The Great Journey of Ionia

The Gathering of the Twelve

Chapter 1

The First Steps

This is the story of the Great Journey of Ionia.

Ionia was created long, long ago during the Great Disaster which changed the world forever. The oceans swallowed many shores, the lands shifted, the ground erupted. Drastic changes occurred around the globe in only a span of a few years. It was like nothing the world had seen before and like nothing it would see again until the very end. The continents took on strange new shapes, and some were drowned altogether, never to be seen again. Fires from the center of the earth rose to the surface and flowed out from the mountains. Glaciers melted and froze again in new places. Climates changed, landscapes transformed. It was a completely different world. All that remained the same was the sky.

Ionia was a small outcrop of land which had survived the Great Disaster. It was still flourishing with life. It retained small pieces of the former world within its small boundaries. Mountains, forests, and deserts were all contained within Ionia. It was cut off from the outer world, which was believed to be nothing more than a vast, barren wasteland. The sea surrounded Ionia on three of its borders: the north, the south, and the east. The west was attached to a great continent of dying lands of rock and ash. However, Ionia was cut off from this land and no one ever journeyed there. A great shelf of rock ran along the western borders. Behind this shelf was the River of Fire which was uncrossable. The fire flowed from the great volcanoes and ever remained hot and flowing. On the other side of this river was a row of extremely tall mountains, which rose higher than even the tallest mountains which were in the world before the Great Disaster. They were extremely high, black and bare, with no sign of tree, grass, or creature. A line of tall giants which constantly glared down on the lands below.

The people who had survived colonized this country. They had created a new history for themselves. The ancient empires of many thousands of years from which they had come from were forgotten. Their memory had been washed away with the same waters which destroyed the lands. There were no stories, myths or legends of before the Great Disaster. Even the origin of the people after the Disaster and their coming together in the aftermath was forgotten. The people were lost. They needed to make a new world for themselves. Outside of this world, nothing else existed. They believed themselves to be the only survivors. There was nothing outside of Ionia. No one could live in the dead lands beyond. The sea was too large to be crossed, and all that was there was more sea, stretching on forever.

Ionia had its share of wars. Cities were built and cities fell. Empires rose and disappeared. But for the most part, the people of Ionia were able to live peacefully. They lived in harmony with their environment. Even though the Great Disaster occurred very long ago, and no stories from before that time were remembered, the people knew that the ancient people before the Disaster did not respect their environment. The people of Ionia had seen the worst. They knew the importance of the nature around them, and most importantly, they knew how quickly it could be taken away. This is a lesson they never forgot, even though they could hardly remember anything of their origins in the land.

This story takes place a millennium after the great disaster. A time when Ionia lived in peace. The Twelve Cities of Ionia had not warred with each other for almost a hundred years, since the great wars of Brannock. The Twelve cities were all very different in they're own respects. The four cities of Brannock were close together and had strong ties with each other. The other cities were scattered throughout the country. Two of these cities were hidden, although the knowledge of their existence was very well known. One of these cities was believed to be somewhere in the Ti jungle. The location of the other was speculative. Kindelo was the one city which had less to do with the others. It was located in the far south separated by the rest of the country by the Ubez desert, which was hardly ever crossed. They were sundered from the other peoples of Ionia, but were still peaceful when they did interact.

Yet soon an event would occur which would change Ionia more then ever in its thousand year history. And it all began with a young man from the Kirkwood forest.

The Kirkwood forest could be found east of the hills of Carta, which ran down from the mountains. The city of Kirk was built upon the eastern hills, with the forest hugging the border of the hills. The city extended into the forest as well as climbing the sloes of the last hill. The people of Kirk considered themselves the guardians of the forest and protectors of all creatures within it. They were hunters, yes, but hunted only what they needed. Kirk was very close with the city of Astin on the western side of the hills. There was a common trade route through the hills connecting the two cities. Yet Kirk managed to remain very independent and content with itself. The people lived simple lives and they loved the forest.

Keirian had lived in Kirk his whole life, but always dreamed of see everything else that Ionia had to offer. He was full of imagination. He had been wishing for adventure since he was very little. He was always exploring the forest further then his parents wished him too. People would always chalk up his desire of exploration as a passing phase, as a childhood dream. But he always knew he'd get out. Not that he didn't love Kirkwood, but he felt his need to see the world growing. He always loved the old tales, the histories. He loved his home, but he wanted to experience more.

