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Elys – Chapter 1: A Great Shock
Birds burst through the trees. Golden rays leaking through the forest canopy were covered by their sheer number. Lucas barreled through the endless greenery. Had he stopped screaming? Or was his voice just drowned out by the hellish cawing?
He tripped on another tree root. Head met dirt. His heart was pounding away, desperate to escape his chest. His lungs wanted to inhale the world. Every bone in his body should have broken from the fall. Every muscle should be joining in a dissonant chorus of agony. But they didn’t. And that was the true terror of this nightmare.
Lucas rose to his feet, looking with disbelief and horror at the toned arms and the muscular legs and the lean torso that were absolutely, most definitely not his. But these were the parts, this was the body, that he had woken to.
The last thing Lucas could remember was the sun setting on the silhouette of a man, a gun illuminated in the bronze glow. And then… darkness. Falling forever. Had he been shot? Wouldn’t he have heard the gunshot? In the end, it didn’t matter. He was dead. Lucas had died. And now he was here. And he was… in someone else’s body?
Reincarnated. The word stuck in Lucas’s mind. He laughed. A dry sound. It seemed so absurd, yet at the same time so obvious. He knew these kinds of stories. Some random kid would be reincarnated in a fantasy world with incredible powers. They even gave me a new body, he thought. But the experience was so much different than he’d imagined. Being in this body felt a little too good. It was unnatural. Unnerving.
Who am I? Was this actually a new body created just for him? Or had he taken someone over? What if there’s someone else in here, just waiting to take back control? He started to imagine an original host to this body helplessly watching from behind.
He was lost, and now he was going crazy. Wonderful. His eyes darted back and forth. Looking for something, anything that wasn’t an abyss of trees. A patch of dry dirt. Was it a path? He ran. The trees parted. It was a path! There was more sunlight along the path. This place was actually quite beautiful, with wildflowers of every color accenting the brilliant greens and gold.
Before he knew it, Lucas was no longer running. His heart was no longer at risk of exploding, and he was breathing regularly. The horror of having a new body gave way to curiosity. What was he capable of now? Were there others like him in this world?
He felt hot, sticky breath on the back of his neck. Lucas froze. Slowly, slowly, he turned his head. Eyes as big as his head stared back. The creature resembled a wild boar, covered in quills caked with mud. The beast stepped closer to Lucas. Its massive snout pressed against his chest, the force of an effortless movement still strong enough to push Lucas back.
“O-okay, big guy. No need to get so close.” Lucas backed away, as calmly as possible. No sudden movements. No display of fear. Just keep backing up. Keep backing up. I swear if I trip on something right now…
The beast squealed, a harsh sound that cut the air. Clumps of mud and grass erupted from its body as its quills stood on end, glittering in the sun. Lucas decided he’d seen enough and bolted down the path. The beast gave chase. The quills shredded leaves and gashed trees. Each step from its hooves shook the ground.
Lucas knew running a straight line would only get him so far. He had to find another route. But without the path he would be completely lost. He couldn’t resist looking back. His pursuer was nearly on top of him. It was do or die, no time to decide. He flung himself to the side, crashing into a bush. The creature rumbled past, unable to turn. The thunder of its hooves began to fade into the distance.
Lucas lay still. His chest was heaving. As he sat up, a searing pain shot across his back. He groaned, clawing at the quill lodged between his shoulders. He closed his eyes and quickly pulled it out. He howled.
The quill was about as long as his leg, and was flexible yet sturdy. Striking it against a tree, it left a noticeable mark. Lucas, now back on his feet, held the quill close as he ventured once more down the path. The giant beast was nowhere to be found, but if it were to come again…
No, I’m not fighting that thing. Lucas shook his head. But at least he had a means to defend himself from if he were faced with something…smaller.
“Hey, whatcha got there? That from a swill?” Lucas jumped upon hearing the voice and fell onto his back, hissing in pain.
A girl stood over him, an eyebrow raised. “Thought you’re a fighter, didn’t expect you’re weak-kneed.”
“Why… why did you do that?”
“Name’s Allision. Or Allie, if you like. But not Al. Boy name and all that.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“That’s not what you ask when you’re meetin’ someone, rukshit. Now, lemme do it proper.” Allision reached out her hand and pulled Lucas to his feet. “Your name? What’s it?”
“Lucas,” he mumbled.
“Speak up, rukshit!”
