Book 1: Spark of Imagination​​​​​​​
Introduction
We could bend the entire universe to our will.
We would destroy our enemies at the wave of a hand.
Our power seemed infinite, and no one dared to stand against us.
We were gods.

But we forgot how we obtained our power.
We were ignorant to forget that our power was stolen, and that one day its rightful owner might come to reclaim it.

Because of our greed; we lost everything.
Now we can only hope this dark chapter will never be forgotten.

There might come a day when we are once again tempted to wield this power.
But it cannot be controlled.
The power is his, and his alone.

Locked away in endless dreams.
The dreamer must never awaken.
Vincent is taking some time unwinding at the small peninsula by the lake just outside of town. The water is calm with the sun standing high above, and in the distance across the lake; trees are creating a green belt between the blue sky and the shimmering water. By the lake where he sits it is mostly quiet, and only rarely does someone come walking by.
He was often out by the water to clear his head, but today he has a hard time finding his calm, and a feeling of anxiety is building up inside him for reasons he cannot figure out. Vincent tries to remember what a friend had taught him about meditation and decides he would give it a try to see if it helps. It takes him a while to get comfortable, but while sitting there, time gets away from him and he does not notice that the day passes into evening. The sun is now disappearing behind the treeline and clouds are gathering in the sky while the wind keeps getting colder. Eventually, he feels so cold that he decides to get up and head back into town. But just as he gets on his feet and picks up his bag, he feels as if a needle gets stabbed into his head, making him loose balance and fall back down again. When he hits the ground, something lashes around his legs and starts dragging him away at high speed. As he tumbles and turns, he can feel the razor-sharp ground shredding his clothes and starting to pierce his skin. But just as quick as he was pulled away, he suddenly stops.
Vincent takes a few deep breaths before he looks down towards his feet, and he finds himself at the edge of a dark hole. As he realizes how close he is, he quickly crawls back and looks terrified around him. As he calms down again, he carefully stands up and slowly leans towards the hole, trying to see how deep it goes, but there is only darkness; so dark that it burns your eyes looking at it. Vincent takes a step back and looks around carefully. It is a large cave with symbols carved into the walls; filled with what looks like metal, glowing in pale blue, and it is difficult to see anything except the symbols stretching far in all directions. He takes a step towards the hole again and looks down into it. The darkness keeps moving and he gets the feeling that it is watching him, trying to reach out to him. It seems to be alive and sucks all the light out the air, unlike anything he had ever seen before.
While staring into the deep darkness, sadness starts creeping upon him. The sadness turns into grief and he begins to cry without even knowing why. He feels as if a large stone is pressing on his chest, and his body is getting so heavy that he can hardly keep upright anymore. As Vincent is fighting the urge to lie down on the ground, he hears something moving closer towards him through the darkness below, and suddenly it explodes up around him; engulfing him completely. He then feels his mind being invaded, and a voice starts talking to him in a tongue he cannot understand. Each word is like a knife gracing him, making small cuts, and as the words intensify, he feels as if they start to cut off small pieces of his skin and flesh. Moments later, he is standing in his hometown, where everything around him is burning. People are running screaming out of their houses and the sky is filled with green flames, swirling in and out of the clouds like a forming tornado. The clouds suddenly open, and beams of light rain down over the fleeing people, cutting them to pieces. The pain is now so intense that he falls to his knees, and as the pain intensifies even more, he eventually falls flat to the ground. But just before he passes out, the words start becoming clearer and he can just make out one sentence:
   “Through death, there will be life…”
The pain disappears, and he quickly sits up, finding himself at the lake again. It is dark but the wind has calmed down, and he can hear the waves softly hitting the rocks in the water below him. Vincent looks at his arms and legs to check if the cuts that he felt are there, but there is not even a scratch.
   ‘What the hell was that? Did I fall asleep? Was I dreaming?’
As he brushes the dirt from his clothes, he hears a strange crackling sound above him, and he looks up to see a blue fireball falling in towards the city. Vincent quickly gets on his feet to get a better view, and sees it crash somewhere in the forest with a big explosion.
   ‘What the actual f… Was that a meteor? But they shouldn’t be blue? Or should they?’
   ‘I have to see where it crashed… I hope no one got hurt.’
He hurries to his motorcycle, gets on it, starts the engine, and rides off in the direction where he saw the explosion. As he rides, smoke starts to rise towards the sky, and when Vincent gets closer, he can see the smoke coming from behind the trees close to the road. He drives in on a small dirt path through the forest, heading towards the impact. Close to the crash the path stops, so he parks his bike and starts running the last hundred meters. Just then, he realizes how he is rushing towards this potential danger, without any regard for his own safety. But he is driven by a sense of urgency, that he must get to the site as fast as possible, and the feeling inside him is so strong that he cannot ignore it.
   ‘What am I doing? Why do I feel this urge to get there?’
Once he gets close enough, he can see a large crater with smoke coming out of it.
   ‘No, it’s not smoke… It’s more like… mist.’
