A sci-fi fantasy, shonen inspired, serial story by Tyler Golec
Zac was breathing heavily as he climbed up the steep tree-lined cliff. Nate was below him breathing equally heavily. The cave wouldn’t be visible to those who didn’t know about it, but Zac could see its mouth in the shadow of a crevice where a tree grew. Zac and Nate had found it two and a half years ago. They still used the same anchors they had drilled in back then. They had shown several of their friends who had helped them discover what secrets were in the cave’s depths.
Getting up the last few feet of the climb, he clipped their rope into the final anchor on the tall slender crack of the cave’s mouth. He lifted himself up over the tree and slipped into the cave. Nate was right behind him tube light in hand.
Zac quickly found the box on the ground with a switch on it. The Box was a battery that was connected to a small solar panel they had set up on top of one of the trees at the point the trees stopped growing on the cliff. Flicking the switch, the cave lit up with lights they had set up throughout much of the main caverns and tunnel. At least until they ran out of lamps and cables.
“Where did you find those markings?” Zac asked. Nate had dragged him away from their small hometown of Nanpier, on Nuhbri 2. The Nuhbri system was home to five worlds. With Nubri 2 and 3 capable of supporting life.
“In that lower tunnel, we just discovered. Nick and I were clearing it when we found the wall with the symbols.”
They walked down the main cavern until it opened up into a much larger chamber with a shallow pool of clear water in the middle, it was fed by a constant trickle down the southern wall. The pool then drained through a small crack that led below. They continued down the tunnels that Zac was already familiar with, but on the northern wall, they found an opening that had been covered by the deep roots of the trees growing on the cliff.
Zac turned his tube light on as he quickly ducked under the dripping water, waiting for Nate to take the lead he looked at the progress they had made at clearing it. Most of the roots had been cut away and Zac could see a narrow path leading deeper into the cliffside.
“It’s really not that far before the wall with the symbols.” Nate stepped passed Zac and through the narrow path. Zac followed. Soon enough, the tunnel ended after bending and twisting consistently downwards as water seeped through cracks in the ceiling. The wall at the end was perfectly smooth except for the symbols inscribed on it.
“See, don’t they look a lot like the symbols on your Likari?” His Likari was a trinket that his father had found for him as a child. It was a wooden sword with a hilt that was formed by several strips of dark-colored wood being woven together. They originate from the dark disc-like pummel and then up and around each other until they split to form the guard. The blade was a simple shaft of white wood, sanded to resemble a blade. On the pummel, white symbols had been carved.
Reaching into his bag, Zac pulled out his Likari and held it next to the wall. A variety of symbols covered most of the wall but two particularly large symbols stood out. Zac flipped the Likari over and over again in his hand as he compared them.
“Similar… these two are exactly the same as the ones on it,” Zac said, confirming Nate’s suspicion.
“Really, what are the chances of that?”
“I don’t know,” Zac rubbed his hand against the wall while he held his tube light and Likari in his left hand. Between the two symbols, he felt mud filling something. Reaching in he dug out the mud, clearing a vertical slit that separated the symbols. At the center of the slit was a thinner deeper crevice. Nate had also lifted his tube light to add illumination to the wall. Zac held his Likari in his right hand. They were both looking at it carefully.
“Do you think?” Nate asked.
The line in the wall was the same length as the guard and there were two quarter-inch depressions that would line up with the ends of the guard. The slender central crevice was deep. Perhaps it was deep enough for the blade to fit.
“Maybe,” Zac pushed the Likari into the crevice. It fits perfectly. Zac felt it suctioned tightly in. It suddenly felt warm in his hands. The center of the guard, where it was stuck into the wall, gave off a faint white glow.
Nate took a step back. A white light extended from either side of the guard to the floor and ceiling. Zac felt strange and oddly warm as the ground shuttered and the wall split between the lines. The Likari was freed and back to normal as the wall parted. Lifting up their tube lights they lit up the room beyond.
Nate whistled in amazement. The room was a long hallway carved into the stone. It was free of erosion that was clear throughout the rest of the cave.
“This is something,” Nate said.
Zach, wide-eyed, started to walk down the hallway. At shoulder level running down the hallway were engravings in white in the same style as the symbols on the door. The hallway ended in three steps up to a massive door that appeared to be made out of wood.
“There aren’t any symbols on this,” Zac spoke half to himself.
Nate knocked on it, “It’s actually made of wood how did it not rot down here?” he then pushed on the door. It made a groaning noise but would not open. “Humph,” Nate flexed his right and his plasma-edged longsword, Tyyow, appeared. He was attuned to it, a technique Nuhbrians were famous for. Zac hadn’t attuned a weapon, yet as of today, he was old enough.