“My name’s Lucas.”
“Manners. Wasn’t so hard, right? You give ‘em, you get ‘em back. Now whatcha doing out here? Hunting swill?”
Allision looked to the sky with dramatized exasperation. “Auros above. Okay, ruk- Lucas, I mean. This here?” She grabbed the quill and held it to his face. “That’s off a swill. Big nasty you killed to get it. But no meat. Why?”
“I didn’t kill this ‘swill’ thing. I just kinda… ran away from it.”
“Let it spike you and ran away? Sounds a fancy suicide, that.” With those words, she dropped the quill and walked away.
Lucas took after her. “Suicide? I was running for my life.”
“You’re bleeding still. Didn’t get the poison out. I mean, that’s not what kills. But it smells it. It’ll find you. Keep me out of it, then.”
“Wait! Hold on a second! How do I get the poison out?”
Allision stopped and turned to Lucas with a devious smile. “Follow. We’ll wash it out. Plenty of water back home.”
# # #
Lucas jumped at every sound. He imagined the swill hunting him, staying just out of sight until his guard was down. Allision strode forward confidently, following a series of trees marked with burns.
“Allie? I’m… well, I’m not exactly from here. So could you maybe tell me more about this world?”
“This world? What, you’re from the moon?”
“What? No. Well, I don’t really know how to say it. I’m… from a different world?”
“The Outer Lands, right? Lemme guess, you escaped a slave ship. You’re strong and dumb, sounds a perfect slave.”
“No, I… Excuse me?”
“No worries. No slaves down here. Against the law, that. But up north it’s different. They say all the ice froze their hearts. I say they got icicles stuck up their- I mean, the guy in charge up there is, you know. Raiders go take Outer Lands folk like you. Make you do who-knows-what. But down here? They get their boats sunk. Took one down myself once. Swear it.”
Lucas was impressed. “How?”
“Magic!” She thrust her arms out at him. He leaped backwards and fell over. Allision snorted, then broke out into a full cackle.
Of course there would be magic in this world. But it was still weird to hear that one girl could take down an entire ship. She was exaggerating… right? Lucas looked down at his hand, flexing his fingers. “Allie, do you think I could use magic too?”
Lucas looked up to retort, but his breath caught as he saw his new surroundings. The forest path had opened onto a gently sloping hill looking over a sparkling blue sea. Ships sailed across the horizon. Sailors talked and hollered at each other around the docks. The scent of salt water filled the air.
Allision flashed a smile. Her black hair shone a faint blue in the sun. “Almost home.”
Lucas gave an awkward grin back. She was kind of cute. In her own way.
A bell rang out. At once, every voice was silenced, and every eye was turned to the sea.
Great white sails eclipsed the sun. A monstrosity of wood and metal cast a shadow over the town. At its side was another ship, savage and imposing in its own right, but completely dwarfed in comparison as the behemoth dragged it along with ropes and chains.
One by one, the people raised their arms to the sky. Lucas turned to Allision. She didn’t look worried. In fact, she was practically beaming.
“Atta boys! Show em what for!” Following her cheering, the town erupted with hollers and whistles. Allision took Lucas’s hand and sprinted down the hill.
“Hey, hey! What’s going on?”
“Just look,” she said, pointing to the docks. From the great ship came numerous men in white uniforms. Golden badges adorned their chests. Each was armed with a short, curved blade. Some guarded the docks, while others moved to land and waved to the crowd. A final division appeared from the other ship, along with an assortment of frightened women and children. As men in a similar state appeared, families were reunited and the people were led onto land.
Finally, the former crew of the ship surfaced from within. Their arms were bound, and each one was under the eyes of the uniformed men. Lucas gawked at the sight of these raiders. Images of pirates in movies flashed through his mind. They didn’t look all that different.
“We’re with the navy, you bastards! You can’t do nothing to us!” One raider spoke up.
A man in uniform grasped the sword at his hip. “A Norsheeran vessel in Outer Land waters, filled nearly to bursting with illicit goods and hostages, and you plead innocent?”
“We got permission! Dolgusi hisself!”
“Even if that were true, the permission of Lord Dolgusi does not alone supersede Elysian law. Or would you prefer we call on him to come all the way down here to request your pardon?”
“I… No. No, sir.”
Lucas felt himself being dragged off. He watched the raiders be walked into the great ship as the crowd booed and cursed at them.
