I once dreamed of a city drenched in moonlight. In the midst of that wonderfully fantastical city, there it was; a castle that was literally crafted with moonlight.
PREVIOUS: PART 1
A city drenched in moonlight, a city blessed with a light that both heals and blinds, there will be many who will never be blessed enough to witness the unjust magnificence of Castle Luñana Meskka. Christened in glimmering moonbeams and named after the Frysessan word for moonstruck, it is almost impossible not to be taken back at a sight that almost rivals the utter vastness of the sky.
The capitol of Rhageon, Ghyria, is a sprawling city that never truly knows true darkness. Shadows scurry at the luminescence that reaches every street, canal, and home. There is no discrimination; all are accepted and have access to light. Many have named the capitol the city of Eternal Light. At twilight, the sight can almost rival the stars themselves. Lit candles sit on each windowsill twinkling in the darkness like stars and the moonstone lights the castle from within, a marvelous beacon that calls the Rhageons from all over the sprawling continent home.
At the epicenter of the thriving city lush with glittery lights and curling fingers of ember, lies the Castle Luñana Meskka. And what a sight to behold.
The Rhageons have always been a practical people. Unlike their ostentatious neighbors, the people of Rhageon do not flounce their wealth carelessly. The country treasury remaining flush throughout the centuries, largely thanks to the numerous mines that blessedly never remain dry, it is not customary in Rhageon to “sit on their wealth” but instead, demonstrate their gratitude to their gods.
During the time of the Fey, before the First Race were hunted down like game, the continent of Xyermeis had been split up into four countries: Rhageon, Aestha, Frysessa, and Mycea. Off of the Fey Sea, the Fey choose not to claim the forbidding and monster ridden Death Island, believing the legends true that the goddess Bemarisse sent her rejected demonic creations to the island to thrive.
The second largest country on the continent, Rhageon is the only country that has chosen to fully acknowledge their upkeep of the old religion. Labeled savages and barbarians by their neighbors Mycea and Aestha, two countries that only believe in one god, it is uncertain which faiths the Frysessan people follow. Due to their proximity to the Fey infested island, the people of Frysessa have remained secretive and cloaked in mystery ever since the Fey were exiled.
The Rhageon people both love and fear their deities. Throughout their history, the gods have shone their favor and delight with the mortals but in times of strife and discord, the gods were at times, the ones who stroked those flames. But to earn the eternal love and devotion from their patron goddess, Lyceria, the citizens of Ghyria conducted the impossible they decided to strategically carve a castle into a giant moonstone that fell from the sky.
Thousands of years after the gods created the Second Race, a moonstone fell from the sky, striking the Earth with a massive stone that blinded the mortals who first looked upon it. Completely flawed from their counterparts, the First Race, the mortals believed the stone was a gift from their goddess and creator Lyceria. The people at first made the tactful mistake of solely preserving the moonstone, misguidedly believing that their goddess would be offended if they tampered with her gift.
The moonstone brought the people the magics of love, power, and healing. A child born blind would stare in luminesce of the stone and would wake seeing with eyes touched with shimmering silver. Lovers who quarreled went before the giant jewel and would leave with a love that rivaled the earth and heavens. Women who revealed a gift of intelligence and resilience went in the presence of the stone to be anointed as Lyceria’s priestesses; a blessing that entrusted the gift of foretelling and at the ear of her whispers. Rituals, both formal and unceremonious, were performed before the stone and Moon Festivals were beheld in its honor. In times of darkness, when the New Moon bled the sky a deep, forbidden black, the people who would soon be named Rhageons, lit candles around the perimeter of the moonstone as they danced away the fears of the bleakest of nights.
Centuries passed and the moonstone remained hidden from foreigner’s eyes and it became the greatest kept secret of the mortals. Until, a silvery-white lightening bolt struck a boy who would be king. Dazed yet unharmed, the boy had an epiphanic vision and saw a castle etched in a mountain of moonstone. The silver, enchanting, and ethereal light drew him in and the dazzling colors of winking of azure and pale grey froze him in utter awe. Incomparably magical and fairytale-like, the boy became obsessed with building the castle that his goddess sent him in his vision. Dedicating his youth and sanity, the boy did not see the beauty of his vision until he was an old man, slumped and grey eyes almost blind.