Lifting the weapon, Nate prepared to swing. The vertical strike bounced hard off the door. Nate dropped Tyyow as it vibrated in his hands. The blade sank half its length into the stone floor.
“You ok?” Zac asked.
Nate was clutching his hands together. “Yeah, whatever that door is, it isn’t wood.”
Zac searched the door for any imperfections and couldn’t find anything. He felt his pulse quicken suddenly and a shiver went up his spine. He turned around quickly to Nate staring at him confused.
“Did you see something?”
“No, I… uh… never mind,” the feeling had gone. Zac scratched the back of his neck with the hand holding his Likari feeling uneasy, “I think we should head back. We can come back later, and we’ve been gone a while,”
“Yeah, I agree. We can bring more people with us so we can more thoroughly search this place.”
Zac nodded, happy his friend had found a reason other than being just plain uneasy. “It’s going to be close to noon by the time we get back.”
Nate nodded. They began to make their way out of the cave. Zac had felt his heart quicken and then the chill several more times before they reached the exit.
Once in the open, free of the darkness of the cave, the sensation stopped occurring. However, they still made the long descent rather hastily.
“That was amazing, to imagine we’ve been searching that place for over two years and we just found more!” Zac spoke when Nate reached him on the ground. Zac gasped as Nate slapped down hard onto Zach’s shoulder. “Ow!’
“Happy Seventeenth birthday, sixteen more those! We have a party to get to!” Nate took off running as Zac swore at him. They ran down the slope laughing stopping only when they reached the first wooden platform.
Zach’s mouth went wide when he saw his father standing at the edge of the platform. “Dad!” Zac watched his father’s stern face loosen into a grin when he ran up to him.
“Figured I’d find you here, still climbing the cliffs I see.”
“Did you put Nate up to dragging me up the cliffs this morning? Why are you here?” Zac asked.
“Thought I might see you before your party,” Zach’s father said.
“Your Grandmother told me,”
“Grandma knows? There’s a party?” Zac turned towards Nate who shrugged.
Zach’s father laughed. “She told me to tell you to get cleaned up before you head down there, and something about, what was her name?”
Nate Laughed, “Michelle, that’s her name.”
Zac struggled to keep his face from going red as he stepped past everyone. “Well, I’m heading home now.”
“See you later, birthday boy!” Nate took off down the walkway heading back to his place.
After several moments of walking in silence, Zac spoke to his father, “Where did you find the Likari Blade?”
“That’s a strange question; I didn’t even know you still had that,”
Zac reached into his large bag and pulled it out. “I’m just curious,”
“Off a merchant in Vitadomus, why?”
“For how much?”
His father laughed. “Are you looking to sell my gift? I didn’t pay much for it. He just told me a ridiculous story that I thought was interesting, so I grabbed it,”
“Oh, did he say where he had gotten it?”
“No, he didn’t,”
“Why all the questions about the thing?”
They walked the rest of the way in silence until they reached his Grandmother’s house. His Grandmother greeted him with the normal nagging as he evaded her in order to quickly clean up and change. Hastily he said his goodbyes escaping his father and Grandmother. Nate was waiting for Zach.
“We are going to the cabin!” The cabin was an old shack that the local youths of Nanpier maintained so they could have a place and a beachfront to themselves. Their coastal village sat on the southern end of a mountainous peninsula. Nanhai was tropical, it was summer nearly all year round.
Zac was surprised to see the cabin so well decorated. His friends and others his age were all there.
“Happy birthday Zach!”
“You’re late!” the last voice belonged to Michelle. She and her friends were coming back to the hut from the water. Her hair was red today. In a color like a sunset.
“We aren’t that late,” Nate said. “Hey, you two catch up. I forgot something.”
Zac sighed. Nate was as subtle as a combustion engine.
“You guys climbed the cliffs this morning?” Michelle asked.
“Yeah,” Zac said. “We found a new part of the cave.”
“I haven’t been up there in months,” She said as they started for the hut.
“I don’t know how you make that climb,” Alaina, Michelle’s closest friend, added. “You guys found that cave right below the tree line, right?”
“Yeah, not soo far below,” Zac said.
“That’s halfway up the cliffs,” Alaina said. The sheer cliff line and steep rise into the mountains to the north of Nanpier made the settlement quite hard to reach without the use of aircraft. The Academy was atop the cliffs before the mountains. It also served as a military base.
“They have the climb quite well marked and there are plenty of hooks. If you take your time, you could make it,” Michelle said.