# # #
Allision stopped once they were a good distance away. “Poison out, now. Should’ve done this before gawking at that, probably. Imagine if the swill came over then. Scary thought, that.” She yanked Lucas’s shirt off before he could object. The back was shredded and bloody.
“It was that bad?” Lucas gasped. “Why didn’t you say anything!”
“Eh, you’re not moaning and groaning. No big deal, right?”
“This is the most of my own blood I’ve ever seen.”
“I know, right? Full of surprises, you.”
“Just… just get this poison out.”
“Right then.” She put the tattered cloth in the sea water, then rubbed it across Lucas’s back.
“Ow! Ouch, dammit! Allie. Allie!”
“Shut it and keep still.”
Lucas bent forward, gritting his teeth. Looking down, he could make out a rough reflection of himself. Did he still have the same face? He couldn’t tell. Maybe he’d be able to get a better look later, when the waters were still and he wasn’t being tortured by this weird girl he met in the forest.
Allision tossed aside the cloth. “This part shouldn’t hurt, right.” She cracked her knuckles.
“Wait, what are you doing now?”
“No, Lucas. Fire magic. Burn the poison.”
“Yes, Lucas. Healing magic,” she said in a fake polite voice. “Better?”
“Much better. Don’t do it again.”
“Not what I meant. Poison’s out, I mean. Look.”
A sick, black liquid was splattered on the sand. “Oh God, that is disgusting!”
“Still got that quill on you?” she asked, standing absolutely still.
“This thing? Yeah, why?”
Allision slowly pointed to the swill lumbering towards them. “Use it. Take it down.”
“What? No, are you crazy?”
“I know what I’m doing.”
“Oh, so now you’re a strategist?”
“Damn right. And I say swing at it. Keep its attention. Lemme get a good shot at it, right.”
“A good shot, huh? What if you hit me?”
“Won’t. If you do your part, I mean. And stay out of the water.”
Lucas’s eyes darted from Allision to the swill. If he just made a break for town, could he make it? No, if Allision didn’t come back with him, someone would notice.
“C’mon, what you’re scared for? This one’s a runt!”
The swill’s quills shuddered, making an eerie rattling sound. A runt? It’s the size of a minivan! Lucas sighed and gripped the quill with his hands. He posed in what he imagined was a fighting stance.
“It won’t wait forever, rukshit. Take the swing!”
Lucas closed his eyes and rushed at the beast, swinging downward with all his might. The quill felt awkward and heavy in motion. He could feel his feet being pulled along in the sand by it. His eyes flicked open as he felt the quill sink into the beast’s head. His hands stung from the impact of the swing. Blood flecked into his face, blinding his right eye.
He pulled away but the quill was stuck. His palms turned red as he desperately tried to pry his weapon out. He lost his grip. He was falling backwards. Without thinking, he turned his body around and flailed his arms as he stumbled away. It was a sloppy retreat, but he was moving.
The beast’s deafening squeal was coming closer. Lucas tried to dive to the side, but lost his balance on the sand. He felt something heavy slam into his back. The world spun as he flew across the shoreline. Just before he landed in the water, everything went white in a brilliant flash. The crash of thunder echoed as his head went under.
His knees were shaking. His ears were ringing. But he was alive and back on his feet in the shallows. This body wasn’t invincible, but was a hell of a lot better than the one he used to have. The blood was gone, and he could see again. The swill was on its side, squealing and snorting. Lucas caught a glimpse of Allision stumbling over. The beast rolled back onto its belly, kicking up sand as it charged once more.
Before Lucas could react, the swill extended its quills. Sand erupted in all directions. It hit him like a ton of bricks. It cut at his eyes. It got in his nose and mouth. He took several clumsy steps backwards, barely holding on to his balance. His eyes were burning. He couldn’t see. His chest was heaving. He couldn’t breathe. All he could do was listen to the swill’s steps rattling around in his head.
Lucas tried to scream, but sand caught in his throat and he doubled over, coughing. He was going to die. He was going to die again.
He remembered. How it felt to die. The water around his legs was like the cold embrace of death. The horror of nothingness closed in around his mind. The frenzied beating of his heart accelerated into a drum roll.
I don’t want to die! I can’t die! No! I can’t! I need to live! I have to live!
Something primal awakened in Lucas. He was no longer thinking, no longer feeling. His mind and soul fell away to the overwhelming force.
