An ECHOWAKE Prequel Story
(If you’d prefer, here’s a PDF download.)
A historical account, as penned by Jonas.
It’s been ages since I’ve had the courage to dwell on the past. I think it’s finally time to document how I’ve come to where I am today. Years have gone by, but it feels like so many lifetimes ago. Let me tell you about my former home: The Kingdom Protectorate of Gincet.
When I was young, my father and I traveled with a group of settlers to a small town near the great Dividing River. Many people were drawn there because of a rather remarkable man. He had taken this town under his wing and vowed to protect it and see that it prospered. In that time it was rare for such a formal authority to exist, when even some cities didn’t have as much as a mayor. There was also news of a wall being built around the town, and a small castle to house this new ruler. People from all over flocked to the area at the prospect of living in a place of such safety, which was uncommon to find. The ruler, his name Caelum, never officially crowned himself king. But since he had devoted himself to the people and their safety, he was a king in everyone’s eyes. Thus the kingdom was founded.
My young years at Gincet were full of much happiness, especially the time I got to spend with Lady Celeste, the king’s daughter. My father, who quickly rose to the rank of captain of the guard, spent much time in the castle. I would always wake up early to go with him to see the king every morning because that meant being able to see my dearest friend. Celeste was a few years older than I, but we always had the best of times whenever we were together. We would run through the castle halls, play pranks on all of the new guards (we called it “the initiation”) and otherwise just enjoy spending every moment together. One day approaching my twelfth year, we were in the library quietly reading next to each other as we often did. I noticed Celeste reading a strange-looking book. It was quite old and tattered and had no author or title printed on it at all. When I asked her about it she grew nervous. She looked me in the eyes as she tucked a lock of her long blonde hair behind her ear. She asked me if I could keep a secret. I remember getting nervous myself, though I had no idea why. I simply nodded. She said she had something to show me. She cupped her hands together in front of her mouth and slowly exhaled. A white light began to shine out of her hands. As she opened them, there in mid-air was a glowing orb of light! I was amazed! I asked her how she could do that and she explained. She had discovered how to channel this kind of inner-energy months ago. Until then she was too nervous to say anything. She said she had read in this dusty old book a mention of something called the “Inner Fire.” It was something that many possess, but only a few ever learn to control. We began to read and study the book together, and though it had no title, author or other marking describing where it came from, on the inside cover it read: “From the Caretakers.”
It was not long before I too was able to create light from my own hands. Celeste and I began spending much more time in the library reading and searching for other information on this amazing power of the Inner Fire. We weren’t sure how others would react to us learning about this power that seemed so out of the ordinary. We made a pact that we would not speak of this to anyone, or risk using our Inner Fire where anyone could see. While we were already the best of childhood friends, looking back now I see it was this secret that really created a bond. We had something that was just for us. We would hide away for hours in the castle library talking, laughing and learning about this Inner Fire and about each other. Those days I will never forget.
A few years went by and we expanded our learning to the outdoors. I was a brash fifteen year old by this time. One of my favorite activities was heading to the outskirts of town and seeing how much power I could release at once. How large a boulder I could turn to rubble or how thick a tree I could fell in a single blast. Celeste, much calmer and wiser at her seventeen years preferred more constructive tasks, such as healing a wound, or calming a feral beast that wandered into the territory. We still enjoyed each other’s company more than any other, and enjoyed the adventure of finding new uses for the Inner Fire that now burned so brightly in both of us.
Gincet at this time was heralding an unprecedented season of peace for all who lived there. There had scarcely been more than a feral dog reaching the town wall in nearly a year thanks to the tireless efforts of both our fathers. Though they never let down their watch on the borders of Gincet, many of the guardsmen grew complacent after so many months of inactivity. It proved the world would not be so kind to an unwatchful eye.
