DRAFT – DB Inspired Web-Series

A mocking snicker racked at her ears. She writhed against a cratered wall, a hand at her neck, a monstrous figure hovering before her threatening to run her clear through the battered building. It’s visage, surrounded by serpentine tendrils, held an eerie grin, its jagged teeth pressed together in a perfect curve from ear to ear.

Energy crackled between them, dancing on the air and rending their surroundings. The harder she pushed back, the more it pushed forward, rubble tumbling from the caving wall, until a resounding clash of fluctuating energy tore through. The pair crashed through the dust and debris, bursting into a desecrated hall where hundreds of creatures battling familiar faces. She scrambled to her feet, ready to join her kin, but her snickering foe crushed her attack. Her wail echoed through the hall following the crack and snaps of her arm and ribs.

She lay helpless, a crumbled heap of shattered bones and leaking vitals, a worthless warrior incapable of rising to fight beside her people. Her oppressor let out a heinous cackle, crushing her spine beneath its heel to watch carnage ravage her home and her life.

~~~~~

Ceccamun shot up in her cot, dripping in her own sweat, immediately met by the frightened faces of her kin surrounding her bunk. Her eyes scoured the pack but none offered an explanation. She clenched her fists and snarled, ready to lash out, but was interrupted by a booming voice from the other end of the room.

“What’re you dreg gathered ‘round for!” All eyes turned toward a massive man, bearded and draped in a thick viridian cloak, pushing his way through the crowd. Usually, the Sevajj’s boisterous entrance served as the rousing call. His presence conferred anxiety and a degree of fear.

Most of the gawkers were smart enough to scatter but the hulking man still managed to grab one of the younger males by the waist and scruff of his armor. He hoisted and brandished the boy, waving him to and fro while barking at the others to get to their morning training. He tossed the boy through the opened doors at the other end of the barracks and watched the last of the stragglers rush out just before he slammed the door and lumbered over to drop his weight onto the end of Ceccamun’s cot. It visibly tilted underneath his size and his lumbering form narrowly fit beneath the bunk above.

The sudden angle caused Ceccamun to slide a few inches down the length of the bed until her feet pressed against Sevajj Akmoya’s side. Subsequently, a heavy bundle toppled from the top bunk and crashed to the floor followed by a shrill cry. Cec and Akmoya watched the culprit, a chuckle passing between the pair, as she rushed to get dressed and exit the barracks.

Silence reigned and Cec laid her head on her pillow and sighed. The faint impression of an overwhelming foe still lingered in her mind, both terrifying yet exciting. She tried to push the thoughts away, to lose herself in the bundles of feathered baubles woven into the under-workings of the bunk above, but when she closed her eyes, she could feel its presence encroaching on her. She could hear the grisly laughter echoing – mocking her. A heavy hand on her calf caused her to open her eyes and she propped up on her elbows to meet eyes with the man in front of her, uncharacteristic worry etched across his wrinkled brow.

“Have you been ta see the ol’ gaffe?”

Cec offered a dismissive chuckle, “ya know, yeema hates when ya call ‘er that.”

“S’what she is. She’ll get over it.”

“Besides, she ain’t got but two more greys than you.” She pointed out the bundle of greying strands dangling from the elder man’s scalp. “Mayhap we start callin’ you the ol’ gaffer.”

He shifted his eyes to his own greying locks and hurriedly tucked them away behind the thick band about his head. “Don’t dodge my questions, melu’keht,” his voice soured.

“At least she’s a lot less crotchety,” Ceccamun mumbled and twisted her mouth to one side. She contemplated her answer then shook her head, shrugging her shoulders, “she’nt say nothin’ important. Same old.” She began to mock the elder woman, closing one eye and craning her neck forward, “‘bad omens, little moon,’ blah, blah,” she pointed a wobbly finger at Akmoya.

