Kato was a sort of prodigy amongst all the noble children of Curnalia. It was not that he was born with any particular talent, in fact, his birth was as mundane as they come. But the special thing about Kato, was that he had spent his whole life sheltered, instead of fighting in the wars of his father, he choose to preoccupy himself by reading tomes of wisdom, scrolls of arcane knowledge, and memorizing all manner of scholarly knowledge. This was not completely of his own doing, for his father, Baron Uter, had spent many years stockpiling gold received from taxes and tributes in order to hire a mentor for Kato.
This mentor was the locally renowned Erzi the magician who claimed decades of experience, and Kato could tell just by the look of him. The decrepit arms whose fragility was masqueraded by the dark gowns that the magician seemed to be fond of, the snow-white hair that protruded from that hood he never seemed to take off, and the beard that seemed to add to his archaic countenance. All these features supported by a constitution not too far off from a slender tree trunk.
Despite all this Erzi always had a suppressed excitement whenever he spoke to young Kato. This was one such day “My dear Kato, the time has come that I must tell you why we’ve spent all these years training.” The old man said as he stroked a beard that could graze his knees.
Kato looked up and about with a certain astonishment that can only be found in those of young age “Master is it true? I thought the reason for all these books and tomes of knowledge was to broaden my understanding of the world? Was that not reason enough?”
Erzi gently placed a frail hand on Kato’s shoulder while giving off a chuckle “To see content found in merely the search for knowledge by one as young as you? You truly are quite special my dear Kato.”
“You’ve said it yourself, master, knowledge is a journey in and of itself.” Said the boy as he scanned his surroundings
They had been waiting in a hallway for quite some time now and Kato was growing impatient. He had grown tired of gazing out the immense windows of his father’s palace to stare at the buttress designs that were etched along the castle walls. His interest waned even in the face of exotic vases and pottery imported from the lands far east of Curnalia. Not even the various tapestries of historical importance had managed to completely take Kato’s interest captive. After some more musing Kato had heard the sound of a door opening at the end of the hallway.
“My son, it is great to see you.” Kato spotted a man’s vague figure approaching him.
The man was a stereotypical portrayal of Curnalian royalty. His waistcoat a tight fit, only revealing a rotund constitution, and breeches so tight they could be confused with actual legs. His boots were black and he walked forward with a certain charm that was only found in those of noble birth. His mantle, which was of a deep velvet lined with furs from the far south encompassed his entire figure, leaving only a tiny opening to see what the noble was wearing.
It took Kato no time to instantly recognize his father, the baron “Father where have you been? I’d spent this entire morning searching the castle for you!”
The baron smiled that same smile he’d given to Kato since he was just a babe “There is no need to fear, Kato. I was only seeing your brothers off so that they may lead my troops at our border with Seiren, I was also making a few prepara-.”
“You’ve sent my brothers off to war? Why had you not told me, I would have gladly joined them.” Kato could not help but feel jealousy after hearing this news. All his life his brothers had received training in manners of war while people insulted Kato behind his back by calling him the weak scholar of the family.
“It is true that all men of Tellus must have the courage to bear arms for the emperor, but you have a special purpose that only you can perform on this day. Speaking of which, I assume you know what day it is my child?”
“How could I not remember, father? It is my birthday and you had promised a gift to trump all gifts. At least that’s what you’d claimed a few days back.
“And that is certainly what it is, Kato. What you will receive today is something that only the most gifted children of Curnalia have the honor of receiving.”
“But what greater gift could there be than the prestige that come from serving our great emperor in war?”
The baron did not respond and only gave a brief look to Erzi “The gift you will receive today will be the result of all the training we have gone through together, young master.” Said the magician
“But Erzi, I can’t understand just what sort of honor I can receive from such a gift. What worth am I to the Great House of Tellus if I am not able to venture forth and risk my life for our house?”
The magician clasped both of his ancient hands together “From this day forth Kato, you shall lay be able to safely say that you are a master of two worlds, an honor worth more than any sort of combat. And do not doubt me when I say that the adventures you will partake in from this day forth will be challenges, that upon completion, shall bring great prestige to House Tellus.”
“But what is it?”
