Preston awoke to the rising sun, once again coming to the grim realization that sleeping past dawn was out of the question. If not for the chirping of birds that nested in the trees or the cries and yips of animals in the distance as they searched for the morning meal, it would have been Arol kicking at him in order to rouse him from his light slumber. ‘Sleeping in’ was not a concept to which Arol, Teryn, and Kaiser were accustomed. For them once the sun was up, so were they; which coincidentally was something to which Preston was not accustomed. Even after six months, he craved the sleep that never came.
From the moment he was pulled from an already fading dream, he could hear them moving, the sounds of utensils clattering against plates and the crackle of a faint fire. In this current daze, his mind still foggy from the night before, the snaps and pops brought Preston back to a time when fires were meant for camping trips and s’mores, alcohol and laughter. Images flipped through is mind like the pages of a picture book, reminding him of the life he once led. Sleeping bags laid out in a tent, empty bottles of beer and water tossed to the side for later tending, sunscreen lathered skin glistening under a brilliant sun. So many wonderful memories drifted into the forefront of his mind but slipped away just as quickly. The canvas tents were replaced with ones of treated leather, the s’mores tossed aside for meat from the day’s hunt. The only constant was the alcohol, but in this case there was a good chance you may end up temporarily blind than drunk.
Sliding on his pants and shirt, he felt like a young child trying on his father's clothes. His apparel were hand me downs given to him by Arol. Even on him, they billowed like sails against his large frame, so Preston wearing them was almost comedic. He could have invested in better fitting clothes but that cost money and money was something that he didn't have much of. He couldn't get a steady job anywhere because staying in one place for too long would have plastered an enormous target on his back— rather it was that his face was plastered everywhere; as was Arol, Teryn, and Kaiser. From personal experience, if given the options of dead or alive, many preferred the dead option. After all the dead didn’t cause the captors any trouble, except perhaps for the smell.
Crawling out of his tent, Preston saw his traveling companions preparing for yet another day of walking through woods and plains, far away from the well-traveled roads. For them, the roads were far too treacherous. After their last incursion with the Lord of Alerby, a bounty had placed for each of them, Preston's being the largest; no doubt out of personal spite. While they were responsible for freeing General Taggart from his prison cell so that he may continue his war against the Lord’s oppression against all of Alerby, Preston was the one that gained the attention of the Lord’s daughter. While he may have run into his fair share of protective parents, Lord Karol Alerby certainly set the bar for crazy.
With such large bounties on them, everyone was eager to speak to the Royal Guard if it meant collecting their fee, even more if it led to an arrest. Trust was not something that came easy to their group. So in spite of any tension that may grow between them, they had to stay together—at least until they were able to leave the continent. Lord Karol had no authority outside of the Allurian lands. So, once they were on the high seas and out of his contingent territories, they would be safe.
"Good morning, master Preston." Kaiser said with a light nod. The oldest of the group, his wrinkles and grey hairs spoke only of strength and wisdom. Like Preston he was slender, lacking much of the muscle mass that Arol, or even Teryn, possessed.
“Hey Kaiser,” Preston managed as a yawn escaped his lips. Throwing his arms outward, he stretched wide and loudly. It felt good to work out the tightness in his body as the dirt was an unforgiving bed.
“Limber up, pup, we have a long road ahead of us.” Arol teased as he took an enormous bite off the haunch of their morning meal that was no doubt caught while Preston slept.
Arol was a fierce warrior, strong and surprisingly agile. His short hair disallowed any enemies from grabbing him and while it wasn't pretty, it certainly was functional. In that same regard, as a warrior he didn't wear much armor. Claiming it slowed him down, he chose to wear a leather tunic with leather bracers and leg guards. Of course while it may have protected him from light slashing attacks, it did little else. When Preston asked about such things, Arol simply told him that he relied on his speed and reflexes to keep him safe.
“Leave him be, idiot.” Teryn said, shooting Arol a light grimace before granting Preston a smile, albeit a small one.
Teryn, an equally capable fighter to Arol, was slender and quick. Arol was fast but she was even faster. Moving like a dancer, she could slip in and out of combat, stabbing, slicing, dodging at will. Like living water, she was the epitome of fluidity, moving only in ways that seemed possible in movies. Preston often found himself watching her walk around the camp, flitting here and there, but never making a sound.
