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This is the list of the entries which obtained third, second and first place in the Aether Story Writing Contest, in addition to two stories which received honourable mentions. I'm sorry that I took so long to do this.

- Liberty

Words on the Wind (First Prize Winner), Written by Cameron Spence

Guiding Light. That was the name they gave me. My elders, that is. Long since dead, all of them. I loved them dearly, and often think on their wisdom when I am troubled, but the life of an Aerbear is too full to truly grieve them.

My tribe lived high in the Valence Mountains, in a small cave network that had been dug, expanded, and made comfortable by my ancestors so many years before. I was born to Soothing Hand, one of the young mother-bears in the tribe at the time. Like all younglings, I was taken to the hunting grounds as soon as I could hold a spear, and I was taught to hunt by Strong Jaw.

He was a tough master - stern and gruff, like most of the older hunters. He had survived fifty-two seasons, and was well-respected among our people. "Watch," he would tell me. "Wait, and watch. Only when the time is right do you make your move." We speared Moas to begin with; fine game for a young hunter. They were fast, but not dangerous, unless you cornered them, or surprised a nesting mother. They had sharp beaks and claws, but were no match for an Aerbear.

Aerwhales, on the other hand, were much sought-after beasts for their blubber and hides - we could make sacks and even clothes from Aerwhale skins. They were extremely difficult to kill, however, for they lazily roamed the skyways and cloud-valleys of the Aether. We would have to lure them to fly over land, and then use bows to slay them. More than once did a Aerwhale flee and fall off the edge of our land, and we had to return home hungry and empty-handed.

But this is the tale of every young Aerbear. This is our culture. Why, then, am I writing this? Our paintings depict our lives as well as any words could. Our caves are masterpieces, the inscriptions dating back to a forgotten age, when our ancestors first climbed these high peaks and dug Warm-Home-Cave from the grey soil and blue rock.

It is not so much the story being told that is the important thing. It is the very act of writing, of preserving my speech in a sound that is not a sound, that will survive through the years. To you, words are tools to be used, laid aside when they are finished with and forgotten, left behind. But words on a page... those words will ever be with you. They will not be sounds, feeble cries, lost in the winds of the Aether.

That should be enough to tell you that my tale is different. A tale worth telling. I am a bear of few words, but I understand that my descendants, and all other people should learn from what I have to say.

My folk have a saying: Every life is precious. And another: Every life belongs to the balance of nature. When I was young, I never really listened to this. I had a niggling suspicion that the two contradicted each other, but I was more interested in killing enough game to eat and feed my tribe. I knew that Moas preyed on the little creatures that scurry through crevices and cracks in the rocks, and that they in turn ate insects, which supped on the honey and nectar of flowers. The flowers got their food from the ground, which is formed of the dust of dead insects, moas, and even Aerbears. Life is a circle that grows in the telling.

Armed with a foolishly fragile understanding of this delicate balance, I hunted and killed for many years. The moas I slew are beyond count. I had five Aerwhales to my name. I was quickly becoming one of my tribe's greatest hunters. Strong Jaw looked upon me with pride, but my other elders looked upon me with worry. Something was wrong, but at that time I did not know what it was.

In my thirtieth year, being fifteen years into adulthood, I undertook a hunt to find and slay Old Wily, a sly and cunning Aerwhale who had evaded all attempts to kill him. He was twice the size of the largest Aerwhale I had thus far seen, and he was no mere beast. He spoke in the tongue of men and Aerbears, and was deemed the prize of a century, if only a hunter could fell him. I felt that I was the one who could do it.

With three of my kin, two spear-brothers and a spear-sister, I left Warm-Home-Cave one morning in the season of the Lightless Cloud. The Aether winds were blowing strong that day, and I remember the tribe's wind-fans rattling and creaking as we made our way through the farms.

 "Your hunt begins," Strong Jaw said in his deep, slow voice, when we met him at the foot of the mountain. "This time, you go alone. Remember: wait and watch. Be patient. Just as I taught you."

"Act with judgement," said Wise One-Eye, one of the elders. "And if the time is not right, do not act. Sometimes the best thing to do is do nothing at all."

Of course I humbly accepted their advice, but I heeded not One-Eye, for I was determined to succeed in my hunt. Had I listened, much sadness could have been avoided.

We departed our island-range by the Mawriol Bridge. The bridge was hewn from blue stone and white wood by my distant ancestors when they first discovered the Valence range. Aerbears have perfected the art of creating these huge bridges between islands, spanning gaps many clouds long. The Mawriol bridge was little-used, for it led to the Golden Groves, a network of wild islands inhabited by all manner of strange creatures.

I remember having my heart in my mouth as we padded across that bridge. My companions, too, were nervous, but not so much as I, for I was afraid of failure rather than danger. My spear-sister, Little Aurora, went carefully, for she rarely left the Valence Islet. Morning and Evening Walker, the twins, had all the confidence of experienced hunters, and I knew them to be such, as I had trained with them.

The first of the Grove islands was populated by Moas in downy red and blue feathers, their colours like those of the fabled Spirit Lights. They fled at our passing; we taught them long ago to fear the spears of the Aerbears. We spotted an old abandoned hunters' camp amongst the trees. Though no hunter roams here any more, in times past some would brave the dangers of the Groves to trap a haul of Moas.

The second was a bright forest of dazzling colour - purples, greens, blues, and golds, such that the falling leaves seemed to me more like dancing spirits, perilously enticing, weaving their way freely with the cloudwind. We camped that night under blue boughs laden with fruit. The fruit did not tempt me as an Aerbear, for I eat meat alone, but I hear stories of men tasting the fruits of the Aether and being so enamoured of the taste that all other food tastes bland to them.

We sang songs around the fire - deep, Aerbear songs. We sang not of legends or love, but of simple things - the land, the wind, the joy of the hunt. We sang for our ancestors and our unborn descendants, that they may have peace among the spirits, until it is time for us to join them. We sang songs that cannot be written down, for they are less words and more humming, growling. The leaf-spirits seemed to gather to listen, and we watched them warily, but they dissolved into the dark night except when you caught a glimpse of one out of the corner of your eye.

Aerbears do not hunt at night. The night is for sleeping and singing. Old Wily knew this. He was ever watchful, ever mindful of that young bear who might finally come to slay him. Therefore we planned to use this against him. We, alone of all the Aerbear hunters, would strike at night, and catch him unawares.

That is why I chose my three companions wisely. Little Aurora had the best eyesight in the darkness, for she had been lost in a deep tunnel for three weeks as a cub. Ever since, she had been able to see near-perfectly when I could only see shadows. Morning and Evening Walker were named such because they were often found wandering together at dusk and dawn. They walked the line between light and dark, and were all the stronger for it. With me, they would cross that line, and delve into the darkness, the better to slay the Aerwhale.

And I? I am Guiding Light. Where I walk, others follow. Where does a light shine more brightly than in the dark? Where better for me to hunt? My ears are as sharp as flint; my nose better than a dog's. I do not need to see to lead. Let the blind light the way.

And so we came upon him in the dead of night. We had rested the day before, the better to regain our strength. The mighty whale drifted beneath an islet, barely more than an outcropping of rock, in the very heart of the Golden Groves. It was like a whirlpool of islands, spiralling down to the abyss below, suspended in an infinite moment, with Old Wily slumbering at its very epicentre. There the winds were becalmed by the surrounding islands. Pods of Aerwhales slept, moaning and groaning in their dreams, the sound like the voice of the vortex itself.

We clambered across the earthmotes carefully. There were no bridges there - we had to stand upon the drifting rocks and go where they took us. Thankfully, Aerbear hunters long ago developed a technique to guide these drifting rocks - we use canvas paddles like sails to move them along, pushing against the very air.

After two hours of rock-sailing through the vortex, we finally approached the sly old Aerwhale. We climbed up onto the islet that hung above him, the better to attack him. A large island was floating below him, so then seemed like the perfect time to strike. He would fall to a place we could reach him. He had not seen us. It could not have been a more perfect set-up for the conclusion to a hunt. Remembering Strong Jaw's advice, I counselled the others to watch and wait. We did so, not wanting to be hasty. But I knew that we would not get a better chance.

I wished the kill to be swift. If he realised we were there, he would be able to escape. Therefore I took my spear and dove from the island, putting all my weight behind that first strike, falling directly into his great eye. I roared as I fell, from adrenaline and exhilaration. At the last moment, he heard me, and his eye flashed open. I had not anticipated how swift his reaction would be, for he shied away, and I drove my spear into his bony crown instead. Fighting to stay upright, I could hear Little Aurora and the Walker brothers shouting to me, loosing their arrows at Old Wily.

The Aerwhale rolled beneath me, and I scrabbled for purchase on his leathery skin as he hissed in pain. "Who disturbs my sleep?" he moaned in that deep, tuneful voice of his. I could feel him rumble with every word. My companions stood upon the islet, bows in hand, hoping to overwhelm him. No! I wanted to shout. The hunt has failed! We cannot slay him now. We must leave! But I myself was in dire peril, and they forgot themselves in their haste to rush to my aid.

The ire of the whale was turned upon them. With a whoosh of his great tailfin that almost dislodged me, he rose and smote the island with his bony head. I tried to regain his attention, and struck again at his head with my spear, but he barely seemed to notice.

He struck again, this time directly at my companions. They tried to move out of the way, but they were thrown off-balance by the first attack, and were almost crushed beneath his weight. I heard Little Aurora cry out in pain just before I was thrown from the head of the great beast. No, I thought again, as I fetched up against a tree. I cannot let him kill them. The island shuddered as he butted it again. I slowly rose to my feet, spear in hand.

When next he drew level with the side of the island, his gaping maw was stained with blood. I felt my stomach sink. Fuelled by anger and rage, I threw myself at his eye once again, and this time my aim was true. My long, heavy spear buried itself in his eye, and he growled long and low, jerking his head back, throwing me back onto the island. My spear broken, and I was left with a shattered shaft.

The Aerwhale shied away, but looked back when he realised I was weaponless. He groaned in pain, a low, almost sad sound. "Well fought, little Aerbear," he rumbled. "What is your name?"

"You were defeated by Guiding Light," I said proudly, looking at his bloody eye with satisfaction.

"Defeated?" He laughed, or made the closest sound to a laugh I have ever heard an Aerwhale make. "If that is so, carve me up and eat me. I am not dead."

"You are blinded," I said. "If you fight on, there can only be one victor. You will die painlessly if you submit now."

"Nay, it is you who are blinded, Guiding Light," he said. "Look around you. You are alone."

With the sensation of a crashing wave of water, I realised he was right. Little Aurora had been crushed by a falling rock. Evening Walker lay dead nearby. There was no sign of Morning Walker, but the blood around his mouth told me all I needed to know. I knew, then, that I had failed. The hunt was at an end, and the hunters had been defeated by the prey.

"Kill me," I begged him. "You have won. To return to my tribe would be to return in dishonour."

"No, I shall not do that. Go; take your friends, take their bodies, and go back to your home. Tell them more tales of Old Wily, and teach them to fear me."

 That was the one thing I did not want to do. I was the greatest hunter in the tribe, but even I had not conquered Old Wily. I wanted to cast myself from the island in shame, to drift down into the abyss like a wayward leaf, for that was all I was.

But I did not. I took the bodies of Little Aurora and Evening Walker back to Warm-Home-Cave, and laid them silently at the feet of the elders. They looked gravely upon me as my eyes were cast downward. "We should have counselled you against this," one said, his black eyes weary with sorrow.

"No longer can your name be Guiding Light," Wise One-Eye told me as he surveyed the bodies. Little Aurora had been his granddaughter, and there was anger in his eyes when he looked back at me. "And you shall guide no others to their death. The tribe shall soon starve because of your taste for blood."