That's why when he was approaching his twentieth year he made plans to leave Kirkwood. Temporarily, at least.

"It will only be for a year. Then I'll come back," he explained to his parents.

Keirian's family lived on the outer skirts of Kirk, inside the forest. Their house wasn't too small or too big. His father was a hunter. He worked for Conifer, the Headman of Kirk. It was a respectable job, even though the pay wasn't exceptional.

"I understand son, you've always wanted to travel. But Conifer is going to offer you a job, if you take the training. He may not offer it next year when you're back," his father told him.

"I know, I know. But that's the problem," Keirian replied, "I need to do this now, before I get tied down with a job. Don't you understand? Everyone went along with my wishes to explore the world, but no one believed I would actually have the will enough to do it. But I do, and I will. And now is the time."

"I always knew you would Keirian," his mother pitched in, "You're not the only one. And if this is what you want to do, we understand. We'll miss you, but we understand." She looked at her husband with a look telling him his son needed to do this, and they needed to let him.

Keirian looked at his father. Finally he nodded. "Alright son, alright. But you'll find it won't be easy on your own. And we only have enough money to take you there. Once you're there, you'll need a job. And they're not easy to come by. We should tell master Conifer you're plans as well. Hopefully he won't be too insulted that you'll have to turn down the job."

Finally his father smiled. "I'm proud of you son. I'm glad you're doing this."

Keirian smiled back. His sister sat in the corner silent.

"This way," Darian whispered, as he crouched near the ground investigating the prints in the dirt.

Darian was Keirian's best friend. They often went tracking in the forest together, honing their skills as woodsmen. Today they were tracking a deer. They crept extremely silently as they followed the fresh tracks. They saw movement in the woods in front of them. Keirian motioned to Darian to take the other side. They snuck on either side of the bush, and in a quick moment, the deer raced out and sped forward. The boys took chase, keeping good pace with the deer. Eventually the deer reached an open spot in the woods, where three others were grazing. They all looked up and immediately followed the runner and took off out of site. It became suddenly silent as the boys slowed to a stop.

"See? They ain't too bright. That one led us right to the others," Darian pointed out.

"I'm leaving Darian," Keirian said, breaking the news to his friend.

Darian turned around with a confused look in his face. "What?"

"I'm finally getting out of here. Like I always said I would."

"Yeah, yeah, I've heard that before."

"No, seriously. I know you've always thought I was just saying those things, but I meant them. I always did. I'm leaving in a week."

Darian looked at him, trying to decide if he should feel betrayed, jealous, or happy for his friend. "So you're just leaving then?"

"Only for a year. Then I'll be back."

"Until you leave again?"

"Maybe. But that's a ways away yet."

Darian stared again. Finally he decided to be happy for his friend.

"Well, good luck then," he said with a smile, "Don't forget us simple folk. And make sure you do come back. Or I'll have to come find you myself."

"So you're moving to Culilonia for a year?" Conifer confirmly asked. Conifer was a kind man, but very proud of his city. He wouldn't understand why anyone would leave it. He talked to Keirian in the main hall, high on the hill of Kirk. Outside was a platform which over looked the whole city and the forest itself.

"Going to see the ocean? Well, you'll enjoy yourself, I've no doubt. And what are you planning to do when your there?" he asked.

"Well sir, I hope to get a job with the Academic Society. It should provide me with enough money to support myself while I'm there, and I can gain some extra knowledge as well."

"Well that's good. I hope it works out for you. It's too bad you can't take the job. Your father's a good hunter, and I've no doubt you would be too. But like you said, you'll be coming back. Well, all of luck to you my boy. I've got some other business to be getting to. But just don't you forget where your home is."

"Thank you sir, of course I won't sir." And with that Keirian left the hall and went back through the city.

Kirk was made mostly of wood, as that was in high abundance. Colours of brown and green gave the city a blended feel with its surroundings. The roads were paved with stone and the shops in the main market had canopies hanging out to the street with wooden carts pulled in front. The houses were not arrayed in any pattern. The taller buildings were built around the trees themselves. Levels of platforms climbed the buildings with trees as the pillars holding it all together. Further from the city core, the log cabin houses became very common, and the woods became thicker. Keirian lived in an area such as this. As he came back home he saw his sister outside waiting for him. She was three years younger then him and looked very much the same except with black, curly hair. She looked distressed.