To his surprise there is no heat or fire anywhere. On the contrary, it feels quite cool. He takes a step forward and looks down on the ground, which is covered by crystals, shimmering in pale blue. As Vincent walks in through the mist, he sees something in the middle of the crater,  and he moves carefully through the mist to see what it is. When he gets close enough, he can make out the shape of a person lying on the ground. Vincent gets down on his knees to find a woman laying flat on her back on the ground. She is wearing a helmet and a dark, shimmering suit, with some parts of her suit having the same blue glow as the crystals. As he reaches for her helmet, it feels like it is made of metal, but when he removes it, it feels extremely light. He puts the helmet beside her and reaches down to feel her pulse, trying to check if she is alive. Just then, he hears sirens in the distance and he stands up, looking towards the road.
   ‘It must be more people that saw the crash and reported it.’
He reaches down to pick up the woman, but just as he does, she wakes up and looks at him with a big smile.
   “Vincent… it’s you! It’s… really you... It’s me… Karena…”
She then passes out again.
He can now see the blue lights from the rescue vehicles close by, so he starts running towards them with the woman in his arms. When he gets close, two policemen come running to meet him, and one of the them approaches Vincent with his hand on his gun.
   “What happened here?”
Vincent catches his breath.
   “I found her in the crater. She woke up for a moment, but then passed out again.”
The policeman relaxes his hand and points up to the road.
   “The ambulance is incoming, let’s get her up there.”
An ambulance stops behind the police car, and Vincent carries her towards it. As a man and a woman step out of the ambulance, Vincent continues up to the man, who is closest to him.
   “Please help her. I don’t know what happened, but she woke up for a moment just now. She seemed to know me.”
The paramedic is quiet for a few seconds while he quickly checks the woman’s vital signs.
   “Her pulse is weak, and she has a high fever.”
The driver opens the back door.
   “Let’s get her in the ambulance. There is a seat in the back, but don’t get in the way of my colleague.”
They put the woman on a stretcher, lift her into the ambulance, get in themselves, and start driving towards the city at great speed with the sirens wailing loudly.
As they drive away, Vincent looks down at the woman while the paramedic examines her.
   ‘Those clothes… the markings in my dream, and the crystals in the crater… all with the same blue glow. Are they connected somehow?’
   ‘And why do I recognize her? I would remember if I met her before…’
Once they arrive at a hospital, Vincent hurries in after the paramedics and takes a seat in the waiting hall, while the woman gets rushed into the emergency room.
A short while later, a nurse comes with a form for Vincent to fill in.
   “Sorry, but could you fill in her personal details? And are you her family? Friend? We don’t seem to have a record of her in our systems.”
Vincent shakes his head.
   “I’m sorry, but I only know her first name… Karena.”
The nurse starts filling in some parts of the form.
   “Okay… well, I will fill in that for now. We can fill out the rest later.”
   “How do you know her?”
Vincent looks confused at the nurse.
   “I don’t really know her. I just found her like this.”
The nurse looks sceptically at Vincent and writes something on the form.
   “Okay, well, please stay here and you will be updated if her situation changes. We might have to ask you some additional questions as well.”
Vincent nods.
   “Thank you! I will.”
The nurse nods to Vincent before she walks off and into a room down a corridor.
As Vincent finally starts to calm down; he begins reflecting again over what just happened back there.
   ‘How did she recognize me? And why do I feel this connection to her? … It’s like I know her from somewhere.’
He cannot explain it, but he feels that she is important and that he must find out more about her. So, he stays and waits to see that she will be okay at least.
After about two hours, a doctor steps into the waiting room and looks around for a while, before he walks up to Vincent.
   “Are you… Vincent?
Vincent stands up.
   “Yes, that’s me! Is she okay?”
The doctor motions for Vincent to follow, and walks to open the door again.
   “She is asking for you, but she may not have much time. Several of her internal organs are failing, and there is not much we can do.”
Vincent shakes his head.
   “How does she even know my name?”
Vincent follows him down a corridor where they stop at another door, and the doctor opens it for Vincent.
   “Here it is.”
When he steps into the room, he sees Karena is lying on a bed, and she looks up at him, smiling.
   "I can't believe it's really you.”
Vincent walks up to her.
   “Do we know each other?”
Karena takes Vincent’s hand.
   “I never thought I would see you again. I was stuck in there for what seemed like days."
Karena is speaking with a heavy accent, and Vincent has some difficulty understanding her.
   "I recognize you, but I don't know from where.”
   “… And what do you mean? Where were you stuck? Did someone hold you prisoner?"
Karena gets up and tilts toward Vincent.
   ”What I have to tell you is of great importance, and I do not have much time. You are the only one who can save us... You are the only one who can find it and give us a fighting chance.”
Vincent holds his hand on Karena’s shoulder to support her.
   "Save you? I’m sorry, but the doctor says they can’t do much…”
Karena shakes her head.
   “No, I know I’m done for. I knew that when I took this ride already. But please listen, because many people’s lives depend on you…”
   "Vincent… you must head for Anzoria… There you will find the weapon... the... the...”
Karena shakes her head as if she was hit by something.
   "The weapon..."