The baron gestured towards the still-open door and said “Let us waste no further time. You’ll see for yourself just what I mean, Kato.”
The three walked past the lavish hallway into an open door jutting out from the right wall. Once he entered Kato was left awestruck. The room itself was a small thing with few things of note worth mentioning, but the decorations his father had been working on this whole morning where nothing short of intriguing. The room was pitch dark, lit up only by the faint glimmer of candles arranged in a circle at its center. The air smelled of incense but Kato could see none of the white fumes.
At the back of the room stood a crude wooden altar-like structure, yet Kato could find no holy symbols of the Exalted One. The altar had a golden candelabra set up with six bright flames lit on each of its small candles. Kato was urged into the room by his father, who then left wishing his son the best of luck. Still lost, Kato could find no words to provide a fitting reaction to this entire experience. Choosing it would be wisest to sit and wait, Kato observed as Erzi raised the dazzling candelabra from the altar. Erzi had muttered something to himself that Kato barely heard and the wizard turned to face the young noble.
“Kato, It is with great joy in my heart that I humbly ask you if you would like to join in my covenant.” Erzi said as darkness obscured his profile, save for the parts dimly illuminated by light.
Kato was even more confused than before and dozens of questions had begun to form in his mind “Covenant? What is it you speak of master?”
“Kato, there are many things you do not know of this world.” The wizard paused for a moment, raising the candelabra even higher “Things hidden behind this blurry veil many consider to be reality. The depths of this world are limitless Kato, much like your potential. Your father saw in you a boy who could become many things and would be wasted as minor nobility.”
“Master, I don’t understand…what are we doing?”
Kato, whom was not expecting his confusion to grow worse was beginning to experience just that. In the faintly lit room Kato could swear he saw something shine and form gradually beside his master. An orb of white light whose presence had grown from a faint glimmer to obvious shine. The orb floated around Erzi, and Kato couldn’t so much as make a gesture beside that of a dumbstruck expression to show how he felt.
The orb swished to and fro across the room, lighting portions of the tiny room as it did so. The thing continued in its peculiar orbit until it finally perched itself atop one of the flames of the candelabra “I never once doubted that you were special, Kato. To think you would see it so soon….these results are better than I was expecting.”
Kato managed to calm down somewhat and muster up a question “B-but just what is that thing, master?”
As Kato asked that question the orb of light melded with the fires of the candelabra, creating a strange sort of light show. The fires swirled in an alien dance along the thin golden stands for the candles and began to reach Erzi. The magician, for as frail as he was, did not so much as flinch. The fires revolved around his arms, creating tiny twisters that projected themselves forwards, up to the man’s fingertips. Upon reaching his fingertips the fires separated from Erzi and took up a life of their own as they now danced and mingled with one another in midair. Erzi watched with a smile on his face as he saw his pupil trying to process what was going on.
The living fire, now freed from its host, began to wander the room without so much as leaving a scratch. It followed much of the same movements as the original orb of light but seemed to absorb each candle it swept past into its body. With each candle the being took as its own, it altered its form into all sorts of familiar shapes. Once becoming a majestic phoenix who graciously soared alongside Kato, then becoming a flaming wolf who howled so loudly it was most likely heard from all over the castle, and even a swarm of fireflies who maneuvered around the wizard and pupil with much ease.
Finally the amorphous flames had consumed the final fire from the candle, and suddenly disappeared, leaving the room in dark. Yet just before Kato could ask if his master was all right, a massive ball of flame exploded into existence in the middle of the chamber. Kato was caught off guard by the blast and promptly fell to the floor with fear preventing him from the getting up. It was then that the ball of flame had begun to stabilize and sculpt itself into a vaguely humanoid shape.
The thing resembled a man but not just any man, a strongly built one at that. His face can only be compared to the chiseled busts of the ancient emperors of Curnalia or the handsome features of the marble sculpture of a god. Sinewy pecks where formed that ebbed and flowed much like the fires that they were made up of, these marked its chest. Its posture was not that of just any man, but the triumphant pose of triumph common of conquerors and great warriors from even the most distant shores of Altarum.
The thing floated next to Erzi with strange comfort “This my dear Kato, that is what we call an elemental over at the Guild of Scholarly Magics.”