"Is this true?" I asked Strong Jaw in shock, and he nodded.

"Prey has all but vanished from these mountains, hunter. Did it never occur to you to leave the breeding pairs, and take only what you needed? We had years of prosperity and we have grown fat and happy, but at a great cost."

"It is for this reason," One-Eye said heavily, "that the tribe can no longer stay here. We must move to better hunting grounds."

"Venture into the groves," I begged him. "Let the hunters roam there. There is prey aplenty - moas and Aerwhales enough to feed the tribe thrice over."

"The groves where Old Wily lies in wait? I will not feed that monster any more of our people. We will move to a place where we are not the prey."

"I am sorry, elder," I said after a long pause. "I shall remember your teachings, and when we reach the new hunting ground, I shall only take what I need."

"You are not coming with us," he said, shaking his head. "I exile you from the tribe, and name you Bloodfur, accursed amongst us. May you never show your nose in our midst again.

It was Soothing Hand who I spoke to last as the tribe departed. She, at least, was sorry to see me go. She told me the tale she had told me a thousand times before. She told me how I when I was born, the elders saw the lights of the Spirit-Winds in the sky. They took this to be a sign that I would be a great leader, and they named me Guiding Light. I was supposed to lead the tribe to the spirits once again, she said, and bring us to a better fate. And that was not yet beyond me, though I was exiled and cast out.

"You are still Guiding Light," she said. "It is not the elders that decide your name, but fate. It may be that Bloodfur is just one step you take on your journey. You still have your life and your health. Use those to bring about what the fates have foretold."

Thus, I found myself with purpose anew. I had thought to go back and challenge Old Wily again, so that I may be revenged upon him and my honour restored, or my life ended so I did not have to live in shame any more. But the more I thought about it, as I wandered the empty halls of the once welcoming Warm-Home-Cave, the more I realised that I had to let the past go. Old Wily had defeated me, but he had not ended me. I could still do good for my tribe.

The hardest part was leaving Warm-Home-Cave. To abandon those beautiful dwellings to be lost in the Aether was a terrible travesty, yet I could do no good moping around in the deep halls of the mountains. A week after the tribe departed, I packed my belongings, and left. I took only a spear, for I vowed never to slay another Aerwhale again. I would hunt only the more numerous prey so that there would be plenty for others. I left to seek the legendary Spirit-Lights.

The spirit-lights are a renowned myth of the Aerbears. They dance and gleam, formed almost of nothing, in the skies above the land, impossibly huge and impossibly beautiful. It is said that they sing songs to Aerbears brave enough to seek them, but they have not been seen for many a long age. I hoped that in finding them, I could ask their wisdom and see how I could rejoin my tribe in their new hunting grounds.

So I departed. My heart was light despite everything; I was glad to have a new purpose. I did not know where I was going, and I did not know what would happen to me on the way. But I would travel until I found the spirit-lights, or I slept and woke no more.

I took my paddle and sailed a floating rock away from the Valence mountains. Home lay behind; the whole of the Aether lay ahead. Clouds of white and gold drifted through blue and green lands. Trees of many colours coated the islands, with Moas resting in their shade. On that first day, I am sure I saw a Zephyr, one of the cloud-beasts of the Aether, lurking behind a distant island, but it may just have been my imagination.

For the first time, instead of hunting Aerwhales, I sailed with them. They were not afraid of me; the pods drifted lazily alongside my rock, twisting and turning in the Aether-winds with me. I found a great deal of peace there, in the quiet and the coolness of the sky.

For many years I travelled. I met few people, and spoke with none. I encountered evil beasts that I will not name, and I overcame them all. I learned to survive on my own, without my tribe to support me, and I journeyed far and wide. Never did the Aether become known to me; it is an ever-changing landscape, and you may retrace your steps to find yourself in an entirely different place. I did not think I would ever find the Valence mountains again, but I had hope that the spirits would lead me to my tribe.

The Spirits, it is said, dwell on the Peaks of Silver. It was there that my journey took me, after years and months of solitude. I landed at last in the foothills of the mountains, and gazed skywards. I could see nothing but cloud. I was undaunted. The cloud was just another barrier to me. If the spirits would not come to me, I would go to them. I began to climb.

It was weary work. Aerbears are sturdy folk, and lumbering up a mountain was no easy task for me. I fasted, for there was no life to be found there, amongst the hot pools of mud and steaming vents. Spikes and prongs of rock protruded from the ground as I made my way up a long valley. I could see the red glow of fire burning in a deep cave, but I dared not go down. If I stopped, I would surely never reach the top.

The clouds wrapped around the peaks and enveloped me, pressing in on me. My fur was sodden with dew, and it became harder and harder to keep going. But I pressed on. I was so close - I could not stop now. The air grew cold, and I could see my own breath on the wind. There were patches of snow on the path, a sight rarely seen in the places I had walked. A biting wind threatened to throw me down the cliff. Yet in my mind I heard the words of Soothing Hand. You are the Guiding Light, she said. If you can find a way, others shall follow. It was of her, and of Little Aurora, and the Walking brothers, and of all my tribe that I thought as I braved the icy gales.

Even so, I nearly failed. I passed above the clouds, and the end was in sight. Night had fallen, and still the winds blew about me, whipping the clouds below up into fantastic shapes. Yet the mountain's peak was still many leagues distant, reaching far up towards the stars. I roared in frustration, for I was at the end of my endurance. I fell to my knees, and though my heart willed me to go on, my body could go no further.

And then They came. Through my hazy vision, I saw lights dancing on the stones under my paws. The stars are twinkling, I remember thinking. Winking at me, watching as I die, my goal out of reach. Why will they not go away?

I raised my head - if only to bellow at the stars - but not a sound came out. There I beheld the most beautiful, the most glorious sight I had ever seen. Sheets and curtains of light in every colour under the sun. I perceived them as a veil, hiding from me the spirit world. Here, spirits bled through, and they spun the clouds into the shapes of beasts, many times larger than their real forms. The Moa spirit was there, and the Sky-Whale spirit. Beasts I did not recognise danced and twisted above me. I was awed - and yet resentful.

"Have you come to mock me?" I cried. "I have failed again! I would sooner die in peace than be reminded of what I have thrown away."

A blustering voice echoed through the night. Soft, yet stormy, with all the power of the elements, it spoke in a thousand languages at once, and I understood it. "You need not always succeed, great hunter. If you never fail, you will learn nothing." The veil seemed to part before my eyes, and I suddenly realised that the peak of the mountain was not so far away after all. A few steps, at most - if I only had the strength to take them. "Sometimes all it takes is that little extra effort," the spirit whispered to me.

With more than a little extra effort, I heaved myself to my feet, and pushed forwards. I felt like a weary giant, striding across the land. And then, after what could have been a millennia, or no time at all, I stood upon the peak, and looked at last upon the voice of the spirits.

It was an Aerbear like me, formed of cloud, looking down upon me with kind eyes. "Guiding Light, you were called," it said, "and a Guiding Light you have become. Not only to your tribe, but to all of Aerbearkind. Your bravery and resilience will be rewarded."

"What can you offer me?" I asked the spirit.

"I offer you the gift of writing," he said. The other spirits began to form runes and letters in the lights that span about me, and I began to comprehend them. "I offer you the chance to tell your tale to all who read what you leave behind. I offer you a way to record your history, your thoughts, your ideas, and your culture, and share them with all who have eyes to see. To you and all Aerbears this gift shall be granted, and you shall be the one to bring it to your tribe." I was speechless at this, for it seemed that a whole new world had opened itself to my eyes. "But do not remain at your tribe! Visit others of your kind and spread the Gift. Create tableaus of stone and tell tales upon them; hide them away around the Aether, for others to discover and read centuries from now."

"Spirits of the Aether," I said shakily, aware of how momentous this new task was. "I beg you, send another. I am at the end of my strength. I shall soon be an old bear, unable to travel far and wide. My strength is at an end."

"For the extra effort you gave to reach us," the spirit replied, your life shall go on, and you shall be able to drift amongst the motes and islets of the Aether until you are weary of your task, and ready to join us in the world beyond. You shall be called the Wind Writer, and all Aerbears shall know your name."

This is my tale, and if you, dear reader, find some part of it hidden in the lands where I once dwelt, I beg you, spread my word; rejoice in the writings of me and my kin, and record your story, too, so that those in ages to come shall know you through your words.

What became of me? The spirits were true to their word, and granted me the life of a young, hale Aerbear. I departed from the mountain, reinvigorated, and sailed back to my tribe, guided by my instincts. I was sorry to find that Wise One-Eye had died some years before; I would have liked the chance to amend for my mistakes. But Soothing Hand greeted me again, and the tribe welcomed me back. I taught them of letters and of reading, and they grew in prosperity and happiness.

In the year Soothing Hand died, I left the tribe once more. I did as I was bidden: I spread the Gift to all the four corners of the changing lands, borne upon the Aerwinds, travelling with the Aerwhales. I wrote and watched, and recorded what I saw over hundreds of years. I saw my people begin to settle down and build villages instead of caves; I watched as they stopped hunting and reared animals for food instead. The balance of nature is better for it, and the Aether seems a happier place.

If you ever meet one of the Aerbears, be sure to ask about their story, for they are sure to be recording it as they go along. They hold books and libraries in high esteem, and rightfully so. In every word there is a tale. Where did that word come from? Why is it here? When you look at it as part of a greater whole, what do you find? Behind every story there is another story, traveller. Behind every book, you find mine.

Journal of Cantus, Second Edition (Second Prize Winner), Written by Maegan Parry

Journal of Cantus, Second Edition, First Entry, roughly the second of Sun’s Eve, Aether Months

I’ve been living in the Aether all my life. I’ve come to know so much about it and yet those who are new here still listen to so little.

I’ve tried to tell them to go back to the Overworld. It’s safer. It’s not so mystical, secretive, or complicated. The Overworld’s residents just stay in their little houses, safe and secure, having no idea that there is a giant world built up of skylands and dungeons just overhead. They mine, chop down trees, hunt, and coop up in their houses when the night comes.

Oh, the newcomers never listen, and it’s always sad to see them fall. Shot. Pushed. Overrun. They don’t even research before they create the portal. They hear about the dungeons and the treasures within, but they don’t hear about the monsters within, or- or The Slider. They think they can just come here and continue their normal existence, this time on a heaven-like sky island chock full of riches and rewards, but do they also know that these islands are chock full of enemies? Some that will give them hellish nightmares for the rest of their existences until they are inevitably killed?

No. They don’t know. They never know. They never listen.

I’ve lived in this world my entire life, since my parents brought me here at one month of age. They’re gone now. The Zephyrs got them. I’ve killed so many and still don’t believe that I’ve gotten my full revenge. I’m alone up here with no living family or friends to comfort me. All I have are my Moa, Aerbunnies, and Phygs.

That may seem like a lot of company to the lone survivor type, but I constantly hunger for human interaction. I sometimes have thoughts of going to the Overworld, but it wouldn’t work. I wouldn’t fit in. My fate is not set in the Overworld, even if it is an easier and gentler existence. No. I mustn’t go.

I was proud once. I thought I could own the world. I thought- I thought I could kill even the mighty Slider. I nearly died when I tried. I killed his evil minions that lie in wait in the dark places, the Sentries. The Labyrinth’s eye, the Slider Host Mimic, the Sentry Guardian, I bested them all with ease. I was cocky, ignorant, and much too proud. I walked to that door with my five keys. ‘A sliding block?’ I thought, ‘Could the gods have made an easier foe to defeat?’

