Authors Notes: - Yeah, I kinda jump around like a squirrel on crack… oh well.
"How long have we been in here?" Adam asked from his prone position on the floor. He stared dully at the ceiling, his legs cross and his hands knitted behind head.
"A couple of hours I'd guess." Luis shrugged.
Adam sighed loudly and looked over towards Des and Shannon, they'd spent the last hour braiding each other's hair. Des had a pair of French braids while Shannon had a single complicated looking tightly knit one. "Having fun ladies?" He asked with thinly veiled sarcasm.
"If you're bored we can braid your hair too." Shannon offered playfully.
"I think you'd look cute with some braids in your hair." Des giggled, winking at him teasingly.
Adam ran his fingers through his tight curls. "I don't think I have very braidable hair."
"We can give it a try?" Des said.
"No thanks, I'll just keep entertaining myself by counting the cracks in the ceiling."
Luis looked up. "One… two… there you go, all done."
"Thanks! Now I have to start all over again!" Adam exclaimed in mock rage.
Ben glanced over his shoulder from the window rolled his eyes then went back to staring out into the garden. Many of the plants looked familiar to a cursory glance but since he'd been staring at them for the past two hours he'd come to realize just how different they were. The roses didn't quite look like roses; they were too large with petals that didn't come to a single peak, but several. Their colors were also all wrong; one of the plants had petals that were genuinely black, not a deep dark red but pure black. He also spotted numerous herb plants, though nothing as generic as thyme or chives. Something flew past the tower and he tracked it with his eyes. Instead of being a bird, which his mind initially thought it was, it was a wingless woman, gliding through the air. Her skin was a dozen different shades of blue, sometimes the whole color scheme on her shifted to a different shade as if it couldn't keep up its mind. Before he could make out any more details on her she vanished behind a tall building.
He knew the others were still scared and confused, except for Hannah; he was never sure what she was thinking. For himself though he could only feel a strange sense of elation. It reminded him of all the times he'd played D he'd always opted to play a spell caster, though there was that one disastrous campaign where he'd played a dwarven paladin. Now there he was standing in a mage tower on an island filled with wizards and their strange creations.
The door to the room opened and everyone stopped what they were doing to look over. The young mage who'd spoken in their defense stepped into the room. He was smiling cheerfully and acting completely casually.
Adam hopped to his feet and stood next to Luis who also got to his feet. Behind them the two girls got off the ground and watched the mage eagerly. Neither Ben nor Hannah bothered to move from their spots. The most Ben did was turn around so he could watch the mage. Hannah stayed sitting next to him, her head resting against the wall.
"Well boys and girls, the counsel has come to a decision." The mage said merrily.
"They're going to send us home with plenty of well wishing and hearty goodbyes?" Adam asked hopefully.
The mage's face fell slightly and he stared at Adam oddly for a moment then chuckled and shook his head, his smile instantly returning. "No, no, no."
"We're going to be executed in the most horrible painful way, possibly by being hung drawn and quartered?" Adam guessed cautiously.
"Goodness no!" the mage laughed. "If we wanted to just kill you we'd do it as fast as possible and extract your raw energies. No need to tarnish your souls further." He chuckled ruefully.
"That's pleasant." Luis remarked dryly.
"No, what we've decided to do give you all an option. Either stay here on this island and be harvested, in the manner I just mentioned or leave on a task for us."
"I vote the task!" Des said, holding up her hand.
"I second that." Shannon added.
"We don't even know what this 'task' is." Hannah said bitingly.
"Smart girl." The archmage said pointing to her. "At least hear me out before you come to a decision."
"Alright." Luis said sitting back down. "What's this task?"
"I guess you're the leader then." The mage said, smirking at him.
Luis shrugged. "I guess so."
"Very well then, it's a bit of a long story but I'll make it as brief as possible." He walked across the room and made a beckoning motion. One of the unoccupied chairs slid across the floor and settled to a stop behind him, he sat down and looked over all of them. "It all starts millions of years ago."
"That's it, I'm sitting back down." Adam said, flopping into a chair near the girls.