Vincent looks confused at Karena.
   "Anzoria? What do you mean? I don’t even know what that is.”
Karena grabs Vincent’s hand even tighter.
   "You must believe me. If you don't... we are all done for... and our world will be doomed."
   "… Please, take this map."
She puts a map in his hand, made of something that looks like nylon, but it feels like metal to the touch. Vincent shakes his hand loose and looks at the map.
   "Somehow I trust you... But none of this makes sense... Who are you? How do I know you?"
Karena shakes her head again.
   "I... I... I am... out of..."
Karena suddenly gets an empty stare in her eyes, and Vincent moves closer to her.
   ”Out of what? Karena?”
Karena grabs Vincent by the neck and gives him a kiss.
   “I…was first…”
Karena falls completely limp, but Vincent catches her before she hits the floor.
   ”Karena?!?”
The doctor checks her pulse and shakes his head.
   ”I am sorry, but she is gone.”
Vincent stumbles backwards and sits down on the floor.
   ”Can't you do something?”
The doctor shakes his head again more slowly.
   “She seems to have been injected with some poison. We have never seen anything like it… The damage is just too extensive, and there is nothing we could have done to save her… I am sorry…”
Vincent sits there on the floor and shakes his head, still having difficulties making sense of it all, as the doctor stands up and pats him on the shoulder.
   “I am sorry for your loss… Take a moment if you like.”
He then leaves the room and Vincent looks down at Karena.
   “Why does she feel so familiar? Who is she? I know her… Somehow I know who she is. It’s there… just in the back of my mind somewhere… just out of reach.”
Suddenly, Karena starts to glow and the whole room gets brighter until Vincent cannot see anything except the pale blue light. He can feel the woman disappearing from his arms while he becomes lighter and floats up from the ground. After a few seconds, the light fades away to reveal a mesh of glowing dots all around him. He rubs his eyes and looks again to realize it is stars that he is seeing. He seems to be moving, and when he looks behind him; he sees Earth getting smaller and smaller. It feels like he keeps accelerating, and then suddenly, everything around him distorts, while bending in towards him. A few seconds pass, and with a sound like a large sheet of plastic being bent and then quickly released; everything unfolds, allowing him to see the stars clearly again.
   ‘What the hell just happened to me? Am I in space?’
In front of him he sees Earth again.
   ‘No… wait… it looks like Earth, but all the continents are wrong. ‘Where am I? Am I hallucinating again? Seriously… what the hell is happening to me?’
   ‘Oh Shiiii…’
He starts falling towards the planet, and as he accelerates, everything turns pale blue again, before he comes to a sudden stop. He can feel himself standing on solid ground again, but still cannot see anything.
   ‘Feels like I am standing on rocks and sand. How did I…?’
When the pale blue light slowly disappears, he finds himself in a big crater filled with mist, just like where he found Karena.
   ‘Eh… huh? Wherever I am,  I should probably to get out of here…’
As he climbs out of the crater, he notices crystals of varying sizes in the sand with the same glow as the ones in the other crater. He picks up one of them, but as he puts it in his pocket, he feels something, like a thick metallic disc.
   ‘How did this get here?’
Vincent takes it out and looks at it.
   ‘Looks like some sort of container.’
He opens it up and finds another crystal inside it.
   ‘It looks exactly like the crystal I just picked up. The shape… the size…’
As the mist disperses, he can make out that he is standing on a sandy beach next to a large pine forest. The forest is similar to the ones he knew from back home, but with a few types of trees that he had never seen before. As he stands there looking around, his mind has difficulties interpreting what he is experiencing, like it wants to tell him it is not real. That it is just a movie or a videogame.
   ‘But it feels so real… What is all of this? What the hell is happening to me?’
From behind him, he hears a strange humming sound, and when he turns around, he sees two vehicles in the distance that seem to be driving towards him. He can’t help but wonder if whatever is driving towards him in those vehicles are friendly or not. As far as he can figure, he has ended up on an alien planet and all those sci-fi horrors he saw when he was younger, comes rushing back to him.
   ‘If this is even real? Did I pass out from heatstroke by the lake? Am I still laying there, and this is just some vivid hallucination?’
But he has no choice but to wait for the vehicles and hope for help, as he has no idea where he would go otherwise.
   ‘Maybe they know of a way for me to get back home again?’
   ‘… Get back home again? This can’t be real. This must be a dream.’
He pinches his arm.
   ‘Ouch… Nope. Not dreaming.’
   ‘I mean, common… What the hell is happening to me?’
   ‘Oh shit, my bike is still standing in the forest at the crash site…’
   ‘Okay, that might not be my biggest problem right now, but damn, that was a great bike.’
   ‘Just calm down Vincent; calm down and go with it… If it is a dream, you will wake up, and if not; you need to get back home again.’
   ‘… But that I’m even considering this to be real…’
Vincent looks around again.
   ‘It seems so real…’
The vehicles are now close enough to make out details, and he can clearly see that it is a truck of some sort; somewhat similar in design to a regular truck from back home. The two trucks drive up close and stop, but he still cannot make out what is inside. The design of the trucks looks like something out of one of those sci-fi movies he used to watch, but at the same time they seem to be constructed of a brass-like metal, and look incredibly old, like ancient artefacts, belonging in a museum.
