Last Edited: Jan 19 2017
Iruna sat on the wall, feet rocking back and forth against the concrete. He gazed outwards into the Wilds, the green treetops overwhelming the landscape. The Garnet Hills and Sinodon Peak stood further away, far to the north. Those red slopes commanded a certain authority over the Wilds. Iruna always wondered why trees didn’t grow on the mountain. They grew everywhere else, after all.
“Excuse me,” somebody called from behind him. Iruna turned to see a woman with her hair in a ponytail, wearing a uniform of light green and white. “No civilians on the wall.”
“Oh,” Iruna said, getting to his feet. “Sorry, ma’am, I didn’t know.” He started walking in the direction of the stairs when he noticed something. Or, rather, the lack of something.
He swiveled around, glancing back and forth. Not again, he thought.
“What’s the matter?” the guard asked, brow furrowed.
“Sterling’s gone! I can’t believe he wandered off again!” Iruna was frantic now, but Sterling was nowhere to be seen. He started running, but the woman stopped him by putting a gentle but firm hand on his shoulder.
“Allow me to help,” she consoled. “Midwatch is a small place. Your friend can’t have gone far. What does he look like?”
“He’s a wisp. Just a wisp. He does this all the time. I have to find him before the train to Redview gets here!”
The woman crossed her arms. “You look a little young to have your Crafter’s license.”
“I’ve had it for over a month now! But… my mom says that’s not very long. She says that’s why Sterling keeps leaving. He doesn’t listen to me all the time.”
“And where is your mother?” she scanned the immediate area.
“Oh, my parents are back at Trellin,” Iruna shrugged. “We couldn’t afford more than one ticket round trip.”
“You’re here all alone?” she looked astonished.
“No! Sterling’s here! Somewhere. Can I go? I gotta find him.”
The guard looked concerned. “Well, I …. Your wisp is probably around nearby. You’ll find him without too much trouble.”
“Thanks!” he took a hurried step forward, then stopped. “What if he went into the Wilds?”
She grimaced. “There would be at least some sort of alarm if one of the ether was outside the walls. Besides, a tame ether beast should know better than that,” she said.
Iruna gulped and nodded. Bolting down the stairs, he was fueled by a new fear that Sterling might be in danger. He hoped she wasn’t lying.
He ran through the narrow alleyways, looking for the wisp. Buildings were always set up close together to conserve space, which meant few open areas. Midwatch really was tiny compared to Trellin, and especially Redview. It was barely a village, only housing a few hundred people. But space was always an issue when civilizations had to be confined by walls. Looking for a little ball of energy would prove difficult and may take a while through these alleys. Maybe the train would be running late.
Iruna heard shouting. It was echoing from a nearby alley. It was the best place to start.
Skirting through the last two buildings, he came to a small clearing in between the houses and the south section of the wall. He was relieved to see Sterling there, but his exaltation evaporated as soon as he recognized the situation. The little blue ball of light bobbed gently up and down, surrounded by four kids. The kids were all jeering and shouting, and in the middle of the circle, across from the wisp, there stood a tall, imposing insectoid creature, covered in armored chitin. Two arms folded behind it’s back, relaxed, but its bladed arms were raised in an aggressive posture. A chitaphract.
Sterling had found himself in a duel.
“Hey, wait!” Iruna shouted. The two nearest kids turned to him, grinning. “That’s my wisp!”
“You hear that, Raz? This isn’t some wild monster that made it past the walls!”
One of the boys addressed Iruna. He looked to be the oldest of the group, easily four years Iruna’s senior. He broke the circle to walk over to Iruna. “Oh, yeah? What’s a runt like you doing in Midwatch?”
Iruna looked to the two ether beasts. They weren’t attacking each other. It seems he had come just in time, and the fight hadn’t begun. “I… Sterling and I are entering in the tournament in Redview tomorrow. We have to go before the train leaves!”
The other boys laughed at that. “You’re planning on entering a tournament with this wimp?” Raz smirked. “It’s not even a real monster.”
“Yes he is! Look, I don’t want any trouble. Can we just go?”
“I’ll tell you what,” Raz furrowed his brow, as if deep in thought. “We’ll see for ourselves if your wisp is worthy for the big leagues. You beat ol’ Lancer here and we’ll let you go.”
Iruna clenched his fists. He had no idea how strong the chitaphract was, and he certainly didn’t want Sterling fighting the day before the tournament, but there was nothing he could do. He could only hope Sterling wouldn’t get too worn out.
Iruna nodded. “If that’s the only way.”
Raz’s smirk widened. “Fantastic.” He returned to the circle. “Lance, I want you to destroy this thing. Don’t let up.”
“Sterling,” Iruna replied from the opposite side of the circle. “Don’t hold back.”
“Go!” Raz shouted.
The chitaphract lept forward, swinging its arms up and slicing down towards its target. Sterling dodged to the side, but Lancer spun after, bladed arms arced at the wisp. A strike connected, ethereal goop spraying out from the little ball of energy.
“No!” Iruna shouted as the other boys cheered.
Sterling rushed forward into the chitaphract’s face, slamming into it and making it stagger backwards. As Lancer gathered his bearings, Sterling began to glow intensely.
A radiant blue blast pulsated out of the wisp, flowing like a tidal wave in all directions. The wave of ether was nothing more than the tug of a strong breeze to the children, but . when it connected, the chitaphract was thrown back, landing several feet away and skidding across the dirt.
After a few moments, Lancer made an attempt to get up, but lost his footing and collapsed back to the ground.
The boys were silent now. Even Iruna was speechless. Sterling had never done anything like that before.
“C… come on Sterling,” he muttered, stunned. “We have a train to catch.”
Sterling followed as Iruna backed away from the circle. None of the boys made any move to stop them.
“Are you okay?” he asked as soon as they had distanced themselves.
The wisp glowed reassuringly in reply.
They walked down the main road of Midwatch, following signs to the stairs down into the subway. “It really worries me that you wander off sometimes,” Iruna said as they descended them. “You could find yourself in a lot of trouble. We’re lucky that chitaphract had low willpower, but next time it won’t be so easy.”
The sounds of Iruna’s footsteps started echoing as they got to the underground levels. Ether lamps illuminated the subway, and dozens of people were walking this way and that. A few of them were even wearing the military uniforms of both Redview and Trellin, which was to be expected. Midwatch didn’t have its own mayor, it was technically a part of both provinces.
The train to Redview was already here. Iruna jogged up to the door where the ticket inspector stood. He pulled the ticket out of his pocket and unfolded the crumpled piece of paper. Handing it to the inspector, the man made a second stamp next to the first. “You’re just in time, we’re about to depart,” the inspector said with a charming smile. Iruna smiled back and stepped onto the train.
Most ether beasts required a separate ticket and had to sit on the stables car, but wisps were an exception, since they were so small they rarely caused any disruptions. Iruna walked down the aisle and sat down on one of the padded seats, glancing out the window to see the dark underground tunnels lit by the occasional dull blue of an ether lamp. “We’re finally going to see Redview, Sterling. Isn’t that exciting?”
He turned and saw that the wisp wasn’t behind him. “Sterling?” he repeated as he heard the doors close and the train grumble into motion.
He swung back around, frantically searching for the little wisp. When was the last time he had seen him?
Just as he started to panic, the wisp floated gently into view from above.
With a sigh of relief, Iruna sat back down in his seat. “You’re the worst,” he huffed.
Sterling glowed brightly by way of reply.