The mage sighed and rolled his eyes. "Alright, long story short, the Goddess was killed by the God but before she died she shed a tear. That tear was gathered up by the last of her followers, it was the essence of life. Eventually it ended up in the hands of a mage. That's when the first magical creation was truly made. Using the Goddess' tears the mage was able to create true life from nothing, just as the gods are able to do," he paused for a moment and looked at each of them in turn. "Unfortunately it was stolen about a hundred years ago and every since mages have had to use creative methods to continue creating the fantastical creatures you have already seen. Mostly involving recycling no longer needed or abandoned creations. Some of the darker mages have also gone as far as murdering people for their soul."
"So you're saying this Goddess' tear is the raw essence of… a soul?" Hannah asked.
He nodded. "Put in the most basic way yes. Souls can't be created by mere mortals, it is an ability only the gods possess, so for a mage to create they need a preexisting soul."
"You guys seem to be doing well enough without this tear." Adam pointed out.
"We are and we aren't. Without the tear we use the recycled souls but its impossible for us to say… wipe the slate clean. So old emotions and memories sometimes cling to the reused souls, meaning the creations are becoming more and more… human." He signed heavily.
"They're no longer the empty automatons you want them to be." Ben stated quietly.
"For me it isn't a problem, I rarely create much of anything." The mage quickly added. "This was the counsel's decision, sure I suggested it, mostly because I know its something they want."
"But their a bunch of powerful mages, can't they get off their lazy asses and do it themselves?" Adam asked incredulously.
"You're just answered your own question, at least in part," the mage said. "In part yes, they are a bit too lazy to do it themselves, another part of the issue is where we believe the tear to be."
"I have a feeling we're not going to like what you're about to say." Shannon bemoaned.
"There is a powerful mage who once sat on the counsel, but he left… about a hundred years ago," the archmage said, pausing dramatically. "The counsel believe he took it."
"You don't want us to go in there and get it." Hannah abruptly said, standing up. "No, you want us to be a nice little distraction so you guys can go in and snag it!"
The mage held up his hands. "Please relax; I wouldn't have suggested this course of action if I believed you wouldn't survive."
"Why do you care?" Luis asked staring at him suspiciously.
"I have a soft place in my heart for Earthlings."
They all fell silent and stared at him in complete shock. He glanced around and shrugged. "What?"
"You…. know where we're from?" Luis said in disbelief.
"Of course I do," he laughed and motioned to them. "The way you dress, talk… and that little gadget she was playing with," the mage motioned to the dumbfounded Hannah. "It's obvious."
"How do you know about Earth?" Luis finally managed to ask once he'd recovered from shock.
He grinned at them broadly. "Because I've been there."
"Why is everyone speaking in English?" Ben asked, sounding guarded. "We're from different worlds, so shouldn't we be speaking completely different languages."
"The evolution of languages is a funny thing, you would think, if you took two parts of the same group and dumped them in different areas, that they'd evolve into wholly unique languages. In most cases this is true, but… in this instance it isn't." he got a thoughtful look. "I think there is some greater power involved in that though…"
"Are you suggesting…" Ben whispered.
"Now I didn't come in here to discuss such trivial things, you've got more important things to worry about, like surviving," then he quickly added. "Besides, it's not called English here, it's just known as the trade tongue and it's the most common language on this world."
Luis shook his head and leaned forward. "Alright, so what are we supposed to do? How are we going to get the tear back from a mage I presume is powerful enough you guys are scared of him."
"It's not so much that we couldn't destroy him if we wanted to, the situation is far more complicated than that. The main part of the problem with him is similar to the one with me. If we kill him, will he stay dead?"
"What? If I were to cut your head off right now you wouldn't die?" Adam asked puzzled.
"Well… this body would, but I'd just come back." The mage shrugged.
"How's that possible?" Des asked.
"I'm immortal, or as close as one can get. I can be killed off permanently but no one has succeeded yet."
"How old are you?" Luis ventured to ask.
"Old… just old," the mage chuckled. "Now are you guys up to the task or not?"
