Syrana was locked in a trance of the mind. Staring blankly out the window, her daydreams had long ago become a silver screen in her head that replayed images over and over to torture her. It was almost as if her own memories were mocking her with their harsh realities. A lot like living in a waking nightmare where one finds themselves watching a tragedy unfold before them, Syrana felt helpless to stop the forces that had brought upon them all the tragic senselessness of whatever calamitous act had damaged their pristine little world. Perhaps she had misinterpreted the Godiya’s prophecy, and this sufferage was the real message of its obtusely apocryphal cipher. She could really only vaguely remember the intended warnings of the generations before her because of the obscure, callous artwork that adorned the Godiya’s cliff walls, and through the intentionally cryptic references in the colorful stories of the Tribe of the Trinity.
She wanted to believe. She wanted to wear her faith like a badge of honor; much like Zaryn had on the day he had gone to seek help. She often reflected on how he had looked when he left. He had been so certain he was on his path of destiny that he had almost radiated hope. That particular expression was burned into her eyelids for her to endure every time she chanced to close her eyes. She wanted for nothing more than it to be real, but more than anything she needed the strength to be confident enough to take the same blind leap of faith that her Brother had. If she didn’t, it was highly probable that they were all going to die.
“Don’t do it,” the Elders had said. “No one ever comes back from the Woods to Eternity. It is said they become the myst. The Godiya punishes those who dare to move beyond Nature to places that are unnatural.”
This lore, passed down through time and countless generations, had been spun into campfire stories and told under the stars of a night sky as if they weren’t really history but were just entertainment. The legends told that those of a pure heart and noble intentions would be allowed to pass on, beyond the Woods to Eternity to the Mystic Portal, provided they survive the Godiya’s challenge. The reward was the opportunity to embark into a new world where, the stories said, the Aturen people originally came from: a world in which everyone was more than Nature intended us to be. It was a world that their Aturen Elders had chosen to leave behind long ago, though everyone was very hush-hush as to why. Every generation or so, a new group of refugees would emerge from the mist, and join their village, but the Elder’s had told them in order to stay, they could never speak of where they had come from or else they would be set adrift on the endless Perlan Sea with no refuge or land known to exist with which they could journey to.
The Aturen landscape was once a vast and beautiful network of green lush islands and richly carved channels. The only habitable shore located off the Cliffside, the Aturen people had settled into the seaside community life, and over the generations, they had forgotten about the world they had left behind. A large step pyramid temple had been carved out of the opposite shoreline. It had once been routinely used as storage for the grains and rice that they cultivated in the natural channels and terraces lining the Godiya’s Cliffside that seemed perfect for terra-farming and required little maintenance. A wide variety of RuneGlyphs, similar to those of the Prophecy carved into the Godiyan Cliffside, also adorned the temple’s structural walls, but no one knew or even cared to know, what they had once represented to the original inhabitants of their once great and prosperous land.
Aturen was the only habitable land below the layer of fogmyst that their people had ever found. The Elders claimed that their forefathers had scouted and mapped the entire realm, and declared their modest village’s location as the only land feature suitable for supporting life, and no one had ever questioned that until now. They had always enjoyed a simple and modest life, living off what Nature provided and never asking for anything more. Being situated on the Perlan Sea, fishing was a staple in the lives of the Aturen people. The Aturen people were lovers of Nature and doing things the natural way, so nothing was ever wasted. Fisheries resold their materials to different tradesman amongst the citizens: bones became weaponry and cutlery, skins became wares, even bladders and internal organs served their purposes. When the toxic myst appeared to roll in from the life-giving Mother of the Sea, the Aturen people were immediately robbed of a reliable constant in their lives that they had come to depend on for an awful lot more than just food, and that’s when their suffering began.