The aged man rolled his eyes and pushed the young woman’s hand away, “have some respect for yer betters. Anyhow, ya should listen ta the ol’ skoch. She’s been right more’n’once ya know.” With that he stood, the cot settling into place, and he motioned for Cec to get up. “‘nough lazin’ about, get yerself together’n’meet me out front. Kaizar’s waitin’ for ya.” He punctuated, lumbering through the barracks’ exit.

She stood almost as quickly as ordered, however, the latter statement cause her knees to buckle. Akmoya had closed the door behind himself before she could open her mouth to question. Momentarily, she stood frozen, pondering: perhaps Kaizar Khoriba had gotten wind of her condition, of her dreams and her worsening concentration. Still, a personal audience?

Her mind ran circles while she washed up and geared herself. In light of her future company, she spared extra time examining herself in attempts to ensure she did not appear a ragged, dust-beaten, sun-clad, grunt; even so, there was little she could do with tattered composite armor and sun-bleached hair that had gone neglected for months. The single comb she owned shattered against her tangled mess forcing her to resign to a quick braid and tail to appear remotely presentable.

Outside, Akmoya stood nearby, his arms crossed as he barked at a younger man with short and wild sun-bleached hair. The latter wore light armor which mirrored Ceccamun’s, however, his right arm bore a full-arm gauntlet with a pair of thin connectors running from an amplifier at the shoulder down to a rectangular protrusion at the forearm. His dark mischievous eyes locked onto the giant before him and he wrinkled his nose in a snarl.

“I’ve told ya, this ain’t the time! Maybe, if’n’ya trained as much as ya traipsed around, mouthin’ off, ya’d be half the Lancer she was!”

Ceccamun stepped out and rose her voice above their bickering, “Aggar? What’re y’all up in’na kizz about this time?”

The younger man’s eyes turned to her and he broke into a wild smile. He gave Ceccamun a once over before his expression melted down to curiosity and he tilted his head, “better I’d ask you. What’s with the half-assed gussy-up?” he motioned to her.

“What?” Her face flushed momentarily before rapidly descending into a glare. She clenched her fists and took a step toward Aggar who quickly took a single step back in retreat. Akmoya stepped between the two, his eyes on the younger man.

“Mind your place, miish’keht.” He bore down on the boy, “quit shirkin’ around and focus on your training. If I see yer ass again, it’d better be for yer advancement test.” The two of them glared at each other momentarily until Aggar reluctantly nodded and passed a glance toward Ceccamun. Akmoya stepped around Aggar and walked toward the edges of the camp while motioning Cec to follow.

“‘Portant business, huh?” Aggar inquired low as to not be overheard. “The ol’man’s been wavin’ around that rod up his ass all mornin’.”

“None of your business,” Cec retorted but then went on. “Something with the Kaizar,” Akmoya turned to peer at them before she could get out another word. She let out a sigh, “I’ll tell ya when it’s done, yeah?”

Ceccamun jabbed Aggar in his bare shoulder, a hit he took without much retort. He made a face and rubbed the spot, watching the pair walk off in silence. Cec’s eyes were locked onto Akmoya’s caped back, her mind still racing. She had half the mind to ask the Sevajj but she doubted he would tell her, opting to leave the reveal to the Kaizar himself.

They stepped from beneath the canopy into the direct light of the planet’s dual-suns. A handful of feathered serpentine creatures flew overhead, cutting through the air effortlessly, each with an individual rider straddling their shoulders. At the center of the encampment, a modest oasis served as a common stomping ground for these etenpyr; tens played and bathed in the cool waters either awaiting or spending time with their chosen rider. Sheltered beneath the shade of swaying leaves, a quarrelsome pair of etenpyr wrestled with one another, thrashing and splashing creating quite the commotion against the otherwise serene watering hole. Zimyen and Khaliel were at it again.