   ‘What kind of horrible aliens am I going to meet? Will I even be able to make myself understood? … I really hope they are not the probing kind of aliens.’
But out of the trucks step what looks like three seemingly normal humans: Two men and one woman. They are all clad in medieval armour, but with some parts looking more futuristic, like what Karena was wearing, and the same pale blue glow again.
One of the men draws a sword and points it to Vincent.
   “Who are you, and what are you doing here?”
The language spoken by the man is like no language Vincent has ever heard before, but to his surprise he can understand every word without any difficulty. He registers it as a foreign language, but at the same time he hears his own language being spoken to him. The feeling is quite odd and confusing.
The woman raises her rifle and aims it at Vincent.
   “Answer him: Who are you?”
Vincent puts his hands up.
   “Sorry, my name is Vincent. I don’t know how I got here.”
The woman takes a small step back and lowers her weapon again, looking surprised.
   “You… you speak perfect Hizena… Where are you from?”
Vincent gestures for the woman to calm down.
   “I came from a place called Earth. How is it that I can understand you, and how do you understand me?”
The man looks at Vincent as if he said something stupid.
   “You are really not from around these parts, are you?”
   “I have never heard of this ‘Arth’, and for the understanding part, you are infused with SOURCE of course; everyone gets it with birth. I guess it is the same where you come from? Maybe it’s just called something different in your homeland?”
Vincent thinks for a few seconds.
   'I’m quite sure I have never been infused with this thing they call SOURCE.'
One of the men point at the crater.
   “Have you laid claim to these SOURCE crystals?”
Vincent shakes his head.
   “SOURCE crystals? I don’t even know what they are. You can have them if you like. All I ask is that you help me figure out where I am and how I got here.”
The man sheathes his sword and looks suspiciously at Vincent.
   “Okay… do you know how much this is worth? Don’t you at least want a share of it?”
Vincent shakes his head.
   “Ehrm… no… I don’t know what it is… or what I would do with it…”
The man pats Vincent on the shoulder.
   “Well… thank you… If you wish you can come along with us to the village once we have loaded the crystals, at least.”
   “These will surely help us a lot. Help us load up, and we will see to it that you get a good meal and somewhere to sleep tonight. That’s the least we can do.”
Vincent looks down at all the crystals.
   “Well, I don’t really have anywhere else I can go. I have to get home somehow, and I don’t even know where I am.”
The man closest to Vincent points at the other man.
   “This is Remin.”
Then he points at the woman.
   “This is Eria, and my name is Osry.”
   “… As for where you are… This is Blinzmore of Zholand; part of The Free Kingdoms.”
Vincent rubs his face with the palm of his hand and shakes his head.
   "I don’t think that helps me much… and I guess I am not going home anytime soon."
Eria puts her hand on Vincent’s shoulder.
   “Don’t worry; we will help you out once we get to the castle. I know someone who might know of your homeland… But for now, let's start loading the crystals."
Vincent helps them loading, and they are busy for over an hour before all the crystals are in the trucks.
When they are finished, Osry pats the closest truck while looking at Vincent.
   “You go with Eria. We got this one.”
Osry and Remin get into one truck, Eria and Vincent in the other, and they all drive away. The trucks exit the beach, onto a brick road, and after a while they turn in on a wider road leading through the forest.
Once they have entered the forest, Eria leans towards Vincent.
   "This is Ondermael forest: Strange things happen here. There is something hidden in these woods that does not belong in this world. Many people have walked into this forest and never been seen again.”
   “Why they are so stupid as to keep walking into the forest, I don’t know… We try to avoid it, and if we have to travel through it, we stay on this one road that has been kept clear for passage. In these vehicles we should be safe, but they are the only two SOURCE trucks around these parts, so most people don't have the luxury of this type of travel. The only reason we use them for is to gather supplies for the village."
Vincent looks around inside the truck.
   “Why don’t you get more trucks then?”
Eria shakes her head and looks a bit annoyed.
   “We are very happy that we have found these two trucks. Finding working SOURCE is no easy job. The findings are sparse and the items that we do find are usually broken beyond repair. Also, if repairs are even possible, we need SOURCE crystals to fix them, and those are also quite difficult to find nowadays.”
Eria point with her thumb over her shoulder.
   “We are truly lucky with the findings today. Normally it takes us a year to gather these amounts of crystals.”
Vincent grabs the crystal he picked up earlier in his pocket.
   “How does it work then? And who made the items in the first place?”
Eria rolls her eyes at Vincent.
   “Well you should know who made them; you speak their language and all… The Hizena of course!”
Vincent looks at Eria with confusion.
   “I never heard of Hizena until today. I don’t know what SOURCE is, and where I come from; we definitely don’t have any tech like this.”
   ‘Except for what Karena wore.’
Eria laughs softly.
   “You surely are a weird one. But don’t worry; we will help you as much as we can. We owe you for helping us to secure all of these crystals.”