The corpses of marine animals were the first sign that something was very wrong in their harmonious little community. At first, the toxic myst would burn off in the heat of the day. But, as the fresh water supply shortened and the channels that used to overflow with it began to dry up, the strange toxic myst that had invaded their land from offshore seemed to spread throughout the realm and settle in to stay. The opposite of a typical blanket of fogmyst, the toxic myst seemed to have an agenda all of its own. It soon began to spill over from the plateau above and looked like a myst waterfall at all times; oftentimes endeavoring to obscure the Godiyan Prophecy Wall altogether. Eventually, it spilled over onto the agricultural shelves they used to flood with gates positioned between the fresh water channels, and then it began to settle into the plants itself, leaving them bitter, brown and rancid. Not soon after, their entire crop supply began to fail, and the usual bountiful monthly harvests became leaner and leaner. Fresh water became shorter and shorter, sea life continued to decline, and the once lush crop steppes became desolate brown shelves with no sign of fresh sprouts.
Emergency stores quickly began to decline, and rationing soon became a forced way of life. The personal health and herb stores also neared depletion and many of their village had begun to take ill. Now, with no relief in sight, the griffin herds were thinning out and the Aturen people were without means of continued survival. Zaryn and Syrana had the luxury of Linaes and her tales of Syran’s world to use as a distraction and focus on as a source of hope. When the famine and drought settled in with the myst, and it simply seemed to grow worse as time went on, the two had begun to study Linaes’ ancient scrolls and the Cliffside Rune art and glyphs of the Godiya in depth and detail. Linaes had believed that the Mystic Portal was a way to another world, and Zaryn and Syrana thought that perhaps this new world was the answer to their people’s plight. Zaryn had been convinced this doorway lie on the plateau above them, somewhere in or just beyond the Woods to Eternity. After the rations began, Zaryn and Syrana began to devise a plan to attempt to save their home and their people.
Syrana had thought it was more of a game then an actual plan, but on the day that they discovered flight she had seen a new look in his eye. It was a look she had never recognized in Zaryn before. Suddenly there was a hint of hope that twinkled in his smile. A deep, meaningful drive had found a permanent home within his heart - he had a calling, a purpose. He had left nearly six months ago, and there had been no word from him since. That had also been when her dreams had begun, and she had begun to see another future for herself. She had often wondered if he had seen something in his dreams too, and if that was the inspiration for his hope.
In her dreams, she was always desperately trying to free a handsome young man from a cage, and she was always hopeful to see him instead of Zaryn when she closed her eyes. He seemed so sad, and so lonely, but he had a genuine smile, and she loved to fantasize that he was real and would come for her to take her away from this catastrophic mess. She loved the way he made her feel, and felt empowered when she was around him, a lot like she felt whenever she was able to sneak away. She never wanted to wake up when they were together, and had often fancied that perhaps for him it was the same. Those times were the only ones in which she felt she was really free to be the person that she was meant to, and not who she really was. But still, he was only a figment from her mind and there was certainly no chance he’d be coming to save the day.
“Syrana!” her Mother called. “Have you heard a word I have said?”
Syrana was shocked by her Mother’s tone. She didn’t want to admit that she had not heard a word of what her mother had said, nor that she had forgotten that she was even there. They hadn’t spoken of Zaryn since he had said he was going for help and it had been a source for immediate tension and distance between them, and was even still. He had taken one of their GrandFather’s amulets and promised to return with help, and simply disappeared in to the dark of night one day. Her Mother and Father had chastised and scolded her for weeks for allowing her Brother to run away, as if somehow it was her fault he had not remained to suffer with the rest of them. She had argued vehemently that at least Zaryn was trying to find an answer, but that generally worsened their mood and was not particularly a pleasant conversation for her to have to hear again either. No matter what she had tried, or what she had said, they had simply refused to listen, so she had finally learned to hold her tongue instead.
However, the Order of Reyan could offer no explanations as to the likely cause of the chaos in Aturen, no matter how far-fetched, nor did they offer any viable solutions to change their likely fate; even one as improbable as the one Zaryn had gone to chase. It was as if their little world had been knocked out of alignment with the cosmos and had been set suddenly spinning in a wobble, and they were simply content to leave it be. The life drought had swept through the land like Dem on his winged chariot as he rode the night sky, visiting all three moons until the sun returned when his nightly journey had been made. The Noble Council was useless, as was the Order, so she had been relieved when at least Zaryn was willing to try. Where else could Syran and the others that had joined them before she was born come from after all? Why else was the Godiyan Prophecy foretold if not to save their world from certain devastation?