Near the water’s edge, at the base of the great tree, another, much larger, etenpyr lounged with its paws crossed and its head held high as it watched the friendly bout. He was a much older and horned etenpyr named Taitama, Akmoya’s cohort. The elder etenpyr slowly turned its bearded face and acknowledge Ceccamun and Akmoya’s approach before standing. It made its way over to Akmoya and politely lowered its head and fore so that the Sevajj could mount its shoulders. Ceccamun didn’t have the chance to follow suit.

Both the fighting etenpyr took flight and streamed towards Cec, kicking up water and arid sand in their wake. The young warrior stood her ground in the face of charging creatures more than half her size and let out a sharp command and whistle ordering both to stop. One of them grounded, skidding to a halt just seconds away from colliding with her; the other, however, slammed into and flattened her in the sand, a huge cloud of dust kicking up around them. The large quadrupedal serpent pressed its weight on her and nuzzled her face with its snout.

“Yer crushin’ me, ya paunchy git.” Cec struggled to get her breath back. She pushed against the beast’s snout in hopes of freeing herself but her efforts fell flat. Ceccamun was ready to resign to her fate – death via crushing by overgrown, dimwitted, lizard – until the second of the rambunctious pair stepped in and pushed its sibling away. Cec took a huge breath as soon as she was able, enduring a minor coughing fit due to the dust and sand.

“Thanks, Khali.” She caught her breath and stood to pet the helpful etenpyr. A nudge at her back let her know that her attacker, Zimyen, was back on his feet and demanding as ever. She gave him a sharp look and berated him briefly but ruffled his plume with both hands and touched her forehead to his rigged snout.

“Cec!”

Akmoya’s bark startled her. She pat Zimyen’s nose once more before turning to Khaliel and touching forehead to muzzle. “Stay here. I’ll be back. Try’n’keep outta trouble, yeah?” She glanced between the both before jogging over to Akmoya and climbing up on Taitama’s shoulders behind Akmoya.

Akmoya clicked his teeth and the great beast took to the sky, pushing off from the ground and slithering through the air like water. The arid plains that she was familiar with stretched for miles before rapidly dropping off, a wall of green rolling mountains in one direction and a sea of scorching sand in the opposite. At the center of it all, a spire jutted from the ground, ascending from a massive man-made crater which housed thousands of homes all protected from the scorching suns by an enormous shield dome. This was Eten Viyo, the birthplace of their clan, an interwoven utopia of forest and industry.

A gentle current washed over the trio as they passed through the dome’s field, it scrubbed the sand from their bodies and steadily cooled them to match the dome’s interior. Cec couldn’t help but ogle the luscious green, the vines, foliage, and hanging trees, as though it were her first time within the city’s limits.

Akmoya seemed unmoved, his mind elsewhere. They flew in silence for a time before he raised his voice against the wind. “I can’t make sense’a’why’ya waste so much time with that fool, Aggar, and his runt of a ‘pyr.”

The comment tore Ceccamune away from her wide-eyed awe. She furrowed her brow and turned her eyes on the surly man; though, she could see little more than the side of his woolen face.

“He’s part of my brood, for one,” she started; “besides, aren’t you the one who preaches cohesion? Blah, blah, excellence through teamwork, blah.”

“He’s beneath you.”

She retorted, “now yer jus’ spoutin’ dreg. Beneath me – what the hell is ‘beneath me’ eh? Last I checked they were talkin’ about groundin’ me if I failed my next test. Even Scrawny Skem’s been thrashin’ me in a scuff, lately.”

“Sparrin’s nothin’. Besides, that gutter-pup Aggar can’t even manage to control his own ‘pyr.”

She scoffed, “Oh, great. I’ll just let Khaliel deal with all my problems then. What a great warrior I’ll be.” She mumbled just as Taitama began a slow spiraling descent.