I walked into that room. I almost didn’t come out. The slider was too powerful. He called hordes of minions to his aid, and threw me against the walls with the slightest touch. I was a fool. Somehow I escaped. I thought I had died. The world fell to dark shades as my broken form hit the cold dungeon floor.

Then I awoke. In a cave I didn’t know. In a bed made of soft Aercloud. A woman kneeled over my body; she was beautiful, yet not human. She had some kind of purple crystalline formation sprouting from her back. It also looked like the crystals had grown over her eyes slightly, as they were faintly glazed purple. She had long flowing blond hair, a long, graceful white gown trimmed with gold, and a ring with some kind of sparkling orange stone attached to it.

“Rest, hero,” She told me in a soft and smooth voice that seemed to heal my heart. “The next time you awake you will be near a portal that can take you back to the Overworld; you must make your decision then.”

When I awoke I was indeed near the portal. It was made out of glowstone, and had a center of enchanted water. That’s when I decided. I was going to stay in the Aether, warn others who came, and write my knowledge in my journals, in hopes that one day I would die knowing that I’d done something in my life. Maybe, just maybe, I’d see that woman one more time before my death.


Journal of Cantus, Second Edition, Second Entry, roughly the Twenty-Fifth of Sun’s Eve, Aether Months

Another newcomer today. Another one who didn’t listen to my warnings. He was fully equipped with enchanted diamond suit; he asked where the nearest dungeon was. I told him it was suicide, and that the items of the Overworld did not work well in this world. He told me I was just a nonsensical old man. In reality I am only two hundred thirty-six. Still plenty able to wield a sword and kill in a heartbeat.

Something about the Aether; it prolongs life, some kind of magic at work, I suspect. I still look and feel as if I’m only forty. I do feel as if I’ve lived longer then I should have, though. Many can’t survive a single year in this world. For me to survive for two hundred thirty-five years and eleven months, well, it’s quite the feat.

It’s almost night time now. I expect that if that foolhardy young man hasn’t died yet, he will soon. The Tempests. The Cockatrice. They come only in the dark hours. Both are extremely deadly. Both are vile variations of other creatures. The Tempest is a much crueler version of the Zephyr; it floats, like the Zephyr, but the Tempest shoots balls of lightning and blue fire. The Cockatrice is an evil version of the Moa that has a sickly green and purple appearance, and shoots poison darts.


Journal of Cantus, Second Edition, Third Entry, roughly the Sixteenth of Dawnbreak, Aether Months

Happy day! After trying for so long I have uncovered information about the woman who saved me from The Slider’s Dungeon! I was wandering writing in my observation journal about the things I saw and heard when I stumbled upon an old ruined library which had obviously burned down. I looked inside and, after clearing out the Cockatrice and Tempests inside; looked around and found a few books still reasonably intact. One of them was called, “The Angels of the Aether.” I had never heard of, nor seen an angel, that I knew of, so I took the book back to my house. What I found out astounded, and excited me. The angels in the book were described as having a single crystalline form on their backs, which helped them “fly” in a sense. They were able to control gravity with these crystalline appendages, and the longer that they had them, the better control they had. The angels always had blonde hair and had glazed eyes.

My excitement was at an all-time high. These “angels” of old were exactly like the woman I had seen! Then I read on and found out that the angels had supposedly disappeared, leaving no trace, and were never seen again, but I had seen one! The woman who saved me had been an angel! There is no doubt in my mind!


Journal of Cantus, Second Edition, Fourth Entry, roughly the Sixteenth of Dawnbreak, Aether Months

A whole group has come to this world. I counted about eighteen. They seemed rowdy and violent, and though I feared for my life, I gave them my standard warning. They seemed intent on finding that young man who came almost a full month ago. The leader of the bunch, a large burly man, said that the young man was one of their own. I thanked the gods that my house was many a block away from the portal that they entered through. They gave me a scare that I haven’t had since that great war of the Valkyrie many years ago.

After the group left I went back to my house. Paranoid from my meeting with that large group I have set up extra defense on the perimeter. I hope to the gods that it will save me should an attack come. Tomorrow I shall begin digging out an escape route from my study.


Journal of Cantus, Second Edition, Fifth Entry, roughly the Third of Moonstream, Aether Months

Ah, Moonstream. The Aether always seems most quiet, and at peace during this time of year. I still haven’t lowered my defenses since that large clan came through here, but I am less ill at ease. My favorite Blue Moa seems to have laid a bad egg. It is bright red and orange. Perhaps I shall see what happens if I incubate it. I wish I had something more exciting to write but, like I said, Moonstream doesn’t carry a lot of excitement in its wake.


Journal of Cantus, Second Edition, Sixth Entry, roughly the Tenth of Moonstream, Aether Months

It’s amazing! I incubated the red egg that my moa laid and it hatched into some kind of red and orange moa! I’ve never seen a moa such as this one! It shall be my prized moa! I take it as a blessing from the gods. They really have noticed my good deeds! I must go searching for some Aechor Petals though; my stores are low.

Strange things seem to be happening. I walked outside the other day and all of the grass had turned into chests! It was fine again a few hours later so I’m not sure whether it was just some kind of vague dream, or whether it was some kind of backfired spell. If it was a spell, I would truly like to learn it! Changing one thing to another? That is truly an amazing feat!

A short entry today, unfortunately, but I must go hunting for Aechor Plants before the night comes!


Journal of Cantus, Second Edition, Seventh Entry, roughly the Fifth of Aermonth, Aether Months

I’ve done it! After looking through that old library again I have found a book full of old and mostly forgotten spells. In the back of the book I’ve found a small slip of paper that contained an unstable and unfinished spell. It seems to have been a conversion spell; just the thing I was looking for! I would try it out right away, but I fear the “unstable” part of the equation. I might try to add in a new component to make it more stable. I will not write the spell ritual here, should this journal fall into the wrong hands. But I’m thinking of adding one of the mystical Rainbow Strawberries to the concoction.

In other news, I’ve decided to name my red and orange moa “Phoenix” because that is what she reminds me of. She’s a sweet girl, really, but I’m afraid of her rarity declining. I’ve started to notice strange goings on in the world of moa. They seem to be taking on new and strange colors. The other day I could’ve sworn I saw one that was pink! A pink moa! Perhaps my eyesight is starting to decline.


Journal of Cantus, Second Edition, Eighth Entry, roughly the Thirteenth of Aermonth, Aether Months

I have done something wrong in the spell of converting. I tested it on a beautiful orange gemstone that I found whilst mining. It looked very much like the one that the angel was wearing that fateful day. I tried the spell but it turned the orange stone into something very different then what I wanted it to turn into. The stone may have been very rare but I’ve noticed that since I did the spell I’ve seen quite a few more. I may have cursed the entire Aether. Or perhaps… perhaps it’s not a curse, but a blessing? All of the stones now turn into random items when I use the spell on them. I don’t think there is any way to reverse what I’ve done. I hope that these stones prove a blessing, and not a curse. I’ve decided to name these orange stones; I’ve called them Continuum Orbs. They really do work remarkably well, even if they don’t give what I want them to give. I got phoenix boots from one of them, and a baked potato from another. They aren’t reliable, but they are certainly surprising! There seems to be no limit to what they can conjure up.

I’ve decided that if this journal should ever be found that the reader may be confused about the dates that I use. In truth, I’ve made my own system for days. I’ve grouped the four hundred twenty days that make up a year in the Aether into twelve months. In the Overworld there is only three hundred sixty-five days for a year, but as was mentioned in an entry before, the Aether seems to have some magic about it that alters time. Three hundred sixty-five Overworld days is equal to four hundred twenty Aether days, so I call this an Aether year. The Aether does not have winter, like the Overworld. It does get colder for a few months, yes, but it does not snow. Each of the months in the Aether year has thirty-five days. The months are as follows:

Sun’s Eve – The Aether New Year falls on the first of this month Dawnbreak – The month when it starts to get much warmer in the Aether Moonstream – Perhaps the most peaceful of all Aether months Aermonth – The month that would equal spring in the Overworld the Aerbunnies show up the most in this month, and the flowers and Carrion Sprouts grow more Silverdust – This month always seems to go so very quick, perhaps because of the good things that come throughout the month Greenharvest – The best month for farming, oranges grow quickly Sproutshower – Named after the Carrion Sprouts that grow with so much ease in this month Goldleaf – The month when the leaves of trees turn to pure gold Logfleet – The time when the chopping of the trees commences to fuel warm fires for the coming cold Phygreet – Named for the time when the Phygs migrate to the warmer regions of the Aether Snowlace – The Aether starts to get colder around this time which is reminiscent of the Overworld’s winter Rainbowlight – A time when many colors come to the Aether in its frozen time

I measure my months in this way.


Journal of Cantus, Second Edition, Ninth Entry, roughly the Second of Silverdust, Aether Months

Yet another person has ventured into the skylands. This time it’s a woman. She was young and beautiful and I begged her to leave. She said that she came here for adventure. I told her that she would get more than she wanted. She said that she’s not leaving. It makes me depressed, knowing that such a delicate flower will fall in these lands. The gods would weep to find that this queen among women had fallen. I think I’m in love, but I’m doomed to walk these lands alone. My fate does not allow for companionship, or I would ask her to come live with me in my house.


Journal of Cantus, Second Edition, Tenth Entry, roughly the Thirty-Second of Silverdust, Aether Months

I found her today, the woman who came through the portal thirty days ago. She lied broken, but not dead. She was weeping. I thought that perhaps our fates WERE intertwined and I took her back to the house. She lies now in the room next door. I know that she cannot stay. This world has proven far too dangerous, I could teach her all I know and it would hold to no avail. No, when she recovers she must go back to the Overworld where she belongs.

I can’t imagine what may have happened to her had I not gone to observe that Zephyroo colony I had heard bounding around. She was just lying there. Deserted by whoever she had come to meet. I know that she mustn’t stay here but- but what if? What if I asked her to stay? What would she say? Would she stay here with me? I know in my heart that this woman will always be my greatest what if.


Journal of Cantus, Second Edition, Eleventh Entry, roughly the Fourth of Greenharvest, Aether Months

She woke up today. She was fully better, and I sent her through the portal, back to her family. Her name was Adriana.

I feel as though I sent away a part of my own soul. I have always hungered for human interaction and now that I have had the chance to finally find love, I must send it away. I can write no more today. I shall write again when I recover.


Journal of Cantus, Second Edition, Twelfth Entry, roughly the Nineteenth of Sproutshower, Aether Months

Carrion Sprouts are everywhere! They’ve produced enough Windberries to feed me for two hundred years! I have at least twelve packs of sixty-four! This is definitely the best harvest I’ve had in years!

I saw that clan again yesterday. They passed over the mountains and set up camp on the mountaintop next to mine. I fear that I must work on my emergency exit faster; the mountain is proving thicker than I thought it would. The magic to seal the entrance is not yet finished either. If I must make a quick escape, I pray to the gods that it won’t be for another month at least. I may also start construction of a small safehouse where I will store food, and other necessities. The location will remain disclosed.

The clan has earned itself a reputation for being savage robbers and killers. They have earned the name “The Crushers” in the Overworld and Aether alike. They did not succeed in their attempt to raid The Slider’s Labyrinth, though. They lost ten men and fled. This failure did not seem to make them any less aggressive or proud though. They picked up fifteen more clan members in the Overworld and just came back to terrorize the Aether once more.

Please, for the love of the Aether Angels, let them hold off their attack for another month.


Journal of Cantus, Second Edition, Twelfth Entry, roughly the Twenty-Second of Sproutshower, Aether Months

They sent a weak attack force last night, only about five men. Three now lie dead on my doorstep, two fled. They now know that I am not just a weak old man. They now know that they will need their entire attack force to bring me down. They have picked up another twenty-six men, bringing their grand total to forty-six men. It’s a strong number to reckon with.