She was an extraordinary woman, one he admired greatly. He knew his fair share of girls, but none of them held a torch to Teryn. She was fierce, passionate, but also collected. It was more than just that she was beautiful, she was real. The fake, plastic replicas he knew back home, had dated, were merely architypes of spoiled children. Teryn possessed depth and heart. There was so much more to her than he knew and he found he wanted to know all he could. More than once there was the desire to run his fingers across her ebony skin but never dared attempt it, especially without expressed permission. The last man that tried it, ended up with a hole in his neck.
“That’s enough, the both of you.” Kaiser said, still sitting in his meditative position, holding his tea.
Unlike Arol and Teryn, Kaiser wore no armor, claiming that the added weight would only distract and inhibit his ability to perform his trade. Arol and Teryn were strong fighters but Kaiser was different. He was neither a fighter nor thief. He was a magician— just like Preston. At first when the old man told him this, he was in utter disbelief. The world he came from didn’t have magic, or at least it wasn’t tamed like it was on Terra. However after Kaiser showed him what he was capable of that particular glass had been shattered.
Magic was not rare. Many in the country of Allura knew basic charms and spells to aid them in one way or another. Perhaps the most common type was a luck charm that, in truth, most people used. The irony of this was that if two people cast luck charms, perhaps during a card game or race, the magic would essentially cancel each other out. Everyone was aware of this but it would never keep them from trying.
Beyond that there were other magics that more practiced users performed such as light elemental conjuration magic. Starting a fire, divining water, aiding in crop growth were the most common, but even experienced users had difficulty controlling it. The term ‘light’ did not mean magic was easy, it just meant that one was not creating a water golem or controlling an inferno. Even so, if one was not careful with even the lighter spells, it could lead to complete disaster or death.
While magic was not rare, a true magician was. Those called Magician were experts at its use, treating it like an extension of who they were and not simply a learned skill. There were schools that some may attend in order to either awaken or control their power, and even those people may fail entirely. Only the truly gifted could continue their schooling and learn a specific class of magic: Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Light, Dark and Spirit. It was common practice for the caster to focus solely on one class. This concentration allowed for the mastery of that class so the user could become proficient so as not to pose a risk to themselves or anyone around them. A magician could attempt to master two or more classes but this was extremely dangerous and often led to dismemberment or death.
The most powerful elemental magic revolved around manipulation: such as Pyromancy, Hydromancy, and Aeromancy. This ability to not only conjure but control the elements took considerable concentration. So as a result many often chose learn conjuration versus manipulation. Simply creating fires and water was far easier than controlling them. Also an added benefit to conjuration was the skill in imbuing material with elemental magic. A sword that burned hot but never melted or a hammer that froze anything it struck were commodities that many warriors desired, and would pay a hefty sum for. It was a lucrative career and many blacksmiths often employed a spellcaster or two, and the stronger the magician, the stronger the enhancement. It was a lucrative career.
Kaiser was a Light Magician. Healing spells and defensive spells were his forte but he had a few offensive spells in his arsenal, burning light his favorite. Preferring to defend than fight, he was strong support. Arol and Teryn were the fighters in the group and the trio did well. Though they didn't always mesh well in the early days of their travels, they learned to accept each other as a compatriot, and perhaps as a friend. Of course their entire world changed when Preston entered their lives.
"What's for breakfast?" Preston asked as he approached the campfire. Teryn rolled her eyes but continued to offer him that same warm smile. Everyone knew she saw him as weak, unskilled, but understood that his power was unrivaled by anyone they had ever come across. He was unskilled but with Kaiser’s help, he could reign in that control and become a powerful magician. Until then, she would continue to call him child, despite the fact he was eighteen and she was seventeen.
"Armored Boar." Arol said with a mouthful of meat. He chewed with fervor, like a dog devouring its breakfast.
"A youngling." Teryn added, deflating Arol’s ego slightly. He paused, giving her a sideways glare. "What? He would have figured it out on his own given the size of it." Arol grunted knowing she was correct but not wanting to give her the satisfaction.
"Nice." Preston said approaching the fire where the boar roasted from its spit. Older than a babe, the youngling was about the size of the standard pigs that Preston had seen back home. An adult Armored Boar typically was about the side of an elephant. Its massive tusks were its main offense while its thick, plate-like flesh provide ample defense. When hunting Armored Boars, the hunter must focus on the points of weakness: narrow spaces between the plates and it underbelly.
"How did you sleep, young master?" Kaiser asked, sipping his tea.
"Alright," He said, "I still miss my bed though." Teryn rolled her eyes again. It was comments like those that made her call him a child. She was a fighter, a thief from Shoutou Territory and he was a spoiled, rich kid from Orange County. Two very different worlds, but even so he saw those little glimpses from her that told him he still had a chance. “So when do head out?”
