-342 AE: Silodas, Aodhiim-
Voltex Aodh (commonly known as ‘Tex’ to those who knew him), a Loremaster in Training for the Knights of Ekimu (and Aodhiim, as the higher ups of the nation were always keen to remind him), stepped into his home on the outskirts of the city of Silodas one day late in the year 341 AE to the smell of coffee. He immediately froze in the open doorway, and began reaching for the sword at his side. He wasn’t very good with it – his lack of prowess in combat was one of many reasons why he was in training to become a Loremaster – but hopefully it would be enough to deter an intruder in his home.
He stepped further into the home, dropping his bag onto the floor and kicking the door shut before gripping the handle of his sword tightly with both hands, creeping toward the smell. With each step, his heart rate increased; droplets of sweat ran down the back of his neck, and adrenaline raced through his veins.
Outside the kitchen, he paused, hesitating, the anticipation building.An odd place for a thief to scavenge
, he thought, frowning. There’s no shortage of food that I know of in Aodhiim….
Pushing the thought and his confusion aside, he stepped into the kitchen, raised his sword, and-
-froze again, the confusion rushing back, this time in a wave that crashed over him. His sword dropped to his side and then fell to the floor with a clatter as he stumbled back into the cupboards behind him, clutching at the countertop with both hands to keep his balance as his legs threatened to give way.
Sitting across the small room at his table was a lone figure, clad in black and white armor. A black cloak was draped over the back of the chair, and he wore a pure white Protector Mask, still the only one of its kind, his blue eyes shining.
“No,” he muttered, shaking his head. “No, you’re not here. You’ve been missing since the beginning of the war.”
A small, sad smile appeared on the figure’s face. “Which war? There have been so many. Wars for the Walls, Wars for the Throne, Civil Wars of Ice and Fire and Jungle, Conquerings and Burnings… it becomes hard to keep track.”
Tex swallowed thickly, his throat dry. “The War of Five Kings, after the Battle for the Dawn. It started early in 328. Fourteen years ago.”
“The War of Five Kings,” the figure murmured, sounding amused. “There were
five kings, yes?”
“You were born around then, as I recall,” the figure continued. “You’re only fourteen now, are you not? A little bit young to be living on your own, and training with the Knights of Ekimu. Particularly for a member of House Aodh. Family has always been so important to them, has it not? Maintaining the legacy, they call it. Continuing the longest lasting dynasty on Okoto. How is it that you have been left out on your own?”
Tex stared at the figure for a long moment. “I think you already know. You are
the First Mask Maker, then. Voltex.”
“’The First Mask Maker’… I wasn’t truly the first, though I don’t believe I could remember who was,” the figure mused. “Too many of us took up the title at once. But I suppose for you Okotoans, it doesn’t really matter. You still call Ekimu the Last Mask Maker, do you not?”
“There you go, then. But to answer your question, yes. I am Voltex.” The Mask Maker shifted in his seat, and chuckled. “I don’t think I have ever had the issue of speaking to someone with the same name before, do you know? I was always the lowest of the Council of Twelve, never one that the Okotoans felt was worthy of naming their children after. And then I exiled myself for all those centuries… you’re the first yourself, in a way.”
“My friends just call me Tex,” Tex said, shrugging, a lump in his throat. “So did my mother, before she… well. She said you saved her, during the Battle for the Dawn. Said that Kulta was just cutting through the Fire Protectors like butter, and she was next… and then suddenly there you were, standing in the way, holding Kulta off. She was already pregnant with me, probably shouldn’t have been fighting, but she knew she had to. But without you I’d have never been born.”
The Mask Maker nodded, looking weary, and when he next spoke, Tex could hear all of his many years in his tired voice. “I know. I used to visit, during the early years of the war, when I learned that she’d named you after me. At first I just tried to change her mind, and then when your father was killed, just to help out. I took on a new identity for a little while and stuck around, but… eventually, the war just became too much. Okoto had just united together to save itself from annihilation, only to turn around and begin annihilating itself. I hit my breaking point.”
Tex frowned. “Wait. You
“I was. You remember?”
Tex shook his head. “Only… bits and pieces. I was so little.”
The Mask Maker smiled. “You were at that. I think I did love her, you know. Your mother. I can’t really be sure; unlike most of my brethren, I always found it difficult to forge lasting attachments to anyone. I always thought it easier to stay somewhat distant, to avoid the curse of time ripping us apart; so I don’t really know what love is, really. But your mother… well. Nikila Aodh was an extraordinary individual, one whom I considered very special. I will miss her dearly.”
Stepping forward, Tex pulled out the second chair and collapsed into it, staring dull at the table’s surface. “You do know, then.”
Beside him, Voltex sighed. “I do.”
Quiet drifted down on the two of them, Loremaster and Mask Maker, as they silently mourned, until after a long moment, Voltex broke it.
“I… have another purpose here. I don’t intend to stay long,” he said, causing Tex to glance up at him and frown at the Mask Maker’s eyes, which had shifted from blue to violet.
“I’ve come with a warning,” Voltex continued, ignoring him, pulling out several scrolls and sliding them across the table. “When I vanished from Okoto, I returned to my old home – Ikir. The island was still mostly inhabitable after all this time, though it was no surprise, considering who was killed there.”