A few hundred years later, a messenger arrives and is almost brought to tears at the spellbinding beauty of the castle as he discovers the true meaning of “luñana meskka.” It even happens to the most seasoned veteran to the milky white splendor that is the pride of Rhageon.
It is like being in the presence of a living, breathing fairytale. Ethereal to new levels, one cannot help but hold their breathe at the sight of the castle impressed so devotedly into the moonstone. Fantasy and reality clashing into this mad harmony, the details and passionate architectural designs of the castle are lost in the splendor of the moonstone. How can manmade compare to such purity? It appears as if the moonstone is dedicated to being the castle’s facade; a wall of shimmery slabs of moonstone.
The spirals atop of the castle shoot past the moonstone, reaching skywards and appearing to almost kiss the very heavens. Pensioned by the greatest master glassblowers stationed in the Tailor’s Den, expansive, masterfully crafted windows are fixated into the castle– the intention for the occupants to be at constant audience to the glory and be rejuvenated from the healing light of the moonstone.
The messenger, whose mission will be the catalyst to a story of heartbreak and a love that will resound through the ages, shakes himself from his paralysis before he stops in front of the grand doors of Castle Luñana Meskka.
“Halt. What business do you have within?” A deep, muffled voice comes from above the messengers’ head. Halting abruptly, the messenger is not even a hundred feet from the gate until he hears the guards booming voice. A quick scan of his trained eyes, the messenger spots the sentries pointing their arrows tipped in silkworm poison towards him.
Gulping and clutching the message tighter in his gloved fingers, the messenger clears his throat before answering.
Steeling himself, he says, “I am a messenger from BigHorn. I have important news to deliver to s’Nysurria.”
The message had come two days ago. The messenger had ridden like the Bemarisse, the goddess of Death was ridding on his heels. His poor horse was half-dead when he finally arrived. Sand scratching his lungs and sweat blinding him, the messenger had rushed towards the gates, distantly grabbing the flask of water that had been offered to him.
A pause. The messenger strains as he hears the men and women whisper amongst themselves, their arrows still drawn and directed toward his head. The messenger curses once more when a bead of sweat trails down from his forehead to his lips. Tasting the salty tang of his nervousness, the messenger almost faints with relief as the guard calls out, “Open the doors.”
The colossal door slowly groans and the messenger struggles to remain confident as he strives through the opening.
The castle’s magnificent interior almost rivals the exterior.
It is like a city within a city; a sprawling metropolis governed and divided by the castle workers, it is a shame no one will ever fully appreciate the grand fortress when is such close imminence to the giant slab of moonstone.
Walking through the courtyard is sifting through a forest of giant trees; the towers dominate the air. Looming over him, the messenger cringes in apprehension as he notices the patterns atop the pillars are resemble rows of teeth. Grand, with imposing white towers that look down at the messenger like a masterless djinn, feeling eyes on his back, the messenger peaks upward and spies watchful soldiers from the belvederes atop the towers.
As he bustles through the courtyard, the messenger notes with wonder the towers appear to be as if they are growing. Each tower and building deliberately designed to appear as is rising in stature and size as it reaches the apex of edifices, where the Warlord resides.
Stationed closer to the heart of the castle are opulent caravanserais for visiting nobility, ambassadors, and courtiers. To help the established men and women retire from their travels, the buildings are in eyesight to the several manmade oasis’s, that serves as aesthetics and sport. Those who appreciate a more pastoral view will enjoy the sights farther east, where closer to the wall, a field is open for the castle’s livestock and royal stables and kennel.
