The legend was well known all across Gaea, from Lithium to Abragad. Children were told it as a bedtime story, their eyes wide with wonder as they listened to the tales of old Gaea. Philosophers had contemplated its meaning for centuries, analyzing the verses of many poems, sonnets and sagas that composed the legend. People had searched their entire lives for the harp that would bring back the magic, in hopes of ending the empty Eighth Age, which had begun with the disappearance of the magic.
Bring back the time when every beast spoke,
When the land was rich with magic.
Find the string of music on a silver base
And awaken our world from its slumber.
The tune had swayed Ryven to sleep for as long as he could remember, a haunting melody that was one of hundreds about the harp. No-one really knew where they came from originally. Some guessed that it had been developed the day the magic vanished by their worshipped beings and placed on Gaea through the thoughts of scryers. Others thought that the legend was but a pretty children's bedtime story, only a memory of the ages before. These thoughts, though, were kept very quiet and no-one could really actually give up the tiny glimmer of hope that they would one day see the magic again. They held that hope close to their heart, a silent and powerful hope that kept them strong.
"Only one chosen by all of our worshipped beings can find the harp." Some of the philosophers said, to which people would reply bitterly,
"Our worshipped beings? How do we know they did not leave with the magic?"
"They will return." The philosophers said, but as time passed, even they began to doubt their studies.
"The magic is not coming back, even if the harp is found." People began to say, but still they told the legend.
Ryven still remembered his childhood dreams after falling asleep to songs about the harp. Gryphons, Elves, Dragons, Mages and Pheoni spun through his dreams along with all of the other beings that went into hiding when they could no longer communicate. Nymphs melted into the trees and water, Gargoyles disappeared into mountain caverns, Unicorns went deep into the Edge Forest and Elves abandoned their homes, all panicked by the loss of magic. Ryven was one of the few who still secretly dreamed of a time in which Elves could make weapons with immense power encased inside for the bearer and the elements were alive with a deadly force. He dreamed of Lady Kara and Lord Lee and the Golden Age of Carmot and the Squagamire messengers, creatures that resembled large squirrels. Now that Ryven was fifteen, everyone around him stopped thinking about the harp, began loosening their hold on that bit of hope that they would see the magic again.
Ryven was lost in his thoughts as he walked through the streets of Zilliniaz, the Second City of Carmot. The late afternoon sun was warm and made him sleepy as he wandered through the metal-working district.
A sound jerked him out of his daze. It was a horn, long and deep coming from the Federal Building- the emergency horn. It ended, then began again, making Ryven vibrate. All around him, people hurriedly closed their shops and retreated into their homes. Ryven was soon alone on the street. Turning, he sprinted through the metal-working district, past the cloth district and ducked through a small passageway, taking a short-cut to where he lived near the Military Academy. He threw himself into his house and sank down against the door, panting.
"What is going on?" he gasped to his little sister who was curled up under a table.
"I do not know! Mother and Father hurried away when to the Federal Building and told me to wait here for you." Ryven sighed and approached his eleven-year-old sister. Their parents were leaders of the Zilliniaz Military Force; of course they have had to depart as soon as the emergency horn sounded.
"I am sorry." He said, and wrapped her into a hug. "Come on. We had best start dinner for when they return."
It was not until long after they had finished the soup and Milayne had gone to bed that Lania and Merlino returned. Weary, they silently entered the house and began to shrug off their armor.
"Armor to a meeting?" Ryven asked, stepping into the kitchen. Lania looked up.
"You should be in bed at this hour."
"Tell me what happened." Ryven replied and sat at the table, resolute. Lania sighed and sat as well, placing her sword belt on the table.
"Lithium is launching an attack on Carmot. Our forces have diminished substantially since the Seventh Age, just before the magic left. The loss left most Elven weapons useless and Nymph cloaks disintegrated before our eyes. Our allies left us in panic, even Isadirleins. With Lithium expanding all of the time, this is a good of time as any to conquer Carmot." Ryven was silent, his fingers wrapped around the clay mug.
"What will happen?" he asked, his voice steady. Merlino sat at the table with two more mugs and handed one to his wife.
"Well, we are gathering troops. We march to Durreck before the next moon. Mayor Owael received the message from Lady Cenhadille earlier today. She requests other possible solutions to this threat, though none were found. That is why we were so late.
"But what are we going to do?" Ryven demanded his parents though he knew the answer. They looked at each other.
"Ryven, we are going to fight. Even though all of our allies, from Isadirluck to all of the being of old, deserted us with the magic, Carmotians will draw their swords and fight, as Lady Kara and Lord Lee did so many ages ago against Lithium. Then, there was no chance. There is none now, but we will fall to them, not after what Kara and Lee did for us!"
Ryven's fingers tightened around the mug. The country of Lithium had always been conquering other countries, expanding its power. Carmot was known for resisting Lithium and urging other countries to stay independent. Carmotians would not fold to Lithium, not after the oath every Lord and Lady took to keep their country free and strong. Ryven heard of frequent battles in the Carmotian Dry-Plains; the days of the Eighth Age of Carmot and Gaea were dark indeed, but this was outright war his parents spoke of.
"Ryven," Lania began gently. "Everyone will be called out to fight in the morning." It took a moment for this to sink in. Ryven shook his head furiously.
"No! I cannot! I will not! I am not a warrior!" Ryven said forcefully. He began to shake. His mother reached out for his hand, but he pulled it back.