“Maybe.” Alaina didn’t look convinced. They stepped into the hut, “Well, I’m going to grab a refreshment, you two?”
“I’ll take one,” Michelle said.
“I’m fine,” Zac said.
“Not thirsty after climbing?” Michelle asked as her friend left them alone.
“Not really,” Zac said. “Why are there so many people here?”
“Free drinks,” Michelle said with a smile.
“Oh,” Zac laughed, “that makes more sense.”
“And, some of us want to celebrate your birthday!” Her smile was earnest spreading to her dark brown eyes.
“Thanks…” Zac felt his heartbeat quicken and the chill returned to Zach’s spine.
“Are you okay?”
Zac found himself suddenly gripping something, looking down he saw his Likari in his hand. He was confused, I left that at home.
“I think so,” Zac said.
“Why do you have that thing with you?” Michelle was on her feet as well.
“I don’t know… I didn’t bring it with me…” The chill had suddenly disappeared. He reflexively twirled the Likari in his hand.
“You summoned it.” Zac turned to who had spoken. Andre, an acquaintance from school, with several of his friends, was speaking, “You’re attuned to that thing.” He was laughing.
“I never attuned myself to it.”
“Well, you must have. I just watched you summon it,” His friends were joining him in on his fun.
“That useless piece of wood!” A friend chimed in.
“You were always kind of different.”
“I thought with your high scores you would attune yourself to something halfway legitimate,” Andre taunted.
Zac recalled those weapons and martial arts classes he had with Andre. Nuhbrian was a military system. 90% of those born here grew up to fight. He recalled beating Andre quite soundly on multiple occasions. Andre had a tendency to overextend himself when striking. It ruined his balance.
“Andre, you can leave, this isn’t your party,” Michelle said standing next to Zach.
“I never did the attunement ceremony. I have no idea how I would have attuned to this.”
“Then how did you call it? Don’t kid me, you didn’t just accidentally summon a weapon. I bet your father worked something out with the academy to train you before your birthday.”
“What are you talking about? My father has just come back for the first time in six months,”
“Well, six months is long enough to learn how to attune-”
Michelle interrupted Andre, “What are you doing, Andre?”
“Wow, no patience, I think I’m going to challenge Zac here to an Attuned Match,”
Zac tried to hide his sharp inhale, “Why? What is it you want?” An Attuned Match is a duel between two people. Normally they are over something that the challenger wants from the challenged individual. The challenger must also offer something of equal value for the duel to be legitimized. They were both seventeen. Andre could challenge Zach.
“How about a dance with your girl?” Andre crookedly smiled at Zach.
“What?” asked Zach. “What are you talking about?”
“You could request a service from Zach, but not another person. I wouldn’t even be allowed to sign off on that,” Michele said flatly to Andre. “Everyone knows that.”
People around them began laughing.
Zac hadn’t realized how much attention their confrontation had gathered.
“Oh, sorry for not memorizing the rules,” Andre sneered at Michelle. “I can ask for your attunement weapon, and I’ll offer up mine! I know that little piece of trash is so important to you.”
“I accept,” Zac said. He regarded his little wooden sword curiously. He really had summoned it. He needed to accept this match.
“Good, we’ll fight on the beach!”
Andre and Zac left the hut side by side with a crowd of people behind them. The beach was fairly packed. With the tides coming in, this whole area would be underwater in an hour. Zac tried to loosen himself up, his arms had cramped slightly. Looking at the Likari he tried to figure out how he could possibly use it as a weapon. He knew it had to be something. It had opened that door in the cave. He remembered his father’s stories saying it could transform into a real sword. That it was an ancient weapon.
How he was going to make that happen? He had no idea. Madeline, a girl of nineteen who had been training at the academy, like Nate, stepped forward holding a small green rod. The crowd had made a circle around Andrea and Zac with Madeline in the middle of them.
When she was sure all attention was on her she spoke. “These two will fight in an Attuned Match where they will use only weapons attuned to themselves,” She turned her attention to Andrea and Zac looking at them in turn. “Call your weapons, if you have not already,”
Andrea smiled opening then closing his right hand. Light shimmered inside his fist for a second before a large half-moon axeblade formed in his hand. Zac almost moaned. The axeblade had a long handle and blade so broad a human couldn’t lift it without the hydrium motors with it.
The handle was meant to be used by two hands. Zac could see a trigger on the handle and vents along the blade. Its hydrium motor could be cranked up by pulling the trigger greatly increasing the speed of the weapon’s swing.
He was safe from lethal harm in an Attuned Match, but he still didn’t want to get hit by that thing.