The messenger is soon swept in the throng of castle workers, dignitaries, ambassadors, tourists, warriors, merchants, and priestesses as they mill throughout. Finally reaching the lip of the courtyard, the messenger bows as he passes a fountain that lies in the center as it sputters clear blue water from the statue of an enormous wolf.
Reaching the final building, the messenger repeats his inquiry within and the armed guards open the doors. The messenger only allows himself to sigh with relief as he almost reaches the completion of his mission. Continuing on, the messenger knows only purpose as he strides, bringing honor and pride to his family, a beating tattoo across his heart.
The messenger does not take the time to pause and look up in admiration at the rich opulence of his country’s wealth surrounding him. Worn but clean boots thud to a trained beat–adding to the tempo of other heavy leather boots–that thump, thump on the spotless and shiny tiled floor. The messenger is entirely blind to the expanse of magnificent tiles, a hand painted mosaic–the image of the moon goddess and the silver face of the moon.
Similar to the First Race, the Rhageons respect the arts, dedicating every inch of the castle walls with extravagant paintings. The ceilings reveal various expressions of the night sky–twinkling yellow stars, bold depictions of ghostly, giant planets, the audacious sun in harsh shades of yellow and orange, and the resplendent, glittery brilliance of the moon in every phase. The attention to detail is almost masochistic in its effort to dazzle and bewitch. Each pillar is engraved with fine and shallow grooves, the exposed framework look as if to be burdened with layers and layers of polished woods, and entire walls are dedicated to murals and patterned designs. The mad, chaotic art gracing the castle would have been gaudy but somehow, it worked. The castle is alive with not only the lives filing through the hallways but with art.
The messengers’ boots click on the black and silver marble tiles, the urgency and professionalism in his stride admirable in spite of the splendor around him.
Another man would have halted his steps as the grandiose spoils room came up on his left side, the immaculate room with high ceilings and intricate light fixtures holding nine candles each, but not this messenger who grips his charge in his hands firmly.
The recently conquered Menis is now a city-state that exports priceless goods: lapis lazuli, lumber, salt, sugar cane, emeralds, gold, and saffron. The plunders join the room overflowing with precious, extraordinary pieces. The collected spoils is organized, numbered and heavily guarded try to tempt the man to stop and become enthralled under the spell of their power. An assemblage of preserved pottery embedded with rubies and emeralds wink at the messenger and the famed statues with various animal heads and human bodies from every stage of life, stare after the man, the painted black eyes rapt on his retreating form.
Walking opposite to the messenger–who strides with single-mindedness and his arms swing diligently by his sides– servants with colorful and unique head wraps and scarves, carry baskets filled to the brim with lush, ripe fruits, grains, corn stalks, raw, spun silk ready to be fashioned into garments, and chatter as they perform their tasks, pausing to bow with their fist over their hearts as they pass Lyceria’s shrine. A young girl walks with a bucket of grain, a small brown monkey coiled around her neck nibbles on a banana as it idly mutters.
Enormous, rectangular windows reveal the raw beauty of the desert winds; potted cactuses with enchanting pink flowers and wildflowers, the country’s symbol, sit atop the ledge. The windowpanes are embedded with the welcoming, healing energy of polished malachite. A rolling, answering wave of heat brushes against the messenger’s neck.
Before a large cut of moonstone, the edges uneven and fissured, a small statue of the moon goddess rests beneath a raised dais, the willowy form and large almond-shaped eyes illuminated by nine lit vanilla candles and surrounded by interweaving, varicolored rugs. Outsiders who are ignorant to the stories of their devout Lyceria would have wondered why the castle choose not to have a grandiose and immaculate shrine for their patron goddess. Diplomats from the pretentious and sprawling lands of Mycea had turned their noses up at the small shrine and the stoic and the dreary Aesthan men had not outwardly revealed their displeasure and kept their icy expressions in impeccable, expert place. Unlike their gods, Lyceria prefers modesty and finds beauty and treasures within the soul more cherished over flamboyant, extravagant displays. So like their goddess, Rhageons–especially those who live in Ghyria–do not decorate their homes in gaudy colors but favor significant and contemporary art rather than ornate and flashy pieces. A goddess who has many faces–nine for the phases of the moon–Lyceria’s shrines are positioned in nine various locations where her people can pray. The main temple is farther west towards Massiet where the Warlord’s Muwwe is primarily stationed as Head Priestess unless her presence is requested, as it is today.