Kato could not bring himself to peace regardless of how hard he tried “That-that thing!? What sort of witchcraft is this!?”
The old wizard gave a hearty laugh and placed his palm on the flaming thing’s equivalent to a shoulder “An elemental is no witchcraft boy! Even the most prominent theologians of the Exalted One can agree that they are one of His greatest gifts. Look at them not as demons, but as extensions of your soul!”
“Oh, Erz,. I swear that you’ve said that phrase about a million times now.” A strong, authoritative voice spoke next to Erzi
“What the hell was that!?” Kato recoiled backwards and picked up the unlit candelabra as a makeshift weapon.
“Are you sure this disciple of yours is as unique as you say he is? One usually expects a magician to get over his fear of the supernatural at a young age.” Said the thing in its heavy, masculine voice.
“You’re too cynical, Efros. Anyone whom has never seen anything like you will naturally fear for their very lives, or even worse, you might get them to start questioning the very fabric of reality! Suffice to say, this can’t possibly be the worst reaction you’ve seen to an elemental.” Said Erzi
“I only say that at the rate this kid’s going he’ll never become a magician.”
“Say what you will Efros, you st-“
“What the hell is happening!?” Kato cried out again.
“Ah-h-h, you must forgive me as Efros can prove to be quite a handful. But I digress, the point is that even you have elementals just like this living inside of your body as well. In fact every human has elementals dwelling inside of them.” Said Erzi as he removed his hood to wipe sweat from his brow
“That’s impossible! How come I haven’t seen any before this point? Are they invisible or something?”
“In a way, yes they are quite invisible. In fact, if you learn how to properly block their voice from your mind they practically do become invisible.” Kato couldn’t tell because the elemental’s facial features were made of flames, but he swore that Efros shot a mean glare at Erzi “My dear boy, what do you think our training all these years has been for? We’ve practiced for that exact same reason, to grant you the ability to see elementals. Our human eyes are so accustomed to worlds in which the only visible reality is that of concrete matter, it takes years of careful meditation to adjust the eyes to seeing living, abstract objects.”
“Observing the abstract? What are you going on about, Erzi?”
“Elementals live in between two realities, Kato. If one wishes to see them he must adjust his view to both worlds, and only then will he be able to see elementals.”
While he was wrapped up in discussion, Kato had failed to notice just how bright this so-called “Efros” had become. When it assumed human form its shine was equivalent to perhaps only to a few candles, but now he lit up the room as if it was exposed to the sun itself! Yet despite this the only thing he could see clearly was Efros’ figure. The room they were in, the blown out candles, and even the candelabra he held unto with his hands had become unnaturally hazy. It wasn’t long until the entire room had become a blurry blob of uncertainty.
Efros caught Kato squinting at his surroundings “Give it up apprentice. You won’t be able to see your world clearly until you have gone through the Awakening ceremony.”
“Awakening?” Asked Kato as he rubbed his eyes in disbelief
Efros scoffed at Erzi, to which he responded with a halfhearted shrug “You make the boy’s father pay copious amounts of gold for your tutoring, yet you never so much as taught him about Awakenings?”
Erzi raised his arms in casual resistance “Times are changing, Efros. The amount of GSM members is decreasing, along with belief in magic. Nowadays they teach kids that any talk of things like you would merely be the ramblings of a madman!”
“Just tell the poor chap before you waste five hours on some silly speech.”
Erzi turned to face Kato “Forgive me for that interruption, young master. But an Awakening is essentially the process by which one calls upon a supernatural entity. I think the faith of the Exalted One calls it……Invocation?”
“Why should we wake up supernatural beings? Aren’t they always alert, I’m quite sure that they don’t sleep.” Kato was beginning to feel comfortable among the elemental. It was a strange feeling, as though he’d been able to perceive the being his whole life, just not with his eyes.
“Yes, but most supernatural entities simply waltz about without being aware that some humans can sense their existence. However, It is possible to awaken any astral entity, you just need to find the correct ritual. Efros here is an elemental, so far the only beings whom we know how to awaken, but we’ve re-“
“Good God man! Just get to the point!” exclaimed Efros
Erzi tugged on his black robe with slight embarrassment “Ah-erm….yes. R-regardless what you’re experiencing right now is called Trancendence, which essentially means that soon you’ll be seeing the astral plane.”