"Hey, what's wrong?" he asked.

"Don't leave Keirian. I know mom and dad say you should go, but they're just protecting you. I don't know how they are going to handle not having you here."

"They will Kyrie, don't worry. Just trust me, I need to do this. You'll understand one day."

"Just make sure you come back."

Keirian smiled. "I will."

"I just… I have a bad feeling about this," she said, with more of a quivering voice this time, "It's an ominous feeling. As if no good can come from you're leaving. I don't know why, but I'm worried you're not coming back. Or that you're going to be gone a lot longer then you plan to."

Keirian could see she was really worried. "Kyrie, listen. If I say I'm coming back, I'll be back. Alright?"

Kyrie looked up at him, and was still worried, but knew she wouldn't't change his mind. "Alright."

The night before he left Keirian went to a bonfire. Bonfires were a common form of social gathering in Kirk, especially for the younger people. Large fires which could hold about nine people inside them were lit in open areas in the forest. The people came around the fires, sometimes with ales, sometimes with stories, and just have a good time. Keirian went to see all of his friends one last time. They didn't let him leave until late into the night. Many were telling him what they wanted him to bring them when he came back. Many gave him meaningless pieces of advice. Many just wanted to give him as much ale as he could take that night. Finally he said his goodbyes, the last of which to Darian, who he knew he would miss the most.

The next morning he made ready to leave. He said his final goodbyes to his family after his backpack was packed. Homman his guide stood nearby. Since there was no real road to Culilonia, guides were always hired by travelers since they knew the way. Homman knew the way to Culilonia like the back of his hand. This made Keirian's parents feel a little safer about his trip.

"Well son, have a great trip. Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Remember that," his father told him.

"I will," Keirian said.

"We'll miss you," his mother said. That was all she could get out in her tears.

Kyrie couldn't say anything. She just hugged her brother with the same worried look she had earlier. Keirian also said goodbye to his youngest sister Kestel who was only a babe of one year, reaching her short arms out to her brother, not understanding all of the goodbyes.

Finally, Keirian was on his way.

Homman led Keirian through the forest. Of course Keirian had already explored the forest almost thoroughly. He had been exploring it his whole life. It would take a full day to get to the far eastern end of the forest. It was a three day journey to Culilonia altogether. They reached the end of the forest and camped under the last of the trees. Homman told Keirian stories of other travelers and about Culilonia itself.

"Culilonians are generally friendly, but some of them are a little cracked. Remember that. Don't get caught up in some of the stories they feed you. They're a strange people, big into prophesies and ghost stories and what have ya," he warned Keirian.

"Alright," Keirian said with a chuckle. He liked Homman but saw him as one of those many people in Kirk who always question that which is different from what they know.

The last two days of the trip were through fairly flat field country. Very green, with some patches of trees and bushes along the way. They traveled northeast for the majority of the way. It was easy country to walk on, so the journey went fast. Around noon on the third day, Keirian could smell a sweet, salt type of smell. And he knew what it was. The sea. They were coming close to the coast.

A few hours later, Keirian saw a blue line in the horizon. Human led him closer, and finally up over the last rise he saw the endless expanse of the blue ocean. Below the waves crashed on the rocks. The splashes from the waves leapt up and reached Keirian's outstretched hands.

"Strait north up the coast from here," Homman said.

They continued walking along the coast with the sea always out to the right of them. The land continued to rise higher and higher, until they couldn't see what waited for them ahead. Keirian could hear faintly the rush of a river. It was the Eajourn river running into the sea. Away to the west he could see a small bend of the river as it wrapped around and went behind the slope they were walking up.

When he reached the top of the rise, Keirian looked down into a great valley. Another cliff identical to the one he was standing on stared at him from across. The Eajourn flowed through the middle of the valley. Where the river met the sea the city of Culilonia sat. It seemed so small from where Keirian now sat. But further down was a great port. The city sat on both sides of the river. Ships sailed to and from massive harbours sitting at the sea. Behind the harbours were many buildings, some tall, some wide. Keirian looked down at this magnificent city. Finally, he thought. All his life he had been waiting for adventure. Now he had found it. Adventure was right in front of him.