The High Priestess Cemara, Muwwe of the Nysurria, performs prayers for a crowd of people waiting to be blessed, taking their small offerings and soothing their bright and fevered eyes. The High Priestess’s silver bangles clink with her movements and the white paint designed across the expanse of her taut figure is stark against her healthy, ebony skin. With the New Moon approaching and the sudden drought that plagued Rhoh a fortnight ago, the masses plead for reassurance and guidance, their voices rising with despondency.
The New Moon can deliver misfortune to those who hold sins and darkness in their hearts. If one does not purge the evil within them, calamity and death will inevitably follow. Refuges from Rhoh–kohl-rimmed eyes caked with tears and tunics stained with sand and sweat–lament the sudden droughts that have afflicted them and a young man with a gold tooth and thick, black tattoos etched across his bald skull, pleads on his knees for redemption–his wailing haunting, which causes the gooseflesh on the messenger’s rigid arms to rise.
The High Priestess keeps a calm visage as she touches each person’s forehead, whispering as she presses crushed sage. Concluding her prayers, she kisses the person’s forehead as she whispers a plea, “May Lyceria lead you to the light.”
The messenger nods in approval as he passes by, quickly bowing to the diminutive statue of his goddess in respect as he hurries on.
The young man crosses through the arcade, which opens up to the training yard. The arches are stained in flourishes of red and indigo, as if someone had lone ago, decided to throw buckets of paint atop the arches.
The abrupt wave of dry heat and bright afternoon sun momentarily blinds him. The desert sun is bleak, notwithstanding the subtle signs of the conclusion of the harvest season. Winter will inevitably follow and farmers will have to prepare for the season with the littlest to no rain.
Blinking his deep-set eyes and running his hands through his freshly trimmed hair–the sides short and the back braided into a long ponytail–the messenger refocuses and takes in the crowd of moving bodies. The training yard is a large open space surrounding the hard-willed men and women performing rigid drills are rows of bleachers where crowds would gather for the annual tourneys. Statue of the sibling gods, Hyrisis and Fatima overlook their disciple’s train. The former’s stance proud and indomitable in his armor that’s rumored to be the shade of dawn, the latter’s unembellished eyes, unwavering as she surveys and judges those below her.
Half-naked bodies are slick with sweat and sand as they train with a single-minded purpose: to become the greatest. The heavily tattooed tawny bodies perform their drills, dodging, lunging and jabbing with an eerie grace which baffles the messenger who tries not to look too awed by the best warriors of Rhageon practice their deadly technique. “It is like a dance”, he says to himself, a deadly dance that only the elite and dedicated could ever hope to master.
The elite warriors are easy to distinguish–nine braids with silver and red beads–carrying a deadly aura with hardness about them that only the fiercest warriors could ever hope to attain.
One of the generals–Sthora Heleroa–is currently off to the side speaking with one of her celebrated protégées Manuel the Mountain, the victor of the Danviel games two months prior. Rumors had reached the small hamlet where the messenger lives. The Mountain was rumored to be a fighter with no educated grace but with a wildness that resulted in his bloody victory. Normally, the most skilled warriors are trained in Ajax, where veteran soldiers train the aspiring soldiers. Sent at a young age, the young women and men who choose to fight for Rhageon join the school and brave the strict rules. Manuel had not been sent to the school, growing up in a modest family who had recently suffered a death. Manuel had to provide for his family after the death of his roggae and trained in secret to prepare for the games.
The generals’ brassy, red hair is striking underneath the afternoon sun as she performs a series of moves with a curved sword to the fatigued young man, his body slick with sweat but his eyes rapt and lethal.