“Astral plane!? How am I even going to survive there!?” Said a distressed Kato
“Calm down pupil. The mere fact that you can see me is proof that you exists in both planes to some degree, all will be fine.” As Efros spoke tiny embers fell on the floor, with bizarre gusts of wind shifting them towards Kato. The embers made contact with his leg but he felt no sting.
“Efros is right. His embers would have left your skin charred had you not been a part of the Astral Realm!” barked the wizard
Before he could respond, Kato started to lose his senses one by one. The scent of candles and incense had begun to vanish from his nostrils, not even leaving a subtle hint as to their existence. The saliva he gulped bore no flavor or feeling and his tongue had begun to feel numb. The words spoken by Erzi had begun to fade as if cast off into some dark abyss, never meant to be heard by man. Kato was losing sense of his surroundings, those around him, and even himself, even worse his vision grew dimmer.
As Kato’s vision was reduced to an empty void, he saw four faint auras, which served as the only source of light in that vast nothingness. Kato swung his arms back and forth hoping at the very least to feel air collide against his body, but to no avail. He gasped for breath, but found none of it in the empty void, yet for some reason he did not need it. It soon came to light that he walked in a place where no mere mortals are meant to trudge and the fact that he still lived was most likely the working of an unnatural entity.
Kato, now left alone and with great fear in his heart, had no other options but to approach the orbs of light which now felt like a sort of Eden to him. Kato walked onwards with every step he took, feeling like he was being drawn to the orbs themselves. Before he knew it, he found himself sprinting towards the orbs, as if some primal fear of darkness had taken hold of his body. He ran with a determination which one must see in order to believe, and while he did so the void had begun to change.
The void, once a sanctuary of darkness, had begun to twist into various shapes as Kato approached. It was as though the Exalted One himself had begun to meld the silent dimension with his very hands. Suddenly gales of wind blew on every side with such a force that it almost sent the sprinting Kato to the darkness that served as a floor. Now within only a few feet’s distance from the orbs, their glow had drastically increased in magnitude. The light they gave off did not simply illuminate the darkness, but it seemed to clash with it. That divine aura of which permeated the orbs looked as though it was forcing itself through the darkness as light and dark seeped into one another like a painting.
“Young Kato, we have been expecting your arrival.” Four voices spoke out from the nothingness in total unison
Kato searched for the source but was quick to discern that it came from the orbs “Gracious lights that are blessed by our creator, I ask how is it that I may leave this place and return to the lands of my father.” Kato had grown accustomed to strange things occurring at this point and it took little effort to calm himself down to address the voices.
“Lands of your father? What is it you speak of, is not land meant to be shared with harmony amongst men? Is not the only true owner of this world one whom is beyond our ken to discern? Do you claim to be offspring of such a being?” The orbs spoke with a gentle voice that made clear to state its authority.
“I bode no ill will, if I’ve offended you I humbly ask for your forgiveness. But what you must know is that my father is no god and my only request is that there be a way out of this void.”
“Void? What manner of perspective is it that you have, child? This realm teems with the very essence of life, should one look hard enough.”
As soon as the orbs spoke a tiny sapling emerged from the ground. It was a minute, frail little thing that could be broken with only the lightest touch, but it teemed with potential. Kato observed in a puzzled manner, much to the amusement of the orbs as they gave a strong laugh.
“Do you not see the life that has appeared before you just now? The humble sapling may not seem like much, but with cooperation from the elements it can blossom into a mighty oak.”
A drop of water spawned from nothing and fell upon one of the diminutive leaves of the young sapling. The brittle thing poised up, as if renewed with energy when the water touched it. The sapling grew a new leaf at an unnatural rate and sprouted up further. The orbs danced in their peculiar orbit around the sapling which was now a small tree.
Kato watched with wonder as the young tree matured into a powerful pine, and was humbled by the display “Is it now clear to you that you tread no manner of void?”
Kato bowed on one of his knees as he thought was the appropriate thing to do “Life teems in all places. To think I would forget something so trivial is quite shameful.”