   “And… about the SOURCE items… we don’t really know how they function, but they seem to work differently depending on the person using them. SOURCE weapons for example; can be almost harmless in some people's hands, while they yield horrible destruction in the hands of others. You can practice and get better at using SOURCE to achieve more powerful results, but some people just have a much easier time attuning to the items than others, as if they were born with a better ability to control it. But… why this is and how it works, is a mystery as far as I know.”
Eria looks at Vincent for a moment.
   “And according to legend, there once lived beings in Entori; powerful enough to construct these SOURCE items. They called themselves the Hizena, and were sworn to guard this land. Whatever happened to them, no one knows, but we have found relics from their time here, all over Entori. As far as anyone can tell; SOURCE items date back thousands of years, but they are all extremely resilient.”
Eria shakes her head.
   “How is it that you don’t know any of this? Everyone from around here learn this, early in school. Did you hit your head and lose your memory or something?”
Vincent thinks for a second.
   “Or something… Let’s go with that for now…”
Eria looks at Vincent again.
   “Hmmm?”
Vincent shakes his head.
   “I will try to explain later.”
   “What is… Entori, by the way?”
Eria shrugs and laughs.
   “Entori is everything you see around you… That is our name for the world.”
As they exit the forest, Vincent can see a castle village on a hill in front of them, and Eria points to it.
   “There it is: Blinzmore castle.”
The trucks drive up to the gates, and Remin holds up a piece of paper to one of the guards. As guard puts his hand on a plate, the gates slowly open and they continue to drive in through the portal.
Once inside, the village looks mostly like you would expect a medieval village to look. There are blacksmiths hammering metal, outside a pub in a small stable there stands horses, and the guards all wear plate and chain armour. But at the same time, the blacksmith’s forge seems to be powered by some sort of large engine, next to the stable with the horses stands what looks like a futuristic motorcycle, and the soldiers armour has pale blue glowing bits and pieces mixed in, which is quite a confusing sight.
The small village only takes a few minutes to drive through, and they keep driving uphill until they get to the castle. They continue into the central castle yard through a portal and park at a pair of large wooden doors.
When they have stopped, Eria shuts off the engine and turns to Vincent, smiling.
   “So, here we are: Home! Time to get the crystals unloaded.”
As they get out of the truck, a well-groomed man dressed in what looks to be an expensive suit comes walking towards them with quick steps.
   “Eria! Remin! Osry! You are back a lot sooner than I expected! I got a message from the guards at the gate that you had returned.”
Eria walks up to the man and gives him a hug.”
   “Hey dad! We ran into something unexpected.”
The man in the suit looks at Vincent.
   “Ah, I see. Who is this then?”
Eria tilts her head to the side, towards Vincent.
   “This is Vincent. He seems to speak perfect Hizena, and says he comes from a place far away called Arth. He led us to a huge payload of SOURCE crystals, which is the reason why we are back already… Both trucks are already full.”
   “And Vincent, this is my father; Minister Harel Zeunze.”
Vincent raises his hand.
   “Actually, it’s called Earth.”
Harel looks suspiciously at Vincent.
   “You would just give away two truckloads of SOURCE crystals? What is it you want in return for this?”
Vincent waves his hands subtly in front of him.
   “I just want to figure out where I am, and if possible, find my way back home.”
Harel’s suspicious expression turns to a smile.
   “I have not heard many people speak Hizena so easily. But there is something different about your pronunciation that I cannot put my finger on. Is it perhaps a dialect?”
Vincent shakes his head.
   “We have a lot of different languages and dialects where I come from. I know very few of them.”
Harel puts his hand on Vincent’s shoulder.
   “A mysterious man indeed. You must join us for dinner and tell us all about this… Eerth place!”
Vincent rolls his eyes and sighs.
   "...Close enough."
Osry motions for Eria and Vincent to go away.
   "Go! We can handle this. We'll see you here tomorrow morning again."
Eria bows excessively before Osry and Remin.
   "Well thank you, my favourite gentlemen."
Remin laughs.
   "Yes, yes, we already said we would do it; no need for flattery."
Eria waves to Remin and Osry.
   “Thanks guys! See you tomorrow!”
Harel, Eria and Vincent walk towards a portal in the wall and in through a small garden to reach the main castle building. They enter a large hallway and then into the dining room where the table is already prepared for dinner. The dining room decorations are quite modest compared to what you might expect to find in a castle, and on the wall, there hangs a machine that displays holographic images of a small girl and a young woman.
Vincent turns to Eria.
   "Is this you and your mother?"
Eria gets a dreamy look in her eyes.
   "Yes, she was a great engineer and SOURCE mechanic. I hope to one day be as great as her."
Harel turns to Eria with a bothered expression on his face.
   "You are already better at repairing SOURCE equipment than anyone I have ever met, including your mother."
Vincent gently pokes the holographic image with his finger.
   “Was? What happened to your mother?”
Eria’s dreamy look goes away.
   “She was one of the first to disappear in Ondermael forest. We searched a long time for her, but no one that disappeared in that forest has ever been found again.”