Below, a broad platform jutted from the sky-piercing spire; a lavish, hedge dotted meadow covered its face and a handful of etenpyr and riders occupied the terrace. Their carefully embroidered armor and feathered helms labeled them as seasoned soldiers, those decorated as Kaizragoons. Taitama touched down on the paved semi-circle near the rim of the platform and crouched long enough for Ceccamun and Akmoya to dismount. The elder etenpyr sat up proud, shoulders pushed back and his long feather-tipped tail draped over his taloned paws.

Two decorated soldiers made their way up the wide walkway until they came to the intersection of the semi-circle. They separated and made for either corner of the path, revealing a third, much slimmer, man draped in a viridian cape much like the one Akmoya wore however free of discoloration and fraying about the edges. His armor, too, was pristine and unscarred. A tertiary synthetic arm extended from his left shoulder and tapped away at a panel mounted on the half gauntlet about his left forearm. The upper left side of his face was likewise covered by synthetic augmentations.

“Well, it’s about time.” His smooth voice carried across the courtyard well before his brisk steps stopped him in front of the arriving pair.

Akmoya grumbled, “I’m sure yer the only one worried about a few fleetin’ moments, Gusar.”

“I wasn’t referring to your tardiness here.” His flat gaze turned downward on Ceccamun who couldn’t help but stare at his probing yellow eye. “Though, that being said, you are late.” His cloak whipped around him as he turned. Hastily, he begun down the path toward the spire leaving the others trailing behind him, hustling to keep up.

They brushed passed and crossed paths with tens of restless and, in Cec’s eyes, impeccably sophisticated kinfolk all without a frizz nor kink in their hair or wear; their armoring, too, bore no sign of practical use. They hardly seemed to mind the passing presence of Gusar and two sun-beaten soldiers following behind him but Ceccamun felt whelmed all the same.

The trio passed first through a set of impossibly large doors into a wide foyer mostly characterized by its five sets of stairs; two sets on either side, one winding upward and the other down; and a fifth set which slowly ascended and opened to a tapestry laden hall. The floor plan lay open, all the furnishings and decor were arranged toward the edges surrounding an arena of dissimilar tiles, bruised and scuffed, transposed a knees height lower than the surrounding floor. At the end of the hall, beneath the bleached skull of king etenpyr, stood the throne of Eten Viyo’s Kaizar, an ancient authority carved of wood and stone, accented with frayed feathers and withered bone. Just beyond that, the light of day poured in from an open balcony overlooking the city and the vast semi-arid wasteland.

Gusar stopped in his stride and turned half to face them. He lifted an arm to motion them to continue toward the throne then turned his flat gaze on Ceccamun once again, “favor willing we meet again. Eirnen’tu’jan.” He wished her luck then hurried off toward other pressing matters.

Fear of sounding like a rube had stopped Ceccamun from uttering a word until her and Akmoya were alone, and the older man broke the silence with utterings about Gusar being a pretentious busy-body. Her tone was noticeably hushed as the two crossed the remainder of the hall and began to round the uprisen throne toward the light flooding in from the balcony beyond.

“I’m feelin’ like a turd floatin’ in the hot springs here,” she grumped. “You’nt tell me things were so primp’n’shine.”

Akmoya shrugged his huge shoulders. “Gusar’s the worst of ‘em. Ya’d think havin’ half yer gob blast clean off’d do some humblin’, but then they went’n’plugged a computer in his head. Now he’s some fraction of a cyborg – ten or twelve percent or somethin’ – on top of being a hoity-toity priss-peddler.”

A rough chuckled greeted them as they cornered the throne, “I’ve told ya, vun’tua, if you’re that begrudged over the whole thing, the tech-sages are always looking for volunteers.”

Three individuals, a man with his feet up and two women, sat at a small table at the center of the balcony. Ceccamun immediately recognized one of the women, her long braided ashen hair and towering staff adorned with brilliant feathers and beads, as the clan’s Shahm: Kerimoya; the second woman, the youngest of those present besides Ceccamun herself, looked distinctly foreign, her skin a pale cream and her hair a shimmering ebon blue. At the fore of the table, a seasoned man, exultant dazzling smile splayed across his squared jaw and touching the edges of his wild full sideburns. About his head, the crown of the Kaizar, a circlet resting just above his brow shaped like the rigged bone brow of an etenpyr.