A raspy whisper rose from his throat, growing louder and louder until it was an infernal howl. His arm thrust forward, clawing at the world.
The world turned white. Crackling lightning split the air. Then all was silent and still. The swill lay unmoving. Patches of its hide were blackened, and it smelled of smoke.
A wave of pain washed over Lucas. He retched into the sea, then collapsed. With the last of his strength, he pulled himself onto the shore. He lay in the sand, looking up at the red sky through the blotches in his vision. His heart was still racing. Traces of that primal fear lingered within him. But for now, he was safe. He could rest.
Something dug into his side. Allision stood over him, scowling. Her mouth was moving, but he couldn’t hear what she was saying over the ringing in his ears. Lucas simply stared back. Allision kicked him again and resumed her inaudible scolding. She then paused and knelt down, placing her hands on Lucas’s ears. A warm, soft light emanated from her hands.
“…cas. Lucas.” Allision’s voice sounded distant. “Hear me now?”
“Good.” She stood up and kicked him once more. “C’mon. Or I’ll leave you here.”
A man’s voice said, “Manners, Allie. What’d I tell you about ‘em?”
Allision rolled her eyes. “You give ‘em, you get ‘em back.”
“Atta girl. You remember it, so how about putting it to work?”
“Dammit, Pa. Boy’s a right rukshit getting into this mess.”
“And what is he for getting you out of it?”
Allision shrugged. “Lemme know if anyone can figure that one out. He’s an Outlander, probably. Said he was from-“
“I’m right here,” Lucas said, standing up. It hurt to move.
“Good you’re back.” He wore a white uniform and a golden badge.
Lucas shook his hand. “It’s nice to meet you, sir.”
“Sero. Looks you met Allie?”
“Yes, sir- ah, Sero. She just kind of ran into me.”
“She told me the whole story. You’re okay? No, don’t say anything. Just… just come with us. For dinner, I mean. The least we can do, for… you know.”
“Pa, told you it wasn’t me!”
“Talk about it later. Right now, there’s an Outlander who needs a warm meal and a place to sleep.”
Allision sighed. “I’ll get the guest room ready, right. Lucas, c’mon.” She dragged him by the arm to a homely cottage on the edge of town.
# # #
Tonight’s dinner was roasted swill. At first, Lucas was apprehensive about eating something that had tried to kill him. But Allision’s mother Saiki insisted he try it. Unsurprisingly, it tasted like pork.
“I thought you’d like it,” Saiki said with a sweet smile. “Usually I just fix up whatever Allie catches, but tonight is special.”
“Speaking of, you don’t’ seem too bad a catch for Allie, you know.”
“So what’s the occasion?” Lucas asked.
Sero replied, “I’m here, for one.”
“Missed you, Pa.”
“Missed you, both of you. Lucas, you saw the Albatross. Mighty fine ship, she is. It’s mostly to keep watch on Norsheere. Nasty business, that lot.”
“I heard they take slaves from the Outer Lands?”
“They do. So we take the Albatross up there and keep an eye out for slavers.”
“Any of ‘em who come down here answer to me!” Allision raised her fist.
“That’s right. Allie likes to take watch sometimes. Wake all of Tarpaul before any get too close.”
“Well she certainly seems fit for that,” Lucas muttered. Allision smiled, and something struck his shin. “What I mean is, she told me she took down a ship on her own.”
Saiki chuckled. “She won’t dare let us forget about that.”
“Wait, you mean it’s true?”
“Well, it wasn’t exactly a ship.”
“Smaller than a ship, right. Still sunk it myself.”
“Okay, how small are we talking?”
Allision’s face turned red. “Doesn’t matter. Used my magic on it. That’s what matters. No one else here can say that!”
Sero interjected, “Strange thing, that. Lucas, you’re Outlander, right?”
“Allie told you I am, but I don’t think so. You probably won’t believe me, but… I’m from another world.”
“Of course I believe you. I understand exactly what you’re feeling,” Saiki said. “I’m an Outlander myself. When I first came here, everything felt completely different.”
“He can’t be Outlander. Saw it myself. He used magic.” Everyone looked at Allision.
“What, didn’t you feel it?”
“I’m not too sure of what happened at all. I thought you killed the swill. Besides, earlier you said I couldn’t use magic.”