"Why do you think we'll succeed where the counsel has failed?" Ben asked inquisitively.
"Because I know this mage, he's as temperamental as a pregnant dragon but also quirky enough that you might be able to actually talk to him. As a general rule he hates other mages, that's why he left the counsel. Said something about the lot of them being a bunch of overstuffed arrogant fools too absorbed with themselves then promptly excluded me from that generalization."
"So he's been around for over a hundred years, what is he?" Ben asked.
"And what are you?"
The mage chuckled and shook his head. "I'm a naga."
Almost all of them stared at him blankly, only Hannah and Ben had any idea what he was talking about. "I thought naga were snakes with human heads?" Ben finally said.
"That is one of the forms I can take but I happen to enjoy having opposable thumbs," the archmage said, wiggling his thumbs at him. "Rather dandy evolutionary trick there."
"You're a snake?" Shannon asked looking him over guardedly.
He winked at her. "Trust me sweetheart, snakes can do impressive things. Especially with our tongues." A forked tongue flicked out from between his lips, making Shannon jump slightly.
"Oh god." She said placing a hand over her heart, staring out him almost fearfully.
"She's not a snake person." Hannah said sardonically.
"Bah, I've converted my fair share of people." The mage laughed heartily.
"I don't know about you guys, but I'm just jealous." Adam said, shaking his head.
"Can we stay on topic here?" Luis suddenly snapped. "I'd like to figure out how we can get off this godforsaken planet and go home!"
Everyone fell into a sullen silence but the archmage, he smirked. "High strung, aren't we?"
"Look, I've had what can easily be described as a bad day and it's only getting worse. I don't want to have to spend a minute longer here than I have to. I'm more than a little eager to get back home where I don't have to deal with snakemen and arrogant mages and their fucked up creations."
"Be a little nicer Luis, he doesn't have to help us, in fact he could have said and done nothing and we'd be dead by now." Shannon said, touching her boyfriends arm.
"What's your name anyway?" Hannah asked.
"Well… I go by many titles, on this island I'm usually just called Archmage, sometime even The Archmage." He said pronouncing it with clear capitalization.
"Uh… how about a normal name?" She asked.
"Alright, you can call me Andraemon, or Ander for short." He chuckled.
"Isn't that Greek?" Adam said.
He shrugged. "I've spent some time in Greece."
"I think this is giving me a headache." Luis proclaimed, rubbing his head.
"Ok, back on topic," the mage said. "You guys will stay here for a few days, getting adjusted to this world. I'll make sure you're well outfitted for your journey, and probably even send someone to come with you, just to help you along. That sound ok?"
"Sounds wonderful," Adam said. "We'll have our own rooms right, with beds?"
Ander nodded. "Yep."
"Great, how about we get some real rest so we can absorb some of this insanity." Luis suggested.
The mage stood up. "Alright then, you'll be staying at my tower… unless you want to stay here?"
"No, no! You're towers perfect!" Adam proclaimed. "Unless you're hiding some horrible secrets in it that'll eat us."
"No, of course not." Ander said with a laugh walking towards the door. He paused and looked back with a cheerful smile. "They're all locked up in the dungeon."
"Cute, real cute." Adam rolled his eyes.
"I guess its too much to hope you guys have indoor plumbing?" Shannon asked wistfully.
"Why bother with pipes and other such accruements when you can just magically summon as much hot water as you want?" Ander said teasingly. "Don't worry, my tower is outfitted with all the comforts of home and then some."
"Uh… Ander?" Des said gently. He opened the door and motioned them out while giving her a curious look. "What's going to happen to Maru?"
"Who?" He said puzzled.
"Uh… the creation of the mage who died."
"At the moment he's in limbo, but most likely he'll be recycled."
"That's horrible." She said miserably.
"That is the way of things." He corrected her.
"It's still wrong." Des insisted.
Ander shrugged. "Get the Goddess' tear and things will change," he gestured again out into the hall. "Come on, lets go to my tower get you guys cleaned up and rested. Leave the worrying for tomorrow."
She nodded and reluctantly followed her friends out.