They came in the middle of the night. My father woke me suddenly telling me the entire kingdom was under attack by the Outcasts. They were a group of savages that hailed from the Wastes east of Gincet. Nobody knew much about them, as they usually stayed within their fog-covered borders. But they had turned out in force with weapons and machinery like none I had ever seen. Not only men but large beasts and feral creatures, more ravenous then our local fauna, were being led in the front lines on thick chains. My father led me out our front door. I looked around at the carnage and thought I must be having a nightmare. The Outcasts were attacking everywhere, destroying everything in sight… It pains me to even remember that night. My father handed me a sword and shield and yelled for me to go to the throne room and protect the king’s family. I hesitated. I did not want to leave him. I had lost my mother before coming to Gincet and could not bare the thought of the worst. Sensing my fear, he put his hand on my shoulder and told me he would join me in the throne room no matter what. He then ran into the fray leading the other nearby guards into the flank of a group of Outcasts.
I was only seventeen at this point. Besides my own secret training with Celeste, I had become pretty handy with a blade as well. Not as good as my father, but I had confidence. I ran towards the castle as fast as I could. On the way, I came upon three large beasts loosed from their master’s chains. They were rooting through the remains of one of the food shops in the market. Their species was not familiar. They were a kind of large swine, but with patchy fur and sickly scales all over their bodies. Their large boney humps rose nearly over my head. Luckily I managed to take them by surprise and dispatched them quickly with my sword.
I entered the castle and reached the hallway that led to the throne room and found Celeste crumpled on the floor, sobbing. I hadn’t seen her so distraught since she was a young girl. We had climbed up in a tree to spy on some of the guards; she lost her balance trying to get to a higher branch and fell and broke her arm. But I could tell this was much worse, these weren’t tears of physical pain. Brokenly she managed to explain that she had been out on the lookout tower with her mother when the attack started. They would often sit out until midnight to watch the stars together. They had little warning. The Outcasts fired a ball of metal into the lookout tower. When it hit, it erupted into a wave of fire and shattered the floor. The impact had knocked Celeste back inside to the stairwell, but her mother… her mother was gone. She had run downstairs towards the throne room but could not go on. I knelt beside her and told her it was going to be ok, but I scarcely believed it myself. I told her that our fathers would protect us; we just had to get to the throne room. I helped her up and we made our way together.
We found king Caelum in the throne room with two lieutenants looking at a map, making plans for a counter attack. I remember thinking how sad it was that the throne room had become the war room. Celeste ran over to her father. She was nearly a full-grown woman at this point, but Caelum held her close like she was still his little girl. Grateful for the moment of peace, I was relieved the Outcasts hadn’t entered the castle yet. Though it wouldn’t last.
The guards were no longer able to contain the attacking forces and soon we heard the sound of battle down the hall. As they approached the throne room, one of the lieutenants shouted to me to bar the door. Seeing Celeste in such despair filled me with panic. I wouldn’t just hide away. I wouldn’t sit idly by and let these monsters destroy everything we held dear. They were coming down the hall from the left, and suddenly I knew what I had to do. I had to stop them and protect my dearest friend. I knew I had to fight! Throwing down my sword and shield, I tightly crossed my hands at the wrists over my core and summoned my all. I bellowed at the enemy, “You cannot have her!” Pointing my hands toward them I released all I had. In all my years of practice I had never released so much power; it felt as if my spirit was almost drained entirely from my body. My vision blurred but I could see my attack had effect. In the dust and rubble I could make out a large smoking hole through the rock walls and several slain Outcasts lying on the floor. But so many more were coming up the hall behind them. I took a step forward to catch my balance. I could barely stand up but I managed to grab my sword. I looked back at Celeste. Her father gently let her go and picked up his own sword to stand by my side. The look of fear and grief on her face is one I will never forget, and hope never to see again. I noticed too there was a brief look of surprise on the king’s face. The secret was out, but there were much more important matters at hand. Any curiosity would have to wait.
We stood, the two lieutenants, King Caelum and I, waiting for the Outcasts to cross the rubble caused by my fiery blast. It was only seconds; it felt like hours. I thought there was nothing left I could do. I had given it my all, but it seemed as though we would all perish.
