Year 1657 of the Rhapsodian Calendar
“And thus, with the rune’s power sealed, it disappeared through the passage of time.”
The book, titled Of Runes and Legends, concealed his face from the boy who sat across from him. Peering through the side of his book, the biblichor coursed through his nostrils that added to the nostalgia that came even from the mere sight of the book. After all, the book was the only thing that he was able to bring with him when he left home five years ago.
“So you’re really a historian…!” The boy mused aloud. “I thought all historians are old and bald!”
“That’s stereotyping,” he replied in a dull tone.
The young boy, Miek, wore a big grin on his face and his eyes brimmed with excitement. He barely knew how to read, unfortunately, as Fate had been a cruel mistress for as long as he could remember. He and his older brother, Ike, had lived their lives in poverty all their life, barely able to make ends meet, let alone send Miek to school.
Thus, when the opportunity presented itself to them to act as a guide to a traveling historian, from the prestigious academy of magic nonetheless, both brothers knew that they would only be a fool to pass up the chance.
Riding a wagon driven by Ike, they had been traversing the deserted plains leading to Crux Mountain since dawn. And judging how the sun had been beaming a smile for a while now, he could only hope that they would reach their destination soon. After all, even his own stories could barely contain his euphoria of discovering that which he had sought for so long.
“And then what?” The boy asked, fidgeting as his eyes brimmed with intensifying excitement. He inched closer to the historian. “Tell me more about the legendary rune! Does it have a name? Where is it now? — Oh, wait, you said it got lost in time… How do you even get lost in time? Ah, what about the goddess, then? Huh? Huh?” He asked with each nudge.
A small grin formed on the historian’s lips. Miek’s curiosity reminded him of himself when he was the same age as him. The only difference between them though was that he had access to the greatest library in their continent of Regulus and that he could read, unlike Miek.
“Come on… –” Miek nudged again. “Tell me, Mister Yuhan!”
“Man, I told you to drop the mister!” responded Yuhan as he casually pulled down the book and laid it on his lap, his face now visible to the young boy. He squinted his emerald eyes, his brows furrowed as he stared at him with intense scrutiny.
But the young boy responded with an impish grin followed by laughter.
Yet another commonality between them. At least, back when Yuhan was his age. No wonder he got along with him instantly when they first met.
The historian heaved out a sigh, shaking his head. “You make me feel so old when you call me that,” he commented, letting out a scoff. Now he knew how the adults must have felt when he played his pranks on them back then.
Ah, those were the times.
Then came another nudge from Miek as the historian was lost in his thoughts of old. Then it was followed by another nudge, and another until it got to a point where he was almost shaking him.
“Alright, alright,” he grunted before glancing back at the boy. Miek’s eyes dazzled. “Astrid,” he continued. The mere mention of the rune of legend’s name seemed to send chills down his spine in excitement. “The true rune was called Astrid.”
“Astrid…!” The young boy’s mouth gaped open, forming a huge grin as he looked up at the azure sky.
Yuhan chuckled at the boy’s reaction and once again, was reminded of himself, once marveling with a book where he first read about the rune. It was this constant pursuit of knowledge and his insatiable thirst for the unknown that prompted him to leave the academy five years ago and go on a journey in search of the legendary rune. After all, it had always been in his mind ever since he first learned about the rune.
For five years since he left the academy, he had been searching high and low for any information about the Astrid rune. But he had no luck. All the history books he had read all stated that the rune was lost in time after it was sealed by the goddess, to prevent mankind from possessing such power. And the stories he heard so far from all the places he had visited were stories that had been passed down from generation to generation. And some —
“Wait… If the rune was lost…” Miek started as he placed a hand on his chin. “How come we have all these runes now?”
“There had been stories passed from generation to generation, spawning different versions of what really happened. Some stories claim that the rune fell back to the darkness where it belonged. Some stories though, state that even when the rune was sealed, it spawned other runes due to its immense power.”
“So, can anyone wield a rune?”
“Yeah, as long as they possess even the slightest affinity with magic.”
“And it grants its bearer superhuman powers? And magic?”
“Sure. But a rune crystal has to be embedded on your body to wield it and there’s risks associated with this.”
“You have to make sure that you are compatible with the rune crystal; you can’t just force it on yourself or else, it will consume you.”
“Seriously?!” Miek gasped in horror.
Yuhan nodded. “A rune crystal is one thing. But there were also instances where a person would be born with a special rune, marked by a symbol or some other intricate patterns.”
“Is that… a good thing?”
“Depends if you can learn how to harness its power. You see, bearing a rune is a battle of willpower. It can be used for good, but if you get drunk with its power, then it corrupts you. And then…”
“Then what?” Miek asked, as he placed a hand on his arm. His eyes fixated on Yuhan, as he searched him for answers.