"I am sorry, my son, but we must protect our country."
" What about the harp? What if the magic returned?" Ryven desperately asked.
"Then things would turn out differently." Merlino said, shaking his head. "But Ryven, I do not think the magic is coming back. Over three hundred years it has been, all the while waiting and praying to the Sun and the Moon and every other worshipped being that left us. The magic is gone."
"No." Ryven stood abruptly, his chair toppling back. "I will not follow Lady Cenhadille into battle. I cannot!" With that, he rushed out of his house and into the street.
He did not understand why he could not fight. Ryven knew he would be cursed as a coward many times over, but he did not think it was his courage that stopped him from killing another. It must be something more, he thought to himself.
"The harp, the harp is they key to everything." Ryven said to the empty night. "If I can find the harp, the magic will return and Carmot will not be so venerable to Lithium in the West. Imagine, what a world!" Ryven's eyes lit up. "To ask fire to do your bidding, to heal someone without medicines! The harp, I must find the harp to save Gaea." Ryven turned into one of the many small chambers built into the city. The moon shone on a pool of water, a fountain that had long ago had water jumping playfully by magic. Ryven slipped into the water, taking a large breath as he did. Down he went into the depths of the pool, then he swam to the side, then up into a black cavern. Ryven groped around until he found a candlestick and a match. With his light, he ventured into the inky tunnel. Finally, he emerged back into the night about a kilometer away from walled Zilliniaz. Ryven stopped.
The night was silent. Only the slightest whisper of wind of wind touched Ryven's cheek. A calm swept over him, and he relaxed. He took a deep breath, the first proper breath he had taken since the emergency horn had sounded. Ryven's head cleared and he looked into the endless sky. The stars shone back at him, helping him think. After a moment Ryven felt a gentle push. The wind had picked up and was nudging him South. Not knowing what else to do, Ryven turned and started to walk South.
The moon sank in the sky, leaving the stars to light Ryven's way, his candle having melted into a puddle of wax long ago. In the deep darkness of the night, voices began to call to Ryven.
"Ryven!" they called, sweet and melodious. "Ryven, darling, won't you go home? Your search is fruitless. Come, we have hot food and drink against the chill of this dreadful wind, come, sit with us. You are weary. We will make you feel better."
Ryven stopped, the lure of the voices pulling him away from the wind.
"That's right, Ryven, come, we will put your worries aside."
The wind pushed at him harder, steering him away from the voices and to the South. Ryven gritted his teeth and walked away from the voices with the wind as his guide.
The sun rose, waking the land and brightening the sky. Its rays were not piercing but gentle, not hurting Ryven's weary eyes. He was tired, but the wind did not lessen. He continued to walk.
As midday approached, Ryven became aware that he walked beside a stream, and his steps became lingering. He gazed at the water thirstily.
"Just for a drink." Ryven croaked. "I will only stop for a moment." The wind lessened and he gratefully sank to his knees and cupped his hands in the stream. The water was cool and delicious.
"I'll rest for a second." Ryven said, suddenly overcome with fatigue. He began to lay, but the wind pushed hard at him, forcing him to stand and continued to trek South.
The second night of Ryven's journey followed a red dusk. He was so tired, shuffling South with his eyes closed, guided by the wind. Each step was laborious and his stomach was paining him greatly. With every movement his stomach knotted itself, making him walk doubled-over as the night began to relieve itself to the day. As dawn began to reach Gaea, Ryven collapsed to the ground, utterly exhausted and hungry.
Ryven looked up. Both the moon and the sun were visible in the early morning sky, the worshipped beings of Carmot. Stars were still twinkling happily upon him, their light dimmed by the appearance of the sun. The wind wrapped itself around him, and Ryven saw a tongue of flame high in the sky above him. The earth shifted and the grass swayed and seemed to be looking at him. Ryven knew he was in the presence of almost all of the Gods of Gaea.
"Do not give up. Have strength, your journey is almost at an end. You must go on." The voice was unlike any other Ryven had ever heard, like a combination of many voices as one.
The sky disappeared behind a wall of clouds and un began to rain. The water gave strength to Ryven's weary body and he lurched to his feet, the wind once again at his back.
"Okay." He said softly, and continued to walk.
Soon a forest came into view. Ryven stopped and gazed into the trees.
"In there?" he asked. The wind nudged him and he marched foreword.
As soon was Ryven stepped into the forest, he knew that is was a magical place. He tingled from his toes to his fingers, exhilarated by the feeling. The air was sweet and cool, humid but not heavy. The trees were lush and Ryven could almost feel the Nymphs sleeping inside. The further in he walked, the stronger he felt.
Everywhere he looked, Ryven could imagine the creatures of magic. He could see the Elves slipped between the shadows in his mind, Faeries perched among the branched high above, Squagamires peering curiously out from the bushes. Ryven knew that this forest had once been home to stunning creatures.
A stream wound its way through the forest, and Ryven found himself following it. The wind had left him when he had stepped into the trees and now it was the music of the water that guided him. Presently, he became aware of another music. Further he went, and the louder the music became. Then Ryven turned a corner and saw the stream widen to a river, and to the other side was a beautiful silver harp, perched upon the rocks.
The sight took Ryven's breath away. The music was soft and soothing and there was no doubt in his mind that this was the Harp of Legends.
So it's true, he thought. It's really true. Ryven crossed the river and carefully approached the harp. The music had stopped and the whole world was holding its breath.
Ryven knelt by the harp and began to play.