Eria sighs.
   “If only I knew what happened to her. With all the horrible stories you hear about that forest nowadays, it’s difficult not to let your imagination create all kinds of scenarios. So many sleepless nights we’ve had… I don’t like to think about it.”
Vincent puts his hand on Eria’s shoulder.
   “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to upset you.”
Eria shakes her head.
   “Don’t worry about it. One day I hope to find enough SOURCE tech to build myself a vehicle powerful enough to venture into the forest and find out what’s in there.”
Harel clears his throat loudly.
   “That will have to be one damn safe vehicle, before I let you head into that forest.”
Eria laughs and pats her father on the back.
   “The forest was not always as dangerous as it is now. I remember when I was younger; we used to go on picnics or fishing at the beautiful forest lake. Then all of a sudden people started disappearing, and the bright colours of the forest seemed to fade away… It’s strange that such a wonderful place can turn into something this dangerous… And no one seem to have any answers.”
Eria pauses for a moment while frowning.
   “Even Freun sent a team to investigate. The team headed into the forest several times with no results… and one day, they just disappeared, never to be seen again. After that, Freun didn’t want to send any more people, and we were left to try and figure it out by ourselves here.”
Harel nods.
   “Well yes, but what can they do? They do not want to send any more people to their deaths.”
Eria looks to the window.
   “No, I get it, I do, but it’s so frustrating, that we can’t seem to get any answers. Will whatever it is in that forest, stay in the forest forever? Will it disappear by itself? Will it start attacking us here in town?”
Harel puts his arm around Eria.
   “Well, we have a guest now, so perhaps we can save this conversation for another time?”
Vincent shakes his head.
   “Don’t mind me. I find it fascinating.”
   “… Sorry, maybe that is not the best word… but I never heard of anything like this before.”
A waiter comes in pushing a cart with three covered dinner-plates, and Harel lights up with a smile, gesturing eagerly with his hands.
   “Finally! Dinner!”
Vincent looks at the covered plate, realizing again that he is on an alien world.
   ‘…Right… Hope they don't eat something too weird around here.’
  ‘… Please don’t let it have tentacles…’


Malkreth had seen the view from the ship's deck countless times before, but he could never get enough of it all. He would sit there for hours, just staring at the vast sea of stars stretching out in all directions. Because, when you sit at the right place just above the ship’s main engine, there is this soft humming sound that blocks out most other sounds. For this reason, he often missed the captain’s calls over the communications system, where he is currently informing all personnel to gather at the storage area.
Today the ship is headed for a small merchants planet called Caeria. It is mainly used for distribution of intergalactic shipments. But many merchants have set up permanent shops on the planet, taking advantage of the steady flow of ships passing through while on the way to other star systems, or waiting for intergalactic travel clearance.
The captain had been very secretive about this mission, so Malkreth is sitting contemplating about what the mission could be, when suddenly a shoe comes flying just in front of his nose.
   “WAKE UP MALK!”
The captain comes in yelling.
   “We’re about to land! Go meet up with the rest in the storage area.”
Malkreth shakes his head.
   “Sorry Davon! I must have lost track of time.”
The captain picks up his shoe and puts it on his foot again.
   “You and your daydreams… Hurry up and get your ass to the rest of the crew. I like you, but I can’t keep giving you special treatment. And it’s “captain” to you while under my command on this ship.”
Malkreth gets up.
   “Sorry captain! I will pay more attention in the future.”
Captain Davon Aurus looks like the kind of man you would not want to have as your enemy. He is older than the rest of the crew, and there are a lot of stories going around the ship about his younger days; each new story crazier than the one before it. And when it comes to the captain; each and every one of them might just be true. He also has this thing about him that makes everyone stop and listen when he speaks, so when he walks into the storage room, the chattering of the crew dies out like a campfire that just had a bucket of water thrown at it.
   “Attention crew! We are about to land on Caeria to pick up our latest job. This one pays a lot more than our usual deliveries, so there will be some added bonuses in it for you all if this goes smooth and to plan.”
All the crewmembers start to whisper simultaneously.
   “HOWEVER… this will be a long trip and not without danger. Our job is to transport her royal highness; Queen Anexia of Daruna. There will be a meeting between the queen and the Intergalactic Trade Council to try and come to an agreement which will stop the Aterion aggression on Daruna. It’s our job to get her there safely. This will be a secret meeting, and she is travelling incognito with a minimum amount of guards, so we are also paid to be additional, temporary guards for the duration of this trip.”
Davon points at a map on a nearby screen.
   “Our destination is on Earth, but we cannot take the fast route since it’s constantly inspected. The controls themselves are not the problem, but Aterion has a lot of spies in the Trade Councils facilities, and if they would find out who we have on board; we won’t make it far after that.”
Davon points at the map again.
   “We have to take the long way around the outer territories, and we will have to be careful when we use the Fold, since Fold-jumps are often monitored around highly populated star systems.”
   “We are soon landing, so get everything ready. I need three extra rooms cleaned and set up for the queen and her guards.”
   “…What are you standing there for? Start working!”
