A lone figure sat hunched in thought atop a low stone carved with the face of a surly monster. The forest night closed in on all sides, an unnatural mist swirling in the darkness beneath the towering trees. The figure raised its head. Glowing green eyes pierced the veils of fog, glaring balefully in the direction of Vash Naroom - just a short distance away through the gloom of the corrupted forest.
What else could I have done? Did I make the right choice? Where is Pruitt? Is she as lonely and cold as I am? Countless questions screamed through Yaki’s head. He, who was normally so vibrant and confident, was now unsure of anything. Yaki brooded alone in a once familiar place; the training grounds outside of Vash Naroom. His nocturnal wanderings had led him here in the dead of a cold, black night, looking for a place to gather his thoughts. The training grounds had always felt like home to Yaki. They were his domain. The place held so many fond memories of his first matches against the greatest magi in the Moonlands; memories of home and friends and good times. Yaki’s wounded spirit had led him to this place, hoping its familiarity would be a warm embrace to comfort him in this cold new world he found himself blindly stumbling through. Yaki peered around the training grounds in the mist-filled darkness. It wasn’t the same now. It was still and silent, devoid of the hum of life he remembered and longed for. The presence of the usurping Dark Twins in nearby Vash Naroom hung like a stain in the air, cloaking Yaki’s fond remembrances with a red haze of stifling anger.
Has this place changed so much or have I? Yaki sighed and looked around the training grounds. Although it was as dark a night as he could remember, he was able to see as clearly as if it were broad daylight. This was just one of the new found abilities to go along with the other changes he seemed to be undergoing, not his favorite of which was the inability to sleep - a practice which had once been his favorite pastime. He couldn’t help but smile as he remembered Orwin and his other teachers and how mad they would become to find him sound asleep in a tree when all the other young magi were reciting and practicing. The smile felt good. Maybe it is going to be okay after all, he thought. It was the first time he had smiled since that dark day that seemed an eternity ago. The day those traitorous deceivers, Warrada and Hrada, had torn into his world, poisoning his body with the sinister energies of the Core, enslaving and corrupting his home and taking Pruitt away to some fate he couldn’t bear to think about. Returning thoughts of Pruitt being imprisoned brought back his anger, his smile twisting into a visage of rage. A piercing scream of anguish erupted from his mouth as he leapt to his feet and slammed his fist with all the force of his mighty hate into the stone wall of the training grounds. Black bolts of crackling energy shot out in waves from the blow, defining a ragged crack now marring the surface of the ancient stone. Yaki stood trembling, focusing his hate for the Dark Twins and their loathsome smirking faces. His heaving figure bent double with rage as he plotted their defeat. Slowly, his anger ebbed as it burned into cold resolve. Calmly, he stepped back from the damaged wall, examining the huge crack his fist had made. The vines and ivy as well as the grass and weeds covering the ground and wall near him seemed to wither and die before his eyes. He examined his undamaged fist and thought, What have I become?
In the high and proud mountain peaks of Kybar’s Teeth the day was just beginning. The sun was cresting the far off eastern peaks, spreading its warm glow and pushing back the last reluctant shreds of night. The air was brisk and clear, rushing past Kazm’s face as he swooped and dove through the morning air. Generally, Kazm wasn’t awake to see the sunrise; he thought he might make a habit of it from now on. This morning flight wasn’t for pleasure, however. He had important business to take care of. A summons from Targ’n didn’t happen all the time and he knew better than to keep the old grump waiting. What could it be? he wondered. Hopefully it was another errand to Arderial! The biggest perk of being able to fly was being sent to new places and seeing all the girls... er, people, from around the Moonlands... especially Shimmer and Ora and Adis and Aula and...
"KAZM!!!" Targ’n’s gruff voice snapped him back to reality. "Where are you going!?" Kazm realized he had flown right past the appointed meeting place in front of the Hall of Elders. He cupped his leather wings, and nimbly arced around, then dropped with the speed of a falling baldar and landed a scant distance from the scowling Elder. Targ’n, wrapped in his skins and hides to protect his huge but aging frame from the morning chill, didn’t even flinch at the young Magi’s careless descent.
"I have an urgent and grave task for you boy." The Elder roared abruptly, getting straight to business. "There are rumors that Naroom has fallen to agents of the Core. For all I know it may already be too late." The grim giant brought one huge hand up and ran it through his graying hair, his mind in deep thought. Examining the rock at his feet, the Elder seemed to be searching for words. Kazm shifted uneasily, aware that Targ’n was uncharacteristically disturbed. After a moment, Targ’n turned to the northeastern horizon and boomed in his great voice, "Most of the affairs down there don’t concern us. But... lately all of my dreams are filled by visions of dark tides sweeping over these mountains." Targ’n paused again then resolutely raised a mighty fist. "Sometimes you have to extend your hand and lend your strength even when the troubles others are facing seem far away."
Kazm hadn’t ever heard so many words come out of Targ’n at once. The young magi really didn’t know what to say. "Y-yah, I mean I totally agree... uh, sir." Kazm stammered awkwardly. "Let’s... let’s extend our strength and lend Naroom our troubles... err, I mean, yeah, let’s see if they need help!" Kazm fumbled at his words, but he knew the big guy got his meaning. "It would take most magi half a season to walk there and back but I know you can be there and return with news before El is full." The Elder gestured to the pale sliver of the home world hanging in the sky, not yet washed away by the encroaching light of the dawn. Targ’n again looked down to the ground as he searched for words.
"There is no one to accompany you, none other who has the your gift of swift and steady flight." Targ’n looked to Kazm with hope and pride. Kazm was filled with an overwhelming sense of duty.
Standing up as tall as he could, Kazm confidently replied, "You can count on me, sir. Naroom will know they have allies in the Teeth. I will be back with news in three nights!" Targ’n grimly nodded approval, his eyes twinkling with admiration as he stepped back to allow the young magi room to launch into flight. With a great gust, Kazm leapt from the balcony of the Hall of Elders and sped into the northeastern sky like a soaring yark.
Targ’n watched until Kazm disappeared into the hazy morning air. "If anything happens to that boy," the Teeth Elder muttered, "by Kybar’s Beard, I will move mountains to crush the ones responsible."