"Yes, how much further east do we have to go, old man?" Arol asked, ripping another hunk of meat from the leg. Teryn, a bit more sophisticated, took smaller bites off a haunch and never spoke with her mouth full.
"East? I thought we were headed for Tams?" Teryn asked, Arol’s comment taking her by surprise. “Tams is in the west. As is the ship to take us out of this territory, remember?" She looked at all of them but no one dared meet her gaze. Kaiser took a thoughtful sip of his tea before speaking while Preston cut a hunk of meat off with his knife, bemused. He knew this was not going to end well. In fact he warned them about it but they insisted on keeping it a secret.
"Well there is something a bit more pressing in the town of Lidor that warrants our attention." Kaiser told her.
Teryn froze as if struck. Slowly turning her head to Arol she asked, "What?" Arol took another bite as he avoided eye contact.
“I told you she shouldn’t be happy.” Preston said. Taking a cup of water, he sat next to Kaiser to enjoy his breakfast. "You guys may as well tell her. She's going to find out sooner or later. Better pull off the Band-Aid as fast as you can. Of course in this case that particular Band-Aid can kick your asses."
After a brief, yet heavy silence, Kaiser finally spoke up, “Teryn, my dear, do you remember Dylon?" Teryn's eyes narrowed at the name, muscles in her forearms twitching.
“Dylon?” Teryn managed but quickly screaming, “Dylon!”
"Forget his name already? “ Arol teased, “You're memory is as sharp..." His words were cut short as Teryn jumped to her feet. Her plate toppled to the dirt, the haunch falling into the fire and lost to her.
"Don't you dare, patronize me!" Teryn cried. Snapping her head toward Kaiser, she added, "What are you planning, old man? Have you and this barbarian been plotting behind my back?" Teryn pointed an accusing finger at Arol who was still pulling meat from the boar leg.
Kaiser cast Preston a silent plea. Preston didn’t bother meet his gaze as he already knew what the old man wanted. As much as Teryn insulted him and cut him down, Preston and she had a connection. They all saw it, perhaps save for Teryn. Kaiser suspected that it was perhaps it was their age. Arol suspected the boy simply wished to lay with her. Regardless of the reason, they knew Preston could speak to her in a way that she would listen. However, connection or not, with the topic of Dylon, there was no telling what she would do.
"Teryn, you know that we can't leave Dylon unchecked." Preston said. His tone was calm, knowing that shouting would only exacerbate the situation. They needed her level or, at the very least, calm. "If he gets backed into a corner, he will hurt a lot of people. You know this. He’s not like you. He doesn't care about who he hurts."
"And I do?" She shouted but there was obvious desperation in her voice. Preston sighed setting down his plate as he rose to his feet. Keeping his distance was important when Teryn was in a bad mood. She was not a killer but it didn't mean she wouldn't attack you if you got too close. Teryn didn't lash out at random. Rather she was merely a passionate person and that passion often lent itself to violence. Some had difficulty distinguishing the two, but Preston could. He knew this and trusted her with his life.
"Yes, you do." Preston said. "You don't kill out of desire but out of necessity. The same goes with fighting. You fight because you have to. Yes, you are a thief but you didn't have much choice. If I were poor and the only way to live was to steal, I would have as well."
In truth he never knew poverty. Having grown up with money and privilege, he was spoiled, never having to work a day in his life. Maids cleaned up after his messes and chefs cooked his meals. He even had a personal tailor and never wore anything without a triple digits price tag, at minimum. That life was far removed from sleeping on the dirt in a tent, eating wild game. Teryn knew this and his comment only seemed to cause her rage to flare.
"Don't you compare your life with mine, squim." Teryn barked. A sigh escaped Preston’s lips as the word squim slapped him across the face. It took him several days to learn what it meant, Arol having a great laugh at his expense whenever Preston was called it. Though there was no real word in his vocabulary for it, Preston got the gist of it. A squim was the crude term for the reproductive fluids, specifically of a male Dire Hound. She only really called him that when she was fuming and while he was certain there was no real malice behind it, it didn’t make him feel any better.
"I'm not comparing." Preston said, pushing past the insult. "I am simply saying that you are a good person who sometimes has to do bad things. We all have done things we aren't proud of."
"Not I!" Arol cried raising the meatless bone into the air.
"Please mind yourself, Arol." Kaiser moaned. Teryn, still raging, shot the warrior a spiteful glance.
