The window shields of the shuttle folded in, and the glorious marakian desert spread before them. Kana and Rolt stood in awe and gazed at the shimmering orange landscape of their home world. Kana had to close her eyes to prevent tears from falling. Her heart filled with such longing that she could hardly contain it. Unfortunately, they didn’t have time to fully appreciate what they’d missed these last 53 years away. Until they made their report to the World-Bearer Cole, their long diplomatic assignment would not be officially over. So, immediately after the shuttle’s doors opened, Kana and Rolt made their way to world-bearer Cole’s throne room.
In the years they’d been away, nothing had changed. The throne room was a cylindrical space with large windows and no ceiling, which allowed sunlight to enter unobstructed. The few walls were made of Sphran, a material so bright that the room looked like it was glowing from all the reflected sunlight. Cole sat as languidly as ever upon his throne at the center of the room. He always had an ease about him that only those with true power could exude. He smiled and sat up as he saw them.
“Oh, this is perfect timing,” He said to elder Jenjik.
“No! No, no, no… Cole, they just came back….” Jenjik said, shaking his head. “I haven’t seen my daughter and son-in-law in over 50 years. At least let me give them a hug before you send them off on another mission.”
Kana and Rolt glanced at each other in confusion but said nothing until they arrived before the throne.
“Greetings to the bearer of the World-Marks,” Kana said in greeting to Cole. “I would like to say it’s wonderful to see you again after so long, but I see that you are still doing everything in your power to send my father to an early grave,” Kana said. Rolt and her gave nods of respect to Cole.
“I can assure you that regardless of anything I do, he will live much longer than me,” Cole said with a smile and returned the nod. “Welcome home.”
“I certainly hope not…I’m old enough as is,” Jenjik murmured. “Come, my daughter,” he said, enveloping Kana in a tight hug. His thin arms wrapped around her with all their strength, and Kana felt her heart wrench. They’d been joking about it, but his age really was starting to show, and the 53 years they’d been away now seemed much longer.
“It’s been too long, dad.” She hugged him tighter. He pat her back, then turned to Rolt.
“As silent as ever, Rolt. Come here!”
Rolt leaned down to hug him, then stood up straighter, lifting her father’s feet off the floor slightly, causing Kana and Cole to burst out in laughter.
“It’s good to see you, Raman Jenjik,” Rolt said as he placed her father back on the ground.
“It is good to see you as well, my dear boy,” Jenjik said and adjusted his robes. Kana and Cole laughed harder as her father’s cheeks reddened slightly.
“So, my illustrious world-bearer, we came to give our mission report, but it seems you have something else in mind. what do you want us to do?” Kana asked, returning to the subject at hand.
Cole smiled and leaned back. “Well, since hugs are now out of the way…A leviathan graule spawned in the Ralon Canyon a couple hours ago and has already attacked some of the Heart Tribe’s towns. It needs to be taken care of.” He made a slicing motion with his hand, then gave a gentle smile. “Of course, you don’t really have to go. I was already sending for Jalin.”
Kana glanced at Rolt, and he nodded. She turned back to Cole and bowed her head slightly. “No, we’d be happy to. What better way to celebrate our homecoming than with the horns of a Leviathan? Besides, we’ve been away for so long, it will be a joy to walk through the Ralon canyon.”
“Wonderful. What do you say, Rolt? Should we plan a banquet tonight in celebration of your return and slaying of the leviathan?”
“Not today,” Rolt answered with a small smile.
Cole lifted a brow. “Tomorrow then?”
“Tomorrow it is,” he said, green eyes twinkling mischievously. “Alright, have fun on your… walk.”
“Be safe,” Jenjik added as Rolt and Kana made their way out.
They arrived at the Ralon Canyon about an hour later, and Kana walked with Rolt through the ornate network of rocks twisting in impossible formations. The walls curved in fluid angles, monumental arches delicately balanced on willow structures, and the earth was a marble orange and white gem of fire beneath the desert sun. Kana breathed deeply, filling her lungs with crisp, slightly sandy air. The atmosphere radiated a warmth that seeped into her skin, and like a child seeing the world for the first time, she admired the dazzling beauty of her home world, overjoyed by the living earth responding to every breath she took.
“This,” she said, opening her arms as if to hold the landscape, “is the difference between Marak and other planets.”
“What is?” Rolt asked, although he knew the answer as well as she did.
“Marak is alive,” she said.
“The earth is alive, the air is alive, Marak breathes as I breathe. My life flows through her and her power through me. Every step solidifies my existence as one with her and all our kin.” She crouched down and touched the ground, and expanding her perception with mana, reached down to feel the deep, slow beat of the planet’s heart. She exhaled and held back joyful tears as a smile softened her face. Kana knew she was overly emotional, but they’d been away for too long and was grateful for every second she could spend on Marak. As she felt the familiar presence of her planet, though, she noticed a slight aberration, and her smile fell.
