The iron gates of Haven’s grand keep grate and hammer shut. There’s a shout and guards chatter from behind, but as the ruins of the city that once was surrenders itself to the serenity of the Turien plains the noise of mortal men is drowned and suffocated by the whispers of the forever-wind. The wind, it is said… Can be a queer thing. On a lazy and thoughtful day like this its presence was an almost psychedelic thing that diluted the tempo of time itself, until the only thing that separated a moment from an eternity was the rhythmic clapping of hooves on the cobbled road below. It was this rhythm that saved me, and the thousand travelers before me from the inertia that breezed by. The path sprawled on and on before me through the grassy meadows and down and up the rolling hills, all of it soothed by that maddening wind.
As we first approached the woodlands, I only managed to follow the way because of my faithful companion, my horse Derry, who plodded along diligently while I my eyes fluttered away and I nodded off to sleep. During my slumber I was taken up to the edged skirt of a forest, the lip and curl of the great Turien woodland that grew proudly on my right. The sea breeze swept over the air from its flank, the squaw of distant gulls clashing with the chittering of the critters at the forest’s edge. With the noise came finally some semblance of clarity and focus, and finally I could hear myself think.
I recall my mind drifting back to a memory of my youth, or at least I had thought it was. Though I grew up in the north in a village far away from Haven, my mind’s eye placed me here in these very forests. It was me and a gang of my friends wandering the vegetative bush as children are like to do, pretending to be warriors, and heroes and monsters, batting at each other with blades wrought from the finest sticks we could find under the canopies of the old elms. Oh aye, we fought and we ran and hid and tagged each other for what must’ve been miles up the woodland, shouting, and laughing all the way until our legs burned and our breath turned ragged.
As we searched for a place to rest I noticed a clearing up ahead, with an old sturdy oak that stood grand at its centre. A perfect place to sit and rest after a weary day of play, I said, and so we went. Upon our approach my friend pointed to the trunk of the oak, and exclaimed at the rickety smile carved into the bark. I prodded at it with my stick and exchanged a few curious words before someone piped out that they knew why the intent of the carving. Though for the life of me I could not recall my friend’s voice, or his face or even his name, I have a perfect recollection of exactly what it was that he said, down to the very word.
“Me Nan used to tell me stories of trees…” My friend began timidly and with a twinge of abashment. “She says that ev’ry tree is alive. Got a livin’ an’ breathin’ soul, just like we do, ‘cept that they’re all born servants o’ Shalherana. That’s why they can last so long. They’re made more in her image than we are, and they see everything that happens around them. They’re the goddesses’ eyes in our world.” Then someone interrupts him with a smart-aleck refute. “If they’s just the same as us, why can’t they move? Or eat or drink or talk?” The boy paused a moment to ponder. “Well, trees can move. They just don’t move like we do, you know? They’re movin’ when they’re still small and tiny, kinda like when you see those seeds in an apple or a maple wing. And they’ve got their big roots all gripped on the ground to eat and drink. They couldn’t get so big if they didn’t do that, right?” Clever answers. I didn’t think I knew someone so smart. “But they still can’t talk. I’ve never heard a tree talk.” The words came out of my own mouth this time, as I leaned on the old oak. That was the sticking point. A question he couldn’t answer. “Well… Maybe that’s why this one has a face carved on it.” He offered. We laughed. “But it still can’t talk!” Another boy yelled, and the first boy merely smiled, and scratched his head. “No, I guess it can’t.” And we laugh again, our peals of laughter reverberate and echo through the halls of memory as the image blurs, and the memory fades.