The Kaizar stood, lifting his hands to greet his new guests. The Shahm and foreign lady stood as well. When at first Ceccamun did not step forward, Akmoya placed a hand on her shoulder and eased her along with him. She found herself unwilling to speak once more, her eyes flicked between the Kaizar and the ebon-haired foreigner but never lingered, never wanted to make direct eye contact. Against her own will she was glued to Akmoya’s side, shrinking into his towering figure.

“Ceccamun, is it?”

She snapped her attention to the Kaizar and straightened up, detaching herself from her mentor’s shadow. Not sure of what to do, she dropped her head and bent at the waist in a formal bow. To her dismay, the Kaizar found this entertaining, if not downright comical, and his hearty laughter rang out and echoed into the hall behind her. Her face flushed and she froze in her bow, her eyes locked onto the floor and heart pounding. Before she knew it, a set of heavy boots stepped in front of her and two hands grabbed her by the shoulders, tilting her back up right. The Kaizar smiled down at her and she looked up at him. He was much taller than her, but still nowhere near Akmoya by comparison.

“We are warriors. A warrior submits to none…”

“…she holds her head high, eyes anchored to her goal. Heart in the clouds and mind on the horizon.” She recited the words along with him.

The Kaizar grinned and nodded his head. He gave Ceccamun a light pat on the shoulder then took a few steps back and turned to motion towards the foreign lady who stood with impeccable posture, her hands and feet gently crossed. She wore no armor only layers of muted robes.

“This is an adjutant from our distant cousins beyond the mountains and the Sea of Lightning -”

“Renaile,” she interjected, her voice like trickling water. She offered a soft smile and tilt of her head. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet those of your warrior caste.” She took long strides to approach Ceccamun and offered her hand. “I hear that you’re top of your class – ”

“Was.” Cec shook her hand politely.

“Well, I doubt you’ll be anything less for long.”

“Exactly why I wanted to speak with her today.” The Kaizar looked to each of his guests, “perhaps we could all enjoy a sit down a little later, for now I’d like to speak with our young Lancer here.” He said this while returning to his seat at the fore of the table.

Renaile silently nodded, her smooth steps gave her the appearance of gliding across the floor on her way out. Akmoya turned to follow suit and Kerimoya was the last to depart, stopping in front of Ceccamun. She spoke in a gentle rasp and, at first, she chuckled.

“So tense, “she mocked.

Shahm Kerimoya reached out with both hands and began to inspect, straighten, and approve the young warrior, her huge cane-staff leaned against her shoulder. She pushed against Cec’s shoulders so that she was standing proper. “Quite yer poutin’. Nobody likes a pout. Aiiiyaaa!” She exclaimed, helplessly buffing the scuffed plates of Cec’s tattered armor with the end of her oversized sleeves, “what’d’ya pick the most beat up uniform you could find? That’s what I get fer not goin’ ta getcha ma’self. And yer hair. What, ya ain’t never heard of a comb?”

Ceccamun cracked a smile and rolled her eyes, intercepting the elder woman’s hands as they reached toward her tangled head. Kerimoya took her cane in her hands again and gently knocked Cec on the head with it. “He’s yer Kaizar, moon, not some suitor lookin’ fer a trophy. He ain’t gunna quiz ya on table manners.”

Ceccamun nodded but sighed even so, “it’d be easier if I knew what was going on.”

Another gentle chuckle, “it figures that lout Aki would play along.” She shook her head and glanced over her shoulder at the lounging Kaizar who had resigned to tapping away at the gauntlet on his arm. “That boy’s a damn theatric. Always been that way.”

“So, what’s’it then?”