I fear that they will not be willing to wait a full month to attack. I have bulked up my security, but I know that it will not be enough against their full clan. I dare not venture far from the property now, forcing me to halt my work on my observation journal. The safehouse that I had originally planned to be a very large size is only a small tunnel in the side of a mountain about eight thousand blocks from my current home. Should I have to run, it is not guaranteed that I will be able to make it all the way without being attacked on the path or shot from above.

The escape route is finally dug out but it will take at least another twenty days to fully finish an indestructible magic seal for the entrance to my escape route.


Journal of Cantus, Second Edition, Thirteenth Entry, roughly the Twenty-Ninth of Sproutshower, Aether Months

I definitely don’t have twenty days. Another small group of invaders came today. One of them carried a journal of their own. Unfortunately, this is what was written within:

“Clan-Master Grisom says that we’ll be attackin’ soon. I thirst for the blood of that old man. Rumor around camp is that he’s a powerful wizard. I’ll run him through with my spear, and then we’ll see who has the most glory around camp. Clan-Master Urgon. It has a nice ring to it. The old fool won’t know what hit him when we break into that keep of his and make him watch while we steal all of his loot.”

Yes, they’ll be coming much sooner than I had hoped.

Run me through he says? I do not know how a dead man could run me though.


Journal of Cantus, Second Edition, Final Entry, roughly the Thirty-Second of Sproutshower

They’re here. They’re banging on my doors as I write. I have only managed a hasty seal of protection on my escape route. They’re quite obviously not learned in magic, though. They won’t break through for a long while, if ever.

The whole lot is outside. They’ve made it through all of the defenses except for my iron door. They will break through in about fifteen minutes, so little time to write my final words.

I’m leaving the journal behind, in a chest in a smaller cave right outside my escape route. Should anyone ever find this journal, then let it be known that I tried to warn all, and for as long as you live, I ask that you carry on my work. Warn others of the danger.

I may start a third edition in the safehouse, if I even make it. I shall take everything that I need that isn’t already stored in the safehouse, my sword, my bow, a small store of food, and of course, my observation journal. The Aether is a dangerous place, traveler, full of savage clans, evil monsters, and terrifying dungeons, but it can also hold peace and tranquility for those with the skill to look. They’re through.

Yours in Permanent Closing, Cantus Stormshield

A return to Gaea - The first installment of the Flame-Runner Saga (Third Prize Winner), written by Samuel Allen Washington

Chapter 1: The Portal

The unrelenting heat of Pyralis was nothing new to the Sisimite. Their bodies had adapted to it generations ago, and they learned to endure it over a lifetime. Stories of Gaea had been passed down for as long as their existence in the depths of Pyralis had gone on, and these days, most considered it a fairy tale, something to help children rest easier at “night”. A foreign concept lost in all but name and meaning; the time they lay their heavy eyes down to rest. Few Sisimite even thought to comprehend its true meaning - only the Elders truly knew the scope of its definition.

Flame-Runner was too young to have ever experienced the meaning of Night and Day. Like most of the Sisimite, he had been born and raised, and presumably, would die in Pyralis. Flame-Runner was a Scout. His duty was to forge ahead through the Netherrack tunnels and scope things out for his tribe: Veins of minerals, packs of pigmen, the general Netherscape, anything and everything his tribe could use, and most importantly...Ghasts. Their literal lifeblood; their most pure source of water.

The tell-tale cry came across his ears and made his growths stand on end. A few more twists and turns and… he was out over a thin bridge of Netherrack over a lava pit. A strange man of soft flesh had gotten to the Ghast first: He hit it with an arrow, slaying it and sending it crashing into the lava below. They’d have to carefully extract it - if it was still any good by the time his tribe got to it. But then, there were more problems.

The man pulled out a pick and began to chip away at the vein of Glowstone above him, only to drop it with a clatter as he whirled around, drawing his bow and nocking an arrow, pulling the string back. Flame-Runner narrowed his eyes and drew out his spear. He remembered the tales now...this was a human. A resident of Gaea. What was he doing after Glowstone? How had he gotten down here? There was no time to question either. He fired his bow, and Flame-Runner ducked, letting it lodge harmlessly in his growths. Then, he sprinted across the bridge and began a relentless assault with his spear. The man dropped his bow next to his pick and drew out an iron sword, blocking, parrying, striking. Flame-Runner was fighting for his life, his heart beating quickly, vents on overdrive in tandem with his adrenal glands. With a relentless series of swipes and stabs, he backed the human to his tools and he tripped over them, falling off the thin bridge of Netherrack and plummeting towards the lava below. He screamed all the way down, a scream of fear and anger. . . and then, agony as the molten rock below engulfed him. Flame-Runner winced; the sound hurting all four of his ears. It was probably time to report back.

Flame-Runner turned tail and jogged back towards his tribe, when his ears twitched and picked up a new sound coming from a tunnel to his right. How had he missed that? . . .Ah, right, the Ghast. Cautious steps carried him through another thin tunnel. He heard something like loud breathing, and dripping. Dripping?...That meant water...but he wasn’t prepared for what he came across.

An obsidian gateway with a swirling, violet interior stood before him. A tantalizing breeze flowed out of it, a cool sensation that he’d never quite felt before. A breath of reverence and awe left him as he took a few steps towards this strange gateway. For a while, he simply basked in the sight of the looming portal, and let the sensation flow across his body, a wide smile crossing his face. He could stand here forever, this flowing air felt so good! But he was a Scout. He had to mark down the oddity’s location and return to his tribe. Still, SURELY a peek couldn’t hurt! So Flame-Runner climbed through, vision swirling with violet light, nausea clawing at his throat as he was sucked through the dimensions. He was a fine Scout, he could handle anything on the other side and report back to his tribe! But no amount of fighting hostile tribes, indigenous creatures, and undead monstrosities could prepare Flame-Runner for what lay beyond the portal….

Flame-Runner’s first sensation was a blast of intense light across his eyes. He barely saw the towering shapes and strange plants, and the brilliant blue sky before he had to shield his visage with an arm, and squeeze his lids shut tightly. “Pig-zombie sh…Gah!! What in Pyralis…!?” He stumbled forward, something crunching beneath his boots. His feet caught a protrusion in the ground and he tumbled to the earth below, and buried his eyes into the soft ground, waiting for his sight to return to him.

He lay there like that for a long while, occasionally peeking out at the bright light before placing his sight back into the ground. He thanked the Spirits that he wasn’t completely blind. Once he’d stopped panicking and adjusted to his new surroundings, Flame-Runner rolled over and came to sit up, eyes tightly screwed shut against the invading brilliance, which he could feel burning against his lids. By echolocating, he found his way back to the gate and nearly threw himself back into the portal. Once he was back in Pyralis, he opened his eyes to find that darkness awaited him. For a moment, he feared that he’d gone truly blind, but after a few moments his pupils dilated and he was back to the world he knew. He had to tell his tribe about this!

Chapter 2: A Brave New World

The Sisimite cautiously poked out into the world beyond. When they’d heard Flame-Runner had found a portal back to Gaea, they were all incredulous at first, and who could blame them? But feeling that breeze for themselves; they knew that all they’d been hunting for was now before them. Of course, they weren’t to think that all their hardships were over. Adapting to an entirely new biosphere was going to be a lot of work: The Sun being their primary antagonist in this endeavor. “...It is just as Flame-Runner said…My eyes can scarce take such luminosity!”

“Then we wait until…. . . . Night.” The concept of night suddenly had meaning. It wasn’t just something said to justify putting young to sleep. It wasn’t just a loose frame of reference for the point in one’s schedule when more than eighteen ‘hours’ had passed since waking. To actually place the name to something significant sent shudders throughout several spines. So they’d wait, sending a few through every few hours to check if the sun were down yet.

Despite their no-nonsense way of life, the Sisimite couldn’t help but feel giddy and amused by the concept of waiting for sunset. Gaea. Home. Their ancestral lands! Finally, night-time. It was even stranger to reverse their concepts of “Day” and “Night”. “Night” was supposed to be a time of rest, to lay their weary, heated, bodies down and sleep.

Now, Night was the time of activity and exploration. Under the strange, half-glowing orb that wasn’t quite like the Sun - ah, YES, the “Moon” - they stepped out into the world that they had long since had to leave behind. Now that they could look around, it was so...strange. Vibrant. Familiar, yet alien. It was also cold, a strange sensation to the Sisimite. Even though Gaea was not nearly as dangerous as Pyralis; the Sisimite here still felt vast unease. The closest thing to a sky they’d ever experienced was the high-vaulted ceilings of some select natural caverns. No such ceiling awaited them here. Up was forever, with no end, and gone were the tunnels that pressed in on them. They weren’t agoraphobic by any means, but with their backs so open, to say they felt vulnerable was a vast understatement. But they had little time to adapt to their surroundings - low moans filled their ears, and clinking bones became audible. Footfalls from all around shambled their way.

Husks of rotting flesh stumbled towards them, arms outstretched, pale green abominations of unlife that looked much like the human that Flame-Runner had encountered. They were like the Pigmen, but...different. “Zombies”. Skeletal beings held together by some unholy force made up the rear of their ranks, bows at the ready; these were the most familiar, as the Sisimite had clashed with their cousins within Nether Fortresses before. Hairy creatures of eight legs and eyes, no doubt “spiders”, came out from behind the pillars of brown and green - “Trees”, the Elders recalled from the stories.

Of course, the ranks of Darkness did not intimidate the Sisimite in the slightest. Here, they had a foe they could fight and slay. If nothing else, these abominations put them at ease. “THEY SHALL NOT DRIVE US BACK FROM OUR HOMELAND! WE HAVE A RIGHT TO BE HERE, THEY SHALL NOT TAKE THAT FROM US! TO ARMS!!” The chief of the tribe, Screaming Ghast, bellowed out, before they rushed the enemy. With steel being a rarity on their foe’s side, the battle was easily decided at first, until they drove their foes back to the trees. Four legs, and a torso, and a haunted face contorted in agony stepped out to greet the Sisimite. SSSSSSsssss….BOOOM! They didn’t have a chance to associate this thing with anything from their stories - it exploded and took with it two of their finest hunters. They backed up...three more had joined the ranks of the enemy, several more of which were now coming from behind.

“Focus on the exploding ones first! They must not detonate!” Screaming Ghast shouted over the din as they fought into the woods. Was this a mistake? They could fight these foes with ease but their numbers were without end! Had they come to Gaea simply to die!? Then so be it. They would die, but they would die in their home - “I hear echolocation.” Flame-Runner spoke up. “Focus your ears!”

Numerous quads of ears perked up - indeed, they could hear it! Not too far away. Were they not the first to come through here? Had more sisimite found their way up to the surface?! They fought towards the sound and found themselves gazing upon the yawning jaws of the earth. Without delay, they secured it against the enemy - amusing, how they had just left the underground, and now found themselves back beneath within the hour.

Chapter 3: (Somewhat) Familiar Territory

Eventually, their foes stopped coming. Bows and arrows had been salvaged from their enemies, along with strange plants that the zombies seemed to carry with them. Remnants of their past lives, perhaps? It was with these ranged weapons and projectiles, the skeletons’ own arsenals, that they drove their enemies back. In the distance, they could see an unsettlingly tall creature with purple eyes, clutching an armful of dirt. It didn’t seem hostile, so they didn’t pay it much attention. Now they had to figure out what they were going to do now the they were back on Gaea after so very long. They seemed to be a fair way out from any sort of civilization.