Shaking his head and ignoring the sudden strike of envy, the messenger grips the sealed letter in his hands with deliberate purpose.
Reaching the edge of the yard, the messenger halts as he brushes against a solitary young Ironwood tree, the purple flowers soft against his skin. Turning his neck back and forth, attempting to remember where his employer had told him which direction the private training yard would be, the messenger stiffens as he hears a loud grunt followed by a strike of steel.
A smile gracing his lips, the messenger heads off towards the sound by the entrance of the gardens, dodging a scattering of rocks that reach the height of his waist. A red-tailed hawk rests atop a tall grey-brown Mesquite tree, tilting its head as a gust of wind tickles the back of the messenger’s neck. Passing by the expansive grounds, the messenger wishes he could take the time to fully explore the legendary gardens where the preserved and carefully monitored meteorite is held.
Ages ago–even before the Fey roamed the Four Kingdoms without fear–the Rhageon ancestors came across the large rock that plummeted from the sky. A gift from their goddess, the ancestors believed this was a sign to build the city around the relic to protect and honor their goddess’s gift.
Extending his neck to peek over the high hedges blocking his view, the messenger can almost imagine seeing a flash of glistening light.
Turning a corner and dodging the stubbornly prickly branch of an attractive Red Yucca tree, the messenger halts his steps as he comes across two men, both in their prime, currently circling each other like lions atop a limestone cliff. Too focused or too careless, the two men do not pay attention to the peril beneath their feet. A loose rock crushes underneath the taller man’s foot, tumbling down the gorge.
The dark-haired man with nine braids and the man with silvery-white hair circle each other as they wait for the other to make the first move. Their movements are effortlessly graceful–a predator’s ease. The messenger cannot help but pause. A few months ago, while on duty, the messenger had been trekking through the countryside and froze in awe as he witnessed a mountain lion stalking its prey. Almost undetectable to the eye, he dared to not breathe as the feline pounced on the idle, grazing deer. It was a savage battle, the deer’s high-pitched screams stealing the messenger’s breathe. But it was the intent look in the predator’s’ eyes that still haunts his dreams. In those depths, he knew true fear.
Tomo holds his breathe as he observers the two greatest warriors in Rhageon fight with innate grace. Genrys Nortega is the first to move; his taller and more slender frame swift as he strikes low–followed by twisting his body as he ducks underneath the answering swipe of s’Nysurria curved sword. But Nysurria is quicker. Settling on the balls of his feet, the Warlord launches himself suddenly at his opponent which inhuman speed.
It is like white lightning has suddenly struck–the Warlord’s white hair only visible as he moves with unparalleled swiftness, dodging the parried attacks and suddenly going on the offensive as he lunges with assurance–then striking again with an inert strength. Though Nysurria does not have a bulky build with slabs of intimidating muscle, there is a wildness about him that makes the messenger nervous as he watches s’Nysurria eyes remain cold and calculating–a calm that can only be found by the hardiest of men or women who cannot be fazed by death and carnage.
A predator who can reign in his harsher qualities as he effortlessly attacks with grace and effectively tire his opponent without breaking a sweat–is a creature that the messenger would pray to Lyceria never to come across in battle.
As the dance of swords proceeds, Tomo catches himself gasping as the silvery-white form lands blow after blow on the fatigued genrys. Suddenly the air is tense as Nysurria shoulders the leaner man in the solar plexus–taking his right leg and hooking it beneath s’Genrys left. Silence pulsates as the dark-haired man lands on the grass with a thump.
Soon as the other man’s body touches the ground, Nysurria has his jardee –a curved sword–on the other man’s neck, demanding as he yells, “Carfa!” Yield!
The dark-haired man slams his head on the grass, dispassionately huffing, “Carfa! Now get your fat ass off me, Torien!”
The messenger is stunned as s’Nysurria backs off the other man’s body, setting his jardee to the side as he throws his head back in laughter.