Seeing the boy’s face filled with dread, a mischievous grin formed on the historian’s lips. He had seen the odd mark on the boy’s arm, though briefly, when they first met. And though he could tell that it was not a rune in first glance, it didn’t stop him from having a little fun.
“It consumes you and you turn into a pile of ash. Your very existence will be erased along with everyone’s memories of you, as if you never existed in the first place.”
“N – no…..!” the young boy yelled out, before throwing himself under the ragged blanket next to the haystacks.
Yuhan let out a muffled grunt. Watching poor Miek shivering inside the blanket, Yuhan tried to contain himself. But his body soon betrayed him when he let out a chuckle and burst out into a fit of laughter.
Miek crawled out of the blanket, enough to wrap himself with the blanket. With tears forming in his eyes, he watched the historian laughing. What was he laughing about?
“That’s payback for you calling me mister!” Yuhan managed to say in between laughter.
“That’s…” Miek pouted his lips, tears still forming in his eyes. “That’s so cruel!” And the young boy burst out in tears.
As the wagon came to a halt, Miek’s older brother, Ike, called, “Hey, mister!”
Yuhan, though much to his chagrin, glanced over his shoulders as Ike jumped off the wagon. His eyes followed as the latter ran towards the back of the wagon where he and Miek were.
“You’re here,” said Ike. Then he noticed Miek in tears. “Why are you crying, Miek?”
“Well, that was…-” Yuhan started, but was interrupted when Miek burst out, crying. Yuhan scratched the back of his head, feeling a slight guilt from Miek’s outburst. Okay, that was a jerk move.
Miek continued to be in tears as he tried to relay the story to his older brother. Ike tried to calm his little brother down, but the young boy was bawling his eyes out.
Letting out a sigh, Yuhan pulled out a book from his bag before moving closer to the young boy. “Sorry, kid. I didn’t mean to scare you like that.”
Miek glanced up to him with his tear-stricken eyes.
Like an arrow shot, Yuhan felt yet another pang of guilt. He let out a heave before handing out the book to him. Miek glanced at the book first, contemplating what to do with it considering that he didn’t know how to read, before glancing back up to the historian. “When you guys get to Sol, show this book to a girl named Hollie. She’ll teach you how to read.”
“R – Really?”
Miek slowly reached out for the book. It was old, seeing the yellowed pages as he flipped through its pages, but well taken care off as there were no missing nor torn pages. He may not be able to read the book now, but just the thought of having to be able to read it gave him the excitement as he let out a big grin.
“Oh, and that mark on your arm? That’s not a rune, so you don’t have to worry about turning to ashes.”
“How did you…?” Ike asked, but was cut off as Yuhan jumped off the wagon.
The historian looked around and saw a large land form that seemed to reach out to the clear sky. Though desolate and parched, it was still a sight to behold. At least to him, it was. Crux Mountain, he thought, a small grin forming on his lips.
A place he had only read about in books before, Crux was once home to the impenetrable fortress of Odyssey where the armistice was signed by rulers of old — long before the Astrean Alliance was born — that ended the cold war between Eloria, Hououkami, and Arcadia. Standing in such a historic place in the flesh was one thing. But rumors of a mysterious rune were what brought him to the mountains in the first place.
Who knows? That might be the Astrid rune! Yuhan tried his best to contain the swirling cloud of emotions welling up inside him.
“Thanks a lot for getting me here!” he said before turning to Ike. He took a small pouch from his pocket, coins jingling as he gently tossed it for Ike to catch. “As promised, here’s my payment for getting me here.”
Ike opened the pouch and started counting the coins. Five gold and ten silver coins, more than what they were promised. Ike’s eyes widened in disbelief before glancing back at the historian. “T – there must be some kind of a mistake! This is more than what we…–”
“I tossed in a few coins in addition to your payment as my guide here. That should be enough to get you to Sol Academy and hopefully, find a place to stay.”
“The Academy? A place to stay?” Ike asked, still in disbelief. “What are you…–?”
“When you get there, look for a guy named Taka. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding him; he’s the only bald guy around and he runs a shop.” Yuhan stated, as he glanced back at Crux Mountain. “Tell him I sent you and he should be able to help you get a job.”
The brothers looked at each other with inquiring eyes mixed with disbelief. They couldn’t believe they’re hearing all of these!
“Oh, but it would be better if you look for Hollie first.”
“Mister…” Ike called as he glanced back to the historian. “Just… who in the goddess’ name are you…?”
“Oh, me?” Yuhan glanced over his shoulders, before letting out a smile. “I’m just a traveling historian.”