Tex’s brows furrowed. “The Magical Crisis, last year. King Vinheim arranged a voyage to Ikir after some of the Knights discovered records of it in the notes you left behind. Most of the crew died, but those that returned… they brought back a few items. The Torch of Ma, for one.”
Voltex nodded. “Provides its bearer with the divine protection of Ma, assuming Ma is willing, though it is fatal to wield for very long. And the Staff of Annona, the source of all magic, among others. The crew – those who even made it to Ikir, at least – ran into me. I… had a difficult choice to make. It was ether allow Okoto to die off now, without magic… or return the Staff of Annona to you, and send out the beacon.”
Tex felt his stomach drop. “The what
“The Staff of Annona is one of the sources of all magic,” the Mask Maker said. “It was responsible for the birth of magic here on Okoto, and was so powerful that even after its removal more than a millennium ago, magic still ran through the island’s veins until recently. But that’s also the source of my concern – the Staff is so powerful that anyone of a certain power level can… sense its presence, in a way, and moving it from one location to another… would cause a significant shift. The moment it left Ikir, everyone knew it was lost. The moment it arrived on Okoto…”
“…everyone knew where it was again,” Tex finished. “Why did nobody go after it before?”
Voltex grimaced. “Many reasons. Someone… very important died on Ikir, and the rest of their kind were quick to threaten vengeance on any who might desecrate the island where their brother fell. But as time passed, its presence also became background noise. The problem now is that it has been moved, so there’s a vacuum where it used to be that will lead them straight here.”
Tex rubbed at his temples, staring down at the scrolls. “What are these, then?”
“Corrections to the histories I wrote,” Voltex murmured. “I wasn’t entirely accurate with them, you see. The histories were always meant to focus on Okoto, so I stuck with what was relevant to you… but it’s now imperative that you know the truth.”
“It was never a Council of Twelve that ruled over the Mask Makers,” Voltex said, his voice colored with an anger as old as time. “It was a Council of Thirteen.”
“What happened to the thirteenth?”
“He betrayed us all,” Voltex whispered, eyes blanking as the Mask Maker lost himself in the past. “During the disaster that destroyed Ikir, he turned his back on us. Enslaved himself to a Titan of Darkness in exchange for his own life, never minding that he was forsaking the rest o us. He helped them bring down a dragon and tear our island apart.”
Tex leaned in, his heart racing. “Who was he?”
“His name was Sahmad.” Voltex turned to face him, leaning in as well. “That’s why I’m here. I had thought, surely, that he would have perished since he deserted us, or at the very least, that I would not see him again. I was wrong.”
“You found him on Ikir,” Tex realized.
The Mask Maker nodded, pushing his chair back and standing to his feet. He reached down, reaching into a pouch at his side and pulling out a pure white mask, identical to his own. He placed it down on the table with a thunk
. “This… is for you. When Sahmad arrives… you must avoid him at all costs. But he must also hear about you – about the Voltex who wears black and white armor, with his pure white mask.”
“He’s already betrayed you once,” Tex said. “Are stories about you really going to slow him down?”
“Perhaps not,” Voltex said, shaking his head and shrugging, “but it might give him pause, or convince him not to act openly hostile. Or perhaps we will be lucky.”I doubt that
, Tex thought.
“My presence, or what appears to be my presence, will send a message that Okoto isn’t forgotten,” Voltex said. “It could mean that Ekimu and Umarak and the Tribe of Time are all somewhere on the island, just not revealing themselves. He’ll be forced to use caution, to avoid our wrath.”
Tex picked up the mask, staring down at it. “Where are you going, if you won’t be here?”
“A new age is dawning,” the Mask Maker said. “With the end of the War of Five Kings, the Age of War has ended.”
Tex shook his head, confused. “From what I’ve been hearing, we’ll be lucky if we make it another ten years without another war sprouting up.”
The Mask Maker waved his hand dismissively. “War never ends. But in the Age of War – it has been near constant. But Okoto has shifted dramatically; one region a barren, and the others making up four independent kingdoms. One ancient power awoken, and subsequently defeated. But Kulta’s death, and now the recovery of the Staff of Annona… your greatest fight is still to come. The Great War.”
Tex shivered, a chill running down his spine. “The Great War?”
“The only war that matters,” Voltex said. “It has already begun, though it won’t reach Okoto for quite some time yet. Ekimu and Umarak and I… we hope to delay its progress to these shores. Long enough that you can deal with what awaits you below.”
Voltex nodded, and Tex stood to follow as the Mask Maker walked out of the kitchen and down the hall, pausing at the front door. The Mask Maker looked back at him, his eyes blue once more. “The balance of power is skewed. The Titans of Light are all dead or gone, and Okoto no longer under their protection. But the Titans of Shadow remain strong… and the Dragons are becoming active again.”
“Dragons? Titans of Shadow?” Tex shook his head again, his thoughts spinning. “I don’t understand.”
“You don’t need to, not yet,” Voltex said. “Just… watch for Sahmad. And watch the Barren. If it stirs, before I return….”
Voltex closed his eyes. “Pray.”
The Mask Maker opened the door, and then he was gone.
The Great Game returns October 6th.