“Do not feel shame, human. It is in your nature that your people be prone to error, but fear not for we are understanding.” The four voices all spoke in a forgiving tone, quick to understand Kato’s plight.
“Oh great beings, if I may know, who are you?”
The orbs huddled closer with occasional glimmers as if they were discussing something amongst themselves “You have proved yourself to be worthy, boy. You have shown humility and kindness, and for such things we shall reward you with our identities.”
The orbs floated towards Kato and one got much closer than the others. In almost an instance the one orb had begun to give off a much stronger radiance, which served to push back the encroaching nothingness. It had begun change into a myriad of shapes and colors, sculpting itself much in the same vein as Efros. The shapes alternated constantly until it reached a frame that looked vaguely human.
The orb had now turned into a brawny man whom was made up of stone and other things regarding earth. The rocks which made up his skin gave an aura of primal strength as they jutted out irregularly from his frame. Small flora projected itself in between the crags of his rocky form, while patches of moss could be found in almost every section of his body. His eyes were merely dark recesses that appeared as though they were only the leftovers of rock carved off by a mason, in those crevices small onyx gems were set in the place of pupils. Despite the darkness they were placed in, the gems still managed to give off an occasional shine.
“My name is Atus, I am a vanguard of Earth.” As Atus spoke, tiny pebbles and spurts of dust fell before his mouth.
Kato was awestruck at the sight but had found it would make a smarter choice to maintain his cool, yet Atus managed to notice “Please be at ease, human. We mean no harm to you, we have said before that you have proven yourself worthy of this gift. I beg of you that you stand up and witness that which you have rightfully received.”
Kato stood up agreeing “Yes, I should not have doubted you. I am so deeply sorry.”
Atus laughed, letting countless dust particles flow from him “You are forgiven, friend. It is only natural that an unexperienced human such as yourself would react in this manner in your first time seeing us. Now let me introduce you to my siblings.”
The three remaining orbs all gave off strong lights that struggled on their way through the void. The first orb was manifested into the form a beautiful and coveted woman. Her form was fully composed of water which lent her skin to be in a state of constant movement, as if she housed an ocean inside of herself. Tides clashing, whirlpools forming, and calm waters could all be spotted just by examining her skin. Then the next sibling undertook the form of the wondrous, yet ever elusive beast that is the dragon, but it was much different. Its massive form was covered with scales made of fire that pulsed and set off embers much like a furnace. The sharp eyes it bore housed pupils that when spotted seemed as though one was looking down into the magma of a volcano. Grand wings were set down upon his back, being saved for whenever the creature needed to take flight. The final orb gave birth to a grand hawk made of pure air that wrapped itself around its figure. Its very form was unstable as winds would flow in and out of the creature at any given moment, but they appeared as though they were constrained by some imaginary line preventing them from breaking form. The air was a greenish color and was in a state of constant movements, as calm breeze came from the hawk’s presence. It was as though one could see air trapped in a jar, struggling to escape.
“Young Kato, these are my brothers and sisters. We are the vanguards that dwell your body, it is our purpose and desire to serve you.” Atus said
“This is all so very beautiful, but where are we? And how is it that I may return?” Kato asked
“This is the purpose of all these events Kato. You must awaken one of us so that you may return to your world accompanied by an elemental, that is the very extent of our knowledge.”
“One of you? But you are all brothers and sisters, I wouldn’t want to separate you.”
“That is the very nature of this pact, one that we came to accept since before the time of your conception. We elementals are not affected by the common vices of jealousy or envy that plague young beings such as yourself. So do not worry thinking that we shall think less of you for leaving three of us behind.”
“Must I make this choice so hastily? I’m having a hard time just thinking about it…”
“We are a patient lot. We will wait.”
As the time passed, Kato and the various elementals engaged in a wide range of discussion. Topics that ranged from the trivialities of everyday life to the deeper nuances of philosophy and meaning. Kato told them of the land of Sulfar and its grand people and nations, which he was surprised to know that the elementals were familiar with. Apparently the elementals could see vague hints and only basic knowledge of all the things that Kato knew. Atus explained that elementals are only capable of fully comprehending knowledge once they are awakened.