For a moment, the Shahm looked surprised. “Hey now, a Shahm can’t be goin’ around blabbin’ secrets from one corner to another. Yer jus’gunna hav’ta wait through all the buildup now.”

A hint of irritation filled Ceccamun’s following sigh, “fine.”

“Why not ask ‘em yerself.” Kerimoya grinned and pat Cec on the shoulder while she passed. Renaile and Akmoya had patiently waited for her. The three disappeared around the corner and off into the great hall.

“Join me.” He spoke almost as soon as they disappeared. Ceccamun sombered over and took the seat across from him.

When she sat, he stood, and paced from his chair. “She’s right, you know,” he turned toward the open air and folded his hands behind him.

Cec watched him curiously, brow risen and head tilted. She wondered how much he had actually overheard, moreover, what certainty of Kerimoya’s could he have been referring to?

“A comb would’ve helped.”

Ceccamun’s brow dropped to a deep scowl. Her face flushed and she clenched her teeth ready to snap at her cheeky host. Khoriba whipped around to face her, his hands held up in surrender. He chuckled and flashed a toothy grin and for a moment the once imposing man reminded her of a mischievous teen. The young woman leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms, and huffed.

Seemingly content with his antics, the Kaizar returned to his seat and kicked his feet up. “That temperament is more in standing with what the good Shahm and Sevajj tell of ya. Honest, at first, I thought Akmoya was making most of it up, but then I thought ‘I’ve never heard this man make a wholly positive remark about anyone. Ever.’ No kidding, to this day, he berates even me about my footwork and balance – says I’m too predictable and susceptible to grappling. Not with you though. Only good things to say. And that man does lie, so I reckon there’s might be something to ya.”

He then pulls his legs down and shifts in his chair so that he is sitting straight. He leans forward slightly, elbows on the table, and crosses his fingers in front of his face. “Tell me about those dreams you’ve been having.”

Of course, they had mentioned it, but she wondered why he cared enough to ask. Ceccamun hesitated. She sat up in her chair and fidgeted with her hands and shrugged lightly. “They’re hectic. Violent and blurry. Someone – monsters – are attacking Eten Viyo. It’s a massacre; there’s no hope.”

The Kaizar nodded, “yeah, I had ‘em too, around your age, and so have others before and after me. Every generation a handful of kinfolk start having that dream. It happens to people at different ages but mostly between adolescents and coming-of-age. Some ignore it, some lose sleep over it, others use it for motivation. And some others hold onto it as some sort of omen. Either way, Shahms and Kaizar record the same dream for hundreds of generations.”

“And you?”

He shrugged, “when I first had ‘em I just ignored it, of course, I wasn’t experiencing anything like you are. I didn’t mention it or think much of it until the Cindarii showed up. They come here, scout out our strongest novitiates and take them across the sea to finish their training abroad. I had been pre-selected for the Kaizragoons so I wasn’t in the line-up with the others but I was there, standing watch. That’s when I started paying attention.”

The Kaizar gradually began to tell Ceccamun of qyori, the binding life force of the universe, and how, in lifetimes long past, their people soared the skies like the etenpyr; things she had thought children’s tales. He explained that, despite their apparent freedom, they were peasants compared to the Cindarii and ultimately lived under their rule. This was why the Cindarii took their strongest while they were young: to ensured that the ability to channel and manipulate qyori could never be taught, or learned, by future generations.

“I didn’t know what it was at the time but I could feel their energy – their qyori. I guess I had always been able to feel it but in that room with so many potentials around, and the Cindarii, the feeling became distinct to me: like fingers pushing against my skull. I could feel them just as I feel the sun on my skin and the beating of my heart. I could see what the Cindarii were doing – literally extorting the strength of our people – and I knew we couldn’t let it continue.”