“...By day, the sun would have us blind. By night, these monsters would have us exsanguinate. I suppose we could tie strips of cloth about our eyes to ease the former...amusing as that might look.” Screaming Ghast contemplated out loud, to the chuckles and snickers of his tribesmen. “Though… we still need to sleep. We rest at day, and rise at night. By sunrise and sunset we will gather materials. Stone-Fist. You and your warriors will keep us safe, while the rest of us fell trees. Flame-Runner, you and a few Scouts will delve into the unknown and find out who was wandering by ear. If there is another tribe, they could perhaps help us.

“Yes, Chief!” He nodded fervently. “Wise Bone, Flying Smoke, you’re with me.” He said, picking two at random.

“Got it!”

“If I must.”

With that, their spelunking began, the tunnels of smooth stone both a new and welcome sight. There were two common veins that bled through the earth - one, he could easily identify as coal. The thought that the stuff didn’t have be wrested out of the remains of Nether Skeletons was quite exciting. The other, he had to think on, to the stories of his ancestors in these very tunnels. He remembered a few ores they had found - Iron, Diamond, Gold, and . . . . Red-something. Gold he would know on sight, the Pigmen were so fond of the stuff. So this had to be Iron. The call graced his ears, which snapped his attention. They stepped into the darkness, and began to respond to whatever was finding its way by sound, their own echolocation resounding in unison, the Song of Finding. They were quick to find the creature… and Flame-Runner’s heart sank as his eyes peered into the darkness above.

A leathery animal, not even interested in them, simply cleaning itself with its tongue.

“A waste of time if I ever knew one.” Wise Bone muttered.

“Ah, but is there not more to see? Let us forge into the darkness--” Flying Smoke was cut off. Something was moving closer. They whirled around, weapons at the ready. Another of the exploding beings - “Creepers”, right?...

“I’ll draw it towards me! You two kill it!” Flame-Runner shouted, backing away and pulling the monstrosity towards his person. Flying Smoke and Wise Bone struck from behind, and the thing fell onto its side, writhing and twitching before supposedly going still.

“....That was almost--” BOOOOOOOOOOOOOM! Flame-Runner was sent flying against the wall, and the tunnel caved in, separating him from his fellow Scouts.

Chapter 4: Reports and Ramparts

“...And Flame-Runner was separated from us in the blast.” Wise Bone stated with a sigh. “This world is not as hostile as Pyralis, but it is certainly host to its own dangers. He didn’t sustain a direct explosion, however; so we think he’s alive.”

“I see.” Screaming Ghast rubbed the metallic protrusion growing from his chin and nodded. Though he should probably clip the growth and use it for tools like the rest of the ones sprouting from his body, he was the most fond of this thing. It made him look poignant when he stroked it, and in the rare moments when he could glimpse his reflection, it looked so very nice. “Then we dig the tunnel out - along with those ores you found. That coal is going to come in handy! But we might not be seeing him again for a long while. Flame-Runner is a soul that never stays in one place for long. But he is hardy, inventive, and tenacious. When he returns to us, he will have a wealth of information for the tribe. This much, I know. Now let me see the progress we’re making.”

Several trees were cleared and the creatures of the night repelled - they weren’t nearly as grouped or aggressive now that their numbers had been thinned. Having made do with so little in the past, the Sisimite craftsmen were overjoyed to have such a wealth of resources at their fingertips. Tools were fashioned, their work sped up, and construction on a rudimentary village began; starting with a perimeter wall. Screaming Ghast was more than pleased by this, the sawing, clanging, and hammering almost like music to his ears.

The chief himself pitched in wherever he could, helping his tribesmen work and flourish. “Once the first light of day breaks on the horizon…” Oh how good it felt to say that. How the words rolled so freely off his tongue, how he could give time meaning! “...Scouts are to fan out, find water, and return to us with it.” The very thought of fresh water so freely available made his throat parched, even if he didn’t necessarily need to drink as often as other beings. With water so readily available, they could plumb the hottest depths of the Nether for extended periods.

With two worlds at their disposal, the tribe was going to grow into a force that nothing could match. Screaming Ghast smiled to himself, fortune was finally shining on his nomadic tribe. They’d been searching for an ideal place to settle down for a few generations ever since their seperation from the city they’d originally hailed from. Now things were looking up for the better.

Chapter 5: Once yours, now Mine

Flame-Runner groaned, all four ears ringing as he stirred into consciousness. He pulled himself to his feet, and stared at the tunnel he’d come from - or what was left of it. “...Spirits guide me. Spirits protect me.” He muttered, turning to face the winding passage that beckoned him towards the depths. At first, he sat near the rocks, waiting patiently for his rescue, passing the time by tossing a stone against the wall. But after a few minutes, he remembered that his people did not approve of idleness outside of recreation time. He had to make the most of this. Screaming Ghast would want him to delve into these depths and then meet his brothers and sisters with news. So, taking a deep breath, he rose, and rushed into the darkness, echolocating as best he could at his sprint.

He heard the sound of . . . something rushing. It spurred him, drove him to move faster, and he stopped, pebbles tumbling into the abyss at his feet. Indeed, he stood at the edge of a massive ravine, an awed, childlike wonder on his face as he gazed at shapes in the shadows, smelled fresh water running somewhere - But his smile was wiped clean by an arrow slamming into his shoulder and breaking on one of his vents. A skeleton was poised on a small outcropping large enough only for one man. How long had it been waiting there to ambush him!? He backed into the tunnel and contemplated. Had it been positioned there years past by someone with more men than he could manage? Had it rotted to the bone waiting in ambush? What was the meaning of this!? He took a deep set of breaths and ran back out, sprinting along the ledge. He saw a bridge of some sorts up ahead; made of planks with a torch burning on one of the support pillars. A railway was visible upon it, and he followed this into the tunnel’s depths. No sense in throwing himself at the skeleton, and risking a fall he might not recover from.

The curious scout followed the railways, relishing the twists and turns, until he came upon a cart sitting idle, a primitive chest inside of it. Ha! These people could dig out such glorious tunnels but not manipulate pocket dimensions? Still, he undid the latch and popped it open. There, a pile of crimson dust, some shimmering blue gemstones, a few ingots, and a pickaxe caught his eyes. A wide grin crossed his lips as he seized this tool, and all the shimmering ores in the wall were his to claim. Why would they be so readily abandoned, though? What dangers lurked in this shaft…? He had to find out.

Flame-Runner began to move deeper into the mines when he heard a tell-tale chittering, higher in pitch, hinting at a smaller creature. Bluish spiders began to skitter across the walls, leaping at him. Ha! These would not be any trouble. Pick stowed for a moment, his spear was drawn and he skewered one, before moving on to the next...and the next--it managed to bite him. Flame-Runner’s veins lit up in agony, every heartbeat spreading the pain and making him feel weaker. No wonder these small arachnids were such a danger to whomever had mined these tunnels! He sprinted back along the path he’d taken, quickly escaping the spiders; heading for the tunnel - and his forgotten enemy lined up a perfect shot into his back. Flame-Runner stumbled and fell into the depths, landing hard in the darkness below, blow cushioned by...water. The freshness he’d smelled and heard was sweeping him away into some pocket of earth, away from the danger that was shooting at him from above.

Chapter 6: The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions; and They Followed it Out

The village grew over the next few days, with both the Nether and Gaea at his disposal, things were looking up for the better, and yet...he wanted more. The search for Flame-Runner turned up empty handed, though evidence of his travels had been found along the tunnels and the mineshaft within. Screaming Ghast stroked his “beard” again, speaking with Wise Bone. “We can presume the man who attacked him in Pyralis built that portal, aye?”

“Indeed. And he was after Glowstone, specifically. What did he want to do with it?”

“I’ll consult the Spirits. You join the search party looking for Flame-Runner.” Screaming Ghast found a quiet place to sit down and opened his mind to the world unseen. Each deep breath full of purpose brought him closer and closer to their voices, which slowly drowned out the working Sisimite. The Spirits scarcely answered directly; though they always spoke something, first, they showed; then told, briefly. - they spoke to him in fleeting images. He saw the obsidian frame of the portal they’d left through. He saw a man working with a team to build a similar gate, working with several different materials. He saw them settle on Glowstone… and saw it light up brilliantly when water was introduced.

He saw beautiful, but dangerous creatures. He saw people dying at their hands. He saw people being blown off edges, saw the splattered ends of long falls. The Spirits were warning him about this path. They were telling him to be cautious.

But his tribe had come this far. Gaea’s threats were batted aside easily. ANOTHER realm to exploit...surely they could flourish even farther there. The spirits spoke - which often signified the end of a communing. “The Aether….Death.”

His trance ended and he stood up, heart pounding. The Aether...Death. Was the realm dieing? Or was it a warning that it would bring about the tribe’s demise? Or . . . was it both? Screaming Ghast shouted orders to head back through the portal and return with glowstone. He would find out himself. As he awaited the return of his scouts, he pondered what mysteries the future held. He turned his gaze to the skies, where he could just barely make out distant islands.

Whatever existed up there, Screaming Ghast decided, he would claim it, and use it. By his actions, he would bring an era of comfort the Sisimite hadn’t known for eons! By his actions, he would bring about a new age for his race! His people had seized Pyralis and flourished in it. His tribe had found Gaea, and proved that they could survive here, even if they and it had changed considerably.

He’d thought that seizing his people’s destiny had been a little too easy. He had been wrong. They were only meant to establish a foothold here. Gaea wasn’t their destiny. It was a stepping stone. Soon, the Aether, and all its wonders and mystery, would be in the grasp of the Sisimite as well. What was to become of the tribe… and just what had befallen Flame-Runner…? The Spirits weren’t telling. Only time would reveal.

THE SLIDER: THE STORY OF THE BRONZE DUNGEONS (Honourable Mention #1) - Written by Deathlark

Mythical writings say that Gaea, Pyralis, and the Aether were all once one whole block, called the Cube. This “Cube” was said to be divided amongst 3 parts; the ground, the skies, and the underworld. Well, each piece of “The Cube” would give realm to Gaea, Pyralis, and Aether, due to whatever caused the Cube to split apart. Think of it like mythology.

However, with each realm, species arose in each realm of existence. Whether the docile creatures of Gaea, from Horses to Wolves, or the infernally destructive Ghasts of Pyralis, or the divine Angels of the Aether, there was a large abundance of life suited to each realm. However, it seemed that only one race was “suited” to rule the realm.

For Gaea, the cunning intellect of the “Human” allowed it to quickly gain control of Gaea, and the Humans prospered by exploiting the weaknesses of the evil entities populating the land.

Pyralis is not so simple. The Sisimite are more constructive and resourceful than their enemy the Fireheart Legion, although the Fireheart Legion is far more warlike and powerful than the common Sisimite. Ever since the two races arose to sentience, Pyralis has been in chaos, and both races constantly fight each other.

The Aether is even more complicated. With several races finding living in the Aether, conflict is common. Between the Angels, Valkyries, and many more sentient races residing in the Aether, “control” is important, but in the current volatility, the Aether is in danger of becoming a war ground, similar to the Sismite and the Fireheart Legion.

The need to prosper and spread influence is important to the races of the Aether, although the current races still present can be described as “hardy, durable, experienced, and wise”. This is because more sentient races still lived in the Aether. There were many in Pyralis, and Gaea too. However, none leave quite a foot print as the Saxa.

I’ve wandered long and far, I have slain many and braved the toughest battles. But my thirst is still insatiable. I was exiled by my father and his friends, or as they would call them, the “Elders”. Some elders they are. Do they not realize the Aether is ours for the taking?