He spoke with the water elemental whose calm tone reminded him of his mother, sparking a flame in his desire to return home. The fire dragon, along with its determined spirit reminded him of his brothers and their passion for fighting and chivalry. The majestic hawk’s grace and wisdom reminded him of his late sister, who would tell him stories of far off lands and the kings and knights that roamed such realms. As for Atus, the earth elemental’s silent, yet humble demeanor and his love of learning reminded Kato of himself.
“I…I think I have come to a decision.” Said Kato with traces of doubt to be found in his tone.
The elementals all peered forward with curiosity as Kato spoke “It has been a wonderful gift spending time with all of you, yet unfortunately, I can only take one of you back. I have learned a great many deal of things from you and I want you all to know that I will never forget you. That being said I would like Atus to accompany me back home.”
The elementals nodded in agreement and Atus’ eyes seemed to glimmer just a bit more “My brothers and my sisters, it has been an honor to have lived here for so long, but now I must bid farewell. I pray that you do not forget about me as I will not forget any of you either.”
The fire dragon cloaked Atus with its gargantuan wings as if saying goodbye when it could find no words to do so. The wind hawk whispered to its departing brother words most definitely wise in nature, yet words that Kato would never hear. And finally the water woman hugged her brother, and like her siblings, found no words to express her grief as her tears were hidden by the ocean she held as a body.
“Let us return.” Said a Kato who was on the brink of tears
“Yes.” Kato could detect some somberness in Atus’ tone
Atus outstretched his arms towards Kato, offering an open palm of rock that he may take. Kato shook the craggy hand, yet felt no pain as he did so, perhaps he was maturing as Erzi had once said.
Suddenly all went blank for Kato and his vision had begun to return to him. One after the other his senses came into his body just as quickly as they had faded. It brought great relief to Kato to be able to smell, feel, taste, and finally see his surroundings, he had woken in the room where the ceremony had begun.
“Kato! I was beginning to grow worried.” Said Erzi, whose white beard tickled the prone Kato’s forehead
Kato saw Efros standing behind the magician, crossing his arms with disdain “This is what happens when you waste your time on mindless discussion you fool.”
Erzi scoffed “It doesn’t matter. I’m just glad Kato’s woken.”
“Wha-what happened?” Said an even more confused Kato
“Ah! Well…..erm….can we just say this was supposed to go just a tinge smoother?”
Efros smacked his arm unto Erzi’s shoulder with what seemed the weight of an anvil “To put it simply your mentor here committed some shamefully trivial mistakes in the Awakening process. Worst of all, this could have all been avoided had he not chided your time.”
While Kato’s hearing was just fine, his eyes were still adjusting to the familiar glow of Efros’s fires. While still lying on the floor Kato remembered something and raised himself up. Atus! He looked all around in search of the kind elemental whom had taken him under his wing and provided comfort to him when he was a stranger in their world. Had it all been a dream? Was this a part of the ceremony?
He stood up and glanced around the room stopping only to ask “Was this a part of the ceremony, master? I’d been taken to this strange void were the four great elementals of which you spoke stood. They had welcomed me and taught me much of their ways, was it all real?”
Erzi had opened his mouth as if to speak, but upon noticing something he gave up on it. Erzi pointed behind Kato were there floated a white orb, much like the ones he had seen in the void.
Efros looked quite astonished, even his flames died down a bit once he saw it “So you were right after all. A young child such as himself successfully completing an awakening all on his own, this Kato of yours really is special.”
Kato held out his palms for the orb and it soared until it remained floating on the palm of his hands “This is an Awakened elemental? This looks nothing like Efros or any of the other ones I saw either.”
Erzi almost shed a tear “Ah my boy, you’ve so much to learn. You’ve received your elemental and it’s merely in its proto state. It may look like a trivial orb, but once it grows with you it shall be teeming with life.”
Kato stared bedazzled at the orb as if it was trying to communicate with him. And as he looked he remembered the words of Atus. The humble sapling may not seem like much, but with cooperation of the elements it can blossom into a mighty oak. With those words in mind he looked deep into the orb, and from the bottom of his heart he just knew that it was Atus who dwelt within it. This meant that in due time they would meet again.
Kato then gazed at his mentor, the voice of Atus forever etched into his mind “No truer words have ever been said.”