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Though the Ruins dwarf the surrounding forest, the lush vegetation keeps the towering buildings hidden behind the dense foliage of trees overhead. It is only when the sun ceases to peek through the trees that I know I am getting close. I only see the transformed structures themselves once the treeline ends and the verdant vegetation is replaced by metal towers, the frames of which splay out at every angle. As I slow down, gaping in amazement at the sight, I also notice that I no longer hear any animals or birds. Several moments pass before I realize I have stopped moving entirely, except for the shivers of fear convulsing throughout my body. Steeling myself, I take a deep breath and force myself to walk into the Ruins.
When Sarya and I ventured into one of the buildings a few years ago, we didn’t see anyone, but the icy cold dread that haunted the place infected our hearts and minds. Despite our fear, we went into one of the steel towers, and our fascination drew us halfway across the first floor before the building’s emptiness and ominous silence sent us both running out screaming.
Shaking my head, I tear myself from the petrifying memory and begin to run as fast as I can, figuring that I will need to find the river as soon as possible to lead me back home before Sarya. Luckily, it’s relatively simple to navigate the hard and flat perpendicular broken streets of the Ruins. I focus on breathing and try desperately to ignore the sheer terror that crawls under my skin as I run in the shade of the twisted monuments.
I know that if I continue zig-zagging in a northeast pattern, alternating right then left whenever two of the perpendicular roads meet, I will eventually reach the river, which will lead to Ma’ro. My echoing footsteps and pounding heartbeat are the only sounds I hear as I go through the city. After what feels like an eternity, the sound of rushing water emerges from the silence and slowly becomes louder and louder until it rises a dull roar.
Finally, I think to myself as I turn a corner. I can’t believe I have to do this just to-
A blinding light interrupts my thoughts and forces me to shield my eyes. As they adjust, I begin to see the sun blazing in front of me between the rows of towers and reflecting off of the rushing river, painting the city with the brilliance of the late afternoon.
The sun’s light pales in comparison to the blue light coming from the shining orb that floats only a few feet off the ground in the middle of the street a dozen yards in front of me. The orb bears strange markings; five glowing runes that I cannot read orbit it. Around the orb are lines of flickering script which spin and pulse wildly in a chaotic yet hypnotic pattern, as if it is the heart of some arcane beast.
From the glaring light of the orb, I can scarcely make out a figure dressed in gray hooded robes standing beside it, looking right at me. Slowly, I start walking toward the figure, my fear replaced with a sense of steady calm, like a ship finally making it to harbor after weathering a hurricane.
As I reach the robed figure, the man pulls back his hood to reveal the face of a grown man with short brown hair and soft but intelligent blue eyes, and he smiles as I approach. “Hello, Eron,” the man greets me, his voice warm and inviting, though a sadness lingers in his eyes.
“Who are you?” I ask.
“My name is Chris,” the man replies. “And I need your help.”
“Saving the world.”
My eyes widen as everything becomes quiet. “What?”
“Your home is in danger, and I need your help to save everyone.”
My breath catches in my throat. It had been a long time since I had resigned myself to believing magick was only a fantasy, but a part of me had always clung to that impossible hope. “Magick is real?” I ask.
“Indeed,” Chris says, his smile brightening. “Magick is in everything, but more greatly so in some rather than others. You have the potential necessary to see this through.” He raises a hand and a pure light flashes in his palm. When it fades, a small flower with white petals rests between his fingers. Handing the flower to me, he says, “As proof. A gift for Sarya. It is not too late for her to see you as more than a friend.”
My eyes are agape with wonder as I inspect the flower, holding it delicately in my hand. “Why… me?”
“Because you have the potential to be great.”
“What do you mean?”
“My boy,” the man chuckles softly. “I have seen how you have endured great suffering. The lifelong absence of your parents. The way most of your peers have treated you with ridicule and scorn for almost all your life. The loneliness that threatens to swallow you whole every night while you lie awake, wishing things were different.”
The man’s words are like a salve to my heart. In his words is a recognition of the sorrows I have felt most of my life, an acknowledgment and validation of the isolation I feel as I watch everyone else carry on with their lives as if they belong somewhere. “I don’t want to be alone. I’m so… tired of hurting all the time,” I say as my eyes begin to water, as the words I speak plumb the depths of the pain buried in my heart.
“I know,” Chris replies. “But overcoming that pain creates great strength. I can show you how to do that, how to fulfill your potential. You will never be looked down upon again. Never be brought down to grovel in the dirt. I need your help to save your world, and in return, you will become everything you wish you could be.”