We are the most intelligent, the most fearsome, and the most technologically advanced race in the Aether, and not even those in these “outer realms” could possibly stand up to us. We are the Saxa! Not even the most dangerous beings of the Aether can stand up to us. Zephyrs’ gusts are unable to budge us, Tempests’ bolts merely fizzle away, and the Cockatrices’ poison does no more than poke us.

The angels are weak, and too passive. We can tread over them and strike them to the ground. The Valkyries cannot pierce our armor. Their lances simply break on our bodies.

Our cities best the constructions of anything else. Our walls are unbreakable, our traps undetectable, our warriors unbeatable, and our mages untestable.

But yet the elders will not let us go to war! We must constantly defend “The gift” or, “The book”, or whatever they call it! We don’t even know the man who gave it to us! All he said was to “The script of the book speaks of the most unmentionable power ever contained. I trust that your race will take good care of it.” Ever since, everyone treats it as if it was their entire existence!

When my father woke up in the morning, all he would care about is hearing the report from the guardian of “The Gift”. He would not greet me, not acknowledge me, or note me when talking to the elders. He treated me like I did not exist!

The elders looked down on me, and treated me like a child. They did not acknowledge my strength or intellect, and prevented me from taking any significant role of power. They limited me to simple chores and housekeeping. Every request to join the military was denied.

Well I was through with it. I left the land to find a real challenge, one worthy of my power. I hunted the strongest of monsters, defeated every foe that had dared to even fight me, and overcome the greatest obstacles. While my weight is tremendous, the clouds are enough to transport me. Those humored by my stature did not know what happened once I was through with them.

I honed my power, and began to become adept in arcane arts. I was taught by a noble Drac’san on how to use my own self to manipulate runes. I had become a literal magic vessel, and my body is now infused with the worth of thousands of mages.

This preparation was necessary. I was well aware of how tough the guardians of the Saxa were, and how devastating the mages’ magic acts were. My father would not relent to put me down.

I have prepared years upon years waiting to exact my revenge on everyone that ever treated wrong. I have wrought havoc upon angel and Valkyrie villages all on my own. Now, not even the Saxa, or “The Lorist”, can stand in my way.

“The Saxa are an interesting race of beings. They are the strongest warriors and mages to ever walk the planes of this existence. Only a few Saxa soldiers would last years fighting off anything thrown at them. Their mages can wipe out villages with one spell. The reason why they are not taking control of the Aether is due to a natural sense of righteousness and equality. The Saxa have a core belief that the Aether should be a peaceful realm, free of treachery and deceit. All Saxa are inherited with this belief, and thus all Saxa born have no need for moral investment, meaning that parenting is effectively useless as long as the young Saxa receive education. S

omething to note is that the Saxa are not bound by the normal limits that mortals are put under. They can become literal magic ‘vessels’, or embodiments of magic. However, this goes against their values, and the mages only practice magic under the guidance of the elders. The Saxa can also harden their bodies to become even harder to destroy, meaning their already natural toughness becomes even tougher. Once again, this goes against core values, and Saxa warriors only hone their skills under the guidance of the elders.

However, all of their power lies in the guidance of the elders. Without the elders, the Saxa would crumble, as no education would be given. Without their values, Saxa would become mindless drones, and without their limits, Saxa would become gods, or would cause apocalyptic scale events. With such cautions in mind, I have traveled to the Saxa heartland and gave them a book that was merely a proxy. I told them that anyone to read this script would ascend to a state of godliness. The fear would paralyze them into making sure nothing would happen to the book at all costs, and made them center their society around it. If the book gets read by any of the Saxa however, I’m afraid a terrible curse would come before them. What is that curse? I really am not at heart to say.

The Saxa have the ability to be guardians of the Aether, and effectively the guardians of existence if this system continues. The elders will allow mages to become stronger, and guardians to become tougher. One elder in specific will be responsible for raising new elders, including his own son. With the natural instinct of the Saxa, nothing should happen…

But I am all too aware that not everything cannot always go as planned. If the Saxa should fall to an inner cause… an interesting course of events will take place. Will it happen? I do not know. Should it happen? Not if the Saxa continue their legacy. Legacy is not always consistent. This is why the Saxa can still fall with the removal of one stone.”

-The Lorist on the Saxa.

A Wandering Night’s Journal-

Entry: XX Day, XXXX Year

Today began as one of my simple ridings around the Aether. As someone that has been to all 3 of the discovered realms, I have seen much in my travels. From the greatest Sisimite cities the largest mining operations in Gaea, from a man traveling to the “end of the world” with a pack of wolves, I’ve seen it all. However, today has been quite extraordinary, merely for the events that have occurred are… peculiar, to say the least. A total of two significant things happened today on my journey, both of which are very, very unusual, and albeit worrisome.

To start, I will start off with one thing; although the Aether is a vast, and hard to explore world, there have been maps to guide us to the nearest settlements of various sentient or feral creatures, although the tales of the great Saxa city have been told to every corner of the Aether. A great island with pillars spanning the sky, mazes of seemingly endless tunnels, with corridors of training halls to practice spells, and many things that would be bizarre to the normal people, but this is because not many can think like a Saxa does. They are programmed like machines, but are completely logical, and hold no emotion.

I have met with only a few Saxa, and these are usually missionaries or miners on some random mission. The general message is to not mess with a Saxa. Get in their way, and they will hold no relent to get you out of the way, whatever way possible. They are forceful and strong, and I have heard tales of a few daring people to test the will of a Saxa. All I can say is that they will be missed, but they were warned about what the Saxa do.

I think the point is acquired, but believe it or not, not all Saxa are “created?” (I have no idea the terminology for it) equal; they are constantly in need of every resource possible for the continuation of their breed. Apparently the Saxa “rust”, and eventually are drained of their power if they cannot uphold a supply of Ambrosium and Zanite, and require a large amount of holystone to “craft” a child (from what I have heard, several islands worth are needed for one Saxa child). Mages use Continuum Orbs for their power, and Warriors have a healthy diet of Gravitite. Basically, they feed on minerals.

Another interesting thing to note is that the walls of the dungeon are actually crafted of their deceased ancestors. Apparently, Saxa still die and age like other living creatures (so perhaps they are living?), and when they die they crumble into a 1 block large, 2x2x2 compressed block of themselves. This “Bronze Stone” is practically impossible to dig through, and thus serves as the foundation to the Saxa city. The more memorable Saxa are physically given honor by engraving it on their bodies, and thus, these engravings are taken to the grave, and serve as lighting and finer décor for the city. The Nobles of the Saxa are usually used for more applicable uses, and thus die a certain way to be used for generations to come.

How do I know all this? Well, I managed to come in contact with an angel who knew how to get to the Saxa city, and had links to some Saxa traders. We met at a small Blueberry orchard, and he told me all about the Saxa. Afterwards, he brought me to his village, and the next day we set out to the Saxa. It was quite a journey, spanning across weeks. If you have kept up to date with the rest of my entries, my details are listed throughout the journal, but if you are a recent reader, you will want to know that the journey was not so easily met. As we ventured closer, it was clear that many bandits and criminal organizations have been trying to loot the Saxa, as they are said to possess invaluable treasures and weaponry. |||

However, this leads to a large story about my experiences in the Saxa City. Just look for other journal entries if you want more information. However, about the more concerning, and peculiar things (and believe me all that Saxa talk will have some relevance, I think I began to dawdle off writing) that happened today, I will start with one simple thing. I went back to the village that the angel lived in; the specific angel that brought me to the Saxa City. However, to my shock, the village was completely and utterly destroyed!

I looked around for any survivors, and found a few angels scattered about the village, including the angel I was looking for. When I asked him what happened, he replied that a large, hulking Saxa came and destroyed the village without them doing anything. Upon trying to fight back, they were swatted away as the beast wrought chaos upon the village. It was frightening, and I told my friend to find some shelter in a nearby village; while he knew the way to the Saxa City, he did not have a good sense of the rest of the land.

I looked for more clues as to what exactly happened, so I started to go towards the Saxa City. Eventually, I found something quite strange. This “second” event of the day was that, while I walked towards the Saxa City, I noticed that the grass on the ground started to die out. It was becoming simple dirt, and I found many mashed Berry Bushes, Trees, and even some Mobs on the way. Whatever this thing is, it sure must be going to Saxa City. However…

I know that I should leave the Saxa to themselves. Chasing the behemoth will not help anyone already harmed. I trust that the Saxa will be able to handle whatever is coming their way. However, I hope if that “thing” wrecks Saxa City, it won’t come and turn the entire Aether into ruins. This land is too beautiful to die out… This concludes my log. …

The behemoth, once an awaiting Elder of the Saxa, trudged forward until he saw a Saxa. The behemoth was approximately twice his size and height, and had an intimidating amount of glowing cracks rippling through his body. At once, the smaller Saxa was terrified, and began to run off, until the behemoth simply reached out and magically pulled the Saxa towards him.

The Saxa now petrified with fear, went into a state of Zen to try and fake the enemy out. He dropped the fear and his eyes shut. However, the behemoth knew too well, and the only way he would dispose of him was by ingesting him. Thus, he opened his mouth wide, and swallowed the entire body of the poor Saxa in one heaving gulp.

Not disturbed at all with the brutal cannibalistic act he just committed, the behemoth continued forward with his rampage, devouring 3 more Saxa along the way, until he saw a sign of his target. He saw a decorated 1x1x3 totem, with several blue, yellow, and red markings scattering the all too familiar pattern that the Saxa City was carved out of. It was most likely an impactful ancestor, or marked someone’s grave. Although the Saxa were solitary, they still made connections outside their city.

The behemoth continued with focus and determination in his dark yellow eyes. The eyes of a Saxa usually determined what role they were depicted for. Bright yellow eyes signified that they were born to be an Elder, although the corruption of the behemoth caused the eyes to dull down to a dark, moody yellow. Pale blue eyes signified a presence of magic; the deeper blue, the more adept in magic a Saxa is. The most elite mages’ eyes were a dark navy blue. Green eyes showed warrior-like quality. The brighter the eyes, the younger or weaker a warrior is. As they continue to train and gain strength, the eyes turn from a neon green to a dark green. White eyes meant that the Saxa was born to be an artisan, and as their skill in forging rises, the color of their eyes slowly go black.

At last, an important sign was seen. He saw a corridor in the middle of the sky, signaling that he was coming into the territory of the Saxa city. He braced himself, for he knew the fight ahead would be great, and that he would have to consume many Saxa, or disable them, in order to reach his true goal: The book. Given by the Lorist, the book was said to give unimaginable power to whoever read its script. The Saxa, being a balance-centered society, were terrified by the prospect that something could become so powerful that their world would be laid to ruins. Thus, one elder in specific had to take the mission of guarding it with his life. The elder would do so with pride, and would hand down his goal to his children, teaching them that the book was to be guarded at all costs.

The behemoth had broken this line. They would find another, but now the behemoth was more intent on reading the book. If it contained the power rumored to be in its script, the behemoth could conquer all of the Aether undaunted, and thus take what he deserved. However, the desire to read the book was a little more rage-spurred.

The behemoth’s father had been raised specifically to guard the book, but he was accidentally not told to educate his son. When his son was told to listen to his father, his father ignored him completely and only furthered his concerns on the book. This infuriated the son, causing him to become mixed with feelings of rage and hate, specifically towards the book. This is what drove the son out of the city and into a state of rage. The son would train for months on end without relenting, destroying villages and soldiers alike, only seeking to become stronger. He took every advantage possible, learning how to become a direct conduit for magic.

Eventually, he reached such power that destroying a village was merely a breeze. He had trained long and hard, and now his revenge would be exacted. The behemoth’s name was Jualinkhanuisaimindelad, but his name would not matter.