Another vision comes as quickly as the old one fades. It’s a far different memory from the last. Recent, brutal, sinister and horrible. I see coils of black smoke lard the skies above, the ghast of the inferno that raged below... The one that blazed all around me. Strewn across the ground were torn down fairground tents, their once-gaudy fabric now stained with dirt and blood. Before me rises the black silhouette of a horse rearing up with a scream before it runs off in fear. Behind it lay the grey stone walls of Breakwater, the polished stone bricks mirror the licking flame that surrounds me while black blood bleeds from its cracks. My hands are covered in it as well, that same blood. Torn and rended out from a knight that lay crumpled before my feet, thrown off his horse by the pike in my hands. My legs seize, and I freeze with shock as a bolt thrums straight through the man’s gorget, biting deep into his neck. Then he is dead. And when I turn to see who did the deed there is no one and nothing but the corpses of the fallen that are strewn about the battlefield. As I spin around once more, panic grasping at my lungs, and instead of the dead knight I now find a legion. Their horses stamp on the ground pulling into a charge. It is all I can do to shut my eyes and await their hateful retribution.
I’m struck and jostled back awake, so staggered was I in my sleep that I nearly jump at the sight of the dead trees in front of me. For a brief moment it was as if the hellscape of my turbulent dream materialized before me, but as my mind starts to turn again and is once more brought back into reality I no longer feel horror, only grief. It was grief for those who fell - even if they came back again, and it was sorrow for those who could not. If I must be truthful, though it hurts for me to admit it even to myself, I even felt guilt for the part I played, even if my convictions declared it a necessity. Perhaps that is a strange duality, to declare my actions good even if all I saw wreaked here was bad. There were two sides to every coin and to every face… To every dream and every road. The forest lingered though trees were burned. The dreams remained but were marred by the nightmare. The halcyon endured amidst the hell. In that I could find some strange sort of comfort and serenity. Maybe even peace.
Derry’s hooves stamp to a halt. We’re here and we’re back, him and me. One foot over slowly, ponderously, and I’m on my feet again. The walls of Breakwater still stand proud and imposing even as the moss eats at the stone and vines stalk the cracks between them. Small chutes of new grass have begun to sprout on the fairground though I can still hear the crackle of the flames that burned before. Lain about were rusted plates of armor with the yellowed bones of those once in them littering the ground, their wraiths now standing around me locked in war eternal. And just as my head dips, as I feel the tears welling up in my eyes there is a faint laughter I hear behind me. When I look to see who was there, I find the group of boys standing in the meadow of my reverie, resting on an old burned oak. One of them was speaking… Speaking about the trees around us. He compared them to us, and with a clever tone explained their similarities.
“But they still can’t talk…” The words came out of my own mouth, trickling out like the wistful dregs of a faint memory. “I’ve never heard a tree talk.”
A gale floated in from the north. The queer whispering wind drifted and turning the passing moment into stagnant eternity. It was only here that for the first time I realized the howl and hum it made, passing through the barren branches of the woodland around me. As if compelled by the will of creation herself the trees began to speak. Some started to sing, and others to cry, to reminisce of the things they had seen and heard and felt. Both the halcyon and the hell. I was frozen again, yet this time it wasn’t with fear but awe.
I’ve gotten it into my mind to write this. Where it came from, I do not know, but I do know that it is a complex question, and requires a complex answer. On this paper, on this desk, I intend to determine what makes Altera so wonderful.
A question like this will inherently be tinged by personal experience, whether that be happiness or sorrow. I cannot say what a person down on there luck my say about Altera. They may even say it isn’t wonderful at all. But I can say what I find wonderful, and for now, that is what I will write, at least until I get around to asking strangers on the streets.
Altera is a fascinating place. I’ve had the leisure to study its plants and animals in detail, yet every time I try to truly study us, the more sentient of the mortal inhabitants of Altera, I find that there is far more to explore than I could have imagined. That is not to say generalizations do not work. It is better, perhaps, to say that generalizations do us no justice. Altera is a place where any can live, though the others living here may not always agree with a vagabond sitting on their doorstep.