"If you speak again, barbarian, I swear to the Goddess Tali that I will cut out your tongue." As she spoke, Teryn removed a short, yet sharp blade from its sheath. Arol, not willing to be denied a challenge, jumped to his feet. Casting the bone aside, the warrior swooped down to the dirt picking up the cleaver he used cut meat from the boar.
"I accept your challenge!" Arol screamed with relish.
With that they both lunged at one another, Teryn unleashing a feral scream while Arol laughed playfully. They moved, their speed incredible as they closed the distance between one another in the span of a breath. Arol brought the clever in for a backward slash while Teryn thrust her knife forward. However, their sparring match, as quickly as it started, came to a sudden halt as they froze in place. Body's stiffening, muscles tensing, their movements were not sluggish or slowed, simply stopped altogether. Like statues, Arol and Teryn were still, locked in a single moment. Unable to move a single muscle, all either could do was move their eyes, breath and listen.
Preston sighed as he approached them, hoping he wouldn’t have to do this again. He hated using magic against his own people but there was no telling what Teryn would do. As he approached they saw that clutched in his hand was a staff. Unlike before, this time the staff appeared to be made of dirt but was solid. The body was smooth, the top ending at a point with a jewel nestled into a recessed space.
"Alright, I am officially putting you two into time out." He announced. While he approached, Kaiser admired the boy’s handiwork, his fastest conjuration yet.
Creating a staff rather than carrying one was not Kaiser's idea. It was actually Preston's. Wands and Staves were not necessary for casting magic. Spells could be cast without use of such devices, but without complete concentration, they could go awry. Casting tools allowed the magician to focus their power and mind through the item, acting as a conduit which resulted in more focused and often more powerful spells. Creating a conduit from elemental materials was a skill that even the most advanced magicians struggled to master, but Preston could do so with the slightest of thought. This time he simply stamped his foot and it exploded up from the ground like a geyser of dirt. In the past he had created staves from fire, water, earth and even light. It never ceased to amaze him that a boy who was foreign to their land, a complete novice to magic, was becoming a master of all elements. There was no doubt in his mind that Preston Campbell would become the most power Spectrum magician in all of Terra; rather the most powerful Chaos Mage in all the land.
"Now, I am going to let you go, but if you try to kill each other again, I’ll freeze you. Alright?" He said. Arol and Teryn said nothing, but this was solely because they were unable to. With a simple wave, the spell was broken and the two stumbled forward. As if in silent agreement, the duo glared at Preston who said nothing as he tossed his staff aside like a piece of unwanted trash. The moment it left his hand, the staff burst into dirt and rock, the fragments raining down into the grass.
"How dare you use your magic against your allies?" Arol bellowed.
"Do not blame the boy." Kaiser said, raising a placating hand. "You two were behaving as babes; squabbling and crying over a toy. It is unbecoming of two fine warriors." The insult struck the two and at once their aggressive posture slackened.
Without a word, Arol threw the cleaver down into a log, the blade lodging into the trunk with a hearty chop. Teryn sheathed her blade and sat as far away from Arol and Preston as possible. Preston knew he would have to work hard to get back into her good graces once more. It wasn’t the first time he had to use magic against her and most likely it wouldn’t be the last. Trust building was something that would take him awhile, but he was confident he could make up that lost ground.
"Now, Teryn," Kaiser said, returning to the heart of the matter, "We did not consult you because of your feelings regarding Dylon and your past with him." Once more her anger flared as she jumped to her feet.
"He betrayed me and left me for dead!" She cried.
"Which is the reason why we need to stop him." Kaiser told her. "He is a..." Pausing he turned to Preston, "What was the word you used?"
"Psychopath." Preston said nonchalantly, taking up his plate once more to finish his breakfast. It was a word he was familiar with because looking back at his life before, he was friends with quite a few. Teryn took her seat again, her mood growing sullen.
“You trusted him and he betrayed that trust.” Kaiser told her, “You are heavily invested in him and so we were unsure of how you would react if we broached this particular subject.”
"Of course I am invested in him, he… I… I thought he loved me." As she spoke her voice fell to a light whisper, her memories flooding through the dam that she had struggled to erect over the years. It was shoddy work though as thoughts of him slipped through the cracks with ease. Looking away, she did her best to hide the tears that slid down her cheeks.
Preston set his plate back down, his appetite almost completely gone. Seeing Teryn so upset stole that need and replaced it with the desire to ease the growing pain that he was witness to. It blossomed so quickly that there is almost no way to stop it. Preston abandoned his meal to help his friend, a woman he cared greatly for. Though only knowing her for less than a year, she had saved his life in more ways than he could have thought possible. Kneeling down in front of her, their eyes met and he saw that the fury was gone, extinguished by her memories of Dylon. Once again he saw the woman he had fallen in love with and never more did he wish to kiss those tear streaked cheeks, her quivering lips. Beneath the fire and anger, was the gentle soul that he knew existed. That was the woman that kept her from becoming another Dylon.