The energy resonating throughout Marak could be described as a symphony. First, there were the golda drums, with deep beats so powerful and resonating that they shook the soul. Then there were the kital drums: Light, airy and playful, drawing out the children within them all, and causing whimsical flutters of the heart. The sounds of the gwil flutes and kyrdul harps were next. They created ethereal tunes that spoke to the essence of existence. The aberration within all that was like a clash of cymbals, a rip in the skin of the drums, a twisted flute. It was the discordant note that did not belong.
She sighed and stood up with a small smile. Even with the task ahead of them and her tiredness from their long stint away from Marak, nothing was better than being back home. She would sign up to slay a thousand leviathans if it meant she wouldn’t have to go off-world for the next century.
“Those other planets are dead masses of rock and mineral,” She said in conclusion.
Rolt nodded in agreement. It was only after spending time on other planets that he fully realized the uniqueness of their home. Of course, he knew that other planets were not alive in the same way Marak was, but feeling what that meant first hand had been jarring. Looking back on the first few months away from home was almost traumatizing. Even though he could still feel Marak regardless of the distance, the lack of sentience and a greater connection on other planets made him feel vulnerable. It was like he was in an empty void where the only thing stopping him from being sucked in was a thin, feeble membrane of rock. He shuddered as he thought of the cold indifference of planets with no thoughts or care for the life inhabiting them.
If he had gone alone, he would have had to return home immediately, for fear of loosing his mind. It was only his connection with Kana that kept him grounded. He watched her as she marched forward, the confident smile permanently etched onto her face, the boldness in her gaze. Her consistency, regardless of where they were, always gave him comfort.
He ran a hand over her tightly curled bronze hair. At the slight touch, she let him in, and their minds became exposed to each other. All his feelings regarding being back home transferred to her, and he felt her emotions and thoughts as if they were his own. Further still, the feel of every strand of hair, every muscular twitch, every atom that composed their bodies, in that second, synchronized. Deeper, their Kyr-marks, the source of their powers and connection to Marak, resonated together.
“Let’s finish this quickly so we can go home,” Rolt said as they walked through another gravity-defying archway to the edge of a cliff split into two natural bridges, connecting two sides of a deep chasm.
Without a word exchanged, they simultaneously expanded the reach of their kyr-marks and mana down both paths: Dark, intricate, and powerful tattoos containing the base particle of all creation swirled hypnotically on their skin before lifting up and surging forward through molecules of air and rock down both paths. Rolt’s presence, heavy and dominating. The overwhelming pressure of a mountain compressed into the body of a man, contrasted with Kana’s light, feather presence that carried the destructive force of lightning.
Together, their marks reached into the ground, searching. Everything they touched sang to them, the earth told epics of ancestors’ Footprints, rock and mountain walls sang hymns of eons passed and eons to come, and the plants created symphonies of growth and rebirth. Once again, within the harmonizing orchestra of life, linking all Marakian souls, they touched the source of the discordant note. The presence of the aberration Kana had felt earlier grew restless, and they followed it down the left path.
“It has sensed us,” Rolt said as the energy signature of the Leviathan graule grew more restless.
Kana smirked, as they walked unhurriedly across the bridge. “Whether it senses us or not won’t change its fate one bit.”
At the end of the bridge, they stood on the edge of a crater in the ground. They floated down into it, continuing to follow the energy signature of the leviathan. They walked through a small opening in the crater wall, and once they came out on the other side, the space opened to the bright green sky. Yellow sunlight washed the area, and tall orange and cream, marbled pillars stretched upwards.
It would have been a beautiful space if not for the horrid creature that sat in the cradle of large boulders and rocks. The leviathan was a graule so rare and powerful that cultures considered its sighting as an omen of disasters and death. It had two long horns that came to pointed tips at the top of its head. Its slate-colored fleshy body was covered in a green shell from which thick, yellow, spiked tentacles stretched out. Each tentacle had enough strength and reach to swat out a low-flying shuttle from the air. The leviathan pulsed with putrid life, and from its mouth, they could see poison breath and fluids dripping out. It was a creature that, left unchecked, could cause irrecoverable destruction to any planet.
The leviathan wasted no time in attacking. Its horns charged power between the two pointed tips and fired a blast of bright red mana at them. Rolt stepped in front of Kana. His Kyr-marks flew off his body and formed a stone wall in front of them. His mana then wrapped around and reinforced it. The leviathan’s blast hit Rolt’s shield with a sound like roaring fire. The attack was sustained for almost a minute, but Rolt’s shield was unaffected. As soon as the onslaught ended, Kana flew out from behind Rolt. Already her fist was charged with superheated matter. She dodged the tentacles flying at her and sent blasts toward the underside of the leviathan’s shell. Rolt appeared at her side, and they fought seamlessly together.