I make my living by being a scholar, author, and an investigator. I am supposed to follow the laws of whatever town I may be in. I work to catch the crook. But, I admit, may let my morals block the way. If someone tries to employ me to recover stolen food, and they are well off, I may decline. And if I accept, and find a servant stole it to feed his starving family, I’ll lie about it. In my view, all should, at the very least, have their chance. And Altera gives you that chance. Never mind any laws or morals for an instant, you could, at least in theory, be anything, from a noble, to a thief, to an assassin, to a merchant prince, or even a wander looking for the secrets of the world. It’s depends on how you play with the hand you’re dealt.
I do believe I found my answer. Altera is a place of incredible psychical beauty. But it is the beauty of the races of this world that truly makes it shine. The great achievements, cities, and works of the collective people are astounding. And even the great failures, ruins, and failed arts add to the splendor. Reminds us that we aren’t perfect. And none of it would be possible without the dreamers. The optimists. The believers of impossible dreams and pursuers of far-flung hopes. If people like that didn’t do such things, didn’t let their imaginations fly, didn’t experiment, learn, win, and lose, then nothing Altera has today would exist. We came here in Exodus. It is now ours. And we have shaped it into a realm where you can be as you are. All the paths one can take are filled with danger, of one kind or another. It just takes a step, just a step, not courage, or fear, or strength or a sword. Just a step, and Altera is yours to make of it as you will. To build or even destroy. Up to those people whose existence make me love Altera so very much.
Thus is how I, Argy Steelscribe, finds Altera a wonderful place indeed. In one sentence: The people who refuse to stop dreaming, and the accomplishments that come from them.
Warm breeze of a morning’s breath gently embraced the back of William’s neck, He ran swiftly down the rough trail made by his own past steps upon the wet surface of the cold soil of the small jungle on the far east of the isle, the treeline starting to open to a wide field. The sound of the sea crashing against the shore of the stonecliff, the sound lightly embracing the ears of whoever is blessed enough to have that moment of peace. Running to the break in the treeline, the morning sunshine lightly kissed the skin of his face, the scene like something painted upon a canvas lighting the sky and bits of light shining off the warms of the light blue southern waters.
A few more moments of rushed running, swift breaths as the manor in the distance on top of hill looking down at the ocean from the top of a hill looking down at cliffs curving downwards into a small beach. The home nearly shined like a foreign paradise on the island, sitting on the small cliff side facing the ocean. The house, built in a victorian era style with many balconies facing the bright blue waters of the southern ocean. William knew he was in trouble, as he approached the house the sound of light music rang into his ears “Damnit it! Mother is awake, I cannot sneak in!” He whispered quietly to himself as he lowered himself towards the ground. “Maybe mother will let it slide.. but father on the other hand..” he cursed quietly to himself, praying mentally to every god he knew of that his father was not awake and asleep.
He stepped as carefully as his feet would allow, avoiding the carefully cared for rose bushes that surround the house. He’d move towards the middle room on the left, his room notable been moved from upstairs as he could jump off the balcony and into the ocean. He swung the room’s window up, and then climbed through the window and into the room, filled with various hints at sailing, a old wooden steering wheel on his wall, and a poor attempt at making a miniature model of flagship on his desk. “Had a hard night?” a voice called from the doorway, cursing to himself he turned to face the man with a large belly, that man being his father, Harry. “Nae.. just went for a morning walk.. father.” He’d smile weakly in reply to which Harry would shake his head “Istuion is waiting for you in the living room.” Harry would command, to which William would reply with a grunt and a kick at his desk before exiting the room.
Istuion, by all means, wasn’t a pleasant man to be with, the Elf commanded with force and spoke with a tone that converted undying displeasure, cold in tone. William hated his lessons on Elven, even the beauty of the ocean and the light sounds of it crushing upon the shore was not enough to overshadow the pain and general boring feeling of these lessons with Istuion. William wished he could switch teachers with Alice, Alice had a beautiful redheaded Elven lass for a teacher, who spoke with a singsong voice and smiled often. Harry knew that, having a beautiful elven teacher like that work with William would be a mistake..