Soon after Zaryn’s departure, the insect swarms had come. Unleashed on their few remaining fields like a rabid hound on a wounded griffin, the winged nightmares had sucked the last of the marrow out of the land from deep within its bones. What crops they hadn’t decimated were left nearly rotten to the roots, and the Kingdom of Aturen and all of its Citizens were now on borrowed time.
“Yes Mother, I mean no Mother, I…”
“You were daydreaming of your Brother yet again. He is dead to us now. He certainly doesn’t have any reason to come back here, if he even wanted to.”
Syrana’s mother, Queen Drema Banet, was a powerful closet seer. She had the unique ability to see a person’s thought processes without effort. For some reason unknown to her though, the Order of Reyan and the other Citizens of Aturen, disallowed talk of “unnatural knowings” and especially frowned upon any use of “unnatural gifts.” Syrana had discovered that she could only block her mother’s prying inner-eye when wearing one of her grandfather’s amulets or yellow gems. Even then, her Mother could still get through, somehow and it drove Syrana crazy that her private thoughts were not even hers. That was another reason she believed she had created the Man in the Cage; perhaps he was symbolic of how she felt or of what she needed. After all, he always let her speak her mind. In fact, he never said anything at all.
“Oh, just stop it, Mother! Zaryn promised! He will return with aid and help us resolve this crisis. Then we will realign our cycles with the Gods of Nature, just as it was prophesized by the Godiya in the Cliffside art, and no matter how obstinately you try, you will never brainwash me to believe otherwise.”
“Foolish child. No one has ever gone seeking the mystic beings and returned. They are the stuff of legend and lore. Nothing more than a reluctant tale we tell you children to get you to stay safe and be home before dark. It is a perilous suicide mission, nothing more.”
“No, I know this is not true,” Syrana thought. She fingered the unique ornamental bracelet around her wrist thoughtfully.
“He is not dead. I would know it, if he were,” she whispered softly, fighting back tears. She rubbed the softly glowing crystal at the center of the silver band, and watched it glow yellow softly in response to her touch.
The bracelet had been one of many strange and wondrous objects she and Zaryn had found in their Grandfather’s things after Linaes had passed on, and Syrana had worn it every day since to be closer to them both. She had never met him, but Linaes had told her wondrous tales of him and his world. Syran had been a good man; a kind and caring soul from another land where he had been a King. He was only in the life of their grandmother for a short time, but she had born his child, her Mother, and never loved anyone again. Like Zaryn, Syran too, had entered the Woods to Eternity, promising to return, but had not. Linaes had passed his belongings to Syrana because she bore his name, and she had shared them with her Brother, Zaryn. She had chosen the bracelet and Zaryn had taken the amulet that matched. Linaes had told her they had been a gift from her Grandfather, and that one day they would become the answer to many prayers.
Her eyes returned to the view from her tower window, and she let her mind wander back to Zaryn, and how as children they used to play where the water once was. Lush and fertile back then, Aturen had been a glorious world of Nature, and the majestic wonders of life and creation had been abundant then. The stepped plateaus had been a wonder of ingenuity and the fresh water channels had been of an extraordinary blue unlike any sapphire the world had ever known. Her eyes filled with tears as she looked out on Aturen now, with its barren terrain, and waterfalls of toxic myst. Over the years, the Cliffside paintings that foretold the Godiyan Prophecy, had been all but forgotten or completely dismissed as pointless and irrelevant, so no one had bothered to study the language and learn of what it once might have meant. Dangerously close to the Woods to Eternity, no one even dared to hunt or fish near there, much less study it, for the fear of being taken by myst. Of course, the myst then and the myst now were not the same in nature, as that myst had never fed upon their land.
Over the years many souls were said to have been “taken” by the myst as punishment for their attempt to find the mystic beings of Eternity, but in reality no one knew what that even really meant. They, like Zaryn, had gone off in search of something and simply failed to send for them or return. Either Eternity didn’t exist, or it was far too hard a journey to make twice, but it seemed as if Eternity was not going to send anyone back. Even Zaryn had been gone too long for there to be any hope now, it seemed, and she knew no one dared to follow him on his quest.
