Birki gestured for Tyler to join the waiting crowd as he moved towards the metal gates. The children were all looking at the mage expectantly. The mage wanted to ask what it was all about but knew such a query would be disappointing his charges.
They must be waiting to see my expression when Birki opens the door, Tyler inwardly smiled. As if anything in this world could surprise me anymore.
The small door was slowly opened. Birki evidently knows how to draw out the suspense, the mage thought. The opening was suddenly thrown wide open.
Inside was a black oblong object, about a foot and a half in height.
It was an egg. Obviously not an ordinary one.
Tyler looked at the large egg, thinking about all the consequences and complications it entailed. Especially for him. The room was deathly quiet as everybody waited for a visible reaction from the mage. Finally, Vivindel broke free of the waiting crowd and ran to his side. The little girl urgently tugged at his right arm.
“Can we keep it? Please?” requested the small, melodious voice. The ethereal flow of the small girl’s tone greatly reminded him of Eira, and as such, immediately started breaking down the barriers his psyche had immediately put up when he recognized the round object.
Dammit. Of all beings to ask for it, he thought resignedly. Tyler knelt and held the little girl’s hands.
“We’ll see, Vivindel. Let me make sure no harm results from its presence,” he softly told the girl.
Vivindel nodded but finally got the courage to speak.
“I know he’ll be a nice companion to all of us. We all pitched in to give it form!” excitedly whispered the forest spirit.
“Oh, is that so? Let me ask your elder brother Birki,” he answered.
“How did this come about?” he asked, keeping his voice calm. Inwardly, he wanted to shout the question. Greatly uncomfortable knots of fear had already colonized his stomach and muscles.
A freaking dragon! A drake! A wyrm! One of the most, if not the most dangerous, creatures on Adar. With a host of fucking powers I can’t even begin to imagine, Tyler’s mind yelled as the image of Gullen come to the fore.
“Your armor, lad. Despite being the cast-off scales of Old Greyskin, one of the oldest among already ancient dragons, it still retains a faint vestige of the old one’s power. And you’re wearing a full suit made from his scales,” replied Birki.
A memory suddenly imposed itself on Tyler’s mind. An uninvited recollection of Rumpr’s words while they were in the mountains above Scarburg, a statement which Hrun found very funny, for better or for worse:
“A simple favor, laddies. If you run into any draken, they’ll probably smell your armor. If they ask, say it’s from Hrun.”
And from what he remembered about the comments about Old Greyskin, the draken or dragon was the most cantankerous and tetchy among the lot. Tyler doubted if the damned drake would wait for an explanation.
“You’ve gone a bit pale, lad. I guess it’s your concern about that giant of a draken. Highly irritable, very possessive, and dangerously temperamental. Even heads of pantheons fear to rouse that grouchy wyrm’s enmity. Come to think of it, they go to great lengths to avoid Old Greyskin.”
“Stop, Birki. You’re not helping,” testily commented Tyler, rubbing the temples of his head in anticipation of another headache. It didn’t come, but his knees now felt rubbery.
“From my armor you say, but it’s but cast-off scales,” Tyler continued, desperately trying to understand how the hell a dragon’s egg was now inside the staff.
“I agree. The energy that arrived was not really conducive to the creation of an energy form. It lacked a spark. A living one. Apulli and Vivindel shaped it into what it should be. Their field involves life and creation anyway. The others helped. Everybody was excited. Its nest was Vathys’s idea – a fiery cradle to make it comfortable as a necessary prelude to birth. Magical energy from the twins gave it its final form. Seier made it possible for the egg to come into existence. War and victory do form part of its energy matrix. Actually, it was an experiment of the children,” explained Birki in a matter-of-factly tone.
“Where did the spark come from?” asked Tyler. An experiment?
“Ah, you remember when that golden drake repaired your armor? That small bit of energy directly from a live draken was the final touch. You should have seen the children when that happened and the egg became alive,” answered the small being.
“How about you? Did you contribute anything?” asked the mage, not knowing what to do or ask next. His mind was swirling with a lot of future possibilities. All bad.
“Of course, I did. An energy drake, born out of such varied powers, is a unique and extremely powerful being. I don’t think such a thing had been done by anyone,” answered Birki with a touch of pride.
“A chair, please. I think I need to sit down,” was Tyler’s only response.
A metal chair rose from the floor and the mage thankfully sank into it.
“Oh, the draken’s color will be black. The source of the primary energy usually determines that aspect, but I guess some small coloration will be present because of the children’s powers,” added Birki.
Tyler barely heard what Birki said. His imagination was now filled with the image of a black dragon as big as a mountain with an open mouth displaying all its fanged glory. An angry, gigantic, powerful beyond comprehension, black drake.
“Why is he called Old Greyskin?” the mage asked, still trying to get his thoughts in order after the mental assault of fear and terror.
“Rumpr’s memory is not certain on that point. But some accounts mention its skin turns dark gray for a while after a blast is let loose by the draken.”
“What kind of blast? Fire?” Tyler asked.
“Nothing so ordinary, First Mage. Apparently, it’s a combination of elemental attacks with an immensely powerful magical spell intended to shred any defense. Claws and fangs are but secondary weapons. Though a swipe of those giant claws was enough to level a small mountain.”