* * *
“Tolo govano ven?” the cold ton rung out as William entered the doorway to the room, the elf with dark black hair which was greased out of his face and kept straight without a single hair out of place, it being pushed behind his ears “...I don’t know what that means” William called back to him, The elf turned to him, holding a meter stick in his left hand and glaring daggers at him with his cold, icy grey eyes. William, returning the cold glares went to sit down at the table. “Do you wish not to greet your teacher in his proper tongue?” Istuion replied, with a kind of, posion to his words “Ai!” William returned, one of the few phrases of Elven he actually understood, a cold greeting. “Argoreg Vae.” the elf returned in his cold tone “Assuming you don’t know, nor did the reading I assigned you that means “You did well” which I am now regretting telling you.” He’d step to the table, putting his hand on the table and looking down upon William “Seeming as you put not even a bit of work, nor desire into my lessons and learning a pure and clean language such as Elven, my lording Blackfire.” He’d said, in the cold low tone natural to him with hints of poison in his words, William gritted his teeth, his face red with rage. “Oh poor Willy, it seems your face is red and your teeth gritted, did I strike nerve? Cause you to go into a rage? Perhaps use your knowledge to tell me to leave your presence like a true lord? will you speak out “Ego!” which means go away, which I doubt you know.. Am I wrong?” William took a calming sigh and then stared at the elf and said; “Natye necindo..” with that the elf turned swiftly to have to strike at his hand with the wooden meter stick, to which William would cry out. “You damn humans don’t get it? Elves have lived gracefull-” Tuning the elf out, William turns to look at the open doorway to the balcony, He smirked, knowing the jump wasn’t too high and the water deep enough. As the elf turned to look out the window and speak further on with his rant about the purity of the elves, William shrugged off his coat and then raised to his feet, stepping quietly to the balcony and then dashing at the doorway and jumping, the warm air coming upwards and stroking his skin softly, as he then hit water with the cold embrace of the salty waters.
* * *
He kept low in the water, staying under as long as he could to keep out of the slight for the people surely wishing to find him and drag him back to his lessons. The water a bit cold from the morning temperature yet- this didn’t faze William as he swam to the next beach away from the home and begin his journey on land. Once upon the beach he’d start the long trek to the north side of the isle, where the port laid but to get there he had to pass through the forest, through the plantation fields and then finally sneak through the town without being caught to make it to his ‘secret’ beach. Yet, this was not his first time making the trek alone, in truth he was a hardened veteran when it came to making the trip and sneaking out of the house. He knew, based on his previous attempts how long it would take for Istuion to tell father, who would then notify the guards in the village, he knew he had exactly 30 minutes before the guards started to look for him. With that, he started his trek, crossing firstly the warm forest and then the plantation, with sugarcane lightly moving with the wind as he passed through them, pausing every now and than to take a moment to listen; to allow running into a worker. Finally he crossed the fields, and followed around the outskirts of the town, once heading the far side, two cliff sides welcomed him. He moved towards a large rock and pushing it out and revealing a hole which held rope ladder, and two stakes,nailing the ladder into place he’d drop it and then climb down towards the secret beach, unnoticing the stormclouds gathering upon him. Stepping towards the near cliff, going towards the entrance to the cave, stepping into it and sitting down and taking his length of rope out of his pocket and started to work on his knotting.
* * *
Thunder roamed heavily in the sky, roaring out and dominating over any sound trying to outdo it on the land, it rocked the wall of William’s cave hideout yet he didn’t care as he mindlessly tied the rope over and over.CRASH, RUMBLE, the rocks ontop of the cave started to swift and move vibrating the cave walls and floor.. yet William didn’t notice until it was too late. His heart beating loudly in his chest, the air seeming to be thicker and harder to breath in before, his hands shook as he reached to his waterskin on his belt, going to take a sip yet with his hands shaking like a earthquake, most of the water missed his mouth and dripped down onto his shirt. Sound seemed to almost, slow down, the sound of lighting dulling to a slow and long noise, seeming unreal and far too long, the boy stayed there for what felt like days, until the light broke through, leaving a permant scar...