"People like him are able to pretend in such a way that you think they are telling the truth. The thing is though, they can't feel the same way you do. Psychopaths can lie so well because they don't care. As long it helps them, they will do whatever they want with total disregard of anyone else." Preston explained.
Teryn looked away, considering his words for a moment. The truth in them, the honesty was something she could sense. This stranger knew more about a man he’s never met than she knew when they were together which seemed impossible. They had been allies and lovers, sharing both spoils of victory and each other’s bed for years. She was willing to kill for him and she thought he felt the same. It wasn’t until a job went south and he turned on her that she understood she was wrong. It wasn’t until after she lost their child because of him, she knew the kind of monster he was. The scar had faded but it would always be there, reminding her of what she had and what she lost.
"How do you know so much about this… monster you have never met?" She asked.
It took him a long moment to respond to this even though the moment she asked he knew the answer. Preston knew about this type of person because he had been one. Perhaps he wasn't a true monster, not going as far as Dylon or even some of those he called friend back home. He understood empathy and the difference between right and wrong, but his lifestyle and upbringing had shrouded him in total apathy. If he wanted something he got it. Every whim was met by parents who were either absent or too busy to raise their child. If he wanted someone, he took them; one way or another.
He was not as innocent as his friends assumed. While he was neither a thief nor a mercenary, his hands were not clean. One of his worst crime involved a girl who was overweight. Looking back she was actually quite pretty and only maybe slightly over the average, but at the time he didn't care. His friends hated her, so he did as well. They berated her at every chance and in any way they could. They anonymously posted insults on any social media outlet they could think of so the positive messages she received from friends were drowned out by the hate they spewed. In the end, the girl, Samantha Oswald, took her life.
Because they had posted anonymously, creating fake accounts with fake names while using public internet, there was little the police could do. Even if they were able to find and prosecute them, their parents were far more affluent and could afford to brush any bad press under the rug. Preston knew his actions were directly connected to what happened but they simply didn’t care, so he couldn’t either. In fact he and his friends were thrilled at the notion. So much so that they even considered doing something like it again. It was a rush, a high that they wanted to keep riding. He had even found their next victim the day before he found himself in Allura and far away from the life he knew.
Preston knew he was far from innocent and didn’t deserve the kindness of Kaiser, Arol, or Teryn, but they offered him sanctuary and safety. They took him in when they could have easily left him for dead, to be sold into slavery, or worse. As a stranger to their land, they gave him food and shelter, clothing and protection. They saved him. She saved him. Now, when he awoke from a dream, rather a memory, he had to choke back his sobs. He understood everything that he had done and needed to make things right. He needed to earn back his soul.
"Dylon and I aren't that different." Preston finally admitted. Seeing that Teryn wanted to speak up against this, he continued, "I know him because I used to be like him. I will be more than happy to tell you about my sins if it means you no longer feeling angry or guilty. We all have done things we are not proud of. I think if I were still home I would very likely be dead or in prison. But… I’m here now. I came here and you changed me." There was a labored pause as the two shared a silent moment. Unsure of what she may think or say to this, he continued, "And Arol and Kaiser. You guys, you saved me in ways I can’t begin to repay. So believe me when I say that we have to stop Dylon from hurting anyone else, because he will. I know I would."
"He is a plague on this world and must be eradicated." Kaiser said. Both looked back at him but neither spoke for they knew he was right. Dylon had to be put down.
Breakfast continued once an apology was exchanged between Teryn and Arol. The words "I'm sorry" were never uttered but they offered one another a consoling nod that expressed the feelings. Over the next hour as they finished their meal and packed up camp, Preston decided that his one "item to discuss for the day" was a car. He really wanted to stun them with how far his own technology has come in terms of transportation. He decided that the internet and computers may still be too advanced for that morning and to wait until he could find some good examples to compare it to so they could fully understand.
Ever since that portal opened and he was pulled into this world, he was different. The compassion and devotion that he expressed toward his friends and those they helped, was something that no drug could rival. True emotion, true love was unlike anything he ever knew. It was because of this that he was quietly considering never returning home. He wondered if in the end, if they finally found a way to return him to his world, would he even want to go? Though he could not say for sure, he knew that only time would tell.