The behemoth walked forward, and by now guards were poised in his path. He wasted no time plowing through the guards, sending some to the abyss below the Aether. He devoured one, and stuck another one in the ground. His goal was to find a tower. He would have to smash through the entrance, which was most likely guarded by elite warriors. From there he would navigate his way to the valuables vault, or the Book Chamber, since the book was stored there.

After smashing through dozens of soldiers and some mages, he saw one pillar in the sky. He rushed towards it, but by now the alarms were going off. Several dozens of soldiers and mages barricaded his way, but the behemoth did not find the task daunting. With valor, he pummeled through the soldiers, smacking them aside, and took the power of the mages full on, until he had reached the tower. By now a straight line had been carved through all of the soldiers and mages, with the behemoth on the other side. He broke through the doors of the city, and stormed into the inside. The city was by no means bright, but it was bright enough to prevent evils to invade. Immediately, all citizens inside were scared out of their minds, and started to scatter.

The behemoth showed no mercy, killing everyone and everything that was thrown at him. He devoured the mages, smashed the soldiers, and threw the citizens aside with no relent. If he saw a yellow-eyed denizen, he rushed to him and killed the Saxa with extra force. This was the pattern that the behemoth held for approximately a week. In total, he had killed over three thousand soldiers, a thousand mages, and several thousands of citizens. He continued towards the heart of the city, where the vault lay.

Eventually, after another week of constantly fighting, the behemoth found that the halls were emptying and less soldiers and mages were barring his ways. However, the power of them increased.

After a few more days, the behemoth had reached the main council, where 5 elders resided. They were lords of the entire Saxa city. Two to watch over all the constructions of sentries and new Saxa, two to monitor all training and security of the Saxa walls, and the one to guard the vault. Coincidentally, the vault was right underneath the main council’s room.

“My son… what have you done?” one of the elder’s said.

“Shut it. You never even paid the slightest attention to me. You never taught me how to do my job, and you only cared about the book. Maybe you should have taken it as your child. Now let me to the book, and I’ll spare the Saxa. If not, I’ll eat all the 5 of you alive,” the behemoth told them. The elders were terrified. They did not want him to read the book, but what was more important; the survival of all the Saxa and the City, or the balance of the Aether?

In the end, it was synonymous amongst the Saxa. They nodded. “We will let you read… the book…” the behemoth’s father said, his voice heavy with disgrace and disappointment. They opened the vault, and let the behemoth in. The vault was filled with chests full of valuable weapons, armor, and other helpful items, but in the center there was a Gravitite pedestal with a single book suspended by a beam of magic. This is what had tormented the behemoth for years.

He walked up, proud and strong, and took the book in his hand. The title of the book was written in a text that he could not understand, but it was not like it mattered. With proud zeal, he opened the book to find several pages of unintelligible text. He was confused. He flipped through pages, trying to find a word he understood, but could not find a single one. He was dumbfounded, and angry. Most of all, he felt stupid.

However, the feelings would not matter. The entire foundation began to shake, and the behemoth felt his power sapping away from him. All the magic was drained from his body, and cast to the abyss, as a separate, godly power formed his body into a cube. His tormented spirit was placed on a pedestal, and beneath it a fragment of the vault’s treasure. The 5 elders, watching, had all their power leeched from them, cast away, and were turned into various beings. The two construction watchers became a floating sentinel, vaguely resembling a Saxa. The two training managers turned into unusual cubes that could sprout pieces of themselves, similar to the design of the behemoth’s new form. The one, the father of the behemoth, that guarded the vault was turned into a cog-like entity, it could remove pieces of itself and bounce around the chamber.

The behemoth remained in the spot, but the elders were cast to a random part of the city. Any of the normal Saxa still there remained as they were left. Mages had most of their power drained, only being able to lock the sight of an enemy on them, and disorient them. A few warriors had their power stripped and mixed with the power of the architects, causing them to create battle sentries. Many of the trap sentries and battle sentries remain the city, and are recreated by the warrior-architects.

Now the towers spike up from the ground of the Aether, only to house extra-dimensional gates which teleport the explorer into the Saxa City, or the Labyrinth. The Saxa city is now cast somewhere into the depths of the void. If someone is skilled enough to beat each Elder, and then defeat the behemoth in the vault room, they earn any piece of the loot contained in the chest in the vault room. Once beaten, they are teleported away, and the dungeon revives the spirits of the Elders and the behemoth, as well as giving new items, and effectively resetting the dungeon. The Saxa are caught in an eternal nightmare of pain and death, as this was the curse the book placed on them.

The dungeon now remains as an endearing prospect for adventurers of the Aether to test their power against the remnants of the Saxa, gain valuable loot, and get a chance to fight and defeat the behemoth; now known better by the name, The Slider.

End

Kanako Iguchi's Submission (Honourable Mention #2)

Ivan Greystone sighed, leaning back on his slightly crooked desk.

He had once been in a very high-ranking position as part of a project related to dimensions, but had been unwillingly cast out by the others for his disapproval at quickening the dimension studies. He had known that all good things have a back side to it, and had noticed, quite early, the strange static around the portals to both Pyralis and the Aether. But everyone had dismissed this fact although it was proven, calmly telling Ivan that this was just because of the heavy traffic.

Now Ivan had finally finished building his new home, an odd tower made of cobblestone that looked like a castle turret, and had settled in his “room” in the very top of the tower. He liked how he could see into the far distance of this blocky world, watching the sun rise from the window in front and set from the window on the opposite side. If the weather was good enough, he could also see the camp where he had been working in before. Towers were said to have strong magical properties, and that was another reason why he liked the strange shape of his home.

His 13 year old daughter, Elizabeth, had chosen a room just above the ground. Being both a warrior and a miner, Elizabeth liked to stay near the ground where she could fight off any zombies or creepers that came in the night. But her rooms were not filled with lots of weaponry, as one might expect, but was instead filled with bookshelves and broken quills. Recently she had also taken to helping her father find a way to stop the three dimensions from breaking down.

Ivan crumpled up the calculation parchment he was working on. “Why can’t a calculation just simply appear like a ‘flash of inspiration’ that other books talk about?” he grumbled, as he took another sheet of paper from the rapidly decreasing stock, which was due to the lack of water sources around his home that held sugar canes.

“Perhaps there’s a simpler way to solve this, father.” Elizabeth had overheard Ivan as she walked into the room with an apple and a glass of water. “You need to rest sometimes. I have a feeling you’re starting to look tired.” It was entirely true. From lack of sleep and too much concentration on the problem-solving, Ivan’s eyes had become red and bore dark shadows beneath them.

“But this is not as easy as whacking a creeper with a sword!” Ivan shouted, louder than he meant to. “This could be the END OF THE WORLD! And what are you doing, instead of making calculations like I am? YOU’RE BRINGING A STUPID APPLE TO MY ROOM!” He flung the apple across the room, but Elizabeth, from years of dodging skeleton arrows, jumped easily aside.

Ivan suddenly became quiet.

“I am tired, Elizabeth. I am tired of all this studying, this calculating, this endless night of saving the worlds from destruction. How much I miss the light of day, being free outside, Elizabeth, you will never know. Just remember this: don’t give up on what you’re working on, even if it means there is a big sacrifice. I learned that the hard way, but I’m still working, working on the very desk that I’ve used in the projects.”

After the odd conversation she had with her father, Elizabeth walked back to her room. She had left the glass of water in Ivan’s room. The apple was still on the floor, though. As she sat back on her desk, which was better kept than her father’s, she thought back to the ‘dramatic speech’ that her father had made. Elizabeth had been shocked when her father had resigned from the study team. She had asked for the reason, multiple times, but all she got from Ivan was “a fight”. After unsuccessfully asking about the truth, she had given up, and had resorted to helping her father find a way to stop the dimensional problems.

What does Ivan want with those numbers anyway? Elizabeth thought. There must be a simpler answer than playing with numbers all day long. She began to organize her papers and her thoughts. When I’m fighting, I have to have a strong sword to match the enemy’s strength. Power for power. But the dimensions are having an unnatural power that’s causing them to collapse. To match that power, we don’t need numbers- we need power! As the realization hit Elizabeth like a sudden surprise attack from a zephyr from behind, she actually jumped. “What’s going on down there? You alright?” came Ivan’s voice from above.

“Yes, I am!” Elizabeth shouted. But in reality, she wasn’t. Her body was tingling all over with excitement. But she knew that the problem wasn't even half solved. She went back to organizing. What power can be strong enough to match that of the dimensions? Certainly not dirt. Iron? Probably not. Diamonds? They’re too small for a power so large. Emeralds? Maybe an emerald block will do. After all, they’re rarer than diamonds. But would one emerald block be enough to stop the dimensional collapse? Maybe she would have to have one thing from each dimension. But it would be impossible to get something from the Aether without the help of Ivan. Ivan was probably the only one who could go in the Aether without harm, since the inhabitants were now weary of beings from the Overworld after the dimensional collapse began. It was time to tell her father about her discovery.

Meanwhile, Ivan had taken a break from the back-breaking calculations, unaware that his daughter had already found a simple answer to his troubles. He gazed out across the window in front of his desk to the place where his (former) dimension team was working. What cowards they are, he thought. They should stop thinking about business and reputation, and start thinking about their own safety. Suddenly, he noticed something odd. A black cloud was quickly gathering on the horizon, and within seconds was on top of the research camp. There was a blinding red flash as lightning struck the ca- Wait. RED? Ivan gasped as if the thunderbolt had hit him. Pyralis was starting to break!

Elizabeth hurried up the cobblestone steps just as Ivan went down them. They bumped, but there was no time to worry about that now. Elizabeth began, “I’ve found a way we can stop the dimensions from breaking apart!” just as Ivan said, “Pyralis is starting to break apart!” so neither understood what the other was saying. When they realized what was happening, though, they stopped talking. “You go first, father, you seem to be in a worry,” Elizabeth said. Ivan wasted no time in telling her about the red bolt of lightning. When he had finished, Elizabeth in return told him about the solution to the dimensions. Ivan’s reaction was greater than expected.

“WHAT!? How did you do it? Did you have that sudden flash of inspiration? Or did you simply put 500 to the power of 98 and…” Ivan suddenly stopped, seeing that Elizabeth was starting to put on her slightly damaged iron armor and was shouldering her bow and quiver of arrows. “What are you doing?” Ivan asked. “We have to start watching for signs of corruption from Pyralis!”

“There’s no time for that!” Elizabeth cried. “Can’t you see? They’re crossing through!”

“They? Who’s they?”

“JUST GET READY TO LEAVE! TAKE THAT SWORD AND THAT ARMOR!”

Bewildered but never having seen his daughter this agitated, Ivan took the zanite armor and sword he had been given in the Aether, carefully mounted in his otherwise cluttered room, and glanced out of the room, just to see what was happening- and froze with horror. Creepers were running away from the black cloud, while endermen were teleporting every few seconds, paying no heed to the drizzle that was starting to fall. Ivan heard a “zwish” behind him, and turned around to see an enderman staring at him. He hurriedly took the zanite sword, but the enderman didn’t seem to become agitated: rather, it vanished with another “zwish”. What in the name of the legendary Herobrine is going on? he thought just as a creeper ran past without even pausing to think of exploding on the house.

Then he saw something else that startled him- a blaze and a ghast was flying towards the tower! Ivan took the zanite sword, ready to deflect any ghast fireballs that came this way, but just then he heard a twang behind him as Elizabeth shot right through the window at the blaze. The blaze clanged with anger, but another precise arrow made it fall back into Pyralis. A well-aimed fire charge dispatched the ghast. “Hurry! Get some food and run!” Elizabeth said, whirling back down the stairs. There was no need for her to explain now. Ivan grabbed the sword and ran outside, and saw Elizabeth impatiently waiting with her diamond sword and her bow strapped to her back. As they started running, Ivan saw that there was a lot more running than just creepers and endermen. There were spiders leaping ahead of the others, and zombies, cows, and pigs, as slow as they were. He even thought he saw a beached squid next to the little pond in the garden.