The ship is heading for Yminport, which is a large, densely populated city full of shops with everything from designer clothing to illegal weapons. The city is located at the slope of a huge mountain; larger than anything you would ever find on Earth. At the top of the city, you could find the most exclusive stores and homes, elevated on large circular pedestals reaching several hundred meters in the air. But Malkreth and the crew were headed to the lower parts of the city to avoid the watching eyes of the authorities and enemies of the queen.
The ship eventually lands on a small platform attached to a large, older, spherical building. Around the landing platforms, people are busy getting luggage and goods on or off the ships. The main, larger landing platform is connected by a wide bridge that stretches inside the spherical building and onto a shopping street.
Once they have landed, the crew heads down the ramp from the ship onto the landing platform and Davon steps out shortly thereafter.
   “Malkreth and Tiera, come with me.”
   “The rest of you, stay here on guard. There is a lot of dodgy stuff happening around here, so keep it off my ship.”
Tiera is one of the best fighters on the ship. She is as agile with her blades as her marksmanship is accurate. Malkreth is nowhere close to Tiera’s fighting skill, but he is exceptionally good at noticing details and reading situations, which are useful skills when you meet shady people in dodgy places.
Davon looks at Malkreth, then Tiera.
   “Try to keep it professional, okay? I know this is not the kind of clientele we are used to… but if we do this well and get a recommendation from the queen; we might get the chance to finally expand the business and move to less… shady customers and activities.”
Tiera laughs.
   “What’s wrong with our current customers?”
Malkreth shrugs.
   “Well first of all, they try to kill us once in a while to skip on payment… I could do without that…”
Tiera shakes her head.
   “Well, I guess… but you are never in any real danger as long as you bring me along.”
Davon sighs.
   “Please just keep it a bit clean…”
   “Shall we get going?”
So, they head down the bridge, into the large building and onto the shopping street. A few hundred meters down the path, Davon stops at a small pub between a sales stand and a parking for smaller vehicles.
   “Come on! In here!”
Tiera looks at the pub and laughs.
   “Yeah, sure captain… This looks really classy.”
Davon rolls his eyes at Tiera and opens the door.
   “Just go inside…”
They head in through the small pub and up a stair to a private room. Davon knocks on the door, and shortly thereafter a guard opens it, looking intensely at Davon before he lets them in. Malkreth steps in last, and as he sees the queen, he cannot help but to stare. He had heard she was beautiful, but her descriptions were clearly underrated.
Tiera leans towards Malkreth and whisper:
   “DAMN, she’s hot! I would soooo hit that!”
Malkreth hits Tiera loosely with his elbow.
   “Don’t disrespect women like that.”
   “… But yes… damn…”
Tiera hits Malkreth back; quite hard on his shoulder.
   “I’m also a woman; I’m allowed to.”
    “…And one more thing; dibs!”
Malkreth rubs his shoulder.
   “Good luck with that.”
Davon bows his head slightly before the queen.
   “Your highness, it is an honour.”
Queen Anexia takes Davon’s hand.
   “The honour is all mine… Captain Davon Aurus: The man who punched Kerian Aterion in the face, and lived to tell the tale.”
Davon clears his throat.
   “Ehrm… well… that was a long time ago. I have nothing to do with the Aterions anymore.”
The queen smiles.
   “No, I would not have hired you if I thought so… It is difficult to find anyone who is not in the pocket of the Aterions.”
Malkreth leans to Tiera and whispers:
   “The captain, with the Aterions? I got to ask him about this later.”
Tiera whisper back to Malkreth:
   “I heard some stories about it, but I was not sure if it was true.”
The queen looks over at Malkreth and Tiera.
   “And who, if I may ask; may you two be?”
Tiera looks slightly embarrassed while she takes a step forward.
   “I’m sorry your highness… my name is Tiera. We are here to make sure you make it back safely to our ship.”
Davon pushes Malkreth forward.
   “And this is Malkreth; our surveillance and information specialist. Tiera is our weapons specialist.”
Malkreth waves his hand.
   “Ehrm… nice to meet you, erm… your highness.”
   ‘Dammit… smooth Malk… smooth…’
Queen Anexia smiles at Malkreth for a second.
   “Nice to meet you, Tiera and Malkreth. I sure hope you and your team live up to your reputation.”
Davon gives off a slight grin.
   “I thought we had quite a bad reputation last time I checked. I was surprised that you would even choose to contact us.”
Queen Anexia points at a screen showing a commercial for Aterion Industries.
   “I can sort out their propaganda from the truth. I know the Aterions have tried to sully your name, and that’s why you work mainly outside the regular systems and regulations. That… is exactly what I need right now.”
   “And I do hope you can tell me the story of what happened between you and Kerian.”
Davon looks irritated,
   “It’s something I would rather try to forget.”
   “But please, come with us your highness; we will get you safely to the meeting.”
Queen Anexia looks at Davon with a disappointed, yet playful look in her eyes.
   “Okay, I’ll leave it… for now.”