“But I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. My entire body was trembling, frozen with fear, suppressed by the crushing weight of the Cindarii’s qyori compared to our own. I could see the dream playing before me. I stood there worthless and watched them sort through us like pawns in a game. And then, suddenly, a dazzling light engulfed the sky. Everyone in the courtyard turned their eyes skyward only for the light to expand even further. The brilliant flash was so sudden it left me disoriented, eyes burning and ears ringing. Sight and sound left me and I crumbled to my knees.”

It was a tale she was familiar with. Shahm Kerimoya had told it to her many times over the years; as she recalled it, she too had been attending the screening process, the sky erupted in a flash and thunderous roar that vibrated through Eten Viyo and the surrounding xeric plains. Flares happened often but it was much more than a common solar event. When the light began to recede, and the paralysis lessened, people were scattered and in disarray. Few had managed to keep their footing under the loss of their senses, only the Cindarii and a handful others who were fumbling and frantically searching for the novitiates that had suddenly gone missing.

“The whole city went into lockdown. Sectors were blocked off and extra barriers were raised – inclement weather protocol.” The Kaizar began to chuckle, “the Cindarii went manic, throwing accusations, interrogating everyone. We didn’t know a damn thing, though. Kaizar Corian ordered us to assist in the following searches and investigations but nothing came of it. They were just gone.”

“Yeema Keri tells it they fled to the deep wilds, disappeared into the Infinite Oasis and never seen again.” Ceccamun filled in.

Khoriba nodded, “yeah, and it turned out that the old Kaizar knew more about the ordeal than he let on. Shortly before I succeeded him, he told me about a hermit who had left the clan some decades ago only to return and claim he had rediscovered the secrets to qyori. He wanted to take the potential novitiates out of Eten Viyo and train them; however, Kaizar Corian strictly forbade the idea out of fear for what the Cindarii would do when they discovered the plan. As we know, the Hermit went along with it anyway and, in doing so, forced the Kaizar’s hand who did what he had to do in order to protect the clan: he publicly exiled all the missing novitiates and made an outlaw of the Hermit who was to be arrested on sight. He told the Cindarii what he knew and pointed them to the Infinite Oasis. That’s the last anyone’s heard of it.”

“So he just threw it away? He didn’t even try?”

“To be fair, we’d’ve lived that dream that day if he’d done anything less, but I agree with you, he should’ve worked with the Hermit and found a way. He let fear guide the future of the clan and we’ve only become weaker because of it.”

Ceccamun looked ready to jump out of her seat. “But you’re the Kaizar now, you can change this. Un-exile them. Invite the Hermit back.”

The Kaizard chuckled. “I’m glad to see you so enthusiastic. It won’t be quite as easy as that but you’ve got the right of it. Who knows if the Hermit is still alive or whether the Cindarii managed to capture them. All I know is this: the secret lies within the Infinite Oasis.”

Admittedly, during the course of the long-winded tale and explanation, Ceccamun had all but forgotten she still had no idea why the Kaizar had requested her presence but not it seemed like he had finally come to the point. Kerimoya had been spot on regarding his theatrics.

He stood from of his chair again, this time rounding the table toward Ceccamun. “For a little over a year now, I’ve been conducting my own search for potentials. I’ve been able to sense latent energy similar to the strength I felt that day in others and I feel that energy in you as well.” He stopped beside her and he was no longer smiling. “You have a choice: you can stay here and continue your training and wait for when the Cindarii come looking for potentials again. I do not know what life awaits you with them. You will likely serve in their armies. Or, you can escape Eten Viyo and venture into the Infinite Oasis, free to do as you will. However, know this, the Infinite Oasis is a treacherous place and I can say with no certainty that you will be able to survive, let alone find your way back, once you venture there. The decision is yours, I will not force you to potentially throw your life away.”

There was no weighing to be done, the decision was clear to her despite the dangers. Despite the unknown and the threat of death, she couldn’t let an opportunity to bring true change to her clan pass her by. Ceccamun returned the Kaizar’s unwavering glare and with a powerful nod she declared her decision: “I’ll go.”

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