At that moment a most familiar voice called out, “For the King! For Gincet!” My father had arrived running down the opposite hallway to the throne room door with a handful of other armed guards. They met the Outcasts just as they reached the throne room door. I was quickly thrown back from the fight and looking up saw my father and King Caelum standing side-by-side, swords in hand, fighting off the Outcasts. But for every one they felled two more ran in behind.
The king then shouted to me, “Take Celeste, and go! Keep her safe!” I knew then the battle was lost. King Caelum was never one to retreat unless there was no other option. I glanced to the altar on the back wall. I remembered there was a secret passage out of the castle behind it but my legs couldn’t move.
I shouted back, “I won’t leave!” Still reeling from the loss of so much Fire, I stood and readied my sword for attack.
As I took a step forward my father shouted, “Go! There is no time! Live free my son, and take care of that girl!” He had a small but knowing smile on his face.
After a moment’s hesitation, I ran to Celeste, she was in shock but knew what to do.
Together we went to the left side of the altar and pushed open the passage. We took one last look at our fathers, fighting valiantly to save us, as the altar closed and left us in total darkness. I managed to focus and create a small ball of light to illuminate the passage. I looked at Celeste’s face; she looked as if she were crying but already out of tears. The unnerving sound of battle still raged on from inside the throne room. Looking her in the eye I asked her if she still remembered the first day she showed me the light from her Inner Fire.
Grief stricken, she managed a small smile and nodded.
I told her that the trust she had given me then, in our childhood secret, meant the world to me. I told her that she could still trust me, that I would keep her safe. That I would always be with her and would take care of her, just like our fathers told me.
She looked up at me with bright blue eyes shining in the light, and said something that to this day still warms me to the very core, “I know… I know you will.” It wasn’t the words she said that struck me, but the way she looked at me and the conviction in her voice. I knew she meant it so much more than just those simple words could describe. As we sat on the bare rock floor of the hidden passage, she leaned over and wrapped her arms around me. I was shocked… not that we had never hugged before, but this was different. This time, all we had was each other. This was an embrace of family, of desperation, of comfort and of love. I don’t know if it was because we both had learned to channel our Fires, or just the realization that our hearts had grown together over the years, but I felt an amazing sensation. It was like our auras were intertwined and swirling around us. I’ve never felt closer to anyone than at that moment. The way she held me tight, I knew she felt it too. I pulled back and looked at her, her face had calmed and we both knew what we had to do next. Escape!
We followed the underground path out of the castle, which brought us to the far south side of the kingdom just beyond the wall. Since the Outcasts were attacking from the north, we hoped we would be safe, but we were both on edge. We were not out of danger yet. As we ran south, I looked back and saw the castle aflame. Many of the watchtowers had been razed, and there was scarcely a structure left whole. Everything, everyone we knew was gone. In my heart, I wanted to fall to the ground in despair but I could not let myself be overcome. Not with her at my side.
We pressed on. Running south we spent that first night out under the stars a few miles south of Gincet. From there we managed to cross the harsh terrain of the Scorch and found ourselves in a small town further down the river. From there we took the first Air Whale carrier to the city of the central plains, Sedenza. It was the largest city we knew, and we hoped we’d be able to make a fresh start. We were both heavy with grief, but we had each other to rely on, and that gave us strength. We spent most nights on the long trip to Sedenza sitting out on the carrier deck under the stars talking, remembering the best of times in Gincet, and trying to fathom what we would do with our lives. After we arrived in Sedenza, it was only a few days before we came across an old abandoned building. It had the appearance of a of stone temple but had over a dozen rooms, including a large kitchen, an overgrown garden in the center yard, and one room that quickly told us this was to be our new home. A library. There were still quite a few old books left too, one of the few possessions the former owners left behind. We moved in right away, and began fixing it up. It wasn’t long before the building was restored to a rightful state. And it wasn’t long after that when we had our first knock at the door.
I’m afraid I must stop there. My lady Celeste reminds me that the students are waiting for me in the arboretum. Though she would also remind me to stop calling her “my lady” since those days of royalty have long passed. But that is what she will always be to me. My lady Celeste, princess of Gincet.