Rolt skilfully wove his kyr-marks through the leviathan’s tentacles, giving the kyr the properties of Kolan-steel, and lyfol, making them near impossible to break. The leviathan’s powerful tentacles became nothing more than handholds to secure it in place. Next, Rolt targeted the horns that were charging up to release another blast of mana. His kyr-marks raised up from his palms and quickly took on the shape of a hammer. Rolt pushed himself up from the ground. Enhancing his speed and strength with mana, he swung at the horns and thoroughly crushed one while damaging the other. The leviathan released a gruntal howl as the energy it was charging up dissipated.
It turned its head and spewed poison from its mouth at Rolt, who was still in the air. Kana leaped in front of him, kyr already raised in front of her in the form of a net. As the poison touched the kyr net, Kana’s kyr thinned out to the smallest and most basic form, invisible to the naked eye. With her kyr spread within the poison breath, she began altering its molecular structure until the poison became little more than water. She transformed her kyr marks again, igniting them and evaporating the water.
While she handled the poison breath, Rolt continued to weave his marks around the leviathan, finally getting hold of its long neck and forcing it to the ground. The beast thrashed and roared to no avail. Rolt’s bonds held it firmly in place. Malice and rage burned in the leviathan’s twelve eyes like the magma oceans of Darge, bright red, unquenchable, and all-consuming. Rolt knew his hold would not be broken, but the fury in those red eyes chilled his bones.
“What a terrifying creature,” Rolt Whispered as the beast attempted to rise again, sending stray concentrated bolts of power flying from its remaining horn.
Kana laughed and waved a hand over her dress. The dust and dirt fell to the floor, leaving her clothes pristine. “Sure, it’s a bit intimidating, but I think most people would agree that you are the more terrifying creature in this situation.” She smacked his shoulder and laughed again. “let’s finish it off.”
Kana’s kyr-marks formed crimson wings behind her back, and she flew above the struggling leviathan. She stretched her hands towards the creature’s head, the marks on her body dancing rapidly, rising and falling from her skin in a rhythm only she could understand, gradually turning red, then blue, before settling on a radiant white glow that cast stark black shadows in the cavern. The creature froze, red eyes dimming. Through his marks, Rolt felt it shudder. Kana looked down at the leviathan and released her powers with a gentle exhale. Rolt watched her, captivated as he always was when she used her powers like this. The technique of using her own kyr to change the molecular structure of other things and substances was challenging to learn but not impossible. To do the same with a powerful, energy-dense creature like a leviathan, that was something only a handful of marakians could claim to have even come close to mastering.
Kana closed her eyes and exhaled slowly. Her power never surged. It simply fell like a light drizzle and gentle snow, starting at the base of her back and trickling up her spine into her fingers, then out into the world and onto the creature beneath her. The only way to destroy graule, and prevent them from regenerating, was to destroy the Arim-gland, buried deep within their bodies under layers of bone, muscle, and in some cases, like with leviathans, encased in power shields that negated most physical and psychic attacks. To Kana, such obstacles were mundane.
Rolt watched Kana’s kyr rain upon the leviathan in small white glowing drops. The creature no longer roared or thrashed. It whimpered as the bonds that held its body’s atoms together and gave it material form were dissolved. The creature disintegrated and turned to water vapor, arim-gland, and all. There was no trace that the beast had ever been there, except for the damage on the landscape from the battle, and even those would heal with a single thought from the world-bearer. The last white glow of Kana’s power faded, and she landed next to Rolt, turning her crimson wings back to marks that sunk into her skin.
She glanced at Rolt, and noticed his slightly slouched posture and his distant gaze. She had a soft smile on her face as she moved closer to him.
“Do you feel sorry for it?” Kana asked.
Rolt remained silent for a while before answering. “It had already attacked a tribe, and would have continued to be a danger… ” He shook his head, and turned away from the space where the leviathan had been bound and pulled his kyr-marks back into his skin.
“I know, but you still feel bad,” she said, capturing his large frame in her arms. “Aww, how can you be such a softy? If it were up to you, we’d have monsters being released back into the wild,” she giggled and hugged him tighter.
He smiled and returned the embrace. “Fortunately, I have you to keep me from doing something as ridiculous as that.”
“Exactly.” She pulled away and locked eyes with him. She held his face in her hands. “Now, can we finally go home?”
Rolt smiled and nodded his head. “Finally.”
“We can give Cole our report tomorrow… he’ll also pay us more for this job. I’m exhausted.” Kana laughed as they both spread wings behind their backs and flew into the sky.
Beneath them, the destruction from the battle was already beginning to repair. Toppled rock pillars floated up and stitched themselves back together seamlessly. Deep gouges in the ground closed up as if they were never there. Warm yellow sunlight filled the space, and the orange and white ground hummed with the rhythm of life.