“Probably couldn’t. But you did. Went crazy and blasted the damn thing with lightning.” All eyes were on Lucas. “Standing in the water, right. Told you not to.”
“Did I really use magic? I mean, I wouldn’t know how to do it again.”
“Looked like you just let the mana take over. A sight to see, but sloppy. Lemme guess, you felt so scared like you’re gonna piss yourself.”
“Y-yeah. It was terrifying.”
“That settles it. You used magic. Probably.”
Sero spoke up. “Allie, you’re sure?”
“That’s how it works. Lightning magic, I mean.”
“If you say I can use magic, then I guess I believe it. Is it really such a big deal?”
“Outlanders can’t use magic. It’s in Elysian blood. Even then, it’s rare. Sure, Tarpaul’s got a lot of Outlanders. But still plenty Elysians and mixed. And I’m the only one on this island who can use magic.”
“So… I must have Elysian blood in me?” Lucas stared at the reflection in his cup. The face that stared back was only slightly different from the one he knew, but those small changes were enough to make the whole seem alien.
“If you don’t, you’d be the first Outlander to use magic. Not counting the Warden, right.”
“First one to use magic, long time ago. Probably.”
“Is the Warden some kind of ancient hero?”
“More or less. Why’s that your first guess?”
“Uh, well… in my world, we have a lot of stories about people saving the world.”
“Why? Your world needs saving?”
“Allision.” Saiki gave her a stern look. “Lucas, we also have stories like that. But the Warden wasn’t that kind of hero. He was a well-known figure in our old history, who helped his fellow Outlanders become free and respected. There are many tall tales about him as well, but we do know that he was one of the first to use magic.”
“Oh, reminds me,” Sero said. “Augur’s aboard the Albatross with us. Should take you to him, he might know what’s going on. And with all the Outlanders we freed, we’ll be busy helping ‘em settle down. You can stay with us until the Order’s found you a place.”
“Thank you. Thank you so much!”
“No problem. And Allie likes the company.”
“Told you shut it!” Allision hollered from the kitchen.
Lucas helped Saiki finish clean up. She told him stories of being captured by raiders and being rescued by Sero, but then having to rescue him on several occasions during the voyage to Tarpaul. When the table was cleared and the dishes were washed and stored away, Lucas headed to his new room. Allision was waiting there.
“Lucas. Finally got what you meant. About being from another world, I mean. Ma was talking about history. So I thought what it’d be like if things happened differently back then, right. Everything now might have changed a lot. So… maybe it’s like you’re from there.”
“Like an alternate timeline? I’m pretty impressed you came up with that idea.”
“What’s that mean? Eh, ruk-“ She took a deep breath. “Sorry. Didn’t mean that. I’ve been treating you… bad. I know. Haven’t been giving you any manners. Want you to know that isn’t me. The me I want to be, I mean. It’s just that… Are you okay?”
“Y-yeah, I’m fine.”
“I mean it. When you used magic it had lots of power but no control. You feel anything after?”
“I was blind, deaf, and exhausted. But I’m mostly better. Mostly. I should be good in the morning.”
“Not just that. You still feel scared? Jittery?”
“Of course I was shaken up, my life was at stake. But don’t worry, that’s settled down too.”
“Okay. I’m glad. Listen, I want to teach you. Magic. How to control it. But not to use it all the time. I’ll teach you just in case. Want that?”
“Yeah, sounds like fun.”
“Can be fun. If you’re in control, I mean. But if you’re not, don’t use it. At all. I’m surprised you didn’t completely lose it back there. Relieved.”
“Is magic dangerous to use?”
Allision quietly nodded.
“Thanks for the warning. And for running into me. And… everything. This might sound crazy, but I’m actually looking forward to what this world has in store for me.”
“It does sound crazy.” She smiled. “Good night, crazy.”
He smiled back. “Good night, Allie.”
Lucas lay in bed, wondering if he should feel excited or worried. Maybe both. He thought about his fight with the swill. When he pictured himself in a fantasy world, he imagined leaping into battle with grace and style. Today, he failed at using a makeshift weapon, got knocked into the sea, and nearly killed himself or went insane trying to take down an overgrown porcupine boar thing. And this new body thing was a lot more freaky than in theory.
He heard Allision whisper. “Hey, Lucas. I’m a light sleeper. Walls are thin between our rooms. So don’t talk in your sleep or I’ll smother you with a pillow.”