“Mother, our world is dying. We are all starving, and our precious resources are falling far below manageable ration levels now. The Godiyan Cliffside points the way to a different world. It is our only chance. The mystic portal must be found, or maybe even GrandFather Syran’s world, if we wish to have any chance at life, we must seek it out…”
“Silence your tongue, you foolish child. Syran was a fool who spoke of animals and change and things unnatural. Linaes’ stories and his trinkets have poisoned your mind with the things of an imaginary world, and options that simply do not exist.”
“Mother, if only you would listen! There is water inside the Godiya, fresh water that can be consumed but not brought to the fields. You must listen to reason. Come with me, let me show you what I know to be truth. I have seen it with my own eyes. Zaryn can fly when this glows brightly. He becomes a bird, with dark brown feathers and mighty wings.”
“BLASPHEMY! How dare you speak of such fairy tales and weave lies in the presence of your peoples suffering,” her Father cried angrily from the doorway that adjoined their chambers. Syrana did not know her Father had come into the room.
King Banet the Black was a pessimist and a sour natured man, and Syrana and her Father had not been on very good terms since Zaryn’s departure. Had she known he was there, she would not have spoken that aloud again. The last time they had argued of this he had responded most unkindly, and had burdened her greatly with painful and bitter guilt. She did not know why, but for some reason it was more painful for him to hear of the Godiya than for others. So, shamefully, she looked away and stared out the window of her little room in the castle tower once again. Her eyes watched as another in a long parade of vicious dust storms prepared to blow in and she was grateful for the coming distraction to get her off the hook from hearing this one-sided conversation, yet again.
“Father, a dust storm approaches!” Syrana said. King Banet looked out the window and sighed heavily as he hung his head.
“Tobias! Sound the bell! A storm approaches,” her Father called loudly. “We’ll finish this later, young lady.”
With that said, he turned angrily and stormed out of her tower, and Queen Drema made to follow him out, as well.
“Mother,” Syrana cried. “Please, how much longer can we ignore this? You must let me show you!”
“Syrana, NO! No more daydreaming of mythology and legend. We must find water for our herd or the remaining Griffin will not survive longer than a week, maybe two. Without the griffin we won’t have the strength to try and cross the Perlan, and without successfully scouting dry land somewhere amongst the Perlan Sea, we are doomed. No, our fate is sealed, as was Zaryn’s when he chose to chase legends instead of following his birthright. I know not why God has chosen to punish us so. Perhaps it is because of Syran, perhaps not. We can only face what lies ahead with open eyes, not daydream away in our tower as we ignore the suffering of our own people, and their families. No, this is the end of that. You are old enough to serve your family, with dignity and grace; qualities our people desperately need to see in all of us, especially now. You will not speak of this, to anyone, ever again!”
Syrana watched as her mother turned and left her chambers. She returned her gaze to the view outside of the small window she had spent many hours sitting in, staring out across the Kingdom toward the plateau at the top of the Godiya, and the Woods to Eternity. She could see the shroud of myst beginning to spread like a blanket that would wrap this world in a cocoon of death once more. In her heart, she knew both her Father and Mother were blind and wrong. Thinking of those legends, Syrana knew her heart was pure and that her intentions were honorable, noble and selfless. Not only was her will that of a siren of the sea, but her courage was as limitless as the wall of Godiya, and reality dictated there was no other choice.
She had long ago begun to form her own plan in her head in which she would rescue her Brother, her people, and her world. She had seen the one who would help them in another of her dreams. He was a King in another realm, and if she could find him, she could give Aturen a fighting chance. She was strong in her sense of purpose, and had faith that she and Zaryn were the ones for which the Godiya’s prophecy was meant. She knew she was a part of it, and she could sense the Godiya knew it, too. She could feel it stirring inside her whenever she neared it, calling to her from deep within. Besides, she also had a secret; one that was filled with might and wonder. She knew that when Syran’s bracelet glowed brightly, as it always did when near the Godiya, if she willed it, Syrana - much like her Brother, could also fly.