“Nortega, you have always been a sore loser,” he finishes, abruptly lifting his head as he catches the messenger’s eyes, “Tolla, Tomo of Bighorn. Are you going to continue to stand over there and stare until the vultures pick out your eyes?” The Warlord finishes with a smile with all teeth and no humor.
Tomo tries to swallow past the sudden dryness in his throat. Silver eyes captivate and hold Tomo’s without wavering; the power discharging from the silvery depths seemed otherworldly but not wholly unkind. The messenger had grudgingly believed that he had snuck up on the men but as he looks back to s’Nysurria primal gaze and toned body ready to pounce, he now realizes it was ridiculous to believe he could sneak up on the Warlord of Rhageon.
Nortega picks himself up, resting on his elbows as he greets Tomo with a slight smile from beneath his trimmed mustache. “Thank Lyceria you watched our fight. Now you and our goddess can be witnesses to Torien’s dishonesty.”
Stupefied that anyone would ever accuse s’Nysurria of such deceit, Tomo whips his head towards his Nysurria in silence, waiting for the ready attack. But Nysurria only smirks indulgently at his closest friend’s snarky remark.
“Sore loser,” he repeats, flicking the end of his braid with indifference.
“Beast,” Nortega retaliates with a wide grin.
Shaking his head, the Warlord of Rhageon zeros in on the sealed letter in Tomo’s hand. “That is the Mycean King’s seal.”
The letter with a gold H in the center of the wax blue seal precipitously becomes heavy in the messenger’s hand. “s’Nysurria,” he murmurs, performing a slight bow and handing the white-haired man the letter with trembling fingers.
Watchful bright silver eyes fasten on the worry in the messenger’s eyes. The Warlord takes the letter and breaks the seal with ease, which almost settles the mounting anxiety rising within Tomo that had grown ever since the heavy and ornate letter came into his hands. If the Warlord seems so indifferent, there is no need for alarm, correct?
Nortega had risen as they exchanged the letter, standing behind s’Nysurria without the initial signs of his humor. Nortega is tense as the Warlord opens the letter, dark eyes sharp as a hawk as he tries to read his Warlord’s body language as reads the letter.
A few moments could have passed yet it felt like a century until Genrys Nortega breaks the silence, “What does the fat King want, s’Nysurria?”
Tomo releases his breathe silently as the question that had been budding on his tongue has finally been asked. The tension in the air has started to choke him, the uncertainty in Noretega’s eyes and the severity in s’Nysurria silver eyes, unsettling and adding to the multi-layer of uneasiness.
Rhageon has always kept a wobbly but stable relationship with the neighboring country that is only separated by the Beser Desert–neutral territory where trading mostly occurs. The country of peacocks with strange ways and only one god can never hide their disgust as they interact with Rhageons. Many times Tomo had been tempted to throttle the snooty Mycean merchants who would mutter in their fast-paced language with too many vowels as they look up and down in discontentment of his leathers and braid.
A growl vibrates from the Warlord’s throat, his sharp teeth sharp and white as he responds, “The peacocks have gone too far. They have declared war on us, thinking we are too ignorant and weak”, he spits out the last words with fury, his lips curling and revealing sharp, white teeth.
Nortega does not look surprised, nodding as his intelligent eyes look off into the distance, as if already preparing battle strategies in his head. “This war has been a long time coming. Remember the incident with the young village girls in Ramayara?”
Tomo had heard rumors of the “incident” claiming that Mycean merchants had snuck into the small but prosperous village of Ramayara with the intent of kidnapping young Rhageon girls to sell in Mycea. Slavery has been outlawed in Rhageon since the Fey fled to Death Island and Mycea a few decades later. For these men to attempt to steal these girls–the prized wildflowers of Rhageon– made Tomo advocate what type of country that could create such monsters.
“Na, I remember,” he snarls, “Nortega go gather my generals; we have war to discuss.” Looking back at Tomo he nods, “Pesissido.”
The white-haired man starts to undress as Tomo turns to shield his eyes, almost blinded by a bright, silvery-white light.