They all head out, followed by Anexia’s guards, down the stairs, and out into the busy street. As they walk along the shops and stands towards the ship, Tiera once again leans over to Malkreth.
   “Want to make it interesting?”
Malkreth chuckles.
   “You still on about the queen?”
Tiera nods her head and smirks.
   “Oh yeah! Thirty days of chores says I’ll win her over.”
Malkreth rolls his eyes.
   “She is a queen; what do you think you are going to achieve?”
Tiera looks over to the queen.
   “It’s not like I intend to marry her and adopt a bunch of kids.”
Tiera bites her lip.
   “But everyone has needs… even royalty.”
Tiera winks to Malkreth.
Malkreth shakes his head slowly and lets out a sigh.
   “I have seen that movie; it never goes well… But I wish you the best of luck.”
Tiera pokes Malkreth with her hand and stretches it in front of him.
   “We have a bet?”
Malkreth laughs and shakes her hand.
   “Sure, why not.”
   “Easiest bet I have ever won…”
Tiera pokes Malkreth softly with her elbow.
   “I have absolutely no intention of losing this bet.”
   “Okay, good luck! Let’s see who can get her first.”
Malkreth looks irritated at Tiera.
   “Hey! I am not going to hit on the queen.”
Tiera smirks.
   “Well, that makes it easier for me then. I’ll try to convince her to get you invited as well.”
Tiera slaps Malkreth on his butt-cheek, and the slap is so loud that Anexia turns her head, smiling at the two.
Malkreth looks embarrassed while Tiera gives a wink to Anexia.
   “I think she might have overheard your plans, Tiera.”
Tiera slides her fingers through her hair.
   “It makes no difference.”
They walk onto the landing platform, and Davon motions with his hand to the ship.
   “Here it is! Perhaps not what you are used to travelling in, but it will get us there, without suspicion.”
Anexia stops and looks up at the ship.
   “We have several of these, making deliveries to and from Daruna. They are quite big ships. I would have expected something a lot smaller.”
Davon also looks up at the ship.
   “Well, it’s something I kept from a time when I had larger and more frequent deliveries. It’s a good ship… Few years on her back maybe, and needs a few new parts once in a while, but still reliable.”
   “And I’m sorry, but once we reach our next destination, I will have to replace one of the void-coils before we can make any longer Fold-jumps.”
Anexia smiles at Davon.
   “As long as you get me to Earth… I am sure it will do just fine.”
They all walk up to the ship and step onboard. Tiera shows the guards where they can store their larger weapons while Davon and Malkreth show Anexia to the sleeping quarters.
   “I’m sorry we cannot offer you anything more comfortable than this your highness, but we have made these rooms ready for you and your guards.”
The queen looks into one of the rooms.
   “Don’t worry, this is perfect. I may be royalty, but I have never been much for the excessive luxury and etiquette.”
   “You can relax around me… It is going to be a long trip. If we are to be formal and apologize for everything all the time, then it is going to feel even longer. So please, just call me Anexia for now, and do not worry about my comfort.”
Davon gives Anexia the key cards to the rooms.
   “Sorry your hig… Anexia. You seem all right to me. Never had much for etiquette anyway.”
Malkreth laughs.
   “Except for when we forget to address you as captain.”
Davon straightens his jacket.
   “Well… ehm… that’s different.”
Malkreth slowly shakes his head.
   “Different how?”
Davon grabs Malkreth and pushes him towards the door.
   “I don’t know, I just thought… Yes okay… I get your point.”
Davon turns around and looks at Anexia again.
   “Well, Anexia: Welcome aboard.”
Anexia laughs.
   “Thank you… both of you. I am looking forward to getting to know you and the crew.”
Malkreth and Davon head out to the common hall when Davon stops and turns to Malkreth.
   “This might sound weird… but I need you to keep an extra eye on the queen for me. I trust my crew in most situations, but the Aterions would give you a lot of money for the capture of the queen.”
Malkreth looks surprised at Davon.
   “It sounds like you are trying to sell me on the idea of giving her up. And how are you so sure I won’t?”
Davon leans over and whispers.
   “Well if it wasn’t for doing the Aterions a favour; I might have considered it.”
Malkreth laughs.
   “Don’t worry captain; I’ll look out for her. And I highly doubt anyone of us would ever betray you in any way.”
Davon pats Malkreth on his back.
   “Thank you… I don’t believe so either… just can’t be too careful. This is a HUGE job, and I want it to go perfectly. Besides… she seems to like you. Shouldn’t be too difficult to get close to her.”
Davon winks at Malkreth.
   “Also… you have never been in it for the money. That’s why I trust you. You are in it for the adventure, same as me.”
Malkreth thinks for a while.
   “Well… don’t think you can stop paying me, because money is still quite handy.”
Davon laughs.
   “HAH! Don’t worry. If we make it through this… there will be something extra in your bonus if you look after the queen for me.”
Davon knocks loudly on a table.
   “Listen up crew! We will start this trip by heading to Fiyrah. From there we can Fold jump undetected. The trip to Fiyrah will take a few days and should be quite uneventful. Take this time to prepare. The rest of the trip might not be as easy.”
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