“I’ve been making a minecart track down in the Big Hole,” Elizabeth said. The Big Hole was a crater-like cave near the Greystones’ house. It was where Elizabeth usually went to mine, since it had both a stronghold and an abandoned mine shaft. (Only Elizabeth could navigate through the maze-like cave system and find her way back up to the surface, since she used to spend most of her time mining for diamonds and emeralds.)

“What point was there in making a track, if you already know the way around the caves?” Ivan replied. His voice was starting to have a note of exhaustion, since he hadn’t run for a long time.

“Well, I made one to… Um… Just in case one of your ‘experiments’ went wrong, if you know what I mean.” Elizabeth pretended to be innocent as she quickly unlatched the trapdoor leading to the minecart tracks. She climbed down the ladder as quickly as possible, jumping at the end to help Ivan to get down as well.

The station was actually pretty well made, with a slightly dusty green-wool carpet and a platform for both going out and coming back in. But Ivan had no time to admire this as Elizabeth yanked him, with surprising strength, into a minecart. She flipped a switch next to her, and suddenly Ivan felt himself being thrown backward as the minecart lurched forward. “Sorry, I haven’t oiled the tracks in a while! The ride might get a little bumpy!” Elizabeth shouted, but Ivan barely heard those words as the wind whistled past his ears.

Soon, they stopped at another station, this time carpeted light blue. “We should be safe here,” Elizabeth said. Her voice echoed eerily in the empty room. “We’re at the old Aether and Pyralis portals.” The old portals were the ones Ivan used to use before he was called to join the dimensional studies group. “I’ll go to Pyralis to kill the Wither. Father, you should really start moving,” she added, glancing back at her father, who was still gaping back at where they had come from.

Ivan stood in front of the Aether portal. Although it had been abandoned years ago, the glowstone still shined brightly, and there was no sign of any collecting dust on the top. Shouldering his zanite sword, he walked into the brightly swirling light of blue that seemed to welcome him back as he entered, enveloping him in its soft radiance of the clouds.

As Elizabeth entered the dark portal to Pyralis, she felt a change. Usually, she would feel the terrible hatred of the thousands of evil souls trapped there, but today she coudn’t feel them wailing curses at her- rather, they seemed to be wailing for mercy. It was all Elizabeth could do to stop herself from crying out, though, when she entered Pyralis. It was not as she had seen it before. The lava sea had opened up great holes to the void in random spots like patches of missing grass. The netherrack had been destroyed in some places as if a giant creeper had exploded, and burnslicks were out of hiding in the shadows, slowly wandering across their devastated land. She could also see some Sisimite warriors in the distance, hurriedly gathering the rest of their kind to show them what had become of their homeland. But there was no time to worry about that right now. She had to find some wither skeletons- and quickly.

Ivan noticed at once that something was wrong. There were cockatrices, even though it was day, and the aerbunnies weren’t bouncing around as they usually were. Rather, they seemed to be huddled in groups, squeaking worriedly. In fact, the entire landscape of the dimension was strangely quiet.

Suddenly, a Tempest appeared in front of Ivan. Get out of here, it rumbled. You are no longer welcome in these parts.

Why? Ivan replied in the tongue of Tempests. You know that I never mean any harm to this world.

That’s what all of your kind say. You say you mean no harm, and then proceed to kill our bunnies for string and even disturb the ancient Ones that dwell in our impenetrable fortresses.

But you must surely understand that I came here to help this dimension survive! Ivan protested. Surely even you could feel the change that is threatening to destroy this world- all the worlds!

This is your last warning, human. Get out of here, or I will have to force you to.

Just as Ivan was about to strike with his unsheathed sword, there was a shout behind the Tempest. “Stop this nonsense right now, Storm-Bringer! I do not remember your kind as being this mean to Professor Greystone!” It was the Wayfinder.

The Tempest grudgingly flew away, electric sparks dancing across its body, as Ivan ran across the bridge that connected the portal to the mainland. “What reason could ever have pulled you away from your true duty, Wayfinder?” he asked as soon as he got to the other side.

“You know the reason as well as I do,” the Wayfinder replied. “But seeing as you have abandoned your post at the tower, I can see that you have had a solution or a situation so dire that you had no choice but to leave.” Ivan marveled at the Wayfinder’s way of seeing things.

“It is both. My daughter, Elizabeth, found out that we would have to match the power of destruction with the power of the strongest items of the four dimensions combined.” Ivan placed his sword back in the iron sheath Elizabeth had made for him. “But I am guessing that the only thing powerful enough in the Aether would either be the magic of the Lorist or the rare continuum. Do you know of anyone that has the rare ore? If anyone would know the whereabouts of the Lorist, it would be you.”

The Wayfinder sighed, shaking his head. “I know of no being in these skies that possesses a piece of continuum, Ivan Greystone, except for perhaps the Lorist. But none of us know where he is right now. Oh, how I wish to see him, to recover my people! But we must focus on what can be done, not what can not.” He made a sound, much like that of a cross between a low whistle and a whoosh. A Zephyr suddenly flew in front of the Wayfinder.

What shall I do for you today, Finder of the Lorist? The Zephyr asked, lowering itself down to the ground.

Find the colony of Aerbears and ask them for any information about the Mystical Orb, the Wayfinder replied. The Zephyrs and Tempests’ languages were simple, and so they did not have words like continuum, although they did have the word “Lorist”, which was the same for all creatures of the Aether.

After the Zephyr had flown off in search for the blue-furred inhabitants, the Wayfinder turned to Ivan. “Unfortunately, if this search does not go well, I am thinking that the only person we can ask for help is the man named ‘Scoundrel’ by many.”

Ivan groaned. “Not Edison!” When Ivan had first come to the Aether, the man had told him that zanite was rarer than any other ore in the Aether. Ivan had believed him completely, and had bought the zanite sword he had now for 100,000 coins, which, at that time, seemed a very reasonable price. A low hoot in the distance brought Ivan back to the present.

“There is no other way,” the Wayfinder replied. “The Zephyr had sent a message to a Cockatrice, whose voice travels farther, that the Aerbears have no idea. The Cockatrice had also managed to glean information from the Drac’San as well, but the results were the same. Ivan, the Drac’San are as desperate as any other in the Aether to save this world. They can feel the danger in their minds, as simple as they may be.”

Just then, there was a crash behind Ivan. He turned around, hand on his sword hilt, but it was Elizabeth. She was holding her precious emerald block in her hands, but a wound in her arm was bleeding freely. Ivan turned around to call for help, but the Wayfinder had already called a few Zephyrs to help, and by the time Ivan turned around again, the wound had a soft white bandage wrapped around it. “I’ve got the Nether Star,” Elizabeth said, standing back up and dusting herself. “I also got the dragon’s egg.” “WHAT? How did you get them so fast?” Ivan was surprised, happy as he was, at his daughter’s skill. The only answer he got, though, was “Experience.” There was an unspoken look between them, though, and it was obviously a now-we’re-even look.

A few minutes later, another Zephyr came to land in front of the Wayfinder. A few zephyroos have taken hold of the Scoundrel. The Wayfinder replied with a nod, then turned to Ivan.

“It seems you must ask him, Ivan Greystone. You are the only one here who has bought something from him.”

When Ivan saw the man that he had despised for a long time, he was exactly as he remembered him before: the scarred face, the lopsided walk, and most of all, the mischievous grin. “Well, it’s you again, hmm? Mister Greystone.” His voice had a slight drawl to the edge of it. “What do you want from me this time? A rainbow strawberry? A piece of gravitite? Or maybe a piggy bank, so you wouldn’t lose your money again?” He cackled, reminding Ivan of a witch. “

No, today I’m asking for a piece of continuum. And don’t tell me you don’t have one, because I saw one the last time you sold me this sword.” Ivan replied coolly.

“Ah! That one! Well, I still might have it, might not, you’ll never know, hmm? Cause I wouldn’t sell it to you anyway!”

Ivan glanced at the cockatrice pulling the caravan. It seemed exhausted, and there was a small gleam of defiance in its dull eyes. Then, the “sudden flash of inspiration” came.

Ivan started hooting in low tones out of the corner of his mouth to prevent the Scoundrel from noticing. The cockatrice seemed to brighten up, and hooted back, being careful not to draw the attention of Edison, who was busy organizing the things in his caravan. Ivan turned back to Edison. “Don’t try to hide the continuum from me like that, cheater!”

Edison made a mock face of innocence. “Now, why do you think I’m cheating, hmm? I know you haven’t been in the Aether for quite some time now. How do you think you know everything, hmm?” But even the Scoundrel couldn’t protest when Edison pulled out his sword, sliced the reins holding the cockatrice to the caravan, and said that the smart bird pointed him to where the continuum was, while the cockatrice flapped off, happily stretching its wings.

When Edison reluctantly handed the continuum over to where Ivan stood, arms crossed, two Zephyrs caught the Scoundrel from behind. We will not let you go for thirty-one days and nights, one said. When we release you, we hope you will be a better man.

As the Scoundrel, flanked by two Zephyrs, trudged away, the Wayfinder turned to Ivan. “Evil is like a small hidden piece of dirt on a patch of purely white snow,” he said. “Even after one month, I doubt Edison will turn to doing good. But now you must hurry. Go back to the Overworld and place the four items in the shape of a tower, the most magical of all runes and the most powerful! Hurry, or the Darkness will break the worlds, and all your work will turn into naught but a big waste of time! Hurry! Hurry…” That was the last word Ivan heard before the world turned hazy blue before his eyes, and he was transported back into the Overworld.

“We have to hurry, father!” Elizabeth’s voice snapped Ivan back to wakefulness. “We have to make a tower!” The Darkness was very close now; Ivan could feel it being both hot and cold, both thick and thin… But there was no time to think about that right now.Elizabeth placed the emerald block in between the Pyralis and Aether gateways.

“I think the Dragon Egg should go next,” Ivan said. “The top is flat, and we can place the Nether Star on it- so that four spikes touch the bottom, and the other four stay up, so it’s like a cup, see?” But the dragon egg was heavier than expected, and they had to use a stone slab as well to lift it up on the emerald block.

The Darkness came closer.

Now they placed the Nether Star on top. It was like glass, and they had to lift it carefully in order not to break it. If it broke, it was the end of the world.

The Darkness came closer.

The Darkness’ Shadow was almost touching the tower.

Ivan brought a piece of cobblestone. “Stand on this!” he shouted, passing the continuum to Elizabeth. (He had to shout because the winds from the Darkness was very loud.)

Elizabeth jumped on the cobblestone.

The Darkness’ Shadow touched the tower.

Elizabeth placed the continuum on the Nether Star.

Time seemed to stop.

Then, ever so slightly, the Darkness seemed to quiver.

blinding flash of white lightning from the continuum.

Silence.

"Elizabeth? Are you there?” Ivan’s voice called from the snow-like dust.

“Yes, I am! Did you think I died or something?” came her reply from the mist.

“Well, you didn’t answer!”

“Yes, I did! I think you’re starting to get old! And you’re still fifty!”

And so, with the wits of Ivan Greystone and the skills of Elizabeth Greystone, along with the help of the Wayfinder, the three dimensions were saved- for now. No one knows if the dimensions will become unstable again, or if the world will give birth to another Darkness. But for now, everyone was safe.

And that was the end of it- the story of the Greystones, who, with their studies, saved the dimensions from destruction.

For the time being.

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