“I will now create the weapon shield,” Madeline spoke activating the rod. A dim glow went up along Andrea’s axe-sword, that dim glow was a barrier that would prevent his weapon from causing fatal damage. The same glow surrounded Zach’s Likari as though the wooden blade could actually do lethal damage to Andre.
“And now the dome.” Madeline stuck the rod into the ground so that just about an inch of it stuck out. She pushed a button on the side before she ran out of the area around Andre and Zach. A cylinder of light, about thirty feet in diameter, began to raise off the ground around the Two of them. At about ten feet into the air, it began to turn inwards and formed a dome of pale light that the onlookers could see through. They would not be able to pass through the barrier until the shield was deactivated which would be when one of each other’s weapons struck the other person.
The battle began the moment the dome was completed. Zac had tried formulating a strategy for defeating Andre with a piece of wood. However, Andre didn’t wait very long for Andre to take the prerogative to attack. Zac sidestepped a rather overly aggressive overhand strike. Zac slapped at the flat of Adre’s blade with his Likari, pushing the axeblade away from Zac and off-balancing Andre.
Andre adjusted into a waist-high backhanded strike. He was too slow though. Zac jumped backward avoiding the attack. Andre’s swipe had left him in an unevenly balanced stance with most of his weight on his right foot.
Andre was wide open, as he struggled with the weight of his weapon. He is so vulnerable. Zac rushed in and slapped Andre in the face with his Likari. He might have broken something in Andre’s face. Zac heard Andre’s blade rev as he activated its motors.
Zac jumped into a backflip, narrowly avoiding the rush of air as the blade cut through where he had been. Zac could see the blue trails left behind by the hydrium.
Cheers went up from around them. They couldn’t see the crowd well, but they could hear them. Zac knew that just by lasting this long, he had won. The warrior culture of Nuhbri instilled an intense degree of competition in those that grew up there. They had all been educated in martial arts and the use of a variety of weapons and military tactics. The warriors that came out of Nuhbri were amongst the greatest across the universes.
Zac was fighting with almost nothing but a piece of wood and was making Andre look like a fool. Zac smiled and Andre scowled. They both knew that Andre had wasted his chance to embarrass Zach.
Zac had other plans than becoming a soldier, but that wasn’t because he couldn’t fight. He let his mind fill with nothing. He rushed Andre, catching him off-guard. Andre attempted to slash Zac away from him, but Zac ducked and the weapon passed over his head. Luckily the loss of some hair didn’t end the match. Zac rose out of his low stance into a sweeping kick that caught Andre across the temple. Andre dropped, out cold.
The emptiness of his mind had already started to fade and Zac could feel the fatigue washing over him. That technique was called Tetsu-mi. It was one practiced by the warriors of Nuhbri, but it took years to master.
There was a chime, and Zac was announced as the winner. Leaving the trance of Tetsu-mi, Zac saw a white-bladed sword in his hand instead of the wooden Likari. Its blade was resting on Andre’s neck ending the fight. The white blade vanished as Zach’s Tetsu-mi did. Zac was holding a wooden sword again.
He could only use Testu-mi for a few moments. The technique was about removing the barriers between one’s perceptions and actions. The fatigue was caused by his brain’s resistance to it.
He had started Tetsu-mi training seriously a little over a year ago. After he showed some skill in the classroom, his father hired him a tutor to progress his abilities with it. He remembered long hours of rhythmic exercises. It was mostly breathing practice with motions added later.
They had started adding sparring three months ago where Zac would attempt to maintain the same mindset in his previous exercises while fighting. It was difficult training. He had dropped out of some of his beloved sports and recreational clubs to keep up with his tutor’s schedule.
The cheers grew louder around him as the shield dissipated. Reality hit Zac quite hard as Nate nearly tackled him. People ran up congratulating him and telling him how cool that fight was. Others helped Andre up too.
There was no dishonor in losing an attuned match. Though, there was a little shame in losing the way Andre had, plus, he had to meet the terms of the duel.
“Get off of him, Nate!” Michelle yelled laughing. “Zach, did you know that thing actually worked?”
“I didn’t,” Zac said.
“You needed to use Tetsu-mi to activate it, right?” Nate asked.
“I think so.”
“Hey,” They all turned to Andre. “This is yours.” He presented with his weapon.
“Andre,” Zac said. “I don’t want your weapon. But, if you’d transfer me its value. I would take that. Saves you the trouble of ordering and attuning a new weapon.”
Andre looked thankful. He pulled out his personal device. “Done,” he said. “I guess you didn’t attune a piece of shit.”
Zac regarded the weapon. Too bad I can only use it for a few seconds.
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